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.

The Night Our Friendship Almost Didn’t Survive: Summer of Endless Miles, Day 11

After a restful night’s sleep in Tucson, we loaded our suitcases in the truck and headed north. Our drive was relatively short; our destination was Casa Grande. Donna K. had invited Anna to speak to a group at her retirement community that afternoon. We sat on a common area patio outside, shaded by umbrellas—and while this Carolina-girl-turned-Texan appreciated the absence of humidity, the heat was intense! After the gathering ended, we headed back to Donna’s home for dinner which we ate on her back patio overlooking a lake as the sunset. It was so peaceful.

(Those are the only pictures I have for you today. You’ll thank me for that as you read on.)

Later, as we were preparing to spend time in the hot tub, an unfortunate incident occurred. Before heading to the pool area, we’d decided to ready the sleeper sofa where we would be sleeping so we wouldn’t have to when we got back. Anna grabbed the bar and pulled it up…but she pulled too hard and the whole couch lifted…snagging her toenail and bringing it along for the ride.

I’ll spare you all the gory details (aren’t you glad I don’t have a picture?), but our hot tub plans went out the window with that missing toenail.

Anna was in a hella lot of pain and I felt so bad for her. Once we got the bleeding stopped, the toe soaked, bandages applied, and ibuprofen administered, we got ready for bed.

Let me stress here that I felt so bad for Anna.

Let me also say that now, a year later, this night includes one of my favorite stories from the tour. I managed to keep this one to myself until just a few weeks ago when I finally confessed it to Anna.

Anna and I crawl onto this sleeper sofa. She gets her throbbing foot situated, propping a pillow underneath her leg to elevate it and making sure the blankets are touching it. I squish in beside her. (Sleeper sofas are cozy, y’all. This one was about the equivalent of a full-size bed.)

It took me a LONG time to go to sleep that night. Anna was out pretty quickly. (I swear her superpower is the ability to fall asleep fast and hard.) I couldn’t toss and turn because there just wasn’t room, but I did maneuver to a spot where the infamous sofa bed bar wasn’t stabbing my rib cage.

At some point, I fell asleep…

because I distinctly remember waking up in the middle of the night…

with the entire left side of my body pinned down.

I couldn’t move.

Anna, dead asleep, had flung her arm over mine and her good leg over mine.

I was trapped.

Being such a considerate person, I didn’t want to just throw her off me, for fear I’d cause her to jar her injured foot.

(Did I mention how good of a friend I am???)

I tried to gently wiggle my limbs free, but every time I moved, she moved, further complicating the situation. Finally, exasperated, I gave up. I don’t think I slept more than a few hours that night. I’m far from a morning person, but I’d never been so happy to the sun rise at 5:00 a.m.

Recently when I told Anna this story, I confessed, “There was this one night I came really close to smothering you in your sleep on the book tour. If our friendship survived that, I’d say it’s pretty solid.”

There you have it—one of my favorite stories from the open road!

Never-Ending-Texas: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 10

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!

~*~

While relatively uneventful, Day 10 marked the first time we crossed state lines. Not one, but two. Y’all, it took us three solid days to get out of Texas. I knew this state was more like a small country but dang. It’s HUGE. Even Anna, a longtime Texas resident was astounded by its vastness.

To kill time and fight boredom, I’d been reading my our-now-shared-advance-copy of JHat’s Of Mess and Moxie aloud while Anna drove. We alternately cried (Chapter 6: Private Baby) and laughed until our cheeks hurt (Chapter I-Can’t-Remember-And Am-Too-Lazy-Find-My-Book: Jen’s discussion of introverts versus extroverts).

But this introvert needs her quiet time, even in the car.

We didn’t have a planned stop that night, but our goal was to at least make it to Las Cruces, NM that day. Leaving Midland, we headed for El Paso. The flat Texas horizon had given way to gently rolling hills the day before—a welcome sight to my Carolina-native eyes. As we drove further west, mountains began to rise in the distance, bringing with them a more familiar landscape.
After a brief stop at Barnes and Noble in El Paso to sign a few stock copies, we crossed into New Mexico. It seemed like the terrain changed almost immediately. I stared out the window, mesmerized. Until April 2016, I’d never been farther west than Indiana/ Tennessee/Kentucky/Georgia. I may as well have been in a foreign country.

Because we were making decent time, we decided to make Tucson, AZ our goal for the evening. Thanks to two very generous friends who had offered to put us up in a hotel the first night we needed one, we had a room awaiting us upon arrival. (Thanks again, ladies!) The sun set as we stopped for gas just over the state line.

I lost all track of time. And [very] briefly considered moving to Arizona.

Though it was late, and we were exhausted when we finally reached the hotel, neither of us could resist relaxing in the hot tub before crawling into bed.

 

~*~

To be continued….

Authors in Austin: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 3

After such an exciting Day 2, the book tour was headed back to Dallas for a few days before we officially started our nonstop road trip.

We would trade Anna’s tiny car for a bigger SUV (a sorely needed upgrade to contain us and our stuff for four months), pack up all our supplies, and rest up. Anna also had an NPR radio interview with Kris Boyd that week.

But before we left Austin on Day 3, we had a few important meet-ups scheduled.

One of my most favorite aspects of the book tour was meeting other authors face-to-face. On this day, we made our way to Starbucks to meet Candice Curry, a blogger I’d followed for several years, and author of the then forthcoming memoir, The Con Man’s Daughter. As we sat under the shade of an umbrella outside, Candice and Anna shared some weirdly parallel parts of their stories (which I guess should be expected when you sit at a table with the polygamist’s daughter and the con man’s daughter).

Time passed quickly and before we knew it, three hours were gone. Anna wanted to do a Facebook Live with Candice before we parted ways, so we jumped in Candice’s car—me in the driver’s seat and the two of them crammed in the second row—laughing at the absurdity of the situation.

We said goodbye to Candice, made a quick lunch stop, and continued to our next meet-up.

This time we met pastor and Tyndale author Chuck Tate. Chuck had invited Anna to speak at his church and that stop was on the books for May. He and his family were in town from Indiana, so we took the opportunity to meet while they were in Texas.

We gathered in the lobby of their hotel to chat for a bit, and, again, we did a quick Facebook Live video before departing.

As became our routine throughout the tour, we stopped at a few Barnes & Noble stores along the way home so Anna could sign the stock copies of her book and ask the staff to post a picture on their social media accounts.

This was also the day that Anna discovered my unappreciative attitude toward 80’s music.

After a full and fun day, we finally arrived home and slept in our own beds for a few nights.

~*~

You can find more information about Candice Curry and her book, The Con Man’s Daughter, here. (I highly recommend this memoir! )

And learn more about Chuck Tate and his book, 41 Will Come, here. (I haven’t read it yet, but I’m excited to get to it!)

Austin Surprises: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 2

As the one-year anniversary of the #EpicBookTourTPD rolls around, my Facebook and Timehop apps are bringing the memories back. Since I never reached a healthy enough mental and emotional state to write about all the adventures the book tour boasted, I’m excited to dish all the details of spending four solid months on the road.

Well….

Maybe not all of them.

Some things that happen on the road, stay on the road.

I wrote about Day 1 of the tour several months ago, so you can catch up here.

Now, on to Day 2 in Austin, TX:

After staying the night with Taylor and Michael in Temple, we readied ourselves to head to Austin for Anna’s second Barnes and Noble book signing. A storm was brewing, and we were drenched after throwing our suitcases in the truck—and of course we had to stop for gas. It wasn’t raining a polite shower. No, this was a downpour—rain coming down in sheets and heavy winds.

We arrived in Austin, changed clothes in the B&N restroom and prepared to greet people. Many of our #the4500 tribe attended the signing—so many that if I start naming them, I’ll leave someone out—along with several of Anna’s siblings and friends from when she lived in Austin.

I stayed to the back of the crowd mostly, chatting with people and taking pictures. About halfway into the event, one of the #the4500 mamas, Jana, snuck up behind me as she arrived and threw her arm around me in a one-sided hug.

“Guess who I brought with me?” she whispered in my ear.

I turned to look at her, wide-eyed–and saw Brandon and Jen Hatmaker standing behind her. Stunned, I whipped around to look at Anna in front of us, my mouth wide open. I’d barely laid eyes on her when she saw them, and her mouth dropped open.

Gathering my wits, I lifted the camera that hung around my neck and started shooting, rapid-fire, at the shock and surprise written all over Anna’s as Jen approached with arms outstretched.

Best. Surprise. Ever.

I’m giddy just sitting here thinking about it a year later.

The Hatmakers hung around for a bit, getting their copy of TPD autographed and chatting with #the4500 tribe. Right before we left the house, Anna and I had dashed back inside to get our advanced copies of Jen’s newest book, Of Mess and Moxie, because we had a review deadline while on the tour. Anna couldn’t find hers, so we only had mine. I dashed out to the car to grab it so Jen could sign it.

When she asked to whom she should autograph it, I laughed and replied, “Well, Anna’s going to be salty if you don’t address it to both of us since she doesn’t have hers, so I guess you’d better sign it to both of us.”

Jen happily obliged.

Thus, Anna and I joke that if ever our friendship should end, we have a shared book baby to battle over custody of. Ha!

After the signing, we had dinner with a few of our tribe, then headed to stay the night at Anna’s sister, Estephania’s house for the night.

~*~

To be continued…

The Worst Best Year

I’m tempted to let 2017 slip away quietly, to bid it farewell without the fanfare of a final blog post–because reflecting on all this year is and was and will be is a lot for a heart to handle.

(Just forty words in and already I feel the tears burning at the corners of my eyes.)

It was the worst best year I’ve ever experienced and trying to process all. the. things is overwhelming, razor-sharp, exhausting work. So, I’m just diving in to share an unedited glimpse of some of my  highest highs and lowest lows of the year.  This won’t be a cheery, tied-up-with-a-pretty-bow kind of post, but I hope my honesty meets you where you are, somehow–even if that means we sit in a heap of ashes and tears while remembering.

Between Thanksgiving 2016 and March 2017, I traveled back and forth between Texas and South Carolina a lot. My sister’s health was declining rapidly (damn you, cancer) and I was almost literally living with one foot in my native state and the other in the state I was trying to claim as my new home. Unsettled was the new normal I never asked for.

I’d had to quit my job in Texas in order to be so transient, and it was for the best, ultimately. It gave me the chance to spend some sweet last days at the beach with my sister and allowed for memories that gave me the strength to carry on through the rest of the year.

In January, I finished the first draft of my book manuscript. 55, 000 words in one document, ready to be edited and pitched to an agent. (One of those goals that hasn’t yet come to fruition.)

During February, I  lead my first launch team ( Kerrie Oles’  For Real: Navigating Truth Through Trials) and helped another author re-launch her book (Lynnette Simm’s And The Day Came). Who would have ever thought I’d lead launch teams?  Anna’s book (The Polygamist’s Daughter in case you haven’t heard! ha!) released in late March. We celebrated with an awesome launch party coordinated by yours truly, and pulled off by quite a tribe of people who love Anna to the moon and back.

After two weeks of working furiously to map out a cross-country route and secure places to stay along the way, the #EpicBookTourTPD rolled out of town on April 1st. I was also leading my third launch team at this point (Jamie Sandefer’s Love You From Right Here).

Barely two weeks and four states in, I got the middle-of-the-night call no one wants to get (or make) while sleeping in a sketchy hotel on the Las Vegas strip. (I’m choosing to leave out a lot of details here, not only because this was and is a deeply personal period, but also because I don’t remember a lot of the two weeks that followed that call. It still feels like a nightmare to recall what I do remember.) I cried nonstop for at least three straight days, then tiny tears leaked out of the corner of my left eye for weeks after that. I stopped wearing eye makeup for the first time since I was thirteen. The last weekend of April, I flew from Salt Lake City to Greenville for her memorial service where I had the excruciating honor of eulogizing my little sister.

If it hadn’t been for the support of my closest friends who listened when I needed to yell or cry or talk about my sister, and the distraction of the book tour, I would have crawled into a hole this year. There were (and are still) occasions when I did crawl into a hole and had to be dragged out.

In the midst of the shattered mess of grief, I was given the gift of fulfilling a dream Jess and I had: a cross-country road trip. I knew, without a doubt, that she would kick my ass if I quit the book tour, so I grabbed her travel mascot–a green, plastic dinosaur named  Migrating Monty–while in S.C. for the memorial service and flew back to Utah to rejoin Anna. Monty sat on the dashboard of the Epic Book Tour Mobile for the remainder of our trip, a constant reminder of my adventure-loving sister. I’ll never forget driving through the Colorado mountains the week after the memorial service when Hanson’s “I’ll Be With You In Your Dreams” started playing.

From April to August, Anna and I crisscrossed the U.S.A., covering 40 states, meeting hundreds (thousands?) of people, and driving a cumulative total of 23,461 miles.

In April, I was talked off the ledge of getting a grief tattoo in Vegas.

In May, we traveled from Colorado to New York and back to Texas. We saw Niagara Falls–the sightseeing highlight of the book tour. We got tattoos in Winona, Minnesota.

In June, we left Texas again and went east, traveling as far north as Pennsylvania. When we passed through the Carolinas, I had the opportunity to take Anna to my hometown to meet my people.

In July, we headed south to Florida and back to Texas before making a second trip to Utah, then coming home for two days before Anna headed to her birthplace in Mexico while I spent a few sweet days with my heart-friend, Kelli, in New Mexico to conclude the book tour.

Home at last!

Through August and most of September, I laid on the couch.

Seriously. After four months on the road, sleeping in a different place every few nights, and thousands of miles of sitting in a car–all while being in the shock stage of grief–left me entirely drained. I’d put my hand to the plow and did what I had to do. But once it came to an end, I turned inward, fast.

In late September, Anna threw me a lifeline, fished me out of the deep waters of depression, and offered a simple question: “If I make you an appointment, will you go?” (If you’ve read her book, you know what that question signified.)  I said yes and she made the appointment for my first counseling session–something I knew I needed, but just the thought of beginning overwhelmed me.

October brought an opportunity to use skills I didn’t even know I had when Anna and I built a website and online course to disperse her expansive knowledge on leading launch teams. Turns out I’m pretty good at web design and have since helped design another website for a friend. Who knew?

November was a hard months for reasons I won’t disclose here, but it forced me to find my voice again. I flew to SC for a brief visit over Thanksgiving and cuddled my nieces, which is always good for my soul.

December began with a retreat I didn’t really want to attend, but I went anyway. And instead of pretending I was happy to be there, I gave myself the freedom to be real and let the other five women there know that I was struggling. Best decision ever. That weekend deserves it’s own post, so stay tuned.

My trip to S.C. for Christmas turned into a disaster from the moment I stepped in the Dallas airport until the time I boarded the plane back to Texas in Charlotte. An already hard holiday tipped the scales as everything that could have gone wrong did. Yes, there were some bright spots, but overall, it sucked.

So here we are. A few more hours of this year left.

I still have a lot to process, and I’m fully aware that it will be slow going.

Because of the way excitement and joy have been so entangled with grief and loss this year, I haven’t felt like I have permission to celebrate the good. And, honestly, that makes me angry. It’s not fair. What should have been the best year of my life–traveling the country, settling into a new home, discovering new talents, and working toward healing from old wounds–has been irrevocably robbed from me. And while I’m working on allowing myself the freedom to acknowledge the happy moments of 2017, they’re still greatly overshadowed by the broken pieces.

Farewell, 2017.

I’m not sad to see you go.