I deserve to be happy. 

Megan Xiaomei

And so do you.

It’s hypocritical for me to say you don’t deserve happiness, because then I’d have to say I don’t deserve it either. I deserve happiness because when I’m happy I’m not overthinking. I deserve happiness because it takes less energy than being sad.

I’m learning that, happiness comes in various forms. And sometimes it will come from other people. I have found happiness with my family, with my friends, with the people I surround myself with. The people around me love me, the people around me care about me. I found happiness in the places I go, in the books that I read, in the lyrics of my favorite songs, in the flavor of my favorite meals. I found it with my lovely golden lady, I find it in the kindness of strangers. I found happiness because I found love around me. I found happiness in life…

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“Forgiving is not forgetting. It is remembering and letting go.”  -Claudia Black

I’m making progress on this one. We’ve all been hurt to the quick by people in our lives. Some of these scars are drive-bys:  a passing but cutting wound inflicted by someone who’s otherwise a minor player in our lives, except for that moment when they’re inflicting a lasting wound. We remember, often for years. What they did or said hurts, generally because they poked a spot already soft and sensitive inside us. It’s hard not to internalize these reinforcements of our deepest fears. Sometimes these are one-off inflictions which scab over, but sometimes they cumulate, one on top of another, and never fully heal. Either way, we take these blows and carry whatever part with us that we seem unable to set down.

Then there are the slow motion injuries, delivered by someone not easily steered clear of:  a bully at school or work, someone in a position of authority, a family member. These long-term assaults on our psyches are a whole other thing altogether. Each one is unique, depending on the relationship, the giver’s intentions, and the relative power of each party. If we’re not careful, these experiences can erode our humanity, turning us into someone we wouldn’t otherwise be. Heaven knows, I’ve struggled with that at times over the years. 

But I’ve turned a corner. As I’ve put more years on the odometer, it’s getting much easier to let go. Not fully easy yet (I’m not sure I’ll ever get there), but definitely much easier. I’ve lost too much of my life carrying around baggage that only poisons me the more more tightly I hold onto it. I’ve decided I’d rather be happy. And so, I now work hard at letting go much faster. Sometimes that means walking away from a situation or a person or even a whole chunk of your life, if that’s what it takes to move on. But more often, it just means taking the thing in your hands, turning it over and studying it for a short while to mourn or to learn, having a good cry, and then setting it down and walking away. And not looking back.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”  –Mahatma Gandhi


They played The Old Rugged Cross at my grandfather’s funeral; my mother had remembered him asking for it some years before. I’d always liked the song, one of the routine invitationals from the Baptist church of my youth. For the rest of my life, I will think of him wistfully when I hear it. Before we drove out to the country cemetery following the funeral, the Mennonite minister gathered our small family in a circle and prayed. He repeated the song’s refrain, drawing from it that we were the final trophies that grandpa had laid down. I’ll never forget the lightning bolt power of that simple analogy.

I’ve begun slowly laying down my own trophies. In a few years, we’ll be empty nesters…I intend to be ready. I’ve already weeded down the holiday decorations to only what we use every year. Twenty years of Disney VHS tapes have gone to Goodwill. I recently went through the only trunk of the four in our house which wasn’t empty. Jammed with papers and keepsakes, the minimum age of every item in there was 30, with an average closer to 50. I got rid of two large trash bags of cards and newspaper articles and momentos, but it still seemed full when I was done. I can’t yet bring myself to part with the doll my late aunt brought me from her trip to Russia, or the glass bells my late mother-in-law gave me when we were first married. I found the shoe box, which must be older than I am, containing the old plastic toys I played with at my great-grandfather’s house as a small girl. It is my only memory of him; he died when I was four. I got rid of the broken cow and small doll that were in the box, but I kept the handful of cowboys and Indians…they went back in their ancient shoe box in the trunk. When our son was here last month, we went through the last few boxes of his old things. That was hard:  it’s one thing when it’s a distant family member that you barely remember vs. your baby. It killed me to get rid of the memories he didn’t care to keep, but I knew it’s pointless to try to hold onto the past. I did quietly tuck away in my closet a few of the castoffs–a plastic bag of GI Joe accessories; a Hot Wheels carrying case, full; and a tiny pair of cowboy boots. Those memories now smile down at me from a shelf when I get dressed in the morning. Still, I know that one day I will part with them, too…I’ve only postponed the inevitable.

As I slowly draw closer to the end of my life, I will eventually part with my grandmother’s china, which a couple of times a year I go through the effort of washing by hand both before and after using to enjoy yet one more family dinner on. I’ll eventually give away the glass rocks in my yard which grandma got on a trip to Pilcher, Oklahoma with her retired sisters. Those eight siblings stayed close their entire lives, and the rocks make me smile not just because they’re pretty, but because they remind me of them laughing together at all of those family reunions. I will eventually, one by one, part with the treasures in every room of my house which are meaningful to me. As I do, it will be ok, because it will mean that I’m about to be reunited with those who gave them their meaning.

“Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.”  –Bob Dylan


I had the opportunity recently to drive alone for 4 1/2 hours to central Kansas, most of it in the dark. It was kind of surreal once the sun went down and full darkness settled in. That part of eastern Kansas is sparsely populated, and the small arc from my headlights was often all that was visible as I sped down the lonely highway. An occasional yard light would float over the horizon to remind me that hardy souls have chosen this remote life. Some of the lights turned out to be false oases…co-ops with only propane tanks and no permanent inhabitants…and I would feel even more alone. Every little bit, a solitary tree near the road would slowly watch me pass his post…a silent, gentle giant reminding me that we are never really alone. The stars, plainly visible without city lights to dim them, were my only constant companion. But for most of several hours, the only visible sign that I was making progress toward my destination were the passing road signs and dashes zipping by on the pavement. The only frightening part of the journey was the bloody massacre of thousands of bugs, attracted to their doom on my windshield by the only light for miles around; it wasn’t a pretty sight in the morning light. Near the end of my journey, a massive lightning storm on the distant horizon broke my boredom. I later learned that it was hundreds of miles away, but it still put on a good show. As I drove, the isolation was comforting. I’m a Kansas girl, raised in the country. I don’t need civilization to feel safe.

I reversed the trip two days later in the daylight. People from the city say that there’s nothing to see on that drive – I disagree. I studied shapes in the clouds as I drove–there’s no better place to cloud watch, where you can see the whole sky at once. I passed dilapidated farmhouses (including one with an outhouse), houses built of rock, white country schools and churches, and red barns…just the color they should be. Some of the churches had small cemeteries, and several farmers had painted big old American flags on the sides of out buildings. One driveway sported a crudely painted sign that read “Thanks to our troops”. Motionless oil wells sat frozen among the hay bales and cattle, and I got to see the corn crop being brought in. One sign said “farm fresh eggs”, and another shaped like a giant, white cow announced an upcoming fall festival. I even got the best view that I’ve ever had of Kansas’ only nuclear power plant, which had frightened me since the news stories from its construction during my childhood. But the best part of the drive is that this time of year is sunflower season, in the sunflower state. They filled the ditches on both sides of the road, so thick that if I had a dollar for every flower that I passed in that 100+ miles, I’d be the richest person in America. That day, in spite of the modest boredom of that lonely drive, I kind of was.

“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”  –Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz


Many Americans range from dismayed to disgusted to depressed by this year’s presidential election…I’m one of them. It’s easy to be discouraged and want to abstain from the process altogether from fatigue or in protest. But the circus this has become makes it critical to fight the urge to stay home with a glass (or bottle) of wine and feel sorry for us all.

Half the country is angry at the status quo and wants change. The other half is angry that a candidate who routinely makes racist and sexist comments is this close to leading our nation. We’re more polarized than ever. But I’ve always ascribed to the notion that if you don’t vote, you don’t have much right to criticize after the fact. Exactly because we’re so polarized, it’s even more important this year to vote. No matter what happens on November 8th, half of us will still be angry. But November 9th will come, and then the 10th, and we will have to move forward.

America has always been a country of vigorous debate, as designed by our constitutional division of powers and right of free speech. We debate, we argue, we even get angry, but when the chips are down or there’s a threat to our nation, for brief moments of time, we come together as one America. That’s my hope for November 9th and beyond…that when this whole, ugly election is behind us, that we’ll remember that we are all still Americans.

Our best hope for that is ensuring that every single one of us who is eligible to vote…does. We need to know on the morning after that every voice was heard. We need to know that the result–whether we’re happy about it or not–is a defiant declaration that our democracy still works, if far from perfectly. Please register to vote and play your part in pushing our democracy forward. The deadline for voter registration in Arkansas is October 10; in Kansas and Minnesota, it’s the 18th. Info and deadlines for other states are available on rockthevote.com. Most states let you register and even vote by mail, so there’s little excuse. Then please don’t stop there–the country will need us all to come together and to agitate and to hold our elected officials accountable afterward. After all, that’s who we are:  we’re Americans.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”  –John F. Kennedy

Children’s Hospital


September is Histiocytosis and Children’s Cancer Awareness month

“Children’s hospital” is an oxymoron–not just two words that don’t belong together, but a thing that shouldn’t have to exist at all. Kids are supposed to be the healthiest among us. There’s something not right with whole buildings dedicated to things that go wrong with them.

Children’s hospitals are a bizarre proposition:  a place where the parents are as dependent as their children, depending on doctors for their schedules, their information, their hope. We’re easy to recognize in the halls, even without our special tags associating us with our VIP’s. You can tell us by our not-at-our-best appearance and by one of our standard expressions of fear, worry, or fatigue. We observe an assumed code of avoidance as we pass each other in the hallway:  because we don’t wish to be seen in the clothes we slept in, we grant each other the silent dignity of ignoring each other’s unwashed hair and tear-streaked face. Our zombie appearance barely conceals the grief and guilt and sheer terror on the inside. I often wept uncontrollably as I stepped outside of the hospital during our long stay, temporarily shedding the armor that I wore inside to protect and fight for my child.

Our children’s rooms are places of tenderness, but also of terror, where every day, every visit by a doctor has the ability to change our lives forever. The hallways are no refuge. Here other parents’ children are being moved to their next test or procedure:  bald, staring vacantly, heavily bandaged, hooked up to machines. We passed too many children’s rooms where, day after day, the only visitor was a nurse. A child without an advocate, without love, is the saddest of all.

There are also wonderful stories in these places, stories of healing and miracles and love. These stories must be what makes it possible for the dedicated staff to get up and face each day. Yet I am dismayed that these institutions are needed at all. I look forward to a place and time–somewhere, someday–when no child will ever hurt again.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” –Revelation 21:4


Rachel Platten’s Fight Song popped up recently on my playlist. Music has an ability to retain memories, and this song took me back. A friend introduced it to me at a moment in my life when I was feeling particularly powerless. It would be an overstatement to say that the song gave me the courage to take back control of my life, though I did just that a few months later. However, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this friend and others saved my life (or at least my sanity) during that time.

Friends are an amazing invention; good friends are a godsend. They’re almost like family, but different. They make good times better and hard times tolerable. Knowing that someone cares about what I’m going through has meant simply everything when I’ve struggled to cope. One of the really cool things about friends is that there are so many kinds. There are the ones who are sympathetic, the ones who hold up a mirror and gently force me to face the truth, and the ones who make me stretch and grow. There are the ones who make me laugh and the ones who let me cry, the ones who make me feel good, the ones who teach me and make me think. They all have their place and are special in their own way. The only downside is that they don’t all last. Time and distance and life can separate us…I grieve each loss. Yet I’ve learned that even the losses have their silver lining, because they make room for new friends. With each life change, I’ve forced myself to focus not on the goodbyes, but on the new friends I haven’t yet met. So far, they’ve always been there, all for the negligible effort of reaching out.

“No friendship is an accident.”  –O. Henry, Heart of the West