The Right Time for Words.

Today is my dad’s birthday.

He would have been 67. Way too young to not be here anymore.

I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, as I just had my second experience with the agony, exhaustion, and honor of end of life care…my second experience with a beloved man dying all too young…my second experience with cancer taking someone I love. Chris’ Uncle Leo, who you know best from his spectacular toenail art and crochet shorts, passed away on July 4, at the age of 65.

I am finding myself doing a lot of writing offline, processing things way too personal to share publicly right now. There’s a lot to sort through when life throws you topsy-turvy…death forces everything to be re-evaluated. And death twice in ten months makes everything look different.

But the following is a post I wrote ten months ago after my dad died. At the time, it too was entirely too personal to share, but I knew I wanted to share it one day.

It might be too spiritual for some. Too long for others. But to me it represents hope in the darkness, light when light is needed most, and not feeling alone when we are walking down the darkest and most desolate paths of our life.

I hope that for at least one person out there, it can encourage you when you need it most.


My Dad had cancer for six years before he died. I shared about his initial diagnosis, but I could never bring myself to share here about when that cancer spread two years ago. I just didn’t have the words.

I didn’t just not have the words for you, I didn’t have the words for him.

I remember vividly the day after mom and dad came over to tell us Dad’s cancer had spread, and that there was no cure, but that they were going to do everything they could to fight it. The next day was the first time I ever therapeutically “got lost in the woods.” I went trail running to clear my mind and process things, and actually did get a bit lost by accidentally going off trail, falling down a hill covered in pine straw, and in general letting the woods beat me up to make me feel better. I remember sitting in the car at Oak Mountain, and Jasmine Thompson’s version of “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” (by Meaghan Trainor) came on Spotify. That song broke me. I realized that day that the most painful part of this process for me was how very unable I was to talk about real feelings and emotions with my dad. We had a good relationship, but there had always been an impassible wall for genuine, real  communication – at least on my side. And it wasn’t just with Dad – I’m pretty much always better at telling funny stories than talking about the deep and real issues of my heart. But I saw no way around this – it was so impossible, I couldn’t even tell Chris about the painful realization for several days, and even that felt like ripping my soul out.

For two years, Dad had a series of ups and downs, miracle drugs, medications working then not working, scans that were good and scans that were bad. He had doctors dismiss him, telling him they had nothing else that would help him, and doctors tell him that they couldn’t believe how well he was doing. He even had a doctor tell him he could live for 20 more years. He was told that a month before he died. The roller coaster of treating an incurable cancer is intense, anxiety-filled, and requires real conversation.

Dad made huge efforts to open communication with me. He even tried to open communication with the entire church, teaching a Sunday School class on death and dying, sharing all he’d learned through his process. I’d gotten marginally better at talking to him about the cancer and even about dying, but never was I able to cross the impossible divide of telling him what he’s meant to me.

One of my prayer requests for the year in our small group was that I would be able to talk to my Dad. Even with all Dad’s efforts at helping me with that (unbeknownst to him that it was my prayer request), I still failed constantly. Even the idea of writing my thoughts was excruciating and impossible.

Last summer, Dad very suddenly started feeling worse and worse. It was determined within a couple of days that his liver had shut down. I knew this was terrible, awful, horrible news. My stomach stayed in knots for a week. Mom and Dad went to multiple doctors looking for answers, even driving to Philadelphia as a last ditch effort. The night that they met with the Philadelphia doctor, they called me. They told me the doctor had told Dad that he had days or weeks to live.

After my phone call with them, I had about an hour to myself. I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to do, how to pray, how to process. I asked the Holy Spirit to pray through me. To guide me. Anything. Because I had nothing.

I immediately felt the urge to write out how my dad had influenced my life and my personality. I started scribbling in my journal. The words flowed out and in just a few minutes, I had filled two pages with the feelings that I had been completely unable to think, speak, process, or write for the last two years. Then I felt an urge to type them up and email them to my Dad, which I did.

I went to bed that night feeling an unbelievable feeling: peace. Peace that I had heard from and felt the Holy Spirit’s direction. Peace that I had done exactly what He had directed me to do. Peace that He had done it through me, since I had been completely unsuccessful at doing the same thing for the past two years.

Dad read my email the next morning and sent me a simple email back – the last email I would ever receive from my father.

It said…

As you might imagine our emotions have been a roller coaster these last few weeks. Your email this morning was very humbling but helped answer some of my uncertainty if I had made any difference 

I love you

The Holy Spirit had enabled me to do what had been impossible for me at the exact time that my Father needed to hear it.

And in doing so, my confidence in prayer was renewed and strengthened when I needed it most.

I was still sad. Sad for me, sad for my Mom, sad for my children, sad for my brothers, sad for the world that we were all were losing my Dad. I was sad for the vast amount of stories and knowledge that was going to be leaving the world with my Dad. I am still sad about all these things, and I am certainly still struggling daily with the reality of my Dad’s death. But I know his eternal destiny is good, and I have been comforted by the One who Dad is now with. So I am not broken. I am not in despair. I am not angry or bitter with God. Because I trust in the One who loves me enough to comfort and speak to me when I needed Him most.

These are the words I wrote about my Dad and sent him that night in September.

My Dad….

– Taught me that the pursuit of money doesn’t have to be the end goal of your career or occupation. He showed me that you can do what you love and make (and live on) little and be worlds happier than doing what you hate and making lots.

– Gave me my ability to find humor in the absurd, the annoying, the bizarre, the cheesy. We used to sit and watch the local news together just to make fun of it. Without his teaching me these important skills, I could have never been a writer.

– Is the origination of my observation skills, my attention to detail, and my ability to read people and discern their emotions and sometimes thoughts. He knows what is going on in my mind and in everyone else’s, whether we want to admit it or not. (My Mom literally thought my Dad could read her mind when they first got married and she would desperately try not to think about things she didn’t want him knowing.)

– Can do ANYTHING, and never shies away from any project just because it is something he hasn’t done before. He can write, draw, rebuild cars, build a house, do amazing and intricate woodwork, navigate his way across Asia and Europe in an antique car he rebuilt and fitted for the journey, drive a massive truck and trailer on insanely scary mountain roads in Mexico that frighten normal humans just to see pictures of them, start a business, write a book or a short story, raise bees (and create custom tools to take care of those bees and steal their honey), build a bridge and irrigation system, put on a week-long Model T Tour for 500 guests to drive hundreds of miles through the state, design a better chicken house, and teach a class on death while facing death. I am fortunate enough to inherit my lack of fear in starting something new and grand and overly large from him, although I might have it in lesser quantities. Without witnessing the unwavering confidence and work ethic he demonstrated, I would have never started Picture Birmingham five years ago, or organized Alabama Bloggers many years ago, or organized a Kid’s Hiking Club last year. He taught me that I can learn and I can do anything, regardless of whether I’ve been trained to do it or not.

– Is a renegade. He does his own thing his own way. He doesn’t conform to society’s standards or expectations on things like having a 9 to 5 job, or buying a house (rather than building your own), or having a completed house to live in (rather than living in the house you’re building), or accepting the accepted ideas and opinions of society. He works on what he wants to work on, he creates what he wants to create, and he often doesn’t fit in the neat little boxes or participate in the expected rites of society. I am happy to have inherited his renegade spirit. I don’t like to fit my life into other people’s schedules or templates or frameworks. I create my own frameworks (like homeschooling), and if I see a need, I don’t look for an outside group to fill it – I create my own group (like my Dysautonomia Support Group, my Hiking Club, etc.)

– Has insane amounts of patience, and values things done right over things done quickly. The man has been building his house, by himself, his way, for 17 years. If he has a vision of how something should be done, he doesn’t cut corners.

– Took me and my future very seriously. He made Chris wait two weeks while he prayed about his request to marry me, but once Dad was certain that it was God’s will for me to marry Chris, he never wavered on that decision. Although I very much wanted to marry Chris, I began to struggle with fear and anxiety a couple of months into our engagement, overwhelmed as a 19 year old over this lifelong commitment and decision I was making. My anxiety got to the point where it was leaving me in tears daily. Finally, on New Year’s Day, I broke down and cried with Mom and Dad. I finished my explanation with “I just need to know that I know for SURE that it is God’s Will that I marry Chris. Dad looked me in the eye and said “You know how seriously I took his request, and how long I prayed for it. Do you really think that I would have said yes if I didn’t know that this was God’s will for you?” My fears left that very moment and I’ve never, in 18 years, doubted for a single minute that it was God’s will that I marry Chris.

– Illustrated day in, day out; year in, year out how to have a faithful, faith-filled walk with the Lord. How to keep going and trust God on the good days or bad, in sickness and in health, in life or while facing death.

– Has been a stunning example of how to walk toward death with your head held high, with absolute assurance of God’s goodness and his eternal destiny. Dad has sought God throughout without anger or bitterness, and has sought open communication with not only family (which is harder than it sounds when you’re dealing with people like me who are really great at sharing their surface-level feelings but keep their deep feelings in a vault in a cave in a hole in a dungeon locked behind three chains), but also by opening his heart with his Church family and sharing the wisdom that he’s learned from God through the process of facing death head-on. His thoughts and wisdom have been so insightful that they leave no doubt that they are from God. His confidence in this walk he has taken has not only helped me have comfort for him, but has also helped me not fear my own death.

– My Dad has given me the wisdom, the tools, and the freedom to believe the Word of God and to hopefully live it out.

Seeing God answer my prayer in allowing me to tell my Dad what he meant to me, and seeing that God gave that gift to me right when Dad needed me to give that gift to him, was a bright beacon of hope over the next few weeks as I walked through the darkest days of my life. It gave me the confidence to grieve but not be inconsolable, to weep but not despair.

190701 Sunflower Fields IMG_6920

And for that, I will forever be thankful.

Too Much Candi In the Pool

We arrived on our vacation three hours before check-in. The reason we’d chosen this particular neighborhood was for the fantastic pool – it was large and decked out like a resort, with rock features and waterfalls in the center of the pool and around the edges, a gorgeous covered area with legit outdoor couches comfortable enough to take a nap on, a big screen tv the size of my living room, a full and luxurious outdoor kitchen, and a four-story tower that was perfect for running up and seeing the ocean, the city, the sunset.

Pool

So since we were early, I called our rental agency and asked if we could go ahead to the pool – it had a gate code, which we had been given, but I wanted to make sure the code would work if we were early. They said that we could absolutely go – the gate code was good, and it was a great place to hang out until our rental house was ready.

So we grabbed our swimsuits and headed to the pool. The kids, happy to be out of the car, jumped in and began enjoying the wonderland of vacation. I curled up on the couch with a book, as my swimsuit was too hard to procure, packed in one of the bags beneath everyone else’s bags. But I was quite content to have a few minutes to myself. 

About an hour later, I noticed that a very tanned, bleached-blonde lady in her fifties was talking very animatedly to Chris, David, and Ashley – all the adults on this vacation but me. I thanked my lucky stars for my forethought to hide myself deeply tucked into the couch and went back to reading.

Then one of them pointed to me and told her my name.

Dangit.

I paid closer attention and started catching snatches of conversation. Then she marched over to me and began a whirlwind speech.

“Hi. I’m Candi – the pool attendant. It’s against the rules to come before your check-in time and I should really kick you all out. I really should. I’m supposed to kick you all out. See, you don’t have your pool bracelets on and I’m not allowed to let anyone be here without pool bracelets. The whole city used to use this pool and it was just a mess. So we got the locking gates and they hired me. By the end of the week you’ll be SO glad that we have a pool attendant. I’m here to be nosy and keep order. Anyway, you need to have your bracelets, but your husband said that it wasn’t time for your check-in yet. I really should kick you all out. He said your rental company said you could come in and that was wrong – very wrong. I need to have a talk with them as soon as possible. Can you please provide me their name? And their phone number? I need to give them a call.”

I wasn’t given the opportunity for words edgewise or otherwise, so I simply provided her the name and number of our rental agency and prayed that God would have Mercy on Their Souls. 

She disappeared with her phone, looking rather excited at her opportunity to go Five Star Pool General on a rental company, and the rest of the adults came over to where I was, looking rather dazed by the onslaught of Candi the Pool Attendant.

We were all enjoying a moment in the shade and a snack when she came back and restarted her impressive flood of words.

“I called and told them that what they did was wrong – very wrong. That you’re not allowed to come in here before check-in. I told them that they needed to let you in the house – even if it’s not ready – so you can get your blue bracelets so I don’t have to kick you out. They apologized. You should be getting a call from them….”

While she repeated this information in an endless loop, my phone began ringing. There was no possible way for me to pause her breathless assault of my ears, so I just let the call go to voice mail. I knew it was them, but I figured they needed a second to regain their composure anyway.

I finally escaped from Candi and walked out the gate to call them back. The woman that had been The Lucky One to receive verbal waterboarding from Candi picked up. I could hear the blush in her cheeks. She apologized and said they’d forgotten this was a “pool band neighborhood”, and that she was going to give me a one-time code to get into our house, retrieve our bracelets, and go back to the pool.

…Because if we didn’t have those Absolutely Vital blue bracelets on, our existence was def gonna poison Miss Candi’s pool.

I walked down the street to find our house. The door was already ajar because the cleaning crew was there. I tip-toed in and called out an apology, grabbed a handful of priceless turquoise rubber bracelets, and rushed back to the pool, quickly placing one on every arm in our group.

Candi happily bounced over, gushingly THANKING us for wearing our pool bracelets – something she proceeded to do to everyone she passed for the rest of the afternoon. She put on her most Professor Umbridge-Like wide and fake smile, looked each person in the eye, and said “I see you’ve got your pool bracelet on! THANK YOU for wearing that!!”

I thought that our Bracelets of Belonging would finally score us some peace at the pool, but I was wrong. 

So. Very. Wrong.

What it did is make us insiders with Miss Candi, and now she wanted to sit and gossip with me about all the things that proved her value.

….”There was this one time that a tall blond woman with the big hat and the expensive swimsuit – you know the type – (air quotes) – “Miss Seaside”, just walked on up into this pool without a bracelet on. I asked her why she was here. She motioned to her handsome husband on the golf cart – ‘Oh, we’re just checking the pool out.’” 

(The story ended with Miss Candi kicking her out and in indignance saying to me “Now she had a fancy golf cart and a handsome husband – why did she need to be stealing our pool? Because that’s what it is, you know, if you don’t have a bracelet, STEALING.”)

…”The parents are just the worst. I have to keep an eye on all the kids. I usually see them trying to escape before the parents do. That’s why I check the doors all the time – to make sure they’re closed. Those parents aren’t paying any attention!!”

(She proved this by sprinting over every time a kid yelled or even squealed with glee to accusingly ask the parents “Are they okay?? What happened??”) 

…And our most precious moment was when she told me that another reason she had to keep the miscreants out is because we as guests had permission to do anything we wanted … “and I DO MEAN ANYTHING” … in the pool tower – and we obviously didn’t want other people doing those things in our pool tower.

(Yes, Miss Candi, we DEFINITELY plan to use the pool tower for a spot of romantic liaison without any concern that you’re going to come up and ask to see our blue bracelets.)

After she finished her gossip, she decided it was time that I and the other parents knew all of the rules. And which ones she was going to enforce and which ones she was going to encourage us to break. So she gathered the four of us again and began, in agonizing detail, to explain everything.

…”The county mandates that no one eat or drink within 10 feet of the pool, but I want you to stay hydrated, so please have a drink (imbibe! It can be alcohol!) alongside the pool while you’re standing in it. But I will NOT allow you to walk around with your beverage.”

(Someone needs to tell Miss Candi that alcohol is not hydrating.)

…”You and your children MAY NOT play on the rocks or touch the rocks.”

(She proved how important this rule was later by charging bull-style at a family whose toddler got too close to the rocks – AFTER blowing her whistle – because of course she had a whistle – as loudly as she possibly could have point-blank behind my right ear.)

…”Don’t forget to use the TV! Do you know the code to get in the TV cabinet? Wow – you do?  Most rental companies don’t provide that! Surely you want to watch TV right now. It’s first come first serve so turn it on whenever you want!!”

(She followed this up half an hour later by questioning me again as to why I wasn’t watching TV. Because I had Miss Candi to watch. Why would I need TV??)

…”The rule on using the outdoor kitchen and tables is leave no trace – clean up after yourself and enjoy.”

(We ordered Pizza a little later. We threw away our pizza boxes. But three different times I heard Candi muttering behind me – “I said leave no trace. If you eat at a table clean it up. There are rags in the sink.” Finally I sent Ali over to get a rag to wipe away any invisible pizza crumbs so that Miss Candi would shut up. Which of course was an impossible feat to attain.)

…”No vaping because most people don’t understand that there is glass inside an e-cig and there is ABSOLUTELY NO glass allowed on the pool deck.”

(We laughed, but Miss Candi interrupted with “Oh I wish I could vape right now. I need a cigarette so bad.” We agreed – she definitely needed a cigarette.)

She assured us again that she was the best thing to ever happen to this neighborhood and we would be SO GLAD by the end of the week that we had a pool attendant. Because she added value-added services like OPENING THE GATE for us. AND CHECKING ON OUR CHILDREN.

I wasn’t sure if Miss Candi was going to be the most entertaining part of my week or the most annoying part. There was a very fine line and she was tightroping it very with grand determination.

She regularly went from dancing around the pool deck and applauding people for having mimosas in the pool to angrily running at a child who happened to be two feet from his parents just to return said child accusingly as if the parents were the worst humans ever. She would go from encouraging someone to turn on the TV! Enjoy yourselves! To manically demanding to know “WHAT IS THAT?!?!?” to someone who had brought their own karaoke machine. Then upon realizing what it was, giving a little approving dance shimmy to show just how crazy fun she was.

But it was her smile that was the scariest part. It was wide. It was toothy. It screamed out “I’m teetering on the edge of my own metaphorical swimming pool of boiling lava and if you push me over that edge I will drown you in the hot tub but only 8 people are allowed in the hot tub at once so I’ll have to ask two to leave so that I can put my feet in to get a good angle to hold your head under the water.”

But as long as we had our blue bracelets, the rules clearly stated that we could not be drowned by pool attendants.

How to Race Like a Jerk.

1. Give Pro Tips to Random Runners. They LOVE it.

Chris and I discovered several races ago that, although I like running with him quite a bit on normal days, I like running quite alone for half marathons. Besides the fact that I run more positively when alone (I always feel like I’m trying to keep up when running with others, but push myself to be faster when alone), there’s something so fulfilling to my introvert’s soul to be surrounded by people, yet be under zero obligation to interact with any of them. Every now and then I’ll chat for a second with another runner, but I spend most of my 13.1 miles silent.

We had a half marathon in our city earlier this year. It is a relatively big one, so I was enjoying immensely the droves of people surrounding me, all who expected nothing of me. I was pushing myself a bit – I’d had a PR (personal record – fastest personal running time) the day before at the 5K, and foolishly thought that I could have two back-to-back PR days. But my legs hadn’t recovered from their fastest pace ever the day before, and I was working hard. 

I’m a heavy breather while running anyway – I noticed this a while back. It’s fine. I don’t care. I might sound like I’m dying but I’m successfully getting oxygen into my lungs so I just go with it.

The stranger at mile two who came up over my left shoulder, however, did not feel the same.

He was a guy in his fifties, a guy I wasn’t aware existed until, as he was coming up behind me, began speaking rather loudly into my ear – something I never appreciate in any context of life.

“You need to save your breath. This is just the first hill, you know.”

What the…did someone order me a personal coach? This is the worst gift delivery ever.

“I’m just a heavy breather. I’m fine.” 

I sped up to try and shake this dude who had enough energy for his own race and to mansplain mine. 

It didn’t work.

“This course has rolling hills for the next several miles. Lots of ups and downs. You really need to pace your breathing.”

SERIOUSLY DUDE THERE’S ENOUGH OXYGEN IN THE WORLD FOR ME TO HEAVY BREATHE AND MAKE IT THROUGH THIS RACE.

And also, I’ve done this race three times. I know the hills. 

I still hadn’t seen this guy’s face, but I had a vivid mental image.

Will+Ferrell+Anchorman+2+Films+NYC+saAb7UClAXXl

I really thought Mr. Mansplainer would fuel me on with rage and indignation to speed up to a pace where I could absolutely smoke him (he was, after all, behind me and my heavy breathing until just a few seconds ago), but somehow he (or my PR from the prior day) made me slow down quite a bit for those next two miles.

Which only made me feel even more irritated at his unrequested coaching.

At least I had something to think about for a few miles.

2. Assume that You are THE Most Important Participant and Act Accordingly.

I never saw Mansplainer again (then again I would only recognize him from his heavy talking in my ear…someone should tell him to save his energy for the rolling hills,) but his performance of arsishness got significantly outdone towards the end of the course.

This particular marathon is a double loop course. Which means us half marathoners are finishing up as the whole marathoners have to start all over again. Which also means that I always get lapped by the lead whole marathoner a couple miles before I finish my half (meaning that he’s approaching the end of his second lap, 26.2 miles, as I’m approaching the end of my first and only lap, 13.1 miles.) Because wow people can run fast.

This year I was super proud of myself. He usually catches me 2-3 miles from my finish. But this year, I made it all the way to less than a mile from the finish line before I heard the sirens approaching. I always get excited about this because much like swimming, you cannot fathom how fast a fast runner is on television. You must experience it. You must feel his thirty-foot long stride in perfect rhythmic pounding shriek past you at a speed you didn’t even know was possible by a non-furry mammal to truly appreciate an elite runner. 

I prepared myself for excitement and paid attention to the lanes to make sure I didn’t get in the way. They’d already separated the full and half marathoners with cones down the middle of the street – we each got a full car lane to continue our race. I got to the far side of my half marathon side of the street. 

The two motorcycle cops came by, sirening and loudspeakering that the winner was coming through and everyone needed to move over. The police SUV and the news crew SUV were not far behind. 

Except that…there were three full marathoners (who were just finishing their first lap) that took exception to this well-known practice.

They began yelling at the motorcycle cops.

“This is our marathon too!! We’re not moving!!”

 Now let me remind you. This dude has just run twice as far as them in the same amount of time, is a feat of humanity and is about to win a freaking race.

But they aren’t having it.

The motorcycle cop megaphoned right at them. “Move out of the way! Winner coming through!”

They got screamy. 

“WE HAVE NOWHERE TO GO!! THIS IS OUR MARATHON TOO!! WE! ARE! NOT! MOVING!!”

There was an easily accessible and completely empty sidewalk to their left. And there was my lane, which I was gladly willing to share, to the right. But they had “nowhere” to go.

A race official on a bike reached them. He started screaming at them.

They screamed back.

The news crew and police SUV were nipping their heels. I could feel the lead runner’s Olympian footfalls closing in.

But they would. Not. Move.

The lead runner went around the two SUVs and around the immovable runners. The news crew, whose job it is to live-broadcast the winner finishing this race, swerved into my lane. I moved over further to allow him room.

The police SUV just kept going forward. Nipping those runner’s heels. And was never able to get by them, that I saw.

If only Mansplainer could have been there at that moment, to run up behind them and talk loudly into their ear. 

“You need to save your energy. This is just the first lap, you know. There are a lot of rolling hills in the next few miles, and if you use up all your energy turning and screaming like that, you’re never going to make it.”

3. Write Exposé on Other Misbehaving Runners and Mock them Mercilessly.

uh….oops.