A blurb from Elizabeth Berg!

I finally have all of my endorsements for my book and can share them! Let me tell you, I felt tons of anxiety knowing that my words were being read by some really incredible authors. And I was blown away by the positive, kind responses. I’m going to share them with you, one at a ...

Read More

I finally have all of my endorsements for my book and can share them! Let me tell you, I felt tons of anxiety knowing that my words were being read by some really incredible authors. And I was blown away by the positive, kind responses. I’m going to share them with you, one at a time, over the next few weeks (along with links or info about each author). I’d love for you to check out their work, if you’re not already familiar with it—spread the love!

So this is what the amazing, talented, and lovely Elizabeth Berg had to say…

Like the books of Anne Lamott, so full of honest and soulful searching, Kelly Stanley’s Praying Upside Down takes as its launch pad the precepts of the Christian faith. But what is offered here can apply to anyone, regardless of their faith—or lack thereof. What this book does is offer ways to learn and practice a humble kind of self-inventory, leading to forgiveness and generosity toward others as well as toward oneself. I found Kelly’s spiritual journey compelling and her voice clear, engaging, and irresistible.

Author of The Handmaid and the Carpenter and The Dream Lover

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 1.23.23 PMAs if I didn’t already absolutely love and adore Elizabeth, she compared my book to the one person I’ve always thought of as my “if I could write like anybody who writes about faith” person. Elizabeth taught the writers workshop I attended in Positano, Italy, a couple years ago. In her intuitive, perceptive way, she helped me face head-on the grief I was feeling and encouraged me to let my writing come from that place. And she was so right. Someday I’ll write more on my blog about that experience, but you can read that essay here.

Elizabeth’s next book, The Dream Lover, is going to be amazing, according to all that I’ve heard so far—and the short excerpt I got to hear her read—and it comes out April 14. You can read about and pre-order here.

Your stage is waiting

I have a soft spot for The Voice and American Idol. As I watch, I think about what courage it took for each of those people to walk into the initial audition room. To believe enough in their abilities and potential that they would perform in front of celebrities. To be able to stand there ...

Read More

I have a soft spot for The Voice and American Idol. As I watch, I think about what courage it took for each of those people to walk into the initial audition room. To believe enough in their abilities and potential that they would perform in front of celebrities. To be able to stand there and accept both criticism and accolades from people who have excelled in the industry they want to join. Over and over, I think about how in awe I am of their courage.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at a meeting of a local women’s literary society of which I am a member. The theme for the year was women authors, and they asked me to discuss my writing journey so far and read Amazing Grace, the essay I wrote that won the Writer’s Digest Inspirational Writing competition. While being grateful for their show of support and interest in me, I felt a little like an imposter. I’m nobody yet. (Maybe not ever.) But it was nice to have all these lovely women believe in me.

To prepare for my talk for that day, I wrote about attending the Elizabeth Berg Writer’s Studio in Positano, Italy. About being sick to my stomach at the mere thought of it, because I wanted it so badly. Writing. One of my all-time favorite authors. Italy. A week on my own. Writing. Elizabeth Berg. And did I mention Italy?

As I gave my presentation that afternoon, I suddenly realized something. I had done practically the same thing as all those Idol hopefuls. Walked into a room with someone who’d already made it and put myself out there… not having the slightest idea whether I really was good enough. I read my words for Elizabeth to critique. I listened to the responses. I came back the next day with something else. And then something else again. I was scared — nervous, somewhat intimidated — at the time. But now I look back and think wow, how did I possibly have the courage to do that?

But I did. And it worked. The essay I wrote in Positano won a writing competition. And I say that not to brag but to get to this point: You just don’t know what you can do until you put yourself out there. You don’t know how people will respond to what you have to offer until you offer it. You don’t know if you can do it, let alone do it well, until you try.


Elizabeth Berg will be giving the keynote speech at this year’s Midwest Writers Workshop. I’m on the planning committee, so I will get to see her. You can see her, too, if you’re interested. Friday, July 25 at 7 pm, she will be speaking at Pruis Hall on Ball State University’s campus in Muncie, IN, and doing a book signing afterwards. It’s free and open to the public, and you do not need tickets to attend, but if you like to be thorough, you may reserve a seat through Eventbrite.

Or better yet — come to the workshop. Maybe this is your Idol moment. If you want to go to Italy to kickstart your dream, I don’t blame you. And I’d love to go with you. But it’s not always practical to take such a big leap. When I attended my first MWW six years ago, I was terrified. I wasn’t a “real” writer. I wasn’t even working on a book. I just felt that nudge inside myself to try. Give it a chance.

If you can get away for a few days in late July, register today, because there are only a handful of spots left. Elizabeth wrote in her book, Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True, something along these lines (I’m not home right now to be able to look it up): Invest in the nicest journal you can afford. It’s a way of reminding yourself what matters to you. I applied the same logic to my trip to Italy. I was telling the world — my family, my friends, my God — that my writing was important. And in my heart of hearts — even though I’d already written and submitted my book proposal — that that is when it all started for me.

This workshop might be the thing that matters to you. I hope it is. I hope I see you there. And I hope you walk away with a golden ticket — or, at the very least, a pocket full of business cards of other people with similar dreams. And, if you stick around after the talk on Friday night, a book signed by the lovely Elizabeth Berg.

It truly is grace

I’ve known about this for a couple months, but the official issue of Writer’s Digest came out last week with my name listed: First Place Winner in Inspirational Writing Category! When I decided to attend the Elizabeth Berg Writers Workshop in Positano, Italy, last October, it was a huge leap of faith — telling the ...

Read More

8102-WD An-hires-AW

I’ve known about this for a couple months, but the official issue of Writer’s Digest came out last week with my name listed: First Place Winner in Inspirational Writing Category! When I decided to attend the Elizabeth Berg Writers Workshop in Positano, Italy, last October, it was a huge leap of faith — telling the world I was serious about this writing thing. Elizabeth was at least as kind, generous, talented and intuitive as I imagined. Positano was more beautiful than any place has the right to be. The women who attended with me are fun, talented, interesting, and became friends. And if that was all I got out of it, well, I’d be the most fortunate person alive. But all of that beauty pales in relation to the wonder of the ways God led me to face my grief and anger and helped me find Him again. The ways He showed me grace.

If you have a little time on your hands, read on. I’ve published the complete essay below. I hope you enjoy!

Amazing grace

Lost, I wander down Positano’s serpentine winding roads, pulling in my toes and elbows as maniacal men on motorbikes speed past, honking their horns and weaving between two cars passing in opposite directions on a road barely wide enough for one. I am drawn to the crates of limone, peaches and braided onions taking their afternoon siesta, lazily awaiting transformation into culinary delights. A girl, whose long bronze legs aren’t obscured at all by her tiny miniskirt, kisses the cheeks of the brothers who run the fish shop, then climbs on her moped, leaving as quickly as she came. Now, though, she holds a white plastic bag sagging low with dense, moist meat.

Minutes later, I slow, stop, then sit on a sun-warmed, salmon-colored bench, transfixed by a woman across the piazza. In between bodies of darting boys, scrambling for the orange ball — a kick here, a header there, triumphant shouts, men in white shirts smoking on benches as they watch — she sits, massive bosoms spread as wide as her legs. These aren’t boobs, mind you; there’s nothing sexual about them. Lounging against her stomach, they’ve nurtured babies and gotten in the way of her kneading bread. Sighing, she takes up residence in her doorway, watching everything and yet nothing. Her knee-high pantyhose fight the urge to roll down her calves into her orthotic shoes. The elastic waist of her black polyester slacks cuts into her flesh beneath the embroidered pink flowers burgeoning across her chest. Forearm resting on her knees, still spread widely, her weariness echoes my own. She’s maybe 65, with coal black hair, the places where her face would be wrinkled made smooth by years of eating good food, made with oils and butters and fats. Nothing self-conscious in her manner, she is stolidly unaware that anyone would notice her. She is heavily present, loudly quiet, taking up all the space in her little corner of the world.

I want that, I think. To be solid again. Real. For months, measuring now more than a year, I’ve been lost. Oh, I can find my location on a map, but since my mom quit fighting the cancer that consumed not just her body but also my understanding of who I am, I’ve wandered, free of her anchor, devoid of direction. I wander quickly, mind you — racing from cheering on my daughter in backstroke to perching on aluminum bleachers as my son dribbles down the basketball court. I careen into the driveway, leaving the car running long enough to revise a client’s ad and answer three more e-mails, then head to the grocery for Pizza Rolls for dinner. I fill up squares on my calendar as quickly as the lifeblood drains from my soul. I replay over and over a conversation we had right after my mom’s diagnosis. “It is not tragic,” she insisted, “for a 70-year-old woman to die of cancer.”

“You are so wrong,” I muttered, as daughters have since time began.

The orange ball bounces my way and I jump out of its path. I turn away, beckoned by the sound of the sea drifting over the wall that surrounds the plaza. Roosters crow, birds call, and motorboats circle the deep blue, teal at the edges, that gently fades to the clear blue of sky, anchoring the majestic cliffs adorned with sorbet-colored buildings, clinging, climbing up the hills. The light here surrounds you, seeming to come from all sides. The life here surrounds you, seeming to come from all sides. Like the embrace of a mother. The softness of bosoms that nurtured babies and got in the way of kneading bread. A mother nothing like my own, yet completely mine.

How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me

Hidden from view by the twists and turns of the stone stairway, cooler here in the shadows, I stop to peer through a rusted red gate, topped with a starburst of metal points, and I notice the jewel-colored tile cemented into the wall next to it. Number 11, it reads, crossed out with ochre paint, the numero 13 roughly stenciled below. A thing of beauty now marked and ugly. Redefined. What happened?

A very good question, my God whispers into my soul. Why have you changed, baby girl?

I picture my mom’s face, her bald-baby-bird head tilted up but no longer in need of sustenance, lips crusty, the whites of her eyes yellowing as the plastic bag beside her ceases to fill. My sister and father and two family friends sit in the kitchen, methodically lifting bites of meatloaf and buttering the rolls left behind by Mom’s friends, glancing occasionally into the next room, where she lies. My sister’s fork stops moving. “I think she stopped breathing.”

It’s just like my mom to do it this way. Two days earlier, as I sat beside her, she awoke, her brain poisoned by her body’s toxins, eyes crazed: “What are we gonna say?”

“What do you mean, Mom? About what?”

Dad rushed in, and looking from him to me to him to me, she insisted, “We can’t say ‘surrounded by family and friends.’ Promise me. Promise me!”

Her biggest fear was underlined by the standard obituary boilerplate: that we would have to watch her go. That that moment would be tattooed onto our psyches, indelibly scarring even the deepest layers. That her last act on earth would harm us rather than help.

My sister’s face traced by silky tears, she clutches Mom’s hands. “You did it, Mom. You did it well! I’m so proud of you. You did it!”

All I can do is gulp in sobs of air. I feel the nudge of my God, offering comfort. As he whispers, Oh, my sweet child, I shrug away his embrace, turning instead toward the relentless, stinging pain of the needles tattooing the image of her still form in pure, vivid color deep inside my mind.

I once was lost…

Another day in Positano, I walk down hundreds of stone steps toward the beach, peeking in doorways, looking behind the public façades for what is hidden. Green gates reveal empty crates jumbled in the corner, broken bottles, smelly trash. Water settles in the grout between misshapen stone blocks and I step around the puddles, pausing to give my aching knees a rest, letting the breeze dry my sweat. A man exits a courtyard (“Ciao, ciao-grazie”), and I consider sliding through the gate before it latches, stepping through the rooms to finger the softness of the worn towels and aprons fluttering on the balconies. Instead, I turn and let my eyes rove over his white shirt unbuttoned halfway down, sleeves rolled up, torso long and lean and trim and lovely, before he folds himself into a miniature military-looking truck and lurches down the crowded street, clutch popping and brakes squealing in protest.

I round another bend — they’re all bends here, no straight or level paths — and a shockwave of beauty presses me back to the wall. The tableau before me is spread with orange tiled terraces with curvy iron tables. Fuchsia bougainvillea climb and preen on this stage, gaudy showgirls begging for attention. The peach and pink and salmon and butter and gold and cream buildings with striped awnings beckon from their perches, while, inside, tourists sip bellinis. Lemons ripen in the sun and olives fall from their gnarled trees onto stretched, waiting nets. Relaxing my shoulders, I turn my face toward the sky, stretch my tight neck from side to side. Envisioning myself open, stretched open waiting to receive, I am able to breathe again.

I duck into a church, where street sounds are hushed and air stifles and Italian women genuflect, loudly kissing their fingertips and offering the gesture up to God. I automatically look up, to the tops of the beams and jewel-colored glass, knowing that the builders of these churches hid tiny details up high, where they could be seen only by the eyes of God. I see nothing, but I know He does. I can’t hide from Him forever. Closing my eyes, suddenly filled, I drop my chin and pray. Lord, I cry. That’s all — one word — Lord. In a rush of emotions lacking coherence, I quietly offer it up to Him, what little I have to give.

…but now am found

The shops here beckon through tiny doorways. As white linen shirts flutter from hangers, silken scarves dance across baskets of fragrant lemon soaps. Shop owners greet me, so obviously a tourist, in my own language. Around me, couples discuss purchases in French, German, English and Italian. Behind glass cases, cheeses lie down with salamis. Mouthwatering smells of spicy paninis and buttery pastries filled with chocolate or peach further crowd the narrow pathways. Trinkets hang from placards as foreigners grab up postcards and wine stoppers with shaky “Positano” lettered around the pastel scenes. At the top of a hill, I find colorful tiles and bowls and olive oil containers, painted by hand with lemons and vines and intricate patterns. The women in the back stop chattering in their expressive, fluid ways long enough to nod hello, then go back to their tales of men and children and love and loss, voices swelling and expanding to fill the space.

Mom would love these tiles, I think. She was always the first person I bought for, her gifts the easiest and most obvious choices. She knew me the same way. I ask a shopkeeper, “Quanta costa?” What’s the cost? Will this loss simply change me or completely define me? Help me, Lord, to find value again — not just outside but within.

So very tired of navigating alone, I buy a ticket for the orange bus that will take me back. I hope. The driver doesn’t understand my question, but on impulse I climb on anyway, believing the bus to be pointed in the right direction. As we climb up and up, curving around cliffs with stunning buildings stretching toward the heavens, I feel lighter. We pick up speed as we near my stop and fly right on by. My stomach lurches, dropping down the sheer mountain faces into the sea. No, I decide. This is an adventure. I can do this. I take a deep breath to slow my rapid heartbeat and sit back. Minutes later we reach the turnaround which positions the bus the right way to follow the one-way (down) road, and within moments, the bus stops just feet from the entrance to my hotel.

Va bene. “See, it’s all good,” I hear Positano remind me. You just have to be willing to take chances now and again. Let the vibrant colors thrill you. Stop trying to make out words; listen instead for nuances. Kiss noisily, grasp shoulders and stand close to those you love. Savor delicate flavors, letting them thrill your tongue. Hurry all you want; get where you need to go. But once you’re there, once you finally arrive, linger. Open yourself, even to the pain. Because although the streets are busy and crowded, they run in both directions. And when you open to let out the pain, good things come rushing in. The outside world hushes and you find yourself behind that façade, in that secret place where not everyone can go, head nestled on that ample bosom, a beloved child once more.

Was blind, but now I see.

This website and its content are copyright of Kelly O'Dell Stanley  | © Kelly O'Dell Stanley 2018. All rights reserved.

Site design by 801red