Before & Afters

Samples of how Funny Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is able to help you turn a great story into an unforgettable story – taking your speech, your story, your presentation –  to a whole new place.

motivational keynote camp We asked past clients to submit before and after segments of their speech, so you could see how Kelly was able to them transform their work. These are the samples they sent. In some cases there are notes from Kelly in parenthesis – or suggestions on ways to enhance it.

Elevator Pitch/Web Story for a Client:

This was actually a story that Kelly helped a client write from scratch. Kelly got the details of the story and crafted it, with the intent to be used as web text.

My name is Natasha Khazanov and I’m neuroscientist, psychologist, and creator of the SMARTT Parenting Principle to help mothers navigate the most crucial years of their child’s brain development.

As a neuropsychologist, I have served as an expert witness in criminal cases, mostly capital. I have now tested over 80 people in the criminal justice system, and all of them have had a history of early trauma created by adverse childhood experiences. I’ve said this repeatedly in my expert testimony: it is a tragedy generations in the making.

It is this tragedy that has led to my life’s work.

I came to America at the age of 35, from St. Petersburg, Russia.  Yes, it was quite the culture shock. Coming here, leaving everything I knew, was hard. Especially when it included asking my child to leave everything he knew.  I was determined that we were headed for a better life.  And that dream was bigger than my fear.

I felt very separated here in this new country. My child was angry and bitter that I had uprooted him to this new life. And he blamed me. I tried to balance the life of a mother with the life of a neuropsychologist. I felt pulled in many directions. I didn’t know how to handle my son’s anger.  My parenting philosophy was trial and error. Mostly error.

Back then we didn’t have a guide book, or coaches to walk us through mothering.  You were supposed to know how to mother. It’s supposed to come naturally. At least that’s what we all thought back then. Mothers were born, not made.

I worked hard as a mother, but felt like nothing was working.  I felt like I was a bad parent. To ask for help meant defeat.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have been a different parent.  I would have seen the mistakes I was making. I would have seen a better way to get the result I sought. I wouldn’t have been as frustrated, overwhelmed, and under this constant cloud of feeling not good enough.  I would have known that asking for help wasn’t a sign of defeat, but actually a sign of strength.

I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.

That’s why I created the SMARTT Parenting program.  It teaches mothers like you to parent from the inside out, by modelling emotional intelligence and self-compassion to their children. It is the mix of evidence -based, neuroscience-informed approaches and contemplative tradition. SMARTT is the brain “check list” I teach mothers to use to increase the joy and decrease the messyness of parenting.

In my SMARTT mothering program, I walk you through the process, step by step – help you see how you can change your outcome by changing your approach. Through this process, we don’t just work on the relationship between parent and child, we work on the relationship to self so you can embody and illustrate the life you want your child to learn - the components of unconditional love – the language of smart parenting. As a neuroscientist, I show you how these parenting principles I’ve developed helps your child have an integrated brain.

Through this program, I’ve watched mothers come alive, find their passion and purpose again – I’ve watched relationships heal. I’ve watched the lines of communication between mother and child open.

I believe this will make the world a better place.

This is my way to help the future generation. To show mothers you are not alone. To give you the tools. To step alongside you. I’m not telling you your way is wrong. I’m simply showing you another path to explore.  Where you can find yourself again – where you no longer have to feel invisible, or unheard, or not good enough.  This isn’t really just for the children, it’s for you.

You’re not a bad parent. You’re not wrong. You just don’t know what you don’t know.

Frederick Douglas once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.”  When our EQ (define) is not in keeping with our IQ (define) , society pays a huge price.  The difference in how children are born to be and who they end up to be, rests in the hands of the parents.  By age seven, our influence has determined their future.

Sometimes we feel as parents that we’re beyond hope – that we just need a miracle. You don’t need a miracle. You just need a guide. I’m Natasha Khazanov – your guide to SMARTT parenting.


Traci Brown

Here are some places where you helped me….

1.  First & most important –just tighten up my intro.  I went from several minutes down to 2 lines that grab people.  You didn’t give me specifics, just  the kick in the butt to do it.  This has changed the whole quality of my talk and more bookings have resulted I think from this alone.

2.  Specifics about my Wolf in a Gondola story:

Before:   ‘The wolf gets up and we’re about eye to eye as I’m sitting on the seat.  Then he starts to sniff from my foot up my leg’

After:  ‘The wolf gets up and we’re about eye to eye as I’m sitting there.  And he’s not looking at me with a ‘puppy I want to play’ look but more like ‘I’ll take 2 thighs and a breast’ look.. And then he starts to sniff up my leg’

3. More on wolf in a gondola story:

Before:  ‘Is anyone going to my funeral anyway?’

After:  ‘Is anyone going to my funeral anyway?  And what does god look like?  Is it George Burns or Morgan Freeman?  I don’t know but I’m sure I’m going to find out soon. (These lines can seem kinda simple and flat just written down.  But when spoken with emotion they add just what’s needed to make the story pop.)

4. I also used your idea about opposite traits:

about my bike coach Wally

before:  My coach Wally was a big cowboy guy.  Not the kind of guy you’d expect to be a cycling coach…

after:  My coach Wally was a big cowboy guy, not the kind of guy you’d expect to be a cycling coach.  He’d take us out and put us through a workout so hard that we could baarely walk afterwards, then put us in the car and take us home and cook us a thick, handcut bacon sandwich just like it was good for you.  That’s the kind of guy Wally was.

Laurie-Ann Murabito 2015  -  Newspaper Story


A little girl,  about 12 years old was shopping with her Dad. And he was looking at Swiss Army jackknife. You know the McGyver-type gadgets, where you can cut down a tree and open up a bottle of wine all while repairing the dryer.  He examined all the different functions of this knife….But then he folded it back up and then passes it across the counter (shaking head no) You see, that little girl’s dad was the sort of man, who wouldn’t spend money on himself, the knife was $45 and that was a lot of money for him to spend on himself when he had a family to support.  So that little girl knew that she had to figure out a way to get that knife for her dad because she could tell how badly he wanted it.

Well, she’d heard about a company that was in a nearby town that bought newspapers to use in packing their shipments.  So she recruited her sisters in helping her, and so with their little red wagon, they went door to door knocking and asking for their neighbors old newspapers, their trash. “Do you have any old newspapers? Would you save them for us, we’ll be back next week.” And, they did this week after week, piling them under porch, where it was dark, hoping their Dad wouldn’t notice.

They would fill up the family car when they had enough and sold the old newspapers to this place in town for half a penny a pound. It took several months and numerous trips to collect enough money. Nine thousand pounds later, they had the $45.  They proudly gave that Swiss Army knife to their dad. Now, that little girl did not have any fancy leadership development programs or a degree in leadership.  Heck, she was only 12 years old.  Is there an age that makes good leaders?  What she did was she saw a need, their Dad really wanted that knife.

She formed a team, her sisters and inspired then to collect newspapers to make that $45.  She influenced the neighbors to save their newspapers for them, and she had to sell the idea to her mother on the idea to help pack up the piles of newspapers, to deliver and make the sale.  And she executed her plan. I see many company leaders enlist the help of outside consultants, paying them thousands of dollars, to diagnose a problem and develop a plan to solve that problem. It’s the execution of the plan where most companies fail, because they put that plan on a shelf and conveniently forget about it or make excuses that now is not the right time. Execute the plan is action and moving forward. My dad still has that knife today.

AFTER Kelly touched it:

I remember back when I was 12 years old. The days when phones were connected to the wall and cell phones were the size of a bread box. Back to the day of the Rubix cube and friends you actually talked to face to face. I was completely in love with Josh Smith who never looked at me twice, and Bon Jovi who looked at me every night from the poster above my bed.  I was convinced that I would be a rock star one day. And I spent a lot of time seeing what it would take to be a rock star. I figured there must be a formula. Guess I inherited that trait from my dad.

Anyway…I used to spend Saturdays with Dad at Sears. Yes, every girl’s dream.  I would eat the warm cashews they sold in the little brown bags, while my dad explained to me how lawnmowers work.  And ice makers. And internal combustion air breathing jet engines. On this particular day, my dad broke out of his rigid routine. First hardware, then automotive, then socks and underwear. In that order. But today, he stopped –midstream. His routine disrupted. He was having a moment –one of those love-at-first-sight moments, that even at 12,  I noticed. He was awestruck, standing there without moving –eyeing her as if she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in the whole world. I think for a minute he actually stopped breathing. I could relate. That’s how Bon Jovi made me feel. And he just stood there staring…at a Swiss army Knife. Not just any swiss army knife but a Victorinox Damascus Spartan Limited Edition with Steel Blade, Screwdriver, and wood handles. The kind that could cut down a tree, open a bottle of wine and repair the dryer. I didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how much my dad wanted that Swiss Army knife.

But he was not about to spend $45 on himself.  So he put it back, shook his head, and walked away without even a backwards glance. But there was something in me that could not accept this. I didn’t like to take no for an answer. Turns out I was born with a leadership trait of believing that nothing is impossible.

How many of ideas do you discount immediately because it doesn’t seem possible?

To me this was not impossible –even if $45 to a kid with no income seems impossible.

I had to figure out a way to get that knife for my dad. So I heard about a company in town that bought newspapers to use in packing their shipments. So I recruited my sisters and their little red wagon, and we went door to door, knocking and asking the neighbors for their old papers. We knocked on every door, even the one with overgrown weeds that we were all sure was haunted. We knocked and asked for their old newspapers and would they please save them every day and we would be back to retrieve them.

It was exciting at first, but after a while it got old.  Day after day. Door after door. It was hot, our feet hurt, the other kids were out playing while we had to work. But we were determined. And so week after week, we dragged that that little red wagon with the crooked wheel –fiercely focused on the vision. When we got discouraged, or distracted, we just pictured that Swiss Army knife. Nothing like a vision to keep a leader inspired, and a team on task. Even if your team has to go the long way because one of them is not old enough to cross the street. But the vision isn’t where most of us fail – it’s in the execution.  That’s where the tough work happens. But we stuck it out.

What is your vision? Your standard of excellence? That one thing that everyone on your team is focused on and knows with clarity and purpose what they’re trying to accomplish? What are you leading your team towards?

We hid the papers under the porch so Dad wouldn’t find them. Mom helped us pile the papers and deliver them to sell.  Even then I saw the value in recruiting outside help –especially when that outside help could drive a car.

True leaders don’t carry the load alone – they know how to outsource – and how to find talented people to serve on the team.

There were days when I thought we would never make it –until one day –9,000 pounds later – we did. Goal accomplished. And that $45 was the most money I had ever held in my hand. Bon Jovi would have been proud.

I think that’s one thing about leadership we tend to forget. All the relentless tiny steps you have to take to get there. We live in a world that teases of quick fixes and a rush to the finish line. When in reality, it’s all about taking hundreds of tiny little steps. One after another.

I’ll never forget the look on my dad’s face when we proudly gave him the knife. Okay, it was a still a glare. My dad wasn’t really capable of much more than that. Oh, but he treasured that knife. To this day, he still treasures it. I think if his house were on fire and he had to run back in to grab one thing, it would be that knife. And I like to think that on that day, at twelve years old -  I taught us both something about leadership –a lesson worth much more than forty five dollars.

 Lori Klinka – About Me Story

BEFORE / Lori’s Version

I’ve always been fascinated with communication & emotion & characters & acting. A professional is someone who gets paid for their art. I started my professional acting career in 2nd grade.   I have been learning about managing expectations since the beginning of that time, since the beginning of my “acting career”. We had just moved into a new house & I instantly became best friends with Molly who lived 3 houses away.  I was always roping Molly into putting on “shows” with me.  We had 35 kids who lived on our street.  One family, the Allens, had 10 kids.  We had this screened in summer house in the backyard.  So Molly & I would put on a Beatles show where we would stand on chairs & put on the 45 record of “She loves you” and lip sync & play air guitars.  We invited the Allens & charged then a nickle. Then we would put on roller skating shows in the summer house where we would skate backwards- ooohhhh!  We invited the Allens & charged them a nickle.  But the piece de resistance was “The night before Christmas” in the Barbie dream house on Molly’s pool table in the basement.  “Twas the night before Christmas & all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even Skipper!”.  Now that show brought most of the neighborhood, including the Allens & we charged them a nickle.  We cleaned up!

Well with such a strong start in show business I went on to act in high school & then get a degree in Theatre, Speech, English & Education from the University of Iowa. I got a job teaching HS &  I was the theatre dept for 3 years. I thought- this will be fun!  Anyone ever been in HS?  ((Can do story of teaching HS- every kid was high but 1 at 7:20 in the AM.  Mark Cecil didn’t come to school the lst 2 weeks cause he flunked so many times he was 19 or so & had his own apt. Too busy getting drunk to come to school. when he came I said (look up- 2 feet taller than me & huge) “Mark, would you like to have a seat, but if you’d prefer to stand that’s fine too, umm… can I get you anything- maybe something to drink or……..stutter, bable”  Not what I expected or learned in my Foundations of Teaching class!

I studied and did shows at Second City and performed every week with an improv group. If you want to learn about expectations, live in the moment & see things from other perspectives- then do improv.  The main rule of improv is to say “yes…and…”  Every scene you do is either better than, worse than and definately different then you expected.  You learn to love that.  (Something about after class going to John Belushi’s & Dan Ackroyds Blues bar which was across the street- their private bar for friends & second city people)

Then I quit teaching to move into Chicago & become a proff actress.  My lst film was Risky Business with Tom Cruise.  I will now re-enact my part (walk across stage)  I was an EXTRA!  It was my lst film- did you think I’d be starring with him?  Tom Cruise was a baby- I was a baby, nobody knew who he was!  I could have reached out & touched him or kissed him.  He sure was cute but he was short!  If you look really close in the hotel scene which was shot at the Palmer House in the loop- you can see my elbow in the right hand corner.  I will be signing autographs after this session in the back.  Talk about managing your expectations. You thought from my intro that I played the leading “lady” or leading “lady of the night”!

I acted in films, TV, stage, commercials, print & improv.  I learned to constantly manage my expectations. A new agency called Allied opened up in town & they immediately got someone in the cast of Mad TV & were getting lots of film auditions for their exclusive actors. They accepted me & I was really excited.  (put in some foreshadowing line here)  They got me an audition for a Michael Keaton movie. It was as the part of a teacher- how perfect!  My husband Kenny is a comedian & lived in LA for 8 years.  I know I know I know.  People always ask me “Is he funny at home?”  Well he doesn’t wake up, roll over & say “2 guys walk into a bar…, there’s a priest, a minister & a rabbi…, so this guy has a parrot…” So Michael Keaton used to be a comic & was a friend of his. He’s also worked with Leno, Letterman, Robin Williams, Seinfield, Ellen, George Carlin, Richard Pryer, Dennis Miller, etc, etc. It’s so hard to not think about what it would do for my career if I got this part.  It’s like spending your lottery money before you even buy the ticket.  Well not only did I not get the part. When I went to my agents the next week to pick up a check there was a big sign on the door that said “closed- no longer in business.”  They took off in the middle of the night with everyones money.  Kenny said “I told you the lst time I met them they were no good. But I didn’t want to listen & trust my intuition because I had my expectations of how they were going to take my career to the next level.  Always listen to your intuition.  So Allied became know as “I lied” to all of the Chicago actors.  So, I go from my “big break” to losing money from other gigs, losing my agent, & my pride.  I learned to manage my expectations.


I’ve always been fascinated with communication- ever since I was in 2nd grade and started my own professional acting career.  I was owner, director, sales and marketing, and lead actress of our production company, and Molly Jenkins from three doors down was my protégé, and the one responsible for taping up the flyers and taking my picture.

With 35 kids on our street, we were never at a loss for good casting.  You needed a big cast when many of your players aren’t allowed to play after dark. Our playhouse was the screened in porch in my backyard, and the price of admission was a nickle.

We played the Beatles greatest hits, roller skated backwards, lip sync’d and played air guitars with unleashed abandonment.  They are still talking about our Barbie Dream House rendition of the Night Before Christmas. We were rolling in nickels. And I had caught the acting bug. Little did I know I was already learning about managing expectations and the art of communication – even if I was in bell bottoms and a shaggy wig.

I pursed acting and theater, speech and English – which eventually led me to a job teaching theater in High School. I was convinced I would be the best teacher that ever graced those hallways. I would take kids with no hope and change their futures! Kids everywhere would talk about me – the teacher that changed their life. I would be cultivating the next Brad Pitt, the next Tom Hanks, the next Lilly Tomlin. I would be discovering talent that would amaze the world! They would make a Lifetime movie about me, and I would probably star in it!

That was before I met the kids and realized I had the next Charles Manson – the next guy pumping gas to earn enough beer money for the weekend.

Most of my students were high by 7:20 am. Some were drunk. They didn’t care about acting, but could act their way out of a test and win a Grammy. One kid had flunked so many times he was currently 20 and had his own apartment. (Mark Cecil act out here)  I had to change our production of Romeo and Juliet to Animal House.  So much for them making a Lifetime move about me – unless it was about the teacher who hung herself in the theater.

So yeah. Not exactly what I had planned. The days were long and the bright moments very few. (would be cool to have a tiny story about one person you were able to help – who went on to do something great – or who even overcame her shyness when you gave her the lead in ….. and watched her come to life)

I learned as a high school teacher that people will not always do what you tell them – in fact, they often won’t. And that the way we see the world is different from everybody else. And that we can’t control the behavior of others – we can only control how we react to it. And I learned to focus on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t. That change in perspective from what I can’t to what I can, made me happier, and the days less stressful.

So I’ve been the queen of expecting one thing and getting another. And as it turns out, I’m not alone.  Turns out most of us didn’t get the life we ordered – or the husband – or the job.  So how did I learn to deal with it? Oddly enough, the one thing that helped me deal with change was working at Second City and learning the art of Improv.

It taught me to live in the moment and see things from other perspectives. It taught me to deal with constant change. The main rule of improv is to say “yes…and…”  Every scene you do is either better than, worse than and definitely different then you expected.  You learn to love that. You learn to think quickly on your feet. You learn to really listen and respond – to be in the moment instead of on autopilot. And you learn to let go of your idea of how things should be.  Even the technique of saying “Yes, and” has helped me immensely in difficult conversations. Instead of arguing or saying “Yes, but” I learned to say, “Yes, and” – allowing the person you are communicating with to receive your words in a positive way.

(Would be cool if there was something else you learned in Improv that can help us deal with people better. But this one is enough.)

After a while I decided to quit teaching and go after my dream – to become a professional actress. I quit my job and moved to Chicago. I sang the whole way with the windows down and my hair blowing – hearing the theme music that told me I was a star.  It was finally my time. My moment. I still remember when they called me to tell me I had gotten the part in this new movie with a guy named Tom Cruise – called Risky Business.

I called everyone I knew. I called all my family. My friends. I called old boyfriends. I called my cousin who used to laugh at my shows at Christmas. See who’s laughing now while I’m a famous actress and she’s still working at Duncan Donuts!  I told everybody I met – on the bus – in line – that I was going to be in a movie.   I maxed out all my credit cards on a formal gown covered in sequins that I was planning on wearing to the Oscars.

I will now re-enact my part…

(walk across stage)

I was an EXTRA! If you look really close in the hotel scene which was shot at the Palmer House in the loop- you can see my elbow in the right hand corner.  I will be signing autographs after this session in the back.

Okay. So maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as I had pictured now that I look back. But I did get to meet him and work with him – back when nobody knew who he was. And by the way, he was awfully short. And I’m pretty sure he had a crush on me. But I was focused on my career.

(Note: stop saying “talk about managing your expections”. It’s too much)

I acted in films, TV, stage, commercials, print & improv.  And the one constant was that nothing was constant. Change was the new normal. All expectations were allusions. In fact, I learned an important lesson – NOT to create a hard core vision of how life should be. Sometimes we get this firm idea of what everybody’s “part” should be, and then we get frustrated when they don’t act it out the way we wrote it.

Are you doing that? Have you created some script that they are supposed to act out?

I remember hearing about a new agency called Allied. Rumor was that they were casting for Mad TV and looking for more actors. I went and applied. And they accepted me! I was so excited. This was my big break! My moment! (Break out into “this is the moment..this is the hour”  or some inspiring song like Witney houston’s “one moment in time”)

I went out and bought a purse and shoes to go with my gown.  (Do an act out of you receiving your Oscar and what you would say and who you would thank. Make it funny and campy)

They got me an audition for a Michael Keaton movie. It was as the part of a teacher- how perfect! I was so sure I would get the part that I bought all new furniture and made an appointment to go look at cars. As I was test driving a Mercedes, I took it by the agency to pick up my check and could see the sign from the street in big letters “Closed. No longer in business.”

They had taken off in the middle of the night – with my life savings.

My husband Kenny is a comedian & worked in LA for 8 years.  I know I know I know.  People always ask me “Is he funny at home?”  Well he doesn’t wake up, roll over & say” “2 guys walk into a bar.”

Anyway, when I told Kenny the news he said, “I told you in the very beginning that these guys didn’t have a good reputation.” It was bad enough having my heart broken and losing all my money – but even worse that I had been warned.  The signs were there, but I didn’t pay attention.  Sometimes we get so convinced that our idea, or our way of doing things, is THE RIGHT WAY – that we ignore those around us giving us good sound advice.

It’s important that we listen to what others are saying. They can see outside our movie – and can be a lot more clear and objective.   Like the time my mother told me skinny jeans were not a good idea for me. Yeah. I should have listened to her. And sometimes our own gut is giving us good advice too, but our ego speaks louder. I had to learn to understand when my ego was speaking and when my good sense was speaking.

Sahar Kordahi – Heritage In A Box Story

(This is the written dialogue between me and Sahar. You will see Sahar’s original story line, followed by my name and my comments and rewrite suggestions.)

Kelly: Since I have already heard this story and seen the slides, I have a really good idea of how this story goes. So yeah! While it is powerful, and the pictures and the music really make it. I’m still a little unclear about its message and its purpose. But we’ll get there.

Sahar’s Story Line:  On my second morning there……..and do what I intended to do on this trip….

Kelly:  What did you intend to do? I would like for you to tell me what you intended to do here. You’ve left us hanging.

Sahar’s Story Line: As I’m walking…….what a beautiful town it was…and how proud……

Kelly:  You tell me it’s beautiful, but I want you to SHOW me. Give me some details. Point out some of the beauty. Maybe the picture does it – but you need your words to do it too, in case you can’t use the slides. And even if you’ll always have the slides, we want the words to be beautiful too. So think of some details that paint a picture of the Jifna. The sounds. The smells. What the seasons are like. How do the flowers look. The clouds. The sounds you hear on a Saturday morning. What do you see on special occasions. What are the houses like? What kinds of foods? Can you smell them in the air? Are they known for their coffees? Teas? A certain kind of spice? What do the old men do when they aren’t working? The young men? The women? I KNOW it is very different than what my city looks like. So SHOW me. This is our trip to Jifna. Take us there. You can do it in just a sentence or two. Or three. Or more.  You give me a little more details in this next paragraph about walking through the roman ruins. But it’s not rich and exquisite enough. Let’s really make the language sing.

Sahar’s Story Line: 15 minutes….stone walkway….

Kelly: Donkey is a good visual image. I want to word that a little differently, but we’ll do that later. Make sure you keep the image of riding the donkey with your brother. What did you play? Were you a princess? Did you play make believe on that donkey? Did the donkey have a name? Did you give it one? These are the small details that make a BIG difference in a story…..I like all these other details too….We’ll tighten up the words later.  Don’t tell me it didn’t smell good. SHOW ME. What did the underground room smell like? Was it cold in there? Maybe you can have a flashback to when the chickens were there when you were little and you could hear them. Or something like that. I like the humor about the toilet and the hole. I’ll make sure your timing is right to get the biggest laugh. Good job.

Sahar’s Story Line:  I stood there for a moment to take it all in….

Kelly:  You don’t have to really tell me this. You can just stand there in front of your audience and take it all in. Act it out. Or say these words and act it out. Really pause and relive the  moment for us. Makes it more believable. And what are you taking in? A memory? A feeling?  What’s that moment like? The moment where our present brushes shoulders with our past. The moment where the woman hears the silent laughter of the child she used to be. Where old furniture is seen with new eyes.

Sahar’s Story Line:  The green iron hundred year old door.

Kelly: Great image.  You could say something like…..I almost felt like Dorothy reaching up to knock and ask for the Wizard. When you look up and see the brick with the name of your great grandfather Elias and all his sons – this is a powerful moment. I really want you to take your time when you tell it. I want to see you lift your arm to touch the stone. Even lifting your hand a little bit will be quite effective. I want you to smile as you see your brother’s names. Maybe you can remember one brother running to the creek, or another brother pulling your hair – or maybe it’s a harsher image – share it with us. Just a brief moment. When we see our siblings’ name, it conjures up a memory or an image. I see my sister and I picture her knitting with a frown. I see my other sister and she’s painting the keys of my typewriter white so I can’t see them. Etc.

Sahar’s Story Line: Wow….what a great feeling…part of this family

Kelly: Why? Why are you proud to be part of this family? What is it that makes them so special? Share that with me. In just a sentence or two.  Again you mention coming here to do what you intended to do – but you didn’t say what. We need to know.   Why are you there? Why did you go?  To find your stuff? To go see if anything has changed? To simply reflect on your childhood?  Or is it that something just draws us to the places we lived as children – something draws us – a desire to see our lives now – to see if what we saw then was as big as we thought – or much smaller.  ( I can help you with this later.)

Sahar’s Line: As I entered the house……first thing I noticed was the big mess

Kelly:  Really draw this moment out. Build suspense. Say something like…I walked into the house expecting it to look exactly as it had as a child. Expecting to see the table set for dinner. Almost expecting to smell fresh bread and hear my grandmother singing. But it was gone. All gone. Instead it was chaos. It was a mess. Items stacked and tossed and thrown as if gathered for a yard sale. The beloved treasures that told the story of my life – the story of my heritage – tossed around carelessly. My grandmother never would have allowed this in her home.

As I started sifting through the pieces of a discarded life, I began to recognize items with an even stronger familiarity. These weren’t just my grandfather’s things – or my grandmother’s things – they were MY things. This was my dinner table – where I did my homework at night. This was the sofa where my mother read her Bible. This was the TV where I fell in love with (some actor from some show you watched.) These were the pieces of my life.

We don’t need all these details about how the furniture ended up here. It doesn’t matter to us. You can just say something simple like: Somehow in the chaos of our lives, our furniture had ended up here. Discarded. As if our lives and our stories – and our heritage- didn’t mean enough to arrange with care – to be housed here in disarray until somebody cared to throw them out. I felt an anger. I felt betrayal. My left meant more than this. And for the next few days, my heart was heavy. Until I found the box.

From the outside it was far more ordinary than it turned out to be. Just a dusty old cigar box. But when I lifted the box….well, it was like I could hear the music of my childhood…….smell the sounds of my family……for sitting there, lovingly cradled….were the pictures.  The pictures of my life. Of my heritage. Of the moments. There was the sofa. And the TV. And my mother’s smile. My father’s eyes twinkling back at me. My grandfather’s.

The ancestors who whispered to me from as far back as 1923. Their eyes and their smiles seamed to speak to me beyond the grave – whispering to me that my heritage had not been lost. That it was not in disarray. That it was still right there. My place of belonging. The women and men who had gone before me – whose blood ran through my veins – whose hearts were linked to mine – who had passed on to me their courage – their hope for a better future. The ones who said you belong. Just as you always have. Right here. And right where you are. As you scatter us through new lands. As you join with other souls and hearts. As you form new communities. We never leave you. We are your heritage in a box.

Master the Art of Connection and Engagement through the Power of YOUR Story