Faith, Family, Hope, Personal Reflection, Prayer

Run Harder

I ran this one for Cheryl. On my drive to the 10k trail race I ran this morning, I made up my mind to dedicate the run to my sister.

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Let me tell you about Cheryl.

Cheryl is my oldest sister. She is a beautiful, generous, resilient rock star of a woman. She is a bottomless well of faith. Three times, Cheryl has come out victorious against cancer. Today, she is a patient at Mayo Clinic in her fourth battle. Her hardest battle. I’ve witnessed the physical misery, the sadness, and the loneliness for home as she spends more strings of days in a hospital than outside it. I’ve watched the decisions to fight, to believe, and to hope. I have seen real faith.

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So, this morning, I set the purpose in my heart to run for Cheryl. I kept her in my thoughts as I waited at the starting line with 110 other people about to run 6.2 miles through the woods. As we all headed up the first hill, a steep one right after the start, I said a prayer for her. When I ran through easier stretches along meadows, enjoying the sun-soaked fall colors, I prayed for her to have easier days. While I trudged up the frequent hills on the trail, breathing hard and wanting to walk, I thought of my warrior sister fighting for her life and I said to myself, “Run harder.”

Eventually, I crossed the finish line. I felt strong, much stronger than when I ran the same race last year. My body surged with energy and I smiled as I reached the bottom of the last hill with the finish line only yards away. When I crossed that finish line though, I nearly broke down. I felt the tears pressing against my eyes, trying to escape. I felt my breathless lungs become even more constricted as a sob rose up in my throat. Then I saw a coworker standing with other finishers, drinking their water and eating their bananas, as we all do at the end of a race. I stepped over to where she was and exchanged a high-five with a smile and a compliment to her race. And I was ok. The very brief conversation made that sob dissolve and those tears retreat. I was relieved to save my crying for later, when I was alone with my thoughts.

Today, I wore the Warrior shirt designed by friends of Cheryl to support her and her family, and there were a handful of times that I glanced down at the word across my front and thought, “Run harder.” Run like Cheryl fights. Run like Cheryl believes and hopes. Run harder.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:31, RSV

Family, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Writing Prompt

What Zoe Said

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Shannon counted the broken steps on the abandoned lighthouse’s staircase.

Nine.

When she reached the lantern room, a pair of mourning doves departed in a hurry through a hole in the cupola. The space held only cobwebs, discarded birds’ nests, and a smattering of broken wood. Years ago, the massive lantern was removed. The glass window panes were gone too, with some spaces boarded up and the rest open to the outside.

Footfalls sounded on the stairs below.

“Shannon?” Oliver’s voice echoed up the lighthouse. “Are you up there?”

She nodded, all words hitched on her vocal chords until she moved to an open window frame and sucked the lakeside air into her lungs.

“I’m here,” she managed.

By the time she heard her brother reach the lantern room, then felt his shoulder press against hers, she’d squashed the mutiny of her emotions. Oliver’s head turned from one direction to the other, taking in the state of their old haunt.

“Time hasn’t been too good to this place,” he said. “When was the last time we were here?”

Shannon watched his forehead wrinkle as he tried to remember. There was a sprinkling of gray in his brown hair, and fine lines beside his eyes.

“Fourteen years,” she answered. “You were twenty-four, I was twenty and Zoe was seventeen. It was after her high school graduation party.”

His expression cleared and brightened. “Yes, we sat out on the gallery and talked until a thunderstorm rolled in.”

“Then we sat in here until it passed.” Shannon nodded. “I remember my shoes were ruined in the mud as soon as we started walking home. Zoe took them and threw them in the woods.”

Oliver laughed. “Of course she did.”

“She said I’d be stronger without them, whatever that meant.”

A rope of silence coiled around them. For a minute, they both yielded to it, then Shannon snapped its hold.

“Sometimes I wish I believed in reincarnation.”

Oliver raised his brows at her. “Why?”

“Another chance,” she whispered. The threat of mutiny swelled again within her chest. “For her. For me. So I could hope. Maybe we could do better the next time around.”

He slipped his arm around her shoulders and she settled into his side, resting her head. His steadying heartbeat drummed in her ear. When the wind off Lake Huron brought a shiver, Oliver hugged her a bit tighter.

“She was so sick, Ollie. How did we not know?” Shannon asked, her voice laden with desperation.

“I don’t know,” Oliver admitted. “When Mom called and told me what happened, it knocked the air out of my lungs. I still feel like I’m trying to catch my breath.”

“Did she really hide it that well? Or did I not pay attention?”

He didn’t offer the automatic consolations she’d received from friends in the past week. Together, they stared in the direction of the turquoise water, barely visible through the tangle of overgrown pines and birches surrounding the lighthouse. Waves, heard but not seen, slapped the rocky shore.

“I’m glad we don’t believe in reincarnation, Shannon.”

“Why?”

“That night of Zoe’s graduation party, when she was talking about college, and art, and traveling, and everything she was determined to do, she said something that stuck with me for a long time. I’d forgotten about it, honestly, but it came back to me this week.”

A fire-red cardinal landed in the limbs of the nearest pine. It flew to the next tree when Oliver continued.

“She said, ‘He knows how many days I have, but I don’t.’”

“I remember,” Shannon said.

“Do you remember how badly she wanted to make us understand?”

The memory washed over her. She heard the rise and fall of her younger sister’s voice, and saw Zoe’s dark, unflinching eyes and her hands lifted and gesturing.

“She had on purple nail polish that day.” Shannon raised her fingertips to her lips. “I can’t believe I remember that.”

Sliding her calf-length black dress to her thighs, Shannon climbed through the open window frame to the gallery encircling the lantern room. The decaying boards groaned beneath her feet.

“Be careful,” her brother called before sighing and climbing out after her.

Shannon stepped cautiously over one of several gaps in the walkway. Finding the lengthiest series of sturdy boards, she gripped the cold steel rail and sat down with her legs dangling over the edge in the wind. Oliver joined her, wariness pinching his features.

“Zoe said, “I don’t know if I have any more days, but I know I have today. I’m going to live like today is all I have.’”

“Yes,” Oliver murmured.

Shannon’s voice rose in agitation, “But don’t you think that’s a terribly dangerous way to live?”

“I do,” Oliver said, his expression guarded. “Don’t you think pretending it’s not true is also a terribly dangerous way to live?”

The cardinal landed on the gallery railing, two yards from where they sat. A song, sweet and brief, came from its lifted chest and yellow beak.

“Oh!” Shannon yelped, for her left shoe had slipped from her foot and dropped.

They watched its plummet from the gallery to the ground, and in that fall—with its tree branch collisions and flips—Shannon saw more than her black leather, two-inch pump hit the ground. She saw her choices. Her refusals to choose. Her fears dressed up as wisdom. She saw her sister and all the signs of what came.

Oliver leaned over the rail, shattering her momentary trance.

“I think I see the old path over there. I might be able to get the shoe if I….”

She kicked off her other shoe and stood, not waiting for it to land.

“Leave them.”

Her brother looked up at her. “It rained last night. Plenty of mud on the way home.”

She smiled back at him. “Maybe I’ll be stronger without them.”

*This story was published in “Ever Eden” literary journal, Fall 2019 issue, August 2019.

Faith, Family, Gratitude, Personal Reflection

Plans and the Preposterousness of Them

I made a lot of plans for August. Confidently, I planned. It all seemed so reasonable. It felt good.

#1 was returning to a fitness routine. After four weeks, the mild back injury I’d been not-so-patiently waiting to heal was cleared up. I joyously began easing back into running and strength workouts. I set a goal to exercise in some manner every day of the month of August.

Secondly, I set up a giveaway to celebrate the anniversary of the release of The Hidden Legacy. I pledged to readers to spend the week sharing tidbits about my experiences in the past year.

I plotted (pun intended) novel-writing plans.

I signed up my son and myself for a 5k fun run.

I bought tickets to attend a concert this week with my husband.

I planned. And God said, “Nope.”

Sometimes my plans align pretty well with what He has in mind. Other times, God shakes His wise head and plays the divine intervention card.

This time the card came in the form of appendicitis and an appendectomy. What started as (supposedly) some bad indigestion warped into terribly painful stomach cramps. After a full night of sickness of which I’ll spare you the details, it took until Saturday morning to identify that the pain was gradually intensifying on the right half of my abdomen. Cue the alarm bells!

Urgent Care, E.R., surgery, recovery, and now home, thankfully, sans appendix.

Plans change.

I won’t pretend I’m not frustrated. Or disappointed. Or sad. This simply isn’t how I wanted the last weeks of summer to look. When I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself though, I remember that my sister had surgery on the same day and it’s her fifth hospital stay in a month. I remember that unlike the woman screaming in pain on the other side of the E.R. exam room but insisting she couldn’t have painkillers due to a past addiction, I’m able to control the pain with strong medication. I remember that I have a husband who will do anything for my wellbeing, and a large family who rallied in prayer for me all weekend. I remember the Cross and the holy wounds. I remember this is minor and temporary, and “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Easter, Family, Gratitude, Midwest, Motherhood, Personal Reflection

Home Again

IMG_20190425_142050_875.jpgThis is home. Where I spent my first 18 years. Where I fumbled my way through childhood and teenage ups and downs. Where I witnessed my six older siblings leading the way. Where my parents still reside, ready to feed us, talk Jesus, and start a 1000 piece puzzle any time we’re inclined. I treasure any opportunity to bring my children there so they can stockpile experiences and memories of the place. I’m well aware the opportunities will run out one day. I prefer not to think on that except to let it remind me of the value of those visits.

The kids ask multiple times a week when we’ll return. Well, not so much when we will return. They love more than anything to stay with Grandma and Papa on their own, without me or their dad. And I love allowing them to do so. I love their independence. I love their complete confidence that they will be happy and safe and cared for while they are with their grandparents. I frequently wish that my husband’s parents lived within a few hours drive too, so the kids could be collecting similar experiences with them.

We spent Easter Sunday at my parents’ home and the day was everything beautiful. It began with Mass at my childhood parish. Afterward, I cooked with my mom to serve a delicious dinner at the table that has gathered up our family and friends for countless meals. (Seriously, I didn’t want to stop eating. It was so good.) Then we spent a while soaking in the springtime sunshine.

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My fifteen-year-old stepson, who lives with his mother in a neighboring town, joined us for the afternoon too. Any chance to see the younger two excitedly enjoy time with their older brother is a heart-strengthening treat. Our family of five plus my father walked down the one road that I know better than any other road on this earth. We marveled at how high the creek is now that the snow has melted. We visited my grandparents’ former farm with its collapsing old barns. Lastly, we lingered at the pond, throwing rocks to splash in the water while I remembered all the summer afternoons spent wandering there and the winter days of ice skating on its hardened surface. It was one of those days when I couldn’t overlook my blessings even if I tried.

My people will live in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and quiet resting places. Isaiah 32:18

Family, Gratitude, Intentionality, Motherhood, Personal Reflection

Head Colds and Happiness

This girl teaches me daily how to handle life. Sure, at times it’s more like she sets the example of how not to handle it (with whining and exaggerated tears). The rest of the time though, she handles it like I wish I could: with vigor, confidence, earnestness, and an eye for adventure in all things.

She’s been sick all week. Unlike her brother’s cold that is running a predictable course toward being well soon, hers took a different path of new and worsening symptoms that landed us in the doctor’s office today. The doctor looked at her face – pale, dark circles under her reddened, watery eyes, nose pouring incessantly – and asked, “How are you feeling today?” Annie grinned and said, “Good! I just have a bad cough. Want to pet my kitty? She’s really soft.”

I wanted to hug her so hard in that moment. Her genuine desire to share her happiness with others is a beautiful sight to behold. Maybe even more beautiful than usual when it’s expressed in a hoarse voice through a stream of snot.

Dignity, Faith, Family, Friendship, Intentionality, Jesus, Marriage, Motherhood, Personal Reflection, Worthy

Enough

Several days ago, I shared a photo on Facebook. Not a personal photo. Just a photo of some words that, on that morning especially, were relatable for me. It crossed my mind that it was likely relatable for others too, so I shared the photo and moved on.

Reactions and comments are still trickling in on that post, and it hasn’t yet left my mind. The text in the photo said this: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work.”

I was already feeling this before my workday started on Monday. Although my son loves school and both of he and my daughter enjoy their babysitter, there is inevitably at least one day each week when one of them clings to me a little extra in the morning and expresses their wish that I could stay home from work with them that day. Also inevitably, that is among the hardest moments of my week. Monday morning happened to include that moment with my daughter.

I’m blessed with a good job. It is enjoyable, interesting work in a healthy environment with a solid team of people. I’m grateful for it and challenged by it daily. No matter what though, I am a mother. I am always first responsible to my family and then to everything else. So I work extremely hard to balance it all (again, a statement that so many of you can relate to, undoubtedly). Workdays, meetings, projects, schooldays, doctor appointments, drop-offs and pick-ups, mealtime and playtime and bedtime and everything in between. Balance is a constant goal.

On Monday afternoon, I had a brief meeting with my supervisor. A generous, flexible woman who knows the life of a working mother, I’ve been thankful for her understanding in this balancing act. Among other topics covered in this meeting though, she shared that someone in our office had voiced complaints about my comings and goings. This anonymous individual was bothered by what they felt were too many times I had to adapt my schedule to those school and sitter drop-offs and doctor appointments and sick kids and so on. While I was in no way reprimanded or told to stop adapting my schedule to those needs, I still can’t dismiss the disappointment that this is what someone thinks of the work I put in at my job. Whomever it is doesn’t necessarily know about the number of days in which I work through lunch, or the nine, ten, or eleven hours I put in when I’m working from home while simultaneously caring for my children. They don’t necessarily know why I arrived at 8:10 instead of 8:00, or why I had to work remotely from my home unexpectedly. They see what they see and form their opinion.

I’m going to be fully honest here. I want to look that person straight in the eye, possibly grabbing them by the collar, and say this: “I am doing the best I can do.” I want to inform them that I already know it will never be enough. Their input is not needed for me to know this.

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The current trend in women’s self-help/self-esteem culture is summed up in one phrase:

I am enough.

It crops up in articles, books, and social media posts with head-spinning frequency. I’d even wager that the image I used above was designed to serve that message. Those words are the mantra of many tired, over-extended, trying-to-meet-all-expectations women, and they are a lie.

I am not enough. You are not enough.

If we ever want to stop striving until we break, we must admit this. If we want to quit the worldwide, olympic-level competition for Instagram-worthy perfection on the surface while we are unraveling when no one is looking, we must admit this.

I am not enough.

If I were enough for my children, they would not need their beloved father or their dear grandparents and extended family. If I were enough, I would not need my husband’s partnership and love. If I were enough, I would not need my teammates and managers at the office. If I were enough, I would not need my church community, my writing community, my health and fitness community, my neighbors, or even those most precious friends who know the real me. Above all, if I were enough, I would not need my Lord.

I am not enough.

Certainly, I can understand the intentions behind the popular message of being enough. It is answering the emptiness countless men and women carry inside of them. It is speaking to the ways we punish ourselves for not living up to our or others’ expectations. It is reminding us that our worth has been forgotten. I do understand. But believing you are enough doesn’t admit your inherent need for others. Believing you are enough doesn’t admit your need for the Divine.

I am not enough.

I cannot do it all. I literally cannot. I only have one body, one mind. I only have 24 hours in my day. I am only capable of being in one place at a time. Unlike God, I cannot be all things to all people. Admitting this is not a detriment to my self-esteem. It is an enlightened self-awareness. It fosters a great amount of freedom, clipping the binding ties of strife and disappointment.

I am not enough. I am a member of a marriage, of a family, of a friendship, a community, a church, a team for that very reason. While I will always work to be my best, I will not misguidedly carry the weight of striving to be enough. I am not enough and I am happier for knowing it.

Family, Personal Reflection, The Hidden Legacy

Biscuits and Kitchen Visits

In Chapter 28 of The Hidden Legacy, Laurel sits at the table in her great-grandmother Annie’s kitchen with a pile of recipe cards in front of her. She searches for one particular, beloved recipe, her great-grandmother’s chicken and biscuits. There are only a few tidbits of my life that found their way into my novel, and this is one of them.

The collection of index cards filled with handwritten ingredients, measurements, and instructions. The flowing, elegant cursive of older generations. Edges bent and stained by splattered sauces and chocolate-stained fingertips. Husbands, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandchildren all fed. A treasure of memories resides in my recipe box.

I’ve been missing my grandmothers. Something about autumn and the approach of the holiday season turns my heart to them each year. Tonight, I cooked for my family those chicken and biscuits, and had my grandmothers there in the kitchen with me for a lovely visit. All that was missing were the cups of tea.

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