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Thursday, December 26, 2013

How the Preparation for an Event Adds to its Joy

Tonight, I've thought a lot about the similarities between Christmas Day and a wedding day. In preparing for Christmas each year, so much planning goes into the decorations, the baking, the meals, the presents, Christmas morning, and navigating commitments. For weeks, we focus on and work towards one day. That one day means a few hours filled with family. An hour at a Christmas service. Food eaten in moments. Gifts ripped open in seconds. Weeks of planning dissolve quickly. But they're moments of memories. Experiences tattooed on our minds that never leave us.

As a child, the weeks of December meant an overwhelming excitement as each day crept. As a grad student, going home for Christmas meant excising myself from all of the new and challenging and forward-focus to settling into the warmth of tradition and familiarity. As a young parent, it meant experiencing the wonder and magic of the holiday again. 

Of course, above all, Christmas is important because of its celebration of the birth of Jesus. Many complain of its commercialization, and, I agree, it's beyond crazy. But regardless of the creepy, blow-up, arm-waving Santas, most people know about the origin of the Christmas holiday. Understand that its roots are deeper than mistletoe and stockings. 

After Jamie proposed to me, I spent seven months planning our wedding. We decided on a venue, a photographer, a videographer, my dress, the menu, the goodie bags, the band for the reception...everything down to the flowers on each table. But those seven months weren't a burden. Every moment spent planning for a four-hour celebration only intensified the experience. If I'd passed the baton to someone else and said, "Plan my wedding. I'll simply show up," the night wouldn't have meant as much. To know that each thought put into making it special for not only Jamie and I, but every one we love, made those few, fleeting hours more special.

Christmas is the same. The few hours go quickly, but the weeks leading up to it create a mind-set and experience that transform us and create lasting memories. In December, we sit in anticipation  of the holidays. We hum and smile at strangers. We glean the joy and human connection that oftentimes lies dormant. 

 We find joy in both the journey and the destination. We savor the preparation as much as the few hours of the day. Both bring happiness and create memories that last a lifetime. But in feeling the exhale in the after, let's remember that it doesn't end with the experience. The events are simply a gateway to a life committed. A reminder to look outward instead of inward. To put others before ourselves.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Grace and Perspective

Addison Roads', "Grace," is a beautiful song about perspective and the catalyst grace serves to move you forward. The lyrics poetically portray the juxtaposition experienced when we see something from our past. In the song, it's the home the songwriter grew up in. For me, it's more auditory than visual. Over the past few weeks, I've heard "Merry Christmas, Darling" by the Carpenters on the radio. My mind always fractures. Part of me is back in 1978. It's Christmas morning. The house smells of ham and cookies and cinnamon. My mom is in the kitchen getting ready for our entire extended family while my brothers and I play with the goodies left by Santa.

The other part of me smarts at the pain of my Mom's death in August. When I was in my 20's and heard "Merry Christmas, Darling," it made me smile. Reminded me that I would soon be home with my family for the holidays. Now, it's a painful reminder of all the Christmases my Mom lost to her dementia and will never experience. Christmas mornings filled with children's laughter as they open their gifts. Stories and smiles over coffee. The lazy comfort of simply being together with no where to go and nothing to do.

In the past few months as I've worked through the conflicting  emotions of my Mom's death--sadness, relief that she's at peace, joy at knowing she's finally home--it feels as though things have moved so quickly. Like I'm on one of those moving sidewalks in the airport. She was sick for so long and now she's gone. The piece of me that desperately clung to her memory as she devolved into her disease let go. Because she won't get sicker. I won't wake up everyday waiting to hear if today was the day. Knowing she is at peace makes me at peace. But after fifteen years of losing a bit of her every day, the suddenness of her death feels like an abrupt ending. Like a novel you've been reading that just stops. The road you've been racing down just ends. It causes a kind of disorientation. When such a large part of your emotional every day is gone, the void feels like both a gift and an emptiness.

So there is Grace. Webster's has two definitions. The first defines it simply as a way of moving that is smooth. The second defines it as unmerited divine assistance given to people for their regeneration. To me, the two definitions aren't independent, but extensions of one another. Getting through tough times in a way that actually moves you forward and does so in a fluid way requires divine assistance. My family has experienced much pain. The loss of my Mom, the loss of my brother, the loss of my daughter. Oftentimes, crossing the bridge from today to tomorrow seems daunting. But I will do it. Because of Grace. I will merge my fractured mind and move forward embracing every memory and everyday.

Friday, November 22, 2013

There's Nothing Simple about Simplicity

"Simplicity is not the absence of clutter. It's refining and being able to define the very essence of something."  
John Ive, Senior V.P. of Design at Apple, Inc.

We use objects, systems and tools everyday that simplify our life and make things easy. Twenty years ago when I graduated from law school, I didn't have a cell phone, an email account, voicemail, social media or the internet. To type a paper, I had to use the Computer Lab at school because no one had a personal computer. The "world wide web" was in its infancy.

Today, I carry an iPhone that weighs ¼ of a pound but can access my email, my voicemail, my social networks, the internet, the prescriptions I need to refill at the drugstore, my Starbucks card that I no longer need to physically carry, my bank account, satellite GPS, traffic conditions, weather conditions, stock market conditions...and can talk to me when I ask it questions. Smartphones illustrate the essence of the complexity behind simplicity.

Can you read? You're reading this (thank you!). We read all day everyday. A simple skill essential to accessing and executing most everything that we do. From food shopping, banking, reading road signs and communicating. Twenty-six letters strung together in various combinations allow us to do all of these things. Twenty-six letters. And only ten numbers. With 26 letters and 10 numbers, we write books, craft national budgets, create algorithms, study science and disease. Worlds open. They improve. Through the simplicity of the tools honed to allow the most efficient connection and communication.

Things that appear seamless never are and certainly aren't an example of simplicity. Systems, tools, even relationships aren't simple because they lack clutter or complexity or problems. They're simple because time was invested to define the essence and purpose of something and then refine it. From the apple that you slice and enjoy to the Apple that you trust with every appointment, document, creative venture and photo, neither is "simple." Because there is no such thing as simplicity. Simplicity is simply the result of mastering complexity.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The True Focus of the Holidays

Tonight, I watched "Elementary," a modern-day drama of a New York-based savant detective, Sherlock Holmes. In the episode, he's annoyed that his partner wants him to have dinner with his chef brother who's prepared an elegant meal for him. Sherlock asserts to his partner that he detests the idea of an elaborate dinner because "The ritualization/fetishization of food is as an egregious waste of time as I can think of."

Yes, fictional Sherlock, I agree! I've propounded for years that we unnecessarily focus the quality time with our friends and family around food. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Birthdays. Any holiday. Even just getting together to watch a football game is about food. The meal. We spend countless hours planning menus, preparing things ahead of time. Then, when we actually all get together as a family, the meal takes minutes. Maybe half an hour. Instead of sitting around and simply enjoying one another, we (particularly women) spend the majority of our holidays in the kitchen either cooking, serving, or cleaning up.

What if we could simply get together and sit and talk. Share our lives. Enjoy the pleasure of uninterrupted conversation. What if instead of making Thanksgiving and Christmas about the meal we brought in pizza and enjoyed time just talking. Laughing. Being a family.

In many parts of the world, food is a necessity. In ours, it's a luxury. So many go to sleep every night hungry. What if we--those of us who never go to bed hungry, who have ice cream before bed, who get a $4 coffee from Starbucks everyday--sat with our families without the distraction of menus and courses and clean-up and embraced being together. Thankful. Instead of ritualizing and fetishizing food and making it the centerpiece of the time we spend with those we love most, why don't we simply take a step back. Order take out or eat peanut-butter sandwiches and focus on the actual point of this season. It's about family not food.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Finding Comfort in Simple Things

Tonight, I watched my puppy, Ellie, play with her toy squirrel. Backstory, we adopted Ellie two years ago from the Humane League. She was six-years-old and came to us from a foster home. My friend, Cherisse, spent months loving her and nursing Ellie's emaciated self back to health. When we brought her home, the one belonging she had was her toy squirrel. 

With an almost seven year history we weren't part of, Ellie's personality was created by people we'd never know. Quite frankly, she's nuts. From the moment the sun comes up, she's screeching at bunnies. Barking frantically at any light that refuses to be stationary. And is compelled to jump not only on you, but on your chest. In your face. With a determination that you aren't staying asleep because there's way too much going on right now that you need to know about.

Yet, when she's tired or finally goes to a quiet place, she finds her squirrel. She lays on the floor and lovingly, gently gnaws at it. Usually, when I leave the room, she follows me. She has an internal GPS that alerts her when Mommy's more than 10 feet away. But when she has her squirrel, she finds such comfort that it takes her a few minutes to realize that I'm out of her imposed "zone of safety." 

Last night, my honey and I watched "The Voice." An amazing kid from Alabama sang his heart out. Typical country sound. But when they asked him questions and he spoke, I chewed on my squirrel. First, I heard him say, "Thank you" to the production intern that opened the door for him. Then, when questioned by the judges, every verb with an "i" was articulated with an "a." He said, "I thank" for "I think" and added syllables and said, "Yes, sir." I chewed on my squirrel a bit more.

I moved from Alabama when I was 20 and went away to Emory Law. It's been over two decades since then, but when I hear the sweet nectar of a Southern accent, my heart smiles. 

We all have our squirrel. That thing that no matter where we are or what we're doing in our lives, it puts us in a place of comfort and safety. For me, it's the lyrical sound of a Southern drawl. Like when my friend, Matt Parks, in a Creative Team meeting says "dill" for "deal." Or "pen" for "pin." I'm home.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How Our Senses Bring Life To Our Past

Memory is a funny thing. So often it eludes us. "What was her name?" "What street is that on?" "Who sings that song?" Little pieces of information float around in our heads. How convenient would it be if everything was filed away and easily accessible? But so often we find ourselves in the middle of a conversation and forgetting our point. Or walking into a room and wondering why we went into it in the first place.

Yet, a song, a smell, a situation can throw you back in time and sit you right back into that place. My mom used to wear Ciara perfume. Everyday. I hardly stumble on it anymore, but when I do, it's as if she's standing beside me. Music has the same power to be a time machine. If Madonna's "Like A Prayer" ever comes on the radio, it's 1989 and I'm driving down the road with my best friend, Kathleen, singing at the top of our lungs. I'm back in that moment if only for a few seconds.

Last Sunday, only one month after placing my Mom to rest, I attended the funeral of a woman I'd never met. But she was the sister of someone I admire and care for deeply. Attending the services was a vastly different experience. My Mom's was a video tribute to her life followed by a Christian minister's words. The other service involved a Rabbi describing an amazing life, accented by the beautiful, soulful song of a cantor. Sitting in the moment of celebrating this life yanked me back to just a few weeks ago when I said good-bye to my own Mom. The emotions that surfaced were visceral.

We often try to push through tough experiences. It's a survival instinct. But when we do, we create memories that are warped. We push our emotions down and vow to deal with them later. In doing so, we end up forever changing the lens through which we see certain things. Our memories dilute or amplify depending on the circumstance. Subjective and molded by the emotions we refused to confront.

When I think of my Mom's death, I want to create in my mind memories that preceded illness. I want to remember holding her hand as we walked into the bread shop. Her kissing me goodnight. The aroma of chocolate chip cookies and her perfume.

What's so wonderful about the sensory nature of memory is that even though she's gone, simple things bring her back. Right next to me.

Monday, September 9, 2013

When Your Children Pull Your Focus Outward Instead of Inward

I've written before that ideas are like butterflies. They flitter around and hopefully land on you. When they do, you must watch them carefully and focus on their beauty. Soaking it in. Because within seconds, they're gone.

People I know who write speak of a muse. That illusive thing that taps you on the shoulder and makes you look one way, then forces you to look another. That causes you to pause and reconsider your orientation. How you sit in this world and your focus.

Last night, I wanted to write about a Zac Brown lyric I'd heard. But my beautiful, nine-year-old ADHD son wanted me to listen to quotes from the movie he was watching. Just as the wave of a thought washed over me, he'd scream, "Mom, listen to this." And the thought was gone. The muse an apparition.

I'm not upset about this. My thoughts are my thoughts. Ever-changing and subject to the influx of information and influence. While my sweet baby boy, and his words, need to be embraced in their innocence and honesty.

So I sat down to expound upon a country lyric, but am instead relishing in the interruption that is the beauty of my son's love and life. The thoughts that flitter like butterflies will always be there. Looking for a landing place. But my children's need for my attention will not.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Being Bigger and Better Requires Being Open

Recently, Ty and I watched "The Life of Pi." A young boy traveling on a ship from India to California watches the ship go down with his family. The sole human survivor, he floats on a lifeboat for almost a year with a tiger named Richard Parker. Being in such a small space, he learns how to survive and navigate the seas while dealing with a Bengal tiger occupying his space. Only a few days into his journey, he finds a survival kit that includes life vests. He abandons the boat and creates a homemade float with the vests. He is terrified to co-exist with the tiger he believes will kill him. Bobbing in the sea, he looks to the sky and prays, "God, I am your vessel. Whatever comes, I want to know. Show me."

This scene caused me to think of two things: loneliness and connection. Loneliness because in our most painful moments, it feels as if we're hanging onto the tip of a mast. Simply trying to survive. Connection to something bigger than ourselves.

Sometimes, when I write stuff, people tell me they like it. That it touches them. Oftentimes, when they do this, I look back at what they're referring to and almost always, the words I've written don't seem like my own. The emotions, experiences, and things that resonate in my words are only a breath. I exhale and words appear on my computer screen.

I write this only to say that the words that end up on my computer and in my poems and books aren't my own. I'm just a vessel. Fingers that allow something from somewhere to appear. I'm a 42-year-old suburban Mom who spends her days driving kids around and making sure homework is done. Yes, I've experienced loss. Experienced life. But at the end of the day, I'm just a vessel. A vessel of love for my kids. A vessel of support for my honey who works incredibly hard. A vessel from wherever for the words that find their way into my fingertips.

We're all vessels. We all have the ability to open ourselves up to the possibility of showing someone something they haven't thought of before. We all have that thing within us that lets us be bigger than ourselves and show someone else how big they can be. How big we can be.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friendship, Connections, and Those That Get Us

We become friends with people we've known our whole lives and we become friends with people we've known for ten minutes. Sometimes, it's the latter that we connect with on a level that we never connect with the former. Every once in a while, we're blessed with meeting that person that just gets us. That we can sit and have coffee with and say nothing. That can complete our sentences because our brains are on the same channel. Some friends we've known for years. We share holidays and memories and experiences but never truly connect. The older I've gotten (politically correct way to say this is "experienced"), I understand and appreciate quality over quantity every day.

Whether it's geography, relational connections, or life experiences, we all meet people we make an initial connection with. "Yes, my kid loves to dance, too." "You're from Alabama? Which part?"  "My son has ADHD. Is yours on medication?" "I loved that book you're reading!"  But we often find these connections never going beyond that initial level. We skim the surface conversationally and relationally when we speak to these friends. And they are friends. But not THOSE friends.

Those friends are the ones who cry foul when you say you're fine...and you're not. They just know. Those friends get as excited about your news as you are. They listen. And ask questions. Those friends don't get upset when you don't speak for nine months because their lives are just as crazy as yours. But when you finally do speak, it's as if time paused only seconds. Those friends know what you need without asking, and open the door when you show up with exactly what they need without asking. Those friends make you cry when they're hurting and laugh when they're happy.

My sweet Peyton is in 8th grade, which I can't believe. My baby girl. Middle school for her, as it is for everyone, has been the ultimate test of friendship. The innocence of younger years is fading, but in its place a sense of loyalty and sincerity is blooming. As she's painfully learning what a true friend is, she's understanding a truth beyond her years. I'm so proud of the choices she's making, while at the same time hurting for what she's gone through in pushing her toward those choices. I love--am grateful for--the fact that she has a couple of THOSE friends.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Loss, Friends, and Life Preservers

Once upon a time, I was a girl. A girl raised in rural Alabama, protected from all things sad and evil. Who grew up in a bubble of love and ideology. A girl who believed all things were possible. All people were good. And whatever you dreamed would come true if only you worked and prayed hard enough.

Once upon a time, I believed all friends would move Earth and time to be with you when you needed them. That you could close your eyes at night knowing that you would be surrounded the next day by the same ones who left you at the corner with a wink and "good night" the day before.

But life, and reality, cause a pause. Even when the timeline of our lives experience seismic shifts, those friends, our loved ones, remain calm. And in that calmness, we fail to understand that even in their silence, they love us. Loss evokes a kind of speechlessness that can seem insensitive but actually evinces an empathy beyond words. An empathy that sits and waits until it's needed. Instead of rushing and imposing itself.

Extreme loss creates a chasm that some are able to traverse alone. While others need someone walking beside them, guiding them through. In life. In family. In friendship, the key is knowing whether the person you love--the one who's going through tragedy--needs you on the bridge or on the other side waiting to embrace you and remind you of a life beyond loss.

In the two weeks since my mom died, I've experienced all levels of friendship. Levels of support. Levels of doing that either acted as a suave in their comfort or as pain in their absence. Initially, it hurt when people didn't meet the expectations I'd assumed. When you lose someone you love, you want every life preserver thrown to you. But I've come to understand that you don't need all the life preservers at once. Instead, you need them in increments. One or two at a time to help you get from the sinking ship to the shore.

Shortly after my Mom died, people surrounded our family. The overwhelming love and support carried us through the initial tough time. But then life moved on. It hurt me to leave my Dad and fly home because it seemed as though he was suddenly all alone in his grief. His new existence. I also was sadden that with a few exceptions, those closest to me had barely reached out.

Within days of being back in Pennsylvania, the life preservers appeared. One by one. Text by text. Call by call. Flower by flower. Hug by hug. I realized a new appreciation for staggered support. For saving some of the Calvary for the second, third, and fourth waves. Just when things settle back into normal and the aching hole of your loss creeps in, someone else reaches out. A simple text from Leslie, "How are you??" Or from Michelle C, "Thinking of you." Or from Kelley, "On my mind." These little things show me that people are thinking of us. Of my sweet Mama. And taking time to pause in their day to remember.

I'm grateful for this. And will remember for the future when my own friends experience deep loss, that being a friend isn't just about triage. It's about checking the wound. Helping with learning to walk again. Sitting in the peace and listening. And loving.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Jamie and I got engaged when I was 28 years old. I remember flying into Alabama for my 10-year reunion that year in July. Mom picked me up at the airport. She stared at the steering wheel and focused on getting through Montgomery. I thought, "Her only daughter just got engaged and she hasn't asked about my ring. And why is she lost in a place that she's driven through her entire life." It didn't register that she might be sick. She was only 49 years old.

Over the past 15 years, I've watched my sweet Mama fold into herself like a house of cards. First, it was her personality. Then her empathy. Then her focus on anything other than herself. As a young adult, I didn't understand. I puzzled at what had happened to my sweet Mom that always gave of herself. The Mom that put everyone above herself. The woman that shared the free time she had to help her family and others.

In the recesses of my memory, I see her full of spunk. Full of a love that defied boundaries. I remember her tracking me down as I walked down our street at three-years-old. I'd left to find my brother, Derek, who'd started his first day of first grade and I was convinced that I could find him and bring him home. I remember her patience. Her understanding. Her love.

Her frontal temporal dementia stole her from us too young. This week, I've heard stories of her and what an amazing woman she was. How she refused to reject her morals to please her boss. How she held steady to her beliefs in the face of controversy. If she'd been able to stay with us longer, I know she would've continue to blaze trails. Speak her mind.

When Daddy and I planned her service this week, he wanted me to read something I'd written about her. In looking through things, I realized that everything I've written has been a snapshot. So I wrote a new piece. I thought about the one constant that threaded through her life. Even in the final stages of her disease. And that was her spirit. At the request of people at her service, I'm putting her poem below. She was truly a spark that even in the end stages of her dementia when her body lay still, you could see in her eyes:

Born into this world a spark.
Not a tiny, new flicker of light,
but an explosion of love.
A piece of Heaven carried to Earth,
in the heart of a child.

A childhood filled with barefoot summers,
and peppermint kisses from MawMaw.
Nehi sodas and bike rides down dirt roads.

A simple life.
An innocent life.
Her Daddy's shop out back.
The sweet smell of his pipe floating to where she sits in a tree.
Evoking home and safety.

A decade later, on a warm day,
she sees him.
Young, handsome, smiling.
His kind spirit shines in his eyes.
Months later, they become one.
Then three. Then four. Then five.

Through all of this,
the spark grows brighter.
It infects her husband,
radiates onto her children.

Her opinions are never silenced.
Her spirit tested but never broken.
Her faith illuminated in her ways.
Her love unwavering.

Daughter, wife, sister, mother, friend.
All of these while only one.
And the spark grows stronger.

The loss of a father young.
The loss of a sister soon after.
A son almost taken from her.
The other lost completely.

In all of this, she remains true.
True to herself.
True to her family.
True to her friends.
True to her God.

And even when her body betrayed her,
and her mind sought to destroy itself,
her disease stealing memories.
Pieces of her.
The spark does not go out.
For years, her smile, her laugher, her joy,
shines in her eyes.
Long after she could speak of it.

A glance into her eyes reveals the love lying deep within her.
Beyond the reach of time and disease.

What appears on the outside as an abyss,
an unreachable place,
is an illusion.

The spark, veiled only in its last moments,
bursts through.
As her last breath leaves,
so does the spark.
The explosion of love

It returns to Heaven on the soul of an angel.
To be missed here.
But never forgotten.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Confronting and Crushing Limits

After a full day, I sat tonight watching "Ocean's Twelve." I love the trilogy of the Ocean's movies. The quick dialogue, the humor, the chemistry. Brain candy that makes me smile. But tonight, as I watched "Twelve" for probably the fifth time, one of the lines of dialogue stuck out to me. Rusty, played by Brad Pitt, is discussing the latest "job" and whether it's doable. After laying out the parameters and problems, he asserts, "In the physical universe in which we reside, it cannot be done."

This hit me as profound. In this smart, edgy, meant-to-simply-entertain movie, I saw a challenge. Not in ability, but in mindset. Of course we all have limits of physical, mental, and emotional strength. But sometimes we set those limits without testing them.

In life, we witness the loss of dreams. We experience extreme loss. The loss of a job. The loss of a friend. The loss of a love. And in each of these moments, it feels as though life stops. Not pauses. But slams us to our knees in a way that we feel we'll never recover. Never be able to draw a deep breath and stand. But the power of our will, our spirit, pushes us to do so.

Today, I watched a new friend, Dayne, complete a workout. His second hard workout of the day. With only 90 seconds left, he dug deep and pushed. His hands bled. His arms cried "no more." He wanted desperately to lie down on the floor. But he dug in and finished.

Watching Dayne kill his second workout and push himself to  leave everything he had on the floor reminded me of the way we all get through the hard stuff. Whether it's working through tough times in a relationship. Or pushing ourselves physically. Or embracing and giving into the weight of something so big it drops us to our knees. We dig into our depths. Our souls. And find what we need to get through.

The quote from "Ocean's Twelve" and Dayne's determination reminded me that we don't succumb to the limits set by where we are and what we think we are. If we push through, we'll make it to the other side and find a limitless blue sky.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Power of Routine and Words

We all have routines. Coffee, paper, shower, work. Home, go through the mail, change into PJ's, dinner. Pull the top off an Oreo, lick the inside off...leaving just a bit of creme, devour one chocolate half, then the other. Sock, shoe, sock, shoe. Or sock, sock, shoe, shoe.

We all do things a certain way because it's comfortable. Mindless. Easy. But sometimes, we do things a certain way because we can't do them any other way. For me, it's the way I write and edit. When I've written my books, I've typed away at the computer. Allowing my thoughts to pour through my fingertips effortlessly. Yet, when I've edited my books, I print them out and scribble on them with pen old-school style. I simply can't edit on the screen.

Tonight, I needed to write a poem. I'm writing the story of my friend, Michelle, and how she's not only lived with but embraced her son, Nick's, disease. We've decided to include a poem before each section of the book. When I sat down to write the poem, I couldn't do it on the computer. I had to go old school. Sock, sock, shoe, shoe.

This reminded me of many things. First, I love the feel of paper in my fingers. Second, I don't actually use a pen enough to keep my handwriting legible. But--most importantly--I love words. Their power surpasses most things. You can live your life full of love but say one thing wrong and go back to start. You can live your life full of hate but say one thing redemptive and go back ten spaces. "Love" and "Hate" have equal consequences when it comes to revealing the heart. 

We must all be mindful of the power of our words. Once spoken, they can never be taken back. So use your words to love, heal, be kind, encourage, uplift. Because for every ten words of encouragement, there will be one that knocks someone backwards. Instead of letting your words be a fist, let them be friendship. Encouragement. Love. What you would want to hear.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Reminder of our Country's Greatness

Several years ago, I read, "God Grew Tired of Us." It's the amazing story of the Lost Boys of Sudan. These children fled their homeland after their families were butchered. Many died due to starvation, dehydration, and sickness. Their clothing came from trucks that tossed shirts and pants to them. Shoes that didn't quite fit but that allowed them to walk across the continent without aggravating sores on the soles of their feet. Many of the ones that survived the exodus ended up in America through sponsorships from charities and churches. In the book, it describes one of the boy's wonder in the airport bathroom at not only the running, clean water, but that fact that it starts by simply waving your hand.

Tonight, on 60 minutes, they had a 12-year follow-up on many of these boys. Some became preachers. Some lawyers. Some simply hard-working Americans (they studied and gained citizenship). This is what makes me proud to be an American. These children survived the loss of their entire families. They walked for hundreds of miles across African deserts, and ended up in the U.S. They created amazing new lives.

Being American isn't just about protecting what we have, it's about the open doors that have made us great. The Statue of Liberty, one of our most respected monuments, bears a broken chain at her feet. The words of hope and compassion inscribed on her state: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

I was reminded tonight that America is a place of hope. Rebirth. If you watch the documentary (yes, it's a National Geographic one. I'm a dork.), you'll see these children living in huts. Kicking a soccer ball in the dust. Carrying containers of water because their homes have none. Yet, they speak English because they dream of a better life. It always humbles me to see children in an impoverished nation speaking our language when most Americans only speak English.

When these children stood in front of a cork board and saw their names, realizing that they'll be sponsored to come to the U.S., it brought me to my knees. We take so much for granted. And we are so blessed.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Have You Ever Really Unplugged?

Only a generation ago, our parents left their jobs and drove home to their families at night. They had dinner, talked to their kids, and went to bed knowing they would have an uninterrupted night's sleep. If you needed to speak with someone, you picked up a phone and talked with them. You respected the dinner hour. You respected weekends. You respected vacations. There were times when good manners and a respect for someone's time with family demanded an impenetrable bubble that allowed them to simply be the husband, father, son, friend that gave them the reason for being.

With today's technology, the lines have blurred to the point of non-existence. Evenings, weekends, and vacations are no longer times of solace. Unwinding and catching a much-needed breath used to lie within the confines of a Saturday to Sunday, but now email, text messages, and phone calls penetrate that space where we used to breathe.

Yes, technology has allowed the freedom of "being home" more by allowing email and text messages to preclude the requirement of being in the office. We can now sit in PJ's and drink our coffee while fielding questions and addressing emails, but we sacrifice on the back side. Our evenings are never our own. Or Sunday mornings. Or vacations. The bubble has popped. The siren song of a life disconnected pulls us into a life of constant connect that, ironically, disconnects us from those we most want to be connected to.

Through Facebook, I know about what's going on with friends that I haven't seen in years. While I know less about my friends who live literally next door. I text my best friend rather than pick up the phone and speak to her. My mother-in-law learns about what her grandchildren do by looking at my Facebook page instead of seeing photographs in her inbox or hearing their voice on the phone telling of their latest adventures.

The past four days, the lake house we rented had no TV and slow cell service. So instead of watching a movie, we played board games and laughed and learned about one another. We sat on a dock and did nothing. We went on boat rides and enjoyed the beauty of what surrounded us. It was amazing.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What's Your Kryptonite?

A couple of months ago, we adopted a sweet little dog from the Humane League. As soon as my friend, Cherisse, who walks dogs for them, posted his picture, my heart sang, "He's ours!" Since we've brought him into our home, he's been the poster pup for the Humane League. Sweet. Loyal. Loving. Thrilled to have a home. Here's a pic of the sweetie.

Dean has been an amazing addition to our family. His purity of heart has reminded us of unconditional love. He has zero boundaries born from a boundless joy. Even when his canine sisters are being cranky, he kisses them on the face. If they growl at him, he wags his tail and licks them anyway. 

But sometimes, he can be nudgy. Whether it's Monday or Sunday, he's up at 6 am, licking my face to go potty. Part of me appreciates his waking me up, while part of me says, "Dean, just 15 more minutes." Recently, I realized something. If you take a blanket and hold it up, he will go into it, fall down and sleep. Regardless of how wide-awake his puppiness is. Regardless of the hour. If you put a blanket on top of him, he falls down like a house of cards. It's his Kryptonite. 

We all have our own Kryptonite. That thing that drops us to our knees when we feel our strongest. That envelopes us and steals all focus. No matter what is going on in our lives, it can level us in a second and bring us to ground zero.

For me, it's the word, "Mommy." My kids are older and more independent. So when they say, "Mommy," my heart melts and every ounce of me spills to the floor in a big, gushy mess. And nothing else matters in that moment but them.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

We All Need Someone Walking Beside of Us, Ready to Pass the Ball To

On the 4th of July, before BBQ's and fireworks, I went to meet my peeps at Crossfit Uncompromised. I must admit, I was a little scared. Holiday WODs (workouts) tend to be intense. That might seem redundant for anyone who does Crossfit, but there are workouts and there are WORKOUTS. But I decided to push it. And it pushed back. The workout was a "partner" one where you split the movements with someone. The work? An 800 meter run carrying a heavy medicine ball. 50 wall-balls. 400 meters of walking lunges. 50 sit-ups with the medicine ball. 200 meters of burpees. 50 pull-ups.

I asked the amazing, beautiful Karen King to partner with me. Looking at the board, every ounce of me said, "I got this." But during the burpee phase, Karen carried me. During the walking lunge phase, Karen did more than half. And during the wall balls, the owner, Tricia, picked up my slack. She allowed me to rest until the final stretch of the workout--carrying the medicine ball during a run. I took the ball from Tricia determined to finish for Karen. For me.

When Karen passed the 12 pound medicine ball to me, she said, "I'll take it at the turn." But when I made that turn, with 100 meters to go, I made a decision. I was angry that my body had let me down only a few minutes before. It had betrayed me in making me think that I couldn't lift my arms one more time. So with Karen shouting, "Do you want to give it to me?" I couldn't answer. I saw her looking back as she ran ahead, checking on me to see if I needed to give her the weight. I heard my Crossfit family cheer to my right, "Come on, Lesa!" And I began to chant--first under my breath, but then aloud--"I got this. I got this."

When I dropped that medicine ball at the finish line, it was over. But I wasn't simply dropping a medicine ball on a gym floor. I was finishing something. Only a moment before, I sat shaking my head at having given up after hitting a physical wall. Angry that I'd asked my friend, Tricia, to help me finish. But the breath she allowed me gave me a chance to pull it together and finish.

We often try to fight our way through things that we simply cannot do on our own. We think we can. We push to the point of physical, mental or emotional exhaustion. To failure. To the point where we simply must pass the medicine ball because we can no longer carry it. That is friendship. That is family. That is life.

Becoming stronger requires weathering things by having someone walk beside us. Ready to carry the ball.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

What Walking a PGA Tournament Taught Me About Not Looking Back

I spent today with my honey and my nine-year-old, Ty, at the AT&T National Championship. We watched professional golfers tee off with what can only be described as a smack and a whistle. We saw them rescue golf balls from pine straw and high grass and put them on the green. We stood with hundreds who moaned at missed putts and clapped at birdies. To walk a golf course during a PGA tournament is to witness moments where decades of hard work and sacrifice result in a winner by three simple golf strokes. Over the course of four days. Four days. Hundreds of strokes. And one winner by three.

I've watched many tournament Sundays on TV with Jamie. It's a ritual in our home on Sunday afternoon--to watch the final parings and see the highlights from the day. Then watch as the winner is given his trophy (and purse). There's both a peace and excitement to it.

Today, in D.C., we watched a group tee-off. We clapped after the "ping" of their drivers and shared their joy or disappointment in where their balls landed. But as they left the tee and began walking down the fairway, I noticed the kid. He couldn't have been more than fifteen. Dressed in the volunteer's purple-striped shirt of the day, he carried an old-school placard with the three players listed. And their cumulative scores. The thing that struck me most was the difference between the scores. Two of the players were below par while the other one was above par. Seven strokes divided them.

As I watched this young man trail behind the golfers holding this placard, my first thought found the tradition cruel. The golfer who lead the tournament was a full ten strokes ahead of the two players who were walking the course with this young golfer. Seventeen strokes ahead of him. I also noticed that with each stroke, the golfers took notepads out of their pockets and recorded their scores. And their yardages. In fact, to win the tournament, you must report an accurate score. Yet, here this young man was literally trailed the entire course by his failure to score as well as the two men he was paired with.

This caused me to ask the question: how can we look forward, treat each new day (golf hole) as a new beginning, if someone is walking behind us with a scorecard that shows the world how we don't measure up? Not even to the few surrounding us? How humiliating to be constantly reminded of our failures.

Then, as I watched the men in this grouping, I realized that none of them looked at the placard. None of them looked back to see what they already knew had occurred. Instead, each of them took out their notebooks after every single shot. Each of them looked forward toward the green--and the hole--and never looked back at the kid with the placard.

Neither should we look back at the kid. Neither should we focus on the placard and our past performance. We must just look at our notepad and see how far we have to the pin. And work on that.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What the Titanic Taught Me About Addressing Things Head On

Tonight, I watched a Smithsonian Channel special on a guy who figured out why the Titanic actually sank. He debunked all myths that it was due to human error and bad design of the ship. From years of reading ship records of the temperatures of the sea, eyewitness accounts of survivors, and how the geographical evidence proved that the Labrador Current caused temperatures to drop in minutes, he was able to scientifically determine that the meteorology of the night caused a mirage. The lookouts didn't see the iceberg because they couldn't.

More importantly, because the iceberg only became visible at the last minute due to this mirage, they yelled to the captain to turn the ship in panic. Of course he responded and steered away from the iceberg. Ironically, if he'd simply hit the iceberg head on, the Titanic would've survived. But because the captain steered it away at the last minute, it was side swiped and fatally wounded.

Yes, the metaphors abound. But the one that I keep coming back to is the fatal blow. The fact that because the Titanic didn't hit the iceberg head-on,  but instead tried to side swipe it,  caused it to sink when it could've survived the head-on collision.

Everyday, in many ways, we try to avoid issues. I'm the first to admit that I hate confrontation. We do everything we can to not face whatever problems prevent us from living our best life. But, like the Titanic, if we confronted those things head on, we would survive. Waiting until the last possible minute to address them, even if unintentional, causes much more damage. Damage from which we can't survive. Damage that sinks us. Literally rips us to the core.

So being a geek who loves to watch Smithsonian TV, I was reminded tonight that we must always keep our eyes open and address things head on.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I Know a Superhero

Tonight I had another media epiphany. "The Newsroom," an HBO series about an idealistic news anchor, has been replaying last season's episodes as a lead-in to the new season in July. The dialogue is quick and intelligent and can, quite frankly, be offensive to some with its honesty. In the first episode of  last year's first season, there is a scene in which the Executive Producer of the fictional news show tells the anchor: "We can do better. It's part of our DNA." Her plea is to encourage him to report the news honestly.

This reminded me of my Dad. I've mentioned in prior posts about the sweetness of his soul. His ability to find good in anything and the constant reminders in my childhood to not judge because we never truly understand another's story. If someone asked me to use one word to describe him, it would be "more." But not more in the sense of more money, more things, more prestige, more recognition. It would be more helpful, more understanding, more loving, more seeking, more outward focus. Through his example in the last 42 years of my life, I've witnessed him being more. And it creates in me a desire to do the same. To always see the best in people. To always want to ask, "What can I do to help?" To always want to put the needs of others above my own. Because if we all do this, what a wonderful world we would inhabit. He's tried so intently to live the life prescribed in the scriptures and by doing so has shown me its truth.

So, a few days late, I want to send a warm and loving father's day wish to my dad. My hero. The most incredible person I've ever had the privilege of knowing. One who truly seeks to place his feet in the footsteps. Love you, Daddy!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Batman, Shared Experiences, and our Oneness

Sometimes, I hear the most profound statements in the most surprising settings. This evening, I had "The Dark Knight Rises" playing in the background. I've never seen this most recent in the Batman series. Although An Avengers fan, I never bought into the movies highlighting a single superhero. Superman, Batman, Thor, Captain America...they all seemed so campy. The special effects are superb, but you don't expect to hear dialogue that makes you pause the movie and contemplate it, the way you put a book down for a moment when you've read a line that resonated with you so deeply you needed to roll it around your brain. Just now, that happened with a dark Batman movie.

As Bruce Wayne steps out of his recluse and attends a charity event, the hostess says to him: "You have to invest to restore balance in this world." Excuse the philosophical naivety of my youth, but I wanted to throw my hands up and scream, "Amen!"

Human beings have an instinctual nature--a primal need--for community. We weren't programmed to be alone. We thrive when we're surrounded by others who both challenge and support us. Even the negative experiences with others change us in ways that make us better. But being part of a community isn't simply about consuming and savoring those experiences, it's about sharing them. If we simply sit and observe, we miss out on the true depth the experiences of others can give us. We also miss out on the redeeming and validating sense of sharing with others.

Too often we rush through our lives, which are filled with commitments, appointments, and expectations. We often fail to see the needs of those around us because we're focused on what's in front of us. What we don't realize is that this hurts not only those in our communities, but ourselves. We rob one another of the wisdom gleaned only from experience.

Just imagine a world where we all invest in one another. If everyone embraced this simple idea. Acknowledged this primal need to weave our lives together. Maybe the world could find balance.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Joy in the Mourning

I just finished watching the end of NBC News' extended nightly broadcast from Moore, Oklahoma. It humbled me to see the beauty of human nature.

For the past day, we've seen photographs and video of devastating loss. I couldn't get the children trapped in the Plaza Elementary school out of my mind. The thought of these children lying, terrified, under rubble in the dark created tears that wouldn't stop. The images of their broken parents waiting to hear their child's name called as one of the rescued wore heavy on my heart. At one point, my soul mourned so deeply over this that I reached out to my friend, and pastor, Jason Mitchell, and pleaded for reassurance. I needed someone to articulate how a loving God could allow this to happen. As the mother of a son in elementary school, the empathy I felt toward these parents was crippling.

Tonight, as I watched NBC's broadcast, my heart filled with admiration and respect for who we, as human beings, truly are at our core. Within 24 hours, neighbors whose homes still stood opened those homes to people who'd lost everything. An elderly woman who stood in front of her home, which is now a stack of wood, cried with joy and thankfulness when her dog pushed through the rubble and survived. Families from nearby walked miles to help clear rubble and look for survivors. Others went to a local hardware store and bought every set of work gloves they had and then handed them out to people digging through the remains of their homes. Others set up tents and cooked food to feed the now homeless. Toomers for Tuscaloosa, the relief group that began after Tuscaloosa suffered devastating loss from a tornado, announced they were setting up a Target registry for essentials that could be bought. They had a driver lined up to drive the items to Oklahoma next week.

I still wrestle with why God allowed seven children to drown in the basement of their elementary school crying for their parents. It wrecks me to think of them in the dark, scared and wanting simply their mother's embrace, as the waters rose. The fear that they must've felt.

But rather than question "why," because I know there is no answer, I'm embracing the images that continue to flow out of that devastated town. Strangers helping one another. Bearing witness to people being the hands and feet. The goodness of human nature amplified to the level of inspiration. I choose to believe that people are good. This community--and the response of our nation--confirms this.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

We're Stronger Than We Think: Physically, Mentally, Emotionally, and Spiritually

A couple of weeks ago, I started Crossfit. I'd heard about it. Sneered a little at its "cult following." And was, quite frankly, intimidated by the idea. Why would I, a 42-year-old mother with arthritis in every joint, want to subject myself to Olympic lifts and the infamous "WOD's?" If you Google Crossfit WOD's, you'll find stories of people passing out, throwing up, and ripping muscles. No thank you!

I checked my cynicism when my wonderful brother-in-law joined the movement and lost almost 50 pounds. More importantly, he felt better than he ever had. He inspired me to at least look behind the curtain and see what the hype was about. So one Friday afternoon, I timidly stepped into our local "box," Crossfit Uncompromised. What an eye-opener. There are no puking meatheads there. There are no trainers pushing you to the point of injury. There are no unreachable standards.

Instead, I found professionals who explain things slowly and meticulously so I don't injure myself. They help me while challenging me. Everyone in the class supports one another and encourages one another with "come on, just one more!"

In the years before I started Crossfit, I'd found a comfort zone. I would go to the gym, hop on the elliptical machine, and crank it for an hour. Sure, I'd sweat a little and felt like I'd done something. But the morning after my first Crossfit workout, I KNEW I'd actually done something for my body. I experienced a soreness I hadn't felt in years. And it was good. After that first day, I realized that if I stayed with it, I would be stronger and healthier in my 40's than I was in my 20's. The arthritis in my joints no longer frightens me. I don't worry that in a few years, I'll feel "old." Instead, I'll be strong and healthy.

In the past few weeks, I've learned a few things about myself:

1.   I've learned that I can't simply accept truth about things without investigating the accuracy of that truth.

2.  I've learned that the fear of something can debilitate you to the point of missing the value of it.

3.  I've learned that stepping out of my comfort zone can land me in a place I'm actually more comfortable in.

4.  I've learned that I'm stronger than I thought, both physically and mentally.

5.  I've learned that our bodies are incredibly complex and, no matter what our age, we can awaken things in it that will make us better.

A friend of mine recently trained for a marathon. In the weeks before, due to injury, she realized she would have to walk it instead. This weekend, she completed that marathon. It took her over six hours and I have more admiration for her than those who finished first. She realized that she is stronger than she ever knew.

We are all stronger than we know. The only way to see a glimpse of that strength is to step outside of our comfort zone, reach inside ourselves, and push forward. Especially when things are hard and taking one more step seems impossible.

In the last decade, I've lost my mother, my brother, and my daughter. I've stumbled under the weight of that loss and grief, but I've learned that I'm stronger than I think. I've also realized that my strength comes not from just what is inside of me, but because of who's in me and the people who are beside me everyday, pushing me and cheering me on.  Phillipians 4:13.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Grey's Anatomy, Bad Jokes, and Empathetic Eyes

I love "Grey's Anatomy." I've watched the series since it began, what, eight years ago? I love how each episode scans the spectrum of flippant to life-changing seriousness. But this weeks flippancy hit a nerve. *SPOILER ALERT* The lead character, Dr. Meredith Grey, watched her mother suffer and die from early onset Alzheimer's. One of the other physicians on the show is pursuing genome mapping and agrees to map Meredith's genes and test for Alzheimer's markers. She tests positive. Over the rest of the episode, she doesn't wrestle with this news. She doesn't get angry or sad or deny its veracity. She doesn't walk through any of the stages of grief upon learning she carries the genetic markers for this awful disease. Instead, she tells her husband to give her a lethal dose of morphine "when I can't remember where I put my keys." She also asks her best friend, another physician, to kill her when she forgets where her keys are.

Shame on you, Shonda Rhimes (the creator/writer) for being so insensitively flippant. I've watched my own mother suffer from dementia. Her symptoms started when she was just 50 and now, at the ridiculously young age of 64, she is in the end stages of her disease. Unaware of her surroundings. Unable to do anything for herself.

My novel, The Beauty of Grace, deals with quality of life issues and a woman who suffers from Huntington's Disease, a neurodegenerative disease that also results in dementia. The title character, Grace, decides to commit suicide rather than walk the path of dementia she witnessed in her own mother. In writing Grace and considering these issues of family, faith, quality of life, disease, I struggled with both sides. I tried to bear witness to both the families of those who suffer from dementia and the individuals who face an uncertain future upon receiving the diagnosis.

There is nothing flippant about learning you have an increased risk of becoming demented at a young age. Before your children have children. Before you and your beloved can enjoy your golden years. The manner in which "Grey's Anatomy" handled this issue offended me. But it also reminded me that those who haven't lived through something can't truly appreciate and understand its depths and challenges. The fear it plants deep inside. The cruelty of its uncertainty.

There is nothing funny about learning you have the gene for breast cancer. Or that you have an increased risk of heart disease. Or being born with Cystic Fibrosis, or Down's Syndrome, or countless other life-shortening diseases.

So let us be wary of crossing the line from joking about something as a coping method and being painfully insensitive. We all have a story. Many parts of it are filled with joy and excitement. But there are also parts that are full of intense hurt. Let us approach others with empathy and with the perception that some things simply aren't subject to humor. Whether it be a show you watch, a joke you hear or tell, or a word you say, try and look at others with an awareness drenched in compassion. Because a person's heart and soul--their humanity--is the core of their being. And what unites us all.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

To cry is to be strong by giving grief a way out.

This week, one of my friends posted a quote on Facebook. Strangely, it was from Johnny Depp, who said, "People cry, not because they're weak. It's because they've been strong for too long."

This slapped me across the face and resonated so deeply in me that it echoed in my mind all day. So often, people see tears as weakness. A breaking of resolve. A surrender. But, in fact, tears are usually an eruption of an intense hurt. A volcano inside of us that's been building and rumbling for days or weeks or years. Until it can no longer be contained and uncontrollably releases things that have been building deep inside. That spill over the edges and can't be reclaimed.

Life is full of so much happiness. My daughter's kiss when I tell her goodnight. My son's "love you, Mom" as he hops out of the car in the morning at school. My puppy's unadulterated joy when I walk through the door after being gone for a half hour. My husband's gentle squeeze of my hand as we watch "Jeopardy." Sunrises. Sunsets. The smell of a freshly opened bag of coffee. The smell of my puppy's belly after she's been sleeping. A friend's hug. Chocolate chip cookies. A green light. Every day is full of happiness.

But sometimes, we get thrown into reverse by tragedy. It can be sudden or chronic. Life shattering or the slow darkness surrounding the end of something flickering out. The intensity of the pain and sadness induced by the juxtaposition of the joys experienced in everyday can be paralyzing. Overwhelming. Which is when the tears come.

Tonight, I prepared myself for seeing my Mom next week. How I wish I could see her everyday. That she were closer. But she isn't. So next week, I board a plane back to Alabama to check on her and my Dad. I know what I'll find, but I don't know. She's fading. In the end stages of dementia, she hasn't recognized me for years. And that's okay. When I visit her, I care about her comfort and her dignity. I lost my Mommy over a decade ago, but my Mama's still alive. Buried deep inside the beauty who rests quietly in the nursing home.

I cried intensely tonight. Tears of remembrance. Tears of sorrow. Tears of fear. Tears of uncertainty. I couldn't control them or contain them. I found myself sobbing with a wrenching from deep inside. Not simply tears that I blotted, but ones that began in my belly. The base of my soul. That I felt in my entire body. But with each one, with each sob, the pain left. The pain I continually push down over my sweet Mama's disease found release. This reminded me that no matter how much we try to push it down, what hurts us will pop up. Like an inflatable we attempt to shove down in a pool.

So let the tears flow. Let the pain leave your heart through your eyes. Let your spirit release it. Because it won't be held captive and will find its own way out. Better you create the avenue than let it carve its way out destructively.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Love Languages and How We Can Truly Communicate Our Love

Recently, a good friend asked me what my "love language" is. I've heard this term before. In fact, I once sat in Barnes & Noble and skimmed through a book on how to figure out your child's love language. That was years ago, but the idea of a love language and the way we express ourselves came to the forefront of my mind when I heard my friend ask a seventh grader, "Do you know your love language? I think it's gift-giving because that's how you express your love to people."

These few words spoken to a child in a moment of sincere inquiry caused me to pause and truly think about how my family expresses love. What became apparent to me is not only that we need to express our love in ways that reach those we love, but that we also need to understand their signs and words of affection outside the lens of our own love language.

When my honey heard about this topic, he asked "what are they?" To clarify, they are:

1.  Words of affirmation: people who experience love through this language find verbal expressions of love, acceptance, and affirmation as feeling loved.

2.  Quality time: people who experience love this way feel most loved when their loved one gives them undivided attention. Focus. Putting everything aside and simply being with them.

3.  Gifts:  to show love to a person who has this love language requires not simply buying something. It's buying the perfect gift. Although this isn't my primary love language, it's certainly my secondary, which I've realized by the fact that I always find it important to not just give someone I love a birthday or Christmas gift, but to give them the gift that will mean the most to them. My honey did this a few years ago on Mother's Day. We'd been watching "American Idol" and he heard me say that the song one of the contestants sang was one of my favorite songs. He pocketed this, then went online and found several versions of the song and burned six of them to a CD for me. The fact that he heard me, then spent time creating something just for me meant more than any chocolate, diamond, or fancy dinner.

4.  Acts of Service: This is most definitely my love language. I distinctly remember watching my husband vacuum and feel enormous love. When he says, "Let me do that for you" or "How can I help you," all I hear is "I love you."  I find myself expressing love this way by serving others. Whether it's picking up my daughter's messy clothes, paying property taxes so my honey doesn't have to worry about them, packing animal crackers in Ty's lunch or bringing coffee to a friend, I show those I love that I do in the way I experience it. In researching the topic, I read that laziness or making more work for someone with this language actually comes across as expressions that their feelings don't matter. Love is expressed to those with this language by actions that require thought and a positive spirit.

5.  Physical touch:  enough said. This love language is expressed through the brush of a hand. A kiss on the cheek. A squeeze of the knee.

       In looking at these, I easily identified mine. Those close to me can tell me all day they love me. They can give me gifts. Take me to a movie. Hold my hand. But when they selflessly do a simple task like empty the dishwasher without being asked or help me bring groceries in from the car or unpack their backpacks and lunch boxes without being asked, I feel loved. Because these simple acts say to me "I appreciate you. I want to make your day easier by helping with the little tasks that I can." They demonstrate thinking about someone else over yourself--and to me, that is the ultimate expression of love.

      In thinking through this, I also realized that expressing my love through my own love language might not be the most effective way to show those I love how I feel. Just because Acts of Service is my love language doesn't mean it's my husband's or daughter's or son's. I must see how they express their love to me and return that in kind. Because to show them how I love them requires me speaking their language. Just as a gift or word doesn't express as much to me as undertaking a task for me, I need to understand how my family experiences love and show it in a way they understand instead of a way that feels right to me.

     Because at our core, loving and feeling loved is the penultimate and we owe it to ourselves and those we love to get it right.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


We all have things in our lives that are difficult to begin, but once we do become just as difficult to stop. For some, it's a good book. You get so engrossed in the characters and plot that you find yourself stealing time in the carpool line or anywhere you can grab a second to read more and fill yourself with the story. For some, it's a bag of cheetos. You pop one into your mouth as you empty your child's lunchbox only to find yourself taking the box out of the cabinet because you can't get enough of the salty, cheesy yumminess that makes you lick your fingers. For others, particularly middle school girls (like my daughter), she balks about getting into the shower, but once she's in there the water heater drains. Or maybe its a reluctance to stop your busy day to run to the gym, but once you start and your heart is pumping and the endorphins dumping, you wonder why you don't do this everyday.

I love words (hence the name of the blog). I love reading them. I love writing them. I love exploring and examining their magnitude and their simplicity. How they give breath and life to us. How without them, our connection to one another would be limited to the point of isolation. Words have started and ended wars. Started and ended marriages. And friendships. They have the power to hurt and to heal. To pull together and push apart. Through them, we can honestly share ourselves or manipulate those around us. They connect us and allow us to explore and share our deepest thoughts and feelings in the hope of creating or solidifying a connection. We all need to be heard. Understood. Accepted. Loved. And words lay the roadway for that.

Superfluous conversation allows us to fill time and can create a false sense of connection. It's only when we open ourselves up and allow our words to speak truth instead of expectations that we make true connections with people. Form friendships that are both accepting and challenging. We can find comfort in the intimacy while being forced to expose ourselves honestly.

I realize that the majority of our relationships buzz along the periphery of who we really are. To protect ourselves, we only allow a few to truly understand us. Words are the impetus for this. Words allow us to expose ourselves. Open ourselves to a vulnerability that forces us to grow. In my own life, I've had few of these. And I've been fortunate enough to marry one of them. And to have friends who speak truth to me.

As my friend, Michelle, and I keep moving along the road of telling her family's story of life with her special needs son, Nick, I hope that the deep and honest intensity of our conversations in crafting her book allow us to stretch one another and find a truth within ourselves through our words that changes us. 


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How Ten Years of Pain Has Opened the Door for Ten Years of Joy

Ten years ago, I lay in a hospital bed having just been induced for labor. Ten years ago this afternoon, I learned that the sweet baby girl I carried inside of me had died just shy of six months being alive. Ten years ago, I suffered the hardest physical and emotional pain I have ever endured. Because ten years ago, I held the hand of my sweet, two-year-old Peyton, while my obstetrician looked for a heartbeat for our sweet baby Abby. Ten years ago, I lay in denial as I stared at the ultrasound screen while the absence of her pulsing heartbeat changed my world forever. Ten years ago, my soul teetered on the brink of death as I screamed at God for stealing my little girl from me before I'd even met her.

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of Abby's birth/death: January 10, 2003. Every year, I pull out my "Abby box." It holds our only pictures of her in the hospital nursery. Her tiny footprints on her birth certificate--evidence of her time with us. The solemn death certificate. The map of Pebble Beach with a heart on the spot where we scattered her ashes. Photographs of the bench we carved her name into at Pebble Beach to mark her grave.

As the years have passed, the anniversary of her birthday has affected me in different ways. For the first few years, waking and realizing what day it was caused a searing pain like ripping a Band-aid off an open wound. I would cradle the remnants and cry. Then, there were the years where I mourned not her death but where she would have been in her life: starting Kindergarten, losing her first teeth, taking her to Disney.

Over the past several days, I've been thinking of her. The beginning of January is always tough in certain ways. My little brother died January 3, 2004, just one week before the first anniversary of Abby's death. At the time, the pain seemed unbearable. Yet, today, I look back at that time and remember that I was pregnant with Ty...our miracle boy, who was born in April of 2004. And as I sit in 2013 and look back over the last decade, I see so much happiness that has risen above the sorrow of the years. I've experienced Tyler starting Kindergarten, losing his first teeth, and going to Orlando. As much as I loved my Abby--and the two babies we miscarried before her-- I know that Tyler was the miracle we were meant to embrace. He is kind, empathetic, wicked smart, and funny. I love him so much I can't express it. For reasons I can't begin to comprehend or want to question, he is here instead of her.

So on her 10th birthday, I will think of her. Love her. Mourn her. And embrace the gift of her little brother. Because an important lesson I've learned in the last decade is that focusing on sadness instead of the immense joy that lies directly in front of us causes us to miss out on the blessings we've been given.