For When It’s Too Late to Turn Back.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetIn May 2007 I found myself climbing the side of a mountain in Northern Ireland without being entirely sure how I got there.

I had joined a missions team at my evangelical university, and we planned to spend two weeks ministering to local youth in Dundrum, a little bayside town of Northern Ireland. The climbing-a-mountain thing was one of those spontaneous group activities that seemed like a fantastic idea until I was actually doing it. The mountain peak didn’t seem so, well, vertical, when I was admiring it from sea-level.

But suddenly there I was, fingers gripping rock with every last ounce of strength I had. I didn’t know if I could make it to the top without killing myself. I didn’t know if I could make it back down without killing myself. I had to decide which would be the more honorable death.

I usually tend to dwell on that euphoric moment when I reached the peak of Mount Donner with pride, but today I reflect on the in-between moment, when I was clinging to the side of the mountain and had a singular thought running through my head as I looked back down the steep incline of how far I had come:

“Shit. It’s too late to turn back.”

In September 2008 I found myself embarking on a semester abroad alone. I was sitting on a flight I had just boarded by myself after tearfully saying goodbye to my fiance for the next three months. I had been anticipating this experience since high school, had been planning and saving for this particular trip for more than a year.

To this day, I still say that it was the best decision I ever made for myself, choosing to study abroad. It widened my worldview by thousands of miles and it helped me grow in a million important ways. My memories of that time are still so vivid – – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the memory of good meals and remarkable moments.

But I also remember that in-between moment, after I left and before I arrived, when the wheels went up and Chicago shrank to a spec outside my airplane window and I was all by myself. All of the anticipation I felt, all of my bravery and courage and motivation, felt like it had been sucked out of the plane. I could hardly breathe.

“Shit. It’s too late to turn back.”

There is this hard, messy part of every adventure that no one wants to talk about.

The part where you realize that you are very far away from home, and you’re really on your own. The part where your expectations meet reality. The part where it gets frustrating and expensive. The part where the plans you make collapse into one another like a stack of dominoes. The part where you have to tell yourself, “it’s too late to turn back now.” The part where you say a few swears because you’re scared.

I don’t think this feeling can accurately be called regret.

I don’t regret moving to Nashville.

Just like I didn’t regret climbing that mountain in Northern Ireland.

Just like I didn’t regret boarding that plane to Europe.

What I’m feeling is anxiety, and I know that this anxiety I feel doesn’t mean that I made the wrong decision. I don’t necessarily want to be in the position I am now, broke and struggling to make things work, but I also don’t want to be anywhere else. I just want to move forward. I’m under no illusions that I would be any happier or more fulfilled if we had stayed in our rundown, overpriced, single-bedroom apartment in the Chicago suburbs.

In fact, I knew that it was entirely possible that there would come a point about six weeks into our new life here when money would get tight and plans might be out of sync and I might miss my support system back home. If you’re at all like me, you spend a lot of time trying to prepare yourself for every conceivable consequence before embarking on adventure, but in the end it doesn’t save you. The inevitable moment will still arrive when expectation meets reality and you have to keep going, no matter what. Even if you do feel like a chicken-shit.

And just like all the adventures before this one, there will come a day when I remember this with season with gratitude, pride, and fulfillment. And maybe even a little compassion for whatever in-between moment I find myself in then, too.

Happy Birthday, Love.

I look at her across the table. The glow of the tea candle between us highlights her soft features and curtain of dark hair; I know this face so well.
My earliest memories of her begin with our desks arranged end-to-end in our third grade classroom at the small private school we attended. We shared the same love for Beauty and the Beast, and I remember the day that we both came to school toting the same lunch boxes, pink with Belle on the front.
She, with her terrible memory, does not remember this, but it’s okay – somehow my elephant memory and her forgetfulness balance our relationship, the same way that her head for numbers and facts and order balances my flighty, rather unkempt, highly emotional existence.
It’s the reason I feel completely comfortable asking her to open my bathroom cupboards, not because she won’t tell me that I’m a mess, but because I know she will. In fact, she’ll stand there with me and tell me what to toss and what to keep when my own obsession with beauty products rivals that of my mother’s.
We’re such opposites in some ways. She’s at ease in a kitchen surrounded by twenty other cooks and waitresses, and in the chaos she maintains a focus that produces finely crafted breads and cakes, the likes of which you’ll only find in artisan bakeries or her own mother’s oven.
I share her love for food and cooking, but in that same flurry of activity I’d be a basket-case; I have the scars to prove it. And while I can sit for days on end in front of my computer screen crafting essays out of words and blank pages (so long as the coffee and quiet hold out), she would be driven to madness within an hour’s time of being faced with that task.
And yet. We’re so compatible. There are few people in life that know the difference between stealing and sharing when it comes to a plate of food. We coordinate our orders at dinner to make sure we get the best of both worlds. On ritual Thursdays (movie + wine + dessert = weekly pre-weekend celebration) we can split a bottle of shiraz evenly, and we can split a box of frozen, store-bought cream puffs in one sitting and arrive at the same conclusion : good idea in theory, but let’s never do that again.
Our childhoods were similar in so many ways: we grew up in the same church, our parents were friends, and we each survived life with a pair of torturous younger brothers. We are the only sisters we have.
After nearly twenty years of this sister-love, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that she never left my side when mom died, and yet, as she walked into the room where my mother lay in her casket, tears sprang to my eyes,
You’re here,” I whispered.
Of course I am,” she whispered back, wrapping her arms around my neck.
That’s true love at it’s best. Surprisingly faithful, radically selfless, quietly constant, wholly unconditional. It needs no explanation, it carries no complaint. It bears all things willfully, and it communicates without words :
I will do the same for you.
Yesterday was her birthday, and what with her recent trip to Paris and my scant free time between work, writing, and art, I nearly forgot it. Thank God for my Google calendar. We did what we do best and made an impromptu dinner date, braved bumper-to-bumper city traffic to meet each other, and then there we were, splurging on steak frites and Sophie at Hopleaf.
You’re 26,” I say, raising my glass to toast her.
Wow. I am,” she replies.
We share that smile, the one that we’ve shared for a million milestones, big and small :
We’re growing up, but it’s our little secret.

Guest Post | One Letter

I love what my friend Missy said the other day,
She was talking about Grammy winner Adele’s breakup with a terrible, horrible, no good boyfriend that broke her heart, and how that breakup gave Adele the fuel she needed to write the album that changed her life and changed the world. It’s a beautiful concept isn’t it? It’s not something we think about in the midst of pain, but creativity has the power to heal if we let it.
What experiences in your life can you put to good use? How can sharing those experiences through your art impact the lives of others?
I answer those questions in my guest post for Missy’s blog in her “One Letter” series, and talk about my relationship with my mom, the letter she left me, and the one letter I would love to leave for my own daughter some day.

My 30 Before 30 List

In keeping with my unintended valentine’s theme this week, let me pass on to you the best date idea I’ve come up with in a long time. I mentioned last week that I was going to share my 30 Before 30 List, and here it is. But a kind of amazing thing happened in the midst of pulling this together; I realized that it wasn’t just about me.
It started when I was writing this post a few weeks ago. I was thinking about what 2012 will hold for me, all the firsts I have to survive without mom. And then I thought about mom, all the things she survived just to be with us as long as possible. And then I thought about me, all the things I want to live long enough to do. I’m only 24. And it’s only February. A lot can happen in ten months. And a lot can happen in the five years, eight months and 23 days before I turn 30. If I’m blessed to make it that far, and maybe even another 5, 10, 20 or 30 years or more, I want to capitalize on that “privilege denied to many” of growing older. So it started as this short little list of things I wanted to make sure I accomplish this year, and then the list grew longer and the goals more grandiose. Maybe I can’t accomplish all these things in 2012, but in the next five years, I sure hope so.
In my excitement, I told my husband, Matt, about it.
“What’s on the list?” He asked.
“Lots of things,” I replied, and I started listing them off as they came to mind.
“I should make a 30 Before 30 list, too, I think,” he mused.
And it sparked an idea : we agreed to finish our 30 Before 30 lists and then read them aloud to each other. So Friday night after he came home from work, we sat on the couch and drank Blue Moon’s Winter Abbey Ale (my favorite!) and ate pizza and read our lists too each other. Surprisingly enough, about half of our lists were the same. The other half were largely related to our personal career success. It was romantic and relaxing and fun, and perhaps most surprising of all is that it didn’t prompt arguments about money or time or responsibility. It was just dreaming, much the way we did when we first dated. Whether you’re married or not, making a list of goals is a great way to gauge whether you are on the same page with each other in a positive way.

So here’s my list, arranged by category and definitely not in chronological order.


1. Get a dog.
2. See hubby go on tour with his band!
3. Start a family.


4. Earn a graduate degree in creative writing/publishing.
5. Become a full-time freelance writer.
6. Curate an art exhibit for local artists.
7. Contribute a story to This American Life.
8. Become a regular writer for a renowned magazine, newspaper or NPR.
9. Write and publish a mother/daughter memoir.
10. Write and publish a book of poetry.

P E R S O N A L 

11. Buy a Mac desktop complete with Adobe Creative Suite.
12. Buy new living room furniture.
13. Buy a new bed (mattress and frame)
14. Take a French cooking class.
15. Host a four-course dinner party.
16. Donate blood once per year (at least)
17. Run a half or full marathon.
18. Read all of Jane Austen
19. Take a yoga class.
22. Make a scrapbook/photo album of my semester abroad.


20. Visit hubby and band while they are on tour.
21. Go on a European vacation with hubby.
22. Return to Salzburg, visit the Monchsberg.
23. Go on vacation with my Dad, my brothers, and hubby.
(Yellowstone, Maine, or Alaska, maybe? You pick, Dad!)
24. Visit :
– New York City
– Washington D.C.
– California wine country


25. Get health insurance for my husband, me and our growing family.
26. Establish life insurance.
27. Get better at saving money.
28. Bring down school loan debt by 50% (I feel like this is lofty, but nothing is impossible, right?)
29. Establish college fund for our kids.
30. Buy a house.

Do you have a list for what you want to do in the next five, ten or twenty years, or before you reach a certain age? What’s the top priority?

Goals for 2012.

It’s been a month. One month without mom. Without her voice, her touch, her face, her thoughts. I expected to be immovable, stranded on an island of grief and away from the world that I understand. But grief defies expectations, and so does faith. When the two interact, we often find ourselves in unfamiliar territory; rough, but not impossible.

This is where I find myself, one month into this new chapter of life, this new year where nothing and everything is different. The thing is, for me, the girl that moved away from home nearly seven years ago ne’er to return, my life looks the same in so many ways. But it feels different on the deepest levels.
And so when I started working through the idea of change, writing this post a couple of weeks ago prompted me to think about tangible ways to embrace that change. I’m not one to make resolutions; I’m usually one to break them. When I have made new year resolutions, February usually marks the end of effort and there’s a celebratory burning of the resolution list. I can be just that rebellious against myself.
But this February is different. I am different.
Maybe it seems inappropriately belated to share a resolution list in February. But life is short. And in one of the last conversations my mom had, she told one of our family members, with clarity and conviction and absolute love, “It’s never too late.”
If we’re not intentional, time rushes past and most of it is wasted. So I’m sharing with you the goals I have for 2012, the ones that will help me embrace change. Next week I’ll share another goal list, my 30 Before 30. Tell me, do you have any goals for 2012? Or goals before you turn a certain age? Now that it’s February, how would you rate your progress with those goals?
P E R S O N A L : 
- get a physical (for the first time in 2 years)
- visit the optometrist and get a new pair of glasses (for the first time in 5 years)
- visit the dentist (for the first time in 5 years)
- take a bubble bath once per week (this one is going VERY well, I should mention.)
– give myself a weekly manicure (this one has also been a success!)
- read at least 12 books (an average of one per month, but I don’t have to finish each one within 30 days)
P R O F E S S I O N A L : 
- redesign blog and/or convert to WordPress
- double my blog readership
- contribute 11 guest posts for other blogs (average of one per month from February to December)
- write and share at least one new poem per month on my blog
- get one article or poem published in an online or print magazine
- create writing portfolio for graduate school and job interviews
- get business cards for my writiting, editing, and art
- create and sell at least 100 paintings through my Etsy shop
- get up early enough to eat breakfast and write for 30 minutes each morning (working on this one, but not quite there yet)
[Image via]