Favorite Moments of 2017

There are three primary reasons why I have kept this blog active for more than 12 years. First, I created it so our birth families could watch the boys grow up. I started a website when Jeremy was two, and though it’s morphed over time and changed locations, I’ve been faithful to update it with pictures and stories.

Second, our family members and friends live far and wide, and while social media fills a lot of gaps for all of us, not everyone is online. (Hi Great-Grandpa!)

Finally, and most importantly to me, this blog serves as a scrapbook of our lives. As a photographer and storyteller, this medium fulfills a cathartic need to document certain events and put them in some sort of order.

As I look back on 2017, the high points are noticeable. They practically scream at me. The year was mostly good, really good, so that the things I’d characterize as “bad” are simple to identify: no one dropped a million dollars in my lap and I didn’t score a book deal. That’s really all I’m missing.

Signs of Life in February

The year got off to a rough start for our country, and my task as a mother and citizen was to calm down and refocus. I wrote a heartfelt piece about not losing our minds as our country experienced a transfer of power, and then I spent all of February looking for things that encouraged and inspired me. I called it the Signs of Life series, a phrase pulled from an old Steven Curtis Chapman song I used to listen to as a teen.

Some days were easy. Signs of Life were everywhere. Other days were less so. Sometimes it was just, “I’m alive and I’m healthy,” which is no small feat. The result of February’s focus was the realization that I spend a lot of time looking at the negative and it has a large, looming effect on my everyday life. However, if I step back and scan the horizon for goodness, I’ll find it.

Jacob and Owen in June

In June my sister and her husband went overseas on a trip, which meant I got to keep my nephews for a whole week. (The only thing that gave me pause was the grocery budget! How would I keep these four boys fed?) I couldn’t wait to have them here, and just as I hoped, the time we spent together was perfect.

We took those Chicago boys and went full Tennessee. Bouldering, race car driving, eating the best food, and lots of it. Swimming in the river and playing cards at night. All of it. More of it. Every day.

Destin in May

At the end of the school year we high-tailed it out of town to get in a beach trip before the rest of the country. (Perks of homeschooling!) We chose Destin because our boys hadn’t yet seen the Gulf of Mexico, so their experiences with the beach and ocean were always whatever we found on the eastern coast. Jeremy in particular couldn’t get there fast enough. He’s our beach bum, ocean-loving, wanna-be Florida resident. As soon as we pulled up to the Gulf, he was done. How soon could we move? 

If he wasn’t in the water…

…he was looking in the water.

The boys went parasailing for the first time too.

It was our most relaxing beach trip to date, and Jeremy has been begging us to go back ever since.

The Solar Eclipse in August

Since our house was positioned in the path of totality, we had an impromptu eclipse party!

Friends came in from out of town, across town, and up the street to watch the solar eclipse. With plenty of water and pizza to keep sweaty kids hydrated and energized, we spent the afternoon hanging out and watching the sky turn weird. It was the best!

Iceland in November

Last, but certainly not least, is our incredible and bizarre trip to Iceland. We walked into 2017 with no thoughts of international travel. We went into the summer with no thoughts of international travel. Heck, we walked into September with no thoughts of international travel! But life is strange that way. Sometimes opportunities come around, and if you take a little courage, you realize that saying yes is the only possible answer.

We spent the last bit of November and the first day of December exploring the southwestern parts of Iceland. It was a dream.

As wonderful as 2017 was for our family, the irony is that we are limping into 2018 a handful of pathetic souls. On the road home from our Christmas in Chicago and Wisconsin, I fell sick, then so did Chuck, and finally Jeremy. Two bouts of flu and a bacterial infection do not make for a restful winter break.

Today is the first day since Tuesday night that I’ve felt human. I am coughing and weak, but I can walk across a room without crying. Though I feel robbed of a week of productivity, I will effort to overlook my messy house, unfinished work, and those cabinets and closets I wanted to sort out. Better to rest than to relapse, right? For the first time in five days, no one has a fever, just in time for New Year’s Eve.

Speaking of New Year’s Eve, there will be no hugs and kisses at midnight, I can assure you. We’ll just wave at each other from across the room and offer a thumbs up in solidarity. 

It was a good year. 

Signs of Life Day Twenty-Seven

It was a crap-tastic day, the Mondayist Monday ever. I could be a real live Superwoman, what with all my super-powered self-restraint. I am amazingly restrained.

This evening I collapsed on the couch in the den with Chuck so we could swap our bad day stories. We both felt defeated, like Monday had played a cruel joke and pulled the rug from underneath our feet. The gray sky fit our blah moods.

Suddenly I remembered the date.

“Do you want to know something good?” I asked.

His eyebrows rose and he gave me a knowing side-eye.

“Today is the twenty-first anniversary of you asking me out and me saying yes.”

Chuck and I met at an after-school job we both had at a local deli. We’d hang out in the parking lot after hours, talking, laughing, and squeezing out every last minute we had together. We went to different high schools, so these lingering after-hour evenings were coveted. Our friendship had turned into a flirtation, but as much as he asked for more, I kept saying no. I was going away to college and didn’t want a complicated, long-distance relationship.

Nevertheless, he persisted.

After closing the deli on Tuesday, February 27, 1996, we drove to a basketball goal behind a nearby Lutheran church to hang out before the sun set. Something about this day felt different. I don’t remember what it was exactly, but it was… something. He knew it too, because tucked away in his truck was a single red rose.

Again, he asked if we could go out, and finally, I said, “Yes. Okay.”

Out came the rose, for I had been wooed.

It wouldn’t be the last time either. Two decades later, this singular memory was the shiniest part of our terrible, no-good day. Among the bad attitudes, the frustrating national news, and the constant uphill battle of larger struggles, this memory was the one good thing I needed to see and feel. 

I’ll take it.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Days Twenty-Four through Twenty-Six

We’ve gotten hawkish with our weekends. Protective, limiting, careful. We’ve skipped church more often than ever because we need sleep, time, a break. I don’t mind it one bit.

This weekend was no exception. I slept, I ran, I read. I prepped for class next week. We went out to dinner on Saturday night, but that was our only public viewing as a family. Otherwise, we laid low and it was wonderful.

My front porch posse:

How is this a Sign of Life? Because there is nothing more life-affirming than rooting down deep with my family and tying heart-strings with my children. We had family dinner every day. We watched The Force Awakens with Jeremy and played basketball with Jackson. Chuck and I went on a walk, just the two of us. We teased and laughed and talked about vacation plans this summer.

These are restorative weekends, the kind of days when our expectations are so low because there’s no reason to think too hard.

Abigail Van Buren, better known as Dear Abby, said, “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.” There is truth here, and while I know there are no guarantees about where Jeremy and Jackson will end up in life, or how our efforts will play a role, these efforts in particular won’t be wasted.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Twenty-Three

It’s that time – that glorious not-too-hot, not-to-cold time of year when I am happy to sit on the front porch all day long with a beverage and a book. As soon as we got home this afternoon, we all went outside to take in the fresh air and sunshine.

Spring arrived early, and it’s probably a jinx to say it’s Spring at all. This is Tennessee, so we could still have a deep freeze in late March.

Today, though, it was all sunshine, and that means the front yard is back in business.

This is a Sign of Life for parents of active kids. They’re outside, they’re getting sweaty, they’re fighting over whether or not it was a touchdown. The dog is barking, the cat is napping, and I am playing referee from the front porch. We are like this for months, until it is too hot, too humid, and the mosquitos take over the land.

And we don’t come in until it’s dark. I love it.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Twenty-Two

In October 2000, a 14-year-old girl who’d concealed her pregnancy secretly gave birth and placed the newborn in a shed. The baby died from severe dehydration and the young mother was sentenced to state custody. It was then that two women in our county, along with state officials, decided to act, and in June 2001, Tennessee’s State Haven Law went into effect.

In late 2015,  my associate pastor suggested I look into volunteering at A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee. Not knowing what it was, I did a quick look online and found that it’s a local nonprofit organization that supports and assists facilities where mothers can surrender their newborn babies (up to three days old), no questions asked.

It also operates a 24-hour helpline to answer questions and educate young women across the state about this legal alternative to infant abandonment. 

Immediately I filled out the contact form on the site and inquired about volunteer opportunities. As an adoptive mom and woman who believes every life has potential, I viewed any effort I made in this arena as worthwhile.  

After meeting with the director and clarifying to her what I was capable of providing, I soon became the organization’s on-hand graphic designer. In the last year I’ve designed event fliers, invitations, and other marketing materials, as well as proofread a few press releases when needed. The director sends me info and I crank it out. I’m never in the office or at any meetings, but instead I’m in my home, doing the things I always do, but contributing what I can to the cause.

To date, 89 infants have been safely surrendered in the state of Tennessee, and while that may not seem like a lot on the surface, those are 89 lives that were given a chance. Their birth mothers made a brave choice, a sacrifice unlike any other. I am proud to contribute even in this small way so women may know that the option of surrender is available if necessary.

If you’re looking for Signs of Life in this troubling world, then I hope this post encourages you.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

 

Signs of Life Days Seventeen through Twenty

When Friday morning rolled around and I’d finished a laundry list of things to do, including laundry, I hibernated in my bedroom for two hours awaiting my best friend and her family to arrive. I was going into a weekend with house guests and their four-month-old puppy. For an introvert and lover of all things neat and tidy, I needed a little bit of time to prepare mentally.

That may sound terrible, like I don’t enjoy having company, but that isn’t true at all. I love hospitality and I certainly love hosting people who are important to me, but I need to ready my brain for a house to be in disarray, for extra mess in the kitchen, for an increase in overall noise. Throw in a puppy and we’ve got a busy household. Because I love these people and their dog, it’s a no-brainer! It just means I need a minute.

Corey, Gwen, Alex, and four-month-old Wrigley showed up late Friday night. In my animal-loving fantasies, I anticipated Major and Wrigley running circles around each other, spending hours in the backyard, and wearing each other out, and out-snoring each other in marathon napping sessions.

Nope. That’s not at all what happened. Despite Wrigley’s attempts, Major wasn’t having it. It’s like he knew Wrigley was a Georgia dog, and in this Tennessee house, this wasn’t okay. While Wrigley puttered around the house, Major secluded himself to my bedroom and whined. This might be the closest they got to one another.

His loss! Wrigley Chubb is a sweetie pie.

We all went to the dog park and Greenway on Sunday afternoon so both dogs and both 13-year-olds could get out some energy. Jackson wore his Georgia Bulldogs hat in solidarity.

That’s Jeremy (on the bike) and Alex (on the skateboard) and Major following them inside the dog park. Poor fella wanted to run alongside them.

Our families have strong ties to one another, so anytime we can plug in and make memories, it’s worth it. Though Major didn’t make the family photo (he was hiding in the bedroom), Salem was a big boy and suffered through it. He kept his eye on Wrigley the whole time.

Before they headed back to Atlanta this morning, we had one more visitor to welcome. My family lived in Atlanta from 1990 to 1993, and while Corey’s friendship is one I’ve kept since living there, my sister has hung on to a few friendships as well. Andre was like a big brother to me. In fact, all of my sister’s friends treated me like I was their little sister. I felt special, loved, included, all of it. This is where social media has been a blessing to people like my sister and me – it’s enabled us to keep tabs on folks from everywhere we’ve lived.

So when I read a Facebook update from Andre saying he was going to Gatlinburg for the weekend, I jumped on it. COME SEE ME! What’s it been – 18 years? More? I don’t even remember.

Of course, this means he knew Corey too, because she was always at our house and we all went to the same high school. They were seniors, we were freshman.

How does this happen exactly? To go decades without being in touch and then see someone again and it feels like no time has passed? Or even if you realize time has passed, it just doesn’t matter.

Sitting next to Andre on the couch in my grown-up living room, in a home I share with my husband and children, it was all I could to not act like a 14-year-old girl and talk about how special I felt riding around in his red Chevrolet Tracker. He was so sweet to me, and I never forgot it.

This is the stuff that makes life GOOD and worthwhile. Deep and abiding relationships, making memories with people you love, loyalty that spans decades…

And puppies. We cannot forget the goodness of puppies.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Sixteen

The day was lovely. Classes went well, and Chuck and I enjoyed a lunch date. Please look at these donuts and imagine how delicious they are:

Once the boys and I got home from co-op, the sun was still shining and Major followed me around hinting that he was ready for a walk. Despite how comfortable my pajamas would feel, I caved and off we went.

We live in the county, so the roads in our “neighborhood” aren’t all that busy. Some of them aren’t even lined. And though there was a chill in the air, I was delighted to see that spring is on its way.

The patches of vibrant green are everywhere. We could still have a freeze, because in East Tennessee you can’t usher in spring without a massive freeze the week before, but nature doesn’t seem to care. It’s blooming anyway.

Nevertheless, the clovers persisted.

There’s not existential point to this post other than to show you how beautiful the littlest things can be, and how a walk at the end of the day, alongside the setting sun, is good for the soul.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Fifteen

When the day is as ordinary as today was, finding goodness can be challenging. I had little interaction with the outside world. School went along this morning as usual. I watched a bit of news, wrote a story, sorted through emails. Nothing extraordinary happened, and if nothing extraordinary happens for the rest of the evening, Wednesday will close out as a forgettable day. 

Yet when 6:30 p.m. rolled around, I felt a sudden rush of gratitude. My husband and children gathered into the kitchen. Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and broccoli were placed on mismatched plates. The nightly game of Blokus began, and Salem took his place on the table as Overlord.

This is dinner time in our home.

My introverted, sentimental self loves these enclosed moments, when it’s just the four of us (or six, if you count the pets). Our dinner routine is important to me. It is a big deposit in the childhood memory banks of my boys.

I can just hear Thanksgiving dinner 20 years from now:

“Remember when we played that board game every night at dinner and Mom and Dad always won?”

“Yeah, they teamed up against us!”

“I know! So unfair!” 

But they’ll laugh and tease us and know full well that they won plenty of times, particularly into the second year when their strategy skills improved. They will remember sitting at the table together, with Salem giving us the side-eye and waiting for his own dinner. They’ll remember how I cooked more often than not and that I loved the spontaneous baking of cookies that happened when I was in a happy mood. 

I hope they will look back at family dinner and recall it as actually was: a priority. 

This is my life, and while some days are uneventful and mundane, I am thankful for it. This is stuff is so simple, but oh, it is so good.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Fourteen

For the last four years my boys have participated in a volunteer program at our church that provides a hot meal once a week to anyone who’s hungry for food and fellowship. I’ve only mentioned it once before because advertising efforts in this way is unbecoming. They don’t need a spotlight.

However, earlier last year, their efforts moved from setting tables to actually serving food, and Jeremy’s best buddy, Foster, joined the ranks. Short of illness, they are there each week as waiters, conversationalists, and clean-up crew.

Last night could’ve been a night to stay home, not because someone was sick or out of town, but because it was Foster’s birthday. Surely staying home with cake and presents is more desirable.

And yet, he chose otherwise. He still wanted to fulfill his commitment to serving the community and being faithful to the task. 

As the driver and fellow server alongside Jackson, the four of us went on to a Valentine’s Day-inspired event and served dinner to those who were hungry.

This act of selflessness speaks volumes to me. It would’ve completely fine, completely understandable, to not serve on his birthday, to stay home with his family and enjoy the perks of turning thirteen. I wouldn’t have faulted him for it.

But he chose otherwise, and that is something.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Thirteen

When social media went downhill last year and finally tanked the day after the election, I took a break (like many others) and revised the way I used it. What was the point, after all? Why be online? Why stay connected?

There are a lot of reasons to unplug – the mindless scrolling, the agitation, the constant search for approval. If you are looking for reasons to be enraged, then you don’t have to look far. Managing one’s time and energy online takes constant vigilance, and as the tension worsened during and after election season, I knew I needed to streamline and prioritize.

I decided Facebook is for general socialization and sharing with people I know in real life. These are childhood friends, extended family members, birth families, and people currently in my life. Twitter is reserved for politics and literary agents. It’s all business and information.

Now, Instagram is all joy – photos of those I love, those I admire, and some of the cutest animals on the internet. Today, I want to share with you a few of my favorites. I’m spreading the love.

Tuna is a chihuahua/dachshund rescue with “an aggressive overbite” who’s won the hearts of nearly two million people.  His expression is always perfect and he loves to snuggle. Tuna also travels the world to visit eager crowds who want to see the snaggletooth in person.

Goats of Anarchy is a special needs baby goat rescue group… I’m not sure I need to add anything else here.

Magnus is a three-year-old Mastiff/Bloodhound mix who has the sweetest (and largest) resting face I’ve ever seen. No matter the angle, no matter the proximity, whenever I’m scrolling through Instagram I always stop on his photo.

Going smaller now, we have Jill. She’s a pet squirrel. Why we ALL DON’T HAVE PET SQUIRRELS IS BEYOND ME.

Finally, meet Rhea. She has a skin disease that makes her feathers fall off. People knit her little sweaters to wear. I can’t hardly take it. Now’s the time to follow her though. She’s currently sitting on four eggs.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Days Eleven and Twelve

The weekend was exactly what I hoped for. Sleeping in, lots of reading, plenty of time for exercise… The weird February weather translated to time spent outside – a run the Greenway and lesson planning on the porch.

On Sunday we took the tennis rackets and bag of tennis balls my grandfather gave us in January and made a solid attempt at playing. We’re all terrible and none of us know how to keep score, so we just whacked the ball back and forth until we were tired.

In between these wonderful memory-making moments were maddening political developments and a friend’s family crisis, events that pulled me straight out of a lovely moment and reminded me that life is hard and fragile.

Even very little things, like an overtired, grumpy teenager and a ten year old whose emotional development is a few years behind, challenged my mood and ability to see the good.

But I persisted, because I have to, because as a mother and homeschooler and anxious person, it’s too easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of everyday life, which isn’t productive, healthy, or helpful.

Instead, I must choose to find the good, to keep it in the forefront, and let it serve as a placeholder for when I’m tempted to dwell in the dark. If I don’t choose this, then I’m down, down, down, and then I bring down those around me.

It is true, at least in this household, that the woman sets the temperature of the room.  

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Ten

I’m currently working on class descriptions for next year, which means I’m knee-deep in book selections for middle schoolers. Such freedom! Such creativity! This is truly a joyful task and one of the best perks of the job.

In my effort to find a free copy of a certain book, I re-stumbled up Project Gutenberg, an online resource for free books. FREE BOOKS. They are primarily classics (Frankenstein, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Emma, War and Peace, The Jungle Book, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet), but there is also a collection of educational books that range from music and language to history and science.

Granted, these are eBooks, so you’ll need a Kindle or an iPad or something that accommodates the book, but still. They are free. FREE. More than 53,000 free books.

If you’re especially interested in books with an audible companion, there’s also Lit2Go, another FREE source for great literature.

Bookworms, this is your official Welcome to the Weekend post. Enjoy!

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Nine

Today was a good day. My classes went smoothly, I had coffee with a sweet friend, and Chuck and I stole time away for a lunch date. I didn’t even mind that yesterday it was 70 degrees and today it was 39. (Huh?) It was a good day with plenty of good things in it.

Then, on our way home from co-op, I got some troubling news. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing grandiose. Just troubling. As the boys chattered in the car about their day, I half-listened and half-wondered what this news might mean for me.

The sun was still shining after dinner was done and I contemplated going for a walk. It would give me time to think and settle my mind. It would make me feel less guilty about the Chick-Fil-A I’d just eaten.

Then I realized I had not visited the horses in more than a week, and suddenly that seemed like the best use of my time. 

I’ve already introduced these lovelies to you and explained the impact they’ve had on me, so I won’t go on about them again. Instead, I’ll just say that they bring me joy, even though they aren’t mine and I have no clue how to care for them. Looking across the street and seeing them there in the pasture is enough.

Someone likes the attention.

And I don’t mind giving it to him. 

No problems have been solved. Nothing has been erased. All the stuff that existed before the horses exists after the horses.

Yet, I feel a little lighter, a little happier. For that, I am grateful.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Eight

Hello, beauties! Today I stumbled upon something inspiring and I want to share it with you.

I’d never heard of Verily Magazine before, so when I clicked a shared link from one of my favorite Twitter people (@onegroovynun, and yes, she’s really a nun!), I jumped around the site to see what Verily was all about.

It looked exactly like the sort of women’s magazine I’d enjoy. Fashion stuff, beauty stuff, bits about health and lifestyle. All lovely things! I read a few pieces and enjoyed the few minutes I spent perusing.

However, it wasn’t the clean design or the quality writing or even the variety of topics that will bring me back to Verily. What sold me was its position on using Photoshop Free images of the modern woman. They are actively changing the narrative. 

It seems that despite being more educated, influential, and affluent than ever before, the modern narrative about women – what we should look like, how we should date, how to be successful, what should make us happy – can ring hollow.

Crows feet, freckles, acne scars, cellulite, all of it. It’s there. These are real women. All beautiful, and all real.

That was all I needed to know.

I appreciate their position, and yet I wish I could be as honest and accepting of myself as they are about the women they represent. Though I don’t excessively Photoshop myself in photos, I’ve been known to delete a blemish or soften a harsh line.

But here, in this photo taken on the hike that started the whole Signs of Life effort, it is just me. Nothing more, nothing less.

Photoshop free.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Seven

I had final interviews this afternoon for the piece I’m writing about death according to five major religions.

I know what you’re thinking —

JENNIE, You said Signs of LIFE, not Laments of DEATH. Please stop. 

I hear you, I do. But it’s all connected, and that’s something I just can’t shake.

This last conversation was the most helpful to me personally, so I wanted to share the best bits with you. I spoke to Dr. Mark Webb at Texas Tech University, professor and chairman of the philosophy department. Though he isn’t a practicing Buddhist religion-wise, he values the ethics and meditation practices associated with it, similar to Thomas Merton and the Christians mystics regarding contemplative prayer. Meditation is a helpful life practice, he says, it is beneficial to everyone – particularly those who dwell in the past and worry about the future.

People just like me. 

Dr. Webb went on to me about the time he was robbed – when valuable things were stolen from him and it sent him into a place of despair.

“My father and mother were gone, and now their matched rings were stolen. I wanted to give those to my grandchildren, you know? I searched flea markets looking for my things. I gave those robbers an apartment in my head. It took a good month to realize it. You just have to decide to do better. Don’t keep renting space in your head to past things. It’s just good psychology.”

I’ve never been robbed, but his story hit me like a two-by-four to the head. I have a MANSION of past and future worries living rent-free in my brain. They take up ALL THE SPACE and leave no air for good thoughts. I’ve taken medication to help with my anxieties, to chemically temper my worries. I am THE QUEEN OF ALL THE OVERTHINKING.

Even while doing yoga, my brain is everywhere.

Practicing mindfulness is not easy, but nothing worthwhile is easy. To live fully present in the moment, one must set aside the things that cannot be fixed or changed. What’s in the past is in the past, and the future is yet to be seen. 

In the last week I’ve been told and retold that acknowledging my own mortality makes for a better life. Decisions are easier, priorities are clearer. Life has greater purpose. Like Dr. Webb said, “To frame your life as an impermanent thing is motivation to make the most of what you have.”

I need more time to dwell in these ideas.

Until I have more answers, I’ll table the death talk.

In the meantime, the sky was magnificent today.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Six

I’m nearly finished with my freelance piece about death according to five major religions, and this morning I spent about an hour on the phone with Rabbi Deborah Goldmann. Similar to my conversations with an Imam and the director of a Hindu temple, I went into the conversation knowing very little about the topic. I wanted to learn from a place of little bias or foreknowledge.

One of the most compelling components of death according to Judaism is that one must always be ready to face it, and to do that effectively one must live with  intention. It means asking for forgiveness when you’ve wronged someone, making sure those you love know it, and thanking God every morning for giving you another day of life. Rabbi Goldmann said, “You should live life everyday like it’s your last day. Students ask how do you know when you’re going to die, but you don’t know! So go to bed every night knowing you might not wake up.”

It’s a jarring thought to have that image in my mind daily, to lay down my head each night and think, “This could be the last time I’m in this bed, next to this man, in this house with these children, living this life.” 

What could be gained by acknowledging that time is fleeting?

Last week, a young mother in our community – only 34 years old – died unexpectedly, leaving behind her husband and four small children. It is the cruelest of realities, but it happens. It happens all the time and there’s no rhyme or reason for it.

So maybe there’s something behind this readiness taught in Judaism.

“You should always ask forgiveness from people you’ve wronged,” she said. “Judaism hopes you’re doing that year round so your conscience is clear. Tell people you love them. Go to bed every night with a clean slate. You’ve done what you need to do. And then, thank God in the morning when you wake up and be the person moving in the right direction.”

I am a Protestant Christian and my faith tells me that there is a reward on the other side of this life –  a new life in the presence of God – but I embrace the Rabbi’s words here. I cannot dismiss the wisdom and inspiration we draw from our neighbors, friends, and family members who believe differently from us. Life is a reward all its own, and if we acknowledge that each moment is a gift, fully and supernaturally, then how much more important is the way we spend our time?

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Days Four and Five

One of the first things I did after setting up my dorm room in the fall of 1996 is go to the student newspaper office and inquire about becoming a staff writer. I was a journalism student and it was time to start collecting bylines.

A handful of very good things happened on account of my student newspaper experience. I learned how to write a solid lede, how to fill unsold ad space with PSAs, and that writing a feature story was more enjoyable than writing a news story.

I also met two ladies who would bolster my life for many years to come. These names and faces are not foreign to you if you know me in real life or have read this blog for any period of time. Susan and Lesli have been permanent fixtures in my life since our friendship solidified on a 1998 trip to New York City for a journalism conference.

Together we have been through every up and down, every twist and turn that can happen in a 20-year span, and since we haven’t lived in the same city since our college days, we’ve relied on letter writing and phone calls (that turned into emailing and text messages) to arrange the thrice-annual Girls Weekend.

We’ve had dozens of them:

Girls Weekend protocol is simple: Get to the location, decide on food, and catch up on all the things we don’t send in emails and texts. This translates to hours of conversation, very late nights, and many cups of coffee.

This weekend we met at Susan’s house and it was as predictable as ever, which is exactly what we hope for. Lesli and I arrived at her house by dinner time on Friday and we were home in time for the Super Bowl on Sunday. All the stuff in between was goodness.

What’s important for you to know here is that the three of us are not clones of one another. We do not hold all the same beliefs and ideas, and the decisions I make may not be the decisions Susan or Lesli would make, and vice versa. Yet, in this trio, we say things we don’t say elsewhere and we support one another no matter what.

This election season has proven to be a divisive one for many people, and it’s the reason I started the Signs of Life blog series. And while there is diverse political thought among the three of us, we agree on one important thing: Life is too short and too unpredictable to go through it without one another. 

This Girls Weekend reminded me that I have a cheering section, a support group, and a fan club. It reminded me that I am a cheerleader, a supporter, and a great big fan of two fabulous women. This morning I sit in a place of deep gratitude that we have one another.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Three

When I was 15 years old, I was easily 70 lbs. heavier than I am right now. I was unhealthy and insecure, but when I started Rollerblading on the weekends in an attempt to lose weight (hey, it was the 1990s!), I never thought it would lead to a lifetime of enjoying exercise.

Fast forward TWO DECADES and I’m still at it. Though my Rollerblades have long since been retired and replaced with running shoes, a gym membership, and a yoga mat, I still enjoy the mental and physical release exercise gives me. It is for my brain first and my body second.

It’s a curious thing, then, to still struggle with body image, self-esteem, and all that emotional garbage I’ve been carrying around for most of my life. It makes no sense whatsoever, but that is the nature of the beast. It is my lot. But I continue to exercise – and continue to love it – because this is the one body I have. There’s no swapping it out for another.

So today, after my workout was complete, I did the thing that I never do: I snapped a photo of myself at the gym. I felt silly doing it, but in that moment I wanted evidence that I am alive and healthy and able to do many things. 

One day I will not be able to do this. Today is not that day.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Two

Teaching children (other than my own) has been a bigger blessing than I ever imagined it would be, and it all started as a total leap of faith. I’m in the second semester of teaching at our homeschool co-op and each week has been a blessing to me. Sometimes it’s the basic interaction I enjoy, and sometimes it’s seeing students connect the dots when something new is learned.

This afternoon I had my first teacher conference with the directors of the co-op where we discussed how the classes are going and our expectations for next year. I also received a copy of the review I had last semester when a board member observed one of our class meetings. The board member already told me she enjoyed the class, but I never knew what her official report entailed. Today I learned that it was a glowing affirmation that I am doing a good job. 

Does the teacher convey passion and/or excitement for the subject matter? Yes!! The class had an engaging discussion about the chapter they read… She made the environment an atmosphere in which students want to share and discuss.

My number one goal was to create a space where students felt inspired to share their ideas and opinions about the works we’re reading, and it seems I’ve done exactly that. Today we discussed The Lottery, undoubtedly a controversial short story, and I got some flak (playfully) from the students for choosing such a piece, but you should’ve seen the participation! All that conversation and swapping of ideas was exactly what I hoped for when I crafted this class. 

All this is to say – I’m doing what I love. I’m sharing what I love. I’m making little literary deposits in the minds of young people, and for some, those seeds will grow into something lovely. There are teachers who did this for me, and now I’m returning the favor.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day One

My first thought upon hearing the alarm song at 7 a.m. (“Across the Great Divide” by Nanci Griffith) was – Absolutely not. No way it is time to wake up. Nope. – and then I hit the snooze button.

But then I heard Chuck shuffling around the room, and then I heard the faucet turn on and off in our bathroom, and the realization hit that it was indeed time to start the day. Oh how I wish I could welcome the morning with more fervor! Because what does a new day mean if not new opportunities, a new start, a new collection of choices to make? Waking up each morning means I literally did not die in the night! It means I get another day with my husband, another day with my children, another day living this life I’ve crafted alongside others.

After a kiss goodbye, Chuck was out the door and I was settled in the dimly lit library where we do school each day and I work on freelance assignments. This was the view from the window, and I welcomed it heartily.

Good morning, I said to no one in particular. Maybe it was to God, or maybe to myself. Either way, it was a moment of recognition: This is a new day. I welcome it, and it welcomes me.

Before I opened my book and began the morning ritual of reading, I picked at the potted plants in front of that same window. I’ve been teased for my plants – mercilessly, I might add – but at this very moment I decided I’d no longer care about being teased. I love them. I’m coming out as a lover of indoor plants. I love fiddling with them and repotting them and seeing how they bend towards the sunshine. 

It is the tiniest of pleasures, and the impact it has on anyone other than me is zero. This is fine.

The day quickly paced towards breakfast and school and chores, and soon I was on the phone with a Methodist minister in West Texas talking about death. I’m working on freelance piece about life after death according to five major religions, and I’ve already interviewed an imam and a director of a Hindu temple, both of whom were gracious and patient with me as I sought to spell words correctly and understand concepts foreign to me. But the conversation with the Methodist was old hat. I know this language, I’ve studied this doctrine, yet I still asked questions as if I knew nothing, and I didn’t let him off the phone until I asked what he thought about animals in heaven.

You know, because animals!

He said: That’s a good question. It would make sense to me that animals are in the new creation. Are all the dogs I’ve ever owned gonna be there? Will we all live together? (he laughs) The vision is that the lion will lie with the lamb, and that may be metaphorical for other things, but I believe there will be no more devouring. We’ll sit in peace together. I can’t say all dogs go to heaven, but if there’s going to be a tree of life, there’s probably going to be some birds in it. It would be strange for there not to be animals because they’re a beautiful part of creation. God created the animals and said it was good. How could He all of a sudden say they aren’t good anymore?

Makes sense to me.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed.