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.

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.

Five Minute Friday: Try

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

~*~

“You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying.” (My beloved Mama D quoted this to me countless times during my college years; the original author is unknown to me.)

I used to be afraid to try. (Sometimes I still am…)

A fear of failure, of not meeting some preconceived standard stopped me from doing things I was curious about, thing that were necessary, or things I’d never done before.

Last year, I flew on an airplane for the first time after ears of telling myself—and others—that “Ticcoa doesn’t fly?” Why? Because I was afraid. I let my fears of disaster and apprehension of the unknown keep my feet planted firmly on the ground.

Nearly one-and-a-half years later, I’ve now flown almost a dozen times.

And guess what?

I love flying, actually.
(I still hate airports and the process of boarding the plane, but who loves that?)

And so, today’s prompt got me thinking—How often do we tell ourselves we can’t do something and allow that untruth to shape our lives? How often are we missing out on an entirely new and thrilling adventure because we aren’t willing to try?

Five Minute Friday: Collect

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

~*~

I sat at the water’s edge, sifting through the sand and shells as they rolled in with the waves and were swept back out to sea.

Shells stretched for miles along the water’s edge. I wanted to collect them all—each one unique.
But I couldn’t.

I had to choose.

I had to choose which ones were worthy of making the trip home.

I’m learning I also have to choose moments. Which ones to keep and which to let go; which moment to grasp tightly and which to release.

There are a multitude of moments I wish I’d had time to collect with my sister.

Thirty years is too short a time to collect all the moments we wanted. There were more—many, many more that had yet to pass.

And because those moments are gone, I grasp at the ones that are left—the moments turned memories. I will lose some as time passes, just as I will lose some of the shells I picked up on the Florida coast. But there are some moments that have been collected that will be with me always.

Five Minute Friday: Comfort

I’m trying something new and joining in on the Five Minute Friday Party (#fmfparty),  a writer’s link-up hosted by Kate Motaung. Each Friday, she offers a single word writing prompt. The rules are to free write whatever comes to mind for five minutes using that one word as their prompt. No overthinking, no editing. Yikes! My friend Anna has “taken away” my delete key before–and I didn’t like it! We’ll see how this goes!

The water rushed over the cliff, dropping 186 feet into the natural pool at the bottom. We stood at the water’s edge, shaded form the July sun, a huge boulder at our backs.

Emotions rushed through my heart, thoughts flooded my mind, and tears dropped from the corners of my eyes.

The dam was beginning to break and I couldn’t stop it.

The grief that I’ve been holding back was cracking through the walls.

I turned around, facing the rock, and leaned into it, growling with frustration at my tears and the lack of comfort they brought me.

“Do you always snuggle up to rocks when there’s a person standing beside you??” she asked, holding out a hand.

This Silence Needs Breaking

It’s the ache of having had and now being without.

It’s the injustice of having been robbed of something dear, taken without your permission.
It’s the trauma of a moment, a diagnosis, a point of no return that wounds and scars your heart, your soul, your mind.

It’s the knowledge that nothing you could have done would have changed the outcome juxtaposed with the wondering if you did everything you could have done and should have done.

It’s the restlessness of not having any answers.

It’s the conflict without resolution.

It’s where I’m stuck.

It’s why I’ve been silent in words written and words spoken.

My body is in forward motion. The world still spins. Time still passes by the second, the minute, the hour, the day, the week, the month.

My feet keep moving, circling this uncharted territory. I’m left behind—no map, no reference point.

Yet,
my heart,

my mind,

my spirit,

my soul…

They’re all still.

They’re all silent.

I fear jostling any of them out of their reverie.

Of accepting the reality I’m still not ready to face.

To process.

To grieve.

To learn how to live with the absence that consumes my thoughts.

 

My words are still present tense.

I choke on past tense.

I can’t move her there yet.

If I do, I’ve lost something. Someone.
A vital piece of my own history, my own story.

Our shared story.

Our shared history.

So I sit. Silent. Holding myself in this shadowy valley, longing to turn back toward what was but is no more, unsure of what lies ahead and not ready to put forth the effort to start moving toward higher ground.

Denying the absence.

Questioning the reasons.

Stifling the anger.

Avoiding the breakdown.
The silence screams at me, willing me to break it, to find a balance between grief and joy, begging me to celebrate the good and process the ugly, to live in the light when everything seems dark.

It’s the dissonance where I reside.

It’s the silence that needs breaking.

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.