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.

The One Where Jon Acuff’s Tweet Made Me Speak

I came across this Tweet from Jon Acuff last night that made me all sorts of angry.

My desire to engage anyone on Twitter has been lacking most of the year (because it’s been one hell of a year), and I rarely reply to tweets (other than occasional replies to Anna’s or Jen Hatmaker’s tweets), but this one caught me in the gut and I was compelled to use my cyber voice and be heard.

Why did I reply?

Because I am tired, literally exhausted, of trying to be heard and seen in a world that is powered by and caters to extroverts.

Yes, I tell everyone I meet that I’m an introvert.
It’s a boundary-setting practice.
It’s a sanity-saver.
It’s a plea that you understand I need space.

I don’t have the energy to endure endless small talk or hours upon hours of being with people.

Some days I can fake being an extrovert quite well. (I did it for four months straight this year.)

Some days I can’t.

Some days/weeks/months, the reality of a cyclical battle with isolating depression and crushing anxiety shows up to the party.
Add an ugly wrestling match with grief and I have exceeded my ability to cope with all. the. extroversion.

And no—it’s not any one person who has driven me to the edge.

I live with the world’s most extroverted person, no doubt. (Everyone who knows me, knows this.)

But I’m addressing the larger scope of introversion vs. extroversion.

I’m putting my words out into the world because if I don’t, I am not being true to me.

By replying to Acuff’s tweet last night, I gave myself permission to be an introvert. An introvert who is currently struggling with finding ways to feed her introverted soul. An introvert who is fighting to keep using her words when all she really wants to do is curl up in a ball and hide from the world. An introvert who battles hourly against the voices of depression, anxiety, and grief that tell her she’s not worth fighting for.

So yes, I WILL keep saying I’m an introvert.

Dreary Days, Nostalgia, and Pumpkin Muffins

Sunlight dimmed by a thick, gray cloud cover filtered through the blinds, my eyelids cracking open as eyelashes stuck together by last night’s leftover makeup parted. Groggily, I rolled over, wondering whether I should get up or sleep in—what day is it anyway?

As it dawned on me that it is, indeed, Saturday, I also realized the date—March 11th. The day my life changed, one year ago, in a way I never wanted it to or imagined it would. Sometimes the blessing of a photographic memory—especially one that clings to the significance of particular dates—is also a curse.

It seems like there’s an awful lot of juxtaposition of binaries following me around these days: happy/sad, joyful/tearful, known/unknown, faith/fear, freedom/guilt, settled/homesick. It’s a dichotomy of soft places and hard places that I’ve never had to learn to navigate long-term—until now.

Even the side-by-side juxtaposition of yesterday—March 10th—and today, March 11th is a representation of the current paradoxical tension that binds my daily life.

Two years ago yesterday, #the4500 was formed. I didn’t know then how radically a group of internet strangers would change my life, eventually landing me in Texas. If I had known, I probably would’ve jumped shipped. I’m glad I didn’t know—because these past two years have been an adventure like no other. One that has brought an abundance of love, laughter, and friendship; it has thrown open doors of possibility one after another.

March 10th is a day that will forever remind me of a Father who answers prayers both before we’ve uttered them and also in ways that we’d never imagine them manifesting.

And March 11th is a day that will also be forever burned in my memory.

It’s that day, exactly one year ago, that I was sitting on the playground with my co-teacher and friend, Christine, at recess, watching our students play and explore, when I got the news that changed so many things.

It’s the day my phone buzzed and the text told me my sister had been diagnosed with a laughably rare cancer. The long, unpronounceable diagnosis stared at me from the screen…and, in shock and disbelief, I did what you should never do: I Googled. I handed the phone to Christine and tried to breathe. Tried to digest this information. With only an hour left in the school day, and a visiting former classroom assistant who could cover me, Christine tried to talk me into leaving early, but I knew I would spiral as soon as I left work and wanted to delay that as long as possible.

The 365 days between that day and this one have been rocky and hard to walk. There are still many questions that remain unanswered. The decisions that my sister and I—and others in our family have made have been difficult. My decision to leave South Carolina and move to Texas was such a daunting one that I didn’t come to terms with the fact that I had already moved to Texas until seven months after I packed up my carload of belongings and made the trek. Now that I’ve been here for nine months [to the day, as I just realized; I arrived in the Friendly State on June 11th of last year. I’m going to need to chew on this for a moment], I’m finally reclaiming some of the routines that the trauma of moving cross-country displaced.

When I lived in SC and taught all week, Saturday mornings were my sanctuary. A quiet kitchen, a slow day, a recipe—either precise and written out or experimental and thrown together in my head—and a little baking therapy resulted in one of my favorite weekend routines

When I moved to Texas and threw my life into the spin cycle of settling into a new space, I pretty much quit cooking, quit baking. It took months for me to be comfortable enough in my new surroundings to cook again. For some, baking is an art form. For me, it’s therapy. And this morning, I needed it. I needed a reason to get out of bed. (And aren’t warm-from-the-oven, slathered-in-cream-cheese-frosting pumpkin muffins a great reason to get out of bed??) So I threw back the covers, got “dressed” in leggings and flannel shirt and headed to the kitchen. Within minutes, I’d assembled the necessary items and accouterments and set the oven to preheat. As I measured ingredients, cracked eggs, and mixed the batter, I thought about the significance of this day and how I could easily allow all the unknowns that still exist take precedence over the joy of the work I need to accomplish today.

The act of stirring separate ingredients together to make one cohesive batter, of dropping that batter into the wells of a muffin tin spoonful by spoonful is a calming process. I can’t exactly explain it, but my anxiety levels decrease and my mind quiets as I bake. It’s therapeutic and cathartic though, so I don’t question it much.

Days like today, if I dwell on the hard and allow my mind to entertain the unknowns, I will drown; I will spiral into a darkness I’ve visited previously and to which I never wish to return.

Recognizing the precursory symptoms of this descent is one of the most powerful tools I have honed over the past year. Knowing that dreary days are more likely to bring a cloud cover to my soul allows me to press through the muddled emotions and lying thoughts that make me want to throw the blanket over my head, shutting down and shutting out the light that surrounds me. Choosing not to focus on the things I have zero control over, but rather focusing on the truth that I am well-loved by the God who sees all things is the first step to reversing the descent.

This doesn’t make this space easy to live in, but it does make it easier, and pumpkin muffins make it slightly sweeter.