She Had the Last Word

This is not a downer post—trust me—but…have you ever thought about your own funeral? How you might want it to go…what songs to have played…maybe favorite Bible verses or quotes…or perhaps final words you might want to impart?

Recently my husband shared with me that an old friend of his just went through the death of her mother. What her mom planned was, well…stick with me.




Having personally been through the planning process for a loved one where nothing was planned—and therefore that much harder—I must admit I do have a folder labeled “death planning” in my file cabinet. It’s nothing too crazy, just a place where I might put a song or idea in order to help those who have to plan my funeral know what I would like. While it may sound morbid, it’s really a loving act for those left behind.

Now, the mom of my husband’s friend took it one step further. Well…maybe several steps. I will refer to her as Pearl because I think she is quite a gem. She decided that she wanted to put a little spin on her life and spice it up a bit, and she was very specific in her design of it. Pearl crafted her obituary to include an imaginary Latin lover as her “lifelong companion.”

It was like the George Glass to beat all George Glasses. (You absolutely should get this reference, but in case you don’t…Brady Bunch…Jan’s made-up boyfriend. Sigh. I shouldn’t have to tell you these things, people.)

While some in her family were mortified (pun intended), Pearl’s daughter (my husband’s friend) was her accomplice and thought the idea was hysterical. During the wake, word had it that the gentleman was there, but…he was always in another room. Even the priest was in on it and mentioned the man in his eulogy.

As you might imagine, this put quite a twist on the mood of the event. According to what my husband’s friend told him, it was the talk of the wake, and there was much laughter for those who knew the truth.


In Remembrance


I love that Pearl knew how she wanted her time of remembrance spent. You might feel that it is inappropriate, but…I think it’s a riot. In a way, she shares the same sentiment as Christina Rossetti’s poem “Remember” (which may or may not be in my death planning folder):

Remember me when I am gone away,
… Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
… Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Clearly, Pearl knew how she wanted to be remembered, and it wasn’t with tears and sadness, but with mystery and amusement.

She had the last word.

And what a word it was. What she left behind, after a life well-lived, was an unforgettable story for her loved ones to retell and laugh at all over again. What a gift…and what a telling example of the spirit in which she lived her life.

I don’t know what my “last word” will be or if I’ll even have one, but if I do, I hope that it reminds loved ones and friends not to mourn but to rejoice that I have gone Home…and even better if I can do so and leave them smiling or laughing in remembrance.

I didn’t know Pearl, but I wish I had. She really knew how to throw a party.


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Trekking Through the Blizzard

Until yesterday, I didn’t know what the official definition of a blizzard was, but it is a storm that not only includes snow but “winds in excess of 35 mph…for at least three hours.” I learned that because our local weatherperson was explaining it…because we were in the throes of a blizzard.


walk in the park
These photos have been brightened for aesthetic purposes. It was really much grayer than this.


Sounds like perfect sledding weather, no? I figured it was. With my son’s friends gone for the day and my husband busy dealing with a deadline, I thought a little one-on-one snow fun with my kid was a great idea. So my son and I bundled up and headed out for the sled hill that is a little over a half a mile from our house.

Um…they’re not kidding about the wind. It was bitter, and we couldn’t see all that much.

It had snowed nearly a foot by then, so we were trudging through snow that was close to our knees.


lake snow


At about the halfway point we paused to catch our breath and looked at each other. The hill was off in the gray distance, and we could hardly hold our gaze toward it with the wind slapping at our eyes. Before we set out, we had agreed that if either of us wanted to turn back, that would be just fine. No pressure. But now I looked at my son and said, “I don’t know about you, but I didn’t come this far not to go down that hill at least once.”

So much for no pressure. Luckily, my kid was of the same mind. “Oh, no way, Mom…we’re doing it.”

And on we trudged.

I led the way, head tucked down but with an eye toward our next steps. After a quiet stretch of plodding along, I stopped and said to my son, “Man, walking through that deep of snow was tough.”

“Nah, it wasn’t too bad. I was walking in your footsteps, so I was okay.”




And in that moment—even with the wind whipping and the snow blowing—I couldn’t help but be struck by his words.

It was a perfect crystallization of what an important part of parenting is to me. Leading the way, and in doing so, helping our kids to follow without the same amount of struggle.


wiped out_2


Mind you, I didn’t say a crystallization of all of parenting—just a part. Because I don’t believe the role of a parent is simply to make things easier for our kids. Between our schedules revolving around them, and their being awarded trophies for simply breathing—this generation is feeling pretty good about their place in the world.

No—sometimes struggling in the exact way that we do is also a powerful and necessary lesson.

Earlier in the day, my son experienced that very thing. My husband and I are so used to being the “doers” that we often forget to have our son share in the doing, as well. With the unrelenting snow, there was plenty to shovel—and our kid was out there learning that you gotta do what you gotta do…and then do it all over again. He did a great job, and not only did he better understand the hard work involved in such a task, but he had a little pride surveying his work.




For me, the blizzard brought great examples of two key aspects of what any kind of nurturing relationship should be. Sometimes you pave the way to help the person along, and sometimes all you need to do is give them the tools to take care of it on their own.

…And we did make it to the hill.


this is how gray it really was without brightening the photos
this is how gray it really was without brightening the photos


And we did go down it a bunch of times.


king of the hill


And I was wise enough to avoid using my son’s snowboard.




And we were exhausted by the time we got home.


snow man


…And I would do it all over again.


two fools


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The Brushstrokes of Life

Divot in shin—knife drop, Easter Saturday, 2010. Forehead pockmark—head-butt on bathtub faucet, 1969. Knee “freckles”—torn meniscus, soccer game, 2012… I could go on and ON. My body is full of scars and imperfections. I’m guessing you might have a few, too.

We typically look at these kinds of marks on our bodies as flaws or eyesores. After all, they rarely, if ever, add beauty to a person’s body, right? Stretch marks anyone? But what if we considered them not as imperfections, but brushstrokes that come together to help create the work of art that we are?




In a way, each mark that we acquire through our lives is a mark of our journey. They may not necessarily “represent” anything in particular, but they are a part of us. Maybe if we cast a kinder eye on those scars we would be better able to see them as an essential part of ourselves.

You don’t get through life unscathed.

And what about the scars below the skin—the ones that we carry on our hearts? Maybe your heart is marked with the death of a loved one. Maybe there are rejections you’ve suffered in love, work, or friendship. Maybe you’ve gone through a trauma that you have yet to give voice to. Maybe you have been treated unfairly or abused. Maybe you’re battling an illness. Maybe you’ve failed in some capacity. Maybe many or all of these things have touched you in some way.

These kinds of hurts definitely leave their mark. Some much deeper than others, but a mark nonetheless. And while it is critical to work toward healing in every way we can, we will never be able to bring the heart back to what it was before the scar.

We are forever changed.


art 1


But what if we also look at these scars as brushstrokes on the canvas of our lives? Each mark helping to form who we are? Though this perspective doesn’t take away the pain of the “heart scar,” it may help us to see that there is meaning within it.

I know some of my heart scars have equipped me to be a better person. I’m using the term “better” here in a relative sense—as in what I believe is important. Compassion and empathy are important to me, and my heart scars have led me to be more compassionate and empathetic.

Of course, hindsight helps me understand this. For example, my dad died of cancer when I was 21. Obviously, that is a major heart scar with many facets to it—some obvious and some not so obvious. But I had no idea when I was going through it how many times I would be able to be there for a friend who was going through the loss of a loved one or battling cancer. Simply being there with some firsthand understanding ended up being of some comfort to several people in my life since then, and I am grateful for that. It means that the loss of my dad and the pain that is left behind from it in some way served a purpose. The heart scar has meaning.


art 2


And since we know we won’t get through life unscathed—either physically or emotionally—it helps to recognize that those brushstrokes are helping us become works of art even through the pain.

At least it helps to know for me.

In my mind’s eye, when I stand back and see how my “brushstrokes” are coming together, I see the work in progress that I am. I see how many things, when observed in isolation—can only be seen as ugly or painful—but with some perspective, are essential to the creation of the work as a whole.

Though some days my life canvas looks like something painted by Pollock or Picasso when I’d prefer Degas or Hopper, it is a work of art nonetheless. And that work of art is me.

I wonder what challenging brushstrokes you’ve been through…and what does your painting look like?


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A Vehicle for Change?

On January 1, I did not leave the house and stayed out of trouble. On January 2, I was pulled over by a police officer. On January 3, my van had a brief relationship with a cement wall.

This is my story.

For those of you who follow me (thank you!), you know that I have been looking forward to the proverbial leaf turning of 2015. The years 2013-14 have kind of been jagwads to me and my family, and…I’m looking for a new start.


cold prism
Today’s sun-kissed greeting.


But…does this sound like a new beginning to you? Or does it seem like more of the same crappola?

Well, of course, it’s not as simple as that, now is it? Let me tell you my story…

Just a week or so ago my son and I were driving and talking. He noticed someone on their phone and said, “I thought that was against the law?” to which I replied, “Yeah, well it looks like one of those laws that aren’t enforced because I see people on their phones all the time.”

Flash forward to January 2. I am running very late to get my son from a friend’s house. I decide that I should call the mom who is hosting and ask her to please have my guy ready to walk out the door because I’m only two minutes away. Though I have a Bluetooth, I rarely have it in because I’m not the greatest fan of talking on the phone, so when I make the call, I am not hands free. Cue sirens. So much for the law not being enforced…

I drop the phone as I tell the mom with a colorful word or two “I think I’m getting pulled over for being on the phone!” I can hear her saying, “What?…What??” but I realize that now is probably not the time to finish the call, so I hang up.

The officer approaches, tells me I was driving while using a handheld device, and asks for license and insurance. I tell him I am sorry, that I’m running late, yada, yada, and he simply holds his hand out for the information he asked for. He then disappears into his vehicle.

Now, if you’re like me and let’s say, maybe have a little experience getting pulled over now and then for maybe speeding…you know that the longer the cop sits in his car, the stronger the reality that he is writing you a ticket. I hoped that maybe my sobless sob story might be tugging at him, but…tick…tock…he’s not coming back quickly.

Doing an amazingly effortless job of mentally kicking myself, I decide instead to say a prayer. I pray that if there is any way I could have this end without my having to pay for a ticket, I would super appreciate it. We so do not have money right now to be throwing after stupid.

Another moment of waiting passes, and then the officer walks up to me and asks, “Do you know any cops in this town?” I look at him a little confused and say that I do. He asks me who, and I give him the name of an old friend. “Ha! Just give me a couple minutes.” And then he walks back to his vehicle.

I sit there wondering…what just happened??

Another two minutes later, he walks up and hands me a warning. He explains that while he was calling in my name on the radio, my friend heard it and said, “Wait! Hold up!” and I was then graced with a warning. My officer friend then drives up beside me and smiles. I am profuse in my gratitude, and he is gracious in his response.




It was only then that I couldn’t hold back my emotion…because it sure felt to me that my prayer was answered in an extremely serendipitous way. What are the odds that this man would be on duty? That he would catch my name being called in? As we who watch Downton Abbey would say, I was gobsmacked.

While driving the next day, I couldn’t help but think that maybe that episode was a little message from God that though things can and will be hard, sometimes a tiny miraculous ray of light shines through. I felt like this was 2015 turning the corner for me.

And then I kissed a cement wall with the rear corner of my van.

It’s a long story that involves backing down a ramp, but I won’t bore you with it because this post is already near 800 words, and I haven’t gotten to my main point yet.


holey bumper


It was easy to fall right back into feeling the tug of the negative. It pulled hard on me. Lots of self-disgust bubbled up. It’s the same crappy karma of 2014 after all, isn’t it?

Or…is it?

I am really striving to see even this “holey van” incident as a message that things will most definitely continue to be messy…but…I’m okay. We’ll be okay. The van has many battle scars, and this is yet another one. But…it’s okay. The incident happened while I was on my way to something new and exciting that I’ve begun…and that didn’t stop just because I ran into a cement wall.

In fact, I’ve thought about making the hole a day brightener in its own crazy way…


holey flowers


It is so easy to get sucked into the negative—especially when I too often feel surrounded by it. But I’m not giving up that easy.

As I shared last week, my word for 2015 is journey, and I find it ironic that these two crazy incidents from the first three days of the year involve me traveling.

It appears I’ve already hit a couple of minor speed bumps on my journey!

But I’m still moving forward. And my little prayer answered resonates deeply within me that I am not journeying alone.


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2015: Time to Sally Forth

What is it with a new year? I mean, it’s merely a way of marking time…there is no literal change going on, except perhaps the hanging of a new calendar. Yet it matters, doesn’t it? For some reason, there is a sense of new beginnings…a new chapter…a clean slate…a chance to change the lackadaisical flow of things or corral the madness of the overwhelm of life.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get started.

I know a lot of people who like to hang onto their Christmas decorations for as long as possible. Me? As far as I’m concerned, they can come down on the 26th. Well…I’m not quite that brutal, but I am definitely eager to pack them up around the New Year. I like to get it over and done with so that I can face the 2-3 bleak months of Chicago weather without holiday clutter. Well, that’s not exactly it—I’m just ready to move on.

And I am so ready to move on from 2014 (and ’13, for that matter).


life's journey_1


Last year was the first time I chose a word for the year as a kind of theme to guide my heart. I chose the word ripples because I felt a strong connection to understanding the way life and the choices we make ripple out into the world and impact other people. As it turned out, my word choice resonated throughout the year in spectacular fashion—in both good and bad ways. In ways I hoped for and in ways I didn’t know were coming. Diplomatically speaking, 2014 was a challenging year. And I’m not too sorry to say goodbye to it. In fact, I am currently handing 2014 its hat and showing it to the door. Adios, asshole. (Oops. Did I just type that out loud? It appears that I might have.)

My word for 2015 popped into my heart without invitation. It just showed up and makes complete sense. 2015’s word for me is journey. (And I don’t mean the band. Though their song titles of “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Open Arms” certainly work with my intended meaning.)


life's journey_4


I used to read this comic strip years ago called Sally Forth. It was about a woman and her family’s daily life. I liked the reality of it, and I also liked the play on her name—to sally forth means to energetically set out on a mission or adventure—and for Sally, her life was the adventure. To me, the phrase is similar to raising a fist and crying “Onward!” when what you are looking at is an uphill journey.




The journey my heart calls me to is both professional and personal. I have a lot of ground to cover. So far, it has indeed been uphill, but I am rallying my internal troops to make the climb. From the time I was a little kid, I’ve always loved the song “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” from Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town—it’s a great way of reminding us that getting started only takes one step. And then another. And another.

And I am working on taking my next right steps to make the journey of 2015 (and beyond!) a meaningful and fulfilling one. I’ve got my metaphorical hiking boots on, and I’m ready to sally forth!

How about you? Are you finding that you, too, are on a pivotal journey? Or ready to begin one? Or ready to start thinking about being ready to begin one? Well, at some point, we’ve just got to get that foot ready to put itself in front of the other. If I can do it, you can do it. And if there is a stumble on the journey, I know from all of my past trips and falls that I will get back up (maybe catch my breath) and get my feet moving again…and you will, too. We have to…because the alternative sucks. Staying down and licking any wounds means you remain right where you fell…which probably isn’t that good of a place to hang out.




So journey with me. Not alongside me because we are probably on different paths—but sallying forth to our next life adventure.

I’m so ready for it that I just want to say to 2015…

“Let’s get it on…”



May your New Year be a blessed one—and may the journey that you walk be filled with grace, joy, kindness, compassion, and love.

Happy New Year!

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Fight the Vortex

Thanksgiving used to be a “purer” holiday. No Black Friday. No Cyber Monday. Just family, friends, food, and football—along with being thankful for our many blessings. Commercialism hadn’t dug its talons into Thanksgiving yet—not like it had done to Christmas years ago.

Christmas has so much hoopla and hubbub surrounding it that it is easy to lose sight of why it came to be a holiday in the first place. It seems each year the pressure to have the “best” Christmas pushes earlier and harder.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the swirl of it all.




Over the last few years, though, I have made a conscious effort to push back. While some of the choices are a result of tighter finances, some are from my desire to simplify and stop the madness. I am fighting the vortex that wants to pull me in and cloud my vision with the “stuff” of the season—rather than the Reason for the season.

A few Decembers ago, the month was jammed—I was either scrambling to get things ready or scrambling to be at whatever it was that I was scrambling to get ready for. I could have easily won the “dog chasing her own tail” contest.

And then a little question popped into my head: why?

Yes, there were the things I was committed to doing—like getting the house decorated and ready to entertain—but what else was I taking on? And why?

Asking why made me opt out of a thing or two. Though the yearly cookie exchange was a tradition, I stepped back and asked myself why was I adding on the additional tasks of choosing the right recipe, shopping, and baking dozens of cookies when time was already so precious. It wasn’t because I love to bake—because I don’t. And while the cookies I came home with were (mostly) delicious and the couple of hours with friends was nice, I realized that it wasn’t worth the additional stress in a month already crammed with stress. (Though February would be a great month for such a thing!)

I realized it was time to say “no thank you” to the cookie exchange. Exhale.




And then there was our Christmas letter. For years I had crafted the Roach Report, which was a whimsical little newsletter of updates and photos. People always said they loved receiving it because it was fun to read, but it also took time to put together. And, quite frankly, our life events of late were getting a little harder to share in an amusing way: “Another job loss!” or “My mom nearly died!” are not exactly smile-inducing headlines. In my heart, I realized that—at least for now—the Roach Report was on hiatus. No writing, designing, printing, stuffing, stamping, or mailing. Exhale.

Some simplifiers come from necessary belt tightening due to job loss(es. Yes, plural. I told you the Christmas letter would be a downer!) Less money means fewer gifts, and fewer gifts means less to shop for and wrap! Staff parties are no longer on the calendar when you no longer belong to a staff, either! Simplify, simplify! Exhale.

For years, family and friends have come to our house to celebrate on Christmas Day. It’s “my” family holiday. Except for last year. As my sister’s kids get older and have significant others to plan around, coming down to our house on Christmas Day has become difficult. So last year, for the first time…my sister had Christmas at her house. At first, it was hard for me to acquiesce to losing “my” holiday, but…you know what? I realized how nice it was just to BE for Christmas. With the absence of the planning/cooking/doing, there was a whole different perspective to the day. It was so relaxing! Exhale.

Now, mind you—I will be, at least in part, hosting again this year—but I don’t want to forget the lesson of what the reduced stress felt like. There is middle ground to be had—and I’m going to find it if it kills me! (Which would be kind of ironic, given what I’m striving for…)




I’ve come to truly understand over these last few years how paring down does not mean losing the spirit of Christmas at all. In fact, it actually increases the true spirit behind the holiday. As a Christian, for me Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Christ (or, as Ricky Bobby would say, “dear 8 pound, 6 ounce newborn infant Jesus”)—that is THE reason for the season. Not Santa or decorated trees or ugly sweaters—not even family. Calming some of the chaos of the season only helps me to feel that more deeply. My heart draws closer to the Love that came for me. And you.

I’m not here to preach to you how you should handle your holidays. Nope. But I am here to say that losing some of the insanity of the season works for me and maybe it will work for you, too. I am encouraging you to fight the vortex—don’t let the holiday “spirit” deplete your Spirit.


reason for the season


Maybe you are already feeling the tug and stress of all of the HaveTos facing you and thinking there is no way that you can realistically stop the madness. If that is where you find yourself, I hope that you are at least able to carve out moments to exhale and feel the Spirit. While stopping may be impossible, let’s at least make it a point to hit a few rest stops along the way!


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