#Reverb14 is the opportunity for us to reflect and project throughout 2014.   Each month, Kat, Sarah and I will be posting on a new prompt.  Please check out the #ProjectReverb main page and join in.

Luck: Is luck what you get?  Or is luck what you make?  When have you been lucky?  When did you create your own fortune?

I have had this in draft since mid-March.  When I did Sarah’s podcast, we talked recovering from perfectionism (a topic on which Sarah muses frequently); tinkering with writing; me having over 250 drafts in my drafts folder on WordPress.

I’m not kidding about that — I do write a lot, and often, but it seems I can’t gather my thoughts as well as I used to.  I’m pulled in a lot of different directions, and my life is very different than it was a year ago; two years ago; five years ago.

That said, here’s how I’ve been lucky this year:

1) A few weeks ago, I ran the Rock & Roll DC half marathon with some of my best girlfriends.  I’m so lucky to have such amazing friends, whose interests are so similar to mine, and who have been there in the trenches with me through everything these past few years.  Love these girls (and Bethany’s wee babe on the way!).

RnR DC

2) Having the chance to see Witness Uganda in March.  Matt and Griffin’s show was gorgeous, moving, and generally incredible, and I’m so grateful to have Matt in my life and to have spent some time with Griffin.  We are going to be watching their shows for generations, I think.

Griff Matt Mere

3) This great spa Paul took me to in February.  I generally feel pretty lucky we live a charmed life.

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4) And finally, this boy.  Every day I remember how lucky I am that he chose me.

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Do I think we make our own luck or take what we get?  I think it’s probably a little of both.  But I think, overall, I’ve been very, very lucky.

I’ve been taking a brief break lately – not fully intentional!  I was recovering from surgery, then travel, then more travel and a couple of huge projects, then I got wildly, unexpectedly sick.  Bah humbug.  I’m on the mend now, but going to bed at 9pm every day is not terribly conducive to blogging.

But I’m back, however briefly, to share that I’m a guest on Sarah’s podcast this week, and we’re chatting about being recovering perfectionists, sharing the ugly stuff, personal mantras, and rest/recovery, and anticipating the road ahead.

Please be sure to check out Sarah’s blog and subscribe to her podcast via iTunes.  That way, you can hear what I sound like IRL, especially that weird question mark I make with my voice when I’m thinking too hard about what I’m going to say.

During this break, I’ve been weirdly busy, but also had a certain amount of time to read other writers, and enjoy the challenge of my work, and take in things that I feel like I’ve been missing.  It’s that old wisdom from the Sermon on the Mount; the old speck-of-sawdust-and-plank thing.  I kept talking and talking and talking trying to tell people how to get specs of sawdust out of their eyes, but I wasn’t taking care of myself enough to notice the plank in my own.

I’ll be back very soon with new stuff.  But in the meantime, please check out Sarah’s blog and podcast.

It has been a wild six weeks.

As you may have noticed, I usually participate in our #Reverb project, however, this year, some unexpected personal and professional matters overtook my December.  A few weeks ago, I got the news that I had some health issues that needed to be dealt with rather urgently.  I had surgery this past Friday, and when this whole situation is a bit clearer, I’ll be more forthcoming.

As this the madness was unfolding in December, Paul and I decided that I would spend Christmas with his family in Dublin, and then we would go somewhere warm for a little holiday before I had to go back to New York and face this surgery.  We booked a last-minute trip to Ile de la Reunion, through Paris, and all was set.

We landed in Saint-Denis just after Christmas, and just in time for a Category 3 cyclone to hit the island straight-on.

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(100+ mph winds)

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(Happy New Year, indeed!)

After a very tense few days, with intermittent water/power, and no mobile phone service, we eventually made it back to the airport and got back to Paris.

It was all…hard.  You know, I wanted it to be easy.  And it wasn’t.

The very fact that we can do stuff like that — decide at the last minute to take a sunny holiday; fly to places near and far — reveals how privileged we are.  I’m not unaware of that.  But in those difficult moments in December — when I had few answers about what was happening to me, and I was physically and emotionally spent from the year — I just wanted it all to be perfect.  I wanted the scrambled eggs to be the way I like them, and I wanted to sink into a fluffy white-linen’d bed every night, and I wanted to take dramatic hikes to volcanoes and waterfalls each day and look out and feel…okay.

Instead, I got a hurricane.  And Paul and I were at each other’s throats the whole time as we coped with changed plans, and changing expectations, and disaster and uncertainty.

But we made it through alive.  And finally made it back to the airport a few days into the new year.

So we were on the flight back from Saint-Denis to Paris, and we hit more storms, and the plane dropped significantly in the air.  Paul’s wine flew off the tray and went all over me; dishes were falling; flight attendants were diving for their seats.

And we had no choice but to look at each other and say, So what happens now?

The answer: NothingWe were powerless to do anythingThe only thing we could do was sit still and wait out the storm.  It wasn’t up to us to guide the plane, or make the decisions…all we could do was sit and let others do their jobs.

That was it, really.  I spend a lot of time trying to control or compensate for or understand things by being and doing, and I often forget that there is so much value in just sitting still; letting someone with more experience or expertise take the wheel.

We made it to Paris alive; made it back to Dublin safely.

And in the midst of travel chaos, and life-madness, I wrote a list of resolutions to guide the rough ride of 2014.

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Right now, I am incredibly grateful for wonderful friends, a good surgical outcome, and a great partner, I am mostly trying to embrace even the suckful moments. 

I am trying to sit still and wait out the storm.

Kat, Sarah, and I have once again collaborated on Project Reverb — a prompt-a-day writing project throughout the month of December.  Check out the Project Reverb page for instructions, and to sign up to receive the #Reverb13 prompts in your in-box daily.

December 2: Shine: What was the best moment of 2013?

2013 was a lot of Moments.

There was the Moment I started the 2013 ING NYC Marathon with my little brother.  There was the Moment I got the Phone Call.  There was the Moment I took a taxi up the FDR to visit Katka and Matthew on the day that Everything Changed.  There was the Moment that Paul walked into my office.  There were the Moments with Friends and Family; the Parties; the Dinners; the Travel.

And then there was This:

bethany's wedding

It seems almost…staged…doesn’t it?  It seems too good to be real; to be true; to be possible that someone could’ve spontaneously captured such a gorgeous moment.

This year, I had the privilege of officiating the wedding of two of my dearest friends. Their wedding day was a blur of sunshine and love, unlike anything I have experienced in recent memory.

Marriage is hard, and to willingly and joyfully choose it is a pretty awesome thing.  For me to have been such an intimate part of this was a blessing and an honour.  And to have spent this day surrounded by so many people who love this couple, and who are so familiar to me made it even more special.

It was a Moment.

Paul and I drove to Yosemite for my family’s 30th year celebrating Thanksgiving in the Woods.

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On our way through the Grapevine, Paul marvelled at the overwhelming police presence.  Between Castaic and Fort Tejon, he noticed six or eight highway patrol cars.

This inevitably led us to a conversation about CHPs.  (CHiPS?  How did they write out the name of that TV show?!)  Apparently, he and my father had discussed Erik Estrada at length the night before, and it was decided that even Paul’s lilting accent was going to be no match for the Highway Patrol.  Best to leave Ponch out of the conversation in the event that he got pulled over, and just produce the license and registration.

Little did we know at the time that we were having a recap of the conversation that the boys had had the night prior, my father had been pulled over just ahead of us.

Not that I ever want ill to befall my father, but between the two of us, Paul and I have a massive number of speeding tickets.  Best to just let the old codger handle the cops and not tempt the Irishman into a discussion about why California’s highway patrol would ever wear hotpants.

Needless to say, all was resolved in due course, and the entire family made it to Wawona otherwise unscathed.

These have been hard years.

This really occurred to me when my brother knocked at my door on the morning before the Marathon — after he escaped the Nightmare That Was Los Angeles Under Siege:  These have been very hard years.

I talk about them in the abstract; we talk about them in terms of Drugs, Heart Failure, Jail, Divorce, Eating Disorder, Loss, Et Cetera.  I talk about them in terms of Redemption, and What I Have Learned.  It has all been one, long, horrible Life Lesson — a very shitty Afterschool Special that Kristy McNichol might have starred in if this were the ’80s…

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…and in which she might play someone’s mom if she were still on TV.

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So my brother showed up at my house, by way of a miracle flight, on the Morning Before The Marathon, and I thought: The hard part is really over.

(I am not really sure why I had that thought, because I still had an entire New York City Marathon ahead of me.)

We ran the race, but I barely remember the race.

We got to the finish, but I barely remember the finish.

We arrived back at my house, and then I remember opening the door to a house full of people I love — people who were screaming SURPRISE, and who were passing a tray of Champagne around.

At some point this year, I think I stopped fumbling.  At some point this year, our little urban tribe hit The Bottom.  And perhaps that sounds silly, because one thinks that things “can always get worse,” but on the morning before the Marathon, I discovered that The Bottom is not always the worst place to be.  I thought: Why do we have to be such pessimists?  Sometimes, The Bottom is merely the point at which you make your Revelation.  It is the point at which you are Redeemed.

Together, we have survived the worst kinds of losses, and crises, and all of the kinds of things that most people don’t ever encounter in a lifetime.  Together, we have weathered the kinds of things that tore my marriage apart.  We have sat together in hospital rooms and kept watch; we have rushed across state lines to be together.  We have celebrated victories, and cheered accomplishments.

We have shared secrets; we have found safe spaces.  We have laughed, and cried, and climbed mountains.  We have run the hardest races and still reached the finish.

We have…survived.

I think that the scariest thing about relationships is not knowing whether you will be loved back — not knowing whether, if when you leap, that the net will appear.

We have been each other’s net.

We have held on.

What have I learned?  What life lesson has come about?

I have learned that sometimes, one has to lose everything in order to Start Again.

I have learned that I do not have to “behave” in order to be loved.

I have learned this because, years ago, I invested in many box-sets of After School Specials. Someone had copied them all to DVD, and was selling them on Amazon.  I bought the ones where Rob Lowe is a teen father, and he figures it out.  I bought the ones where Kristy McNichol is a wayward teen orphan who learns how to love and be loved.  I even bought the one only available on VHS where the Edward Hermann (aka Richard Gilmore from Gilmore Girls) is a widower who buys his kids an electric grandmother who teaches his motherless children how to open their hearts.

I don’t think I knew, back when I purchased this treasure trove of complete nonsense, that it would have a purpose.  Did any of you watching those specials back when they aired believe that they would be The Light that guided you out of the Shitswamp?

Probably not.

I did not.

But I guess what those shows were trying to teach — either by accident or maybe on purpose — was resilience.  The Main Idea is that if you fall, you can get back up. If you leap, the net will appear.

The race is long, and the miles will be hard, but at some point, you rise to the challenge, and you learn to live again.

I did not think I could ever be so grateful for these years I have spent in freefall.

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Throughout the month of November, I will be posting stories of change, gratitude, forgiveness, and grace — both my own words, and the tales of carefully selected guest voices.

A Guest Post by my friend Jennifer Lyn King
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If you ask me on a normal day what I’m thankful for, you’d likely hear me mention ice water and sunshine, the flowers still blooming outside, or the sweet hug my eleven-year-old gave me on his way out the door. It’s not because my life is all roses, but that I’ve grown increasingly appreciative of many things in recent years.

About six months ago, my family and I moved back to the United States after four years of living on the outskirts of Prague, Czech Republic.

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Our time in Prague was an incredible yet difficult experience all rolled into one. We were able to travel by car throughout Europe, which was a dream—as far as Sweden, Dubrovnik and Montenegro, Hungary, Spain, Great Britain, and Italy—always Italy. We learned to change languages at borders like some people switch hats, and experienced places and things I had never imagined getting to see. Some sights changed my perspective forever, like the rows of whitewashed tombs lined up like dominoes in the rocky hillside villages of Croatia, and the shell marks which still pock Bosnian buildings from their very recent war. We traced our fingers over the remains of the Berlin Wall, walked the paths of ancient Greek Mycenae high above the Aegean Sea, and slept in Italian centuries’ old stone dwellings surrounded by endless vineyards. The traveling was marvelous, but not everything during those four years abroad went smoothly.

We had scary times, while traveling and while home in Czech Republic, including break-in attempts on our home, mafia-related stake-outs on our tiny street, and even a blown gasket in our car’s engine while I drove the German autobahn near Munich. And, the most traumatic – my youngest son fell and broke the end off of his elbow one Sunday, requiring immediate emergency surgery in the former Communist hospital—the expat mom’s biggest nightmare. Those days and nights in the hospital, the fact that I had spent months learning a conversational amount of Czech paid off. I was able to speak with the nurses and beg them to let me stay overnight, which was usually forbidden.

I remember the first time I stepped into the village Potraviny (food market) in our village of Horoměřice, Czech Republic, taken back by the filth creeping out from the walls, the ripe smells of the other shoppers and the butcher stabbing meats from his case, and the toothless woman selling an assortment of bread from her baskets. I also will never forget the first time I had to get mail at the local Pošta, when the post office woman scolded me in a flurry of Czech, and I was forced to leave empty-handed and on the brink of tears. I remember wondering why—why do the locals not smile, not help strangers, not give a little compassion? The Czech culture seemed rough, impossible even. Yet it wasn’t until I walked the desolate streets of Terezín, a Nazi concentration camp just north of Prague, and soon after began reading about and hearing stories from friends, about what happened to their families during Communism, and the forced labor camps at the Uranium mines, that my questions began to change. By learning about them, about their history, I began to see things from their side and gradually understand. The layers of “normal” began to peel back and open my mind to new reasons and ways of doing things.

Prague in winter

The most difficult aspect, and biggest blessing, of being an expatriate is that everything is different—the people, the language, the weather, the culture. The people’s responses and the reasons behind them are foreign, as we are to them. But when we begin to listen, to slow down and try to understand the suffering of individuals, of entire countries and regions, we open ourselves to one indisputable truth—we are so much better as a whole when we have tried on someone else’s shoes and walked a few miles alongside them.

Travel does that. Daily living in another country pries open our beliefs and widens our perspectives. It makes us grateful for things we never would’ve noticed before, and bonds us to those friends and family who are there with us, holding our hands while we gain a more expansive view of our lives and of our futures. To me, it is grace.

The experiences I was able to have with my family, my husband and three growing sons, far surpassed any dream I ever dared to have. Those four great years abroad changed me from the inside out, and I will always be profoundly grateful for the experiences I had with my family in Europe.

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Jennifer and I met at a writers conference years ago, and have been fast friends every since.  She is a writer and author who loves to read and share great books with others. Jennifer has recently moved back to the USA after living for four years in Prague, Czech Republic. She enjoys photography, oil painting, tennis, and traveling with her husband and three sons. She is currently at work on a novel set in New Orleans and coastal Italy. For more about Jennifer, visit her website and blog at http://jenniferlynking.com. She can also be found on Twitter @JenniferLynKing. 

(All photos for this post were taken by Jennifer — definitely check out her site for the writing AND the art!)

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Throughout the month of November, I will be posting stories of change, gratitude, forgiveness, and grace — both my own words, and the tales of carefully selected guest voices.