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Armed with my handful of black trash bags, I donned my scuba mask (the kind that covers your nose) and heavy-duty gloves, preparing for my trek to the man-child’s room. As I traversed the first mountain of dirty clothes, I regretted my decision not to pack a sandwich. I could be in here for hours! I heard a groan from across the room, then a large lump on the bed whined, “Do we have to do this today?”

“Be brave, Tris” I whispered.

He didn’t get my Divergent joke, or find the mask and gloves the least bit funny.

While almost none of this story is true, (the groaning and trash bags were real) Max was nervous but determined to clear out his stuff. And guess what? We did it!

We spent the morning distracted by friendly visitors, including a very sweet and cuddly 3-month-old named Lillian Grace. When everyone left, I explained my plan to my firstborn and we got to work. Together. That was the key. I could yell and scream at that kid for hours about cleaning up his room, shaming him for letting it get so out of hand, and threatening to take away his birthday, but I decided to try out the adage about catching flies with honey instead of vinegar.

Before we began, I made a list of questions for us to ask as we deliberated over the harder choices of what to part with:

Purging QuestionsWe started at the doorway and chatted while we worked side by side, sorting clothing, shoes, papers, books, trash, and projects.

Oh. My. Word. Max loves projects. He’s a creative spirit and his hands are always moving, shaping, cutting, crafting, carving, and duct-taping. And his room tells the tale. His work table alone qualifies for hoarding status.Well, it did. Now it’s a sleek work space.

All of my children are sentimental, so I wondered if this purging quest would challenge them to tears. I was a bit surprised as I watched Max toss things in the trash I was sure he’d have a reason for keeping. I was prepared to talk him through it, but he was doing fine on his own, so I kept my mouth SHUT! In the case of decluttering, more is better, and there was no way I was slowing that process down.

I didn’t ask him why he kept every scrap of paper his girlfriend has ever given him, or why he needs a dozen green lantern rings, but I was truly puzzled why he had four shoes with no mates. Seriously? Four? How does that even happen?

At the end of the day we had cleared out three large bags of trash, donated over half of his stuff to the thrift store down the street, and discovered he does in fact have carpet in his room.

What did we learn from this hours-long process?

  1. It’s not about organizing your stuff, it’s about getting rid of stuff so you have less to organize.
  2. Stuff quickly becomes junk when left on the floor to get stepped on.
  3. Teenage boys can reach a breaking point with their clutter and beg to just bag everything up and start over.
  4. It’s possible to have too many pillows and blankets, and pens. The boy has almost as many pens as I do!
  5. He slept better in his clean space last night, and I slept better knowing we’re almost half way done! We didn’t work on the house today, but tomorrow is all about Zoe’s room, the bathrooms, and hall closets.

I almost forgot! Not only did a friend stop by with Chai, Benny and Zoe purged the kitchen and dining room for me!

How about you? Are you inspired to purge your own house yet? Are you ready to embrace simple minimalism? What is the strangest thing you’ve decluttered? Does it beat four mismatched shoes?

It’s happening AGAIN. I’m finding myself fuming and pouting because I am picking up my family’s crap AGAIN. We have too much stuff AGAIN. I spent most of 2011 working through and posting about my decluttering challenge. Click on the links to read how I did it:

It’s only been four years since I learned (and taught) about decluttering and minimalism. It’s only been one year since we decluttered to move to our current home. It’s not like I’ve forgotten how to do it, so maybe I needed new inspiration to do it again. Don’t we all need that now and then?

Enter my friend, Penelope Hoyt.

She’s written several books on the topic as well as homemaking, homeschooling, organizing and prepping. I started with her book, The Simple Minimalist, and I’m still working my way through her stuff. She has lots of great tips including defining minimalism for yourself (Hint: It looks a little different for each person) and pursuing a simple, peaceful lifestyle free from emotional and mentally draining clutter. She encouraged me by reminding me WHY I want to live simply – so I have more time, energy, and resources to live life with the people I love.

Sadly, she lives too far away to grab a cup of Chai and pick her brain, so I spent last week reading several of her books. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can read most of them for free, but her prices are amazing even without KU. Here’s a partial list of the books I read:

Minimalism Made Easy: What It Really Takes to Live with Less It was a nice surprise when I discovered I already had this on my Kindle before we even met. ;)

Going Green: 25 Recipes to Save Your House and Your Life

Natural Living

Downsizing Made Easy: How to Simplify Your House for a Quicker Sale

101 Things to Teach Your Kids This Year

Her Minimalist Hacks series was great too. I decided to stop reading for now and start minimizing! When I thanked her for inspiring me, she responded by giving me a few tips. The most important one is this: Buy big black trash bags. You are more likely to get rid of things when you’re not staring at them, possibly having second thoughts.

I read and got inspired again. I formed a plan. I talked to my family and they all jumped on board the crazy purging train I’m conducting. Woot! Woot! This is Nowell Purging Week, and today was Day 1. Benny posted this on Facebook today:

purge

Hey! I needed a staging area.This is what happens when you have kids hauling everything up and down stairs. They dump it wherever. Hmmm…seems to me that’s what got us into this mess. Bringing too much stuff into our home contributed as well, I suppose. It’s okay. We’re punching the reset button.

Here’s my basic plan of attack:

Monday: Pete’s room and our bookshelves. DONE and DONE!

  • 7 boxes of homeschooling curriculum (not mine, I was storing them)
  • 7 boxes of books – mostly mine
  • 3 bags of stuffed animals, clothes, and shoes (plus a few GIANT stuffed animals)
  • 2 bags of misc. toys and stuff
  • 1 big bag of trash

Tuesday: Max’s room. Dear God, please help me control my tongue and attitude, and have someone bring me Chai.

Wednesday: After I get home from work – The bathrooms and hall closets.

Thursday: Zoe’s room and the living room/dining room. She’s been cleaning, so it will be easier than riding herd on helping the boys.

Friday: The kitchen and the laundry room.

Saturday: Finish up our bedroom, which is where I began before officially starting this purge.

Sunday: A much-needed day of rest! ;)

I’ll let you know how the week goes by updating this post with how much stuff we haul away.

I’ll be back with more thoughts on this and how we can avoid a repeat of this process next year, but in the meantime, visit Penelope at her blog, The Nerdy Survivalist, buy her books on Amazon, then go declutter something!

You can do it!

42clusterIt’s the eve of my 43rd birthday. Let’s pretend it’s Christmas in July – that’s the only other time I feel like I have to sit and reflect on a whole year all at once. And please, feel free to drop off presents under our evergreen tree in the front yard! ;)

As I was reading through my journal (aka my Facebook timeline) for the past year, the big highlights were mostly sad. I suffered some devastating losses of friends and family, a good friend went to prison for two years, my transgender cousin’s suicide made international news, a doctor friend was made famous by contracting Ebola, and my relationship with my mother came to a painful end. That last one was not on Facebook as it is still too raw.

Amidst such a long grieving period were many moments of victory, bravery, and beauty. We moved to a town we’ve wanted to live in for years. I taught my first drama class and not only did I love it, it was a huge success. I made two trips back to Wisconsin to visit my family and reconnected with two of my best friends from high school while I was there. I worked on my novel. I fed hundreds of people through the little food bank I run. We reinstated Niki Day and Benny Day into our family schedule. I went to lots of movies and read a lot of books. I nourished old friendships and formed several new ones. I began passionately pursuing my husband again.

In times of reflection, I can’t focus on the bad without the good. I made some really dumb mistakes this past year, but I’ve also had my moments of wisdom and clarity. I’m learning I’m better for both. Through a year of deep suffering, I’ve clung to my joy.

I know who I want to be, but better than that, I know who I am.

In his book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, English writer and humorist Douglas Adams said 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. I’m still laughingly pondering that, but hoping for better questions and answers when I’m 43. Adams also said, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.”

Now THAT is the story of my year!

I wrote this “end of the year letter” back in December. Yep. This is my life. I found this filed away in my notes on my iPad. It had its funny moments, so I thought I’d share it with you anyway. Besides, I need to chronicle these life moments, yeah?

Buy this shirt on woot.com!

Buy this shirt on woot.com!

YMCA…the song, not the place. Wafts of pizza, nachos, and cotton candy tickling my nose. A hundred or so small children rotating counter-clockwise, tiny skates on each foot, some clinging to the wall with an “Oh crap” look plastered on their faces. The poor things are eying the rink like it’s covered in banana peels.

Today is Pete’s 11th birthday and we’re spending a few hours at Skate City before ending the sleepover party of all parties. FIVE extra kids spent the night, but it was quieter than you might think. We have an X-box and a really nice TV. I didn’t hear a peep except for the occasional cheer floating up the stairs from the basement, and the raucous cry for more popcorn.

Being able to zone out and write at a skating rink is a testament to my 15 years as a mother and 40-ish years as a reader. It’s a gift. I would have preferred an extra arm or two, but you gotta be thankful for what you have, right?

With all of the recent tragedies in our life I thought it would be a good exercise for me to look over the past year through eyes of gratitude, and who better to share it with than the people we are most grateful for?

2014 was a crazy year for us as a family. That seems to be our pattern, so same story, different year. I won’t bog you down with all the minutiae, but let’s just say we’re now referring to the first half of the year as “before” and everything since as “heaven.” Okay, I’m exaggerating a teensy bit. Our year was split in half by our move away from the hood in Denver to lovely, safe, small-town Lafayette. Our parents were thrilled! We found a townhouse five minutes from our jobs, 12 minutes from church, and 13 minutes from Boulder. The daily commutes are over! YAY!

(Insert limbo music here) I guess I’m a little easier to distract than I thought. Can I just say it’s really nice not to be out there holding someone’s hand, waiting for them to pull me down as soon as they can’t maneuver past a dog pile on the rink? If you’re still in that stage, let me sprinkle some hope on you:

Someday you’ll be able to be a sideline mom too.

We’re also known as the keeper of the drinks. Here’s a tip for you: Always bring a Sharpie. No, I’m not a germaphobe, but a lot of my mommy friends are. It also saves time when the kiddos come flying off the rink, chests heaving, sweaty palms extended towards their Dr. Peppers. Oh! And keep your feet tucked under you to escape the toe-crushing wheels of the uncoordinated. I’ve learned my lesson.

Yesterday was celebration Sunday at church. We focused on all the amazing things God has done in us and through us as a church family this year. I got to report that SEVENS served over 4,800 meals and distributed more than 15 tons of food through our SEVENS food bank this year. I don’t have numbers for how many pairs of socks and hand warmers we handed out, or how many cups of Starbucks we shared with our street friends in Boulder. Those things are hard to track when you don’t care about tracking them.

What I can tell you is it feels good to know that people were warmer, less hungry, and a lot less lonely because we hold ground there. Ministry-wise, we are keeping on keeping on. We are clinging to our dream of having a mobile outreach center/mobile showers and laundry facilities. It will happen. Someday.

Pete just skated up to me with a grin on his face. “Mom! They’re playing our song!” We have a song? I begin the process of tuning out the background noises until I can narrow down the tune. Apparently, Radioactive by Imagine Dragons is our song. I love that kid. He makes me smile. ;)

Where was I? Oh yeah, Mobile Outreach Center. Benny has been talking it up and we have some locals getting excited with us. We know we’ll have lots of opposition as well. A lot of the Boulderites would prefer we not help the homeless unless it’s to help them be less visible.

That’s as far as I got. The end.

Except it wasn’t. Our story continues. Things got worse before they got better. I’m actually still waiting for things to get better. Sure, I’ve had some wonderful people and things enter my life in the six months since I wrote this, but if I’m honest – and I always try to be – things still kind of suck. Never fear, I have a death grip on my gratitude. I recite at least one thing a day even if it’s just to myself. Things will get better. See? That’s my one thing for today. ;)

Doogie HowserRemember Doogie Howser? The world’s first blogger? Yeah, I used to admire how he could sum up an hour of drama in a few witty sentences. (Hats off to the writers.) I’m still working on that. Ha! I’ll settle for posting things in the same year as they’re written. And friend, if you don’t know who Doogie Howser is, you may be too young to read this blog. ;)

What have you left unsaid? Unwritten? It’s not too late!

It feels good to be writing again after all the tragedy of the past few months. Today I’m honored to be featured over at themitchroush.com. His monthly series, “Music Changed Me” showcases people he knows and loves sharing the music that has impacted their lives. My piece focuses on disliking the word “secular” being used to label songs that are sacred to me, and the love song I have on repeat during this season of healing.

I’ve known Mitch for over 20 years, and oh the stories I could share about him. Ha! He’s an incredible man. Take some time to get to know him through his writing. He does an excellent job weaving faith and creativity throughout all he does.

It brings joy to my soul to hear him describe me this way: “Niki is one of the most eloquent feather-rufflers I know. An edgy soul, not out of attention, but out of a fierce love that has no other way of being expressed. She’s passionate and wants nothing more than for everyone to have a place at the table.”

Thank you, Mitch. That means a lot to me!

Here’s a teaser:

Music is one of my love languages.

If my inner 80’s child were to make you a mix tape and share with you the soundtrack of my life, you’d grin and possibly groan at the quirky variety of my musical tastes.  I bet you’d find something that suits your tastes too. Now and then, I get stuck on a song to help me through a particular season, repeating it until the music cleanses me or the season passes.

– See more at: http://www.themitchroush.com/music-changed-me-13-love-on-repeat

You’ve probably seen the headlines this week about Leelah Alcorn. The suicide note posted on Tumblr went viral in a matter of hours after **his/her death. It was shocking to watch social media blow up with this story and even more so to read the malicious, hateful comments about the grieving family left behind. Compelling as it is to call for better discussions about transgender issues, the media and most of the people commenting have taken away the liberty of Leelah’s family based solely on a letter written by a teen suffering from depression, and they’ve done so without having all the facts.

I get it. I’ve been there.

In 1999, I watched in horror as the news reported the shooting at Columbine High School. I knew a student there and practically shook with relief when we heard she was safe. It didn’t take long for the community and the media (and me) to cast stones at the shooter’s parents. What kind of parent would let their child have access to weapons? What kind of parent didn’t understand how sick their child was and get them help? What kind of parent would allow their child be bullied to the point where they decided to plan a massacre? Was there abuse in the home? Or neglect? Surely the parents held some (or most) of the blame. I watched as reporters swarmed their neighborhoods, trying to get a glimpse of the families or a few words from neighbors. There was a complete disregard for their privacy, and somewhere in my head, I justified it. We, the public, had a right to know, didn’t we?

I confess, as I grappled with that tragedy, I judged the parents pretty harshly. I judged the school for not stopping the bullying, and the students for being the bullies. Then I judged Eric and Dylan for being hateful people. I couldn’t see past my anger and fear. I was pregnant with my first child at the time and wept at the thought of bringing him into a world where kids are gunned down in school. I felt bad for Eric and Dylan’s families, but I didn’t understand what they were going through. Was there some part of me that thought they deserved the bad press and condemnation? Such ugly thoughts went through my head when I was desperate for answers. Have you been there too?

You know who I didn’t judge? The media. They terrified parents when they grossly over-reported the casualties based on incomplete information. They interviewed traumatized students who hadn’t reconnected with their parents yet. There was a lot of false and biased reporting going on, but that’s not what sticks out in my mind all these years later. They were just trying to do their jobs, right? I so easily forgave that, but held on to my judgments of everyone else. I am glad I know better now.

Last summer, a friend of ours went to prison. We watched as the media reported false information about him, including the basic details of the charges. Then a reporter and cameraman from Channel 7 decided they had the right to stand on our friend’s porch and put the camera right up to the window to shoot footage inside their home. They stopped neighbors and questioned them about our friend’s children – their names and ages, if they seemed distraught. When they got a glimpse of the girls, they tried to question them about their dad. Picture that with me, reporters aggressively pursuing children at their own home. Shame on them!

We are being marketed to. Bad news sells, and we buy it. We watch and listen to it on TV and read it in the newspaper or on social media, and we make our snap judgments based on data that may or may not be true. Shouldn’t we expect reliable details over sensationalism from our media? And what about the shocking lack of accountability? When they do get the facts wrong, we don’t hear the corrected version or apologies for rushing to be the first to report a story instead of verifying what they’re reporting is actually true. They cover their butts by using phrases like “alleged” and “reportedly”.  Retractions, when they do exist, get buried. They’re never headline worthy. In the meantime, lives are changed or destroyed and reputations ruined over shoddy reporting. Even if the truth is later revealed, by then it’s too late. The damage has been done.

Responsible reporting is a tough job. The story has to pique the interest of the people and it needs to be done quickly so it’s not scooped by someone else. Perhaps a little more time is all a reporter needs so they can check their facts before going public. It’s the media’s job to make us feel the news they’re reporting. If they can hook us emotionally, we’ll keep coming back for more.

Hear me! Tragedy or conviction of an individual does NOT remove the rights of their family. They still have a right to privacy, and to choose how or if they interact with the media. Oftentimes lawyers and law enforcement request that families refrain from speaking to the media at all, especially when there is an ongoing investigation. The typical response is to punish the family for their silence, using phrases like “refused to talk to us.” Families are treated as if their lack of interaction is a sign of having something to hide.

A friend of mine said we tend to process the news by either consuming it or condemning it. My guess is you and I have chosen both of those routes depending on what’s being reported and whether or not we agree. We are all guilty of assuming that a quick snapshot of a situation gives us the full picture. We assume, and from our vantage point, we’re sure we’re right even without knowing the whole story.

Words have tremendous power. With just a few clicks of a mouse and some carelessly chosen wording, we (the people on the internet) become judge and jury, and we’re bold about it because we’re holding court from behind a computer screen. We don’t have to see the pain in people’s eyes, or hear the sobs that wrack their bodies. We don’t have to form responses for questioning children who don’t understand the cruelty in the world. We proudly boast of freedom of speech until someone opposes our opinion and we don’t want to afford them the same freedom.

We don’t always consider the consequences of wielding our weapons of words. I don’t believe our hearts are evil, we just don’t always think before we speak or type. Notice WE is my chosen pronoun. I am guilty, but I want to do better. I want to BE better. Because of what I’ve experienced through my reaction to the Columbine tragedy, my friend’s conviction and now Leelah’s story, I’m choosing to step into a deeper level of maturity. I’m going to work on my discernment and how I respond to such things.

You see, Josh/Leelah is my family. His/her mom is my cousin. Carla is a good woman who loves all of her children. She is well-liked in her community, yet she’s being called a monster who rejected her son. One media source reported “years of abuse” based on the suicide note. It’s an unfounded claim, but no one seems to care. Because she’s a Christian and wouldn’t allow her child to undergo a sex change at the age of 16, she’s been labeled a homophobic, strict, hateful mother. There’s a bigger picture than the snapshot blowing up news feeds.

We, the public, have done it again – swallowed everything fed to us even though the investigation is ongoing and we have no idea what will come out of it in the end. Because Josh/Leelah struggled with her/his gender identity, there are many who are viewing this as if it were a hate crime perpetuated by the parents. THAT is what has gained global media attention. Josh/Leelah’s suicide does not give the media license to harass the family and report false and incomplete information. We need to expect more from them, and from each other.

After Josh/Leelah’s death, someone created a Leelah Alcorn Facebook profile, hacked Carla’s Facebook account and sent friend requests and messages to her entire friends list, and began posting hateful messages to her from her dead child. Carla is bearing the brunt of the blame for Josh/Leelah’s suicide as if it were her choice to lose her beloved child in this horrific manner. Merciless internet trolls posted her phone number on the web and encouraged people to harass them and make them pay for “killing their child.”

What we’re not seeing in the media are the reports of them having to call the police because of people peeking in windows, or news of all the hate mail they’re receiving, or anything about the group who plans to picket at the funeral. The LGBTQ community is leading the way in this “fight for justice” yet all we’re seeing is hateful vitriol. Isn’t there a better way to further the cause than to treat a grieving family with such callousness? Doesn’t the hate speech and encouragement of violent behavior coming from them contradict their mission? How is it any different than those who use the same tactics against them?

There’s a petition circulating to try to force Carla and Doug to use the name Leelah on the headstone instead of Joshua Ryan Alcorn, his birth name. As if that’s a decision that should be made by anyone other than the parents, especially the parents of a minor. That is not up for public debate or decision. Why on earth would we think it should be? None of us would want others to cross that line into our personal business like that.

A few of my friends posted the Leelah articles on their Facebook pages out of concern for the way transgender conversations are handled in the Christian community. I have no problem with that. I too am concerned and saddened by the lack of love shown in a lot of these situations. I have many friends who identify themselves as LGBTQ. I have always done my best to love everyone regardless of their gender identity or belief system, and I don’t withhold my love and affection based on a set of religious beliefs. In fact, my set of beliefs is the larger context for how I love others and there is no room for anyone to be left out of that. I prove that over and over, publicly and privately. There are lots of Christians out there who feel the same way I do but we are often labeled and rejected before given the chance to show it. I welcome respectful discussion on this and any other topic, but I’d like to get back to the point of my post.

I want to encourage you to have discernment when you read or watch the news, and to firmly grasp your humanity as you remember the humanity of others.

Please think before you speak or type.

I didn’t know Eric and Dylan’s families, but the Columbine tragedy and my reaction to it shaped me. I am sorry I jumped to harsh, unfair conclusions based on what I heard and read. I saw them as one-dimensional people as presented by the media and didn’t let their grief touch me.

My friend who is in prison? I miss him terribly. I love his wife and daughters and I am investing in their family, loving them through a tough time and speaking out on their behalf because they can’t. The media trashed them when they did nothing to deserve it. They were collateral damage. There have been no corrections or apologies and they don’t expect them. The media kicked them while they were already down.

PLEASE don’t do the same to my cousin and her family. They’re deeply grieving the loss of their child and being judged and crucified by people who know nothing about them. People who feel justified in their cruelty and want to make them pay. There are three other children missing their brother today. I wish I could protect them from the ugliness of those who don’t feel these kids are off-limits. Imagine yourself in their shoes and the terrible grief they’re experiencing. Let your heart ache for their loss, and don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Josh/Leelah left behind a gaping hole in our family. There was no hatred for him/her. He/she was and is deeply loved.

The media is selling you a snapshot before the larger picture has been developed.

Don’t buy it.

**I chose to use both gender pronouns to honor Josh/Leelah AND his/her parents. There is no malicious intent behind my decision though it will undoubtedly upset some of you.

angi

Angi Sanders Painter

Passed away. Left this earth. Went home to be with Jesus. Died.

Cancer sucks. That’s not news to anyone. All of those phrases fail me. There’s no sufficient way to convey the rending I’m experiencing losing my friend Angi so unexpectedly, but let me try.

There’s hemorrhaging in my heart and I can’t staunch the aching flow. My stomach is twisted and I yearn to curl up in my bed and cry myself out. My throat is clogged with unspoken words and questions…so many questions. I have phantom limbs burning to hug her once again. The pounding rhythm in my head cries out that life is not fair. It never was. It never will be.

Everything aches.

Outwardly, I’m placing one foot in front of the other, keeping my chin up, and plowing through my to-do list. I have a family to take care of, a conference to prepare for, and a life needing to be lived. I cannot change my circumstances this week and won’t be gathering with the rest of her loved ones (Oh, how she loved me, and I her) as they honor her life, so I’ll do that here, with my words.

She loved my words and never stopped telling me so, especially when I couldn’t seem to string them together in a coherent thought without chasing them down rabbit trails. My words are wild things I’m still learning to capture and contain, but she never stopped telling me I could do it. She always believed in me. I’m sure she still does.

We met fourteen years ago at my son’s first birthday party. We became great friends, though she told me later that I scared the crap out of her. She was on the quiet side while I only visit there occasionally. ;) She embraced me and my family and loved us well. We spent hours shopping, creating, sipping, laughing, and lounging. We helped each other pack and move, got lost in long theological arguments discussions, held each other during the painful parts of life, and when we no longer shared a city, made sure the phone lines between us worked properly.

Kyle and Angi

I can still see her blush as she told me about meeting Kyle and hoping he was “the one.” I can hear the laughter and conversation around our dinner tables as we spent time in each others homes after they were married. My mommy heart remembers the love I felt towards him as he hoisted my little Max into his fishing boat and handed him a wrench, setting him to “work” with him and calling him “little buddy”.

It was a Sunday morning when my friend Angela called to tell me Angi and Kyle were in a terrible car accident and Kyle was killed. I flew back to Indy as fast as I could to trudge through that nightmare with her. We slept a little and talked and cried a lot. We found ways to celebrate our togetherness while grieving such a terrible separation from him. It was horrible and beautiful. I remember lying next to her on their bed while she dialed his number over and over again just to listen to his voice mail message, tears streaming down both of our faces.

She held me through some terrible losses of my own, making sure my family was fed when I could barely function, gifting me with things I couldn’t buy for myself, speaking encouragement to me even when I didn’t want to hear it. Always loving me and thanking me for our friendship.

She was a teacher and amazing with children. She changed the lives of lots of little people and their families. When I decided to homeschool, she not only supported me but told me, “If anyone can do it, it’s you.” She helped me figure out my kid’s learning styles and gave me lots of recommendations. She called me to lament over some of her student’s home lives and wanting to take them all home with her. She had a big heart and a certain grace for parents even when she wanted to wring their necks for not seeing the treasure they had in their children. I loved that about her.

I’m good at a lot of things, but my kitchen skills? Not so fabulous. I’m a follow-the-recipe kind of girl, but Angi was one of those annoying people who throw things together and voila! It’s a gourmet meal. Angi taught me a few things about southern cooking and we had lots of crazy discussions about the way to a man’s heart. I teased her and made her blush when I told her us Yankee girls had our own suggestions on how to get that done. Ha! She patiently showed me how to make her Chicken and Dumplings, and it’s her mama’s sweet potato pie recipe that I’ll bake (with pumpkin) next week for Thanksgiving, as I do every year. I taught her how to make Beer Brats, so I think we’re even. Wait, that wasn’t me, that was my husband. Never mind.

Angi and Niki

Angi drove all the way to Oklahoma City to surprise me at a Ladies Retreat I was speaking at. On one of her trips to visit me in Colorado, she held my hand while I got my first tattoo, though no amount of cajoling could make her join me. She took me to a traveling Lord of the Rings exhibit and bought me a Galadriel ring, only making fun of my nerdery a little bit. She taught me how to make jewelry and I taught her how to get organized, something she told me she’d get around to someday. We started and failed in a business together. I shared my beloved mountains with her. She went to summer camp with me for several years as my nanny – the best one my kids ever had. She loved all of my children, but had a special bond with my Zoe. Maybe it was a girl thing. Maybe it was a Zoe/Angi thing. I loved watching them together.

When I started blogging back in 2004, Angi called me and said, “I just found you on the internet! Well, it’s not you, but this lady could be you, you’re so similar.” And that’s how I met my friend Pam, a kindred spirit on the other side of the country. Angi brought us together. She was good at that.

Angi and Toby

A few years ago, she called me and said, “Let me tell you about Toby!” I giggled as she gushed about this man she had met and how sweet he was. She felt so lucky to have found love again, something she had always doubted she would find in the first place. She was so happy to have such a great love and sang his praises about his care for her. Because life is complicated, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him face to face, but I love that man for loving my friend! I wish they had been able to make the trip out to Colorado like they had repeatedly tried to plan.

Angi and Holden

Then there is Holden. What a beautiful little blessing he is! Angi was heartbroken over not being able to have children, but she and Toby began preparations for adopting that sweet little guy before he was even born. He changed everything. A lot of my current agony is for him. He’s got an amazing daddy and I trust that he’ll grow up hearing stories about his sweet mama and how much she loved him.

Painter Christmas

Back to the “C” word. The first time Angi told me she had ovarian cancer, it took me about 5 minutes to go through all the stages of grief. Then I became Warrior Niki. I prayed with her and for her. I told others to pray for her. I took on whatever role she needed me to take on while we talked. I became loving mother, encouraging friend, ass-kicker, and grieving sister. Many of our phone conversations took place while she was lying on a hospital bed with a tube in her arm, or in the middle of the night when she knew I’d be awake to talk with her through the nausea and insomnia. I tried to be there in spirit during the good days and bad. I didn’t get the chance to be there in person, but she never held that against me.

A few weeks ago she texted me:

Angi Text

I’m a writer. I can’t believe my last words to this woman I love were, “Awesome!!! :) I’m so glad!” I have so many other words I could have chosen, but I didn’t know. I thought we’d have several thousand more exchanges. I wish we had. By the time I found out she had been given two weeks to live, she was already gone. It was another shocking Sunday morning. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I’m terrible at goodbyes, but I would have found a way.

I am awed by her life and so very grateful she shared it with me. She was strong and weak and real and bursting with love and faced everything even when she wanted to run and hide. I am devastated by her death and healing will be slow, coming in waves, because that’s how I do things.

A well-meaning friend posted something on my Facebook page about not grieving because I know I’ll see her again. Yes, Angi and I shared our faith too. But friends, while I am confident that we will meet again someday, that sentiment doesn’t do me a bit of good today. It’s not comforting at all. My deep sorrow is not indicative of my level of faith, it’s a testimony of my overwhelming love and compassion, something gifted to me by my heavenly Father. This sucks, and I think God thinks so too.

Ang1

For those of you reading this that knew her too, I say grieve how you must, without guilt or platitudes or rushing through it. Now is the proper time for that, so do what you have to do. No matter where you are, be thankful for the ways Angi impacted your life. Speak or write the words you’re choking back as you relive the memories you made together. Honor her.

For those who didn’t know her, I hope I’ve given you a glimpse of who she was. She was a beautiful soul and she will be greatly missed.

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