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We go through doors, and what we find on the other side is the person we’ve become.

— John Ortbert

Grieving me

I grieve for what could have been

For the life we could have known

When we would sit upon our porch

Marvel at how the kids have grown

You took away the shred of hope

The smile I wore inside my heart

You ripped apart the love I felt

When you shredded my world apart

I would always speak of a future

As you would stare off into space

You knew there would not be one

You would never allow me that place

I would always say I love you

You would mumble the words in return

You never would say them first

Making me feel it’s something to earn

I would attempt to talk of issues

Looking you in the eye as I would speak

You would raise your voice loudly

Making me sink tearfully in retreat

You ruled with such an iron fist

My way or the highway you stood 

I tried so hard for you to love me

Nothing I did mattered or ever would

If I pointed out a terrible wrong

You would not own it as being you

Instead it was everyone else’s fault 

And not something you would do

When others would speak I’ll of you

You came out blazing ready for fight

When they would hurt me instead 

You could care less to make it right

You would lie to cover the truth

In everything innocent you would be

But truth has a way of finding a home

By surfacing in ways you couldn’t see

Years I have known and seen your way

You would degrade others to stand strong

But making them look like less

Only made you to be more in the wrong 

You should have been my hero

The knight who stood to fight for me 

Instead you were the one who most

Broke me to pieces that I couldn’t see

All I wanted was to feel your love

Which was way too much for me to ask

You made it your agenda to break me

Yes, you definitely won at that task

I sit here looking at the stranger

The one I spent years trying to please

As you glare at me across the room

I feel the darkness in you and freeze

Love and control are not the same

I wish I had realized before it was too late

Maybe I would not have been so shattered

When you would glare at me with such hate

I am trying to break free of being a puppet

As on your string I dance around

I have walked away from you before

Only to soon come back on the rebound

I fear what you might do at any moment

If you knew I was onto your dance

So I pretend ignorance when you lie

So as to protect myself from that chance

One minute you are kind and gentle

My best friend to say the least

But the next the narcissist comes out

And you become yet again that evil beast

I lost myself while trying to find you

I hid within the walls of our home

You isolated me from the people who care

As I continued to live with your heart of stone

My end my come soon in my story

When you realize my foot is out the door

Or I may once again learn to live

When without you I am no more

Losing my voice

When I was younger I use to love to sing. I would sing to every song that came on the radio, although the occasional heavy rock song would be a struggle for my voice. Somehow I just could not manage to accomplish the heavy growl, screech, or scream that was much needed to go with the electric guitars in the background. I did, however, find that my voice seemed to resonate well with gospel music or soft ballads. I would sing in the shower (don’t we all), I would sing on the way to and from school, and most often just in my bedroom. I would sing in the car with my mom, I would sing with my friends when they came over, I would sing with my sisters, and quite often I would sing to my beloved pets (they always were very supportive and listened quite well.)

At one point I had envisioned making my own album. When I told a friend of mine this detail, they put me into contact with someone who had a recording studio in their home. My older sister and I talked about doing this together, so much practice was needed. We would sing together quite often as we would try to learn to blend our voices and harmonize with one another. She always had such a beautiful voice, mine however was still going through that fun transformation it does as we age throughout our teenage years. I struggled to find my voice. Soon it came time for us to plan what we were going to record and when. We obviously could not steal a song from our favorite ladies we loved to sing with, The Judds. Oh how we loved to sing “Love can build a bridge” or “He’s crazy”. But The Judds, we were not. This pipe dream seemed to fade into the distance over time and never was fulfilled. I continued to sing over the years, but as I went through life I somehow lost my voice.

One day I realized I had just quit singing. Even driving down the road listening to the radio, I would find my voice just to be a soft whisper. Maybe it was criticism over the years from others, or maybe it was my own self doubt in myself. I began to feel that everything I did was just not good enough. The voices of so many others had filled me with such self doubt that soon that was the only voices I could hear, my own vanished. I envisioned dogs howling at my singing, or that my voice sounded like a cat screeching when you accidentally would step on its tail. I even once went to a bar with the guy I was dating at the time which loved to do karaoke. After much persuasion on his behalf, I went on stage. I attempted to sing the song “Maybe he will notice her now” by Mindy McCready. Well, to make a long story short, the bar seemed to empty quite quickly that night. After I got done singing, I noticed it was only 9:00 pm and the bar was empty. Where did everyone go, was it my singing? More self doubt entered into my existence right there. That was the last time I ever sang in public (out loud anyway).

Fast forward to about seven years ago. I started attending a church with my (now) husband and they would put the words up on the screen so you could sing with the band. I would listen to the music and read the words but my mouth would never open. I eventually faced much criticism from him because of this, drilling me why I wouldn’t sing. So eventually I started mouthing the words so I would be in his good graces. I felt my voice was not meant to be heard. I would spend seven years in this relationship always feeling like my voice was not meant to be heard, my words would often stay hidden within my heart or mouthed but never spoken aloud. I lost my voice.

Sitting in church this morning I started to think about this when the minister was talking about Fear. I have spent my entire life being scared. I was scared of judgment, scared of not being accepted, scared of being criticized, scared of feeling like I don’t matter, scared I will never be good enough, scared to speak up about injustice, scared to stand up against things I knew were wrong. I even sat quietly through a relationship that I knew was toxic, that I knew would only hurt me to the point of no return. I stood strong by someone and tried to love them, even through all the pain and fear they caused me, even when I could see the darkness within them. Their voice was always heard. When I would try to speak, to talk, to try to fix what was broken, my voice was overpowered by the loudness of theirs. I lost my voice.

Today I sat in church alone, today I did not sit by my biggest critic. Today I sat with just my own thoughts, my own feelings, and the presence of God that spoke to me all too clearly saying “Use your voice”. I am tired of hiding in the shadows, I am tired of living in fear, I am tired of standing by someone who would not stand by me if the situation was reversed. I am tired of loving someone who is incapable of returning that love. Love is not control and it has taken me a long time to realize this. When I lost my voice, I lost my value. I am slowly finding myself again, and I demand to be heard. Today I sang in church. I found my voice. Today I sang in my car. I found my voice. Today I wrote in my blog about speaking my truth. Today I found my voice!

Squirrel in the road

We all know that moment when we are driving along, lost in thought and just minding our own business, when suddenly out of nowhere appears a squirrel in the road. Occasionally they dart across the road in a quick sprint to get to the other side, but then there are the times they run out to the middle of the road and just stop. Suddenly, they are frozen in the road at the exact spot your car is traveling. You slam on the brakes (or maybe you don’t) to avoid squishing that cute little furry creature. You may even yell at him “Get out of the way” of which I am sure he quickly nods his head in understanding and runs off, all the while being very grateful to you for being so thoughtful on his behalf.

So let’s take a look at why squirrels stop in the middle of the road. They have a simple instinct: when I feel threatened, run back to the last place I was safe. This works pretty well in the wild…they see a predator, they run back into a hole or up a tree. They haven’t had time to evolve an instinct that works with cars and roads.

Have you ever felt like a squirrel? Can you draw a comparison with your own life and how you feel that matches that of a squirrel, the eagerness to run back to the last place you felt safe? We tend to go through life living in fear for one reason or another. When we finally feel safe enough to make a run for it, something suddenly scares us and we become frozen. We do not know which way to turn, or which is the best direction to go. For a few moments in time we had known exactly what direction we were going to head toward. Then, in the blink of an eye, we are stopped. Do we keep going forward in the direction we intended and risk being hurt, or do we turn around and run back to the place we felt safe?

The unknown is terrifying. We fear the unknown because of what it could take from us. In reference to the squirrel (and maybe even ourselves) we fear death. We are scared that should we keep going forward, we will die in the process. Maybe exactly what we need (in a sense) is death. What I mean is that we need to let the old version of ourselves die so that the new version, the one that GOD truly intended for us to become, can then be formed.

Imagine for a moment that the squirrel is running across the street while dragging a heavy suitcase. He goes slower, he gets tired more quickly, he soon just wants to turn around and call it quits while thinking to himself “This is just not worth it.” Don’t we do the same? Don’t we always try to move forward while carrying the baggage from yesterday with us? Just think how quickly we could get to our destination if we just kept our eyes focused on the direction we want to go and quit looking behind us. Maybe it is time you lighten your load, make a new plan for your life, and just run for it. Do not look back, do not take a pause, keep pushing forward. The safest thing you can do for yourself…is KEEP GOING!!!

Dirty Laundry

Let’s talk about the saying “Do not air your dirty laundry” for a moment. I have heard that more times than I can count over the years, just as I am sure that you probably have also. As I was sitting in church last Sunday listening (yes I was actually listening) to the sermon, I started thinking more in depth to the meaning of this statement. The minister was speaking about different areas of our lives where we carry a bias, dirty laundry being one of them.

What are they referencing to when they speak of dirty laundry? If you say that someone airs their dirty laundry in public, you disapprove of their discussing or arguing about unpleasant or private things in front of other people. Where did the phrase air your dirty laundry come from? It was first used in English in 1867, this idiom derived from an old French proverb, ll fault laver son linge sale en famille, meaning “One should wash one’s dirty laundry at home.” Napolean used this proverb when he returned from his exile in Elba in 1815.

So many times in our lives we feel that we have to keep things secret in order to avoid judgment. One of my biggest fears in life was to tell my story, I was worried what other people would think. Yes, I have faced quite a bit of criticism due to the fact that I put my story out there for others to know. A lot of people have different views and opinions about the trauma I have endured. But the thing we must all recognize is that each one of us deal with things differently. We all view things in a different light based on what we have endured and the circumstances that surrounded us at the time. We cannot judge others or assume to know what they have been through because we were not there. We do not know their thoughts or in what state of mind they were in at the time, and we do not know what condition their heart was in when they went through certain things in their life. We are all wired differently. Some of us are wired for anxiety and worry, and some have a more laissez-faire, it’s all going to work out kind of mentality. Perception plays a large part in how much each worry or trauma gets amplified for any one person, we each react differently based on our own life experiences that have formed us since birth. Often we form a bias (sometimes without even realizing that we do) as to how others should behave in a certain circumstance, and for that we are wrong.

When I wrote my book a year ago, I aired my dirty laundry for the whole world to see. This was much to the displeasure of some people that thought I was wrong to tell it, that it all should stay buried and it was no one’s business. At times I have went back to their suggestions and thought maybe they were right, because I did get more than my share of criticism from others. But it was my story to tell, the good and the bad. By telling my truth, I was able to take that dirty laundry and wash it. It no longer sat in a pile of stench that engrossed my entire being where I would look at it day by day and become disgusted by its presence. I told my story, which gave it the opportunity to be washed clean from my mistakes. I no longer had to look at it on a daily basis because I had already confronted those dirty mistakes. I had cleaned them through the grace of God. I cannot say they no longer exist, but I can tell you they look different to me now. I now look at a clean pile of laundry that sits before me. We must all acknowledge that no one is perfect, even though many seem to put themselves on a pedestal and assume that position. We all have dirty laundry that could use some detergent.

There is power in admitting to the things you have done wrong in your life, airing your dirty laundry if I may? Every one of us has something we hide, a truth we want no one to know because of fear. The people I respect the most are the ones who are honest and humble about themselves, and about the journey that brought them to where they are. If we never make mistakes, how can we learn? If we are perfect, what room does God have to mold us into his image, to make us into something better? It is the mistakes, the dirty laundry, that gives us room for growth.

Dirty laundry will stay dirty until you pull it all out, acknowledge it needs to be washed, and then clean it! We all make mistakes, but acknowledging them and laying them out before God, gives you the opportunity for them to be washed away by his love.

Free Hugs

When my son was in his teenage years, he decided to tape a piece of white paper to his black shirt. The paper read “Free Hugs.” Curiosity won out and I had to ask him “Why would you do that?” He just laughed and said with a smile on his face “Because, well, why not? Everyone can use a hug.” How right he was. In those moments I just smiled along with him, proud of the man he was becoming and how something as simple as offering a hug could mean so much to someone who might need one. He knew that.

I watched my son proudly hug anyone he came into contact with, even when he was not wearing his homemade “Free Hug” shirt. He would look them into the eye, sport a huge smile, and then his arms would be extended like a bird getting ready to take flight as he embraced the next winner of a free hug. Sometimes people would smile, often they would have a surprised look on their face. Because seriously, who would do that right? My son, that’s who!

I remember many times when I would also get one of those free hugs. He got older and we drifted further away from one another, now several states lay between us. The hugs have become even more seldom. I am thinking back now on how many moments throughout my life I could have really used just a free hug. I was blessed to have a son eager to offer me one, for some of it anyway. Now, I am looking around wishing I had another, but no one to receive one from.

I have often wondered about the people that were lucky enough to receive a free hug from my son. Could it have been a mother that held a screaming child in her arms that day, and is now left feeling exhausted and drained? Could it have been someone who had just written a suicide note and felt like no one cared whether they walked this Earth one more day? Could it have been someone who just found out they had been diagnosed with cancer?

There have been many times in my life when I have felt the world come crushing down on me. I would look around and no one would be standing there next to me. No one I could turn to for advice, no one to tell me it will be ok, no one to just hold me and tell me they love me, and no one to just offer a hug. What would it mean on those days just for some random person to come walking toward me with their arms open wide and to offer a hug as if to say “It is all going to be ok, and I love you!”

Right now I want you to look around, think about the people you see on an daily basis or even those that you pass in the store. What if they are one of those people that are feeling so very alone right now and just need to know someone out there cares? Haven’t we all felt that at one point or another? Maybe you are even feeling that right now, just as I am.

A free hug.

One simple act – a wonderful feeling to give someone!

The Puzzle

Today I decided to put together a puzzle, one that contained the image of a beautiful cream Pomeranian (my favorite type of dog-I have two.) For some reason I have held on to this puzzle for many years and have never put forth the effort to put it together. Today was the day I finally made the attempt. I took this puzzle to work with me and cleared a spot on my office desk, thinking this would be something I could do during my break times. I slowly opened the box so as not to spill its contents on the floor, and then began the separation of edge pieces from the middle, also taking the time to pull out the orange pieces and set them aside. Orange would be my first color.

I spent endless moments putting together the edge pieces, often finding the pieces in the wrong place, not fitting together correctly, or actually having extra pieces of edging when I was done and wondering to myself “How did that happen?” The desk was not big enough to hold the puzzle and I had to fold away pictures of my beloved family which I keep displayed proudly. Finally, I manage to get the edge put together and then I just stare at it. Moments pass by as the orange pieces just sit there over to my right side, eagerly awaiting to find their home within the rectangle. In this moment I decided to put the puzzle back into its box. It had already became too hard, and my faith to make all the pieces fit the way they were intended started to seem minimal at best.

Many thoughts crossed my mind as I put this puzzle away, comparing it to my own life. Tragedy had struck our family a couple of weeks ago and I found myself in the midst of heartbreak as I stood in the middle of two people I loved, being asked to choose a side. I cried many tears, could not eat, and sleep was just never going to happen unless I could turn off that switch that we call overthinking. I thought about all the other puzzles in my life. How many times did I finish them? How many times did I just put them back in the box and call it done? Some were harder than others. Some I put in every possible effort, only to find in the end that the pieces would never form a complete image no matter how hard I tried. Some were the wrong pieces, some were damaged, and some were just missing. My life has been a metaphor of unfinished puzzles.

I have had to make some very tough decisions in the last couple of weeks that many will not understand. But often in life we are given a puzzle we do not even want, and try to make the best of it. Or we do everything we possibly can to finish the puzzle we have been handed, only for others to constantly tell us it is not worth the effort-just throw it away. I made a decision that this last puzzle (not the Pomeranian one) would be finished, I was not going to throw this one away just as everyone else in my life had suggested. This puzzle, I had to complete, for my own sanity if nothing else. Now after it is complete, who knows what life will bring. It could bring a new puzzle or maybe, just maybe…this could be the one we hang on the wall (just like grandma use to do-throw some glue over top, put it in a frame and call it good.)

The thing is, we are all putting together our own puzzle. Some have easier ones than others do, and some will never understand the hard puzzle you were given because they have never had to hold that many pieces. You have to go into it with the determination that you are going to give it your best shot. Too many times I have thrown out a puzzle before I was even sure if it was ruined or not. There have also been times when I knew the puzzle was ruined, but I could look at it and see the slightest image of a good thing deep under the layers of ruin, and I decided to do what I could to restore it-even if I had to do it alone.

The Empty Chair

When I was little, my dad had bought an old dump truck and tractor, ready to start his next adventure of hauling sand and gravel to unknown destinations. The truck was old and bounced around more than any roller coaster I had ever been on. But oh did it have some power behind it, or maybe that was just the man behind the wheel that I am remembering, my father. Dad soon added some decal lettering onto the side of the truck using stencil and some spray paint to emphasize his name and contact information. My mother then went and took the next step to have business cards made up with my father’s name, adding to the bottom of the cards “and daughter Riley.” Even though it was my father’s new adventure, it soon became my own also. I would eagerly jump into that old truck and head down the to gravel pit with him, and then quickly mount onto the old tractor to start loading up our haul.

When dad had bought the truck, there was only the driver seat. Where a passenger seat would normally go, there sat a void, the seat had long since been removed before the sell of the truck. My father thought the most logical answer to this issue would be to throw an old folding lawn chair into its place. This chair was the kind that had two inch strips of the colors green and white, that were woven in and out of one another, and often had loose strings that would poke into you and make you feel that you were sitting on a pin cushion rather than a chair. I loved this chair, that is until dad would turn a corner or hit a large bump in the road, then the chair would get a mind of its own and travel around the cab of the truck. I suppose a seat belt would have helped this issue, but dad never mentioned wearing one. Come to think of it, I am not sure the old truck even had one. It is amazing how in some circumstances that could have put you in danger, you felt so safe just because of the person you sat next to.

That old truck and tractor would eventually be sold, but not before my father had time to give all of his grand-kids rides in the truck and then in the bucket of the old tractor. I am not sure who those cherished moments meant more to, the kids, or to dad. I often think back to that old chair and the memories that it held, and also to the old recliner that had become a favorite of my fathers. Empty chairs. I lost my father when I was eleven, so there were not a lot of years that I could hold on to. But the few that I had, they were my everything.

Sometimes in life we find ourselves surrounded by empty chairs. The chairs may even still be occupied, maybe by someone that we once loved, or even someone we are still trying to find reasons to love. The chair, however, is empty. There sits a void, you can feel it in the air and the distance between you. Sometimes, the ride even feels a little bit bumpy, but you still search for that little bit of happiness in the travel. Other times, you look at that empty chair and long for what is gone, what you can never get back again, and you know it is time to just let it go.

When you get to the end of your journey and look back on your life, are you going to mourn for the empty chair? Or are you going to look at the chair next to you and feel comfort, security, companionship, growth, and most importantly-love. Sometimes your empty chair might be the exact chair someone else needs to complete their set. And maybe, just maybe, your next chair is out there searching for its match but you only have one spot, and it is already taken by the piece you are trying so hard not to let go of….

Reggie the Raccoon

It was Christmas 1983 and I was at the wonderful age of 11, when I received my pet stuffed raccoon, which quickly became my best friend. Reggie was not much of a talker, but was really a wonderful listener to my ongoing conversations that I would force him to endure. He would just sit next to me on the couch, all the while being very attentive as I would share with him about my day at school.

Reggie would sleep with me every night, as I would snuggle him in close to my heart and whisper in my little girl voice, “I love you,” as my eyes would flutter shut and I would enter into mystical places that only our dreams can take us. My comforter would always be on the outside of the bed, facing the door, and Reggie would be ready to leap his 3 pounds of stuffed fur at anything that was to walk through that door and cause either of us to become endangered species.

Thoughts of Reggie bring back so many smiles, as I look back on those years that he would become a treasured presence in my life. We were inseparable, that little raccoon and I. We would go shopping, to the movies, outside to play, to school, and quite often take some wonderful naps together. He understood the fact that I never felt accepted by my peers, and I understood his need to always keep me on my toes, even though he would often find himself doing quite the opposite.

My father, which would often spend most of his time either at work or the bar, always found a way to connect his little girl to him through this adorable little furry creature. I would walk out of the room for a moment, only to come back and find Reggie standing on his head. I would quickly upright him so that he would not get a headache, and offer him my sincerest apologies. Then a short while later when I would leave the room again, Reggie would find himself yet again upside down. My father would be sitting over in his recliner, watching his favorite television program, and fighting back that little smirk at the corner of his lips that I had grown to love. Reggie was soon to endure many months of seeing the world upside down as this game would play out between my father and I.

Reggie had no idea what an instrumental part he was going to play in my life. He now sleeps very comfortably tucked away in a Rubbermaid tote in my basement. However, he still comes out for some affection on occasion when I want to hold him close, and to remember those few moments of childhood when my father was still here with us. My father had passed away in early 1984, so my relationship with Reggie became even stronger as I held tightly to that little raccoon every night, hoping to smell just the slightest hint of my fathers cologne that may have been left from his flipping my little furry friend on his head. Reggie soon was to comfort many tears, eagerly soaking them into his own stuffing where they would find refuge until they were able to disintegrate. My tears remained a part of Reggie, just as he still remains a part of me.

There will be times in our lives that we find our world turning upside down, but we must never fear what lies before us. There is always someone in the next room over, that will soon be there to flip everything back to its rightful place for you. Sometimes seeing the world from a different perspective, can allow you to see things a whole lot differently when you are upright once again.

Be the change

It seems that almost on a daily basis, we wander through this world finding ourselves being critical of one another. Sure, you may sit back and deny that fact and offer up a quick “no, not me”. But if we search deep within ourselves, you will have no choice but to admit your own vulnerability, that we are indeed not as kind and humble as we know that we should be.

How often have we stood in line at a grocery store, only to find ourselves being critical of the slow cashier before us? How often have we sat behind someone at a stop light, eagerly waiting for them to realize the light had turned green? How often have we become irritated with a terrible waitress at the restaurant? How often have we looked at a couple and thought “they” could do better? How often have we lost patience with the elderly? How often has our beloved family pet became so irritating that we start to mistreat them? How often are we short with people, eager to express our own thoughts, but not so eager to hear theirs? How often have we flew into the closest parking spot, ignoring the person that was waiting for that particular one? How often have we walked through a door and not held it open for the next person?

Every day we are judging one another, without ever knowing that other persons story. The slow cashier may be a single mother who has just worked a double shift to provide for her infant daughter. The person at the stop light may have been glancing over at some flowers along the edge of the road, remembering his wife who had just passed-those were her favorite. The terrible waitress at the restaurant may have just found out that she has cancer, and is doing her best to make it through the end of her shift so that she can get over to see her doctor to talk about her options. That woman that you just looked at and thought “she could do better” may have been previously married to an abuser, and this man treats her like a queen (after all, looks are only skin deep). That elderly lady you were just short with because she walked so slow down the grocery isle, may have spent her entire life volunteering in the elementary schools and at one point in time had helped you tie your shoe before you learned how to do it yourself. That family pet you just yelled at and locked outside because it went to the bathroom on your floor, may have just developed a medical condition that you are too busy to notice, and now cannot control its own bladder. That person that was just talking to you, the one that was trying to express to you how they feel, may have been the one that attempted suicide the night before, but you were too busy trying to be heard to let them know they were loved. That person waiting for the parking spot may have had surgery a few days prior and was in very intense pain, they just needed to park as close as they could to the door so they could go in and get their medication. That door you just walked through and did not hold open for the next person, just told them that you were too busy seeing yourself to see anyone else.

We all sit back watching our television, scrolling through our social media, or listening to our coworkers and friends talk. We sit and think to ourselves about the downfall of our society and that something needs to change. You are absolutely correct, something does! What we fail to realize is that if we want to change the world, we need to start by changing ourselves. We need to BE the change.