The Struggle is Real

Uphill Struggle
It has been one month and two days since Renee’s transplant. In one way, it seems like it was just last week – we have been so immersed in it, it just pervades everything. On the other hand, it has been so present for us that a tiny bit of it feels like it has always been this way.

Renee is doing extremely well. She had her stitches out last week, and she is going to start driving again this weekend. She has full mobility, and her strength is returning. And while there has been a bit of struggle to get her meds where they need to be, overall, things are going great.

She posts updates periodically as public posts on her Facebook page, if you want to follow along.

Lots of people have asked how I am doing in the aftermath of it all. That’s a really good question, and truth be told, I am only now beginning to feel it all. As I have said before, I am a post-processor. I don’t process in advance, which means I seldom worry and I am great in a crisis. The bad news is, after it is all said and done, it all hits me in waves.

And hit me, it has.

I am tired. All the time. And yet, I have trouble sleeping. I just want to sit and read. Or work in my yard. Or anything that doesn’t involve talking to people. Oh god, the people.

I love everybody, and I love talking to people, and I love my work – every bit of it. And right now, dealing with people exhausts me. Even by remote, like social media – all exhausting. It is like my introvert meter has cranked up to 11. The closest I can come to describing it is saying that it’s the sense of obligation, the fear of taking on more – even if it is as minor an obligation as a returned email – that terrifies me.

This would make perfect sense if this was happening four weeks ago, when I had tons of responsibility, when she was in a coma, when it was all on me. But as I said above, she is doing great and is almost entirely self-sufficient. I don’t have many real obligations now because of her health – it’s just the delayed reaction is finally catching up with me.

In fact, even basic writing is difficult right now – I feel like this blog post is riddled with awkward phrasing and disjointed thoughts. But I am publishing it anyway, as a way of getting back in the saddle, so to speak.

This will, no doubt, pass, and I will eventually be back to normal. Until then, I am going to ask for some grace – I will eventually return the emails and the phone calls, and please know that if I seem tired or distracted when we are talking, it isn’t you, it’s me. And eventually, I will get my ability to fake being an extrovert back. But the truth is, that takes a lot of energy, and right now, that is something I just don’t have a lot of.

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Does Prayer Work?

Once upon a time, I had a monthly newsletter where I talked about faith matters. It was a short-lived project, but this one issue has stuck with people, with many, many people over the years telling me it resonated with them. More than one person has told me they printed it out and put it on the ‘fridge or in their cubicle at work. It has always been hard to share in it’s email format, however, so I am putting the text here, with the hope it may resonate with more people.

Does Prayer Work?

Dear Friends,

I have a confession:

I’m not sure I believe in prayer.

In the small evangelical church of my youth, I heard a lot about the power of prayer.

Miss Bessie was sick with the cancer, so we were encouraged to pray for healing for her. We prayed our asses off, and I have to tell you, if anyone deserved to live, it was Miss Bessie.

The cancer still won.

We would pray before the potluck dinner, thanking God for this “bountiful meal”. But I always wondered why we didn’t thank Mrs. Stevens, Mrs. Sullivan and Mrs. St. John, since they were the ones that cooked the food in the first place.

I wasn’t sure what God had to do with it.

I know someone who had a heart transplant a number of years ago, and they talked about how the transplant “was an answer to her prayers.”

But what about the family of the young girl who died in a horrible, senseless accident so the transplant could happen? What about their prayers?

The ironic thing is that, despite my reluctance to believe that prayer actually does anything, I’m a firm believer in praying.

In fact, most nights I end the day by laying in my bed, eyes closed, “giving my cares to God” as Mr. Gad, my childhood Sunday school teacher, would have said.  When my wife had emergency surgery a few years back, my fervent prayers were watered by the tears that came with them.  And when I look at the chaos that is our financial situation as a result of doing the work I do, I pray – a lot.

And sometimes, like when my wife had surgery, things get better. Sometimes, like our finances, things don’t. But I keep praying.

I just checked in on Facebook and saw that my nephew was hit in the face with a soccer ball at school, and as a result, his vision is blurry. My first instinct was to tell his mother that I am praying for them.

In fact, I did. Pray for them, that is.

Did it help his vision or reduce his pain? I have no idea.

But here is what it did do:

It gave me some sense of power in a situation where I felt powerless.

My sister-in-law knows that people love her and are thinking positively about her and her baby.

It increased the amount of good-will in the world.

And it told the God I choose to believe in that Jordan is important to me, and that I love him, and that it would mean a lot to me if his vision is OK.

And I have to think that, if there is a God, then that God would want to know those things, just like my parents wanted to know I wanted a pony for Christmas, even when there was no question of our being able to afford a pony.

Most days, for me, those things are enough. But even when it’s not, I still pray.

Keep the faith,


My current newsletter project is called The Hughsletter, and it’s about searching for beauty as a prophylactic against the ugliness of the world. Jesus won’t love you more if you subscribe, but I will.

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Hospital Diary – Day 11

These are lightly edited versions of posts that were originally shared on Facebook while we were in the hospital, immediately before, during and after Renee’s transplant.  I am preserving them here for future reference. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

We were released from the hospital around 4PM, after Renee was disconnected from the monitors, had the last of the IVs removed and a parade of doctors, pharmacists, nurses and Physician’s Assistants came through, each with instructions and often, papers for us to take home.

But finally, the last paper was signed, they called the orderly with the wheelie cart and us, many more bags than we came with, a walker and a bedside commode made our way down to valet parking to load up the family trickster and make our way home.

And now – we are home, Renee is sorting her mountain of medication and the kitties are up to their typical shenanigans. I made chicken tacos and we had dinner and everything felt remarkably… normal.

Except, it isn’t anything at all like normal.

We have a pile of medicine on the kitchen table that says it isn’t normal. We have a bedside commode and a walker (both of which should be temporary) that says it isn’t normal. She fell as we came in the house, part laughing and part crying – not normal. And Renee has a heart in her chest with no wires attached for the first time since she was 13, a heart beating so strong she says she can hear it in her ears.

Nothing is normal.

Scary? Yes. Amazing? Absolutely. Emotional? You have no idea.

But nothing at all like normal.

The last 10 days or so have been life altering – for both of us. Renee has a new heart, I have a new wife. I told one of the doctors today that Renee walks and talks now – she never did before. I told him that I thought she was just quiet, but maybe she isn’t – maybe it was just hard for her to talk.

I have never been married to Renee as a person who could be active. She has never not needed me to help her. We are new people, in a new phase of our lives, looking forward to our new normal.

We have felt tremendously loved over the last 10 days. I don’t have the words to say everything I feel toward the folks who have prayed for us, loved us, called and texted, sent gifts and cards, donated cash and sent gift cards. Especially the gift cards – they made survival possible. I ate my first meal at home tonight, after eating out for 3 meals a day for 10 days. Chicken tacos have never tasted so good.

The struggle isn’t over – in fact, it is really just starting. I had to call a friend tonight to sit with Renee while I went to the store – that sort of thing is going to have to happen a lot over the next few days. Renee had the following conversation with the pharmacist:

Pharmacist: That medication is $94.

Renee: I thought insurance was supposed to cover it?

Pharmacist: Your insurance paid $1156 dollars of it.

Wow. Thanks, Obama.

We are looking at so many medical bills in the weeks to come. The number of medications she is on is staggering. Just her moving around out little house is a challenge. One day soon, I am going to have to go back to work. Life doesn’t stop just because your whole world changed.

This will be my last scheduled update – life at home moves at a slower pace (hopefully) than life at the hospital. I will resume my regular programming – being the loveable curmudgeon whose love language is pot-stirring. I have been touched by the response to my daily posts – I am collecting them and will publish a slightly edited version of them at my blog as a daily diary of such. Given the reality of our financial situation, there will probably be a gofundme in our future to help with the medical bills. In the meantime, if you feel inclined to help, here is a link that will allow you to send us money via PayPal for our medical expenses.

So much to be scared of. So many reasons to be afraid. But, at the end of the day, what matters to me is my girl got a new heart, and that is worth any amount of fear. And we are always mindful that the reason she got that heart was because someone decided to donate their organs, paying the gift of life forward.  That a family we do not know engaged in an act of pure love – they didn’t love us, they just loved the idea of us – and to them, that was enough. And we are grateful.

The future is bright. And filled with fear. And so much love. According to John, love casts out fear.

I am not just hoping that is true – we are counting on it.

Take care of yourself. And each other.


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Hospital Diary – Day 2

These are lightly edited versions of posts that were originally shared on Facebook while we were in the hospital, immediately before, during and after Renee’s transplant.  I am preserving them here for future reference. 

Wednesday August 12, 2015

They took Renee back just after 12:00am, and we went to the waiting room, ostensibly to sleep. but sleep did not come. I didn’t announce her going back, as I wanted some wiggle room in timing, so if something went wrong, I did not have a ton of people pestering me for updates before I could tell everyone. 


Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. ‪#‎KeepingVigil‬

# # #


Grateful for the love and prayers around the country tonight while they operate on my girl. 8-10 hours of surgery feels almost like forever.

The only wealth in this world is friends. #‎KeepingVigil‬

# # #


Renee is out of surgery and, so far, doing well. We spoke to the surgeon, and he said the surgery went well, and he feels good about her recovery.

She is going to be sedated heavily for the next 36 hours or so. Right now she is being transferred to ICU, and I will be able to see her in about 2 hours.

I predict I will crash shortly after that, so right now I am going to grab some breakfast while I can.

I am grateful for all of you, and thankful especially for those who sat up part of the night, keeping vigil with me.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

# # #


Renee Hollowell is heavily sedated, but doing well, all things considered. The right side of her heart is having to learn to adjust to the higher pressures in her lungs, so they left the sternum open to allow it time to adjust – they will finish wiring that closed tomorrow if all goes well. The pain from that is a huge reason for the sedation. She will be sedated at least through Thursday night, perhaps longer.

I got a good 3 1/2 hours of sleep, and feel great.

The staff here has been amazing, all the way around, without exception. The surgeons are among the best in the world, and the amount of concern for our well-being (not just Renee’s) is truly amazing. I am thankful for these people, who feel called or led or what-have-you to this work. They are a tremendous gift.

My best friend Brian got in the car and drove four hours after we got the call yesterday to sit with me last night and tonight, to, as he put it, make sure I remember to eat and sleep. I can’t imagine having done this without him. His presence was a great gift to both me and Renee’s family.

Starting about noon tomorrow, I will be up here by myself, so if folks want to stop by for brief visits sometime between then and the end of the week, they would be appreciated. Just send me a FB message or email (hughlh at gmail)

I am grateful for all the ways people have reached out, as well as the practical things they have done. Please know I am grateful for you, even if it may take me a while to get back to you. Renee and I are loved far beyond our deserts.

# # #


Wednesday afternoon update: Renee is doing well – neural responses are good, earlier she was running a fever but they got it down. Still zonked out, as she will be for at least the next 24 hours, maybe more. The transplant team is happy with how things are going.

I am especially thankful to all of you who have reached out to the staff of Love Wins Ministries to see how you can help while I am tied up here.

Knowing that people love you and have your back just takes fear away, you know?

“Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up.” ― Dorothy Day

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Helping Hugh and Renee

chalk thankful heart
Tuesday morning the 11th, about 10:30, we got THE call – there was a heart waiting for us at Duke Hospital. Two hours later, we were sitting in pre-op, waiting  for the transplant team. As the kids say, things just got very real.

If you have no idea what is going on, you can catch up on the back story here.

People are already asking how they can help, and we are grateful. We will keep this page updated in the days ahead with our current needs.

Here are practical things we need:

Gift cards are amazing, and don’t expire. Subway, Starbucks, McDonalds are all decent options, and easy to access for me for the two weeks or so she is in the hospital.   After transplant, Renee will be on a low sodium diet, so at that point, more sit-down restaurant choices would be better. Many places will let you send an e-gift card via email from their website, which is fine – my email address is at the end of this post.

Gas, with nearly two hours of commuting for Hugh to the hospital most days is going to be a huge expense, so gift cards to gas stations would be amazing.

The healthy options at the hospital are the ones you bring with you. Luckily, there are grocery stores nearby – both Harris Teeter and Kroger have stores just up the road from the hospital, as well as near our home for after we get back home.

I predict reading dozens of books while sitting on my butt in the hospital room, and Renee will no doubt want to watch videos as part of recovery. Therefore,  Amazon gift cards would be nice. Because of the Kindle app, I don’t even have to leave the building to get a book. Also, pretty much anything we might need, we could probably buy it on Amazon. If you want to send electronic gift cards, the email address is listed at the end  of the post.

And speaking of buying – let me get really uncomfortable for a moment. Some of you have offered to send money. The honest truth is that this is expensive, so we could use your help. Rather than play coy, I will just say – thank you. It is very much appreciated. The mailing address is at the end of this post, or you can send funds via PayPal by clicking here. The email address registered with PayPal is, or, if you have my cell number, that works too.

As far as local support – we are working on meal trains and have a list of people who want to feed the chickens and cats and promise to take care of the tomatoes. We will firm that up more in the coming days – but if you want on that list and are local, send me an email ( with the words “Support List” in the subject line. When we cry for help, I will let you know what’s going on.

We really do  appreciate all the offers of help – these are the things we need right now. As new things come up, I will post them, so you may want to bookmark this page. Thanks for your help – your love and prayers and kindness mean more than I can say.


If you want to come see us, please email or fb message me in advance, so I can make sure I haven’t ducked out to the Starbucks or something when you come. That said, we welcome friends for short visits.

We are in the Duke Medicine Pavilion, on the 7th Floor (West Side). There is an amazing waiting room staffed by a helpful desk person, who will call the room and let me know you are here.

RE: Helping

I am grateful and appreciative of the many, many offers of help. As a person with ADHD, who has a really hard time prioritizing and sorting, but who also needs a lot of help right now, I have a favor to ask.

If you could offer a specific thing I can say yes or no to (like, “Hugh, can I buy you supper on Friday”, or, “Hugh, could you use a place to come shower on Friday?”) it is much easier for me than the extremely nice, but difficult for my brain to sort, “Hugh, if you need anything, call me.” I just know me and my brain, and if you don’t give me a yes or no choice, I will probably not reach out at all.

# # #

Our mailing address is:

Hugh and Renee Hollowell
PO Box 26874
Raleigh, NC 27611

My email address is

Our PayPal email address is

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Hospital Diary – Day 1

These are lightly edited versions of posts that were originally shared on Facebook while we were in the hospital, immediately before, during and after Renee’s transplant.  I am preserving them here for future reference. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


This morning we got a call from Duke Hospital in Durham, telling us to come in because they had a heart for Renee.

I came home from work, and we ran around like crazy people, grabbing clothes and feeding the cats and rushing out the door. We have been here once before, and it didn’t work out, so we waited until we were pretty sure it was going to happen before we let anyone else know.

We are now here at Duke, and if it all works out, surgery will happen late tonight and we will be here at least ten days or so, maybe longer. Obviously, our lives are going to be hectic for the next 24 hours, while they give Renee a new heart and I pace the floor, trying to embrace my powerlessness (and failing). We are going to need lots of help over the coming weeks, and as we do, we have no problem asking for it. Right now, though, we are focusing on the tasks in front of us and taking it a minute at a time.

I won’t be super available by social media today, so don’t feel offended if I don’t respond – things are a bit nuts here. Some of you want to know how to help – I have linked a blog post below with a list of practical things we need.

We appreciate your prayers and good thoughts today while Renee goes into surgery – we go into this knowing we are loved and blessed by our friends. Please keep the family of the donor in your thoughts and prayers as well – we are very mindful of how much the gift of a heart for us cost them.

# # #


A quick update about Renee Hollowell: We are in pre-op, still waiting.

It will more than likely be near midnight before the actual surgery starts. When it does, it is an 8- 10 hour surgery, assuming nothing goes wrong. In other words, don’t be shocked if you don’t hear anything from us until mid-morning or later.

Renee and I are reading your comments and notes and messages to each other, feeling very loved and supported. Thank you all very much.

Also a reminder that I run an organization that is going to be leaderless for a while. While I have full confidence in the team at Love Wins Ministries, they are going to need some help. If you are local and want to help out around the place, check out this post to see how you can help.

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Just Another Day

A Long Day!


This morning at 6:45, the phone rang. It was the transplant team at Duke – there was a heart available for Renee, and we needed to get there, ASAP.

It was a blur. There was rushed showers, shoving clean underwear and t-shirts in backpacks, calling coworkers and family members, hiding a key for whoever was going to come feed our cats and chickens, wishing we had done the laundry yesterday, trying to get out the door as soon as humanly possible. We got to Duke by 8:30 AM. I was sort of proud, to tell you the truth.

Valet parking, at $9 a day, because I am not going to drop my wife at the door while I go hunt for parking – not on a day like this. We make it to the admissions desk, where we are given incredibly complex directions that involve various elevator colors and door sizes (go through the little door, past the big doors). We get lost and go back, to find out that really, we go in the elevators in front of us, go to the 9th floor and turn right. The door (which seemed normal sized to me) was on the left.

It is pre-op, and they are pushing Renee into a gown, getting urine samples and doing verbal checks of the 15 various meds Renee takes each day, complete with dosage and when the last time she took them. People come and go, papers are explained (You understand that there is risk of death and that there are no guaranties provided…) and then signed and witnessed. The nurse leaves to get the equipment to install an IV in Renee’s arm.

We have a wide circle of friends who love us and want to help – we need to tell them and Social Media is the fastest, most efficient way. But the reality is, we have fears around sharing this information on Social Media for several reasons – one being that, as the papers we just signed stated so bluntly, there is a risk of death, and honestly, I don’t want to live tweet my wife dying on the table. So I am in the corner, on my laptop, preparing a statement to go on both our Facebook pages, telling folks what is going on, how to help us and telling them we are going silent. If all goes well, I will notify them on the other side.

Just as I finish the statement, the nurse is called to the phone at the nurse’s station. While she is gone, Renee’s cell rings. It is the transplant team – there was something wrong with the donor’s heart. We can go home and wait for another one. The nurse comes back in the room to tell us the same thing. Get dressed go home. Wait for the next call.

Better luck next time. Today isn’t the day after all. It is just another day.

We leave the hospital at 10:30 AM, just two hours after we arrive. In the last 4 hours we have felt the whole range of human emotions, from excitement to terror to fear to anticipation. There was signing of documents saying my girl might die, and my saying I won’t sue them if they kill her. We called friends who began a four hour drive to be with us, and then had to call them back to say stay home. We were exhausted and hungry and severely caffeine deprived.

We went to Whole Foods on the way home and ate at the hot bar for breakfast. I thought I would need a heart transplant myself when the woman told me the total for eggs, sausage, biscuits, and grits for two of us was $28.00. It was on a damn paper plate, for crying out loud. It is a sign of my state of mind that I didn’t even protest.

And then we went home, and unpacked the clothes and I took a shower and went to work.

After all, it was just another day.

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How Can I Help, Hugh?

A helping hand

I don’t want to write this post. But if there is a question I have been asked more than, “How’s your wife, Hugh?” the last month or so, it has been, “How can we help?”

But I am assuming you know what I am talking about. Let me bring you up to date.

The Back Story

My wife Renee has a rare heart disease that runs in her family. She’s been on a pacemaker since she was 13. Two of her sisters have had heart transplants. Her mother died at age 45 of this disease. Her grandmother died at 27.

Most of the time, she’s fine, as long as she isn’t trying to majorly exert herself. Walking long distance is hard, as is stairs. But she could sit at the table with you, or next to you on the couch, and you wouldn’t know anything is wrong with her.

But lately, her health markers the cardiologists watch have been getting worse. And it has become more and more obvious that a heart transplant is in our future. And then we got the call that it was time to be evaluated for transplant.

We spent three days at Duke Hospital a few weeks ago, undergoing a battery of tests – physical, psychological, financial – to see if she was fit to be on the list. Honestly, the iffiest one was the financial qualification, as a heart transplant costs north of $750,000, and the Love Wins health insurance plan is pretty nonexistent. However, she’s on Medicare and Medicaid and together, that was enough to piece together a somewhat shaky financial plan for paying for all of this.

Two weeks ago, we received the call that we were approved for transplant – now she is officially on “the list”. This means lots of things for our family – making sure we always have a phone with us, no long-distance trips, and cleaning up healthcare messes now. They want you to have all your other health problems fixed before transplant, as surgery becomes a lot harder after transplant.

Last week, she had gallbladder surgery – which was supposed to be a simple in and out operation, but these days, nothing is easy. She spent 4 days in the hospital.

The Problem

Now, on one hand, it wasn’t a big deal. She was in the hospital just 10 minutes or so away, not the huge hospital 45 minutes away in Durham. But for a few days there, it was pretty scary, and she was pretty drugged up, and I needed to be there to find out things.

So there were lots of meals in the hospital cafeteria. And as I dashed back and forth between work and home and the hospital, there were fast food meals wolfed down in the car. And of course your mind is never on anything other than her being in the hospital, so you let things slide, like getting the car inspected so you can get new tags, or putting that bill in the mail or returning those emails.

The yard is dead and shaggy. The plants all died from neglect in the vegetable garden. I spent the equivalent to a car payment on unexpected expenses in just 4 days.

We don’t have kids, so there is that in our favor. But that also means we don’t have the support network that accompanies kids, and our obligations – cats, chickens, gardens– are less able to tend for themselves.

In the middle of it all, it occurred to me – this is nothing compared to how it is going to be when we get the call.

At least two weeks in the hospital – in Durham, nearly an hour away. Daily commutes as I deal with the house and work back here. I am fortunate to have a lot of flexibility with my job, but that will still be there too. I can’t afford to leave work for a month or two, and work can’t afford my being completely gone.

We have to scrub the house down before she comes home. For at least a month after surgery, Renee will be unable to be alone. She will only be able to drink boiled water.  Germs are the enemy, big time.

And then the trips back to Durham. Weekly checkups. Gas for those trips. Meals while we are there. Someone is going to have to buy those groceries, cut that grass, feed those chickens.


How you can help

Right now, we are doing ok. We took a financial hit last week, but we will survive it. The main thing last week did was show me just how shaky our situation really is.

That said, we are now on “the list”. In theory, we could get the call anytime, and then within a few hours, all of the drama starts. If last week taught me anything, it is that we are sooo not prepared.

When the call happens, we will be living at the hospital, for all intents and purposes, for a couple of weeks. Lots of meals in the cafeteria. Lots of coffee at the Starbucks in the lobby. Variety will come from the Subway sandwich shop in the building next door.

Edit: The best list of things we need is now on this post.

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Second-Hand Memories

Day Lillies


Her name was Dorothy, and she had two sisters, Louise and Wilma. I was born on her birthday, and she loved me without reservation. My father was her youngest son, a child she had late in life, the son she raised as a single mom when her husband died way too young.

She died when I was three, and I only have two memories of her.  I have a very clear picture of us, she and I, laying on her hospital bed in the living room of the house we lived in those days – a house my dad grew up in, a house she moved into when she married my Granddad. In my memory, the bed is in front of the window, and I was looking at a book (some things do not change) and she was beside me, looking at the book with me. I remember only feeling very loved and safe.

The other memory is less  emotional, but just as clear. The house was old, and drafty. It had propane space heaters for heat, and in this memory, it was very cold, and early in the morning. She was wearing her house coat, and was squatting flat-footed in front of the space heater in the kitchen, smoking a cigarette.

It was the cigarettes that killed her. Lung cancer took her away from us far too soon.

That is really all I remember on my own. I have lots of stories filed in my head about her, but they are second-hand memories – stories dad told me, or her sisters told me when I was older. Like I know her favorite flower was the daylilly, but that is only because every summer, Dad would tell me that when the orange ditchlilies would bloom.

And she loved the music of Roy Orbison – especially Pretty Woman. But again, I know this secondhand, from hearing that fact relayed to me my entire childhood whenever it would come on the radio.

Memory is a funny thing. A random comment by a family member on Facebook about daylilys triggered this wander down memory lane. One month from today, it will be our birthday – I will be 43, and she would have been 102.

Since we moved into this house, I have planted lots of flowers. Shasta Daisy, yarrow, Asiatic lily, columbine, flags (you know them as iris) and roses. And daylilys. Lots of daylilys. But no orange ones.  Until the other day, that is. The other day, I bought some orange ditchlilys to plant by the road.

I think I will do that on our birthday this year, and listen to Roy Orbison, and sit in front of my window, and read a book and try, once again, to feel safe and loved.

I think she would want that. Hell, I know that I do.


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Sharing Beautiful Things

For the last eight years, I have been aggressively hunting out beautiful things. This was the result of a late-night conversation with a mentor shortly after I made the decision to spend my life working with and among the homeless population of Raleigh. He told me, “The world you are choosing to inhabit is an ugly place. It will be easy to lose yourself in it. You have to gorge yourself with beauty, so you have a reserve, just like if you knew you were going to be in a desert, you would gorge yourself with water before you went.”

So, for eight years, I have been hoarding beauty, and it has, for the most part, worked. Eight years in, and I don’t have a drinking problem, I haven’t been suicidal, I have healthy relationships with a wide circle of friends and I have a good marriage. If that sounds like a low bar, you don’t know many people in my line of work.

But I wondered if there was more to be mined from this search for beauty. I wondered what was missing. And then I realized that what was missing was other people.

Experiences become more real when they are shared. We are, after all, social animals. I wanted to share the beauty I was finding with other people.

So, I sent a simple email to about 30 people I knew. It had five links to things I had found online that I thought were beautiful and a book I had read that stirred me.

And the next week, I did it again. And again.

Ten weeks later, hundreds of people have signed up to get this email every Monday. But that isn’t the biggest thing. The big thing that has happened is I had not realized just how little beauty I was actually letting into my life. I was intentional about it before, but it was confined to big events – outings to the museum, a trip to the park or the beach, sitting down with a novel. But if I was going to share five things a week with people, and they were expecting it, I was going to have to get better at finding beautiful things.

In order to find five beautiful things a week, I have to look at dozens. I watch many more cute videos than I once did, I have read amazing articles I would have once only glanced at, I have seen countless pictures of sunsets and beaches and flowers – I am, for the first time, truly saturating myself with beauty.

Every time I see a picture, a painting, a poem, a bird, for crying out loud, I ask myself, “Is this beautiful? Is it really beautiful? Is it share-worthy?” I have had to apply a level of mindfulness and intentionality to how I view the world. In order to find beautiful things to share, I have to be looking for them.

Don’t get me wrong – I know the world is full of ugliness and pain. I know that all too well. I see it every day. But I also know the Powers of this world are vested in making you afraid, and in making you dissatisfied. They profit from your fear.

By searching for the beauty that surrounds us, I fight the dominant narrative. I claim space that says, “The ugliness of the world is not the only way to see the world. Because while the world is full of pain, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

And by sharing the beauty I find with others, I am, in essence, evangelizing that point of view. There are beautiful things all around us – you don’t have to swim in the ugliness. You don’t have to despair. You don’t have to be afraid.

So, look for beautiful things. Actively seek them out. And share them with each other. Say to them, “This is beautiful, and I wanted you to see it too.” Do it as if your life depends on it. Because, I am more and more convinced, it actually does.

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