Marianne Elliott

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A story of change, Part I

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

Recently I was invited to tell a story at this extraordinary event. This is the first part of that story. More to come in the next few days. 

What I wanted to tell you today was the story of how change happens. Because it’s the story I’m obsessed with. Because it’s a big important story. And because we all need to be reminded, sometimes, that change does happen.

From time to time I lose faith that the long arc of history, as Doctor Martin Luther King once said “bends towards justice.” In those moments I feel hopeless, defeated, as though the forces that bend towards greed and destruction might be stronger. And when I hit that low, I remember the words of legendary civil & women’s rights activist Heather Booth who said:

“It’s always a difficult moment when there are forces of entrenched interest that are fighting against real people who want to see decent human needs fulfilled. So there has always been a fight.”

There has always been a fight. It has always been difficult. And still, there has always been change.

There was a time when schools, restaurants and public transport were segregated by race in many parts of the United States.

There was a time – not very long ago – when many people in New Zealand couldn’t marry the person who they loved simply because of their sex.

Change does happen. But how does it happen? How do we get from A to where we want to B?

This is the question I’m obsessed with at the moment. It’s a question I’ve been obsessed with all my life.

Which is why my friend Gemma convinced me to tell the story I know best – the story of how change happens in my own world. How I went from being a 21 year old Brethren bride in Hamilton, to a corporate lawyer in Auckland, to a human rights defender in Gaza, to a fairy in Ponsonby, to a UN peacekeeper in Afghanistan. And most recently, to a restauranteur and rabble-rouser in Wellington. Which turns out to be an interesting case study in how change happens.

Because if my life is anything to go by, we should expect change to happen when we least expect it.


I grew up on a dairy farm just outside of Tokoroa. Along with my entire extended family I attended the Open Brethren church in Putaruru. I was still attending the Open Brethren church when I went away to Hamilton to study law. I married the son of the pastor of another Brethren church a few days after I turned 20 and we moved together to Auckland where I worked as a corporate litigator, he as an accountant.

When our marriage didn’t work, and we separated and then divorced, it felt like a profound failure. As somebody who had tried to live a life that honoured the teachings of the church, I found it very difficult to stay in the church. I found it difficult even to stay in the country. So I left. I separated from my husband, packed my bag, flew to South Africa and walked for about 11 months.

I discovered that there was a big world out there and people believed all sorts of things, and people had done worse things than getting divorced. Which was quite an important thing to discover.

Even more importantly, when my parents responded to my news with no judgement, only sadness and love, I realised they didn’t love me because I’d been a good Christian Brethren girl, and followed all the rules, they loved me anyway. Which was a very important discovery to make.

More soon. If you have some stories you need to tell, but you are scared to tell them – consider joining Laurie Wagner and I in Alameda October 3-4 for: Forbidden Territory: Telling stories that could change the world

Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff…

Sunday, September 13, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us […]

Where you can find me in the next few months…

Monday, August 10, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

After a year of focusing pretty much exclusively on ActionStation, I have a few teaching and presenting events coming up: Muse Camp 2015 – August 21st-23rd, Bend OR Yoga in Action: Off the Mat, Sept-Oct, Wellington, NZ Game Changers: Yoga Journal Live Event, 27 Sept-1 Oct, Colorado Muse Camp 2015 August 21st-23rd, Bend OR Muse […]

What I’ve been learning, reading & writing

Sunday, August 9, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

It’s been a long time since I wrote here. Not because I haven’t had anything to say, but because I’ve been utterly consumed by the work of launching, nurturing and getting ActionStation through something known in the start-up world as the ‘Valley of Death’. Over the past month I really feel that we’ve emerged from that […]

A #mycourage round-up!

Monday, April 20, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

These last few weeks I’ve been honored to share the brave stories of friends who are making their way through the world one courageous step at a time. At home. At work. In the neighborhood. In themselves. They really have blown me away, but I shouldn’t be surprised. This is how it happens for all […]

The Bravest Yes

Saturday, April 18, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

A guest post from Christine Mason Miller

This essay was originally published in Skirt! magazine in 2011, and provided the inspiration for a book Christine is currently writing about her family.

I had been mired in angst as my husband’s son’s wedding drew closer. It would be an intimate gathering—only 50 guests—taking place on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, with a week’s worth of sun, surf and celebration leading up to the ceremony. Houses were rented, flights were booked and a taco joint reserved for the rehearsal dinner. A family wedding in paradise—what could be wrong with that? But that was the problem. It was a family wedding, and who was I? No one important—just the dad’s wife.

Finding the Courage to Stay the Course

Friday, April 17, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

A guest post from Brigitte Lyons

Sitting on my shelf is a book that terrifies me. A gift from my husband, I never made it past the fourth chapter.

I should have read this book. I’m the kind of person that always finishes books, even when they give me nightmares. I waded through Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys, which should come with a trigger warning. I read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and Christine when I was 13, setting myself up for a lifetime of low-level anxiety.

But this book, which sits so innocently on my shelf and boasts the label, “National Bestseller. The book EVERY small-business owner should own,” stopped me in my tracks.

Beyond Bravery

Thursday, April 16, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

A guest post from Natalya Pemberton

I must have been about twelve years old. A blonde kid in a bathing suit, at the top of a tower on a gorgeous, Sydney summer day. A man gave me a plastic board with hand-holds in the sides. “Sit on the board, lean forward, and don’t let go.” I did as he said, heart racing. I looked down as water rushed over the steep incline. Wondered whether I could really do this. I’d barely made the waterslide’s height limit. I’d never been up this high before. What if I accidentally let go, or sat up, or fell off? I absolutely wasn’t ready. But the attendant was, and there was a line of people behind me, waiting. I tightened my grip on the plastic board and pushed off. Scared, but doing it.

The Courage of Conviction — Or Lack Thereof

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

A guest post from Tara Gentile

“We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know; God wants us to realize his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Tegel Prison. Bonhoeffer had faced over a year imprisoned by the Nazis for conspiring against Hitler and the Third Reich. He was a pastor, a theologian, and a committed pacifist.

He had the courage to risk his principles for the good of people who would come after him. In doing so, he shook his own belief system to the core. In his own “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” moment, he decided to do so that others might have the chance to live in a world not plagued by mass slaughter. Eventually, he paid the ultimate price.

The courage to begin again

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

A guest post from Laura Calandrella

I walked out on to the deck and took a seat in one of the lounge chairs.

It was a beautifully sunny day and I knew I could easily blend in with the sunbathers at the edge of the pool. No one would suspect why I was actually there.

The minutes ticked by, each one bringing me closer to the first swim practice I had been to in 10 years.

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