Processing

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.

#EpicBookTourTPD

Bluebonnets and Best Friends: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 1

The first stop on the #EpicBookTourTPD was Temple, TX on April 1st. We joined a small group of new friends for a lunch meet-up and spent the night with our friend (and my #the4500 twin), Taylor.

After lunch, we ran some errands—which included an impromptu photo shop in a bluebonnet field by a gas station. I’d spent the previous weeks rolling my eyes at all the bluebonnet photo shoots that filling up my Facebook newsfeed, not quite convinced about all the hype these flowers produced in my Texan friends. So when we passed this field, Taylor and Anna insisted on continuing my initiation as a true Texas resident.

As we traipsed into the field, they warned of snakes. Then, when we found a spot that would provide a background free from street signs and buildings, they decided we should lie down. Um, excuse me? Didn’t you just tell me to watch for snakes? And now you want me to lie on the ground??? Yes, that was exactly the plan.

So we did.

As much as I don’t get the whole bluebonnets thing, I will admit  this was a fun photo shoot that I will always remember.

 

 

Because of my sister’s creative eye behind a camera, I’m certainly no stranger to unconventional photo sessions and this one was the first I’d participated in for a while. An impromptu bluebonnet photo session with two of my closest friends was definitely not a bad way to start an epic book tour.

 

Five Minute Friday

An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving the Summer of Endless Miles {Five Minute Friday}

This week’s Five Minute Friday prompt is “Guide.”  The rules: Set a timer and free write for five minutes about the week’s topic. No editing allowed!

~*~

You wouldn’t  think a homebody in her right mind would ever volunteer to embark on a summer-long road trip of EPIC proportions, right? There’s a first time for everything though.

So how, exactly, does an introvert keep her wits about her when spending 4 months on the road?


1. Earbuds

These are your BFFs. Your lifesavers. Your constant companions. If you lose them—replace them ASAP at the next gas station stop. They drown out background noise, 80’s music, and extroverts who prefer to stay up late talking instead of sleeping like normal people. You might end the trip having purchased (and lost) 3-4 pair—but it will be worth it. Trust me.

2. Naps

When you’re on the road for 8, 10, 12, hours a day every other day, naps are essential. You are tired. You need to conserve every ounce of energy you have so that you can extrovert once you arrive at your destination.

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(Five minutes is NOT enough time to expound upon this list. But those two things were DEFINITELY my top two road trip must haves! Nobody wants a sleep-deprived, cranky, introvert running a book table!)

Five Minute Friday

Five Minute Friday: Speak


It’s time for the Five Minute Friday link up again! The rules, as usual, are that you write for five minutes with no editing. Today’s prompt is “Speak.” Here we go.

One of the best aspects of the Epic Book Tour was meeting authors from all over the country. I always have and always will be in awe of anyone who manages to wrangle their thoughts into a whole collection of words that becomes a book.

When we were in Salt Lake City this July, Anna and I had the opportunity to have coffee with Nish Weiseth one afternoon. This came about after I saw Nish’s comment about Anna’s book on another author’s social media and sent her a message asking if she’d like to meet when we were in town a few weeks later. (I TOTALLY did not expect to hear back from her). Since I’ve not mentioned that on any of my social media platforms, I thought I’d give her a shout out today.


Nish is funny, opinionated, laid-back, smart, sassy, and passionate. She loves her city and the people in it—which was clear in the couple of hours we spent with her.

Her book, Speak: How our Story Can Change the World (aptly titled for today’s FMF prompt) was published in 2014. Nearly four years later, her message of the power of story in connecting to those around us is relevant and true in light of current events:

With relationship comes trust and faith between friends. This is the missing piece of the evangelism puzzle that we’ve been looking for. Most of us who grew up in or around church and Christian culture have been told that the cross of Jesus is a salvation bridge between us and God. Some of us have handed out our tracts and cold-called strangers on the street to tell them about the glorious salvation of Jesus Christ. But really, it’s a lot simpler than that. Evangelism should simply be another by-product of genuine relationship with others…of understanding that ensures the conversation will be built on love.

What a lovely conversation that is.

If you’d like to learn more about Nish, you can find her at www.NishWeiseth.com, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

(Oh—and if her name trips you up, “it’s Nish, like fish.”)

#EpicBookTourTPD, Five Minute Friday

Five Minute Friday: Place

Today’s Five Minute Friday prompt is “Place.” As always, the rules are to write for five minutes; no editing allowed! There were a lot of directions I could have gone with this word–and  I’ve barely scratched the surface with these five minutes’ worth of words.

~*~

For the last five days, my place has been either my bed or the couch. My mind and body have decided they’re taking a break—and a well-deserved one at that on the heels of the #EpicBookTourTPD.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d come to the end of the summer of 2017 with the ability to say that I’d seen the ENTIRE country in four months’ time. And yet—there I sat, having found my place as road manager in the passenger seat.


2 women (who may be more than a little crazy).

112 travel days.

300+ stops/events.

23, 461 miles.

40 states.

Places upon places upon places.

It passed too quickly some days and too slowly other days, and the whole thing is very much a blur right now.

But there’s no other place I would have rather been this summer than in the Epic Book Mobile.

#EpicBookTourTPD

Summer of Endless Miles: The End Before the Beginning

The landscape is barren as the asphalt glides backwards under the tires. (Hello, West Texas.) Thousands of miles have accumulated, a few hundred more to go. We’re headed home. (And will have reached our destination by the time you read these words.)

It’s officially the last day of the #EpicBookTourTPD—the one-hundred-twelfth day, to be exact. Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d do. A four-month, forty-state road trip? With a total extrovert? No way.

To say that life has gone topsy-turvy over the last year is an understatement. So many layers of change—exhilarating change, traumatic change, anticipated change, unexpected change—have built up faster than I can process them. Because the positive changes are so interwoven with the negative change, it’s been difficult to write about them—much less celebrate them.

My sister’s death has cast a shadow over this summer. There’s no other way to slice it. It has shattered my heart into a million pieces again and again. I can’t imagine that will ever change.

(A plea: No canned platitudes in the comments please—well-intended or not, I’ve had about all of those that I can handle. And Jess is hard-rolling her eyes about it, too, I’m sure. If that offends your sensibilities, I’m probably talking to you. See my upcoming post on the most helpful words I’ve received concerning grief.)

One of the most ironic things about this summer of endless miles is the fact that Jess was the sister with permanent wanderlust. She’d been to Europe twice and planned to visit many other countries. The two of us had dreams of a cross-country trip someday, but it seemed quite intimidating to me considering my homebody tendencies. When I decided to accompany Anna on this trip (and finally convinced her that it was a good idea), Jess encouraged me to go. After all the adventures, she’d dragged a reluctant older sister on, she wondered what alien species had abducted me. I’ve wondered the same.

When things went downhill fast with Jess’ health, I had to choose whether to go home to S.C. or stay on the road.  There were many factors that played a role in this deeply personal process that I won’t address here. Ultimately, I felt that there would be no better way to honor my sister than to travel the country and see what she could not.

More than 23,000 miles later, I believe I made the right choice. Would I rather have taken this trip with my sister than for her? Of course. No question. But she’s been with me every moment and every mile—and I’ve had her own traveling mascot, Migrating Monty, to remind me of that. (A plastic green dinosaur as one of my most treasured possessions? Add that to the growing list of things I never thought would happen.)

Now that the trip is done, I’m ready to start writing about it—in all its overwhelming, exhausting, exhilarating glory–starting here, at the end, before making my way back to the beginning. First, I’ll need a few good nights’ sleep in my own bed.

Stay tuned.