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Is this one of those moments in history we should chronicle because someone in the future will ask us, “Where were you when Covid-19 spread across the globe?”

I was in elementary school when President Reagan was shot. Our class mailed him a get well card.

Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married on my 9th birthday, so that’s memorable for me.

I experienced the collective shock of the space shuttle Challenger exploding while I was sitting with my friends in class in middle school.

I was a junior in high school when the Berlin Wall came down – we have a piece of it.

I was a young married woman with family in Oklahoma City when Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building there.

We were living in Colorado and I was pregnant with Max during the Columbine shooting. I sat in front of the TV, tears running down my face and one hand rubbing my belly as I wondered what kind of world we were bringing a child into.

We were living in Indianapolis that crisp fall morning in 2001 when I left for Bible study. Shortly after arriving, I watched in horror on live TV as a plane flew into the 2nd twin tower of the World Trade Center, and then I saw them fall.

Microscopic view of Coronavirus, a pathogen that attacks the respiratory tract. Analysis and test, experimentation. Sars

There are so many historical touch points and defining moments in our lives. Those were just a handful of mine.  Could this be another one? What will people in the future say about this pandemic? Will they ask questions like these?

  • What was it like?
  • Were you scared?
  • Did you blow it off as no big deal at first?
  • Did you really quarantine for ___ days?
  • What did you do all day?
  • What did you do when the stores ran out of necessities?
  • How did you ration your toilet paper?
  • Did anyone in your family test positive for Covid-19?
  • Did you lose anyone close to you due to the virus?
  • How did people treat each other? Was it everyone for themselves or were people community-minded?
  • Who were the leaders that instilled calm into the chaos and hope into the fear?

I want to record details now to help me remember then. How are you doing with all of this? What’s happening in your family? Your city? Your state? Your country? The collective stories will be memorable because we help make them part of the official record of our time. Write it down. Take photos. Scrapbook or journal things out. Answer the question.

Where were you?

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Day 1. January 1st. A fresh start. 365 days of possibility stretched out before me. New beginnings. A chance to do better and be better. But, I’m still feeling the sorrowful weight of 2018. I don’t know how long it will last. Here’s what I want for the new year…

EASY-button

I don’t make resolutions anymore – I never keep them. What I do is hope. I hope to be intentional this year, in my relationships, my work, my health, my writing, my travel, my rest, my faith, and most of all, my family.

2018 kicked my ass. I am down for the count and I’m fighting to stand back up. I moved beyond sad awhile ago and I’m struggling with depression. This past week I had friends on Facebook asking us to list three good things that happened to us in 2018, and I sat there numbly staring at my screen. Could I think of three?

  1. Amsterdam & France. The mom’s mystery trip was the best thing that happened to me in 2018. Traveling to another country with some of my close friends and spending the day with Don in France was AMAZING!
  2. Erin graduated in May. Erin is my neighbor and one of my “daughter from another mother” kids. Traditional school was not a good fit for her, so I worked with her mom and we helped her homeschool her last two years of high school. Homeschooling is HARD, but I am built to do hard things.
  3. I’m thinking…

In the name of processing hard things, here’s my 2018:

At the beginning of the year I started a new job I thought would be amazing but turned out to be awful. I don’t want to work for abusive people with zero integrity who lie and manipulate others to get what they want. When I started back at GJK in June, I came home and cried that first day. I had forgotten what it felt like to be treated with respect and as an integral part of a team. The joke has been that I took a five month sabbatical from them and everyone is glad I’m back. Me too.

Someone dear and close to us broke the law and twelve months later we are still walking through the fallout of that bad decision with them – it’s not over.

What I initially thought was a break from my church turned into a break up. I am dismayed by much of American Christianity and navigating what that looks like for my faith journey. I’ll be blogging more about that sometime this year.

The mystery trip was a wonderful adventure, but I was betrayed by a friend shortly after we returned home. I didn’t see it coming and it completely blind-sided me. Then she cut me out of her life and I just don’t understand. I’m still mad as hell about it.

For the first time in twenty years, I missed out on summer camp. I had just returned to work with GJK and Benny was job hunting. We just couldn’t make it happen.

Letting go of the cigar shop and dealing with unemployment for a few months was a huge challenge. We survived it, but I can’t even talk about the difficulty of that season. It’s still too raw.

Kids: Max had two car accidents and two tickets, we had to sell his car for scrap when we couldn’t sink any more money into it to fix it (it wasn’t the car in the accidents), job changes for the kids, teenage hormones and angst, and a medical issue that had us worried for months that seems to be resolved now, and all three of my children had their hearts broken, which hurts a momma’s heart too. It was a hard year for the whole family.

We have several friends fighting serious health battles, a few of whom have stopped treatment and are trying to live their best life with the time they have left.

And death, oh the deaths. One of my former students passed away. The loss of a child in one’s life is particularly hard. A sweet young lady we’ve known for many years shocked everyone who knew her when she took her own life. We love her family and feel their heartache. As you know from my last post, Avon Shields lost her battle with cancer and that devastated me. My 14-year-old niece Sarah got sick and passed away the week before Christmas. While I didn’t know her because we’ve never lived close, it was excruciating to watch my sister lose her only child. It was terrible speaking with my dad on the phone and hearing his voice break. Her funeral was last Saturday on Pete’s birthday. On Christmas Day we learned of the passing of our friend Davon the day before. It was a year of great loss and I’m still reeling.

There are things that happened in 2018 that I am processing privately. Hurtful, ugly things that make me want to change my name, move somewhere no one can find me, and tell the whole world to go to hell. That doesn’t sound like me at all, but it’s where I’m at. 2019 has got to be better, right?

And now that I’ve purposefully tried to think of three good things about 2018, I’m remembering several more…

  1. I made new friends.
  2. I enjoyed lots of planned coffee dates in person and messenger or phone dates with friends far away.
  3. I saw some good movies.
  4. I read a lot of great books.
  5. I met several amazing authors I love.
  6. I got a free educator’s pass to Denver Comic Con – spent some time with my friend Rebecca and we got a photo with Val Kilmer.
  7. I reconnected with old friends I haven’t seen in years.
  8. I wrote a little bit.
  9. I led some fun field trips with my homeschooling mom friends.
  10. I prayed for a lot of people and was prayed for too.
  11. My food bank was thriving and I helped lots of families
  12. My dad and Shari came for a visit.
  13. I learned some new skills that will serve me well in the future.
  14. I bought a vintage 1930’s typewriter and won a pretty cool 1970’s one for a poem.
  15. Benny got a great new job.

I’d keep working on this list, but I really just want to move through the grief process and look forward to good things in the new year. I know every year is a mixed bag. That’s life, and it’s never fair, but for now I’m signing off with this…

Good riddance 2018. You may have kicked my ass, but 2019 is going to kick yours.

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I can’t breathe.

Is there anything heavier or sharper than grief?

If this was a movie, I’d be slumped on my side having just been run through with a sword. No, it won’t kill me, but to deny that death more than stings for those of us left behind would be an atrocious lie. Papercuts sting. This is so much more.

Talk of heaven doesn’t comfort me. I don’t want hope right now. I want to press into this moment of terrible otherness – the rending of life. Don’t talk to me about her reunion with Jesus or the promise of being with her again someday. Those thoughts will come in the days ahead. Today let me mourn and don’t try to stem the torrential tears. Just hold me close and let me be.

Twelve days ago, one of my “mothers” chose her ending – to enter hospice care at home with her precious family by her side. She’d been battling cancer and the treatments didn’t work. Last night, she took her last breath.

Avon

I stole this from her Facebook page. I love her mischievous grin.

Avon Shields, known by thousands of women around the world as “Momavon,” was my dorm mom in college. She has been one of the most influential women in my life. I could write volumes about the lessons I learned from her, but I’ve tried my best to live them out instead. The way she loved the girls in her care made me want to be a mom even though I swore to her that wasn’t part of my plan. She just laughed and hugged me tight, “Oh Niki, my sweet girl, you may change your mind one day.”

Three weeks after my eighteenth birthday, I packed everything I own and waited for my friend Erin Beske and her parents to take me away to my new life, one I’d been dreaming about since the seventh grade when I first stepped foot on the campus of York College in York, Nebraska. Finally, and against the odds, I said goodbye to my childhood in Wisconsin and swore I’d never call it my home again. Yes, I’m a bit dramatic like that, and apparently I swear a lot.

There were only two women’s dorms and I was assigned to the one Avon lived in. Someday I’ll write about the many kindnesses and miracles of that life-altering first year, but this is about me and Avon. She told me once she loved me from the moment we met. That strong, patient woman poured love and guidance into me, a broken girl with too many holes in my bucket, and when I apologized for being so needy, she pulled me close and said that was nonsense.

She saw the leader in me and gave me responsibilities, showing me I was capable. When we joked and teased her about her many rules and forms, I was secretly relieved at the structure and stability she provided after growing up in my chaotic family. I’m totally a rule bender, but I needed her to help me set my life on a better course. I think we both knew it. A lot of the major decisions I made at York were discussed over tea in her apartment. She talked me through all the things my mother couldn’t, and I’ll be forever grateful. When she did finally meet my mother, she was kind and gracious to her, which was also a gift to me.

Avon loved Benny. She loved to remind me that she knew he was the one I’d choose maybe even before I knew myself. It’s been many years since we’ve sat together with a cup of tea, and I’m glad we had Facebook to help us peek into each other’s lives. I’m thankful for the brief moments we’ve shared in the 25 years since we lived in the same space. There are so many stories to tell, and all of them are coursing through me today with a painful and beautiful cadence.

I love Avon’s family and ache for them right now. Her husband Ron is a kind and funny man. I don’t know their eldest son Alan, though we’ve met. I’ve always admired Lynnette and her beautiful artist’s soul. I know her son Paul the best as he was my editor when I worked on the school newspaper staff in college, and his wife Shalee is one of my kindred spirit friends I wish lived next door. I can’t be with them this week, but my aching heart is there, attempting this dance of grief and celebration with clumsy feet.

When we lose someone we love, we often choose to immortalize them as their best selves. We know they were flawed but we overlook those things to remember them as the heroes they were in our lives. I’m okay with that. I think it’s the way it should be. It’s what I hope for someday too, to be remembered as the best of what and who I was.

I will remember you, Avon. I promise. I learned how to patch my bucket and I’ve tried to be purposeful about pouring into others. Thank you for showing me how. Thank you for guiding me through my baby steps of adulthood and loving me when I didn’t feel lovable. Thank you for cheering me on as I spread my wings and flew away. It’s been years since I’ve hugged you, and I hope to hug you again someday. Thanks for being a mom to me.

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