One Word for 2017

Last January, for the first time in several Januarys, I set some goals for the year. I resolved to grow my bangs out (check with praise hands emoji), floss my teeth 5 times a week (hey, going from 2 times a year (i.e. the night before my semi-annual dentist appointment) to 4ish times a week is a success, right?), spend my commutes listening to audio books (gamechanger, y’all), and to read at least 22 books (check in large part thanks to the aforementioned audiobook resolution). Allison’s 2016 Book superlatives: Best nonfiction: The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander, Best novel: Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi, Best on Faith: Out of Sorts – Sarah Bessey, Best Audiobook reading: Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Andichie, Best Memoir – Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates. Please nominate your best reads of 2016 as I am crafting my 2017 list now.

Goals that I did not quite hit were: make more lattes on weekends and blog about things other than cancer. Whoops. Perfection is overrated right?

For other highlights that weren’t necessarily on a goal list, please refer to my own personally curated #RealBest9 because no offense, your “likes” don’t determine what was the best about my year, I get to do that. (In order from left to right, top to bottom)

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  1. I got back into the gym habit this year and fell in love with a few new workout classes.
  2. I read (sometimes with homemade lattes) more this year than in years past.
  3. We got a cat. I adore little Bluegrass Granger with my whole heart. Who am I?
  4. We sojourned to Asheville for a weekend and I fell in love with that little town.
  5. Adam kept healing. So much good news on the health front!
  6. Our little #CasaBuYARD veggie patch continues to be a source of joy (and produce).
  7. I had an incredible work year, brimming with learning, failing, and travels. I got to share about my work at a national conference in Pittsburgh, was accepted into a national fellowship and traveled to DC and Denver for that, and was able to go learn at a conference in Austin.
  8. We got to spend time with family and friends and enjoy it (and board games) thanks to good health.
  9. I love the 2 boys I get to do life with (yes, Bluegrass is a real boy).

Every year for the last few years, I’ve picked one word that will be the theme of my year. At the close of 2015, I was emerging out of the destruction of my husband’s cancer rubble and declared that 2016 would be a year of restoration. After over a year of watching my husband fight for his life and the months of recovery that followed, I was looking to 2016 to be a year of rebuilding after the wreckage. I knew (or I thought I knew) that life wouldn’t go back to just as it was before cancer, but I was hopeful that we could renovate the ruins and piece together some old and new into something that resembled the old life.

2016 was a year of restoration in many ways. In a lot of ways, a sense normalcy was restored to our home and schedule. Our days have been restored to routine things like working, exercising, cooking, cleaning, and doing yard work. And in some ways, my soul was restored. This was a very quiet, predictable, unhurried year. This year, I had the time and space for reflection, which was necessary. I was worn, ragged, and fragile and I needed a year to just be.

Last January, I wanted my life and soul to return back into something that resembled my picture of “normal”. I longed nostalgically for old routines, friendships, beliefs, and purpose. But nostalgia doesn’t operate well in present tense and it certainly doesn’t coexist with change. As it turns out, current me doesn’t actually want my mind, heart, and life to be restored to the old me.

This year, I’d rather have a remodel than a renovation.

I’m ready for 2017 to be fresh.

Fresh in expectations, relationships, beliefs, thinking, priorities, food… Lots and lots of fresh.

I’ve done enough fresh food kicks to know that fresh feels good, but fresh takes work. And so I will look expectantly, I will plan, and I will protect 2017.

One Word for 2016

For the last four Januarys, I’ve picked one word to hang as a banner over my year; one word to proclaim my hopes and dreams and resolutions for the three-hundred ish days to come. Most years, my words have come easily – birthed out of need for change or desire for growth. This year, however, I’ve wrestled with my word. I’ve wrestled because I’ve simultaneously given up on the idea that I can predict what a year will hold and I want this year to be a lot of things.

As I slowly emerge out of my husband’s dark cancer cave and my eyes adjust to the uncomfortably bright light of possibilities on the other side of survival, I’m a bit overwhelmed. I’m taking in colors and shapes and sounds that didn’t exist in the deep of the cave. I stare at my friend’s kiddos who I barely recognize after our extended friend-absence. I sit around full dinner tables and welcome chatter and laughter as a blissful reunion. I mount the spin bike at the gym as if I were reengaging with an estranged friend.

As I stare at normal life from a cautious distance, even still, while my senses adjust to fresh open air, I know that I want to reenter to normal life. The problem is that I’m afraid I won’t ever be “normal” again. Brene Brown writes, “Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. This change often brings a deep sense of loss. During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to the moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to.” And so I’m readjusting my expectations of normalcy and starting the process of reconciling what of pre-cancer life I get to keep and what I have to let go of. I think this is all part of recovery.

I recognize that the discomfort of healing is a gift – one that I assure you we don’t take for granted but one who’s emotional weight we couldn’t have predicted. As I wade through cancer-trauma rubble, I find myself getting more and more curious about what redemption and renewal and rebuilding will look like – in Adam’s life, in my life, and in our joint life.

In the last month, as I have pondered “my word” for 2016, I landed on a few that resonated; all of them starting with re: . Even as I wrote this post, so many re: words tumbled out. I toyed for a few weeks with picking a prefix for my word. But as a compulsive rule-follower, I just couldn’t go through with it.

So I waited and ran my favorite re: words through my brain; let them dance on my tongue until one stuck out enough to declare it “my word”. I think it’s the re: word that encompasses all of the other words that I was mulling over and one that encapsulates my hopes and longings for this fresh air year: Restore.

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I know that there is no going back to life just as it was before cancer, and honestly, I don’t think I really want that anyway. But I do long for restoration –of new normalcy, of holistic health, and of my soul. So, this is me nailing up my banner with hopes and prayers this this year is a restoring year.

Did anyone else pick one word for their year? I’d love to hear about it!

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The Tension of Today

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I went on my first short-term mission trip when I was in high school. I packed ankle length skirts and modest tops (and matching bandanas for my hair, of course) and headed to Managua, Nicaragua. In my short week there, I observed a culture very different from my own, I experienced what it felt like to be a foreigner, and I was exposed to extreme poverty. As I walked through the tents of a refugee camp that housed families who had been displaced by a devastating hurricane, I began to grasp my own privilege.

When I landed back on U.S. soil, I was simultaneously relieved and uncomfortable with the things that had previously been my normal – from meals to clothes to social norms to routines. It took me a long time to fully comprehend what was happening in my heart and mind and soul; I was somehow changed. The things that I had seen had impacted me deeply; they had begun to shift my worldview.

IMG_1603The tension was that while my worldview had shifted, my real-life non-mission trip world as a high-schooler hadn’t shifted. I had to return to school, to my part-time job, to friendships, and normal teenage social pressure, but my normal life didn’t feel quite so normal anymore. I had a hard time sorting through how what I had experienced and what I was thinking about fit back into everyday life.

I’ve been having a hard-time articulating how I am feeling as of late. And because we have the best people in our lives, we are getting asked how we are doing a lot these days. As I’ve been doing some emotional self-assessment, I have decided that I’m feeling a lot like 11th grade post-first mission trip Allison. I have experienced, observed, and been exposed to some incredibly heavy things this year as I have walked with my husband through cancer treatments. And now, while we’re on a break from treatments and normal life can resume (at least temporarily) I am experiencing that familiar tension. I’m not sure how what I have experienced fits in with pre-cancer life.

I’m doing a lot less “cancer-wife” activities these days and a lot more “normal-life” activities. Life is starting to look more like it used to – it just doesn’t quite feel like it used to. I know that, at least with mission trips, the fusion of new experiences with normal life does happen. Normal life shifts a bit to accommodate new world views, and world views shift a smidge to accommodate the mandatory normal and somehow, in time, there is less incongruence. But ‘in time’ is the key phrase.

And so here I am, in the middle of waiting for normal life and cancer life to fuse into something that feels normal-ish. I’m waffling between cancer-shock and acceptance that this will forever change me. So in the spirit of honesty, I’ll leave this post in the tension that I’m feeling without a nice summary or Scripture-bow on top – maybe those will come with future posts.

Reflections on 11 Years

Vows11 years ago today, we stood facing each other; hands clasped, gazing into one another’s youthful-faces at an alter in a little white country church. We pledged our vows to one another in front of our God and our dearest friends that we would love and cherish each other in good times, in healthy times, in times of abundance, and also in the times that were not so good, not so healthy, and not so abundant. We also declared on that day, through verse, song, and homily that we wanted our marriage to be a story of God’s faithfulness.

Wedding ProgramWe had everyone leaf through the blue hymnals in their pews and sing our favorite hymn, ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ as a testimony and prophetic anthem over our marriage that God’s faithfulness would be our theme. The verse on our not-so-cool wedding program (Thanks Pinterest for being a decade too late) was Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness.”

We didn’t know much as wrinkle-free, and nearly carefree 21 year olds, but we knew that we wanted our marriage to serve a greater purpose than ourselves –We wanted our marriage to be as much about loving others as it was about loving each other. We wanted to serve God better as a couple than we would individually. We wanted our marriage to glorify God and point to God’s faithfulness.

As enthusiastic not-yet-college-graduates, we had vague grand dreams of what that would look like and ambition to fill in the plot holes. We envisioned that we would do significant things as a couple that would be a story of God’s faithfulness in mending our broken world.

What we forgot, in our grand, innocent, well-meaning pre-marital vision, was that we were the characters in God’s story, not the author – and characters don’t get a say in their own story. Thus far, the Author of our story has seemed far less interested in compelling plot lines and heroic daring adventures and far more interested in character development.

It seems as though the majority of our 11 years of marriage have been spent on developing our character – individually and as a team. Committed, long-term relationships have a way of developing character, don’t they? For that matter, life stuff has a way of developing character. But marriage has a knack for drawing out the hidden, dark, flawed stuff we can hide from most friends and it also has the potential to draw out the deepest reserves of beauty, strengths, and gifts. Through our married years, character has been forged through fire and desert and valley and straight roads, too. We have learned about perseverance, faith, faithfulness, trust, forgiveness, fortitude, and selfless love.

12 years ago, our soon-to-be married selves didn’t realize how much we needed our own restoration individually and how much we would need it as a couple. We thought God’s faithfulness would be more evidenced through our marriage, but instead, His faithfulness has been most evidenced in our marriage. And while that type of story rarely makes a best-seller list, it’s a powerful story best told around tables filled with good food, on couches with dear ones, and sometimes over coffee with a friend of a friend who needs to hear that story. We have found that as we allow others to see God’s work – the messy, arduous, refining work of restoring us as individuals and as a couple, His faithfulness is most evident.

And so, after 11 years, our story isn’t one about a power duo changing the world, and it isn’t a top seller – in fact, our story doesn’t even have a terribly coherent plotline. But really, isn’t it the messy, imperfect, broken, vulnerable stories that make the best backdrops for stories of God’s faithfulness and not the strong, perfect, neat, and tidy ones?

We couldn’t have imagined the chapters that would emerge when we chose “Not to us, O LORD, but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness” as the back cover to our story. But we are grateful that our story is our story, and more, we are so grateful that God is faithful.

Here’s to 11 years of character development and God’s faithfulness and the cherry on top of friendship, joy, and laughter. Here’s to our marriage and our story and the stories that have yet to be written. I love you, Adam.

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Dark Night in the Woods

Sometime during the course of late night conversations sophomore year of college (which no doubt took place over greasy Dominoes pizza or handfuls of microwave popcorn), my girlfriends discovered that I had never been camping before.

That’s not entirely true. I had been sort of camping once before. My non-outdoorsy parents agreed to embark on a camping trip with family friends one summer but we bailed when the tents started buckling during a torrential downpour and we landed at a hotel.

IMG_9339So back to college: My gals decided that we should go on a fall camping trip to give me a proper first camping experience. The idea of camping didn’t seem awesome but the idea of missing out on time with my friends seemed less awesome, so I conceded. A few of the camping experts set to planning out supplies, meals, route, and campground while I took to planning my most outdoorsy-looking outfits (nailed it, right?).

Camping 2012One Friday after class, when the trip was planned out, we loaded up our old college cars and shipped off to The Gorge. I don’t remember what caused the delay; maybe someone couldn’t skip her last Friday class or we took too long packing (or posing for pictures of packing) or there was a traffic delay, but somehow we got to our parking site later than our resident camping experts had hoped and we were almost out of daylight. We loaded up our backs with big supply packs and set out on the long hike down into the gorge to our campground.

IMG_9338We had fewer headlamps than campers so the expert campwomen geared up, and us rookies lined up every other headlamp and kept close. Very shortly into our descent, we were in total darkness except for the light of the few headlamps. I was told to keep close, to not veer too far to the right or left (because of a drop off), and to trust my friends.

Two of the girls had grown up exploring and camping in the very woods we were slogging. They knew the path even in the dark. They wouldn’t let me and our other pals get hurt.

I trusted but I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t in control; I had no idea where I was, what was around me, and what was ahead of me. I didn’t even have charge over what I could see.

I trusted but I was fearful. No doubt my anxiety (i.e the ability to conjure up the grimmest of all possible scenarios) played out ugly scenes in my mind as we hiked in lightless silence.

I was reminded of this trip as I was reading treasured words of Amy Carmichael this week: “There can be no difficulty of travel that he does not understand. We are never alone as we penetrate the unknown. We cannot be lost there… He knoweth the way that I take… There is no darkness where He cannot find us.”

I’m feeling a lot these days like I did that dark night in the woods. I trust God, but I am uncomfortable with how little control I have. I trust God, but I am still fearful. My steps feel unsteady and I have little idea what is beside me or in front of me. I would really, really like to know what the woods look like. Walking in the dark is exhausting.

But I take solace in the knowledge that there is no darkness where He cannot find us and even more solace in the knowledge that He can see even when I cannot.

“Even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:12)

IMG_9340We made it safely into the gorge that night and had a delicious dinner of steak and nearly raw potatoes. (Fire-roasted dinner takes time and hunger doesn’t breed patience). We set up our tents, roasted something sweet over the fire, learned how to pee in the woods, told ourselves that no bears or scary mountain people would attack us until we finally fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning and emerged from my tent to the smell of pancakes over the fire, I couldn’t believe the view. We were deep in the heart of a beautiful valley, with autumn-toned trees decorating the canopy above. I looked up at the narrow, steep path we had trudged in the dark and thought that perhaps it was better that I hadn’t been able to see where I was walking. I thought perhaps the scary walk in the dark made the morning all the more beautiful.

Maybe one day, when this dark cancer trip ends, I will feel the same way.


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One Word for 2015

One Word for 2015

Everything in my Type-A-Self is agitated that I’m writing a New Year Post on January 25.

Perfectionist Allison is highly embarrassed to submit something 24 days late but 2015 Allison gets a late pass because, well, cancer (I can play that card, right?).

I’ve been ruminating on this post for weeks and I have what I think are coherent thoughts, and so, I’m rebelling against my own anal retentive nature and publishing this anyway. Maybe 2016 Allison will be laid-back (but probably not).

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ow14_125x125_custom_125x125A few years ago, instead of making New Year’s Resolutions, I started picking one word that would define my year. During the year, I read books about the word, practice the word, and grow the word into my life rhythm. It’s a really beautiful, almost prophetic act that produces intentionality, reflection, and a even a new community to journey with throughout the year.

My word for 2014 was rest.  I shake my head in disbelief that that was the word I chose for 2014. I was way off. There wasn’t much rest in 2014 at all. In a lot of ways, 2014 was a year of frantic, but more than that, it was a year of horrible.

If I had even the slightest inclination that I had control over anything at the start of 2014, it was squashed, stomped, and flushed (to be sure it was really dead) by the close of the calendar. Sure sure, I can find some silver linings. (While we’re talking about silver linings, can I share some insight from my storm cloud? Let the person living the storm find their own silver lining and celebrate their discovery but don’t try to find someone else’s silver lining – it’s less powerful and far less helpful). I’ve gotten way off topic.

2014 had loads of good, actually. But the second half was so shocking and awful that if we took an average of good and bad and added it all up and then divided it out, the year would still come up HORRIBLE (yes, that’s an official mathematical calculation). Give me a few years of perspective and I’ll likely rename it but right now 2014 is still too fresh.

In the last few weeks of 2014, I began to process what felt like a failure of a year of rest – a failure out of my control – but a failure nonetheless, and I started thinking about 2015. And after some thinking, I determined that 2015 didn’t need a word. I decided I was too overwhelmed to think of a word that would shape a year that was already feeling too unpredictable to predict.

I decided to let it go, and come back to the drawing board in 2016.

And just as I resolved no word for 2015, I started hearing this one word, almost in surround-sound, coming from varied and unexpected sources. I heard this word in kickboxing, in sermons, in therapy, in books, and in conversations with friends. And I started thinking, maybe this year, my word found me.

This word has actually been surfacing for months because I’m having a very hard time with this word; physically, emotionally, and even spiritually

This word is simple, elemental even. But these days, basic sounds refreshing.

This word is breathe.

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The act of breathing has been nearly impossible for months. I feel as though the unexpected of 2014 punched the wind right out of me and I still can’t seem to catch my breath.

But I need to and I want to.

So 2015’s message will be simple: Breathe, Allison.

I want to feel like my whole self can breathe all the way in and all the way out. Regardless of the hard and unknown of 2015, I want to be rooted, established, unmoved, and free.

But I’m going to start with simple, mindful, and rhythmic: breathe in and breathe out.

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When New Years Don’t Always Bring Fresh Starts

“I bet you’re so ready for a new year,” they say with sweet sympathy.

“I’m sure you’re ready to put 2014 behind you,” they pronounce with pity.

“I have a feeling 2015 will be a better year,” they hypothesize with heart.

But I don’t quite know how to respond.

While I love the symbolism that a new year can bring, I don’t get that fresh start when the clock strikes midnight this December 31. On January 1, my husband will still have cancer, fears will still be present, days will still be hard, and unknowns will still be unknown.

And I know I’m not alone in the ‘less than fresh start to 2015 club’. This has been a hard and messy year for lots of us, hasn’t it?

This post is for all of us whose 2014’s will end in a minor key, full of dissonance, with no resolution yet composed. This one is for all of us whose pain from 2014 won’t get the memo to disappear before the ball drops. This post is for all of us who are starting 2015 with the lingering hard of 2014.

There’s no sugar coating it or silver lining for it, there’s no easier way to phrase it: This new year is going to be hard. So was last year (and for some of us, the year before that, and the one before that…) and I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we’re heading into a new year already weary, worn, and wary. But we are not defeated.

So you know what? I’m raising my polka-dotted mug of ginger tea (the calm for my anxious belly storm), I’m turning up my current favorite pump me up song, and I’m cheersing in spite of it all, nay, I’m cheersing because of it all. I’m cheersing to you fellow metaphorical mountain climbers because if there were ever worthy inspirations to toast: it’s “to the brave ones!” We are a great cloud of faithful witnesses to one another of how to walk hard roads by simply walking the hard roads: Imperfectly, sometimes begrudgingly, but ever faithfully.

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Cheers to the brave ones who dare to hope when the odds are not in their favor.

Cheers to the fighters who risk getting out of bed each morning though tired bones and weary minds plot against them.

Cheers to the tender-hearted who refuse to harden that bleeding heart – who keep feeling even though feeling hurts.

Cheers to the gritty ones, who keep being thrown punches and curve balls, and whose faith deepens and widens all the more.

Cheers to the ones who know that their callings are not on hold because of their current situation, but who trust that there is purpose in their pain.

Cheers to the ones who want nothing more than to see God do a “new thing” in their circumstances but while they wait, choose to see all the “new things” God is doing in their hearts in the process.

Cheers to the ones who believe that even if their heart and flesh give way, God is the strength of their heart and their portion.

Cheers to the ones who understand that testing produces a perseverance they would have never known or understood had there been no testing.

Cheers the ones who are convinced that nothing – not death or life, not angels or demons, nothing present or future, no height or depth – can separate them from the love of God.

Cheers to 2015 friends. Though it may not be clean, new, or fresh, it’s still a year to learn, trust, grow, and be brave – and I can toast to that.