The Biggest Lie About Surrender – and Why You Can’t Afford to Believe It

I am utterly delighted to welcome my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee as a guest in this space today as she shares about control and surrender. I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer on the Epic Book Tour last year. She welcomed Anna and me into her home among the cornfields of rural Iowa with grace and friendship. Today she is delivering her third book baby, It’s All Under Control, into the world. An early copy arrived on my doorstep in May and I have been ruminating on it since. It is simultaneously the most comforting and most challenging book I’ve read this year. I’ll write my own post about it soon, but for now, here’s Jennifer. (Be sure to stick around at the end for a fun giveaway from Tyndale!)

~*~
Everything is Under Control (I Thought)

If you asked me five years ago, I naively would have told you that I didn’t struggle with control. I mean, seriously— as long as everything went exactly the way I hoped, I was totally flexible.

It’s not that I wanted to control other people. Mostly, I wanted to control myself. If I ever had high expectations of anyone, it was of me. I wanted to present the self-assured, together version of my whole being. Which means I craved control over my face, my emotions, my body, my food, my words, my house, my schedule, my yard, my future.

courtesy of Jennifer Dukes Lee

My preference was a tidy, predictable, safe life where no one got hurt, where my kids remained in one piece, where there was no pain for anyone ever again, amen. I said I trusted God but had reached the point where I realized I actually didn’t. As a Jesus girl, this shocked me.

An Empty Tank

Clearly, my old systems of coping weren’t working: My desire to obsessively orchestrate my whole life was burning me out.

As a mom, I heard myself snapping at my kids. As a ministry leader, I knew that I was functioning within my call, but I didn’t feel fulfilled. I was tired, even after a regular night’s sleep. And I found myself zoning out during conversations with my husband, because I was mentally making lists of everything I needed to get done.

In short, I ran out of gas.

Maybe the empty tank was God’s way of bringing me to a dead stop, so I would finally pay attention. It worked. God got my attention, and maybe he’s trying to get yours too.

Imagine that it’s you who’s run out of gas. Maybe that doesn’t take much imagining after all, because like me, you’re tired of trying to hold it together. You want to keep it all under control, but things aren’t working out the way you planned.

When you and I began to follow Jesus, we relinquished control over our lives. But because we suffer from the chronic condition known as being human we constantly try to steal that control back.

CEO of Everything

My wake-up call happened when I realized that the battle for my heart was regularly being fought inside the tiny squares of my to-do list.

courtesy of Jennifer Dukes Lee

I began to ask myself this question: “What are the things that, if they were taken away, would shatter the identity I have created?”

Was it my work? My calendar? My efforts to shield my children from pain and suffering? This urge to always say yes?

For me, the answer was: “All of the above.” I was trying to be the CEO of everything.

Jesus delivered a sobering reminder: You will never know if you can trust Me if you don’t give Me the chance to prove it.

Redefining Surrender

I recommitted myself to a life surrendered to Jesus’ plans for my life. But something felt … off … when I considered what surrender truly meant.

I accidentally bought into a weird idea that surrendered living meant mostly that I needed to “do less.” Yet that was unrealistic because so much of life clearly couldn’t be opted out of. People depended on me. I had kids to feed. A house to manage. Books to write.

Most people can’t simply fire their lives and move on when it gets too chaotic. We can’t stop managing a household, cancel all our appointments, and spend the rest of our days on a floatie in the middle of a lake.

Here’s what I began to learn: Surrendered living is much more than “doing less.” It’s being more of who God created us to be.

Yes, I totally need more chill in my life, and maybe you do too. But here’s the full truth about surrender:

Surrender doesn’t come with some unrealistic demand that you are suddenly going to stop being the incredibly brave and brilliant woman that you are. Real surrender appreciates God’s remarkable design in you.

We Need Women Like You

Do you know what a wonder you are?

You don’t settle. You are the sort of woman we can count on to meet a work deadline, organize a food drive, take in the neighbors’ kids during an emergency, drive your coworker to chemo, counsel a friend at 3 a.m. by text message, keep track of everyone’s appointments, and make sure we’re all wearing seat belts before you drive us on the three-day adventure that you single-handedly arranged.

We need you. We need take-charge, charitable women like you as doctors and nurses in operating rooms where details like “proper disinfectant” matter. Let me tell it to you straight: If you have an inner control freak, I’m hoping you’ll let her bust loose like nobody’s business if someone I love is on your operating table. We need responsible women like you to control all the bleeding.

We also need you in charge of schools, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies. We need rock-star women like you to show us that surrender isn’t “lie down in a pile.” It’s “march forward like a warrior.” Sometimes surrendering to God will require you to do the hardest work you’ve ever done in your life: take in another foster child, fight for your marriage, kick cancer where the sun don’t shine, or refuse to capitulate to the persistent drubbing from Satan.

Girl, listen up. We count on you. You are a woman fervently devoted to God’s calling on your life, not only in your work but also in your relationships.

Of course, as Carrie Underwood will sing to you, Jesus is definitely taking the wheel. But make no mistake: There are times when he’s going to ask you to do some driving.

It’s All Under Control

Don’t think of Jesus as your chauffeur; he is more like your driver’s ed coach. He’s there to teach you His rules of the road. Friend, do not fear the wheel. You have been equipped to drive—and Jesus is beside you when you steer the wrong way. Hopefully He will pull the emergency brake if necessary, and I’ve personally put in a request for roads lined with padded walls.
The windows are rolled down, the music is cranked, the tank is full, and there’s something that looks like freedom on the horizon.

courtesy of Jennifer Dukes Lee

Out on the open road, may you feel the reassuring love of Jesus. On this journey toward surrender, you’ll discover that, at last, it really is all under control: God’s.

courtesy of Jennifer Dukes Lee

Jennifer Dukes Lee is the wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, and an author. She loves queso and singing too loudly to songs with great harmony. Once upon a time, she didn’t believe in Jesus. Now, He’s her CEO. Jennifer’s newest book, It’s All Under Control, and a companion Bible study, are releasing today! This is a book for every woman who is hanging on tight and trying to get each day right―yet finding that life often feels out of control and chaotic.

Adapted from It’s All under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible by Jennifer Dukes Lee, releasing this fall from Tyndale House Publishers.

 

~*~

Giveaway!

I’m so excited to be a part of a huge giveaway to celebrate the release of It’s All Under Control. Jennifer and her publisher, Tyndale, are giving away 50 copies of the book in celebration of its release! Enter below to win. Giveaway ends September 30. Winners will be notified by Tyndale House Publishers. Email subscribers can click here to enter.

It’s All Under Control 50 Book Giveaway

The Church of the Caterpillars

Vulnerable to the Lies

The church of the caterpillars sneaked up on me today.

This morning, my heart was still tender from an incident yesterday that left me feeling unseen, unknown, and unworthy. I attempted to stuff it down and move on. Realizing that it is a trigger point that has the tendency to send me into a downward swirl, I tried to push it away without examining it too closely.

But this lie was not going down without a fight.

An incident occurred yesterday that left me feeling overlooked and unrecognized. On the heels of that incident, I’d just submitted a guest blog post on the topic of speaking the truth of who we are louder than the lies that we are only as good as our shortcomings and failures. In addition to submitting that post, I’d also taken another flying leap in another area of my writing career. Both of these acts have me experiencing a bit of a vulnerability hangover.

The Mess of Metamorphosis

As I sat on the back porch this morning, soaking up some sun after a string of cloudy days, I was reading Rebecca Reynold’s book, Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World. The book is comprised of a series of letters addressed to a weary world (as the subtitle denotes).

Letter Four offers encouragement for those living in chaos: the aftermath of a traumatic event, such as a devastating diagnosis, for example. As someone who is living in the aftermath of the traumatic loss of a sibling, I found solace in her words.  In this chapter, Reynolds discusses the process of metamorphosis in caterpillars and how their entire bodies liquefy into “protein soup” while they are snuggled inside the cocoon.  As a child, she cut open a cocoon and found this phenomenon in progress. She writes,

                “[…]when we get a close-up view of chaos[…]we begin to realize that big stages like “before cancer” and “after cancer” break down into specific days and hours that require miracles to survive[…]If it were possible to cut open a human soul during chaos, I think maybe this is what we would look like too. A casual observer staring into our mess couldn’t believe that we had ever been okay or that we would ever be okay again.” (75)

After more than two years of living in a high-alert state of just trying to get through each day, I am finally beginning to feel like I can breathe again. If someone had cut open my soul a few months ago, they would have found an unsightly mess, but that mess was the fuel that gave me the means to survive all those hard days. Nonetheless, the triggers still come, the anxiety still rises, and the depression still threatens to cloud my view.

But the “protein soup” still nourishes, too.

The Church of the Caterpillars

In the light of the blazing Texas sun this morning, a tiny movement in my peripheral vision caught my attention. From my chair, I squinted behind the lenses of my sunglasses to focus on the movement. Crawling along a blade of grass’ tip was a caterpillar, making his way across the surface with tiny, methodical movements. His body scooted in a fluid wave of motion. A few inches away, another movement caught my eye…then another. I leaned forward, counting each new caterpillar that caught my eye.

One.
Two.

Three.
Nine.

I threw a towel on the ground (silently apologizing to any caterpillars that may be underneath) and laid on my stomach to get a closer view.

Twelve.
Sixteen.
Twenty-one.

Everywhere I looked within a few feet from my position, I saw caterpillars maneuvering among the grass. Some were tiny, no bigger than the tip of my fingernail. Others were plumper, a few inches long. There were dozens of them. I lay there watching them, mesmerized. For a split second it was quiet; I could hear the faint sound of them chewing on the grass, gathering nourishment for the metamorphosis ahead.

My perspective of oblivion to the fact that the caterpillars were partaking in an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch while I sat on the porch had morphed into one of seeing these little creatures everywhere I looked. In the span of a few short minutes, my perspective had changed.

These caterpillars were tiny.  They were minding their own business, doing what they were created to do in preparation for transforming into their full purpose. And they were seen. They were observed; they were acknowledged; the were considered worthy of notice.

If I appreciate the work of a caterpillar enough to write about them, how much more does my Creator appreciate the work I am doing during my own transformation process?

Enough to send the church of the caterpillars in the sanctuary of His creation.

Enough to remind me in whatever way it takes that I am sustained by His “protein soup.”

 

 

The Readers I Have Been (and a nod to Anne Bogel’s new book)

Have you ever thought about the types of reader you’ve been throughout your life?

If you don’t enjoy reading, probably not. (And if that’s you, well, thanks for being here and reading my blog. Your efforts are greatly appreciated!)

Losing myself in a book has always been a favorite pastime of mine. If nothing else proves true about me, I am a reader. Though I’m fairly positive I didn’t emerge from the womb reading, I can’t remember not having my nose stuck in a book. There’s even a picture of three-year-old me “reading” to my younger sister.

In her newly-birthed book, I’d Rather Be Reading, Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy) references Madeline L’Engle’s belief that a person is a compilation of all the ages he or she has been. Bogel goes on to add an addendum:

 

 

“Just as I am all the ages I have been, I’m all the readers I have been. […] I’ve been many kinds of readers over the years, and I remember them fondly. […] I’m the sum of all these bookish memories.”

I, too, am a sum of all the readers I have been.

The Readers I Have Been

As a kid, I loved the library (still do, actually). My mom, sister, and I visited every week or so; I got lost in the children’s section, thumbing through thousands of titles looking for the next adventure I would embark on.  I always walked out with my arms full of a stack that nearly reached my eyebrows. The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, The Saddle Club, and Mandie are among many of the series I devoured. (Don’t get me started on the ones I wasn’t allowed to read. *ahem* The Babysitters Club *ahem.* I’m still a little bitter about that. Clearly.)

In high school, I was the nerdy kid who lugged her biology textbook to youth group—not because I had a huge assignment to finish before boarding the bus the next morning (I was homeschooled) but because I wanted to finish the work before the prescribed deadline. I waded through the more grown up—but still tame—shelves of Christian fiction at the library: Francine Rivers, Janette Oke, Beverly Lewis (I was obsessed with her many Amish series) were among my favorites.

In college, after a brief stint as an education major, I switched to English. I started to rebel against my evangelical upbringing which frowned upon the likes of Harry Potter and the Twilight series and read them with a close circle of English major and professor friends.  I fell in love with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Frost’s poetry, The Transcendentalists’ essays, Alcott’s Little Women, and so many more. And then there were those I barely tolerated yet was grateful for the expansion they brought to my worldview: Toni Morrison’s Beloved (gave me nightmares for weeks), Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables (I adore ol’ Nathaniel, but this one was a slog to get through), The Red Badge of Courage (I’m not ashamed to say I never finished), Moby Dick, and almost all the British texts I was required to read. And a huge research project gave me reason to pour over all sorts of texts about American Sign Language and Deaf culture.

It was the most saturated reading period of my life. And it was glorious.

Shortly after college, two of my friends and I went on literary tour on the northeastern United States. Haley, Harvin, and I spent nine days soaking up the old hunts of our favorite 19th Century writers: Hawthorne, Alcott, Thoreau, Longfellow, Frost, Emerson, Dickinson, and Twain, and Poe. We traipsed through cemeteries, in and out of author homes, and around Walden Pond. The site of Thoreau’s cabin, Hawthorne’s sky parlor (which brought tears to all of our eyes), and Alcott’s bedroom left us wide-eyed with wonder. We were in our element.

During my late twenties, I fell into a deep depression. I lost my passion and zeal for just about everything, including reading. Survival was my objective. When you’re in survival mode, it’s difficult to find enjoyment in the escape that fiction brings. It’s equally difficult to find the mental stamina to concentrate on nonfiction offering. So I stopped reading. Losing my reading self was one of the hardest aspect of that three-year period. The written word (which Thoreau calls “the choicest of relics”) was like air to me and without it and other things I enjoyed, I withered.

Until someone in a Facebook group introduced me to Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. I picked the book up and suddenly found myself reflected in the mirror of each page. For the first time in years, I began to feel a spark of life reignite in my mind, body, and soul.

I was a reader once again.

The Reader I Am Now

Since that day three years ago, I’ve read nonfiction almost exclusively. My job gives me the opportunity to read, write, and hang out with authors. My inner reader—the child combing the library shelves, the teenager lugging textbooks to youth group, the college student reading hundreds of thousands of words each semester, the depressed young adult who lost her words, and the mid-thirties woman who has finally found her sweet spot—is absolutely giddy.

And when I came upon this little gem of a book by Anne Bogel, it was a no-brainer. A book about readers written by a reader? Sign. me. up. This book showed me the absolute beauty and delight of the reader’s life. Bogel knows readers. She made me realize I have #readinggoals I didn’t even know I had. (Living next door to a library?! Obtaining my lifelong reading records?! YES, please!)

 

I’d Rather Be Reading

Anne knows what makes readers tick (flashlights under covers, TBR stacks, library fees, bookstore visits that last hours, literary road trips…) and she paints our picture just the way we would want: in written words.

If you’re a reader, give yourself the gift of this book.

If you know a reader, hand them this mirror in which they can see the magic and mystery of the readers they have been, are, and will be revealed.

Win a copy of I’d Rather Be Reading!

Guess what, readers? I’m giving away ONE copy of I’d Rather Be Reading

To enter:
-LIKE my public Facebook page if you haven’t already.

-COMMENT on my Facebook post about I’d Rather Be Reading. Tell me about one of your reading phases.

-SHARE my Facebook post about I’d Rather Be Reading

-Follow me on Instagram.

-COMMENT on this blog post and tell me you’ve done all the things above!

I’ll randomly draw a winner on Friday, September 14, 2018 and send the lucky reader this lovely little gift book.

The Father I Needed

I am a daughter who needed a father.

I have no recollection of a sparkle in your eye when you looked at me.

I needed a father whose eyes lit up when I entered his line of sight.

I never felt treasured.

I needed a father who considered me a gift.

My worth was diminished by everything you loved more.

I needed a father who loved me most.

Your attention was what I craved, but even throwing myself into your hobbies wasn’t enough to gain that attention.

I needed a father whose affection I didn’t have to earn.

I wasn’t taught the value of a daughter.

I needed a father who showed me I was significant.

I felt threatened by you.

I needed a father who protected me.

I didn’t have permission to express my emotions and feelings without negative repercussions.

I needed a father who provided a safe place to explore my emotions.

I wasn’t known by you—my thoughts, interests, passions, and capabilities were overlooked.

I needed a father who saw me.


~*~

Father’s Day is not a day that I can celebrate with enthusiasm. Father’s Day is complicated. It is a stark reminder of the essential absence of a father figure in my life. Those of you who have known me a long time might be confused by that statement. Yes, my father was present in the home as I grew up, but he was absent in every other way. When I search my memory for instances that relay evidence of having a well-fathered heart, I come up empty.

After decades of ignoring the deep sadness and grief of not having the father I needed, those wounds are breaking through the surface of my heart, ripping open those tender spots that long to be healed. Currently, I am wrestling with the fathering heart of God. I’ve heard, all my life, that He is a Father to the fatherless, a good Father, a loving Father. Yet, when you grow up not only without a solid father figure, but also with a worldview shaped by the belief that a father is someone you have to tip-toe around lest you upset him, making a connection to the true Father-heart of God is difficult, at best.

Believing, deep in my heart, that I am a beloved daughter of the King is a challenge when my human understanding and experience tells me I am easily replaced and unwanted. Accepting that my heavenly Father wants nothing more than to spend time with me is unlikely when my experience tells me my presence is a bother. Knowing that I don’t have to work to earn the love of Father-God seems too good to be true when I feel unwanted.

All this is further complicated by the fact that I have a lot of unanswered questions about my sister’s death. Because how are you supposed to believe in a good Father when He’s allowed the person closest to you to die? It’s almost too much to bear.

For now, all I can do is push those questions aside as best I can and focus on solidifying my identity as a significant and irreplaceable daughter and God’s inherent character as a Father. Because until that belief is deeply rooted in my heart, mind, spirit, and soul, every other truth falls on deaf ears.

When I first began intentionally digging into this landmine of suppressed hurt, the Holy Spirit whispered a phrase to me:

“You were my daughter first.”

I’ve not fully unpacked the depth behind that statement yet, but I’m content to camp out there for a while.

I may not have the father I needed on this earth, but I’m clinging to the knowledge that my true Father is pursuing my heart, showing me how a Father loves His daughter one glimpse at a time until the deep knowledge of it replaces my experience with an earthly father. I’m counting on Him to re-Father the little girl inside me who needed a good father.

I was His daughter first.

Anna’s Famous Refried Beans

Hey friends!

My wonderful friend Anna has invited me over to her space today.  If you’ve stuck around here very long, you know Anna and I are tight. You also know she wrote a book, The Polygamist’s Daughter, and we went on an Epic Book Tour last year.

Suffice it to say, Anna’s no stranger around here, and I’m delighted to spend some time with her blog readers today.

A few months ago, I asked Anna to teach me her recipe for made-from-scratch refried beans. If you missed our Instastories and Facebook posts as we documented the process in real-time, here’s your chance to catch up.

Click here to get the scoop! 

Hope to see you over in Anna’s corner of the virtual world!

Los Angeles: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 16

We arrived in L.A. late on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

 

Anna and I had a mostly-unspoken understanding on the book tour: if we needed to get somewhere in a hurry or had to navigate big city traffic, she would drive. If she needed a break for a stretch of road that didn’t involve those scenarios, I was happy to take the wheel. So, the fact that I was in the driver’s seat as we approached L.A. was kind of a big deal for me. Neither of us had realized I’d be tasked with navigating L.A. traffic at night, and when we realized it, it was almost too late to do anything about it.

Anna did ask if I wanted to pull over and switch spots, but we were already in the thick of it and the thought of maneuvering to the shoulder made me more nervous than soldiering on. It was nerve-wracking, for sure, but I count weaving through the throngs of cars on a hundred-lane highway at night as one of my proudest accomplishments of the book tour.

(Those were tough days, y’all. Let me have the little things.)

As I’ve struggled with anxiety over the last four-ish years, a weighted blanket has long been on my wish list. When I experience anxiety, I want nothing more than to burrow in bed under a heavy blanket. It’s an innate need that calms me. And because I was still in such an unsettled emotional state, my anxiety was also heightened. All day, I’d wanted nothing more than to burrow, but that’s hard to do in a moving vehicle.

We arrived at our destination and were met warmly by Anna’s sister Sasha. Anna got out of the car first—this was normal; I took my time exiting and let her get all her squealing out of the way. I took a little longer than usual, and she poked her head back in and asked if I was getting out. I told her I’d be right behind her. She closed the door and followed Sasha into the house, informing her, I’m sure, on my current state. Slowly, I pulled the bags I would need for the night out of the car and went inside.

Sasha hugged me as I entered the house and led me to the room where we’d be staying. The rest of the night is a blur, mostly because I went straight to bed. What I found was that the bed was equipped with a heavy down comforter that cocooned me just as I longed for all day.

 

The next morning, I awoke and was immediately hit by a tidal wave of grief. I also realized that it was Easter Sunday. (Another aspect of timing that I have yet to wrap my head around.) I think this was the first day I really became aware of the gravity of my loss. I cried from the time I woke up that morning to the time I crawled back in bed.

Anna brought me coffee, then breakfast, and offered gentle words of understanding (not comfort, mind you (because what comfort would be adequate), but understanding). We talked about how this was the first time I’d lost someone close to me, and my first experience with grief.

We didn’t have any solid plans that day and she encouraged me to stay in bed, rest, and write (more like insisted). She knew as well as I did that I needed to process some of the things swirling around my head.

I stayed put well into the afternoon until Anna came to check on me and see if I wanted to go out with her that evening. This was our chance to see Hollywood—including the infamous sign, so I said yes. I didn’t bother putting on makeup, but I did throw on earrings. I shoved my sunglasses on my face to hide my swollen, leaking eyes and we set off.

 

We cruised down Sunset Blvd…

…Anna signed books at Barnes and Noble and bought her kids Snapchat Spectacles…

 

 

… we met up with a Adam Hawk, a gamer Anna’s sons were acquainted with. (She definitely got cool mom points for that meet-up). Adam served us yummy tacos and flan while we modeled the spectacles…

 

…and, finally, we found the spot to take pictures of the Hollywood sign just before sunset.

 

While we were standing on the side of the road awaiting our turn to take pictures, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a faint rainbow arched across the valley. The very sight of it was a balm for my languishing soul.

Las Vegas Adventures: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 15

A few weeks ago, I had a guest post published over at (in)courage. That post detailed the events that occurred in the wee hours of the fifteenth day of the book tour. If you follow my blog or my Facebook page, chances are you’ve already seen the post. (In a still-astounding turn of events, it has at least ten times more visits than anything I’ve ever written. Mind. Blown. Still.)

Today, I’m glad that part of the story has been written. If you haven’t read it yet, grab some tissues and jump on over to She Stands in the Gap at (in)courage before continuing here. I’ll have the rest of the story waiting for you.

Las Vegas had been a last-minute addition to the book tour, and when I texted Jess to tell her, she was far more thrilled about it than I was. Vegas was on the top of her wanderlust wish list while I didn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot-pole. Her affinity for a good party, stellar costumes, and risky adventure lent itself well to this city. My affinity for quiet, serene, and calm meant my senses were overloaded before I even got out of the car when we arrived. (Seriously, while Anna went into the hotel lobby to get our key at 10 p.m. the night we arrived, I sat in the car, slack-jawed at the parades of people streaming down the sidewalk and squinting as the bright lights of a city that never sleeps burned my retinas. I was not a fan.)

On the heels of the news I received that morning, I was a little incredulous of the timing. It simultaneously seemed like a cruel joke and perfect. It was almost as if that sass-hole sister of mine had planned it. We were in Vegas; it was her muse and I’d beat her here.

We collected ourselves as best we could and prepared to check out of our sketchy hotel situated on the Strip. Anna was in the bathroom getting ready and I flopped myself across the bed.

“Anna,” I gravely said, “I’m seriously thinking about getting a tattoo. Today. While we’re in Vegas. I need you to talk me out of it.”

She came around the corner, eyes wide.

“Talk you out of it? No way! You totally should get one. I’ll get one with you!”

I’d never wanted a tattoo. My siblings, mostly Jess and Josh, had been trying to talk me into their plan of matching or coordinating tattoos for months. In recent weeks, they amped up their arguments with pictures of proposed designs and threats of excommunication from the family if I resisted.

So naturally, in the fog of shock and grief, getting a spontaneous tattoo in Sin City was suddenly an option I considered.

“Google local tattoo parlors and see if you can find one,” Anna instructed as she disappeared back into the bathroom.

Phone in one hand and map in the other, I started searching. I also Tweeted a poll.

A few minutes later, Anna’s phone rang. Shortly, I heard her say, “Okay. We won’t get tattoos in Vegas. I promise.”

She came back into the main room and told me she had talked to Jana C.

“Jana said we CANNOT get tattoos or get married in Vegas,” she dutifully reported.

About the same time, Jana messaged me and reiterated her rules. We were scheduled to be at an event in Jana’s town two weeks later. She offered to set up an appointment with her tattoo artist in Minnesota, so we would have time to think about whether we really wanted to get inked. We agreed and an hour later, she messaged me back with a conformed appointment.

Our proverbial train had almost gone totally off the rails, but Jana had steered us back on track.

But we had more shenanigans up our sleeves.

We left the hotel, planning to drive down the Strip. I had no real desire to do anything in Vegas, but I knew I definitely had to see two places that were on Jess’ bucket list: The Mirage and the Bellagio. So we set off to find both. Appropriately, the first cross-street we passed was Elvis Presley Blvd. Of course it was. My sister had been obsessed with Elvis since she was six-years-old.

We soon found the Mirage, followed by the Bellagio. Anna pulled the car to the curb and we sat watching the dancing fountains. Tears swam in my eyes as I took the beauty of it into my aching heart. The music ended, and we cruised up the drive way past the entrance.

Driving away from the Strip, we set our sights on the next goal.

Earlier in the week, Anna had attempted to connect with Christine Brown, one of the wives on the TLC reality show, Sister Wives. Not only is Christine Anna’s doppleganger, but they are also cousins.

We’d plotted our route through Las Vegas on the chance that we might be able to arrange a brief meeting; however, the opportunity had never presented itself. So we thought we’d at least get a glimpse of the Brown’s cul-de-sac.

We didn’t have a lot of information to go on—in fact, all we knew from a fan site we’d found online was that the house was near the mountains and what the shape of the house looked like. Thus, we headed in the general direction of the mountain, weaving through the more upscale neighborhoods hoping we’d stumble upon the right one.

After twenty minutes of circling with no luck, Anna was resigned to giving up. I, a little more stubborn, wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. Perched in the passenger seat, my fingers flew over the keyboard on my phone, Googling any phrase I could think of that might point us in the right direction.

“Got it!” I excitedly announced. We’re a mile away.” My sleuthing skills had paid off.

Anna was a little shocked that I’d found it.

I punched the address into the GPS and we followed it to a small neighborhood. Behind a iron gate was the cul-de-sac that boasted the four houses the Brown family occupies. Anna’s phone was almost dead, so I handed her mine. She jumped out of the truck and approached the gate, hoping for a glimpse of Christine. I watched as she took a few selfies with the house in the background.

A few moments later, I was looking for something in my bag when I glanced up. Anna was briskly walking back to the truck, her mouth moving with indistinguishable words.

“What happened?” I asked as she jumped back in the vehicle.

“Kody and one of the wives just came out of the house!  They’re getting in the car!” she gushed, out of breath.

“Well, get out of the car!!” I shouted.

She grabbed a book and got out again.

“Take your sunglasses off!” I ordered. I thought they might recognize how much she looked like Christine if they could see her whole face.

By the time Anna was out of the car, sunglasses off, and standing in front of the truck (well away from the gate), the car was pulling out of the cul-de-sac. Kody and Janelle slowly rolled by, declining to stop for the book Anna held out in offering. In a matter of seconds, they were gone.

Anna climbed back in the truck and we stared at each other, adrenaline pumping through our veins. We were disappointed that we hadn’t been able to get a book into their hands, but we had found the house. And, I quickly reminded Anna, now we had an address. You can bet your bottom dollar we mailed a book directly to Christine a few days later.

Satisfied that we could now check finding the Brown cul-de-sac off our to-do list, we set out for a local Barnes and Noble to meet Brandi M., a friend of Jana’s and Katie F., a member of Anna’s launch team.

Late that afternoon, we set off for our next destination: Los Angeles, CA.

Grand Canyon: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 14

On Day 14, we left the Phoenix area with weary hearts and swollen eyes. I was exhausted in every way but determined to press on. After all, our itinerary for the day was sightseeing at the Grand Canyon. Our first stop was for copious amounts of caffeine.

 

Fully armed, we set out for the infamous hole in the ground, detouring through Sedona. I spent much of that stretch of the trip on the phone and responding to texts from friends who were checking in to see how I was holding up.

As we approached the national park, Anna proposed that we keep the shenanigans to a minimum.
I wasn’t prepared for the sight that awaited us. Pictures cannot do justice to the magnificence that is the Grand Canyon. It was breathtaking.

Much to my dismay, my camera battery died right after I took this picture of this California condor at the first outlook.

There was a definite heaviness on me that day, and although I was excited to see one of the Seven Wonders, I was also very subdued. Staring into the crevice that stretched for miles before me, my brain struggled to makes sense of the vastness of what my eyes were seeing while my heart wrestled with the reality of what was happening on the other side of the country. Neither scenario made any sense to me. Just as I couldn’t possible see the entirety of the canyon, nor could I comprehend the enormity of the loss I was facing. Directing my gaze on sections of the rock formations around me was the only way I could take in the sight; focusing my mind on the very next moment was the only way I could keep from falling apart completely.

 

Alongside the ache in my heart, I was able to dig up a little lightheartedness—especially when I ventured closer to the edge of the cliffs to get those more adventures camera angles.

If nothing else, Jess taught me how to take cool pictures. Anna, who has an acute fear of heights and drop-offs (as I was quickly learning), did not appreciate my forays toward the edge.

Who knows—maybe she was afraid I might try to pull a Thelma and Louise sans car in my distraught state? At any rate, she actually grabbed my arm and pulled me back toward the designated path at one point. (I wasn’t even close to the edge, y’all, but it made for some hilarious pictures.

When I walked on an outcrop and directed her to take my picture beside a tree, she moaned and groaned and whined. Then, I somehow convinced her to pose as I had. (Notice the death grip she’s got on that tree.)

Just before sunset, we turned around on the trail and began our trek back to the truck. These huge boulders sat just off the path, and as we approached, I handed my phone to Anna. I climbed atop the rocks (no easy feat for my short legs) and posed while she snapped away. Back on the ground, I scrolled through the pictures, gasping at the perfection of one of them in particular: my silhouette back lit by the waning sun, arms outstretched.

Having spent almost two decades as one of Jess’ main photography subjects, I’m kind of judgy when other people photograph me. (Sorry, it’s true. Being photographed by a sister who knows all your peculiarities about pictures ruins you for life.) But Anna had nailed it.

“Jess would be so proud of this picture!” I gushed.

When I posted the photo on Instagram later, I captioned it with the lyrics from Imagine Dragons’ “On Top of the World.” Since then, I can’t see that picture without hearing the song in my head or hear the song without picturing this shot.

 

Like the book tour as a whole, Day 14 was both one of my favorite days and one of the hardest days; the pain and joy of that day are inextricably mingled. Holding the tension of both those emotions wrapped so tightly around this one memory is a task I struggle with daily. But the ability to write about it displays a small measure of healing, and for that I am grateful.

The Longest Day: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 13

My Timehop app and Facebook memories are sparse on Day 13, but the images and emotions of that day are forever burned into my mind. Out of all the days we were on the road, this one felt the longest. I awoke to a text from Mom asking me to call her as soon as possible. Since we were in Phoenix, I was two hours behind her. Barely awake at 7:00 a.m., I called her back and was met with news that Jess’ heavily sedated state was actually a drug-induced coma to attempt to let her body rest. The doctor’s assessment was that she would not wake up again.

I hung up the phone and went into shock. I stumbled to the bedroom next door where Anna was sleeping and knocked, hoping she was awake. She was; I opened the door and fumbled to get the words out of my mouth. She sat up, drew me to sit beside her and the tears started rushing down my face.

My absolute worst nightmare was suddenly staring me square in the face. My whole body was shaking, couldn’t stop crying, and just repeated “this cannot be happening” over and over as Anna hugged me tightly. I texted Mom and told her tell Jess a few things for me.

Anna was scheduled to meet Naomi E., one of her former teachers, for lunch about an hour north that day. There was no way I could go with her, but she felt terrible leaving me in such a state. She offered to cancel and stay, but I told her to go. There was nothing she could do and I didn’t want her to miss her lunch.

 

I had a decision to make that morning: get on a flight out of Phoenix or stay until I something changed. Anna was ready to put me on a plane, but I was thinking about what Jess would tell me to do. She’d already given me her blessing to go on the book tour when I’d gone home in February. We’d chatted one afternoon, and I expressed my misgivings about going, about being even further away from her that summer. She told me to go, and I did. And Mom had told me that morning that she was okay if I didn’t come home immediately.

Even with my world crashing around me, I knew Captain Jessifica would kick my a** if I abandoned this trip. We’d dreamed on a cross-country road trip one day, and in the deepest parts of my heart, I knew she would want me to see it through. She wouldn’t want me sitting at her bedside, wishing I could change things. She wouldn’t want me crying over her when I couldn’t do anything to change the outcome. She wasn’t that sentimental. In fact, she often made fun of me for being all touchy-feely. I also knew I didn’t want the image of her tube-laden, emaciated body to be lodged in my mind forevermore. I wanted to remember my strong, determined, feisty sister the way she deserved to be remembered. Healthy, free-spirited, with a thirst for adventure and a mischievous gleam in her eye. I wanted to remember the sister who dragged me into kooky photo shoots with palm fronds outside the walls of an abandoned seaside fortress. I didn’t want the image of the sister who had been my best friend for thirty years to be tarnished in my mind’s eye by the cruelty of cancer for the rest of my living days. Even today, I’m grateful that I see my sister when I close my eyes and not the shadow of herself that disease brought upon her.


We were scheduled to visit the Grand Canyon the next day, and all I could think was, “go for Jess. Go see what she can’t. Be her eyes.” My heart was shattering into a million pieces, but I had enough peace to decide to stay put for the time being.

Anna brought me coffee and ibuprofen before she left, placed a box of tissues by the bed, and told me her brother would get me to the airport if I changed my mind while she was gone.
I curled up in a ball in bed and stared at the wall between brief naps off and on all day. By the time Anna was headed back that afternoon, I had a massive headache and a definite craving for comfort food. Luckily, there was a Chick-Fil-A nearby.

That night, in an attempt to distract me, Anna’s brother’s family invited me to play cards with them. At first, I said no. Then they wore me down and I agreed to sit at the table and watch. Eventually, they convinced me to join them. We had loads of fun!

I must give a shout out to the LeBaron siblings, here. I’ve never met such a persistent, warm-hearted bunch of people as those LeBaron’s. And because they are all well-acquainted with loss and heartache, they all extended such grace and gentleness toward me on the book tour. Every single one of them who I met along the way made space for me and my bleeding, raw heart. I’m forever grateful to them.

When Life Gives You Lemons: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 12

Hi! If you’re just joining me here, you might think I’m currently on this trip. Let me catch you up: I’m not on the road. On April 1, 2017, my friend Anna and I set out on the #EpicBookTourTPD (TPD denoting Anna’s memoir, The Polygamist’s Daughter). I never got around to writing about our grand adventure in detail, so when the anniversary of the journey rolled around this year, I started writing. Nifty apps like Timehop and the On this Day feature of Facebook make recalling the daily details easier than asking my brain to bring them back with crystal clear clarity. 112 days of detailed storytelling is a lot to ask. So, throughout the summer, I’ll meet you here with a throwback tale from the open road. Enjoy!
~*~



As the sun rose following a fitful night’s [lack of] sleep, I checked my phone and was met with a slew of text messages from Mom about Jess. She’d had emergency surgery the day before and had been stable, but by mid morning her condition had rapidly declined. Between my less-than-stellar cell service, Mom’s preoccupation at the hospital, and my and Anna’s schedule, I was mostly out of touch for the rest of the day.

Honestly, in hindsight, I’m kind of glad I couldn’t move during the night because my immobility meant I couldn’t reach my phone, which I most certainly would’ve been scrolling. Facing the realities of what was happening in S.C. would have been so much worse in the middle of the night.

With a bag of fresh-from-the-tree oranges Donna picked right then in hand, Anna and I hit the road, headed to Phoenix to spend the afternoon at #the4500-er Heidi P.’s house. Anna had an interview that afternoon that required a landline, so we’d arranged our schedule to visit Heidi (who conveniently had a landline).

While at Heidi’s, Anna picked fresh lemons straight from the tree in her backyard. Let me tell you—I don’t even like oranges and lemons, but I’d eat them straight from the tree every day.

After Anna’s interview ended and Heidi’s kids arrived home from school, we jumped in Heidi’s car and set out to sign books at two area Barnes and Noble stores.

 

Later, we said goodbye to Heidi and headed to meet launch team member Karie B. and her family for dinner before heading to our host home for the night.