How Do You Listen to the Music of Your Life?

The death of Prince last week really knocked me for a loop. As I shared with my son the day of the sad news, his music was a thread woven through much of my young adulthood and beyond. Continue reading “How Do You Listen to the Music of Your Life?”

Something That I Used to Know

Gone are the days when I would sit in a darkened theater to watch movies in order to analyze and write about them for a grade. (Those were…the days.) I loved the flicker of the projector as I was whisked into yet another story of suspense, or love, or…body snatching. Continue reading “Something That I Used to Know”

My Own Personal Catcher in the Rye

Slightly over a month separates the anniversary of my dad’s death and the remembrance of his birthday. This week he would have turned 94, and I often find myself wondering what kind of “old man” he would have been. Continue reading “My Own Personal Catcher in the Rye”

Is Your Storm Bag Packed?

As a kid, when the dark clouds were angry and the TV crawl let us know of a tornado warning, I would quickly pack a bag to take with me to the basement and wait it out. In my anxious young mind, it made me feel better to have with me the things that I deemed I didn’t want to be without. Continue reading “Is Your Storm Bag Packed?”

No, I’m Pretty Sure I Rank Higher

If a sentence begins, “Well, at least YOU…” you can bet your sweet bippy that it is a comparison that aims to show the speaker in greater need or pain than the listener.

“Well, at least YOU know some of the people at the party. I don’t know anyone.”

“Well, at least YOU have a job to complain about. I can’t even find work.”

“Well, at least YOU have a kid who tries to get good grades. I can’t get mine to care.”


star winner2


You get the idea. There are some people who always seem to need to rank higher on any “scale” of life being discussed. Kristen Wiig’s Penelope character from Saturday Night Live is the queen of “one-upping”:




Most of us are not Penelopes. (Thank God!) But I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been guilty of occasionally one-upping someone—even another’s pain. For whatever reason, we sometimes feel the need to have our own situation acknowledged as primary. Maybe it’s rooted in the frustration of feeling unheard, but…no matter what…it’s annoying. And it’s super annoying when it’s about another’s pain or loss.

Within the year after my dad died from his battle with cancer, another family suffered the loss of a husband and father in a car accident. My mother was friends with the new widow, and she offered her comfort in her time of loss. I will never forget the woman’s response. She said, “Well at least you were able to say goodbye. You knew your husband was dying, and you had that time with him. I didn’t. Mine was gone in an instant.”

You know in cartoons how sometimes a character gets hit or mowed down and then they get up and try to briskly shake off the effects? That was my mom. She eventually replied, “Yes, I did have that time to say goodbye. But I also saw him suffering for months, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

I remember sitting there and wondering what the point was of this “grief contest” that the widow created. Both women lost their spouses. One got to say goodbye. The other didn’t. One’s husband suffered at length. The other’s husband was gone in a flash. Was there a prize for greater loss?

It was unfortunate that what should have been two people coming together in pain that they each understood all too well instead became a “Oh, yeah? Well, my grief is greater” conversation.

Clearly the widow was hurting and trying to make sense of things, so we have to put the conversation in that context and give her grace, but…it really stuck with me.

Clinical psychologist Susan Silk created the “ring theory” to illustrate a simple way for people to know how to avoid saying the wrong thing to someone going through a crisis. It’s completely common sense, but we are not always led by common sense now, are we?


ring theory
(Illustration by Wes Bausmith…)



In a nutshell, comfort moves toward the center (the person in crisis or pain), and any kind of comparing or complaining can only be shared with someone in a larger ring.

This theory allows for the widow of my story to say whatever because of the loss she is suffering, but since my mom was in the same boat, they were pretty much together in the same ring.

It’s not rocket science to understand that you shouldn’t tell someone who just lost a job that your boss is a real d-bag, but…sometimes we do.

Or if someone is sharing with you that they feel a certain way to cut in and say, “oh, yeah, me too! For me it’s like…” but…sometimes we do.

Or if someone is going through something as horrific as the loss of a child to say that we understand that loss because we’ve lost a parent…but…sometimes we do.

We are so very human, but we need to fight the urge to chime in and one-up one another.

We all know our own struggles best. After all, we are the ones going through them. It makes sense that we would feel most intensely about them. But that’s how it is for everyone.

Very often the ideal response to someone going through a challenge or crisis is so very, very simple: Listen. Listen so well that they feel heard.

It is so simple that sometimes it feels like it’s not enough. I need to do something. I need to help them or give them advice. But it is often perfectly enough. And if it’s not, the person will probably let you know.

Listen so that they know what they are saying matters to you. That they matter to you. It’s pretty impossible to say the wrong thing listening. The whole being quiet thing really reduces your chances of doing so.

Listening is a practice that is ongoing with every person and every situation. It’s never the same twice. But it always matters.

Want to rank high at something? Be an amazing listener.

At least that’s what I heard.


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Have you ever been driving merrily along when out of nowhere, a car smashes right into you? I have. I was the front-seat passenger in a car that was hit on my side—in fact, for a split second, I saw what was coming and yelled, “We’re going to get hi…!”





Thankfully the impact was just behind my door, but we were propelled through the intersection—doing a huge donut and landing yards away. My head slammed into the window, but mercifully the glass didn’t shatter.

The whole experience left me shaken and in a daze.

That’s what getting blindsided can do to you.

It’s like when an anvil falls on Wile E. Coyote’s head and the little birdies tweet around him while he tries to re-inflate and shake off his stupor.

Rarely do you get a glimpse of it heading toward you (as I did with the car crash), but even if you do, it’s not enough to prepare you for the impact. For the shock. For the damage. For the hurt.




Whether it’s an accident, a devastating diagnosis, a breakup, or a job loss, getting blindsided hurts in more ways than the obvious. Not only do you have to deal with the initial trauma of the incident, but there is the ripple effect of life being different from that point on.

Even when the blindsiding has less of an overall impact, it still leaves its mark. Thankfully there were no significant injuries in the car crash I was in, and the damage was mostly financial. But the way that I flinch whenever a car comes too close has never left me. The insurance may have helped rebuild the car—but my mind still has residual damage.




Major blindsidings ripple even more. Things that you believed to be one way are now another. And because the blow comes out of nowhere, there is no chance for goodbyes to what once was. It just is. In a split second, the world as you know it is very different. One way Monday, and then heartbreakingly different on Tuesday.

And there’s no going back. No reclaiming of the pre-impact reality. You just have to find a new way to navigate. To get back up. To heal. To let the little birdies swirling about your head fly away and hope for some clarity to settle in.




At the start of summer last year, my husband came home from work in the middle of the day, and after saying a quick hello to our son, he gestured for to me to follow him into the bedroom. I laugh now to think that the thing that crossed my mind then was that he was excited to share good news with me…a bonus? Vacation? After all, we really needed some good news. My mom had just come back home to live with us after a debilitating illness, and we were now grappling with how to care for her. The anticipation built within seconds, and then he said…“I just lost my job.” I thought he was kidding. As far as we knew, everything was going well in that realm—there was nothing that even intimated that his job was less than secure. But no…it was real.

Seriously, God? Hadn’t I just prayed to you a night or two ago that I didn’t know how much more I could handle? Is this your answer?


None of it made sense, and it hurt like hell. The sense of betrayal was strong, as someone he considered a friend had given him no warning before he turned our lives upside down. It wasn’t just the loss of income that hurt, but the loss of faith…the trust of believing that if you were loyal and worked hard, you would be treated fairly. Gone in an instant.




Time passed, we caught our breath, and the little birdies eventually flew away. And after much thought and prayer, we believed God was pointing us toward my husband opening his own architectural firm. And that’s how this particular Phoenix rose from those specific ashes. Though the business is still gaining traction, we feel it was indeed our next right step to take. (And if anyone needs a wonderful architect…I have one for you!)

And as you may have guessed from the timing of this post, the little birdies are swirling about us once more.

Another experience extremely similar to my husband’s work situation…but this time for me.


Life has taught me that we will eventually catch our breath and figure out our next right step. But for now, I am in the midst of trying to shake off my own daze from the blow and wondering how it could happen to us again. How what I thought I could have faith in, I no longer can.

I’ve never been one to think I have life figured out, and time and again I get reminders of that very truth. All I can do is have faith that God has something better in store for me, and then look to find it.

For a while, though, I may have to put some sunflower seeds out for those little birdies swirling about me, as they don’t seem to be leaving anytime soon.


All photos are my own.
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