Signs of Life Day Twenty-Eight

In January I took a hike. It was a required hike on account of a freelance assignment, but I welcomed it heartily because I needed a free and clear break from the world. It came along at the right time. I went alone.

I was gone for hours and in that time I thought a lot about the current political climate and how many people I loved and cared about were suffering inside of it. Sure, the country is split, and I’m upset about a lot of things too, but it was more than that. Relationships were fracturing. Marriages were suffering. There was so much discord among people I knew and I had a front row seat for it.

On that hike I cried. A lot. I prayed and I stopped occasionally to watch the wind blow through the trees or track a sound I heard in the distance. I passed few people, which I was glad for, because I probably looked a fright.

At some point during the final miles, I got an idea. In an undefined moment, on the top of a mountain on the clearest of days, I decided that I would actively counteract the negativity. For the month of February, I would narrow my focus so tight in an effort to find something good about every day among the mundane aspects of daily life.

This wasn’t for anyone else. Signs of Life wasn’t a movement or a series designed to speak to the masses. It was for me. It was a personal effort to not dwell in the frustrations and anger that had become a daily practice. I needed a new practice, and it started February 1.

So what was learned? What did this intentional focus teach me in the last 28 days?

I learned that it is entirely possible to choose happiness. I also learned that happiness is not the same as contentment, and the difference between these two things is important to understand. They aren’t even always connected.

Happiness is going out to dinner with my family because it means someone else is cooking and there’s not a kitchen to clean up afterward. Contentment is knowing the time spent with my family is worthwhile no matter where the meal happens.

Happiness is going to Girls Weekend and enjoying the company of two people I adore. Contentment is knowing these are friendships that have crossed over into family.

Happiness is a good movie, a good book, a beautiful sunset. Contentment is knowing life is good even when we can’t afford to go to the movies and the day has been so bad that the sunset goes unnoticed.

Happiness is finding a magazine that doesn’t Photoshop its images to project an unfair view of women. Contentment is knowing that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Happiness is a wonderful thing. It feels like a lifeline when the world around you is dark and heavy. But friends, it is fleeting and unreliable. It changes by the day, the hour, the minute. Enjoy happiness when it visits. Seek it out. Work towards happy moments, but know that ultimately happiness will fade and circumstances will change and you’ll be hard-pressed again and again to see the good.

Also know that in the process of seeking the good, contentment might be there waiting for you.

February was a good practice for me, someone who, like my mamaw, is “turned” towards depressive, anxious thoughts. I could have 99 compliments flood my way, but I will dwell and obsess over the one negative remark. I can compare myself to beautiful, smart, successful people and let it steal every ounce of my joy and ambition. I can run five miles and berate myself for not running six. So I needed February. I needed a practice that pushed me in another direction.

The political climate is still tumultuous, and I don’t expect it to resolve itself anytime soon. More than ever we have to find what is good and dwell on in. Bathe in it. Sprinkle it everywhere. Sit very quietly and remember that this life is all we have. We are all we have, and in a blink of an eye, it could all be gone.

If you’ve walked this journey with me, thank you.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and another journey will begin. This time, we walk to the Cross.

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-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-One

I love the comfort and calm of our routine. It grounds me, rejuvenates me, and reminds me that the life we’ve chosen is right for us. What we do is not always what others would do, and yet, that’s the beauty of it. We’ve crafted a specific style of life that isn’t for everyone, but it’s for us.

It is a blessing to say, “This wasn’t what I’ve resorted to. This isn’t what I’ve been told to do. This isn’t what I was given. I choose it every day in its entirety.” 

And what is it, exactly? What’s this thing we’ve created?

It’s not just homeschooling, because that can look a thousand different ways depending on the household. It’s not just our family rules about electronics or the internet, or our standards about what food we eat and beverages we drink. It’s not that we put our marriage before the kids or that we put a high emphasis on balanced wellness. It’s not where we live or don’t live. It isn’t our involvement in church, or that we go to church at all. It isn’t about what we believe politically or socially, or what we’re involved in or not involved in.

It’s ALL OF IT. It’s every decision we make each day that pushes us towards the goal of making this the best life possible.

Sometimes it’s the tiniest decision – like separating the boys while the do school work. They have their individual spaces with little distraction. I can talk to them singly rather than making everything a group conversation. The house is quieter this way, so they can concentrate. Also, we all need some space from one another once in a while. This seemingly insignificant decision makes for a smoother morning, which helps create a more amiable afternoon, and if I’m lucky, it might even overflow into a peaceable evening. 

Sometimes the decision is big, like saying no to something one of the boys wants to be involved in because the time commitment is too much. Or the cost is too high, or the schedule is unreasonable, or one boy is already involved in something and we prefer they take turns so the family isn’t pulled in two directions. It’s hard saying no, but sometimes saying no to one child means saying yes to the entire family.

Several years ago Chuck and I agreed we wouldn’t run circles around the schedule, and we’ve done well to stick to it. After all, we can’t be together all the time, all four of us, so making the family a priority is, well, a priority.

Today we learned that a soccer opportunity won’t pan out for Jeremy this season, so it’s back to Parks and Rec for him. This isn’t bad news, but it’s disappointing, especially to him. It was enough of a disappointment for me to consider whether or not there is a reason to rearrange everything:

If he was in traditional public school, he could just join the soccer team there…

But if he was in traditional public school, our entire life would upend…

He could still try out for the local county team we’re zoned for as a homeschooler, but that’s a can of worms I’m not ready to open yet…  

So, it looks like we’ll just sit in this disappointment for a moment and then point to all the reasons why it’s okay. Other opportunities will come along, so let’s be optimistic. We can’t control everything, but for the things we can control, we do so diligently and with intention.

Because this is the only life we have, we can’t waste it on being too busy.

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 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. 

An escape to the mountains and a new blog series

Part of my freelance work involves contributing to an online outdoor magazine. I get do to what I already love, snap a few photos, and get paid for it.

I welcomed this month’s assignment with open arms because I haven’t craved solitude this badly in months. The last time my soul was truly at rest was that weekend I spent at the monastery, and since I can’t skip off to Trappist, Kentucky, retreating to the Great Smoky Mountains is the next best thing.

The timing of the assignment was ideal because I’ve made a grave mistake of internalizing stress from the political discord among friends, family, and even my church. How quickly we devolve into groups and sides, easily forgetting or ignoring all that common ground between us. Most of the time I find social media to be this magnificent connector of time and space, a way for Army brats like me to see many people and places at one time.

But lately, Facebook, in particular, has been a cesspool of despair and outright cruelty. Desperate for relief, I unplugged on Saturday and ran off to the mountains alone.

From the desperation grew a desire to draw closer to God, to dig my feet into something stable. Strangely, I unearthed some vintage Steven Curtis Chapman and drove teary-eyed listening to the playlist from my most formative spiritual years.

Once I was parked and fully unplugged, I started to climb the steep hill in front me – Chestnut Top Trail. Leaving the music in the car, I meditated on the sound of rustling leaves and the crunching of twigs beneath my feet. I climbed and lamented. I hiked and cried.

Thankful for the perfect weather and the mostly empty trails, I hiked for five hours straight, until my legs were dead sore and two nasty blisters were fully formed. Around each bend was something beautiful, so even as my body said, “Time to turn back,” my heart was saying, “I wonder what’s on the other side of that knoll.”

I drove to a second trail – because why not? – and walked painstakingly two more miles into the Great Smoky Mountains.

I wanted to keep going, and I would’ve kept going, but I knew that no amount of time would’ve been long enough. I could go another hour and still crave ten more. Something else had to change.

It was only when I came upon these tiny mushrooms growing out of a fallen tree, it hit me: I can’t rely on these tiny escapes. Monks and mountains can do only so much. No, I need a revival in my day-to-day. Instead of one big AH-HA, I need lots of little awes.

In the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, I need to see more signs of life to prove that despair and division are not in charge.

But how to accomplish this, I asked myself. Is it realistic to expect little wonders on the mundane hamster wheel of everyday life?

Maybe. If I look hard enough, then maybe.

Thus became my goal for February: to post a daily Sign of Life, whatever that is in my world. Maybe I capture Jeremy and Jackson in laughing fits. Maybe I see something blooming where it shouldn’t. Maybe I meet someone whom I can help, or someone who can help me, or maybe there’s a sunset so large and vibrant that I absolutely must show you.

I’ve not mapped this out yet, but I know there’s something tangible here.

Maybe you’ll join me?