Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The end.


It is the last day of 2013. I’m reflecting. Aren’t we all?
What’s a word to describe the year?

Mine: {UN}expectations
That’s probably not a word.

But it fits.
I was not expecting to visit Africa twice on reporting assignments and Haiti once.

I wasn’t expecting to lose one of my closest friends, and I wasn’t expecting to spend much of 2013 grieving.
I wasn’t expecting to quit my career-smart job the day before I went to Kenya, and I wasn’t expecting to come home from Kenya and have to move in with a friend for three weeks because skunks had taken over my Cottage.

I wasn’t expecting to move in with my mom.
There was the wall of depression I was not expecting, and my psychologist.

I was not expecting to never want children, and I wasn’t expecting to rediscover on another continent my love of family.
I wasn’t expecting to be a lecturer at a state university, and I wasn’t expecting the phone call: “do you want a full time job with us?”

I wasn’t expecting to come home from Ethiopia and have to find a new place to live. I wasn’t expecting the perfect travel trailer to come available for us.
I wasn’t expecting to be a janitor for four months.

I wasn’t ready for the news, “It’s a brain tumor,” and then six months later, “It’s not growing … radiation is working.”
There were powerful conversations in 2013; two trips to Kentucky, one to Boston/Cape Cod, one to Washington D.C., a couple to Dallas, Houston. There were gifts of chickens (real ones), and moving parties. Tuck was trained in personal protection. Skye raised a litter of puppies. VoiceBox Media celebrated its first birthday; I created a website for my projects. I’m writing my book. I hiked more than 100 miles and lost weight.

The year was chock full of friends, laughter, tears, growth, new beginnings, a few endings, triumph, blow-your-mind crazy blessings, and a sense of wonderment over this ridiculous humbling journey of Life.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ethiopia-bound!

Today I am on my way to Ethiopia!!

If you want to keep up with my journey, like VoiceBox Media on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (@thvoiceboxmedia).

Can't wait to get back and tell you the stories of the people I encounter there!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Day You Find Out I’m a Janitor



That’s today. Or, whatever day it is you’re reading this.

I’ve been a closeted towel-bowl scrubber and floor-vacuumer for the past while after responding to an ad on Craigslist, and training for 15 minutes. When I met the cleaning company woman for my “interview,” she asked where else I worked. I said, “At the paper,” which, you know, is a big one.

“Do you throw papers there?” she asked next. The twice-college graduate inside me winced, but I smiled and replied, “No. I do other…stuff.”

Wiping down countertops and emptying a lot of trash cans have become part of my routine five days a week. It might be unusual, different, and undesirable for some.

But it’s now part of my crazy journey. It a thread in the fabric of my story that, years from now, I’ll reflect on and chuckle about – not out of shame, but out of humor and maybe a little bit of admiration for the self that I was who hustled to make a student loan payment, or to help pay my way to a foreign country, or to be able to afford a car.  

And maybe I’ll always keep a cleaning job on the side. I thought that the other night at 1:30 while I was sweeping around a toilet. I rather like melting into the rhythmic monotony of emptying trash, dusting, wiping down mirrors, sweeping, vacuuming…

I was cleaning the other night and one of the employees came rushing through the building. She scared me shitless because I’ve NEVER seen anyone and it’s my worst fear to look up and suddenly see someone watching me. I said to her, laughing, “Oh my gosh, you scared me!” She said nothing.

When she was done getting whatever it was she came for in the break-room, she breezed by. I told her (again) that she scared me because she didn’t give me a warning call-out. She said, “Have fun” and kept walking. I told her to have a good night. I got nothing in response.

There was part of me for a moment that rose up in indignation. You should tell her who you are! Tell her you are educated. Do not let yourself be treated that way.

And then I chuckled and kept emptying my trash cans.

Be nice to your janitors. We’re everywhere.

{And if you’re reading this and you know I’m a janitor then maybe today’s the day you find out I’m an international journalist running a media nonprofit, I’m a journalist at the 54th largest newspaper in the US, and I teach at a university. Maybe you think to yourself, “I should have said hello.”}

Sunday, September 29, 2013

the year of the grasshopper

For the second time this year, I received my expedited passport in the mail.

And it's just in time, because for the second time this year, VoiceBox Media is going to Africa.

This trip to Ethiopia with Doma International has been on the horizon since early this year and now here we are: five-and-a-half-weeks from departure.

5.5 weeks until I leave Austin and embark on a journey of many airplane rides, a very long road trip, and a 6-mile hike with mules bearing luggage.

5.5 weeks until I'm embedded with a team of 12 medical professionals from all over the country while they set up medical clinics in rural mountain villages in and around Bora where an estimated 10,000 people live six miles from the nearest doctor.

5.5 weeks until I hear their stories, and the stories of the people they're serving.

5.5 weeks until I, with your help, have the opportunity to hand them a microphone: SPEAK. And bring their message back to you.

This trip, much like VoiceBox Media's last 10 months of existence, could not happen without you, and we still need support to make our storytelling mission in Ethiopia possible. Together we have raised $1,480 to cover the expenses of airfare to Addis Ababa - Ethiopia's capital city, and now we must join forces to raise $1,500 to supply my interpreter, food, lodging, a mule to carry my frugal luggage, and in-country transportation, including 14-16 hours in a van.   

Our journey with VoiceBox Media has been a series of leaps of faith and trusting; more trusting followed by another leap; provision at the precise moments we've needed it preceded by many prayers.

I don't prefer it this way.
I'd like to have everything today, because in truth, the leaps are scary. Trusting is uncomfortable because it means I am not in control and it means there is the possibility of failure.

It also means abandonment; it means leaning in to something greater than myself, and it means opportunities to create transformational partnerships with people like you.


It is a journey of faith, of grace-for-the-moment, of peaceful deliberation, and of holding on to purpose in the face of the unknown, even when I'd rather all the unknowns be known.

Now.

In the words of Amber Kaufman, Doma International medical coordinator and project director, "“It’s astounding how many people can be impacted by one reporter going to Ethiopia.”   
__________________________________________________________________________________

To support VoiceBox Media's trip to Ethiopia, you can:

1) Send a tax-deductible donation in the form of a check made payable to Doma International, and send to Doma International, P.O. Box 21987, Columbus, OH 43221 with my name (Holly Wise) in the memo line. 

2) Make a donation via Paypal through VoiceBox Media's website, or contact me for a physical address.

3) Purchase a handmade lap-sized quilt (cotton or flannel) for $75. All proceeds benefit VoiceBox Media's trip to Ethiopia, and all quilts are handmade by me.


Thank you for your prayerful consideration.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it's the only thing that ever has." — Margaret Mead

Monday, September 23, 2013

hair and head transformation





To read about my hair to shaved-head transformation, click here.


Sept. 2, 2013

Sept. 2, 2013

Sept. 20, 2013




Sunday, September 22, 2013

grateful celebration of turning {30}


In October 2012 I was driving from Kentucky back to Texas and I thought, "I want to return here for my 30th birthday party and I want to celebrate with some of my most favorite people."

Fast forward to September 2013 and that's what happened. 
When I look at the pictures from that weekend and when I think about being surrounded by that much love, I'm grateful.

I'm grateful for acceptance.
...for the friends who drove a lot of miles to get there.
And for the friend who flew across time zones.
I'm grateful for a friend's lake house and their inspiring generosity.
I'm grateful for the photos and the memories we created.
...for morning coffee on the floating dock.
...and for conversations till 2 a.m.
I'm grateful for falling asleep mid-sentence.
I'm grateful for the kids who sang me original birthday songs.
...for their handwritten notes and cards.
I'm grateful for the gifts my friends brought - the kind they knew would mean the most.
I'm grateful for laughing, for crying, for reminiscing and for creating.
I'm grateful for a town that is home, a campus that welcomes me the same as it did 11 years ago, and for streets that are as familiar to me as, well, home.
I'm grateful for the women who cradled me and for my mom who organized that surprise.
I'm grateful for our "love fest" and for the affirming gift-words we gave each other (I WAS SO EXCITED TO DO THIS!!)
I'm grateful for friends who couldn't come, but sent me a party hat.
...and homemade beer.
...and a beautiful letter.
I'm grateful for the football games that played, the football conversations, and the "hook 'em, Horns!" pictures with my 3-year-old friend.
I'm grateful for my mom who did most of the driving, for friends who watched Skye, and for the terrific boarder who cared for Tuck.
I'm grateful for the quilts I gave as gifts and for all the things they symbolized.
I'm grateful for sunsets over the lake, and for a sturdy deck with rocking chairs.
I'm grateful for turning 30.
...to be living this new decade with so much love.
Y'all give me the warm fuzzies.
(and not in a moldy-kind-of-way)













Saturday, September 21, 2013

In the aura of community

“Love is the very difficult understanding that something other than yourself is real.” Iris Murdoch


Inside a little house on Sept. 20 a group of women met.
There was food and cucumber water.
There was a roll-y white chair and a lamp for lighting.
She sat down and shared with us: LOVE WINS.
And she took off her hat.
There was a documentarian and cameras rolling.
A horseshoe-shaped cluster of women enveloped her.
There was music playing: “You Make Beautiful Things.”
And there were voices joining in.
There were stories swirling around, and then the sound of clippers.
There were tears.
And smiles through the tears.
Pieces of hair fell freely to the floor, passing first through the loving fingers of the woman who cut it away.
There was laughter and silence and singing.
There were fist pumps, outstretched arms, cheers.
There were hugs, and head kissing.
There was rain.

This morning I’m rubbing my own near-bald head. I’ve been trying to come up with the words to introduce it to you, my friends.

I wanted to do this three weeks ago, but I wasn’t ready, so I didn’t do it.

My hair was long and I loved it that way. About two months ago, I had it trimmed. “Please take only enough for it to be healthy, but long.” Natalie cut barely four inches.

From the first day we received word of Brooke’s diagnosis, I knew that if she ever lost her hair, I would lose mine too. When that chapter of her journey began, I cut my hair off and donated 11 inches to Locks of Love.

A quiet inspiration spread from friend-to-friend. There was never fanfare, and every woman has her own story of why, how, when. Last night, conversations started based on, “Nicole, tell me your journey of how you came to make this choice,” and her story was powerful and unique. And then Sheree shared her jewel story. And Lynn and Annabelle.

Inspiration upon inspiration has built. When I look at my friends and their bald heads, I see pure, authentic beauty. I see bright eyes filled with peace, and I see confidence. My rough calculations indicate more than 50 inches of hair has been donated to Locks of Love.

I went to that little house last night in joyful anticipation. Lynn wanted to cut hers a little shorter, and so when the house started emptying and most everyone had changed into their comfy clothes, Lynn and I disappeared into the bathroom with Sheree and Natalie.

Sheree shaved my head. It was inspiration come full circle. She says my hair cut three weeks ago gave her confidence, and her willingness to follow her heart gave me confirmation of the nudge I’d been feeling. We laughed a lot and said things like, “You have a good-shaped head,” and “Your head is so soft, I just want to pet it all the time,” and “LOOK AT MY GORILLA-TUFT!”

About six months ago, a group of men and women met in that same little house.
Nicole. Brooke. Me. Lynn’s husband. Sheree’s husband. Nicole’s fiancĂ©.

We were going to Haiti together.
We talked.
Prayed.
Laughed.
Visited.

I was impacted by their stories of why, how, when.

A lot of life has happened in the six months between then and now. The walls could tell you.
Bad news.
Good news.
Travel.
Heartbreak.
Rejoicing.
Growth.

But somewhere in all the chaos of life, beautiful things are being made.
The walls could tell you that, too.




Tuesday, September 10, 2013

For the love of a friend

The #victorybirds!
I've competed in a few races with mostly one thing on my mind: can I beat my personal best? Can I shave off a few minutes, seconds?

Time was the last thing on my mind during Sunday's BrainPower 5K, and when we crossed the finish line 56 minutes after we started, the only thing we were celebrating was our beautiful friend who climbed out of the jogging stroller and crossed it with us.

Us. A team of 50 #victorybirds who ran and walked the 5K with her.
Her. She's a marvel to me. Her grace, vulnerability, grittiness.

Flying into the finish line!

There will never be a finish line that rivals this one, and if there is, I can't imagine it.

We approached the last stretch.

There was a long line of local high school cheerleaders cheering everyone down the home stretch, and crying as we victoriously passed them, joining in their cheers and celebration.

Hundreds of people were lined up near the finish line. We parked the jogging stroller and she grabbed the hands of two of the friends closest to her. The rest of us crowded in and near her. The sound of the 50 of us cheering was nearly deafening and the hundreds of people in front of us joined in.

By the time she pointedly crossed under the finish banner, everyone near us was crying.

There's a lot of love here.


 Whether it's walking the streets of Haiti together, strolling down an oncologist's hallway, or crossing a finish line, every step of this journey with this friend is a gift.

(photos courtesy of the friends who were busy with their cameras!)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

expectations

If you were to ask me 10 years ago what my bed would look like when I turned 30, its current state would not be my answer, which makes it a metaphor for how different real life is compared to expectations.

Not bad. Just different.

For starters, my bed is a nest and not an orderly sense of....anything. It's rarely made, outside of grabbing the edges of the sheet, blanket and duvet and spreading them haphazardly over the top of everything. I typically wouldn't even do this, but the dogs sometimes nap there and I draw the line at dog hair on my fitted sheets.

Speaking of sheets, mine don't match, and I have a random blue and yellow pillowcase that has nothing to do with one brown sheet, a maroon one, a cream blanket and hot pink duvet. Or the brown blanket, or the pink and brown spotted one, or the other green pillowcases. What the heck?

Yeah, crazy. I always figured myself for a matching-sheet-set kind of person, but now there's a comfortable element in my mismatched, imperfect sleeping gear.

It's not unusual for me to find Tuck's appropriated toys mixed in with the bedding.Oh lovely, your dental bone. And the shoe you stole from me. And your tug toy. If I'm lucky, I'll find them before I go to sleep. If not, then in the morning when every piece of bedding is rolled up into a human-shaped ball because apparently I'm a death-rolling alligator in my sleep.

Some nights I toss myself into bed diagonally because that's how I feel like doing it. And that's how my pillows were situated.

My bed can be a war zone, and the space closest to me the prize. My dogs still haven't reconciled who gets to spoon with me. I think they tried to work out a rotating schedule.

My mattress is actually the base of a fort. Do not think for one minute that I will not drag that sucker into the living room, surround it with chairs, and throw a bunch of blankets over it and the TV. No one should ever outgrow the thrill of a fort. 

Speaking of bed, here's the man who most often makes himself comfortable beside me while I'm reading, and then settles on the floor beside me when it's lights out:

I'm actually five pounds and you can't tell at all that I'm even up here.



Not exactly what I had planned, but sometimes life's expectations don't unfold as planned and, if you're like me, you're pleasantly surprised that what you have now is exactly what you need and your heart swells with gratitude for the life-journey you're on.

Different. Unexpected.
But fulfilling in only the way a messy bed that's rarely (properly) made filled with dogs and dog toys can be.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

my first act as a 30-year-old

Four months ago we were in Haiti together and she taught me how to French braid my hair.

Six days ago we were in her kitchen together and she pulled off her hat. "Wanna see my head?" I rubbed my fingers over the places her cancer treatment has bared. 

Three days ago I turned 30 and I cut off all my hair. Elevenish inches were donated to Locks of Love. 

Today (together) we're rockin' a new style.








Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Revolutionize. Play. Create. {repeat}

I’ve lived 30 years.

Not sure why, but something about that sounds…seasoned. As in, I’ve seen 30 years of gnarly shit and I can learn ya somethin’. Or, gather ‘round my creaky rocking chair while I knit socks and spin tales from a bygone era.

I was a wee miss living on a farm in Tennessee and I helped my mother train a Jersey cow to be a milker…when I wasn’t tending my flock of chickens.
 
There was a time when a blizzard (the worst in 50 years) knocked out power in the New Mexican Sacramento Mountains and we lived for something like 45 days off the light of oil lamps, the heat from a woodstove, and maintained sanity by putting together Jigsaw puzzles.

On a bitter cold day in the dead of winter, I took pictures of a bull’s swollen gonads and sent them via text message to my mom: “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH HIM?!”

I feel comfortable saying I’m entering my third decade with a concrete amount of animal reproductive knowledge (consistent denominator: foreplay), a fair dose of animal and human first aid (pressure first, exam later), a bit of heavy-equipment operation (move all gears and throttles SLOWLY), no sense of direction (“Mom, I’m on the road to Chicago…am I supposed to be in Memphis?”), a healthy amount of survival skills (if push ever came to shove and I had to, you know, live outside for upwards of 24 hours), enough stories to write a book (oh…wait…), and just a few bits of advice for the wee-babes still swaddled in the innocence of their 20s.

I said: a few. Don’t get your hopes up for the 30 Pieces of Advice from Holly, or the 30 Things Holly Thinks You Should Know, or Here’s the 30 Things I Learned From Birth (which I don’t even remember) to Now. No. None of that.

In all honesty, your twenties can be a real bitch. Mine had their moments. I mean, there were glamor shots and celebrations, but every victory seemed to be precluded by a shit-ton of effort, and at the risk of sounding clichĂ©, there’s so much discovery that goes into being a 20-something. You know what I mean. (Code for: I’m not spelling out all the awkward moments of self-discovery that bereft you in your 20s, because you’re probably tracking with me, right? And if not, you’re probably 19).

But I digress.

Bit of Advice #1: It’s not about how many friends you have, it’s about having ones you can call after you’ve decided to put your best-loved family dog to sleep and you need someone to tell you you’re making the right choice while you’re sitting on the toilet crying snotty sobs, and have a friend who stays with you on the phone while he dies.

I implore you to have your ‘voice of reason’ friends – the ones who will talk you off your crazy ledge and convince you that, no, in fact you don’t need ANOTHER dog from the pound, and yes, sign up for another round of eHarmony, because you deserve to get excited about emails in your inbox from strangers who you’ll probably never meet in person.

You need at least one or two friends who are dirtier-mouthed than you, and who laugh at you when you say the “f” word (“Every time you say it, I just laugh”). Have friends who will never hear you curse. Ever.

You need friends to dance Cupid’s Shuffle with approximately one million times, friends who get just as excited as you do over your handmade bookcases and quilts, and a friend or two who makes fun of you.

Please have a friend who challenges you. It wouldn’t hurt if they all did. They should challenge your beliefs, your way of thinking, your sensibilities. Let them push you to be a better person, to take a few chances, to say yes when (maybe) you should say no, and, at all costs, to move forward, but if you need to cry over a glass of wine first, that’s OK.

Have friends who are a bit ahead of you in their life-journey (they can help light the way), and a few friends who are a bit behind you.

Let them teach you how to resolve conflicts and how to stay friends when miles, transitions, careers, families separate you.

Be the kind of friend who goes running to your friend's side in the middle of the night (it's gonna happen), and who volunteers to whoop some ass on behalf of your girl-possee. Just. Be an awesome friend.
Love your family ferociously. So much that it hurts. Be true to yourself.

Bit of Advice #2: Educate yourself. Maybe college isn’t your thing. That’s cool. But never stop learning.
Read books. Real books. From a library.

If you’re curious about something, research it, answer your own questions, don’t rely on some other brainiac to give you the deets. Be nerdy. And if you do graduate from college with a couple degrees, buy yourself a gigantic dictionary. Never stop learning.

Learn about your heart, too. Ask yourself the tough questions and love yourself enough to answer honestly. Get a therapist. Your insurance should pay for one and if it doesn’t, you can work it in your budget. I’m doing it.

Learn how to be healthy and learn what your body needs. Remember to take care of yourself in all ways: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, sleepually, sportsually.
  
Bit of Advice #3: Get the hell up outta yo momma’s crib. Just don’t ever say you won’t be back. And if you do go back (for whatever reason that’s unknown to you when you leave college all giddy and fresh-faced), know it’s probably one of your better hook-ups. I’m not gonna say you get free cable and shit, but there are perks.

First, though, live on your own. Set up your own house or apartment or cardboard box. Realize that streaming YouTube videos 24/7 actually costs something, and that your cell phone is not a basic human right. It’s frickin’ expensive as hell and guess who has to pay for it now?

I don’t care if it’s by the skin of your teeth, learn to be independent. Cook extravagant dinners for one, figure out how to put the electricity in your name, and when the budget doesn’t allow for cable, bunny ears, or a DVD player, be perfectly content scouring the junk stores for used VHS tapes.

Bit of advice #4: Explore everything. Visit a random middle-of-nowhere-town in a rainstorm. Go somewhere just to say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been there,” or “So there was this one time, I went…” Find your dream house, and then make an appointment with the realtor just to dance circles in the living room and pretend that it’s yours. Check up on it regularly to make sure it hasn’t sold (it’s totally waiting for you).

Explore faith and religion. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid of the answers.

Leave your hometown, your county, your state. See what the sun looks like when it sets over the Texas landscape, and smell a New Mexican thunder storm. Swim in as many bodies of water as possible and whisper to yourself, “You’re in the Caribeean Sea off the coast of Haiti,” or “This is your favorite lake, this Kentucky Lake.”

Travel the world. Chase an adventure. Go somewhere alone. Spend the night in an African airport. Don’t be afraid of people who speak a different language. Participate in broken-English conversations. Get lost…repeatedly.

Make spontaneous plans. Do them. Leave your camera at home once. Train your mind to capture the memories: the sights, the sounds, smells, what you were wearing, what the moon looked like.
Do things just to say you did.

Explore relationships. Don’t rush. Buck societal traditions; it’s liberating to be 30 and single. Follow your journey.

For all their grueling, sometimes sadistic, mostly necessary, and always lesson-worthy twists, turns, bumps, hallelujahs and let’s-get-the-good-times-rolling, my 20s were made to remember from the perch of my 30s where I’m told life “kinda evens out,” and “you have a better handle on where you’re going and how you’re getting there.” That could be a bunch of horsepooey. We’ll see.

At any rate, I’m as thrilled as a BCS National Football champion to be turning 30. I.Am.So.Excited. For reals. I think I laid it all on the line in my 20s, and my only expectation for this new decade is that I live it as fiercely and as scaredshitlessly as I did the previous.
“We are too young to realize that certain things are impossible... So we will do them anyway.” ― William Wilberforce

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

a flailing puppy and a steady nipple

"Do you know what a ruthless warrior you are to be living the lifestyle of following your heart?"

There was a day in the not-so distant past that I didn't feel like a ruthless warrior. 

I felt like a crying mess in a hot shower during a colossal meltdown over malfunctioning technology. What started out as, "Dang it, this link won't open in a new tab," escalated to, "Screw whoever's idea it was to give me an effed-up childhood and then 29 years later cause every electronic device in my house to be robbed, crash with a terrible virus, or malfunction. I want a new life."

And while I cried actual hot, angry tears, I knew it wasn't about the stupid computer, or the stupid Internet connection, or the stupid links that wouldn't open. 

I learned this lesson when I was a kid. I don't remember the situation entirely, but I know it involved a picture that a sibling drew of a cow and it made me cry. And while I was crying actual tears in a trailer travel in God's-country-Idaho over an obviously stupid picture of a stupid cow, I knew I was crying about so much more. The cow was just the catalyst. 

The failing technology and the lack of an IT department IN MY HOUSE was just the tipping point, the straw that broke the camel's back.

"Take some deep breaths, breath deep, surround yourself with calm. Maybe have some chocolate? Once you've regained some of your equilibrium, the solutions will come to you. Also...maybe take a nap. Sleep helps. A lot," a friend texted me in reply to my "hands-in-thrown-in-the-air-I-QUIT!" rant.

I took a shower. I pinpointed my extreme frustration.
I felt dumped
I felt alone
I felt like I'm doing it all...alone
I felt inadequate (and not just with technology)
I felt like I wanted life to be easy FOR ONCE

My better-self started talking:
It's not true.
You haven't been dumped (well, kinda, but you're in therapy for that)
You're not alone. At the very least, you have two huge-ass dogs waiting for you outside the bathroom door as we speak. 
You're not doing it all alone. You have him, and you have her, and all those other hers, and a few more hims. 
You're not inadequate. I mean, stay away from drawing maps, and don't do math in your head. But the truth is this: you are enough. 
I've got nothin' on life being easy, but what if you loosened your grip on some of these things?  
Maybe you're hanging on too tight.  

I got out of the shower. Tuck met me in the bedroom. He jumped on the bed and brought me his cherished shoe, then laid down as close to me as he could get.



I remembered when Skye's puppies were born.

There was the Littlest One and I had to revive her when she was born. After she started breathing, I cleared her siblings out of the way, opened her mouth and shoved a nipple in. Nothing. She spit it out. I squeezed a little milk out to give her a taste. Nothing. I tried another nipple. A small one, round one, long one, narrow one...nothing. She spit them all out and her little body flailed all over the place in my hand kinda like a worm does right before you skewer it onto a hook.

I was exasperated. Her chances of surviving dwindled the longer she put off latching on, so I waited a few seconds and then we tried again. And again and again. Nipple steady, puppy flailing until finally! Suction. 

You are totally that puppy.

I don't want to damage anyone's religious ideology by metaphorically comparing God to a dog's nipple, so I won't do that, but I will say that I am often in this position - flailing, exasperated, frustrated, at my wit's end, out of solutions, and tired. And the whole time, the answer is usually steadily in front of me in the form of truth, facts, friends, nature, clarity, a nap, God.

Maybe you're hanging on too tight.

Yeah, that too.

So loosen your grip.

Monday, July 15, 2013

VoiceBox Media is a nominee!

 
When I look at the list of this year's nominees for the Epoch Awards, I see stories. I see people's names and their organizations, and I see that each one represents, a passion, a calling and a journey to bring the dream to life. Living a mission isn't for the faint of heart - it takes courage, humility, optimism, faith. I'm curious to know these people and their hearts. What birthed the calling? What events set them up for this moment? What made them hit 'play' on their dreams? How are they changing their corners of the world? How can we help them do it? 
 
I keep scrolling through the list and I see my name: Holly Wise, VoiceBox Media - nominated for an Epoch Award and a generous donation toward the organization I founded. Our mission is to tell the stories of the organizations and people that surround my name on the list. My name is sandwiched between Valerie Kumra (LoveManifest) and Linda Cozadd (The Eden Clinic). Above me is Floriant Gerwin (ACSF) and below me is Kris Asleson (Truth x Vision). We are five of hundreds, and everyone has a story.
 
It's humbling to be nominated for an Epoch Award and to be included in a remarkable group of individuals who are putting action into their mission. Being a recipient of one of the awards would mean that VoieBox Media could continue to tell the stories of the people working tirelessly to make a difference in their neghborhoods, communities, cities, states and country.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

She is clothed with strength and dignity....

I sat in a chair parked by her bed.
She asked me about the dogs, what my plans were for the weekend, what I did that day.
I didn't ask about hers.
There are certain things you shouldn't say in a hospital room.
{ex. "How was your day?" Really great. That's actually why I'm here.}
She tells me when she's ready.
She recounts the events of the last three days.

Some of it I already know.
I knew there was a seizure and a brain tumor.
The details were few at first. I was speechless - my coping mechanism kicking in. I didn't cry. I can't effectively freak out until I have all the details. I was quiet, dazed. I texted a few close friends. I went to sleep. My soul was crying out to God.

I hiked the next day and my thoughts were swirling around my beautiful friend, and I was thinking: it's not fair. It's not fair that it's her. Her! I can think of many people better suited for a seizure and a brain tumor. Not her.

But then that damn whisper on the wind that I hear exactly when I need to.
This time it said:

Why not her?
You see, wherever she is, she brings Jesus. So why not a hospital room? A surgical unit? A hospital chapel?  A rehabilitation center? Her circle of influence expands daily as news of her diagnosis has spread from person to person, church to church, community to community, country to country. People who don't even know her are having their lives radicalized by her spirit.

And I thought she was a rock star before this shitstorm.

I told her that when I was told the news, the first thing on my heart was the song "From the inside out" by Hillsong.
"Let's play it," I said, and she found it on her phone. (she's the queen of worship music)
She laid back in her bed, flowers everywhere, a stuffed animal next to her, her own pillows tucked around her and a black and white zebra blanket spread over her. Her phone rested on her stomach and the music played while she closed her eyes. I folded my hands, but then reached for hers. Our voices whispered the words of the song.

There are places in time when the spirituality of a moment transcends location, facts, words....when the presence of Jesus is so palpable it could be interpreted as a fragrance, a peace, a sense of wonder, calm, stillness.

She brought him, I welcomed him, and while the music played and the room was filled with just her, me and God, we gripped each other's hands.
And we cried.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

respect the time

I left the house with Tuck one morning a couple weeks ago and we went to our favorite hiking trails.

While we were in the woods for an hour, our house was being broken into and every electronic device I owned was being stolen. And my safe, which had, well, things you put in safes to keep safe, including a lot of cash, was taken. (Like, all my earnings from Skye's litter of puppies.)

I entered the house as I usually do. Confident. Sure that things would be the way I left them. Mindlessly.

I knew something was wrong before the door was completely opened and while my eyes scanned the rooms, taking note of the things gone, my mind was registering:

"This is what it feels like to be robbed."

In 90 minutes, some of my most costly earthly items were gone.

A lot of things in my life recently have happened this way.

A phone call.
The kids are gone.

A Facebook chat window.
Tye passed away.

A random posting on social media that I wasn't supposed to see.
She's pregnant.

An email.
You are a terrible employee.

A text message.
She saw Jesus at 11:15 a.m.

A phone call.
I lost my job.

Seconds, moments that change everything. Some are a sucker-punch to the gut, some are devastating, others are maddening, others bittersweet, but they all have something in common:

They're sudden, uncalled for, unexpected, harsh. 

I was hiking again a few days ago, thinking about how quickly life changes. How in one second to the next, you literally never know what will transpire. Sure, we can plan and plot and execute our best intentions, but at the end of the day, we're all on borrowed time.

Be brave, I heard whispering on the wind.

And my first thought was: oh shit.
One of the last times I heard such an encouraging phrase, one of my best friends died. 

This time, Tuck and I were accosted by a giant dog and I was minorly hurt when I hurled myself into the woods and a ditch to avoid the beast.

Be brave.

This awareness of time is propelling me.
I'm hardly still.
I'm always brainstorming, always working, alternating between hours at my computer and hours on the hiking trail. There are things to be done, stories to be told, life to be lived, adventures to be had. I'm not waiting till tomorrow or the next day.
I'm living now.
Because in a moment, or 90 of them, so many things can change. For the better, for the worse, but nothing is a guarantee.


"I wanna leave this place with a smile on my face knowing what's in my heart didn't just stay in my heart and whatever Heaven gave me, I wanna give it all back. I wanna be an open book - say I gave more than I took."
~  Pam Rose's My Life

Monday, June 17, 2013

The First Date.

AKA The moment in time where two people meet and judge each other ferociously against a mental checklist. Everyone does it. Judging, that is, because if the checklist isn’t fulfilled, there will be no second or third date, or marriage.

Marriage.

That’s ultimately what the First Date is determining. Are we compatible? Because obviously a two-hour conversation over a meal, or drinks, or coffee is enough to let me know if I’ve found the person I will tie the knot with.

Actually that last part is true. 

And while I’m determining other things (like if I’m sexually attracted to the person sitting across from me), it’s marriage that’s the most terrifying part of a first date. Some guys want to know right off the bat, “Are you looking for a long-term relationship?” If I waffle, it looks like I’m noncommittal. If I’m gung-ho, it looks like I’m ready to find the nearest ordained minister. WHAT IS THE RIGHT ANSWER that says: I am invested in my relationships for the long haul, and I’m willing to consider marriage if everything works out?

If everything works out.

Maybe that is the answer.

Every once in awhile I emerge from my happy little world and I enter the Dating Scene, which really represents the busiest hour in an investor firm on Wall Street. You know the scene: every one’s yelling over each other and in another language that seems to make sense to someone and no one, and they’re all running around, grabbing stuff, pointing, yelling, nobody looks happy, and then they collapse.

Despite the gruesome leave-no-prisoners foray, I get out there. I’m the one you never see in the afore-mentioned scene, because I’ve usually found refuge under someone’s desk, but at least I’m out there, right? Right.

I went on a first date not too long ago - a blind first date. Blind in that we’d never met in person, just chatted a bit on the Internets, the World Wide Web.

I have to force myself to do this. Trust me. And on most occasions the only reason I don’t cancel is because I’m telling myself:

“You. Don’t. Back. Out. Of. Shit. You are committed. YOU WILL KEEP YOUR WORD, YOUNG LADY.”

So then it becomes a business meeting (or at least that’s what I tell myself), an interview.
“You’re gonna go interview this guy, it’s a business meeting. You are the master of conversing with strangers. In. Talk, talk, talk. Out. Done.”

So brutal, but so true.

Also, my friends won’t let me back out.

“Just goooo! You never know what might happen. Do this for you.”

So I thought it might be fun to recount some of my most memorable first dates. Here they are, in no particular order or time sequence. If you and I have been on a first date and you’re reading this - don’t worry. No names used.

The one where I introduced myself as him:
Blind date in the purest sense, and I said in front of the restaurant, “Hello, my name is Billy.” And he said, “No, you’re Holly. I’m Billy.”

Lunch went on to be lovely.

The one where the limo picked us up:

A limo picked us up at his house and took us to get more of his friends before we went to a fancy dinner and then a concert at a country bar. The group dynamic was so fun.

I fell asleep in the limo on the way home.

The one I don’t remember:

It wasn’t until I was reading my old blog that I remembered my hairdresser giving me her son’s number, I called him, we went out with some of my friends. He got drunk, and I don’t remember any of it. How that happens - I don’t know.

The one where I ate a foot-long veggie sub:

In my defense, it’s like a salad on bread. No cheese, and only a smidgen of light mayo. This was also the one where I chose a restaurant (my favorite) and it happened to be CLOSED that day, so we ended up at a sandwich shop and their furnace had stopped working. So while I wolfed down my foot-long, we froze our asses off.

Side note: I used to be self-conscious about eating on the First Date. “He’s totally counting my carbs.” I got over that. Let’s enjoy food together.

The one where I multitasked:

In an act of dating laziness, I went through a phase where I’d facilitate phone dates. This guy talked for about 48 minutes straight and all about how he hated his job and most of his life. The redeeming factor of this date is that I was able to walk the dogs, sweep my floor, dice a couple pineapples, and encourage him (through my own journey) to get happy. When I could get a word in edgewise, that is.

The one about going postal:

I judged this poor bloke for his repetitive use of the word “fuck” within the first five minutes of introducing ourselves at the coffee shop. I’m not morally or otherwise opposed to that word in appropriate situations - stubbing a toe, missing a deadline, BREAKING NEWS, dramatic effect, but not the first date.

Also, he said:
“I carry two nightsticks. I don’t carry a gun in public because I’m afraid I might go postal.”

The one where he was inspired:

Another phone date, and he was cutely appreciative of my work, what I do, etc. It was endearing.

The one where he asked if I like men:

That was awkward. My mind was screaming: “NO, I’M HERE BECAUSE I LIKE WASTING TWO HOURS ON A SATURDAY!!” and externally I was laughing.

He’s also the one who wanted to touch my hair.

My verdict:

First Dates are stupid. They’re clunky, they’re designed for you to have an excuse to write off the other person, and they’re awkward. The men’s hands are usually trembling as they’re trying to grasp their coffee cup, and I’m hurrying to engage him in a conversation (with my Mad Journalism Skills) to put him at ease, which means we (meaning he) talks endlessly about something I don’t care about (I.e. motorcycles), so then I become bored, but I’m pretending to be interested (it’s a learned skill), and when I do start to talk about something I’m interested in, I’m observing body language and adjusting my dialogue based on the subconscious cues he’s giving me.

It’s all very complex and exhausting.

What’s my solution?

For the love of Cupid, erase the dynamic of a first date. Do something FUN, and at the very least, if it still fails, we’ll have a cool experience under our belts.

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Monday mornings

My Monday mornings look a little bit different.

First, they're mine.

My Monday mornings...

I've excused myself from the rat-race of corporate-ness, the competition of money-centered media, and I've struck out on a different path. My path.

It's been four months and I'm still just as exhilarated about my decision today as I was the night I made it.

Sometimes you just know.

You know when you're supposed to take that chance.

{talk to that boy}
{take that trip}
{invest that money}
{buy that dog}
{make that friend}
{let that go}

I fired my employer on Feb. 13.
On Feb. 14, I was on a plane to Kenya.

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 21ish, I wondered if I'd have the same assuredness half-a-world-away as I did on that day.

Yes, even stronger.
And today it's even stronger.

Sometimes you just know, and sometimes you just have to jump.

But maybe you're scared.

It's OK.

I'm scared shitless nearly every day.

Taking that step is petrifyingly scary.

Whoa, holy-scariness.

Before I jumped, I was so good at running through scenarios in my head and they usually defaulted to negative ones.

What if....
I don't have enough money.
I fail.
I made a mistake.
I miscalculated the timing.
I overshot my jump.
I crash and burn.
I humiliate myself.
I let my family down.

A couple years ago, my life coach suggested that if I'm going to play the What-If Game, that I change the rules.

What if...
I succeed.
I am making the perfect choice.
I am an example.
I am right on time.

My new favorite singer says it like this:

"What if I fly,
then will I feel the freedom on my skin
What if I,
close my eyes, trust the wind and just lean in?
I'll get there...if I dare...
If I fly.

So what if I'm afraid?
So what if my heart breaks?
But what if I fly?"

Be brave, my friends.
You'll know when you're supposed to jump.
But be prepared.
It'll probably be when you least expect it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Outtakes

{Real things I've really said to my real dogs}:

"No toys in the bed!"

"You have two chances to sleep in the bedroom tonight."

(10 seconds later)

"You have lost your privilege to sleep in the bedroom tonight."

"I'm on the phone, please stop running through the house."

"I need you to get out of my personal space for about five minutes."

"I do not need you in my face while I'm peeing."

"Do you always have to step on my vagina when you jump off the bed?"

"Do not take her your toy, drop it in her face, and then get mad when she tries to play with it."

"Please stop wrestling over my body."

"DO NOT FIGHT OVER ME!"

"Let me have an uninterrupted adult conversation."

"OK, party's over. The squirrel has left the yard."

"I don't mean to dash your dreams, but you will NEVER catch that bird. They fly. You don't."

"I'll be home soon...I love you."

"The water in your bowl is just as fresh as the water in the toilet. Drink it."

"Stop roughhousing in the house."

"I don't want you to run through the kitchen and then take a flying leap onto the couch. It's just not good manners."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What's the ONE Thing?

I ended May in a hotel basement in Austin, Texas.

Why some of my most significant life-moments have happened in a hotel basement, I don't know, but I think I should hang out there more often.

I ended up there because my mom said, "Hey, have you heard about The ONE Thing? It's a book in which the author abolishes the idea of multitasking as a LIE and he'll be speaking about it next week in Austin."

Um, nobody puts multitasking in a corner, so I went. Mainly because I wanted to see WHO WOULD UTTER SUCH BLASPHEMY and also because I wanted someone to tell me what I should do with my ONE Thing.

(My ONE Thing = VoiceBox Media, in case you didn't know.)

To catch you up, here's what I've been doing with my One Thing, etc. in the last seven months:

Started it in November
Quit my full time job in February
Went to Kenya the very next day
Had to abandon my house because of SKUNKS
Went to Houston and Dallas (in the same weekend)
Went to Kentucky
Birthed a litter of puppies
Got an awesome part-time job
Adjusted my lifestyle to accommodate a part-time salary
Went to Haiti
Went to Florida
Started the part-time job
Raised the puppies
Sold the puppies
Went to St. Louis to get my dog from training school
Started contract work
Finished contract work

Got really overwhelmed.

(Thank the Lord (really!) for my friends, my life coach and my therapist)

So when I entered the hotel basement, I wanted to leave with focus. And debunk the "multitasking is a lie" statement.

I left with focus. And the realization that multitasking is detracting from my focus, which my ONE Thing needs. But more on that later.

The author of The ONE Thing asks a great question:

"What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"

Instantly, my mind starts freaking out:

"YOU HAVE TO FIND THAT ONE THING......What is it? WHAT COULD IT POSSIBLY BE?!"

The answer came to me while I was vacuuming.

See, I do what a lot of my friends do. I get into the "starting over" mentality. The thoughts that go like this: "I really need to start (blank)..." "If only I could start (blank)...." But my philosophy is that we're not always starting (a new diet, a better spiritual relationship, an exercise regimen), we're continuing a journey. Every day we are on a diet - it just changes based on our choices. Same with our spiritual relationship, exercise regimen, our cleaning routine, etc.

So I gave myself the same advice. Instead of obsessing with, "What can I START doing that will make everything else easier or unnecessary," I took a look-see into the habits I've established in my life where I'm already doing those things.

Here's what I came up with:

Example #1: Freezer cooking
I started this one thing awhile ago as part of my health journey and when I had a full-time job. This habit saves me from asking the "what am I going to eat for lunch/dinner" question that when you really enjoy food as much as I do, you ask yourself shortly after breakfast. Plus it's a big time saver for me, and I'm a big fan of efficiency.

Example #2: My new vacuum (don't laugh)
If you've been following me on Facebook, you KNOW how obsessed I am with my new vacuum. I even demonstrated it to a friend who came over to watch a movie. (I can only use so many words to explain its headlights - you just GOTTA SEE THEM). So how does this one thing make everything else easier and unnecessary? Well, it saves me time, because it now takes me 15 minutes to vacuum the WHOLE house instead of 30-45 minutes to sweep. Plus it's so much fun that I use vacuuming as an incentive for myself. (see? The one things don't have to be HUGE)

Example #3: I walk Tuck every morning first thing
Tuck is my 2-year old German shepherd who, without a walk first thing in the morning, will literally go crazy. So starting our day with a 30-40 minute walk and a 10-15 minute training session sets our day up for awesomeness, because he crashes for a couple hours and I'm able to work in peace for that time. Plus I get the exercise, I get to clear my head, be in nature, the sun, pray, meditate and enjoy his company. So many birds killed with one stone. Love it.

Example #4: Budget. Every paycheck. Before I get paid.
I started telling my money where to go, and I put it there. Empowering! I don't stress anymore about my money "disappearing" and I don't stress about paying bills, because over time I've built up the courage to face that fear. (Money scares the shit out of me, FYI) And over time, my savings account has expanded and I'm in control.

This question can apply to every area of my life: Spiritual, physical health, personal life, key relationships, my job, my business, my finances.

I'm doing it with my ONE Thing. How? I have a should-do list and I check off the one-small-step(s) as they are completed. And I focus on my One Thing by blocking off (mostly) uninterrupted time to devote to it.

Sometimes it's really that simple.

And sometimes I need to hear it again and again.

In a hotel basement.