My Forever Star

The last conversation we had in person, just the two of us, happened on an ocean-front balcony. We were watching the waves roll in, relishing the warmth of the late February sun on our skin. It was a Sunday. The next week would bring more clinic visits, hospital appointments, and my return to Texas, but for that one afternoon Jess and I talked about all the things sisters talk about. Clothes, shoes, and makeup were our focus; she was giving me all her best tips, tricks, and pointers for creating a travel-worthy wardrobe for my upcoming four-month road trip with Anna. She told me my current wardrobe screamed “tired teacher” and that she aimed to turn me into a “structured businesswoman.” I laughed at her, but made detailed notes nonetheless.

Two months later, almost to the day, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning to the phone call I never wanted to receive. She was gone; my sister had slipped away during the night—she’d taken the “second star to the right and straight on til morning,”as Peter Pan says. In a hotel on the Las Vegas strip, my heart shattered into a million pieces that April morning.

When I’d texted Jess a few weeks before and told her we were adding a stop in Vegas to the itinerary, she replied, “yes to Vegas. Always yes to Vegas.” It was one of her top bucket-list destinations and we were both shocked that I’d make it there before she did. (Like Texas, Las Vegas was one of those places I had absolutely no desire to visit.) So when I woke up to the worst news of my life, it was sort of fitting that we were in Las Vegas.

As the new reality of living in a world without my sister settled over me, the desire to absorb the essence of who she is and was flooded every fiber of me. I couldn’t let her go; I couldn’t let her be forgotten; I couldn’t let her slip away completely.

Mid-morning, I rolled over on the bed and looked at Anna.

“I’m very seriously considering getting a tattoo while we’re here in Vegas.”
“Yes! Let’s do it,” was her response.

Enter our wise friend Jana who talked us out of spontaneously getting tattoos in Las Vegas. She talked us off that ledge and made us an appointment with her tattoo artist in Minnesota, buying us a few weeks to really think this through.

Back in March, my siblings ganged up on me in a group text and threatened to oust me from the family if I didn’t get on board with their idea for a sibling tattoo. Even so, I resisted. No way was I getting a tattoo. Nope. Not happening.

Now, there was no question in my mind. I was getting a tattoo and I was getting it to memorialize my sister. At first I considered a shooting star because Jess had been talking about getting a star tattoo for months and now I thought of her as a shooting star, streaking across the sky. But I’ve never actually liked the shape of stars.

When I flew home for the memorial service at the end of April, I still hadn’t decided on a design that would encompass the memory of Jess without being cliché—something she was certainly not. As I was looking through some of her things in her bedroom, I found it. Years ago, Jess spent a lot of time perfecting a logo for her photography business. Finally, she’d designed a logo that was a version of her first and last initials—JL—that didn’t look like her initials but rather a design akin to a fleur-de-lis. I found it drawn on a random piece of paper and knew that was my tattoo. Simple, meaningful, and something I could look at for the rest of my life.

It’s been emblazoned on my wrist for just six days, but the more I look at this tattoo, the more I see a star in it. Like a star, it has five points—all in the right spots. And that makes it even more perfect.


My sister was a star.

She was bright.

She was unique.

She was brilliant.

And I can only imagine that she is even more so now.

She is brilliant.

She is unique.

She is forever my star.

The Book I Can’t Stop Talking About

I know. I’ve talked about this book for months…years, even.

You likely already know what the title is.

But I’ll tell you anyway.

The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron.

(You would think I’d be able to spell “polygamist’s,” but no–I’ve misspelled it at least six times writing this post. Words are hard sometimes.)

For anyone who doesn’t already know, allow me to go ahead and offer the disclaimer that Anna LeBaron is a dear friend of mine. We met in an online group in early 2015, and well, the rest is history. I’m slightly biased when it comes to her words, both spoken and written, but I’ll do my best to keep my review as objective as possible. (I will refer to her as Anna from here out, however—talking about one of your closest friends in third person is a little odd.)

Ready? Let’s go.

First—let’s talk about the front cover. Tyndale nailed it with the book cover. The first time I saw it, I was speechless. Little Anna, posed and precious, yet hidden and silenced behind stark and cold censor bars. Blind and gagged. It’s haunting, chilling, and unsettling. Maybe it’s my highly-empathic nature or the fact that the first time I heard Anna’s story, I was a teacher of littles, but at the sight of the cover the instinctive urge to gather Little Anna up in my arms weighed on me. It’s a cover that would stop me in my tracks if I saw it sitting on a bookstore shelf. (I cannot wait to see it sitting on a bookstore shelf!)

On to the story: The Polygamist’s Daughter is the third book I’ve read about the LeBaron family, so I already had a pretty solid frame of reference for the people, places, and events Anna discussed. I’ve also heard her speak informally about her family of origin. As much as I already knew about Anna’s experience, actually reading her account from the perspective of “little Anna” unlocked a new wave of emotion—a host of emotions, actually.

Until late 2015, I’d read only a couple of memoirs. It just wasn’t my favorite genre. Since then, memoirs have earned a pretty high ranking on my favorite genres list. One thing I’ve found to be an indicator of my interest is binge reading sessions. There are some books that require you to find a comfy spot and remain there for the next 5-6 hours, hardly moving as you progress from cover to cover. This is one of those books.

The Polygamist’s Daughter plunges you into the depths of rejection, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. A desire to intervene and protect, shield and comfort young Anna will rise within you. As the story progresses, you will rejoice at the strength, bravery, and courage that Anna finds deep within herself. You will walk away with hope that light shines even from the darkest circumstances.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll just say this: Anna’s objective was to tell her story from the perspective of herself as a child and she and her contributing writer, Leslie Wilson, accomplished that beautifully.   Anna has skillfully told her story in a way that invites her readers into her experience from the perspective of an innocent child navigating her way into adulthood.

The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron with Leslie Wilson (Tyndale) releases March 21, 2017 and is available at most book retailers.

Learn more about Anna at www.AnnaLeBaron.com.

Inhale/Exhale

I have a love-hate relationship with blogging.

And writing.

I love that writing is a cathartic outlet for processing the moments that make up my life—the celebratory, the nerve-wracking, the gut-wrenching. The words on the page hold the emotions of a few minutes, days, weeks, months, years; they convey the details that were most striking to my senses in a given timeframe. I love that the lessons I’m learning and the insight they bring are preserved on the page and within the tangled webs of the internet through my blog.

I love that I can share my growth with those who are a few steps ahead of me or a few steps behind me in the journey. I love that writing has provided connections with many women I wouldn’t otherwise know. Women who have reached behind them, taken my hand, and helped me find my footing on the path. Women who are finding their own footing who I can reach back to and guide along the path as those ahead of me have done.

But I hate it sometimes too. I hate it when I go for weeks (even months) without writing something other than to-do lists (I write an awful lot of lists these days). The absence of catharsis through the written word weighs heavily on my soul and my mind is bogged down by all the thoughts and lists of blog topics that pile up like hundreds of cars in the ten-mile New Jersey Turnpike traffic jam I once was unfortunate enough to experience. (Ironically, it was re-reading a seven-year-old blog of mine that reminded me of that scenario this morning.)

I hate it when I start thinking about numbers—wondering how many people actually read my blog, or berating myself for not posting on a regular basis, or lamenting the fact that writing blogs “the right way” doesn’t flow easily for me (I don’t think I’ve ever written a post that was less than 800 words).

I hate the pressure to say something witty, or to make a profound statement. If I let those thoughts run wild and free, I can talk myself out of writing for quite a while.

But when the release comes—when I allow the mental block to crack, when I sit in front of my laptop and let the words start flowing, I’m always a bit surprised at the sentences, the paragraphs, the pages that begin to appear on the screen.

Words are in me. They always have been. Words are as much a part of me as breathing. And just as I need to inhale and exhale in order to breathe, I need the words that pour into me to also pour out of me.

You’d think I would have learned this lesson by now.

That I would carve out time each day to jot a few sentences…a few paragraphs…a few pages.

Interestingly, as I’m sitting at my desk typing this post, my phone buzzes with a calendar reminder: Manuscript Deadline, today at 7:30 p.m.  Last October, I tasked myself with having the fifty-thousand-word, first rough draft of my book manuscript completed by February 27th. I surprised myself by meeting that goal on January 14th. And as happy as I was to have accomplished the task that seemed so impossible, I immediately started letting all my insecurities about writing a book start piling up: who am I to write a book? Who’s going to actually read this book? Are my thoughts valuable enough to sandwich between a front and back cover and share with the world?

For the weeks sandwiched between January 14th and yesterday, February 23rd, I did not peek at the manuscript. I pushed it aside, knowing that although I needed to let it sit and rest for a bit, eventually I needed to open it back up, poke around in those pages, and begin the messy process of editing all those words.

A lot has happened in my personal life since the night I pushed my manuscript aside. Some parts of those weeks feel like distant memories and other parts of those weeks are still very tender spots that need care and attention. I’m walking a fine line of knowing what is mine to share and what isn’t—which is a huge reason that I’ve been absent from this blog. My story is closely woven with the stories of others and much of what is happening in my heart, mind, and spirit is so entangled in the stories of others that I can’t fully express it.

It’s a season that I both love and hate.
I love the growth and new opportunities that are placed before me daily. I love the new people I’m meeting. I love that so many aspects of my life that are now normal or becoming routine were once some of my greatest fears. I love the paradox of it.

But I hate that my heart is in many places while my physical body can only be in one. I hate that arriving in one place means leaving the other. I hate the paradox of it.


It’s a season in which breathing deeply—inhaling and exhaling both air and words—is the greatest act of self-care I can offer myself.

And so,

I draw in a breath,

deeply,

pause,

and

release it.

“I Could Do That”: The Beginning of A Dream

I’ve been enamored with ASL since I was 8 years old. I remember seeing a Deaf couple signing to one another in a grocery store checkout line and being fascinated by the fluid movements of their hands and the animated expressions on their faces. I was drawn to it; it struck something deep inside me…a feeling I couldn’t articulate or understand then.

That same year, my grandfather took an assistant pastor position at a large church in a nearby city, leaving the small community church I’d grown up in with him as my pastor since I was born. On one of the first occasions my family visited my grandparents’ new church, my eyes lighted on the ASL interpreter positioned at the base of the platform, hands flying through the air. Again, I was transfixed. (Even to this day—more than two decades later, my attention is focused on the interpreter when I visit my grandparents’ church.)

This fascination flitted in and out of my sight line throughout my adolescence. In high school, my family began attending a new church where I joined an interpretive movement/mime/drama team. Here, I found an outlet for my desire to sign. My passion for sign language grew as I traveled to several national and regional drama conferences with the team. At these conferences, I met a woman, Tyra Lokey, who was a worship leader/dance instructor who incorporated ASL into her routines. My best friends and I became her groupies at these conferences. We chose her breakout sessions exclusively, chatted with her between sessions, and ran errands for her—she actually started calling us her groupies and would call us out when we entered one of her classes.

There was a joyous, fiery passion for sharing her love of God through sign language and music—it radiated from every part of her. One night at the national conference, as I sat in the group worship, I watched Tyra pour herself into worshipping through sign language. As I sat in the balcony, I heard the Holy Spirit speak to my spirit, “You could do that.” As this notion soaked into my heart, I responded silently, yet firmly: “I could do that.” Again, I felt that soul-deep stirring in my heart as I prayed, “Is that what I’m supposed to do?”—“that” being ASL in some form and fashion.

I never really intended to go to college. When I was in high school, people would ask me about my plans for higher education and I just shrugged them off. Post secondary schooling didn’t seem to be within my reach. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life—I was interested in teaching, but far too timid for that profession. Toward the end of high school, I began to think about ASL interpreting as an option, but I didn’t know ASL outside the few dozen signs I knew from the drama team—or anyone who was Deaf, for that matter. All these possibilities seemed too far out of reach. I was too shy, too quiet, and too afraid to pursue any of them.

Finally, in 2005, at the age of 21, I enrolled at North Greenville University–a small, local Christian college. I began as an Early Childhood Education major, but switched to the English program during my sophomore year. I continued to be drawn to the field of ASL and Deaf culture, but my university offered no classes related to either. In the spring semester of my sophomore year, I explored an option to transfer to another college to pursue a degree in Deaf Education, but ultimately felt that I was to stay where I was.

Later that semester, it became clearer that the Lord had a purpose for me in staying at NGU. I awoke at 4:00 one April morning with an outline for an ASL course proposal on my mind. I had no idea what to do with that information, so I went to my advisor and discussed it with her.  She, along with several other professors in the English department, encouraged me to pursue this crazy idea of undertaking a huge project that would eventually include writing a research thesis on 1.) why NGU needed an ASL program, 2.) the availability of/ need for ASL programs within a five-state radius, and 3.) the validity of ASL as a language, as well as a survey of both the student body and faculty of NGU to assess the interest-level in ASL classes.An independent study was created by Dr. Catherine Sepko, Dean of Humanities; Dr, Cheryl Collier, English Department Chair; and my advisor, Dr. Julia Drummond to give me the parameters to conduct my research in the fall of my junior year. Their support, along with many other faculty members was invaluable throughout the process. They warned me of the opposition I would face, supported me in every aspect of my research and writing, and believed that I could do what I thought was impossible.


On January 23, 2007 I presented an overview of Deaf culture and the history of ASL, a summary of my thesis, and a proposal for the addition of an ASL course at NGU to a faculty panel. At that point, I handed over the proposal to Dr. Sepko, Dr. Walter Johnson (the Curriculum Committee chair at the time), and Dr. Bill Stuermann (the head of the Foreign Language department). I had done what God had asked me to do when I woke up with the proposal outline on my mind the previous spring.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited.
And then I graduated.

I graduated in December 2009 without seeing my dream of ASL classes at NGU come to fruition. The proposal was still being pushed in committee meetings, but it was in a holding pattern. Obstacle after obstacle appeared.

But God.

In the Spring of 2011, a qualified instructor had been hired and the first ASL class began at NGU. I was in the front row, completely in awe that I was watching the vision God had placed in my heart unfolding before my eyes. 

After the first class ended, I approached the instructor, Shannon Fike, extended my hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Ticcoa. I’ve been praying for you for years. I’m so glad you’re finally here.”

Today, 5 years after ASL was introduced on campus, NGU offers five levels of ASL classes, a Deaf Culture class, and an ASL linguistics class—taught by four faculty members. This semester, an ASL component was added to the Interdisciplinary Studies degree. It took me a long time to own my role in the process of bringing ASL to NGU. In fact, until a conversation I had with counselor Bob Hamp and my friend Anna, I believed that “anybody could’ve done this.” But God hadn’t asked just anybody to do this crazy thing—it was me, and He equipped me to do exactly what He called me to do. He planted the seed of a burning passion for ASL and the Deaf community in my heart and coaxed it to life.

This process and experience fanned the flame of my passion for ASL and the Deaf community even more, motivating me to begin exploring options for a master’s degree in teaching ASL…

…until I hit a proverbial wall and buried that dream…