Big Magic: Brianne and Michael

Last Saturday, Tim and I had the privilege of attending the wedding of a darling couple. I’ve known Brianne since she was just a little tyke and she’s known her now-husband, Michael, for almost that long. The wedding took place in the same church where we were married over two decades ago. It was great to be back and recall the excitement and the nerves that accompanied us that day, but also the joy and the Love we felt. Watching Brianne and Michael, I am pretty sure they were experiencing the same.


In honor of this Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to share with you the letter I wrote to them and enclosed with their wedding gift. I am grateful for my health, my family and friends, and my home, but I am most grateful for the opportunity to Love and to witness Love wherever it takes place, whether it’s halfway around the world, or in my own backyard.


The happy couple

November 21, 2015

Dear Brianne and Michael Blackmun –

Granted this is an unusual wedding greeting – a missive inside a card. Wait until you open the box. It’s an unusual wedding gift as well. But you two, like Tim and I, make for an unusual couple. Personally, those are my favorite kind. So, when you open the box, this is what you will find. Two coffee mugs, two dish towels and one very special book called Big Magic.

I often give one of my favorite books on marriage, The Zimzum of Love, to young couples just tying the knot. You two, however, having been together for ten years, need a little less advice perhaps than most in that area. I love how madly in love you two still are after all this time and I’ve got a little secret for you…

You might have been told your feelings will fade, that it won’t always be like this, but I look at you and I think, “They’re wrong.” Brianne, you are clearly in love with LOVE itself (so am I – it takes one to know one) and so I think your marriage will always be full of love – the romantic, playful, silly, affectionate kind of love. Yes, there will be hard times and struggles and dry spells, but I think they will be weathered with affection, good humor, grace and forgiveness. Your marriage will always feel like an adventure, in good times and bad, something to be eagerly embraced, thinking, “I wonder what tomorrow will bring.” Brianne, this gift of Loving joyfully and whole-heartedly is not something everyone has and Michael brings it out in you, so appreciate it and use it well! You hit the Love Jackpot, not just in finding the right guy, but in having a heart made for it. Congratulations!

But there’s more, so on to Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. The author calls it basically a permission slip for everyone to use their creativity.

Brianne, you are one of the most creative women I know. I remember going to your college graduation party with your degree in studio art and looking at all your work and being blown away by the tender beauty of it all, especially your heart sculpture. I hope you have that piece somewhere on display still! You decided not to pursue your art professionally, which I totally understand, but what I want to say, as you’re making this lifetime commitment to Michael, is that I hope you have also made a lifetime commitment to your creativity. Your artful heart and creative spirit are the essence of you. I hope this book will encourage you to continue to find expressions and outlets for the art that wants to be born from your soul. It is so important, for you and the world.

A marriage is only as healthy as each of the people speaking their vows and our culture makes it so easy to hide our truest selves behind all sorts of masks. But a marriage between two hiders can’t become the fullest expression of Love and happiness. It can work for a while, maybe even a lifetime, but it won’t allow each person to flourish and become all they are meant to be in and for the world. In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert will remind you over and over again to be Brianne! Be Michael! Commit to practices of concern, compassion and courage in your Love for each other and for yourselves as well.

You have so many gifts and cards to open that I will stop talking now.  This isn’t meant to be advice. It is just meant to be encouragement to listen to what your heart already knows. You and Michael clearly Love each other and are committed to the well-being and freedom of the other person. Keep living that out, all the days of your life!

With so much Love, hope and faith in you two!

Ali and Tim

P.S. – I couldn’t end without sharing one of my favorite poems from one of my favorite poets. This kind of Love works, but only if you’re both doing it!

“The Gift”


Union is like this:

You feel cold

So I reach for a blanket to cover

Our shivering feet.

A hunger comes into your body

So I run to my garden

And start digging potatoes.

You ask for a few words of comfort and guidance,

I quickly kneel at your side offering you

This whole book –

As a gift.

You ache with loneliness one night

So much you weep

And I say,

Here’s a rope,

Tie it around me,


Will be your companion

For life.

Adapted slightly from Hafiz, a 14th century Sufi mystic and poet.

P.P.S. I wrote that letter before the wedding and sharing it here allows me to write a second post-script. I know that brides and grooms are technically supposed to be the ones writing the thank you cards after the wedding, but every time I leave a wedding, I feel like I’m the one who should be saying thanks. Not only are wedding days wonderful parties (and it doesn’t matter how big, or small the budget), they are also beautiful expressions of the energy, hopefulness and joy that Love builds and brings to the world. Since Love is my favorite emotion, weddings and newlyweds are some of my favorite things. Thank you, Brianne and Michael for delivering big time!


Celebrating new Love with the Love of my life!


Responding in Love

Peace for Paris and beyond

Peace for Paris and Beirut and beyond

I don’t often write in response to tragic events happening on the world stage. I am all too aware how small I am in comparison, how limited my knowledge, how distant from the actual suffering of the victims and their families. But I also frequently get asked,

“What do you think?”

“How are you seeing this?”

“Give me something but anger to hold on to.”

So for what it’s worth, this is how I am holding these most recent tragic events in my heart.

I don’t know exactly what the just, or appropriate response is to those attacks, or to the people and organizations that perpetrated them. I don’t know what you or I, as individuals sitting across the globe, can actually do to stop the violence of ISIS, Al-Shabaab, or other Islamic militants. I only know what I can do to stop the violence here, in my own body, my own home and among the people I come into contact with. And I actually think that is a really important place to start, which too often gets ignored in our desire for immediate answers and concrete action.

I begin by reminding myself that none of these angry, violent, suicidal and psychopathic men started out that way. At one time, they were just little boys like our own, who loved to crawl into their mama’s laps and be cuddled. They passed out, milk-drunk, at their mother’s breast, while she dreamed of all that he might be someday. At one point, I imagine, those boys had dreams of their own, to be helpers, teachers, leaders, fathers even, but that all changed.

And it probably changed at home first with the messages they learned from their very own fathers and mothers. Eventually those messages were built upon by their religious leaders, their surroundings, culture and the world around them. They learned that a loving response was a foolish one, that whoever had the biggest guns had the most power, that economic freedom was never going to be theirs. They learned that violence was the best answer to every problem and that their God approved and applauded it. This is not what they were born knowing; this is what they were taught and so it is my obligation to teach my own son and daughters something different, but I have to live it myself first.

After hearing about the attacks in Paris and Beirut, I immediately thought of the words of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who was killed during the Holocaust. She wrote: “Each of us moves things along in the direction of war every time we fail to love.”

Oh my God, I thought, I’m part of the problem, but Etty’s words also remind me that I can be part of the solution. I can start by making conscious choices to Love more, to stop making war inside my own heart, judging, criticizing and condemning myself and others for simply being human and imperfect. Whatever peace I create from that Love, I must bring to my own family and friends, primarily through kindness and compassion. And if I can Love just a little more, I can hold even more space for difference, and diversity among the people I know and come into contact with.

But let me be clear, when I find myself in conflict with others, I do not have to agree; I do not have to approve; I don’t even have to allow, or excuse behavior that I object to, but what I cannot do is hate. I believe Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” I have seen that play out in my own life. I cannot offer the same, or equal response to violent, or aggressive stimuli and expect a good outcome. Even if I “win,” we both lose in the long run and believe me, I’ve lost plenty of times!

Finally, as someone who has considered the teachings of Jesus her whole life, there is one thing he said we CANNOT do. We cannot hate the other. Jesus said, “Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus also said, “Love your enemies” and he made it clear that your enemy was often your neighbor,  just in case you wanted to skip that one.

I don’t have it in me to Love God, my neighbor, my enemy, or even myself in the way I must in order to create perfect peace, but that doesn’t mean I can give up trying. I must persevere, at least in my own heart. One woman, when asked about the futility of her quest for justice and equality for women within her community, said, “I don’t have to complete the work, but that does not mean I am free to abandon it.”

Amen, sister. Thanks for the reminder.