Book Review: What Alice Forgot

My book club’s choice for May was by Liane Moriarty, who is fast becoming one of my favorite authors.  I had read The Husband’s Secret a few months back and suggested What Alice Forgot selfishly, so that I would have an opportunity to read it and discuss.

The story is about Alice (clearly);  following an incident at the gym, Alice has amnesia.  Interestingly, she thinks she is in her 20s with her first child on the way.  She can’t figure out why in the world she was at the gym or why those closest to her, including her husband, are acting oddly with her when she reaches out from the hospital.  In actuality, Alice is now about to turn 40 with three children and an impending divorce.  Without giving much else away, suffice it to say that Alice has changed quite a bit over the years and simply can’t believe it when she hears how she – and things in her life – have changed so dramatically.

This, of course, was great fodder for a book club discussion.  If you were going to sent back to any age, what would it be?  For me, this was a tough one.  Part of me would probably enjoy being back in my early twenties but there was a lot of angst and upheaval in my life at that time that I’d really rather not relive.  And frankly, I’m happier and more “me” than I’ve ever been right now.  That’s certainly not to say things are perfect;  far from it.  But I think I’ve grown and matured so I deal and cope with those things differently.  I can recognize that I am resilient now and I’m certain I couldn’t say that about younger me.

The other deep question that came out of our discussion was this:  what would surprise your 20 year old self about your life today?  There was a lot of quiet reflection on this one;  some chose not to share.  I think emotions were running fairly high and this could have proven to be a tipping point.  I had no trouble finding my answer.  My younger self would be stunned, frankly stunned, to learn what it is I do for a living.  As long as I can remember growing up, once I got passed the weekly ever-changing dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up (teacher, lawyer, firefighter), which were all fairly dependent on what we were learning about in school or who had come to visit our class that week, I wanted to be a writer.  Any opportunity to write a story or even a paper felt like a win to me.  In high school, I was on the school paper – first, writing sports which, if you know anything about me, was rather ridiculous.  But I did it because it was what I was assigned and because I got to write.  I worked on the paper all through high school, managing to be co-editor with my best friend of the time our senior year.  I wrote creatively a bit as well during that time but the goal and all I worked toward was journalism.

Each year, our newspaper adviser packed us in her station wagon and drove us to downtown Philly for a high school press competition at Temple University.  It was there that I decided where I was going to college – there was no question.  I applied elsewhere because I felt like I should “in case” but I was accepted into Temple’s journalism program by September 9 of my senior year in high school and it was  done deal.  I was going to a writer!

But as I started classes and heard what the real life of a journalist often was, I started to doubt myself.  I started to wonder how or if I could make it.  I had no desire to write obituaries or real estate postings for my livelihood.  I wanted to write exciting things, to chase stories that made a difference.
But time and time again I was told that I’d have to start at the bottom…and the bottom held no appeal to me.  So when the time came to pick a concentration, I went with the “safe” bet and chose public relations.  Little did I know, until I had my first PR job, how difficult THAT could be.   Oh, I could write a heck of a press release but I loathed pitching the story to editors and, even more than that, I loathed that any placement I got us was never enough (not even The Today Show or CNN;  come on!!)  And so when the opportunity arose to move into planning healthcare events full-time, I was more than happy to do so.  But my 20 year old self?  She’d be shocked, appalled, and probably more than a little let down.

I won’t give away the end of What Alice Forgot.  It’s got some twists and turns and in some ways, I was surprised by how completely unsurprising parts were – but isn’t that true to life?  I’d give this book two thumbs up and definitely recommend it for summer reading…but I’d also recommend you spend some time thinking on the questions posed above.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Five Minute Friday: Nothing

This week’s Five Minute Friday word is nothing, so here goes…well, nothing.

I believe in this quote wholeheartedly and I try in earnest to live it out.  But sometimes, I don’t do so well.  A few weeks ago, I was waiting for the bus.  I stepped into the bus shelter because it was raining.  As usual, I pulled out my phone and started checking my social media accounts.  A few seconds later, an older woman stepped into the shelter and confronted a man sitting on the bench inside who was smoking.  She told him that he needed to put out his cigarette and pointed him to the sign that stated it was no allowed.  He flipped out, screaming and cursing at her.  No one turned, no one looked.  She turned and walked away.  And left me ashamed for not saying a word. He ended up putting out his cigarette and going back into the building.  Even still, my shame stood with me.  I watched the woman, trying to will myself to go over and thank her for her bravery and apologize for my lack.  I watched her until she got on the bus and pulled away.  And weeks later, I’m still ashamed of myself.  If I didn’t stand up and side with right in something as minor as that, how can I expect to in a situation where the stakes are higher?  I have but history clearly does not always repeat.

The Secret Life of a Good Story

I am not an avid movie watcher.

I like movies; don’t get me wrong.  As someone who loves the written word immeasurably, I’m often just as struck by dialogue and character development as I am in a good book.  But for many years, I found it hard to sit still to watch unless I was in a theater. It drives my friends bats.  They recommend what are likely very good movies or television series and I hem and haw.  If they loan me something, I’ve learned to give them the disclaimer, “I’m REALLY BAD about watching.  I need to be in the “right” mood;  it may be a WHILE.”  Often, I end up sheepishly returning the DVDs without having watched at all because I feel like I’ve borrowed them way beyond the time that is reasonable.

In the past two days, I’ve watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty twice.

I can’t recall if I read James Thurber’s story;  if I haven’t, I likely should.

The gist is that Walter is living a fairly anonymous life but he daydreams of wild adventures, adventures he may have embarked on if circumstances hadn’t derailed his life’s plans early on.  Through the encouragement of his love interest, he embarks on the adventure of a thousand lifetimes in search of something he thinks lost.

Beyond the amazing cast, storyline, and pop culture references, I loved the movie for another reason.  It harkens back to my favorite book, a book I’ve hinted many times over changed my life:  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  The premise of the book is what led me to Romania and ultimately to the adventure I’m currently on;  it’ll lead me to my next and more after that, too, I’m certain.  It encouraged me to look at the kind of story I was living.  It was not, by any stretch, a bad one but not one of courage or bravery or, most importantly, change and growth; it was about the fear and comfort and settling. Miller says this of story:

If the point of life is the same as the point of the story, the point of life is character transformation.  If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that, in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed.  He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward in the beginning and brave in the end.  If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet.  And if story is derived from real life, if story is just a condensed version of life then life itself might be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another.  

And isn’t that just what life is about, anyway?  I think so.

About Wayfinding

I headed back the homeland last weekend for a triple graduation extravaganza.  I was blessed to be able to spend the weekend with my bestie and her family and to top it off with the party, where I got to celebrate three of the most amazing college grads I have the privilege to know and see a lot of folks I hadn’t seen in some time.  

It’s a long drive from my place to where my people are and I had a lot of time to think.  I had had a conversation with a friend in town the evening before about some areas of my life with which I’m increasingly unhappy.  I’ve been slowly but surely trying to look at them a little deeper and plot out a course for the inevitable change that is needed;  my friend’s viewpoint was that I was not being open to all the possibilities that were before me.  And frankly, I’m not.  There are some non-negotiables that ARE limiting but I don’t see them as negatives.  Like a lot of things, they just are.  It’s part of growing and maturing, I think.  In the past several years, I’ve come to realize that I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t like – and that’s ok. It’s so much easier for me to say, today, “No, thank you.  I really don’t feel like” doing XYZ. Or to say, “Yeah, no, I’m not into opera.”  I’m certainly willing to try new things but there is a degree to which they have to first appeal to me in some way and some things simply don’t. 
Sometimes, though, it’s hard to see what you do want to do.  
My best friend and I spent a long while on her sofa hashing out what’s been going on and how I can actively pursue healthy changes going forward.  We’re of the list-writing variety and so she acted as scribe;  I can’t tell you what it means to me to have these plans we created written in her handwriting, to know that she cares and that she is a PART of it all.  I knew that before, of course, but this is the tangible reminder I need while we are far away and I often feel like I’m out here on my own.  
The idea of what I want to do and where I want to end up is fairly nebulous…or at least it was. I spent some time at the graduation party talking with a pastor friend of mine.  We both served in youth ministries and he knows my heart will always be there.  He knows my struggles in my current place to kind of replicate that experience.  We went back and forth a bit about what I want with me hemming and hawing about finances, debt, etc. quite a bit.  But his bottom line was this:  if money and location were not issues, what would you want to do?  I didn’t hesitate to repeat what I’ve said to others in the past few weeks:  I’d work with at-risk teenagers.  
Yet I had no idea what that should look like.  
I’ve served in church youth ministry for more than 12 years.  For various reasons, that hasn’t come “easy” here and I’m willing to bet there is a larger, bigger picture reason I can’t see right now.  I thought that serving as a CASA would help to fill that hole and it has, somewhat.  I totally get that my role there is exceptionally important, especially to the child(ren) we serve.  Yet it doesn’t feel like that, by itself, is”it”.  
Several weeks ago, a bunch of local organizations spoke at my church about their missions.  One was Young Lives, an offshoot of Young Life.  They mentor pregnant teens and teen moms.  It took me about half a second to pull out my business card and write my personal information on it.  I had to cut out quickly after service to meet some friends for lunch but made sure I stopped and talked to the Young Lives person first.  I ended up getting a call from the director of the program a few weeks later and we talked for a long time about what they were doing and how I might fit in.  Yet the end of the year was coming for them and I was held back by my own what ifs (which were totally unrelated).  But my bestie and I put it on the list and so I headed out on Monday evening, after driving six hours home, to check it out.  
It felt like home.  
The next day, I got an email about a new CASA program called Fostering Futures.  It’s specifically designed to match teens in foster care with mentors in the community to help better equip them for when they “age out” (I hate that term and the idea of it) of the system.  
Again, my heart was stirred.  
I don’t know what will come of any of this or of the plans we wrote out.  But I do know that God is working, even when I can’t see or feel it.  

Five Minute Friday: Close

This week, I’m participating in Five Minute Friday, hosted by Lisa-Jo over at Surprised by Motherhood. Each week, Lisa-Jo provides a topic and the goal is to write whatever comes to mind in five minutes:  no overthinking, no editing, and that’s that.  So, here we are…

When I decided to move, I looked at it as a grand adventure.  I felt stuck, overall, in my life and I felt I needed something to jolt me out of that and into the next era.  I was so eager to meet new people, try new things, and have a new life.  Don’t get me wrong – my life was pretty great.  I’m blessed with a wonderful support system of friends and family that I’ve known for years and years and I just assumed that being five plus hours away wouldn’t change that one iota.

Turns out there is something about proximity;  something about being close.

Some of my relationships have changed for the better but some have drifted further afield.  But what I realized is that I really desire that proximity, that closeness.  I posted early on that I didn’t realize that homesickness could be a real, physical ache;  it has been for me, anyway.  There is something about the nearness of those you love, beyond the innate need and desire for hugs and physical contact.  It’s talking to your best friend in 3-D, live and in technicolor.  It’s looking in the eyes of her little guy while he tells you a story.  It’s having a sing-a-long in the car as you travel back from a party together.  You can’t replicate that through a phone call, Facebook, email, or even Facetime or Skype.  There’s just something about being close…

Reconciliation, Brokenness, and Gypsy Kids

I had a lunch with a new friend from church yesterday.  We were sitting outside, enjoying the warm day and good conversation.  I told him about some of my struggles and how they so interestingly had coincided with Lent and made me frankly consider Lent in a completely different way than I had ever before – and that I was thankful for that.

He asked me how I was processing the theme of reconciliation that our church had be focusing on and I stammered a bit.  Reconciliation, at it’s core, is broad, far-reaching, and hard to quantify.  I mean, it really has to be.  Even in the microcosm of our lives, the minutiae of the every day, reconciliation is not an easy concept to grasp or practice.  As a church, we’ve been wrestling some with what it means from a community perspective, here in this area, here in this town, here in our every day world.  I’m prone to personalizing everything and trying to figure out with whom I need to be reconciled, why, and how…and, honestly, it’s not something I find myself often desiring.  Sometimes distance is easier than dealing. Our conversation focused more on the broader implications of this in our community and we both shared some of the issues and  ideas on which we’d been ruminating.

In the midst of this, we heard a yell and saw a kid dash by, chased by what I took to be a store manager or security person, with another one close on his heels.  We watched, as everyone near by, as they ran and shouted at the kid, closing the gap on him.  Not long after, two motorcycle officers flew up the street with lights and sirens on.

In the excitement of the moment, all I felt was sadness.  My friend and I picked back up with our conversation but I soon interrupted, telling him that I was going to think about that kid all day. My friend wasn’t surprised, probably likely given what he knows of my background and what he is learning about my heart.  I added that I’d guess that my reaction to the scene was likely different than 90% of those around us. Experience tells me that the majority of folks immediately, without any facts, wrote the kid off as a thief, a criminal.  He’d be caught and get what he “deserved.”

I saw a broken kid, who made a bad choice for any of a myriad of reasons.  I saw a kid who wasn’t just running because he was being chased.

I told my friend about my trip to Romania and the impact it had on my life, my passion, and my purpose.  I think I’ve held back on posting about it here in detail for so long because I feel like sharing it in this way, writing it out, might somehow bring it to a conclusion and that’s not at all what I want.  I want what I saw to stay with me always, to remind me of all that I take for granted, to spur me into action in my corner of the world when it’s warranted – and, perhaps, even when it’s not.

I’ll say this for now with a promise to revisit it all soon.  Part of the plan for our time in Romania was to visit an orphanage.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, this was the thing that worried me the most.  I was certain my heart would be shattered.  I was certain I would start crying and never stop.  What I wasn’t sure of was if I could even do it – to go and see what I was most afraid to see.  But when all was said and done on the trip, it wasn’t the orphans who shattered my heart.  It was the kids in the gypsy camps we visited, kids who had parents and other adults present in their lives, yet were unclothed, unfed, dirty, and completely and utterly uncared for.  I left part of my heart with those kids and thinking about it now, a few years past, tears still well in my eyes.

When I got home, I spent a lot of time telling people about the trip and how it went.  I remember visiting friends of mine, one of whom was a former youth pastor and who was then working with the Salvation Army’s foster care unit.  I told them the story, of my surprise, of my inability to let go and leave the images behind.  It was then that he gently reminded me that this story plays out all over the world, not just in Romania, and it was playing out in my own backyard:  children, broken by circumstances beyond their control, let down and hurt in unimaginable and unthinkable ways by those who were supposed to love and care for them.  I knew this academically, of course;  I’d been reading about troubled kids since I was a kid myself.  I’d worked with and then supervised inner city kids for years at my very first paying job.  I was a youth leader, for crying out loud.  But that trip and that gentle reminder from a friend changed my perspective in ways I’m still learning.  It’s what spurred me into becoming a CASA;  it’s what drives me not to let go of my passion to work with teenagers, even when doors aren’t opening in the ways or timing I’d expected and hoped. And it never allows me to just dismiss any child, to write them off, to place a label on them and wash my hands of their memory.  And I hope it never does.


Olly Olly Oxen Free

Photo credit:  Three Peanuts/Creative Commons
Excuse me, but have you seen my purpose?  I seem to have mislaid it.
The last few months have been tough.  I’ve been utterly focused on that which I strive NOT to make the focus of my life, that which I consistently tell others not to make the focus of theirs…yet here I find myself looking back and wondering how it is that I can never seem to take my own darn advice. And now that the fog is clearing, the sun is finally making what may be a more permanent appearance, and I’m feeling more in control of my time and my life…I’m not sure what is next.  
As I wiped April from the calendar in my kitchen last night and filled in May, I was taken by how very different my calendar looks these days than it did a mere 18 months ago.  I was traveling frequently for my day job back then, served weekly and beyond in student ministry, and spent the majority of my weekends in search of fun with my friends and family; my life was full, to overflowing, perhaps.  I’ll be the first to admit that dialing back has in many ways been a positive in my life…but the flip side is having a lot of unoccupied time.  I don’t do well with that; I never have.  I know some reading this will read that as a shortcoming or a way to not “deal” with stuff and to a degree, that’s probably true.  But is always who I am.  
When my beloved Grammy passed away, I wrote a eulogy to read at her memorial service.  In it, I talked about how she was always out and about, helping people out, picking mint for tea, patching my cousin’s jeans, pulling weeds on the side of the road – getting dirty and being in people’s lives.  
I am her granddaughter, through and through.  
That’s how I like my life.  Helping others, encouraging others, being real, being present in people’s lives – it’s part of my DNA.  It’s who I am and I believe it’s why I’m here.  But, try as I might, I can’t seem to get it right here.  My passion and purpose seem to be playing a game of hide and seek with me right now…and all I can do is holler, “Olly olly oxen free!”