Monday, February 29, 2016

12:34 February 29

Midday on this extra day of February found me finishing a three-mile run. It was my first in a week--due to time constraints and feeling under the weather--so I was especially grateful to get it in.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

12:34 February 28

I'm thankful for real butter melted in a freshly baked muffin.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

12:34 February 27

Some time yesterday afternoon, the head cold my immune system had been holding at bay all week as a mildly scratchy throat and the occasional sniffle broke through into full-on congestion, sneezing and coughing. This health setback makes me mindful of two things. One, I think I've only had one other cold in the last calendar year. I'm grateful for a fully-restored, strong immune system. Two, I'm thankful for all the remedies at my disposal to recover: apple cider vinegar, honey, hot tea, soup with extra shakes of Tabasco, hot toddies, a restful weekend ahead and even, Sudafed.

Friday, February 26, 2016

12:34 February 26

I'm thankful for the feeling of anticipation that Fridays almost always bring.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

12:34 February 25

I'm feeling especially grateful for my neighbors right now. I spent the morning walking and talking with one. Tonight, we'll go out (belatedly) to celebrate her birthday with a few other neighbors. I love the physical location of my house because it's on a quiet street with a large yard, only a couple miles from Matt's school. This location has also yielded some really great connections with people nearby too. I love where I live.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

12:34 February 24

This week, in and out of class, I've gotten to hear from students and former students about their experiences as immigrants or as children of immigrants. Their testimonies are humbling and inspiring, and I'm thankful for their presence in my life, my community, and my country. I hope the US can honor these families' commitment to ideals we claim, but sometimes neglect.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

12:34 February 23

I'm grateful that when I open my heart, you flood it with your kindness and love. Thank you, friends. #twelvethirtyfour

Monday, February 22, 2016

Three years later

Last January sunset: pink (& 60 degrees).

As Matt noted in his own post, today marks three years since my breast cancer diagnosis. Today has a certain "weight." At the end of an otherwise good day, I am acutely feeling the exhaustion of its heaviness. It so happened to be a low-key Monday, and--with every intention of taking good care of myself--I was able to do pretty much exactly what I wanted to do. I ran, I spent a couple hours at a coffee shop trying to write this post, I got a pedicure, and I watched last night's Downton Abbey while I ate leftovers for lunch. I didn't quite get in the nap I'd planned, but the day ended on a very happy, adorable note at Lauren's first elementary school choral concert.

As I watched Lauren sing her heart out, I remembered her as a chubby twenty-month-old toddler, who was still nursing when I was diagnosed. She's now a confident, exuberant school girl, who informed me--seemingly out of the blue but I wonder if she sensed my heavy heart--as I kissed her good night, "Mom, you know, your heart is the boss of your brain. It sends out all the love and tells your brain what to do." Contemplating my own heart at this particular moment, I feel grateful and sad. It strikes me that I have the urge to write "sad but grateful"--implying that somehow my gratitude makes my sadness permissible. But I believe they're both present, and they're both valuable.

Yesterday at church, I wore a shirt with a neckline that showed my chemo port scar. I think you have to really look to see it, but what do I know? I look at it all the time. I’m not self-conscious about that scar. I think of it as a battle scar. It reminds me of what I suffered and what I survived: sixteen weeks of toxic chemicals that killed my cancer cells. But a few inches down and left of my port scar is a larger, hidden scar, quite appropriately over my heart. It is the diagonal scar over a concave, bony portion of my chest--where my left breast used to be. I hide that scar, under a weighted-foam prosthetic breast, under my bra, under my shirt. It is the scar that breaks my heart every time I undress. It reminds me of what I’ve lost: among other things, my breast . . . at the age of 36.

Back in April 2013, shortly after my second chemo treatment--which coincided with another significant loss, my hair--I went to my first support group meeting of young women who have also been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have learned so much from these women over the last three years. At one point, our group facilitator said something simple yet profound: “You don’t go through something like cancer without being dramatically changed.” This helped me start to be more accepting of the changes, particularly in my heart and mind, that I was experiencing. Another pivotal moment came when one friend responded to another's anxious feelings with something like, “Try to greet these feelings with acceptance and curiosity--not judgment.” More than anything, this group has taught me about accepting my feelings and trying to learn from them.

Getting back to my mastectomy scar, I’ve recently tried to cast it in a more positive light. I aspire to think of it, like my port scar, as a battle scar. Maybe I will get there one day, but I'm definitely not there yet. This past year, I’ve spent a lot of time reading and thinking--with the help of BrenΓ© Brown, my support group and others--about what Brown terms "the power of vulnerability" and “reckoning” with my true feelings. Sometimes the feelings we have aren’t positive or happy. And that’s okay. My mastectomy scar makes me sad. But I should be sad, because I did lose a lot from cancer. Most significantly, I lost any sense of security about my health that I may have had. Accepting that loss is hard. Instead, I feel a pressure to use language of resistance: "I'm fighting cancer! I'm winning!" I've come to believe it's more authentic for me to say, "I'm outliving it."

And I’m outliving it very well at the present moment. Physically, I'm healthy and strong--mindful of what I eat and dedicated to running regularly. Emotionally, I feel stable and a measure of inner peace. Also, in the past few months, I’ve experienced more spiritual growth than I have in many years. I was looking back at my previous posts marking this anniversary, including my original diagnosis post. I wrote about feeling “shocked, sad and scared.” Reading that, I realized that while the fear has faded, the sadness remains. I’m curious about the sadness. I accept it. Some days it holds me back. On my better days, it teaches me. By that, I mean my sadness helps distill what is true and good about my life. Again, I think of my kids, particularly my youngest. This past fall, as I sent four-year-old Lauren off to all-day school with her big brothers, I said a prayer of gratitude that I was there to watch her skip into her classroom with a proud smile on her face. Yet I get sad when I wonder if I will be here to watch her graduate high school, or get married, or reach any other milestones that I still yearn to see. Accepting uncertainty has been my challenge these past three years.

These are the thoughts that linger. I’ve spent a lot of time wishing they would go away. They may in fact fade with the help of Time, the Great Healer. But if they don’t, I wonder if I can accept sadness as a traveling partner. If sadness teaches me, perhaps it is not an undesirable companion? I have also come to realize that I can be sad and grateful. The two are not mutually exclusive. Just this morning, I was listening to an On Being podcast on the practice of gratitude. Host Krista Tippett and her guest, Benedictine monk, teacher, and author David Steindl-Rast, discussed how gratitude is not a mere reaction to present circumstances, but instead is an intention that is held--a chosen response. This resonated as I thought our own twelvethirtyfour Project and how cultivating gratitude through a daily routine has changed me. I think of my practice of gratitude as akin to prayer, which reminds me of something Mother Teresa said: "I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things."

Today, mindful of what I have lost, I also choose to be grateful for the abundance that remains in my life. That abundance consists primarily and most dearly of Matt and our three kids. It swells to include our parents, siblings, other family and an incredible network of friends near and far. I can never think about or discuss my cancer--with all of its attendant sadness, anger, anxiety and fear--without acknowledging and accepting the love that has flowed into our lives along with it. And while I would never say that I am grateful for cancer, I am thankful for the lessons I have learned from it and for the opportunity for connection with each of you reading this.

I always come back to that: I am loved. Thank you for loving me.


12:34 February 22

February 22, 2013 was the day Allison was diagnosed with cancer. Three years ago today.

Today and October 23, the day my dad was diagnosed, still make me angry. Angry every year. Every. Single. Year. Angry in a way that clouds my mood and makes my breakfast taste different. I’m angry for me, and also for Allison, and for our extended families. And I still feel indignant. And small. And sad.

I feel some guilt that I can’t flip a switch and say “I’m relieved that’s over.” But I can’t. That feels disingenuous. And “over” sounds too much like “forgotten” to my mind. I haven’t forgotten. I don’t want to.

So today, somewhat begrudgingly, I’m thankful for relief. Not relief in the sense of “release from anxiety or stress.” But relief as in “thrown into relief.” Or “buoyed by relief.”

One of the definitions of relief is “the state of being clearly visible or obvious due to being accentuated by contrast.” Today stands out in relief against most days on the calendar. I’m grateful to mark a third year since the dread of Allison’s initial diagnosis, but marking the year also calls the day into relief against the backdrop of a mostly-normal life we’re able to lead now. Today’s a day that feels real, and I’ve found myself in a swirl of emotions that usually stay in the background. Today stands out against myriad other anniversaries I mark during the year.

Another definition of relief is “assistance to those in difficulty.” And I am thankful for others’ relief. On Saturday, I had the chance to work outside in our yard for most of the afternoon. As I raked, I found myself thankful for a sunny afternoon, and for a yard that I can tend, and for a body that is up to the task. An extension of that gratitude is how thankful I am for our house, one that we would literally not be in if not for the generous support of family. Moving into a new space 18 months ago was crucial, both physically and emotionally. The support we’ve always felt from friends and family has been even more present and generous in the last three years. I remain grateful for the kindness of others.

I guess it’s only appropriate today that I can simultaneously feel unrelieved while I note the day’s stark relief and cite my gratitude for the relief gifted us by others. Maybe I'm more comfortable with paradox the older I get. I’m trying to allow myself to feel the wave of paradoxical feelings that today brings. I’m trying to appreciate what is, hope for what’s to come, and recognize the past as the past.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

12:34 February 21

I'm grateful for a sweet morning at church: sitting together as a family in the pew, joining in song and prayer, listening to a thoughtful sermon, and visiting with kind friends.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

12:34 February 20

This morning at 7:15, Lauren woke me up with a gentle slap on the stomach and said, with the voice of one grievously wronged, "Hey! I wanted to win the sleeping race!"

The "sleeping race" is something we devised to try to get our kids to stay in bed (or at least in their rooms) for a decent amount of time in the mornings. Lately, Lauren is the big sleeper, and she enjoys her status as "sleeping champion." Today, my sleeping in was an impediment to that. Apparently, after waking me up, she ran to the living room and bragged to Allison, "Mom! Dad said I won the sleeping race!"

Just, you know, having a post-bath/pre-bed chat with an accessorized Lala. 😎😴😍😘😳

There is no one like her. She maximizes almost every aspect of her personalty, from her full investment in the improbable yarns she spins, to the sincere hugs she doles out to her friends. I'm thankful for my indomitable sleeping champion.

Friday, February 19, 2016

12:34 February 19

On this particular day, I'm thankful for the freedom this season in my life allows. As we pulled up to school this morning, Tobin gasped, "Oh no, Mom, I forgot my recorder! And I have music first thing this morning. Can you pleeeeease go back home and get it?" I paused for a second, thinking maybe I should let him grapple with the consequences of forgetting it--that this would be a good lesson to learn. Plus, going home and back to school is a thirty-minute round trip; that would make the earliest I could get back 9:30, fifteen minutes into his music class. And truthfully, the idea of going to that trouble kinda irked me.

But then I thought about what a responsible, shy, somewhat-anxious kid Tobin is and that he was probably panicked enough at the prospect of explaining to his music teacher that he forgot his instrument. And really, going home and back was something I could do. So I did it. I drove quickly home, retrieved the recorder and delivered it to my very relieved child.

It may sound silly: I felt a tad heroic. But that's not really my main point here. Underlying my excursion this morning is my gratitude that I had the flexibility to go on it at all. That's because I'm not working right now. The rest of my day will include very ordinary, mundane things like running errands to Target and Costco, folding laundry, paying bills and waiting for a refrigerator repair man. However, at this moment, I'm really grateful that I have the freedom to respond so effortlessly to my family's needs. I'm all the more thankful because I know there will come a time when this season ends--sooner than later, now that the kids are all in school--and I will be working outside the home again. Actually, I'm looking forward to that time when it comes. But for now, I'll remain grateful for and grounded in this particular moment.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

12:34 February 18

I've been listening to a song called "Fundamental Ground" by TW Walsh a lot today. It has been a while since I've been captivated by a song this way. Some of the lyrics:
I can't complain / there's food on my table / there's wine in the drain / I'm looking for the fundamental ground.
I call myself a fan of music, but it's always been much more precious. It's absurd and beautiful and impossible that these combinations of sound waves could have such a profound effect on us, but it's universal--one of the few near-universal experiences of human-being-ness. When the hairs on my arms stand up in anticipation of a chorus or a bridge, I'm reminded of the physiological response music can elicit, and I imagine it connecting to me to centuries of people who have experienced the same.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

12:34 February 17

I'm grateful for coffee. I gave it up for a week to kind of re-calibrate my caffeine tolerance--probably should have gone two weeks, but I don't drink more than two cups a day usually. I definitely missed it and was super excited to have some this morning. It did not disappoint. That first cup of coffee in the morning is one of my favorite daily routines.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

12:34 February 16

I'm thankful for people. Today I tried to be aware that the vast majority of my interactions with other people, at work or in my personal life, are positive.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Sunday, February 14, 2016

12:34 February 14

I'm thankful for Allison's patience with our kids' occasional meltdowns.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

12:34 February 13

I'm thankful for a Saturday (mostly) inside my warm home with my family when it's especially cold and windy outside.

Friday, February 12, 2016

12:34 February 12

I'm thankful for infectious excitement at the prospect of snow. I'm glad I've always lived in places where snow is a treat, not a burden.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

12:34 February 11

I'm thankful for all the love we've felt in sharing the twelvethirtyfour project. Sending love right back out there to each of you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

12:34 February 10

At 12:34, I'm sitting down to grade essays after having a quick lunch with Allison. We mark February 10 as our "dating anniversary." Twenty years ago today was a Saturday. We drove to Wrightsville Beach and back that day. We spent the day talking in the car, we ate at a Mexican restaurant, and we walked on the beach before heading back to Charlotte. Today I'm especially thankful for 20 years of memories with my best friend and true partner in every sense.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

twelvethirtyfour Project

Here's the short version: for about a year, I've set a personal alarm every day at 12:34 PM. In that time, I set aside a few seconds to think about something for which I'm grateful, or I just try to appreciate the moment I find myself in. For 2016, Allison and I have committed to post our thoughts, alternating daily, on our blog, hoping to grow a sense of mindfulness and appreciation in our lives and home. We invite you to join us in comments here, in your own writing, or on social media. To share in your experiences and to allow you to share ours, we're suggesting the hashtag #twelvethirtyfour .

Now the longer explanation. My goal for this post is to explain the idea, and to extend an invitation to join Allison and me as we try to deliberately meditate on and record our reflections and daily gratitudes.

Like a lot of ideas I've had, I don't know exactly where the idea for 12:34 originated. "Mindfulness" has been an increasingly prevalent idea in a lot of writing and thought within my sphere of culture for the last couple of years. I'm sure that environment has had a significant impact on the idea that has become a daily moment of reflection.

Since my dad died in 2009, I've tried to be mindful of the preciousness and significance of life. I didn't have a method, but a vague commitment that I should be more aware of time that I too often let slide by unnoticed. Becoming a runner and committing to be physically active were extensions of that for me.

Then Allison was diagnosed in February 2013, and I found my capacity for gratitude squeezed out by fear and a bitterness from which I had previously been free. My time between deliberate meditations grew, and I was more focused on reining in a kind of existential dread than anything else. As Allison's treatment proceeded and her recovery gained momentum, I found a renewed interest in regular reflection. (Being surrounded by our beautiful, hilarious children didn't hurt, either).

I don't remember when I programmed a daily 12:34 alarm into my fitbit. I use a fitbit, and have used it in lieu of a clock alarm for work since 2014. One day, while double-checking my alarm, I had the idea to use it to remind me to take a deep breath, think, and observe. I've always liked numbers (I count stairs and have an affinity for primes and perfect numbers, for example). 12:34 was pleasing to me because of its sequential, logical nature. It was also a time when I knew I wouldn't be actively teaching a class at school, and would almost always have a few seconds to think.

I don't remember the date when I set my recurring alarm, but I remember when I shared the idea for the first time. I remember because part of me was worried how the idea would be received. I hadn't meant to keep it a secret, but I definitely didn't talk to anyone about it for the first few months. Was it too corny? Was I in danger of putting a Walden Pond sticker on my Volvo? Was I becoming the hokey old person who spoke in platitudes and was humored by his more realistic friends?

Our friend Caleb was the one who nonchalantly asked about it last summer in Maine. Our friends' families had been walking around on top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine in a heavy fog. The views should have been spectacular, but visibility was less than a quarter of a mile. The kids ate wild blueberries, and we took foggy pictures and looked at signs explaining the invisible views far below. Caleb and I were buying passes in the welcome center when my 12:34 alarm vibrated. He asked what that was for and, caught off guard, I said something like, "Just a little reminder I do every day." When we got back to the car, I explained it completely. I realized that my gratitude that day was for being with friends whom I love, navigating the fog together, and laughing at the irony of Google Street View providing better views of our surroundings than we ourselves had.

That night, around a campfire, Caleb asked everyone in the circle to name something for which they were thankful. If it were anyone but Caleb, it might have been dismissed as a cheesy icebreaker. But Caleb has a gift for encouraging earnest sincerity from people. To start it off, he mentioned having a friend who dedicated daily time to reflection, and that he was thankful for a friend like that. Everyone shared something one at a time, clockwise around the circle. When it was my turn, I outed myself as that friend that had started the whole discussion, and found myself talking into the fire for a longer time than I expected. I talked about my dad, and Allison, and about my hope to be deliberate in the way I live my life. Other friends around the fire were and had been navigating joys and sadness like mine, and continue to do so. My answer that night, and on many days since, has been that I'm thankful for my friends who encourage, support, and love without condition.

A few months later, Allison and I were out on a date, and found ourselves talking about 12:34. We talked about the idea of sharing the experience and setting time apart each day. We did that through the end of last year, and took the extra step of committing to document it on our blog, starting January 1 this year.

I find that I like it especially when Allison and I are together at 12:34 because I know we're each taking a second in the same physical place to contemplate it in differently meaningful ways. I would love to think that other people are sharing similar moments with us at the same time. For me, sometimes those thoughts are profound and spiritual, but I've also used that time for moments in which I find myself thinking things like "I'm thankful for indoor plumbing" or "I'm thankful for potato chips." I find myself in a place where I can celebrate profound truths and simple pleasures from day to day, without feeling a need to impose a hierarchy of value. Life is beautiful in its expansive profundity, sure. But it's also beautiful and meaningful and worthy of notice in the fleeting little moments that can't ever be fully recaptured.

So we welcome you to join us. Even if you choose to participate without telling us, or on a different schedule than ours, we welcome you. And chances are, if you're reading this, you've been the subject of our gratitude at some point anyway.

Thank for for reading this, but more importantly, thank you for being part of our lives.

12:34 February 9

Last night we attended our kids' school's Black History Month celebration. Tobin's class did a group reading of part of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Tobin and his classmates were so engaged and inspiring. The gym was packed as people listened to the class reading and music, and later ate everything from catered African cuisine to potluck soul food.

This morning, as I do every two weeks each Tuesday, I worked in the hallway outside Lauren's classroom, organizing the students' Bag-a-Books they bring home as part of their reading program. I am always impressed with how calm and quiet the hallway is, especially considering it's the primary hall, home to all the youngest classrooms (pre-K and kindergartners). This week there was a bit of an unusual incident as one of the teachers spent at least half an hour out in the hall, talking a student through a temper tantrum. The kid was distraught, but the teacher was so calm and loving, it made my heart break and swell.

There are few things I am more grateful for right now than my children's school community. I love it from top to bottom; indeed, I have a kid on each of its three floors--ha! It is full of love and learning and diversity--all the things I want my kids to experience at their tender ages. I am especially thankful for the classroom teachers and assistant teachers, who demonstrate tremendous patience and genuine love.

Monday, February 08, 2016

12:34 February 8

This has been a stressful time for me at work lately, and then the Panthers lost the Super Bowl. I've been struggling to be positive, but Tobin helped me see a longer perspective. He expressed sadness that the Panthers lost, but talked more about how it could be better in the future. That's the kind of attitude I'll strive to have about work: past is past; future is future. I'm thankful for the wisdom of my son.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

12:34 February 7

I'm grateful for football and that my favorite team is in the Super Bowl today.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

12:34 February 6

I'm thankful for thoughtful conversations with friends.

Friday, February 05, 2016

12:34 February 5

My aunts Louise and Bethany are visiting for the Mardi Gras (and Super Bowl!) weekend. I've spent the morning shopping and hanging out with them. I'm grateful they made the two-day trek from Louisiana to spend a few days with us.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

12:34 February 3

Right now, I'm in the midst of a cooking project. I'm making chicken sausage gumbo. I've poached chicken, made a quick broth, chopped veggies, browned sausage, stirred up a good roux and set the gumbo to simmer for an hour or so. There are few things I enjoy more than making food, and I'm grateful for the time to do it this morning. I'm also thankful for the sweet memories I associate with the smell and taste of gumbo: especially holidays in Louisiana with my Memaw.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

12:34 February 2

At 12:34, I was meeting with a new teacher trying her best to connect with kids who don't usually like school. I'm thankful for teachers who teach for the right reasons, and who go out of their way to reach children others write off.

Monday, February 01, 2016

12:34 February 1

I always appreciate the start of a new month. I manage our family finances and since Matt gets paid once a month, I try to manage our budget on a monthly basis. On the last day of the month, I'm grateful that we had enough to pay that month's expenses. On the first day of the month like today, I'm thankful for the clean slate and the sense of "abundance" in our cash flow. We've lived on one income for seven and half years now, and though some times have been leaner than others, I'm grateful that we have everything we need.