Kindness at the Movies

Last weekend my husband and I went on a double date with two of our best friends. We saw The Accountant, which we loved.It’s about a high-functioning autistic man who is a math genius, played by Ben Affleck. He uses very creative accounting–cooking the books–for dangerous criminal organizations. It’s an exciting thriller that also touched my heart.

But this isn’t a post about the movie, and I’m definitely not a movie critic. What I want to tell you is what happened before the show.

My friend and I were waiting to buy popcorn and drinks. The line next to us opened up, so I went over there. I ordered, and the cashier hesitated and smiled. I wondered what was going on.

She held up a $20 bill and said, “See this? Not the person before you, but the person before him, gave me this money and told me to use it until it runs out. There’s $6.75 left, so it’s yours.”

Really? I had a big smile on my face. I’d never been the direct recipient of someone paying it forward.

It wasn’t the amount of money that made me happy. It was knowing that someone cared and wanted to give, for the sake of giving. Nothing was being asked of me in return. It was pure kindness, from one human being to another.

I wanted to thank whoever did it, but that person wasn’t around. Maybe he was somewhere in the lobby waiting to see the reaction to his random act of kindness. Or maybe she was sitting in a dark theater, content knowing that people were warmed by her generosity.

It’s those small gestures that can make a huge difference in this world.

First image courtesy of here

Second image courtesy of here

The Music of My Life

Music Quote:

When I was in second grade and made my First Holy Communion, my parents gave me a silver charm bracelet and a record album. I don’t remember who the artist was, but the title song was called “Happy the Man.” I still know some of the words. When I think of that song, I don’t just hear the music.

I feel that time. Living in the house I grew up in, with my mom, dad, and two sisters. My pink bedroom with flowered wallpaper and a canopy bed. My childhood.

In high school I was a cheerleader. During the summer before my junior year, the team and I practiced our routines every morning on the football field. We had a boom box and danced to “We Got the Beat” by the Go-Go’s—over and over and over again. We were 16 years old, excited about prospective boyfriends, new clothes, hair styles, and parties.

I feel that time. Being with my friends. Friday nights at the football stadium. My classes and teachers. Carefree, yet also insecure and desperately wanting to fit in.

One of my best friends got married and I was one of her bridesmaids. My future husband and I were dating. At the reception we slow danced to the song “Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh. I wore a pink lace dress and wished I was in a slinky red one. The DJ must’ve noticed how in love we looked. He said to us, “I bet you’ll get married next.” I beamed. We weren’t engaged yet, but knew we were meant to be together forever.

I feel that time. On cloud nine. Excited about the future. Imagining myself as a bride.

Soon our first daughter was born. Two years later, our second little girl came into the world. I loved to sit on the glider in their bedrooms and snuggle with them. The smell of fresh baby skin, velvety soft. The tickle of their wispy hair on my neck. At night I’d turn on a lullaby CD. Sweet songs like “All the Pretty Little Horses” made me tear up.

I feel that time. Middle of the night feedings. Quiet and peaceful. Exhausted. Overwhelmed with love.

The years flew by, and Mackenzie and Talee were in high school. They introduced me to all sorts of fun music. Taylor Swift songs, like “Love Story” and “Our Song” remind me of driving them to school in the minivan, our dog in the back seat.

I feel that time. A flurry of activity in our home. Friends. Homework. Curfews and social media boundaries. Football games. The girl’s basketball team. Open houses. College seminars. Graduation.

Music is always with me. It moves me. I not only hear the beat and listen to the words, but I feel the songs. They take me back to a previous time in my life.

Like when my husband and I went to a U2 concert to celebrate his 50th birthday. The Black Eyed Peas were the opening act. I’ll never forget how we danced under the stars and sang to “I Gotta Feeling” (woo hoo… that tonight’s gonna be a good night!)

Music is also there in sad times. Like when my mother-in-law passed away. The funeral reception was at our home. We had dozens of balloons that we handed out to each guest. We played “Harbor Lights” through the backyard speakers. That was her favorite tune to play on the piano. We said a tribute and released the balloons. We watched them float to the heavens until we could no longer see them.

Each song filled with its own special memory.

It isn’t just the songs that are special, it’s the people I remember when I hear the songs play.


First image courtesy of here

Just a Thought…


I love this quote because it’s so true in my life. I have a handful of close friends who I know will always be there for me, and me for them. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since we’ve talked, we pick up right where we left off. We can be thousands of miles away, but it’s like we’re next door.

It isn’t easy to develop close friendships. It takes time, effort, and a special connection. My mom has always said most people can count their true friends on one hand.

When life happens–we get married, move, have children, advance in our career–those true friends let go, and let us grow. Because they’re growing too.

Time passes, and circumstances change. There’s comfort in knowing those friends will be there. It’s like they’re holding an invisible long, twisty string that binds our lives together.

There’s nothing like talking to girlfriends. Every Thursday morning, two of my closest friends and I go for a walk with our dogs. We chat about anything and everything. We’re there for each other to listen. To help solve problems. To laugh. We need those walks.

One of my “walking friends” works full time. When she started her job, she was able to arrange her schedule to go in a little later on Thursday mornings to accommodate our walks. She never mentioned the reason why. One Thursday she had to go to the office early because she was swamped. An employee asked, “Why are you here? Aren’t you supposed to be at your therapy appointment?”

I can just imagine the look on her face. She laughed and had no idea her co-workers thought the reason she couldn’t come in early on Thursdays was due to a therapy session.

But actually, it’s not that far off.

Image courtesy of here

Dear Family

Mental illness affects millions of people. Not only the individuals who have the conditions–but also their families.

It may be most difficult for the person with the disorder. But loved ones are challenged too, as they desperately try to help. Dealing with their relative’s diagnosis and treatment can be a long and painful journey.

Family members are sad, confused, and scared. They feel helpless watching their spouse, child, or parent struggle with the debilitating symptoms. Mood swings, depression, mania, or thoughts of suicide. Severe anxiety, obsessive compulsions, phobias, or anger.

Life will never be the same as before the disease erupted.

I know, as my mom had major depression and anorexia. I had panic disorder. My daughter had panic attacks.

It may seem impossible to help a loved one who is in denial about having a mental health condition. It can be exhausting when that person won’t accept medical help or refuses to take medication.

Family members can feel like they’re swimming in a turbulent ocean. The rip tides and undertows are strong and can’t be manipulated. The currents move them to places they don’t want to go. The only way to stay safe is to get out of the water. To accept that it cannot be controlled.

But acceptance is a difficult place to reach.

I’m taking a class offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. “Family to Family” is a twelve-week course that provides education and support to families affected by mental illness.

I was moved by this letter, written and provided by NAMI. It has been edited for length.

My Dear Family:

This letter is a plea for your compassion, understanding, and patience. We have all just come through an episode of my mental illness. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve done the best I know how and so have you. For this, I thank you.

I’m exhausted. Maybe I look all right to you, but inside I’m wounded. Even the least stress, the least effort, is overwhelming. I need to sleep a lot and not do much at all. This may go on for quite some time.

It may be hard for you to see me this way. You may feel it’s your duty to help me “snap out of it.” Please be gentle. Let me heal.

There are three things I’d appreciate you do for me.

  1. Learn about my illness. This is an illness of the brain and body, just like any other disease. It  affects my ability to think, feel, and behave. Those effects may have been difficult for you to deal with. I’m sorry. 
  2. Help me find effective treatment. This takes patience and persistence. In my present state, I may not have the energy to follow through. I need you to advocate for me, until we find people and medications that help.
  3. Listen with an open heart and mind. Don’t try to advise me. Just listen while I work this out for myself. Your trust and understanding during this time will help me feel confident enough to decide when I’m able to step back into life activities.

Thank you for your support and compassion. It will make my path to recovery more smooth and sure.

With thanks and hope,

Your Loved One



First image courtesy of here

Letter courtesy of Sita Diehl, co-author, Bridges Consumer Peer Education Course, NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program 2013

Second image courtesy of here





Love on the Beach


It was pure magic.

About a month ago, my husband, two daughters, and I arrived on the beautiful island of Maui. After settling into our condo, we explored the resort and headed toward the beach. It was close to sunset, and we wanted to watch the sun slip behind the ocean. The short boardwalk led us directly to the sand.

We stopped close to the shore where the waves were lapping. It was a bit cloudy, which made for a gorgeous sunset. There weren’t many people there. It was so peaceful.

I focused on the tranquil ocean and breathed in the warm, tropical air. I was lost in my thoughts. That’s when my I felt my husband nudge me.

“Jen, look.” Alex pointed to the shorebreak. He got Mackenzie and Talee’s attention too. We stared at what was unfolding in front of us.

There was a woman with her feet in the water. A man stood next to her. Five to ten people, who seemed to know each other, were nearby. One lady was taking pictures of the couple and the sunset.

I was clueless to what was about to happen.

All of a sudden, the man went down on one knee, in the water. He looked up at the woman, took her hand, and spoke to her.

Oh my gosh, he’s proposing! Right here, right in front of us!

We watched as he opened a small box, took out a ring, and slipped it on her finger. Her hands were shaking. She wiped away tears and stared at her hand. They hugged. And hugged again. Her squeals of excitement were heartwarming.

The newly engaged couple turned and saw their loved ones, who had witnessed the momentous event. Hugs, kisses, and congratulations were passed all around. The bystanders, including us, clapped and cheered.

I’ll never forget how the man beamed when he announced, “She said YES!”

It was beautiful. We felt honored to be a part of their engagement. Strangers, yet bonded by this special occasion. A moment in time they’ll cherish forever. They don’t know it, but we will too.

We wish them the happiest life together.




Decisions, Decisions

Life is filled with choices. Big or small, they all have the ability to impact us.

I’ve heard people say, “He’s so lucky.” Or, “Everything great comes her way.” Even though good fortune may play a small part, it’s hard work and perseverance that takes on a much bigger role. Goals don’t magically happen overnight. They aren’t reached through pure luck.

I read a post by Danny at Dream Big Dream Often, that inspired me to think about this. You can find his thought-provoking piece here. He talks about how he’s been fortunate in his life through hard work, commitment, and a strong character.

I’ve also been fortunate and feel blessed. I have a solid, wonderful marriage. Our daughters are happy and have become amazing young adults.

Maybe on the surface, it appears as if it’s always been easy for me. But it hasn’t. Many people don’t notice the hardships I’ve endured. They may not realize the dedication, time, and effort I’ve put in to get to where I want to be.

For instance, a great marriage doesn’t just happen. It requires much communication, compromise, patience, and understanding. Raising children to have morals, compassion, and a strong work ethic isn’t a simple task.

My life is a compilation of all the decisions I’ve made along the way, and continue to make.

Choices help shape the people we become. Our decisions help determine if we live a fulfilling, happy life–or not. Along our journeys, we decide:

Who our friends are.

Which college to attend, or not.

Which career to pursue.

Who, and if, we marry.

To stay in a relationship or not.

Where to live.

How many children to have.

How often to exercise.

What to eat and drink.

How much money to spend on cars, clothes, and houses.

To procrastinate or not.

The list goes on and on. But when we come to a fork in the road, each one of these can affect us and those around us.

I tell my daughters, “Remember to make wise decisions!”

I often remind myself of that too.



First image courtesy of here

Second image courtesy of here

Playing in the Sand



A few weeks ago my family and I had an amazing vacation in Hawaii. We spent much of our time strolling along the white sand beaches of Maui. The water near the shore is crystal clear. Shades of aquamarine, turquoise, and deep blue spread out into the ocean. It’s pure bliss to jump into the warm sea and bob in the soft waves. Total relaxation.

Mackenzie, Talee, and I took a walk one morning. We wrote in the sand, making pictures of happy faces and hearts. I wanted to write “Peace from Panic.” So I did. The waves kept coming too close, washing it away. And honestly, I wasn’t doing a great job.

That’s when Talee took over.

The above picture is Talee putting the finishing touches on. I posted this photo with her permission.

By the time we (she) finished, we were super hot and sweaty. It was unseasonably warm that day, with no trade winds. So, what to do?

Jump in the ocean to cool off!

Here’s Talee’s finished product:

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