On December 31, 2015, I launched this blog site.
One year ago.
On this exact date. With a different year.
Today is December 31, 2016. Since I launched this website, 365 days have passed. Then and Now. So much has happened in between the nostalgic Then and the constantly moving Now.
One thing hasn’t changed, though.
It hasn’t changed within the past year.
It hasn’t changed since I went from Ms. to Mrs.
It hasn’t changed since I was a college student studying communication and writing papers about identity and breakups, drinking chai teas and pulling all nighters.
It hasn’t changed since I was a high school student wearing red and black and shouting “Go Bulldogs!” and wearing nighttime headgear (heck yeah, awkward orthodontia) and feeling all of the feels about everything and anything. Sopping up the soapy, dripping emotions like a thick sponge.
It hasn’t changed since I was a girl on an elementary school playground wearing Keds and a side ponytail, all innocence and fairytales and SuperMario Bros and dandelion crowns and library trips.
Despite it all. All of the changes. All of the hurdles. All of the questions and the doubts and the seasons. Despite it all…my dream hasn’t changed.
I want to be a published author.
It’s this dream that inspired me to start this blog 365 days ago. I wanted to chronicle my journey —and my writings— on this site. And as I look back at this past year, I am grateful and excited for the progress made and the steps taken to get me closer to the goal:
I finished the manuscript. My first. A fiction manuscript.
Queryed several agents, hoping they’d be interested in my manuscript.
Got some interest. Got some rejection.
Doubted myself, then reminded myself of the dream. Kept going.
Signed with literary agent and all-around amazing person Renee Nyen with KT Literary.
Received an outline of edits. Made edits. Submitted changes to Renee.
Had solid conversations with Renee because she has an epic eye. Realized I needed to make more edits.
So what’s up with the book now? you ask.
Well, the answer is short. And unglamorous. But true:
More editing. More revising.
If I'm being honest with you,, I got too excited on my first round of edits. I focused on the breadth rather than the depth. I got so excited about moving forward that my feet went fast. Too fast. I tripped. I focused too much on the finish line instead of completing my current leg of the race.
Lucky for me, I have an awesome agent who knows what this book can be and what I can do. And I can do better. So I’m still working on my manuscript, making edits and diving deep to ensure the next draft I turn in is the best it can be.
I love writing. But writing… It’s hard at times. I'm hard on myself at times. I’m learning that the road to being published is long. It has potholes where your feet get stuck and your mind gets cluttered. Pools of doubt gather alongside me.
But as I sit here on December 31, 2016, I keep thinking about this day next year, and the days that will take place between now and then. A lot of words and writing and worrying (because I’m me and I’m a worrier and that will never change) will take place in these next 365 days.
I’ve come a long way, and I’m grateful for my friends and family who have witnessed this journey and supported me every step of the way.
But I’m not done yet.
I’m excited for what 2017 will bring….and the goal is to sit here on December 31, 2017, with exciting news and dreams achieved.
At the end of the day, though--regardless of the result--it’s all about the journey, right?
Happy New Year. Here's to 2017.
I didn't want to go into work today.
It's not that I don't like my job. I do. I work at a church. My co-workers are like a second family to me.
But I didn't want to go into work today.
I was grumpy. I wanted to sit on the couch and feel sorry for myself because I didn't fold the laundry and I was snippy to my husband and I was tired of fighting the critical self-talk in my head because sometimes it's easier to just give in to it rather than attempt positive affirmations.
Positive affirmations take a lot of energy. Energy that I did not have this morning.
Plus, it's a Friday. A beautiful fall Friday. After days of rain and clouds and wind here in Michigan, the sun finally decided to peek out and show its sparkly self to the world. Like a soloist tap dancer dressed in sequins, the sun is all, "I'll give 'em the ole razzle dazzle."
Thus, I wanted to take my time and sink in my grumpiness and sip a mug of hot apple cider and gaze out at the window at the oak trees basking in the sunshine.
Now that it's October, the trees are trading in their green wardrobes for cloaks of reds, magentas, yellows. If the sun is a sparkly soloist on stage, the oak trees are the audience members dressing up for the occasion. They're putting on their autumn best to take in the sunshiney show.
And yet the reality is: the trees are dying.
They give us their all--one last hurrah in a burst of fall foliage-- and go out in style. Their leaves scatter like confetti until we deem them yard waste: no longer brilliant in bursts of color, but browned and unattached and cluttering our manicured lawns.
We love the leaves when they're tall and together and beautiful, but discard them when they've fallen. Just like we do with people sometimes. Unfortunately.
Trees let things go so easily. When the signs of summer begin to fade, they don't fight it. They embrace the change by changing, too. When one tree morphs in a fit of speed and color and marigold yellow, another tree won't shrink at it's neighbor's brilliance. It stands tall, transforming from dark green to deep burgundy on its own terms.
Trees don't compare. They don't copy. Trees take their time turning and changing into what God intended them to be. They are their brightest before they fade.
I need to take a page out of the oak tree's book, I decided as I gazed out the window.
I wanted to stay here in front of this window and learn more life lessons from the oak trees and feel sorry for myself. As you do.
But (sigh) I got over myself and got up and got dressed and got in the office. And then I got a reminder about life and grief and lonely instead of, you know, laundry and snippy and couch potato.
Life loves to interfere with my pity parties.
Here's the thing: When you work at a church, you get to blur the lines. People trump process. Feelings override to-do lists. We witness many life-defining moments. We watch in real-time as memories are being made:
Messages that introduce people to faith and God.
On Tuesday--just three days ago--we hosted a funeral for a kind woman with a big heart and unwavering faith.
She attended a weekly class here at the church on Tuesday mornings. On those class days when I would walk in to the church, this woman was often the first face I saw. Sitting at a round oak table, she'd smile and greet me with a "Hi, Lindsay!" Her voice was excited and warm, like she was genuinely happy to see me. And that made me feel valued. Acknowledged. I loved walking in and seeing her face.
Sometimes, all it takes is a genuine hello to make someone's day. Her hello did for me, anyway.
This woman's funeral was honoring and memorable and personal. People sat in pews and said their prayers. A photo board displayed images of her life before most of us knew her. A younger version of her and her husband smiled in photos wearing clothes we now deem vintage but are still viewed as classy.
Memories. Moments. People. Staring back at us in sepia tones.
This morning, I sat at my desk in the front as I always do. The office was quiet, as most of the staff gone to meetings or appointments or final fall vacations before winter settles in for the next six months.
Then, the woman's husband came in to the office.
He is a dedicated man who sends out prayer requests and serves as a church elder and sat by his wife's side until her days on this earth ended. If this had been a Tuesday several months ago, he would have been sitting next to his wife at round table when I walked in to work.
Today, he stood in the doorway alone.
"Hi!" I greeted, surprised to see him and unsure what to say to someone who said goodbye to his wife a week ago to the day.
"Hello." He took a step closer and held out an envelope to me. "For the funeral."
He wore a burgundy polo that matched the oak tree leaves. His slacks looked a size too big. He probably lost weight from the stress, I thought. His white hair peppered and streaked with gray was combed like always, but still...he looked different.
We chatted about how his email wasn't working.
"I need to call Charter," he said. "I don't understand it. They say the password isn't right, but they're the ones who came up with it."
"Oh yeah, I've had a few arguments with them over the years," I admitted.
He nodded then looked down, his eyes focused on the floor. His face was full of sadness. The sadness wasn't splayed all over his features like a coat of cosmetics you could wipe off at the end of the day. This sadness was deeper. Engrained.
Like it was there to stay for the rest of his days.
Like he had lost something.
Because he had.
After decades of being married and taking care of his wife, her presence was gone. So here he was, three days later, left with logistics and details, envelopes and Charter communications company phone calls, and small talk with the girl sitting in the church's front office.
We made small talk about the weather. I took the envelope, promising to put it in it's proper place. As I watched him walk away, hiking up his too-big slacks, I stared at his back. He looked so alone. A tug pulled at my heart.
"Do you want a brownie?" I called after him. One of our volunteers had made zucchini brownies. There were two left.
"A brownie?" His voice sounded lighter. Relieved. Like he didn't want to walk away alone, either. "Well, sure, I'll take a brownie."
We stood across from each other in silence. Then, I acknowledged what we both were thinking. "The funeral was really beautiful."
Some people want to avoid talking about funerals and loss, but he grabbed onto the comment like a lifesaver.
"It really was," he exclaimed. "Wasn't it? The funeral home did such a good job."
"Yes," I agreed. "What a lovely memorial for her." He nodded.
"Today is the 7th," I explained. "Next month is me and my husband's 1-year anniversary. Got any advice?"
"Nope," he laughed. "Just keep on goin'."
I smiled. "Well, that's something we all can do then, isn't it?"
"It certainly is." He turned and walked back out into the hallway. I zipped up the plastic bag. One brownie left.
Like the trees, this man is entering a new season of life. He is now a widow. His face is weathered and wrinkled and deep, not unlike the bark of an old oak tree. But unlike the trees, memories of his wife and their lives won't be scattered like leaves in a gutter, only to be raked and collected in bags to burn. These memories will live on despite the changes.
No matter what season life throws our way, all we can do is adapt. The weather calls for change, and so they do.
Life calls for change.
And so we do.
We adapt. We just keep on goin'.
I'm glad I went to work today.
All of a sudden, your world turns upside down in a right side up kind of way. A small stick with a plus sign changes your life because you are now bringing another life into the world.
Weeks go by, and you prepare. Baby showers. Baby nursery. Pastel colors of sky blues, pale pinks, sunshine yellows and mint greens. Onesies. Diapers. Monthly stickers to use when your baby is out of the womb and into the world, growing and changing and showing he has your eyes or she has his lips. One month, two months, three months, four.
When people ask, “Do you want a boy or a girl?” you respond with the same response everyone says. You mean it because it’s true: “We just want a healthy baby.”
We expect a lot when we’re expecting.
But then, the unexpected happens.
Something’s not right.
And your world is turned upside down again as you turn right towards the elevators and go up a floor to the floor you never imagined when you envisioned your birth plan: The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. NICU for short.
The image of you smiling as you walk into your home nursery—the room with the white crib and jungle theme and stuffed animal giraffe and rocking chair—are replaced with your reality: tubes and wires and beeping and ringing. Beige walls and large sinks and bracelets that identify you as the parent of the baby in Nursery 6.
You stand like a soldier on guard next to the isolette —a clear plastic box with holes for wires and tubes to weave in and out—where your baby lies, protected from the world. Your baby is fragile and small and too tiny to fit into any of the newborn onesies your family gifted you at the shower many weeks ago. But that’s okay, you tell yourself. Because this is all part of you and your baby’s journey to being okay.
You just want your baby to be okay. Please God let my baby be okay.
Your new mantra is “I just want us to go home.” Home represents health.
Your emotions are determined by your baby’s small victories that are actually huge milestones. When a baby’s original birth weight is one pound, gaining another pound is to be celebrated. The nurses hang beads outside of your baby’s isolette. “Bravery beads,” they call them. “To represent every milestone.” You stare at the beads as you cling to the hope they represent.
You focus on the victories while chasing away the fear tucked in your brain. Did I do something wrong? Could we have prevented this?
But here’s the thing: You’re not wrong. You’re not alone. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit doctors and nurses are there. And they’ve dedicated their lives to responding to the unexpected.
They’re there: night and day. Taking care of your family. Helping to get your baby healthy. But they do so much more than that. They’re advocates for you. They represent answers and permission and reassurance. Wearing scrubs and smiles, they are the calm in the midst of a churning, turning tornado of emotional storms.
My mom, with her sweet demeanor and seal blue scrubs, has worked as a registered nurse on the NICU floor for over 30 years. When I was younger, I would wake up with her in the mornings before she left for the hospital. I’d stand on the couch in front of our large picture window and peer outside, waving goodbye in my pink onesie pajamas, wishing she could stay home with me.
I knew she was a nurse. I knew she was going to the hospital. I knew she was leaving me to go to work.
But I didn’t know what my mother did for 12 hours a day. I didn’t understand why we had to celebrate Christmas early due to Mom’s work schedule. I didn’t understand why she had to sleep during the day due to exhausting night shifts and that’s why she kept a fan on in her room and that’s why I had to try to keep my voice down.
As I got older, though, my confusion turned into clarity. Every interaction still remains a reminder to me of why my mom’s job is more than a job, and all of those early Christmases or picture window goodbyes make sense:
When Mom gets stopped at the grocery store as proud parents pull out photos of their son or daughter—once a tiny premature baby—now a healthy 6-year-old kicking a soccer ball in a snapshot, it’s clear.
When Mom approaches parents she recognizes and remembers at a restaurant because they’ve celebrated and cried and hugged together over the milestones of their baby years ago on the NICU floor, it’s clear.
When I’m at a craft show with Mom and she talks to a dad who points to his elementary-age son and says, “She took care of you when you were a baby,” and the boy smiles, it’s clear.
When she comes home in tears because a baby passed away, it’s clear. Heartbreaking....but clear.
When a friend who owns a floral shop in our hometown sends my mom flowers every Father’s Day because she was the one who told him he could hold his baby girl for the first time, it’s clear. So clear.
Being a nurse is not just a job. It’s a calling.
NICU nurses spend their own time and effort to decorate baby’s isolettes by cutting scrapbook paper into letters of babies’ names. They knit Christmas booties for the babies. They stamp every baby’s tiny toes and feet in the shape of a heart to make artwork for Father’s Day. They listen and they hug and they cry, too. NICU nurses live in the balance of thinking and feeling. Celebrating victories and shedding tears. They are there to stand by your side during one of the scariest experiences life has to offer.
Whenever I ask Mom why she’s stayed in the NICU all of these years, her answer is always the same: “I love the babies.” And she means it because it’s true.
September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit month. As this month comes to a close, I think of the babies. The parents. The families. The doctors. The nurses. All of the faces who come together to celebrate highs, lows, and everything in between. And it all becomes clear.
My mother is an angel. NICU nurses are angels. They’re angels in scrubs.
New Orleans is hot, I decide for the millionth time as the sun's rays beat down through a cloudless sky. Bluesy sounds of a saxophone echo through the streets, sounding sad and energized at the same time.
I inhale one breath. My nostrils meet Cajun food and fried batter and faint cigar smoke. I exhale, breathe in again, this time met with smells of sunscreen and garbage and exhaust.
New Orleans is hot, I repeat in my head. But it's so many other things, too.
A city for the senses.
New Orleans has seen some things--like that nasty nemesis Hurricane Katrina in 2005--but she's lived to tell the tales. She's unafraid of pushing anyone's limits or buttons or barriers.
New Orleans is who she is.
I'm in New Orleans as a volunteer on the media team for the National Youth Gathering. Over 25,000 people are here in this city for the same reasons, yet they are discovering new reasons why they're glad they came. There are service projects. Prayers. Studies about faith and God and identity in the midst of it all, scattered in one large convention center, then out and about in the city streets, then in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It's a lot to take in, to say the least.
I squint, then slide my cheap sunglasses closer towards my eyes, the plastic easily gliding over the bridge of my nose thanks to a sweaty sheen now coating my skin like a second layer. New Orleans in July means walking through the streets in a hazy fog. We're all wading in invisible bath water.
You get used to it. The heat. The humidity. You get used to a lot of things when you are busy walking, talking, doing. I didn't know if I'd get used to being around 25,000+ people for a national youth gathering. I didn't know if I'd get used to the spicier food and the days full of 30,000 steps, my new sneakers breaking in so my feet don't break down on me, blisters, be damned.
Yes, the weather is hot.
Yes, the days are long.
Yes, my comfort zone is stretching like Spandex, just when I think it cannot hold and move and flex any further.
Yes, I'm sweating like a beast.
But this is where the growth happens, I realize. In the midst of the sweat and the worry and the tasks and the to-dos and the NEW. So much new.
I mean, teachers tell us that all the time, right? Pinterest quotes echo the same message. Inspirational speakers and life coaches, too. "Life begins at the end of our comfort zone."
But it's one thing to say it and the other to experience it.
I had fallen in a rut and hadn't even known it. A Michigan girl with her Michigan life and her Michigan ways-rut. A rut of the same menu items, the same restaurants, the same TV shows. Comfort. Certainty. Safe.
I had forgotten how awesome it feels to push past my comfort zone. Fear clouds the awesome. New Orleans was my reminder.
Even when we get in an experience where we know the comfort zone is expanding, we try to control that growth, too. We can play and plot and plan and prepare. We can make lists and spreadsheets and sticky notes and to-dos. Though Excel offers many equations to create solutions in a cell, spreadsheets do not factor in one important aspect: life.
You can't plan for chaos. You don't know how a person will react. You don't know who you'll meet and who will impact you in a million different ways.
And that's where the growth happens. That's where the layers are peeled back. When flights are delayed across the nation, when hackers hack and hearts break and tears leak and talks take place while sitting on a carpeted floor, eating peanut butter M&Ms. We are pushed to our limits so we know where our limits stand, and in pushing our limits, our bonds form.
The comfort zone stretches.
Now I sit on a bench. I chip away at the chunks of ice that created my Sno-Ball, a menu item known in New Orleans, I've been told. I ordered the King Cake flavor, which has dyed the ice a deep purple that tastes sweeter than frosting. I had never tried this before, just like I had never tried alligator sausage or jambalaya or Nutella before this trip.
My feet ache. My eyes squint. My mind runs.
And I am grateful.
I'm grateful for the photographers I worked with, who showed me--through their eye, their perspective, their lens--that there is beauty in a row of empty chairs or a dilapidated building. I'm grateful for two friends who exhibited bravery and honesty and authenticity through the sharing of their stories on a stage in front of thousands of people. I'm grateful for the writers, the videographers, my fellow social media members, website moderators...all working together to tell a story, to tell share others' stories, to share their gifts and expand their comfort zones right alongside me as they pushed me to expand mine.
I'm also grateful for peanut butter M&Ms and trail mix--a loyal (albeit nutritionally weak) fixture during these long days.
[For the record, alligator sausage isn't that bad, beignets are AMAZING, and I missed ketchup more than I thought I would.]
Pals, I’m gonna be honest: I’m not sure where to begin with this blog post.
My brainwaves are tsunamis. My heart is fluttering and my legs are jelly. Though there is a lot of hurt and confusion and heartbreak going on in the world these days (shootings, deaths, countries leaving nations), I’m trying to look towards hope and silver linings and good news and balance: taking in the bad, but soaking in the good, too.
Amongst the sadness in the world this June, my little world of Lindsay saw a silver lining:
I was offered representation from literary agent Renee Nyen of KT Literary. (Check out the official announcement over at the KT Literary website here: http://ktliterary.com/2016/06/welcome-lindsay-henry/ )
Whew. Okay. So...
I am officially represented by a literary agent. And I must emphasize that Renee is not just any literary agent, but an awesome agent who is passionate about her work and enthusiastic about my book. An agent who’s not just poised and professional in her career, but a kind and thoughtful and caring person in general. Even if Renee wasn’t my agent, I’d still be a fan. She was one of the tops on my list when I sent out queries to pitch my manuscript to literary agents. I could not be more thrilled to be represented by Renee and be a part of the KT Literary family.
I recorded the video above right after I hung up with Renee to verbally accept her offer of representation.
Yeah, I’m trying to play it cool, but clearly I can't play it cool for more than 30 seconds.
If you’re thinking, “Um, okay, cool? But what does a literary agent exactly do? What does this mean?” check out a blog post I wrote a few months ago about literary agents and the process to getting published here.
Basically, this process is sort of similar to, say, a football player signing with a sports agent. The agent then (in many cases) helps the football player negotiate a deal for the player to play professionally in the NFL, for example. With manuscripts and literary agents and authors, the literary agent’s main task (amongst many other things) is to sell the writer’s work to a publishing house, who will then publish the book and sell it to the masses.
When I told my mom that I was going to sign with a literary agent, she said to me, “It all is going so fast!”
And it does feel a bit fast now, but in the best way possible, like when the water breaks and a baby is on the way. Only this time, it’s a book baby (not sure if that’s a weird metaphor or not, but I’m going with it). After years of writing and editing, months and months of querying and waiting, suddenly an email and a few phone calls and a signed retainer agreement have changed everything.
Here’s the timeline of Lindsay’s Journey to Getting Published (So Far):
From finishing the first draft to now, it’s been about 13 months.
It wasn’t always a pretty picture of me skipping on rainbows towards the magical world of publishing and books and writing. There were rejection emails. There was hopes dashed after an agent requested pages and then ultimately said no thanks.
But I am proud of the timeline. The blood, sweat and tears...it's like I earned my stripes a bit. And I’m thankful. I’m thankful for every single person—friends, family, co-workers, agents who liked my book, agents who passed on my book—who were all crucial to this point. I’m thankful to be in this place, and I’m looking forward to seeing what's next.
*Insert awkward excited happy dance here*
For today’s True Talk Tuesday, this quote is from the whimsical and romantic Stephanie Perkins and her be-still-my-heart YA novel, ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS.
In my opinion, Stephanie can write romance like no other. Her novels are smooth and swoony (or is it swooney? pretty sure I just made that adjective up?) and fun and charismatic and chock-full of love and attraction and chemistry. When I finished ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, I remember feeling so full and satisfied and happy, like I had just finished a hot fudge brownie sundae (with a cherry on top, of course, because Stephanie’s writing is decadent and detailed like that).
I’m a small town girl who grew up near cow farms and watched chickens cross the road (like, for real: I have had to slow down as actual chickens have actually crossed the road on my way to work). My world hasn't involved a ton of international travel. I’ve gone to Mexico a couple of times, celebrated my 8th birthday at my grandpa’s Canadian cabin, visited relatives in Minnesota and the impressive Lego Land within the Mall of America….But there hasn’t been any trips to, say, the Eiffel Tower. My passport is quite bare.
In ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, though, I felt like I was in Paris. To me, the main character of the story is not only Anna, but Paris itself. Stephanie does an amazing job of describing the unique details that can make Paris the type of city where you could fall in love with both a person and a place. Stephanie’s book made Paris come alive for me—the cow and chicken and country roads girl who’s never been across the pond—and THAT, my friends, is the power of books.
Books can transport us anywhere we want to go, whether it’s Paris or Hogwarts or a mythical dragon land or a realistic suburb.
Books can turn on lights and open windows and unlock doors to places we’ve never been and things we’ve never seen.
Books can give names to feelings and loosen holds on hearts.
Books can jog our memories and exercise our emotions.
The above quote from ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS is one of my favorites because it’s true: We can wish for things—blow out candles, whisper under shooting stars, throw pennies in fountains—and I’ve certainly done my fair share of wishing.
But despite all of the candles and stars and pennies, wishes require making a choice: a choice in that split second before the flame goes out or the penny drops. A choice in what we want most. Sometimes, we don’t know what we want most. Sometimes, what we want most isn’t what is best. There is a difference, and we have to continue to make that choice—again and again and again—as we live our lives and make our wishes and dream our dreams. Best is best.
Hey everybody. I know, long time/no talk. Forgive me? You will?
Awesome. Thank you.
So I came up with a random idea today. Actually, I came up with a random idea, oh, about, 20 minutes ago, if we are getting specific.
Couple facts about me:
I love quotes.
I also love books.
And books--since they're, you know, written with words and are often amazing in content and subject matter--often hold little gems and nuggets of golden wisdom in the form of quotes.
So (here's the random idea I came up with): On Tuesdays here on the site, I'm going to feature a favorite quote or excerpt from a book. This feature will be called "True Talk Tuesday." I will pick quotes and excerpts that have meant a lot to me or challenged me or made me question things or think or love or feel, and then I will highlight that excerpt here each week.
For this inaugural True Talk Tuesday, I am going to post a quote from one my favorite authors whom I dearly respect and admire: Sarah Dessen.
This quote is from my favorite book by Sarah, titled THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER. I still remember feeling so in awe and understood after finishing that book as a junior in high school: the main character Macy's struggles, the feelings of a new summer and fresh starts, trying to ditch feelings of perfectionism while balancing life's chaos...it's a book I read every summer to this day, the book's pages underlined and loved and dog-eared year after year. When I met Sarah Dessen at a book signing last May, I had no problem picking out which one of her books that I would ask her to sign. She's written wonderful books, but my favorite will always be THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER.
When I was a freshman in college reluctantly taking a performance arts class (unfortunately required...I was a nervous wreck throughout the whole thing), I "performed" this scene from THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER that included the above excerpt for the entire class. The assignment involved finding your own material that inspired you, then you needed to memorize that material and bring it to life by reading out loud/acting it out. I still remember sitting in a chair in front of the whole class, the students' blank eyes staring at me, while I recited the above words with as much gumption and emotion as I could evoke without letting the nerves come through. It wasn't too bad. I believed the words I was speaking. I connected with Dessen's writing voice and what the characters were going through.
I love books that make me feel like somebody gets me, somebody feels the way I do. Even if that personl is a fictional character, it is relieving and awakening to recognize your own emotions on the page. It's nice to feel understood.
We all get a future. A future made up of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, that eventually turns into a life. I love the eloquent way that Sarah Dessen poses the question through book characters that often plagues us all: Are you spending your precious time--your precious LIFE--doing what you love? Doing what you feel you NEED to do? Are we making sure we aren't wasting our lives away worrying about people, places, things, jobs, that don't matter or aren't right?
*I'd love to hear from quotes that YOU love, too. Feel free to post in the comment section below and I'll check them out to see if we can potentially feature one of your faves on here. PLUS I'm always looking for solid book recommendations :) *
Searching. I'm searching for the right words for this wrong situation. I don't know whether to go right or left when everything is upside down and I'm not there. I'm not beside you like friends should be in times like these. But we're older now. Our driver's licenses boast different states. We don't share the same type of skies anymore.. I wear a sweater on the same day you wear a T-Shirt. We have as many miles between us as we have memories, inside jokes, life lessons we've learned together. Shared together.
But we aren't together right now. Not in person. I can't hold your pain on my shoulders, as much as I want to lean my shoulder next to yours and sit together. Just us three, in one quiet trio:
Me, and You, and Grief.
Sit. I'll sit. I'm going to stop searching and looking because I'm not finding the right words and you aren't finding you and what is lost is lost and it can't be found and WHY CAN'T IT BE FOUND? Why can't we erase this day? Why can't we go back to yesterday when we didn't know what we didn't know?
The worse kind of loss is the unexpected kind. The abrupt kind. It's raw and wet and snot and heaving and sobbing. The loss makes itself known in every sense of your being. Bile in your throat. Punch in your gut. Ache in your heart.
I don't know what to do. I don't know what to say.
So I'll sit here. I'll sit here on the floor.
I'll sit on the floor and I'll cry these wet tears, watch them streak down my face and onto the floor near my pink pedicured-toes. This fresh polish remind me of yesterday's biggest problem: naked nails and dry skin and weird feet. I wiggle my toes and snort at how silly scaly heels seem now.
Today, I am reminded of what real problems look like. Real problems look like loss and hurt and grief over a baby you've never met in person but loved. Your heart was connected to that baby inside, a string tugging from your chest to your belly. The world didn't get to meet this baby, but you did. God did.
I'll pretend my tears can flow in the river out west towards you. I know you are crying, too, though your tears are made of an entirely different kind of sadness. The kind of sadness that only you can own. Because this happened to you, not me, and I wish right now that we could exchange places.
Sit. I'll sit here and I will write and I will pray and I will wait. We will wait for time to heal as it does, though "Time heals" is probably the last thing you want to hear right now. We don't need to trust time today. We don't need to figure any of it out today.
Let's just sit.
I won't have the right things to say since all of the right words about loss are lost.
I promise I'll listen until the miles melt away and the tears start to dry and the right words stay hidden with the understanding.
Sit. I'm just going to sit. Right here. Right now.
The bass of a hip-hop song thumped in my chest as I hurried into the building. The song’s notes floated in the air, growing louder and clearer as I got closer to the entrance. My legs and stomach buzzed with excitement, my heart beating in time with the music as I looked down to make sure my sneakers were tied and double-knotted.
I walked past two women on the sidewalk as I approached the front door, the music louder than ever now. Wearing thick workout headbands and shirts that read “LIFE OVER FEAR,” these women had that familiar pinkish hue on their faces—all sheen and smiles—when you just finished a great workout class.
I could tell they felt good. Good about themselves. Good about life.
We exchanged smiles as we passed each other, these women returning to one world—a world where our problems exist and cell phones ring and work never ends and the house has to get cleaned— while I walked into another world: A world full of conversations and upbeat music. A world where problems melt away. A world where the people are planets, all different shapes and sizes and ages, orbiting around a sun of a stage where the workout instructor stands and leads us all into an entirely different galaxy.
This world is one of support.
This world is one of empowerment.
It’s a world where Zumba class is not just Zumba class, but a fun night with friends where you can dance your problems away.
It’s a Monday night. And as the saying goes here at Sarah Fechter Fitness, “On Mondays, we dance.”
I didn’t know this world existed. Not at first. My friend Emily introduced me to Zumba at Sarah Fechter Fitness (SFF) about a year and a half ago. Prior to this Zumba discovery at SFF, working out had always been the same to me: repetitious, necessary, difficult. Enjoyable? Yes/sometimes. But very individual. I was a lone ranger running laps or doing a kickboxing class with little interaction with others.
From this first Zumba class, though, I was hooked. The upbeat music and Zumba choreography was more hip-hop and jazz than other Zumba classes that I was used to. I liked it. The choreography and eight-count beats were nostalgic reminders of my former dance days.
This class was stress-relief at it’s finest for me. A place where the music carried the worries away, scattered from your head to your heart to your sneakers, until they are left on the smooth wooden gym floor under the dim blue and red lights.
After a few classes at SFF, I could tell the culture at this fitness studio was different. People were both openly genuine and generous. For example, when I tried out the hip hop step class, a woman who worked out next to me helped me put away my step bench. I didn’t know her or ask her to help me; she just did. Another time, a girl helped me clean my step bench. High fives? Constant. Encouraging shouts and generosity? Common.
In a society that often pits women against each other, it was clear to me that the culture in this place was not one of me vs. you, but rather, a place of empowerment and inspiration. Building up, rather than tearing down. Positivity. Diversity. Acceptance. All present under one roof.
One Monday night at Zumba class, though, I witnessed something so inspiring and empowering, tears welled up in my eyes as I stood on the gym floor. It’s been months since it happened, and I still get goosebumps when I talk about it:
It was a Monday night in March. Hours before the Zumba class’s scheduled start time, a post on SFF’s Facebook page encouraged Zumba-goers to wear pink to class that evening.
“Tonight, we welcome back a dear friend who was gone for awhile, but has won her battle! And what a better way to celebrate than a PINK OUT!” another Zumba-goer wrote.
“Hm,” I thought. Though wearing pink was optional and I had no idea who this person was or the conditions of her battle, I wanted to show support. I dug through my dresser drawer, pulled on a magenta-pink workout shirt, pulled back my hair, put on my sneakers and headed off to Zumba for this Pink Out workout.
As I walked in the door to the fitness studio, the energy was electric. Women wearing pink of every shade—pastel pink, hot pink, magenta—stood side by side. The time read 7:30 p.m. and Sarah started the class per usual. We spent the next hour shimmying and dancing and Zumba-ing like we did every week.
But then, with five minutes or so left in the class, Sarah stopped. She went over to the iPod plugged into the speaker and changed the song. As soon as I heard the first few notes, I recognized the song immediately. A song I loved and danced to in my bedroom years ago: “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child.
Sarah turned to a group of ladies in the front right corner of the room, clapping and motioning to them. “We want to welcome back one of our family members,” Sarah said. One of the women wearing a pink shirt had SURVIVOR written on the back. This was the woman, I realized, we were honoring tonight through this Pink Out.
She had fought breast cancer and won. She WON. She was back. Back at her favorite Zumba class surrounded by friends and strangers who, in this moment, all were family were surrounding her with love and support. Goosebumps prickled my legs. Tears gathered in my eyes. The energy in the room was tangible as I glanced around at this room full of people, some I knew and some I didn’t, all pouring out love and support to her.
Then, after some coaxing, the woman and her friends joined Sarah up on stage for the end of the song. The woman stood there, hugging Sarah and clapping along with the music and us. Now, more than ever, the words of this Survivor song had more meaning. We clapped to the beat of the song’s chorus as Beyonce sung its lyrics one last time:
“I’m a survivor
I’m not gonna give up
I’m not gonna stop
I’m gonna work harder
I’m a survivor
I’m going to make it
I will survive
And keep on surviving”
We all stood there, looking up at this survivor, this warrior of a woman, and we applauded. The sounds of our collective clapping echoed through the room we whooped, hollered, clapped. And clapped. And clapped.
I clapped for her, pressing my palms together hard and fast. I clapped for my grandma who died of breast cancer. I clapped for all of those women fighting breast cancer now, the women I know and the women I don’t know.
It was an amazing moment of connection and community. The fact that I didn’t know her made it all the more real, as it showed me that you don’t need to know someone personally in order to respect them or appreciate their experience and strength.
Battles are hard. We often feel we have to fight certain fights alone. But we all need our people, whether our people are by blood, by roots, by church, by gym. And when that battle is fought and the long trek is over, it’s always great to come back home.
While searching for a blank notebook in my file cabinet at work today, I stumbled upon a spiral-bound, one-subject, wide-ruled notebook with a red cover.
I nonchalantly flipped through the pages full of notes scrawled in my chicken-scratch shorthand. Blue ink here, black ink there, To-Do list headers and checkmarks and things that mattered then that don't matter in that urgent, crucial way now that time has passed.
As I searched for a blank page to begin a new To-Do list, several pages filled with my handwriting--intentional words, written with thought and time, not hurried and rushed scribblings like the others--made me double-back.
I dove in, recognition raining down on me like a cold shower as I read my own words. My emotions--spilling out of my brain and heart and bleeding through black ink on these blue-lined pages-- took me back in time.
"December 26, 2014," I wrote in at the top of the page with an underline. "It's the day after Christmas, which means it would have been Grandpa's 83rd birthday..."
My grandpa had unexpectedly passed away in November 2014--a mere month before I wrote these words in this red notebook. The wound was still fresh when I wrote this, the pain still raw. I remember my face looking as blank as these pages once were, my heart torn and red like this notebook cover.
Time heals. It does.
But all it takes is a movie, a song, a smell, a journal entry, to take you right back like an emotional time machine. Our brain is a train, moving forward and pressing on and using logic to categorize our memories and sort them into little boxes on shelves we can open and close at will.
But the heart? The heart is like an elephant: It never forgets.
I miss a lot of things. I miss my grandpa. I miss bike rides on Pine Street in St. Charles. I miss smoothies with friends in the pool and girls nights in dorm rooms. I miss certainty. I miss unscarred hearts and Keds sneakers and Spice Girls cassette tapes.
I miss a lot of things. I miss a lot of people. Sometimes, I miss me.
But the missing makes us human. The missing is a signal, a cue, a sign: Missing means we aren't where we used to be anymore. Missing means change.
Missing means growth.
Nowadays, I drive by my Grandpa's house and the pangs of sadness don't hit me as strongly, poking my ribs and my chest and my stomach with memories. The current homeowner has done some work, installing a new entrance.
And I like that. I like that he's making it his own entryway. He is making a new way to step into something that matters to him, as he should. He's beginning a new chapter, just as we all are as we move forward. Day by day. Moment by moment. But sometimes, you stumble upon something that takes you back. And that's okay, too.
Below is my red notebook journal entry. I wrote this for no one but myself, which is why I wrote it in a journal rather than on a computer or blog. I'll share it here, now, as time has passed and my wounds are scarred and maybe you're missing something or someone, too.
December 26, 2014
It's the day after Christmas, which means it would have been Grandpa's 83rd birthday. After going to the movies with Court, I decided to take the regular way home to my parents' house. Even though I live with Kaylee in Saginaw now instead of at my parents' house, I think the home you grew up in always feels a little bit like home. Maybe I'm wrong.
The regular way home is M-52 rather than through Hemlock. M-52 is the main road that runs right past Grandpa's house. When I was in middle school, they (they meaning MDOT or senators or Someone Important) put rumble strips on the road--right in front of Grandpa's house--to make it safer and help prevent people from falling asleep at the wheel.
Grandpa hated the rumble strips. He made signs and put them in his front yard to express his discontent. Apparently rumble strips are loud.
Anyway, while driving home today down M-52, I saw the bright cherry red of my dad's truck at my grandpa's house. I was in a mood... angry and frustrated and feeling like the entire world is selfish. because sometimes, the world feels selfish and fake.
So when I saw Dad's truck, I felt relieved. Two of the realest men in my life are my dad and my grandpa. So tough, yet their edges can be soft if you look closely. I didn't even think twice, just pulled right into Grandpa's driveway. Dad looked happy to see me. I needed Real.
But I wasn't prepared for the tears. As soon as I walked into grandpa's house, the smell--this musty, kind of smoky, very Grandpa, only Grandpa-smell--hit my nostrils and the tears immediately welled.
It felt wrong to be there without Grandpa. Instinct told me he would be there, just sitting in his spot on his chair like always.
But he wasn't.
"How do you do this?" I asked Dad, tears rolling silently down my cheeks. "How do you come here and clean and organize and not cry?"
"Because you just do," Dad said. "I just do. You have to."
My heart felt heavy as I took in the living room, sat down in Grandpa's recliner. The house was still so full of Grandpa, yet the world was so empty of him. I turned to the end table next to Grandpa's chair. An old, yellowed newspaper caught my eye, the top read, "The Tri-County Citizen"-a banner design and font I knew so well. I picked up the paper. Section B. As I read my byline, I allowed myself to fully cry. My heart ached.
"What is it?" Dad asked.
"It's an article I wrote in high school," I explained, my face red and my lips quivering. "He saved it. It's from 2005."
I had interned at the paper in 2004-2005, the article a feature on two foreign exchange students at the high school. I had no idea Grandpa saved it. I handed it over to Dad, sadness splashed all over his face.
We spent the next hour going through Grandpa's house. I lingered. Dad cleaned. It hit me that this is all that's left of a life when you die. Papers and notepads, tools and trinkets--those things that seem so insignificant when a person is alive but suddenly carry so much meaning once they're gone.
The fake red velvet mistletoe Grandpa taped over the frame of the entrance into the living room.
A Hank Williams record titled "Wait for the Light to Shine."
The furnace (and the knob he would turn to make us think '"there's something in there!").
A decorative plaque with a Canadian goose that reads "Wawa, Canada."
A notebook tracking his blood pressure.
A dish full of Ford keys.
A turkey feather.
Dad and I went down the road and visited Grandpa's gravesite. His tombstone is coming soon. I left the red mistletoe there. I kept the turkey feather, a watch band without the face and a Ford key.
I feel grateful to have these moments with Dad. He's so strong to do this alone. I don't know how I'll do it when the day comes for me to be in Dad's place.
Probably just as Dad said to me:
"You just do. You have to."