Every woman has a story, and sharing it can help others - or at least make them smile
So we all need inspiration, right?
When we’re up at midnight washing the PJs our daughter needs for Pajama Day, or finishing a deadline project we couldn’t get to until the kids went to bed, or paying bills because it’s the only time the house is quiet, or rolling our baby around the house in a stroller to get him to sleep (no judging) — that’s when we think, “Am I the only one doing this?”
The answer, of course, is no. We’re all in this together. Except maybe for the stroller part.
I’ve relied on advice from some very wise women to get me through many a crisis. To wit:
— The mantra of a friend who stayed on the job throughout her chemo treatments for breast cancer, never once complaining. “Just keep moving,” she’d say. That kept me going more than once.
— The words my sister left me with last spring after we learned some fairly devastating medical news: “Just take it one day, or one hour, at a time.” That may sound trite, but truer words were never spoken.
— My sister-in-law’s take on my preschooler’s aversion to potty-training: “No one ever goes to kindergarten without being potty-trained.” (Truly one of the worst stages of parenting.)
A week or so ago, when I was feeling the need for more inspiration, I attended an event called “That’s What She Said, ” along with 700 friends.
Full disclosure: I had heard about this event months ago from the women behind it — Kerry Rossow of "HouseTalkN,"  Jill Youse and Casey Wakefield — who are friends of mine and also founded the “She Said Project”  to inspire women to “live a purposeful life by being who they are created to be.”
They weren’t sure what to expect, but it’s clear they’ve tapped into something big.
The event sold out almost immediately, and the audience resembled a giant Girls Night Out. Women of all ages, and a few men, packed Colwell Playhouse at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Modeled after both “TED Talks” and “Saturday Night Live,” the show featured a dozen speakers, all women, telling their stories. They offered something for everyone: laughs and tears; essays on birth and death, parents and children; even jokes about lady parts. And a gospel choir.
The format had us rocking from one emotion to another and touched a few raw places — as when Nicole Knepper, author of the blog “Moms Who Drink and Swear,”  talked about getting to the hospital too late to see her father before he died. Her mother rubbed his hands so he wouldn’t be cold when she arrived.
I had a similar experience 14 years ago, and the emotion is as real as the day my father died.
In “Out of Control,” Wakefield told us about a college spring break trip she took with friends to Florida, passing on an invitation from her father to go scuba diving, his newfound passion. He died in an accident during that trip, and she carried the guilt for years. She has learned, she said, to “surrender” to the bad and the good in life, not in the sense of giving up but in focusing “every day on where God wants me to be.”
In “The Skinny Mirror,” dancer Keesha Beckford of Chicago, who blogs at “Mom’s New Stage,”  tackled the struggle women face living up to everyone else’s standards, particularly about beauty.
When she was a young dancer, she always jockeyed for a particular spot in the studio mirror that made her look “long and lean ... where I was the dancer I longed to be.”
Her 3-year-old, by contrast, dances with abandon, seeing “nothing but the power of her own AWESOOOOOOME!” Beckford said. “I was like that ... once. But somewhere along the line, too many times, I heard my mother talk about dieting. ... I saw the willowy girls getting the compliments, the adoring glances, the unspoken admiration.
“As women, some of us are so self-deprecating, so busy living up to impossible standards, trying to reach the high barre in someone else’s life. We’re unable to love and appreciate ourselves and to be confident because of what we think we’re supposed to be. What we think we should be. We have to know we are great and awesome and beautiful and capable, flaws and all. And holding and honoring that can never be found in a mirror.”
On the lighter side, writer/comedian Erin Donovan  relayed the horror of the six-week postpartum checkup in a piece called “Dead Vagina Walking.” We’ll leave it at that.
And Rossow described how she fulfilled a pledge to friends to run naked down her street — in the middle of winter — if a certain project came through. She will tell her daughters to “find women who will hold you to your word. Find women who will remind you that you wanted to write that book, run that marathon or stand on that stage.”
Audience member Bianca Green was thankful for the mix of stories so the show wasn’t “too heavy.” What struck her was that “everybody’s got something they can share. We all have a story.”
And that’s the point. Chances are it will resonate with someone else, or help them through a trauma, or just make them laugh and say, “Yes, me too!”
Organizers of “That’s What She Said” hope to make the show an annual event.
But their next project is a “She Said Soul Journey” next May to Haiti, where volunteers will work with nannies at an orphanage founded by Monticello natives Dixie and John Bickel.
A veteran of previous mission trips to Malawi, the Philippines, Dominican Republic, Peru and Mexico, Wackerlin said the “Soul Journey” is attracting book groups, mother-daughter teams and women who aren’t comfortable with church mission trips.
“We were so overwhelmed by the response,” she said.
At the show, Wackerlin drew one of the names for a free trip to Haiti. Winner Mary White said she and her husband, former UI President B. Joseph White, have decided to "pay it forward" and give the free trip to another volunteer.
"I'm incredibly excited about being selected to go on the trip to Haiti. I've never been on a mission trip before," she said.
For more information, visit the She Said Project website. 
Here are other speakers who rocked the audience:
-- Angela Shelton: In "Use Your Sword," the actress, filmmaker and blogger shared her struggles to heal from child abuse and encouraged women to use their "sword of trauma" to conquer fear and heal. See more at her blog, angelashelton.com/blog .
-- Nicole Leigh Shaw from The Ninja Mom Blog  talked about her trials and tribulations with her less-than-perfect biological dad, and the wonderful stepdad who became her father.
-- Artist Peyton Stewart, 19, who in a Q&A offered kernels of wisdom far beyond her years, such as: “I’ve definitely learned to see the humor in everything. Otherwise what's the point? You're just uncomfortable all the time."
-- Dr. Shawn Love, an orthopedic surgeon at Christie Clinic, who talked about the burden of labels on women.
Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226, firstname.lastname@example.org  or Twitter.com/jawurth
Photos (by Darrell Hoemann):
1. Jill Youse, Kerry Rossow and Casey Wakefield introduce "That's What She Said" on Oct. 5 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
2. Nicole Kepper talks about her father's death, and her own battle with ADD, in "45 Minutes."
3. Keesha Beckford shows her daughter's style during her talk, "The Skinny Mirror."
4. Erin Donovan relives the horror of the postpartum checkup in "Dead Vagina Walking."
5. Karyl Wackerlin draws a name for a free trip to Haiti for the "She Said Soul Journey" next May.
6. Angela Shelton talks about how to heal after trauma.