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The Storm (Part 2)

The thing about storms is their uncanny ability to either bring people together or drive them apart. In my own experience, gusting winds, pounding thunder and crashing lightning only make me want to be a little bit closer to the people I love.

As a little girl, I begged my dad to come inside and away from the storms he loved to watch because I was scared for his safety. But I also did so because I was scared myself: I wanted him to pick me up and give me a great big hug and tell me that everything would be ok. Sometimes, you just need the assurance and comfort of someone bigger, stronger.

In truth, my family’s circumstances and experience with Parkinson’s Disease are not particularly unique. People endure “storms” every single day all over the world. When you sit down and face reality, hard times are hitting people everywhere. I know people who’ve lost loved ones too early; have endured the pain of a bitter divorce; lost everything the owned to a flood; lost their job; lost a baby...the list goes on.  

In college, I had the opportunity to get to know and become friends with a young man who was a survivor of the civil war in the Darfur region of Sudan. Over cups of coffee and a period of hours spent in our campus library, he recounted to me his story of survival: separated from his family at 5 years old, he fled to refugee camps in Uganda and Kenya. Along the way, he saw some of his friends killed by rebel warriors or eaten by wild animals. I remember the tears that came to my eyes as I looked at this extraordinary person who had lived this amazing life. I am so selfish to think I’ve ever endured something truly hard, I thought.

It breaks my heart when the trials of life—the storms—drive people apart. In our times of deepest sorrow one would think we should cling to those we love the most for support. But, sadly, this is not always the case.

The fact of the matter is this: We have a choice.

We can chose to open up and be vulnerable to those around us—allowing them to see our hurt and pain and in turn heal it with their compassion. Or, we can close ourselves off to the world and never experience the healing power of love.

The funny thing about my father’s disease is that is has truly brought our family closer than we ever were before. This past year, every holiday, every visit home has been filled with some of the most cherish moments of my adulthood. By drawing together, we’ve somehow tapped into a harmony we never experienced before. In our case, our storm (Parkinson’s) isn’t exactly the kind of storm that goes away. But, I know that we can take it on together, as a family.

As for my friend from Sudan: After three years of living in the United States and through the resources of the internet, he was able to find his mother—the woman he had not seen since he was five—living in Kenya. He traveled there in the summer of 2006. I like to picture my friend on the day of that reunion: I like to imagine that the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as he traveled along a dirt road surrounding by stretching plains and spotted by wild animals. I also like to imagine the smile on his face. After such an intense storm, he was finally going home. Later, he told me about the experience and about the joy the laughter the tears they shared when they saw each other for the first time.

That’s the beauty of storms: no matter how terrible, no matter how hard, no matter how impossible they may seem—if you will let them, if you will learn from them—they will bring you to the place where you’ve always belonged: Home.  


The Storm (Part 1)

A few weekends ago, I went for a beautiful 7 mile run through Cherokee Park and the Highlands. (If you haven’t put two and two together already, I am basically obsessed with this area of Louisville.) When I started, the air was a hot, smothering 90 degrees. But as I maneuvered among the curves of the road, I noticed the temperature was falling. A strong breeze began to blow and around me leaves were falling: scattered reminders that autumn is upon us.

Amid the leaves and the breeze, I was acutely aware of something else: a storm was coming.

In Cherokee Park, there is a hill that overlooks a small valley where tree tops and sky seem to stretch endlessly before you. For some reason, I love this hill and this view. It fills me with a sense of hope and anticipation (though for what I have not quite decided.) As I topped this hill that evening and looked out at that favorite view, I had to stop for moment because what I saw took my breath away: billowing clouds above me barely broke to reveal a glimpse of heaven, while in the distance the sunset shone through ominous, much darker clouds in an orange haze. Meanwhile sheets of rain fell to the earth against its golden backdrop.

I could already see flashes of lightning in the distance, so I turned toward home. Running in the rain is fine, but running in a thunderstorm is a different story. Along the way, I realized the wind had ceased to blow. No birds sang. No crickets chirped. It was as though the world had gone silent: the calm before the storm.

Storms always make me think of my Dad. He loves to watch them from the safety of our porch. And I don’t mean mild, every day storms. He will stand there, defiant, in the midst of the torrential blasts that send other people fleeing for their basements. As a child, I used to stand in the doorway and plead with him to come back inside, afraid the storm might carry him away. 
 When I was little, Dad was my protector. Whenever I was scared at night, or awoke from a bad dream, I ran to my parents’ bedroom straight to his side of the bed. I’d tap him on the arm and he would wake up, scoot over and let me sleep on his right arm. As long as I was there, I knew I was safe.

As a toddler, Dad held me on his shoulders and we climbed dormant volcanoes near Cimarron, New Mexico. When I was four or five, I got to go to the small college where he taught.  

Armed with a tablet and pen he let me borrow from his office, I would sit and listen to him teach Greek New Testament and write the alphabet out over and over and over. When his class was over, I’d proudly show him my accomplishment and we’d go to a lounge area where he’d buy me candy bars and let me try to play ping pong with him.

At home, my brother and sister and I spent our days playing on a giant rope swing he and a family friend had hung for us on a large oak in the backyard. In the evenings after work, he’d come out and push us on this swing, so that we swung higher and higher and higher. Sometimes, we’d spin on the rope until we were so, so dizzy and see who could run through across the yard without falling down. Other times, we’d play inside in our living room. Dad would play the guitar and the three children would dance like silly little monkeys.

In the midst of all of this, I remember my Mom was there, watching, playing along and laughing.

And so I have this vision of my Dad from those years: healthy, strong, active, and so intelligent.

As we got older, life—of course—changed in the way one would expect it to. Our family moved. We started going to a new school. My dad got a better job. My parents bought their first house (we’d always lived in parsonages up to that point.) We were holding on to the past…our memories of all those nights of fun and laughter…and still moving into our future as a family.

Dad’s hair got thinner and started to grey. Arthritis began to set in. An accident in a stairwell left with him partial strength in his right arm. It became harder for him to play the guitar. But, he was still my dad. And in many ways, I was oblivious to the changes that were occurring right in front of my eyes. We all were.

I was a junior in college when he told me. I’d come home for a holiday and found him in the living room try to strum his guitar one evening. “I need to tell you something.” I sat down, and he walked me through a series of doctors visits that had led to a diagnosis none of us could have ever anticipated: Parkinsons Disease.

I’d like to tell you that our lives changed immediately with that announcement. But, they didn’t. My family approached this new development with the same mentality as any other change we’d experienced. In fact, in the midst of it all, we were all going through major changes. My brother was graduating from high school and moving off to join the Air Force. My sister was getting ready to graduate high school and go to college. I was about to enter the real world. Change was all around us, and in the midst of them, things that had once been easy for dad were becoming harder.

It was not until the last year that the reality of my father’s condition began to bring tears to my eyes. Our entire family has experienced a series of trials in that space of time we never could have seen coming. In many ways, I have come to view the first 21 years of my life as the Calm. The diagnosis of this debilitating disease is—without a doubt—our family Storm. 

(To Be Continued...)


My "Sole" Overflows

I came that they might have life abundantly.”
A “long time ago”, when I was about 14, a close friend mailed me a letter. At the end of this letter, he wrote: “Within us all is the strength to fly, the love to sustain us, and the dream to make us try.”

When you are 14 years old, it’s very easy to accept these words of inspiration at face value. How inspiring! How uplifting! How empowering!

But in the 12 years since the words were coined, I’ve come to a sound conviction: My friend was wrong. Dead wrong.

As the eldest of three children, I can tell you a thing or two about “inner strength.” There is a set of criteria that many would argue govern the psyche of the eldest child. While I know that this does not hold true for everyone, it certainly holds true for me. My mother recounts a story of a defiant two-year-old standing in the middle of the bathroom with one hand on her little hip, the other outstretched waiting for her toothbrush to be placed in it: “Me do it myself.”

I was always the obstinate do-it-myself’er, always telling my brothers and sister, my friends, my classmates, my parents, and everyone in between how it was going to be and how they needed to do it. There was no challenge I could not meet. There was no barrier that could hold me back. It was that same attitude that willed me to load everything I owned into my car and uproot myself from the only life I’d known. Piece of cake, I remember thinking. I’ve got this covered.


It was around that time that the self-reliance on which I’d proudly stood got ripped out from under my pretty little heeled feet. I landed in a heap. And it hurt. Bad.

Broken. Sometimes, this is how I’ve come to think about my heart and my life. This word has been reverberating in my mind for a week, ever since last Sunday when the feelings of loneliness I’ve managed to ward off for the past year began to resurface.

While there is certainly a will within me to achieve and to try, I’ve found my strength will eventually falter. I realize I am limited and can’t fix everything. I can’t give myself the kind of love I’m longing for…the kind that will heal a heart that has been hurt over and over and over. I can't make myself trust again. 

Furthermore, I realize, with increasing astonishment, that everything that I have touched, everything that I have every tried to piece together with my own two hands, is flawed. Try as I may, I cannot produce anything that is perfect. And the more I try, the more I mess it up.  

It is here that my personal convictions diverge from the popular mantra of the generation in which I live:

“Look into yourself.”
“You have everything you need inside.”
“Believe in yourself.”

It both infuriates and terrifies me that we so openly accept this crap (yes, it's crap) as truth.

If the last three years have taught me anything, it is this: I desperately need to be saved—everyday—from myself. I need to know a love that sees my flaws and accepts them, because they may not ever go away. I need someone who understands the deepest way that my heart has been hurt, and can offer the means to heal it. I need someone in my life who is more wise than I can comprehend, who understands the reason I was made, and who can guide me on the path toward the life I was destined to live.

So, anyone who understands even a smidgen of the Christian Faith knows where I am going with this. In truth, I've never been alone (since I was 12) even in the height of my "I've got this covered" days. If the past year and a half has been anything—it has been a lesson in giving every little pain and hurt to Him, one piece at a time.

There’s a freedom that comes with this kind of realization and this kind of practice. I certainly don’t have it all figured out. But I know that I’m on my way to some better and bigger than myself…and that it really has nothing to do with me at all. 
Look at the nations and watch-and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.


Jubilant July

(A Month In Review) 

As we near the 4th day of August, I thought I’d take a moment to briefly wrap up some of the best—and worst—moments of one of my most favorite months: July.

As many of you already know, July heralds the very best day of the year (besides Christmas): My Birthday. In my personal opinion, this day should be an official holiday. Last year, I stretched the celebration across the span of an entire week. This year, it was extended to nine exhausting and fabulous days.

As I kissed the first quarter of my life goodbye, the resolution to embrace 26 with open arms was made. While it is a custom in our culture to dread getting older, I’m actually quite excited about the last half of my 20s. I’ve found a career I quite enjoy, have explored and embraced the hobbies I love and (most importantly) I’ve learned to be comfortable (blissfully happy, even) in my own skin. Besides, people tell me that their 30s were their favorite years. It's all uphill from here.

This year, I spent my birthday with the people I love the most (My Family) at one of the places on earth I love the most (The Beach). Who could ask for a better way to celebrate the beginning of a new year?

July brought with it record heat. It also brought the appearance of some new friends and “interests." Here are some highlights of the very best July 2010 moments and my recommendations for making any month of the year one to remember: 

Things To Definitely Do…
  • Take a boat ride with the Vagabond Cruise line from Harbor Town (in Sea Pines) to Savannah for the day. Drink Mimosa’s, stand on the bow, let the wind blow your hair. Make peace signs.

  • Spring for a Trolley Ride through Savannah. The sites and the city are breathtaking and the guides are entertaining.

  • Dine at the Café on City Market in Savannah. The great service and air conditioning will provide a welcomed relief from Savannah summer heat. (Also, the Antipasti Salad is positively delish.) Don't forget to take a picture with Marilyn.
  • Buy your mom a kite and fly it with her on the beach.
  • Relax by a pool with the fam.
  • Treat your parents to dinner out one night. 

  • Dance. Especially on the beach. In the moonlight.

  • Go for long runs in the park. You'll feel ablaze, but the physical strength and emotional highs are worth the sweat and effort. 
  • Try a pair of “Switchflops.” They’re versatile, fun, and different.

At the same time, I have just a *few* recommendations on activities to avoid.

  • Wear your sunglasses while bodysurfing in the Atlantic. The sea will steal them.
  • Leave your journal on a plane.
  • Work on your vacation (not for even a minute)
  • Have a bedtime of 1:30 a.m.+ for 7 nights in a row.

Ah, so far 26 is a wonderful age. And last month was one for the record books. Here’s to many, many more to come.


For My Tennis Shoes

If there’s anything we’ve established thus far on The Daily Shoe, it’s this: I love to love. (See “The Dance”). For one, I love to love shoes (Shocker!) I also love to love running. On any given day of the week, when evening schedules are cleared, no work engagements are pending and no friends are calling, you can rest assured I’m plodding my way through the Highlands and Cherokee or Seneca Parks (occasionally all three.)

Anyone who knows me is aware of this hobby-turned-obsession-turned-way-of-life. And while I’ll rough it out in the summer heat, a cool spring or autumn evening spent in my running shoes on an open road are enough to make my spirits soar and put me in a state of near-ecstasy.

I’ve often tried to explain this love of running to others. Simply running a mile or two isn't adequate, since it takes the second or third mile for your body to find its rhythm and everything is working together in a fluid motion. As soon as you find this rhythm, your strength comes not from your legs or feet, but from your inner-most core. The further you run, the more you can feel your body reaching deep down inside for every ounce of strength it can muster. The end result is the release of the ever-beloved endorphin. All said, running can become a bit of an addiction. (An addiction that just so happens to lend itself to weight loss, improved cardiovascular and bone health, and better coordination.) 

I was not always this way. For one, I’m not built to be the ideal runner. I inherited my mother’s petite size and my father’s rather stocky build. As a child, my parents let me make my attempt in softball and basketball—both endeavors that I’d rather not remember or discuss. Around my sophomore year of high school I finally figured out that while I couldn’t quite master the art of hand-eye/moving-target coordination, I could maneuver from point A to point B at a fairly quick pace. Through years of running, I’ve managed to overcome the less-than-ideal physical build.

Running is not always a bed of roses. It can, in fact, be very painful. A year and a half ago, I was plagued by a pretty miserable case of plantars fasciitis that shut me down for months; my knees are all but done for; and I have the occasional hip trouble.

In spite of the pain, I have found that finding my own rhythm and tapping into that inner core strength allows my mind to be completely clear of the worries, anxieties and fears that follow me around on a daily basis. It's why I return to the routes I know so well, night after night. Along those paths and roadways, I am free: free to enjoy my favorite music, free to think, free to pray.

In a metaphorical sense, there’s more to running than the physical effort. When you're running, you're headed somewhere, and you have a goal in mind.

In the back of my mind, I have this idea of who I want to be and the direction I want my life to go. I’d imagine it is the same for you too, Reader. At the same time, I’ve never been a very good planner. I don’t exactly have a theory on how to get to this “ideal self,” what to do when I arrive, or what happens after. But when I run, I feel as though I'm getting one step closer.

In recent weeks, I’ve come to a rather startling and delightful realization: I’ve never been happier than I am right now. Is it possible that I could someday attain them?  And while I may never achieve my personal idea of perfection (because, that always changes as we go, doesn't it?) this life I am living has every glimmer of what I always dreamed it might be and more.
It's wonderful to be reminded of this, especially on days when I feel confused, stressed and overwhelmed or when I fear that the pace of life has passed me by.
My tennis shoes (my trusted, supportive companions) will always be there waiting by the door. When I do not know what else to do...I'll cling to the thing I know best: an open road, the sound of my feet on the pavement, a sweat on my brow and the understanding that life is moving forward, and I am moving forward with it.  
"Out of the silver heat mirage he ran. The sky burned, and under him the paving was a black mirror reflecting sun-fire. Sweat sprayed his skin with each foot strike so that he ran in a hot mist of his own creation. With each slap on the softened asphalt, his soles absorbed heat that rose through his arches and ankles and the stems of his shins. It was a carnival of pain, but he loved each stride because running distilled him to his essence and the heat hastened this distillation." - James Tabor, from "The Runner.”


"Call Me Jax"

“My friends call me Jax. You may do the same.”

When I was a very little girl, I woke up one morning right before daybreak to a room flooded with hazy, blue light. In the calm of that light, a feeling of peace  washed over me. I could smell the scent of coffee and hear my father playing guitar a few rooms away. In that moment, I fell in love with this time of day. I was safe. The people I loved and who loved me the most were near. And any potential harm was a thousand miles away.

To this day, I love the rare mornings when I wake up right before the dawn to the most perfect blue light pouring in the windows of my apartment. I have no where to be; there are no deadlines pressing down upon me, not a care in the world.

I awoke to just such a morning a little more than 22 years ago on the day my baby sister arrived. That afternoon, little me in a summer smock jumped and screamed with delight with the news:“It’s a girl, it’s a girl, it’s a girl!”

I think about that day a lot. Especially as of late, as I have watched that tiny baby girl grow into a little lady.

There is an astonishing amount of love, coupled with an astonishing amount of envy that goes into sisterhood. My sister is astounding, in both the positive and the negative sense of the word. She can be both endearing and maddening in the same breath. She knows how to push all my buttons and possesses the ability send me into the kind of rage only a sister can produce. And still…she is amazing.

Little Jaclyn is everything that I am not. We love entirely different kinds of shoes: she cannot manage to walk in my heels, and I cannot fathom the flats she loves to wear. I came into the world brunette, blue and mad (the product of an emergency C-section) while Jaclyn greeted us all with blonde, rosy cheer. That never changed. She never meets a stranger. She loves people. And people love her.

I think the quality I love the most about my sister is her beautiful heart. I’ve never met someone so kind or giving of their time. This is the child who gave up her summers to help a little boy with muscular dystrophy, who dealt with feeding tubes and other medical devices during another summer vacation so children with severe disabilities could play like other children, and who would prefer to spend her time caring for a 90-year-old woman back home more than she would care to party with her friends or schoolmates. And, as an added bonus, she is breathtakingly beautiful.

In life, we certainly make our mark on people. But there are those who make their mark on us. And so it is with Jaclyn. I learn from her everyday. And deep down, I pray for a heart that mimics hers.

When she entered college, “Jaclyn” evolved into “Jax”…and so she is commonly called around her soon-to-be Alma Mater. As I’ve watched her grow, my admiration for her increases. And I will admit: this admiration is shadowed by a little bit of fear: Fear that she will get it right. Fear she will succeed where I have failed. Fear that someday she will see straight through me.

That’s the trouble with being the elder sibling. You get to watch those who come behind you experience the moments you’ve already lived. You get to watch with nostalgia and an understanding of what you would have done differently.

A few nights ago, little Jax called from the beach to tell me she’s in love and moving to Florida and getting married. (Now, mind you, this is the fourth time this year she and I have had this conversation.) But, in truth, this is what I want for her:  I hope that her life may be full of laughter where mine was marked by tears. I hope that heartbreak will never find her (and even though it has, that her memory of the experience will be short lived.) I hope that all of her dreams do come true. I hope that she won’t regret…and that when she does, she will find the strength to move on boldly, with confidence.

I do not know if my sister has ever woken to the same kind of blue, hazy morning that occurred the day she arrived in our world. Some experiences and some memories are our own to take and to keep. But, if she takes anything with her from this life—I hope this it will be among them: The people who love her the most are near. And as long as we are, any kind potential of harm is a thousand miles away.


The Perfect Shoe

Someday, I’m going to slip my feet into the most beautiful, perfect pair of Manolo Blahniks, and my life is going to change.

In the photo albums, picture frames, drawers and coffee tables that contain the memorabilia of my life exists the world’s most beautiful picture. At least it is in my opinion. I remember where I stood, what I was thinking, and what I felt when I took it.

It was 2002, the night before my junior prom. A smaller, skinnier version of me (with long, straight hair that nearly reached to the middle of my back) was leaning against the frame of the doorway between the dining and living room, holding my head at an angle as I watched my whole world strum the strings of a guitar a few feet away from me. He was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, the muscles in his arms clearly defined as he played a song he wrote—my song.

As I watched in adoration, I reached for a nearby camera (filled with black-and-white film) and captured the moment forever. He heard the sound of the camera and looked over at me and smiled. My mother always said he had a Humphrey Bogart smile (if Bogart had ever smiled). And she was right.

I never know when I’m going to come across that picture: a profiled picture of a beautiful boy and his guitar. I never could bring myself to throw it away. I loved it then. And I love it still. From time to time, it appears in a drawer, a notebook, or a random folder, and my life freezes. I stop and sit down on a couch or a chair, and a wave of “could have, should haves, would haves” wash over me.

While there are experiences that I will openly talk about—whether good or bad—and even embrace, I rarely talk about the years between 1998 and 2004. I’ve learned to tuck those memories away in a little corner of my mind and I’ve learned to forget what it felt like to love someone so much you felt you could stop the wind if you wanted to.

But, on very rare occasions I will go to that corner of my mind and revisit those times, just like a collection of pictures. Sometimes, it feels necessary to examine them for what they are and for what they were. But regardless, they always end with the same recollections, faded by time and tears: a dimly lit hallway on a late summer’s night years later where I leaned, crumpled, against a wall and looked at him with pleading eyes, “Please don’t break my heart.” And finally, some of the last words he ever said to me, which were uttered over a telephone: “I love you, but I decided to marry someone else.”

To this day, I have never heard the lyrics of my song. I cannot remember what it even sounded like. I always believed he would finally sing them to me at our wedding…the wedding that would and will never be. I hear that he is happy. Sometimes I get a random snippet of news about his life, and a little twinge of pain burns in my chest. Other times, any news bounces off of me because I feel nothing. Sometimes, what happened between us just makes me feel numb.

But I have to remain optimistic. Like a pretty, expensive pair of shoes, there are relationships you may want with all of your heart but you just can’t have. And if you do want them bad enough to pursue them…it will cost you. Like my picture, sometimes our choices in life are clearly outlined in black and white.

So, every morning I slip my feet into my pretty, relatively inexpensive shoes and I set out into an imperfect world with all the optimism a starry-eyed little Cancerian can muster. Among the city lights and the whirl-wind of life that exists all around me, I know my future, my destiny, my “perfect shoe” is waiting. And I know and I believe, that eventually, I will find it.

Someday, I’m going to slip my feet into a pair of Manolo Blahniks—the most perfect,exquisite most perfect shoe—and my life is going to change. But until that day comes—the day when a $685 pair of shoes won’t reduce me to a buyers-remorse-induced-depression—the shoes I have will do the job. And I’m one happy, blessed girl.


Up & Away

Nothing gains perspective like 36,000 feet. As I wrote this blog entry, the fluffiest, whitest cumulus clouds were billowing like grand, puffy marshmallows outside my window. In the distance, I could see thunderclouds forming hundreds of miles away. Ah! The earth, the sky, the sun, the clouds! I was in writer’s heaven!

While I knew I’d inevitably have to come back to earth, I decided to take advantage of my circumstances, “snuggled” as I was into a miniature seat on what resembled a toy plane operated by a major airline. Lucky me, of the three seats available across each isle, mine was the one set by itself and a window, so at least I was crammed in with myself and not a stranger.

Rest assured, I’ve had my fair share of experiences on planes and enough flight “companions” in my short career to write a book. Here are a few of the highlights: there was once a toothless man, drunk on Jack Daniels who exclaimed, “Well, look at that!” as I threw up into an air sickness bag upon takeout from Houston Hobby; then there was the one time when a slick businessman on a Southwest flight piped, “I paid the stewardess to get a pretty girl to sit by me and here you are!” about five times before I’d even taken my seat. (I tried to convince him he should ask for his money back. I also let him believe the gaudy flower ring I bought at Forever 21 for $1.99 was a vintage family heirloom); then, last fall, there was the cute med student who sat next to me on a flight back from L.A. Wait a second. I sat next to a cute med-school student on a flight?! How did I let that one get away?

Moving on…

When you’re preparing to fly, there are a lot of details you must take into consideration. Not least among them (you knew it was coming—didn’t you?) is deciding what kind of shoes are you going to wear. As we well know, TSA requires you to remove your shoes when navigating security, so you want to wear ones than can be removed and put back on easily. I once made the mistake of wearing knee-high boots while traveling in the middle of winter. Attempting to get them off and back on felt a bit, um, awkward? So, during last week’s travel, I opted for a pair of strappy, slip-on silver sandals. (I’m convinced that a little pair of silver shoes might be the most complimentary pair of shoes you can own, short of a basic pair of black pumps.)

There’s something to be said about getting up and away from life on earth as we know it. This week, as I traveled away from home and back for work, I could almost physically feel the stress of my life melt away a few minutes after take-off. For hours at a time, I couldn’t use my phone to BBM friends, check or send email, or constantly update Twitter. It was just me, my pen, a notepad, and my own thoughts.

In November of last year, I was sitting at an airport in Chicago on a layover when my dad called with some of the most difficult news we’d received as a family in years: he’d been forced to resign from his job. Not only had my smart, caring father been victim of small-town politics, but the past 13 years of our family’s entire lives had been stripped away in one swift move—as though the community had removed us like a Band-Aid.

I remember sitting there at that Chicago terminal, cross-legged in a chair, hunched over with my head in my hands, sobbing. There was no one there to console me. No one to put an arm around me and tell me it would be O.K. All around me, the world carried on as it normally would.

About an hour later, I was aboard my flight, sitting in another window seat, and resting my head against the back of the chair as I watched the earth move away from me. I felt weak, emotionally exhausted, and alone. So, I did the only thing I know to do when I feel that way: I got my journal out and grabbed a pen. In the hours between Chicago and Sacramento, I’d recorded everything I was experiencing on paper: anger, bitterness, hate, dread, and fear. When the plane landed, I found that all of those sentiments had been left behind, forever lost somewhere over the great expanse of the Rockies. And as I exited the plane, all I had left to stand on was the most important human emotion of all: love. Love for my family, love for my father, and love for everything they have been and ever will be to me as long as I live.

Indeed, nothing gains perspective like 36,000 feet. But, when you do have to come back to earth in your little silver shoes, kind of Dorothy-esque, it’s nice to come back feeling grounded.


Routine Shoes

The Lucky Shopping Manual by Kim France and Andrea Linett offers a broad range of fashion advice and tips on everything from skirts to shirts to purses to (you guessed it) shoes. In fact, they list just a few of the shoe varieties available to all of us “Shoe Lovers”: Strappy, Ankle Strap, Platform, Cut-Out, Stiletto, Thong, Flat, Two-Tone, Ankle Boot, Wedge, T-strap, Loafer, Clog, D’orsay, Mule, Metallic, Round Toe, Embellished, Kitten Heel, Flip Flop, Slide and Knee Boot.

When you factor in color, brand, heel height, the options are endless. But there’s always a pair of shoes that we default to as we go about the tasks of our everyday lives. I like to call these the “Routine Shoes.”

After years of working a desk job in an office, and when I’m in the midst of a wardrobe dilemma or running late (if you know me, you know this happens a lot, not a morning person) I’ve learned that you’ll always be safe in a pair of black pumps. And then of course, during warm weather months, nothing could be easier than slipping on a pair of flip flops before heading out to grocery shop, run to the bank, mail a letter, or peruse the local bookstore.

As time passes, I’m amazed at how life seems to blend together. I get so used to going through the motions that I miss the moments that comprise them. And sometimes, alarmingly, I feel as though I’m losing myself in the midst of it all.

I suppose the fact of the matter is this: we all want our lives to amount to more than punching in our Plus Card numbers at Kroger, cranking out a half hour at gym on the elliptical like hamsters, diligently paying our bills month after month. There’s nothing wrong with these activities. But they can’t be the only thing that defines us.

Five years ago, I sat in my parents’ living room as a college sophomore carefully packing for my upcoming study abroad trip to Spain. I knew the trip of a lifetime awaited me, and I was being ever-so-careful about what I packed. During one preparatory shopping trip, my mom and I found the most perfect pair of shoes: a green, floral strappy number that was just to die for (pictured). What’s more, they went perfectly with a skirt she’d been making for me for my trip. As I packed them away, I had no way of knowing that weeks later, I would be wearing these shoes as I sang and laughed with newfriends in the Plaza Mayor of Segovia at 3 in the morning, as patrons of local cafes sat sipping wine by candlelight. It was one of the happiest nights of my life.

Aside from being the experience of a lifetime, there was nothing routine about the time spent in Spain. Everyday was new—so there were no motions to go through, no already established routine. Even the classes we attended changed on a daily basis. Life was ours to create at every step (and sometimes at the guidance of our teachers). whether we were traveling to Salamanca, Toledo, Salabreña or Granada; attending a local festival; experiencing new food at a hole-in-the-wall diner; or singing new Spanish songs with new Spanish friends at our favorite local hang out (Tres Bs) everything blended to become one grand, beautiful experience.

Whenever I feel bogged down by routine, I sometimes grab my “Spain shoes” from their shelf, put them on, kick my feet up on the coffee table, sip a glass of red wine, and flip through all of my photos from the trip. While I understand I'm admitting publicly to the strange habit single girls can form when left alone for too long, the few moments of nostalgia provided by this temporary retreat is a much-needed reality check: a reminder that I have wonderful life ahead of me and even more memorable moments are left to be experienced. It's the kind of thing that motivates you to shrug off one measly little chore and do that thing you really love, whether it be running, painting, reading, writing, etc.

We can all continue to love our Routine Shoes for the comfort they give us and security they represent. But let’s make a point this week to put them aside for at least one night and pull on a pair of strappy heals, embellished flats, or trendy wedges—whatever you prefer—instead. It's not where we go in them that really matters, but rather the memories we make in them on our way.


"The fact is, sometimes it's hard to walk in a single woman's shoes. That's why we need really special ones now and then to make the walk a little more fun."


The Dance

If there's one thing I know well about myself, it's this: I love to love. And I love a lot of things. Dancing is one of them. And there are few things I find more intriguing than the grace of a ballroom dance.

Whenever I watch professional dancers together, I'm always amazed by the skill and the ease by which they execute each movement. (Not to mention the beautiful shoes the women manage to glide across the floor in.) I'm also struck by the level of trust they display: they dip on queue without fear of falling, they spin and twirl with the confidence a hand will be there to catch theirs and pull them back in.

Over the course of our lives, odds are we will experience the full gamut of the dancing spectrum. As little girls, we stand on our father's feet in frilly socks and Mary Jane's as he stoops to reach our tiny, outstretched hands. Later, we attend our first dance wearing a pair of awkward, clunky heels (possibly the very first heels we've ever worn) and experience the joy (and relief) when a boy chooses us to no longer stand along the wall. As we grow older, the rigid, three feet apart sway of that first dance dissolves: one day, the right person taps us on the shoulder, guides us to the dance floor. As the distance between us melts away, and we are carried away in the graceful dance of which we've always dreamed. In the end, we come full spectrum as taller, more elegant versions of ourselves wearing white dresses take our father's hand once more as he ultimately gives us away.

Deep down, I suppose this is the dance I dream of: the dance that is shared, the dance of building a life with someone. To be sure, I am blessed beyond measure, and no one loves a "dance party for one" more than I do. I throw them all the time in the comfort of my little Crescent Hill apartment. (This confession may make some readers shake their heads in embarrassment. But my closest friends will shake their heads, then nod and say, "Yeah, that sounds about right. She would.")

The reality is: there have been many dances in my life that did not end the way I thought-or rather hoped-they would. There have been times when there was no arm there to catch me, and other times still when no hand caught me from a violent spin. After you've fallen, so many times, it becomes increasingly harder to get back up, brush off your dress and stand there in those tall shoes with any confidence at all. There are days when it is a little devastating to feel sentenced to a life as a perpetual wallflower. Always waiting. "Will my turn ever come?"

Very recently, I shared a dance I will never forget: not because my dance partner was was ridiculously handsome (he was), not because he intrigued me in a way that I have not been intrigued in a long time (he did), but because of what he said to me before the dance began:

"Rule Number One: Keep your right foot planted between my feet at all times." (In ballroom dancing, they call this aiming.)

I followed his instructions, and he suddenly dipped backward toward the ground. He continued, "As long as that foot is there, you're grounded, and you'll be fine." As he lifted me up, he grinned a little. "There will also be no unnecessary toe-stomping."

"Rule Number Two: If I lift my arm, you're going to spin. And when you do, always keep your hand curved a little, like this. As long as you keep that hand just like that..." His arm went up, I spun, and I kept my hand the way he told me to, "...I can always catch you." I came to the end of the spin, and his hand closed around mine.

I do not know which moment I loved more: the one where my heart skipped a beat and I remembered the joy of possibility, reminded that perhaps, yes, my dance was yet to come. Or perhaps I just loved the fact that, somewhere in the midst of a hazy summer night, in the middle of a lamp-lit yard, he'd said the exact words I needed to hear.

Perhaps we get so caught up in the motion of the dance, or the anticipation thereof, that we forget the basic rules:

Keep one high-heel-clad little foot planted on the faith you've been taught, the love you've been given, and the goals you've built your life upon-even when it feels the world is falling apart around you.

Wait in anticipation, always ready, but still holding on to your identify and the vision of who you are going to be to the world-even when you think you might be spiraling out of reach.

And, finally, be ready for the catch, for the moment the right hand folds around your own, because inevitably, it will come.

"It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. It is the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance. It is the one who won't be taken who cannot seem to give. And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live." -Better Midler


Going Barefoot

Yesterday evening I returned to Louisville from spending several days at home with my parents in the far Western reaches of the state. It is not often that I get to go home and spend several days at a time with them. Usually, the visit is crammed into the space of a single weekend: down on a Friday night right after work, there all day Saturday, and back in the car after church on Sunday. After three years of making the commute, I know the way well: I-65 South to the Western Kentucky Parkway—a miserable 140 miles of barren nothingness—to I-24 to the Purchase Parkway. I never mind the 250 mile trek because I always know that when I arrive there will be hugs (usually extended, squeezing ones from my mom), two happy dogs who can’t wait to jump into my lap and smother me with kisses, and a large, southern-style dinner waiting on the table. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, family friends will be also there to join in on the Welcome Party. There’s something about Western Kentucky that helps me unwind—as though the moment you exit onto the Purchase Parkway, life slows and everything becomes simpler, easier.

After the initial welcome, when I am unpacking my bags in the guestroom, the usual flood of recollections enter my mind. Every aspect of this place is filled with the memories we’ve had ample time to create. The physical evidence is everywhere: in pictures of our childhood, our teenage years, high school graduations, proms and group pictures with friends and our extended family. Surrounded by the comfort of a happy past, I can feel the worry and the stress of my life begin to melt away. I slip my feet out of my shoes, symbolically beginning to let go.

There’s something to be said about going barefoot. (This in no way, shape or form reinforces the stereotype that Kentuckians don’t wear shoes. I can assure you, we do. That is not the point.) At some point in all of our lives, we must cast off our shoes and contend with ourselves in our natural form. No one curls onto the couch for a movie night wearing shoes, and we don’t sleep in shoes, for example. Whether we are enjoying the cool feel of green summer grass, the warm sensation of sand between our toes, or kicking and splashing our feet over the edge of a pool through blue, clear water—some of life’s most precious moments are lived out not in our tall heels or work loafers, but barefoot.

Parading about sans shoes can be incredibly wonderful. As a child, my younger brother and sister and I created all kinds of games and adventures in our yard and our house without them. On rainy spring afternoons, I love to curl up in a soft chair with a book and read—no shoes required. I remember standing in the middle of our yard one glorious summer evening when I was 17 in a summer dress, barefoot, and reaching up on tiptoe for my life’s most perfect kiss. And even now, when I sit across from my friends for heart-to-heart conversations that last for hours, it is the words we exchange that matter—not our shoes.

In a world where horns are honking, Blackberries are buzzing, deadlines are looming, reporters are calling, bills are arriving…a return to the simple, essential way of life is not only needed, it is necessary. When we are home, among the people whom we love the most and who love us unconditionally in return, we can ultimately shake off our shoes, let down our guard, relax and be ourselves. And these are the moments when I am convinced this is life in its most perfect form.

Inevitably, the relaxing, back-to-my-roots days must end, and I must return to the city. As I turn my car in the direction of the interstate, I do so with a sense of sadness—there is a pulling in my heart to turn back and let life be this way, always. Of course I know this is unrealistic. Life is waiting, and I must return to it.

Last night, as I set the cruise control and set my sight on the highway ahead, I glanced back in my rear view mirror to see a perfect sunset spread behind me. I had to smile as I slipped my feet out of my flip flops and allowed myself to be barefoot, just once more. We certainly can’t make these kinds of moments last forever, but—whenever we can—we should make them last just a little longer.


Introduction to the "Daily Shoe"

Every friendship must first begin with an introduction, so allow me to introduce “The Girl Behind The Daily Shoe.” I wear an average shoe (size 7) but I don’t suppose I’m necessarily average. I’m a bit quirky (ok, I’m really quirky) with a deep love of and appreciation for art, music, Spain, running, writing and of course, shoes. The daughter of a Southern Baptist Preacher and an elementary school teacher, my childhood played out in a sprawling back yard surrounded by corn and tobacco fields in Western Kentucky. Life was simple and good, filled with a lot of love and, naturally, Southern Comfort. While some might say that “all good things must come to an end” I will argue that “all good things eventually must change.” And so they did for me. While I enjoyed the country and the simplicity of the town where I spent my adolescence, my parents always knew I could never stay. I spent my college years plotting my escape. I needed a city. Not the largest city, but a city.

One sunny, autumn afternoon, I stood barefoot, and utterly bewildered, in the middle of an empty apartment in the heart of Louisville—the city I’d decided to make my new home. This apartment was a tremendous upgrade from my previous living arrangement, which consisted of a twin-sized air mattress at the foot of a friend’s bed and a handful of clothes and shoes shoved into one end of her closet. I had been sharing that tight space with my gracious friend while I waited to see if the career opportunity I was pursuing would become available to me. It did. And that is how I came to find myself, only a few months later, staring around at my new place and feeling a little overwhelmed by my circumstances: I was officially on my own; I was 250 miles from my family and the people I love the most; I was in a relationship that was holding us both back and hurting us both a little more every day; and I was alone and didn’t even own a fork to eat a Lean-Cuisine with, let alone a microwave with which to cook one. In light of this harsh reality, I did the only thing a girl such a predicament can do: I put on my shoes, grabbed my purse and my keys and went shopping.

Five different colors of paint, a new couch, borrowed television, various decorations and a cat later—I had established my “home.” But, deep down I knew there was a lot more work to be done.

Usually, at least once in a girl’s life, she’ll stumble across the most perfect shoe. The moment she sees it—from the color to the shape to the fit—she knows—this is “her shoe.” An outward expression of her perspectives, her style, her hopes and dreams, she wears this shoe proudly. And, just as the perfect shoe should, it lifts her up and helps her move ahead in the direction of her hopes and dreams for the future.

That fall, my journey to find “my shoe” was only beginning. In fact, I couldn’t decide where to even put my actual shoes for the longest time. The poor things spent close to a year and a half in chaos, crammed in my tiny closet, which, in a real sense, seems parallel to my life at the time. Those first two years were complete turmoil. I spent them searching for some steady ground on which to stand and trying on a lot of different pairs of “shoes” to see which ones I might fill: charity work, politics, boyfriends, etc.

I felt like a real-life Cinderella…except, there was no prince at my door bearing my missing shoe and in doing so, revealing my purpose and destiny. And there was no fancy ball at a palace, either. No, I had to scream and claw and fight for my “shoe” with every ounce of energy I could muster in what sometimes felt like a muggy swamp. It was a little like a treasure hunt where you search under every rock and in every cranny for your prize—led only to the next place by subtle hints and clues.

It took time. But eventually, “my shoe” began to take shape before my eyes. Let’s just say that the “Girl Behind the Daily Shoe” in 2010 doesn’t even recognize the “Girl Behind the Daily Shoe” from 2007. I suspect this is the natural progression of life: constantly moving, ever evolving, always molding us into—I believe—the people we were born to be.

“Sometimes it’s just one foot in front of the other. Throw your feet over the side of the bed. Strap on your pretty shoes and move in the direction of the woman you’ve always wanted to become.”–Angela Thomas, When Wallflowers Dance

Eventually, I found the rightful place for my shoes. Out of that dark, dank closet they came into the light of day. So, every morning when I crawl out of bed and round the corner into the hallway, they greet me: Dozens of pairs of pretty shoes lined in perfect rows on shelves that stretch along the entire wall. They are, in a very real sense, an expression of my life: the physical foundation on which I stand. A shoe will never replace my spiritual foundation, my family who loved and supported me through thick and thin, or my friends who listen and encourage me to pursue my calling in life. Rather, shoes are a small, physical reminder of these things. And my shoes—with their tall, slender heels and pointed toes—have supported and held me up through a lot over the years: A reminder of where I have been. A symbol of where I am going.