sunrise

Not an End, but a Beginning

Here in my corner of the world, we’re four full weeks into social distancing.

Though I’m an introvert, this new normal hasn’t been easy. I miss my family and friends. I miss my favorite outdoor running routes, now deemed too crowded. I miss giving (and getting) hugs. I miss going to the office, though I don’t miss the commute. I have a newfound respect for moms who, unlike me, really can do it all.

At times since the COVID-19 pandemic crashed into our lives in early March — and especially since my son’s daycare closed on March 27 — I’ve felt inadequate. Guilty. Angry. One recent weekday, juggling work deadlines with an 18-month-old who doesn’t understand why his school is closed, I found myself on the verge of tears. Yesterday, I ran 10 miles in my small town, sensing an odd twinge every time I shifted to give other runners the minimum six feet of space. Normally, I’d smile and wave — maybe even say hello. How strange it is to fear the possibilities of breathing the same air as our neighbors.

How strange, indeed.

Maybe that’s why I — the God-fearing Christian who nevertheless hasn’t set foot in a church since Christmas Eve — streamed the Easter service to hear my senior pastor’s sermon this morning. Because while this pandemic hasn’t rocked my world as it has so many others’, it’s given me perhaps too much time to think about what I haven’t accomplished — this spring, this year, this lifetime. Those things I’ve failed to do or the things I’ve simply not done well.

Maybe it’s past time I gave myself a second chance.

How hard it is to live an unfinished life. To wake up every day with uncertainty. Even harder, still, to trust that possibility lies beyond those places where we get stuck or life feels most difficult.

Pen Peery, Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church

Is that faith?

I don’t know what the future or even the next five seconds holds, but I know these things to be true: I’m healthy now. My family is healthy. I have a job — many don’t. I have a home I love, which makes being homebound a special kind of beautiful. And I’m learning to give myself grace. To be okay with less than my best. To accept that the next book can wait. To put the people I love first. To recognize the little things for the unforgettable moments they are. To learn to live with my toddler sticking green beans in his hair and smearing macaroni and cheese on the floor.

And as our pastor concluded in an eerily empty sanctuary this morning, maybe that’s the true meaning of Easter, after all: believing in the Resurrection so that we may transform our fear into courage. So that life — not death — may have the last word. So that we can understand even the worst things in life aren’t really the end — instead, they’re just the beginning of our story.

Seasons of Life

In spring, I used to search for caterpillars among the azaleas at the base of an oak tree in our backyard. The tree was ancient and enormous — at least 100 feet tall, it towered over our white brick ranch — and for three-quarters of the year, it shaded my swing set and Mom’s flowers and dogwoods and the squirrels and birds and bumblebees that called our backyard home.

In summer, the oak seemed to swell in the North Carolina heat, and I waited later and later in the day to play beneath its branches, often venturing beyond our screened-in porch only after the lightning bugs’ luminous bottoms blinked and flashed in the darkness.

In fall, the tree unleashed its annual torrent of acorns onto the patio — rat-a-tat-tat, like rain on a tin roof, and the observant squirrels came running, darting through the grass and the pine needles and Mom’s dormant azaleas to collect their treasure. Then, as the days turned shorter and the nights grew cooler, the oak dropped its leaves by the hundreds, the result a venerable carpet of fire until it shriveled and dried and browned and got carted to the curb in black plastic bags that stretched and strained against twist-ties.

In winter, the tree stood tall against the crisp, cold sky, its naked branches somehow even more beautiful in stark relief. Even as a small child, I understood the grace of a deciduous tree that had lost its leaves was heightened by the promise that come spring, its branches would burst with new life.

In that sense, at least, human life is no match for the life of an oak tree. After all, most oaks become more magnificent in their old age, towering over the landscape as ours did before a hurricane unabashedly took it in 1989. They require no anti-aging serum or magic elixir, only carbon dioxide from the air and water from the ground. In fact, some of them can live for upwards of 200 years, long enough to shelter six or seven generations of caterpillar seekers and thousands of acorn eaters.

Humans, on the other hand, drop in for only a short visit on the highway to heaven, human life like the fleeting flash of the summer lightning bug and sometimes even shorter. Like the leaves of the oak tree, our stories burst into being and unfurl into brilliance. Then, gradually or suddenly, they end: like the weightless autumn leaf riding a gentle breeze all the way down, or the heavy acorn striking hard-packed earth.

One life ends, and elsewhere in the world, new life begins. Night comes, and darkness takes hold, swallowing even the lightning bugs, but not for long:

Tomorrow, the sun will rise.

That Secret Place Called Wonder

I had already lived on our planet for 34 years and four months when I first laid eyes on Grinnell Glacier. Tucked into high cliffs beneath the Continental Divide, ribbons of ice and snow hugged the emerald lake, even though I wore shorts and sweat clung to my back after a series of steep switchbacks near the end of our six-mile journey from the trailhead.

We’d just completed the front half of one of Glacier National Park’s most famous hikes. Still, we found ourselves completely alone that July day, without even a bighorn sheep or grizzly bear to keep us company. There, as we rested at the edge of the lake, the loaded day pack on my shoulders felt featherweight. I imagined we’d discovered some secret world, hidden from or even invisible to all other humans.

For what might have been hours or minutes, I listened to the waterfall tumbling down the far wall and the high mountain wind rustling the paper wrappers of the sandwiches we’d carried up the trail. I wondered how I could ever stand, turn my back on that sight and climb down the mountain, back into the real world where tourists wielded selfie sticks at Many Glacier Lake and coaxed rented Hyundais up Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Of course we couldn’t stay forever, chased out by rolls of thunder at our backs and the next day’s checkout time and our expensive plane tickets home and the full-time jobs that bought those tickets. Five months later, I was pregnant. Nine months after that, I was a mom. And 2.5 years later, I haven’t gone back to Grinnell Glacier.

Now, I wonder what moved me to write this post, my first in months. Maybe the freak ankle injury on New Year’s Day, marking a fresh decade with X-rays and crutches. Maybe the toddler napping downstairs, artificial ocean waves filling his room 165 miles from the coast. Maybe the new novel that lives in my head but hasn’t found paper. Maybe the first book that buoyed me in the aftermath of my sister’s death yet can’t bring her back to me. Maybe the inevitable valley that found me these early, short winter days in life’s perpetual pattern of valleys and peaks.

Some people think all of Glacier National Park’s glaciers will be gone by 2030, an impossibly short 10 years from now. But whatever you believe about how the planet’s changing, our days and months and years spent here are far too short, human life unquestionably fleeting.

In quiet moments, though, I can still close my eyes and go back to that world. I can hear the waterfall and the wind on the lake. I can feel the smooth, cool rock and the sun on my face and the wind in my hair (longer that summer).

That’s when wonder finds me.

shoe shopping with Jack

My Journey to Me

Daycare pickup is my favorite part of the day – a shocking revelation if you consider that halfway into my first pregnancy, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mommy.

Some of my friends know that I struggled with depression throughout college but especially during my first semester at the University of North Carolina (UNC), when I transferred to North Carolina State and moved to Raleigh to live with my grandparents shortly after exams ended.

It seems like a lifetime ago, especially after my sister’s Batten disease diagnosis and the 12 difficult years that followed forced me to finish growing up more quickly than most of my early-20-something peers. In fact, nearly two decades passed before I understood exactly what happened that unhappy autumn in Chapel Hill.

I got injured my senior year of high school and couldn’t play soccer when I arrived at UNC. That, coupled with severe homesickness and a general lack of self-confidence, sent me spiraling downward.

Lots of kids get homesick, but my situation was more complex than that. I had identity issues. Suddenly, at 18, I had no idea who I was. For most of my life, I’d let “things” define me. The sport I couldn’t play. The visual arts I gave up to focus on creative writing. The school paper whose editorial staff I couldn’t crack (I wrote for my high school newspaper for three years, but the Daily Tar Heel turned me down). The serious boyfriend and parents and siblings I left in Charlotte. The close friends who chose other schools.

When all of those “things” went away, I thought I had nothing left. The damage ran so deep that I needed years, not months, to recover.

I’m older and wiser now, but I’m still the same person who lost her way among the leaf canopies and winding brick sidewalks of the UNC campus all those years ago. That’s why, as a working adult who runs races and a nonprofit and writes books and blog posts and travels to far-flung national park trails to lose herself on purpose, I secretly worried that if I became a mommy, I’d have to pull back and once again lose the “things” that make me who I am.

I went through with it, of course, and my brother and sister-in-law threw a gender reveal party for us on Mother’s Day last year. The moment those blue balloons burst out of the box? That was the first time I experienced what felt like excitement about my baby. And the moment I saw him for the first time? That was when I fell in love.

gender reveal

Fast-forward to the smile that played on my lips during my drive home from the office this afternoon. To the love that flooded my heart when I leaned down to lift my sleeping son out of his crib at school, and he opened his eyes and grinned at me.

I’m seven months into this thing, plenty long enough to learn that I don’t have to give up who I am to be a good mother. I have to navigate more challenges and be more creative about how I tackle my to-do list and survive on less sleep. Like anyone else, I’ve always fallen well short of perfect, but for the first time in my life, I’m okay with it.

But Jack hasn’t asked me to give up any of my “things,” and I feel certain he won’t make that kind of demand even after he starts talking. Motherhood hasn’t robbed me of anything that makes me who I am. Instead, it’s made me into a better version of myself. I still work and write and run and hike. I’ve learned to train for races with a jogging stroller at less-than-ideal times and pump while making dinner and answering emails and write blog posts while sitting cross-legged on the floor with a baby who won’t let me out of his sight.

This motherhood thing isn’t easy. But more than ever, and maybe even for the first time in my life, I know exactly who I am and what makes me happy. My “things” are important, but they’re still just things. And my heart is full.

walk with Jack

Life, in a Blink

My son is six months old. People said blink and he’ll be in kindergarten, but I didn’t believe them.

It’s true.

six months photo

Somehow, five seconds after the hospital gave us our discharge papers and sent us on our way, I have a 19-pound ball of love who joins me for runs and smiles on command. Jack’s eyes are the color of blueberries, and his fuzzy, reddish hair shines like gold in the sunlight. He goes to all of my book signings (he’s my biggest fan). He has a favorite toy and a best friend at school. I look around my house, with its white furniture, china and glass, and kick myself because I haven’t started childproofing yet. I see parents kicking a soccer ball with their kids and imagine teaching mine how to dribble and pass and make overlapping runs.

book signing Quail Ridge Books

I’m a creative and a planner — an odd blend of sketchpads and poetry, Excel spreadsheets and productivity apps. I view life as one long story, and I’m always writing a couple of chapters at a time. I want to be ready for the next milestone, the next first, the next step in the journey.

But I also want to live in the now. I want to see it and hear it and smell it and feel it. I want to hold my son and feel the soft, warm puffs on my collarbone when he snuggles up to me long after we should both be in bed. I want to talk to him about things he learns at school — alligators and the color green, triangles and the number three. I want to take him on walks and leave my earbuds and my phone at home and tell him about the clouds and the trees and the birds and watch his face light up with each new sight and sound, all so exciting and wondrous because he’s seeing and hearing them for the first time.

I have three manuscripts in my head and a five-month-old published book to promote. (Still don’t have your copy of “Run to the Light?” Get it here.Twenty-nine states and a rare disease charity to run. I can’t get to it all, even though I sleep just five hours a night and work through lunch most days.

But I want to live guilt-free, even if I don’t clean my house or run 15 miles or write 1,000 words a day. I want to look at my son and succumb to that smile. I want to give him the mother he needs, even if I can’t always be the writer and runner and rare disease advocate I want to be. And if I succeed, real life may be my best story of all.

the road ahead

19 Goals for a Joyful 2019

It’s 62 degrees outdoors, and a high, thin fog hugs naked branches painted on a flat, gray sky. Though unseasonably warm, the gloomy weather feels appropriate in this moment, on the last day of 2018. The gifts once nestled beneath my Christmas tree have been unwrapped, the plaid tree skirt left bare, and while the tree’s white lights still twinkle, they’ll soon be extinguished, too.

I’ve never really made New Year’s resolutions, at least not the classic, eat-better-and-exercise-more variety that pack gyms throughout the first few weeks of January. Instead, I view the holiday as a chance to reflect on the past 12 months and set goals for the next 12 and beyond.

In some ways, my own 2018 will be difficult to beat. I ran four races in three states. I took a top-three finish in a 10K and wore a blindfold in a half marathon. I landed national coverage in Runner’s World.

CLT Marathon 2018

My sweet son, Jack, made me a mom in September.

newborn Jack

I appeared in a short film, “At the Edge of Hope,” highlighting inspiring stories in the fight against rare disease. I spoke at TEDxCharlotte again, this time as a special guest. I published my first book, “Run to the Light,” a true story of what it means to believe. My peers at the agency where I work in content marketing named me employee of the year. I also said goodbye to my sister, Taylor, a true hero and the inspiration for everything I do. Taylor died following her long battle with Batten disease just six days after my son was born.

When I look back at 2018 years from now, I think I’ll remember it as a rare collision of indescribable pain and immense joy. There won’t be another one like it, yet I’m excited to look forward and make the best of this next trip around the sun. So, without further ado, here’s a quick look at 19 goals I hope to accomplish in 2019.

  1. Eat clean. Not a diet, this is more of a lifelong commitment to eating whole, minimally processed, satisfying foods. I cook from “Run Fast Eat Slow” and its sequel, penned by American distance running icon Shalane Flanagan and chef Elyse Kopecky, almost every day of the week. Following the principles outlined in these books gives me more energy and happiness as well as fewer migraines and burnouts.
  2. Save more. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see and experience some of the most beautiful places on this beautiful planet, from the blue glaciers of Montana to the green fins of Kauai. By finding creative ways to save, I can ensure my son grows up experiencing the world’s wonders, too.
  3. Choose time over money. This may seem like it contradicts the previous goal, but in those instances where spending a little more money gives me more time with the people I love, I’ll always spend more. This may mean using a grocery delivery service or ordering my clothes online.
  4. Get more sleep. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to sleep with a newborn. Caring for my son, especially now that I’m back at work full-time, makes me so tired that I’m more than happy to turn out the lights at 11 p.m. (early in this house).
  5. Try new things. Whether it’s a new restaurant or a new trail, I’ll welcome new experiences and treat each one like an adventure.
  6. Get back on the trails. I was pregnant for 75 percent of 2018, so I didn’t get to spend much time hiking or running trails. In 2019, I want to get back to getting lost in nature, and this time, I’ll get to take my son along for some of the ride.
  7. Run in at least three states. With 21 states in the books, I’m almost halfway to my goal of running in all 50 to honor Taylor’s legacy and raise awareness of Batten disease. Those daycare tuition bills may make it tougher to hop on a plane in 2019, but I’d like to aim for at least three states. California and Wyoming are already on the books. Where else should I go?
  8. Set a new PR. I have almost all of my pre-baby fitness back, and I’d love to set a new personal record (PR) for at least one of three distances – 10K, 10 miler and half marathon – in 2019.
  9. Make more music. I inherited a grand piano in 2010. I grew up playing this piano when I visited my grandmother, and I can’t wait to teach Jack to make music with it.
  10. Start book number two. Whether I finish the young adult (YA) novel I drafted in college, start writing the YA fantasy idea I’ve been chewing on for months or pick up something entirely new, I need a project.
  11. Dabble in a new book genre. I studied fiction writing in college, and my first book is a memoir. Having a small human under my roof has rekindled my love for picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. I’d love to start writing (and illustrating) stories for kids again.
  12. Keep showing book number one the love. I like to tell Jack thanks for making me a mommy. Well, “Run to the Light” made me an author, and though it hit shelves in November, I know I have to work hard to keep it in the eyes and minds and hearts of readers. I’ll get started with a book signing and reading at Greensboro’s Scuppernong Books on January 5. Want to hear about other upcoming events? Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
  13. Grow as a pro. I’d love to write books all day, but I’m blessed to have a job that allows me to write about different things all day. I’m committed to building and developing my content marketing career in 2019, especially on the strategy side as well as mentoring younger writers.
  14. Be a good mother to my son. Becoming a mommy is the best thing I’ve ever done. And no matter what goals or challenges I take on in 2019 and beyond, raising Jack is my most important job.
  15. Be a good wife. This may mean something different for everyone. For me, I married my best friend and won’t let that change, even as we tackle new stressors like parenthood.
  16. Have fun. I’m hyper focused, but I still like to have fun. In 2019, I’m giving myself an unlimited free pass to eat ice cream, play games or do nothing at all – whatever I need in that moment to relieve stress and be happy.
  17. Be present. I’m not sure real balance exists, especially for working moms. But if I can’t be all things to all people, and if I can’t be everywhere at once, I can at least commit to being present and focused on the moment at all times, whether I’m working on the computer, running in the woods or having dinner with my family.
  18.  Choose joy. Confronted with terrible loss and great pain, my sister always chose joy. And living as she did is one of the best ways to honor Taylor’s legacy.
  19. Don’t forget to look backward. I think people celebrate the New Year as a fresh start and a chance to move forward. But I’ll never forget where I’ve been – the pain or the joy.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? What are your goals for 2019?

Laura and Jack

A Letter to My Infant Son

Tonight, it will be 10 weeks since you told me you were on your way. And for the next 30 hours, you inched forward on your journey into the world, giving me plenty of time to think about how my life would change when you finally arrived.

Thirty hours is nothing, of course, compared to the 36 years I waited to meet you or even the 12 years I waited after I married your daddy. First, I waited because I was young. Later, I waited because I was scared. Scared of facing tough choices. Struggling to find balance. Forgetting who I was before I became a mom.

I was afraid because I knew you’d turn my life upside down.

I’m so glad you did.

I fell in love with you the moment they placed you on my chest. I loved your tiny hands and feet and the delicate red fuzz on your head and the way you knew me as if we’d already spent nine months together, because we had.

I love to wear you against my body and feel the squeeze of tiny arms and hands as they clutch my sides and the little puffs of your breath, warm through my shirt. I love how you imitate the whale sounds I first played for you in the hospital room we shared. I love how you shrug your shoulders when you sleep. I love how your blue eyes crinkle at the corners when you smile. I love how they look into mine when I hold you.

I love how every day with you is exactly the same yet entirely new. How you can look at the turning blades of the ceiling fan in your room or the white lights on your first Christmas tree or your own face in the mirror with the kind of wonder adults experience maybe only once or twice or three times in a year. How you make things like reading and writing and running harder but also better.

I miss the things I did before I had you, but not as much as I miss you when we’re apart.

I want time to stand still, but I can’t wait to watch you grow up. I want to share my joy for words and art and music and the outdoors with you, but I’ll be okay if you don’t love them like I do.

I love the beautiful, perfect baby you are today and the kind, brave man I hope you will become.

I wasn’t sure I wanted this adventure, but now I can’t imagine life without you. Because you’re the best thing I’ve ever done.

petroglyph family

Running Toward Motherhood

I’m going to be a mom.

Today, I’m in week 22 of what BabyCenter and The Bump and my doctor say should be a 39-week journey, and I’m excited.

Okay. Actually, I’m terrified.

I married my high school sweetheart in 2006. For 12 years, I’ve been perfectly happy working full-time in marketing, hiking remote trails in Utah slot canyons and Washington rainforests whenever I feel like getting on a plane (and can afford it), dashing off to run out-of-town races and working by the glow of my laptop at all hours of the night. Writing a book. Scheduling tweets. Running a charity on the side. I’ve made time for my family, but I’ve never had time for kids.

Then, I turned 35. And a little voice in my head whispered, “What if?” What if I wanted to have kids later and couldn’t? Would I regret it? I’d certainly have enough to stay busy. But would I feel whole? Could I leave a real mark on the world without contributing my DNA?

I think I told my husband I could do this the same day I realized I’d never know the answers to those questions, regardless of whether or not I took the leap.

I don’t regret jumping. But I’m still scared.

I don’t want to struggle to find real balance for the next 20 years.

I don’t want to suffer from mommy guilt if I miss a Kodak moment because I went for a run.

I don’t want to have to always choose between reading a bedtime story or writing my next book.

I don’t want to leave all of the squeeze-through-slot-canyons and hang-from-the-side-of-a-mountain and run-another-half-marathon-blindfolded adventures on my bucket list unchecked.

I don’t want to forget who I am or who I was before I became a mom.

But I also don’t want to miss an opportunity to share this amazing world of ours with my son. To teach him to love the sunlight on his face and the ground beneath his feet. To watch him grow into first a boy, then a man, with his own hopes and dreams and loves and fears.

That’s why I’m scared but excited, too. Why I already call him by the name that we chose for him. Why I wasn’t upset when I ran a half marathon last weekend and took almost 30 minutes longer than normal to reach the finish line. Why I started Pinterest boards to collect cute nursery ideas (I went with a woodlands theme to symbolize his parents’ shared love for hiking) and miniature boy clothes and encouraging quotes.

I don’t think I’ll ever find real balance (a mother friend recently told me that balance is bullshit). I hear myself tell friends that within eight weeks of my due date, I’ll launch a book and run 13.1 miles blindfolded and go back to work, and I know I sound crazy. But here, at 22 weeks, I’m starting to realize that I’m okay with that.

Because I know that no matter how crazy it gets, it will still be the greatest adventure of all.