‘so much held in a heart’

I’ve had a rotten cold for days now and it kept me from sleeping last night. I’d been laying in bed for nearly two hours, breathing out of my mouth and one nostril, my head propped up on two pillows, and turning from one side to the other. I listened to Travis’ deep sleeping, tossed the covers around a little when I got too hot, and nothing helped. So, I stumbled out of bed, being careful not to step on the cat, and walked to the family room where our dog was sleeping and woke him up. He looked so confused. “Is it morning already?” he seemed to ask me. And then I turned on a lamp and he squinted his eyes as I sat on the couch and propped up my laptop. He figured it out that no, it wasn’t morning. I’m just crazy. So he laid on his pillow and started snoring again, and while I was partially envious that he could sleep when I couldn’t, I figured I’d write the thing I’ve been trying to write for days – the one that’s been sitting in the back of my mind, half handwritten in a journal, the rest in jumbled thoughts that come and go.

Last weekend, my friend visited me and read a beautiful passage about everything a heart holds in a lifetime. I think she read it in a book, and I asked her to email it to me. At this moment, I don’t know what book it came from or who penned it. But it inspired me to write a version of what my heart holds after 33 years in this world. Here goes:

When I think of my childhood, I still feel the stir of excitement in my chest the night before every first day of school, the nights hiding in backyards while playing Kick the Can with the neighborhood kids, and my first time riding in an airplane. That wild flutter at my center is still what I live for, though it comes and goes between feelings of emptiness, heaviness, loneliness, and anxiousness. In the course of a lifetime, I expect my heart to be tired at it’s end, so much happy beating like a hummingbird, so many times deflated like a balloon that was let go only to fly around in a nonsensical pattern and lie exhausted on the ground. The heart’s cycle is curious and switches rhythm as life changes, sometimes multiple times a day. One can hope more happiness than sadness comes its way.

I can’t fit everything my heart holds in this post, but I’ll try to sum up some of that tangled mess that thumps behind my ribs. There are happy moments like falling asleep in triple bunkbeds above my brothers, the three of us smelling like fireworks and fresh Wyoming air at the end of a long, hot 4th of July. My heart remembers waking up at 3 a.m. and sneaking down to the living room every Christmas morning to see if Santa came. It cherishes making membership cards with my mom for the Fun Club we made up, where all my friends would come over to play games. There is a bed full of stuffed animals, and a big pink Barbie house full of toys from McDonald’s. It sees a “zero” best friend because zero comes before one, and that makes the friendship even more special. And then there were other friends, and other bests, and they all remain inside my memory forever, taking up this huge perfect space.

My heart fell in love with the salty smell of the ocean, staying up past midnight, taking pictures of everything and gluing memories in albums. Part of my heart always lives in California, at a restaurant on the beach where we ate chocolate coffee cake and laughed our guts out all night, on Main Street in Disneyland.

And then part of my heart always lives in Utah, the smell of the lake, long summer evenings, my dad choosing the movie on Saturday nights, cracking walnuts in front of a roaring football game, my mom and I crossing finish lines. Mashed potatoes and gravy every Sunday, and holidays that tasted like cinnamon bears, Orange Sticks, and hot chocolate. Mountains, and college, and roommates, and Slurpees. Then newspapers, sandwiches on Center Street, The Owl, and growing up while never feeling grown up at all.

Pieces of my heart live all over the country, wherever my friends and family are – New York, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., Washington state, Colorado, Idaho.

Then there are the cracked and bruised parts of my heart – the parts that have holes, scars, and cuts. Feeling guilty for half my life because I didn’t understand, feeling lied to and betrayed. Whispers, cunning smiles, and sneers. Insecurity and losing friends. Being told I was ugly and believing it. Hiding behind my hair and baggy clothes.

Boyfriends and breakups, getting in the way of love, and others doing the same. Being heartbroken over and over by the same men, and doing my own share of breaking. Calling one person 20 times in a row one night, tears streaming from my face, never getting an answer. Watching his garage door close one day, knowing it was over forever. Pain and relief at the same time.

And then a year went by and things changed and one day I drove down an unsuspecting road and got chills thinking of the love interest who would eventually become my husband. Feeling, for the first time, that this seemed right from the beginning.

My friend sitting across the room from me, telling me one of my ex-boyfriends committed suicide two weeks earlier and that she found out through the grapevine after someone read a column his step-mom wrote. Wondering how one day someone can disappear from this world. Knowing that life is so hard for some people. Realizing there were only two people I could talk to about it. Ripping up, throwing away, and deleting almost everything I had to remind me of him.

Making a new home in New Mexico that looked like hiking whenever possible, felt like trying to find the right path, and tasted like green chile. Getting engaged on top of a mountain at sunset, walking down the aisle. The light days, anxious days, adventure days, and sick days.

Choosing a pair of earrings from my grandma’s collection at a lunch with all my cousins that I knew would never happen again now that she was in the ground. Missing her voice and our long drives and phone calls. Later releasing balloons into the air following a service for my grandpa – the orange rocks in the background and wondering why there was so much more peace in this loss.

The death of a parent, something no one understands until it happens. Kneeling by my dad’s body and sobbing in that long maroon room, everyone telling me he looked better two days earlier when I couldn’t be there. Telling him I was sorry. Running my fingers through his hair. Geese flying by and hearts appearing in rocks and trees, on trails, and in clouds, and I feeling like my dad would never forget.

I didn’t feel like myself for more than a year, and then one day, like magic, I wanted to listen to the happy songs again. But the happy songs don’t solve everything – nothing ever will.

The intensity of my heart has multiplied by 1,000 in every way.

I dance now even though I’ll never know how, and I surround myself with people who don’t mind. My heart holds the loud nights, the piano nights, and Halloween. Sunsets glow brighter than ever, and I love the rain. Sometimes I shake when I read the news and see videos of people running from violence in pictures on my phone. It all feels so close.

My heart holds dog smiles and sneezes, slow cat blinks, and Harry Potter nights. Bike rides, trails, and wine. Summer in the backyard and the way Travis tries to save all the bees and spiders. Rose bushes surrounding our brick house.

Life always goes on as it will, and time will move too fast. We’ll experience as many far away places as possible, I’ll write memories inside airplanes, and scale mountains until we are old and broken. Life will break me many times more – I don’t even know how to imagine the ways it will. And my warm, wrenched heart will hold it all.

800 hearts

This photo was taken in Urubamba, Peru, on Thanksgiving. It is my 800th post on Hunting for Hearts.

I am posting for the 800th time on my Hunting for Hearts Instagram feed tonight. I could have done this weeks ago, but I over-thought it like I sometimes do. I wanted to write something to go with it, but whenever I tried, I didn’t feel like my words were enough.

So, I’m using someone else’s. I recently read “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle and this spoke to me:

“You can be shattered and then you can put yourself back together piece by piece.

But what can happen over time is this: You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. This sort of change — the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain — it’s revolutionary. When you let yourself die, there is suddenly one day: new life. You are Different. New. And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. You are like a snake trying to fit into old, dead skin, or a butterfly trying to crawl back into the cocoon, or new wine trying to pour itself back into an old wineskin. This new you is equal parts undeniable and terrifying.

Because you just do not fit. And suddenly you know that. And you have become a woman who doesn’t ignore her knowing. Who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t know. Because pretending makes you sick. And because you never promised yourself an easy life, but you did promise yourself a true one. You did promise – back when you were putting yourself back together – that you’d never betray you again.”

After my dad passed away, I wrote that sometimes your heart break into 1,000 pieces. It’s something I’ve thought about many times since that December day when I broke. For me, this heart journey has been a lot of things, but perhaps the main purpose has been putting myself back together again. Maybe 800 of my heart’s pieces are intact, but they’ve been melted, and ground, and plastered together completely differently. I don’t regret the way those jagged pieces have been sorted, misplaced, and glued, sometimes haphazardly I’m sure. I am not a perfect puzzle, but I’m my own kind of masterpiece in the making and I’m going to keep being true to that person – truer than maybe I’ve ever been.

rainbows and peppers

There is a Buddhist story about a woman named Kisa Gotami who seemed to have every joy in her life until her child got sick and passed away, leaving her in a world that suddenly felt dark and lonely. In deep despair, she sought help and was told to find Buddha for advice. When she approached him and told her story, he asked her to come back with a mustard seed from a family who had not known death. She knocked on doors and confronted everyone she knew, but could not find anyone who could give her the seed, because they had all experienced the loss of relatives, too. This story is meant to teach that we all experience suffering and death, and in this way, as tragic as it is, we are all the same.

I thought of Kisa Gotami tonight after a series of events involving rainbows, a green pepper, a heart, a friend, Instagram and text messages. It was one of those seemingly modern miracles that could only take place in the 21st century, but reminds me of truths that seem to have been around for thousands of years:

1. We’re all connected somehow.

2. This space we call life extends beyond the years we live.

3. Angels exist among the living, and are most often friends.

It started with a bright, full rainbow that arched over Cache Valley, Utah, at the same moment my friend Janalee took out the trash. She snapped a photo, posted it on Instagram, and said she’d been having an “off” week. It will be six years ago tomorrow since her dad passed away and she said this perfectly-timed rainbow was a perfectly-timed message that her dad is watching over her.

More than 670 miles away, outside the climbing gym, I saw her post, liked it, then went inside to workout. Thirty minutes later, I walked outside and saw a monsoon rainbow peeking through the clouds and immediately thought of Janalee. I rushed to my car, got my phone, and right before I went to send it, Janalee texted me with a heart she found inside a pepper! All of it was perfect timing. I sent her the rainbow saying I was thinking about her at that exact moment, to which she responded that all the hearts and rainbows were messages from her dad. And maybe they were from my dad, too? This is when warm tingles flowed up and down my body, a feeling I’ve felt countless times when something amazing or spiritual happens. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I just sat there in wonder and started driving, watching the rainbow as it disappeared, then reappeared, and vanished one more time.

Janalee and I don’t text each other often, so all of these things lining up seemed too perfect to be coincidental. I’m pretty skeptical these days about everything happening for a reason, and when good things happen, I often lean more toward serendipity. But sometimes it seems something really did happen on purpose and whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t hurt believing in the magic of it all. Maybe this is my dad’s or some unknown angel’s way of telling me to keep having faith in something.

Every September, I’m reminded how fragile life is. Six years ago this week, three of my friends lost loved ones unexpectedly. One (Janalee) lost her father, one lost her best friend, and one lost her husband. Those were huge things to try and grapple under the age of 30. They’re still huge things.

Like Kisa Gotami and everyone in that story, we will all experience death if we haven’t already. And maybe the point of all of this isn’t to avoid the suffering because we can’t. Maybe the point is to keep reaching out, keep watching for anything that might lift someone’s day. A rainbow, a heart, a quote, or a simple, “I’m thinking of you.”

Maybe this point is to hope no one suffers alone.

one year

IMG_20150204_070534

One of my friends asked me whether this year has been long or short. I decided it’s been long. Last December and January seem like forever ago.

When I look back, I always think of pink sunrises in those first few weeks after the funeral. I would drive to work in the dark, and a few times a week, I’d try to find a few minutes to go stand on the roof and look at those pink clouds. The moon would be setting through the haziness out west, and the clouds would be hovering in grays and blues along the Sandia mountains to the east. Everything felt hazy, blue and gray then. However, some mornings were so stunning they took my breath away. I always felt my dad close in those moments.

There have been so many beautiful things that happened this year – and so many adventures. I’m thankful for that. But there’s also been a layer of sadness beneath everything I’ve done and experienced. The trip to Disneyland in January – getting a new job – the train ride in Durango – a Tim McGraw concert with my mom – seeing San Francisco – Balloon Fiesta. I wish my dad would have been there for those days, or that I could have told him about them. Those days and so many others.

A week ago, my family and I went to the place where my dad passed away. I have come to realize that in every place where someone leaves this world, there are angels who attend and leave that space more holy than before. When we visited, the sun was shining, there was snow on the ground and heart clouds appeared. It was peaceful and gorgeous, and even though I wish things were different a year ago, I know my dad wasn’t alone when he left this world, and my family will never be left alone either.

One year came and went on Wednesday. I took the day off and slept in. I cried in the shower. Then I tried to do a mix of reflective things, and fun things my dad would have liked. I saw a movie, ordered a medium popcorn, then went to See’s Candies (they have a chocolate named Normandie after all). I drove to the foothills and went for a long walk while looking for hearts. I came across four, and I took one of them home.

I prayed and cried in the open space and thanked God for the good things in my life. I told him I want to use the next year to be more in the moment – to remember that people can be taken away at any time, and to cherish those relationships always. I thanked God for my parents and told him I felt lucky to have my dad in my life for 30 years. I said thank you for the beauty of the world. There really is so much of it.

Before we went to bed that night, we lit luminarias in our driveway in the shape of a heart. The candles lit up the night in this gorgeous way – the way only candles can.

It’s been a long year. A long, beautiful, sad, hazy year. I’ve learned a lot about life, death, tragedy and myself. I’m going to light a candle in my heart – one that was blown out a year ago – and will let it grow brighter this next year.

IMG_20150122_173100 IMG_20150312_072847 IMG_20150212_183700 IMG_20150206_120711

IMG_20150320_082238

20151212_125620 IMG_0387 20151212_125542 20151212_125711 20151216_141020 20151216_143322 20151216_140300

20151216_214308

 

200 pieces of my heart

20151007_111939

My mom, nephew and I found this heart earlier this month during their Balloon Fiesta visit. We thought of my dad the whole time.

There is a trail by my house that is perfectly challenging and beautiful, and when I take advantage of it, I not only come home with a great view of the city and the occasional cactus bloom or sunflower in my head, but often a better outlook on my life.

Let’s face it. It’s been a rough year.

I recently started running on this trail more often thanks to a challenge from a friend to run a 10K. I wanted to compete in a long race for my dad this year but never mustered up the energy to even sign up for something longer than a 5K until this friend said she was running a half marathon and invited me to do it, too. At that point in the year, I didn’t have enough time to train for 13.1 miles, but figured I could train for 6.2. I made the official commitment on Sept. 1 and signed up for the Duke City race on Oct. 18. 

Six weeks was not a lot of time. Things got crazy and I didn’t get to train as much as I wanted, but long-story-short, I unexpectedly ended up running the whole race and finished around my average time. This was some sort of miracle, I promise you, but there were a few other miracles and mind-opening moments while training for that race I want to share.

I told you it’s been a rough year and I know this isn’t a surprise to you if you’re a close friend, family member, or anyone who has been reading this blog since December. For me, it’s really hard to run when my heart feels heavy and overwhelmed. Some days I’d go out on that trail and come home very frustrated because my mind kept me from doing my best. It was filled with the things that make me sad and it’s really hard to keep my legs moving when all I want to do is go home, crawl under my covers and be mad at the world.

There were a few good runs in there though, and one of them in particular has stayed with me. I don’t remember how fast I went that day, or how many times I had to stop mid-hill, but I do remember knowing in that moment that my heart is healing.

The first time I wrote on this blog after my dad passed away, I said, “Sometimes your heart breaks into 1,000 pieces.” It’s true. Sometimes life is just that way. For me, it happened Dec. 16  on my way to meet a friend for coffee. The moment was so unsuspecting. Sometimes life is just that way, too. All of the sudden you’re making U-turns, but you don’t really know where you’re supposed to go because your heart just fell to the ground and you realize the world has no refuge for you. If your heart can shatter right after missing a left turn on a road you’ve driven a million times, it can shatter anywhere.

It wasn’t long before I was sobbing on the floor of my living room. And it wasn’t long after that when I found myself in bed on the phone trying to sort out pieces that wouldn’t be known for hours. It seems I was on the phone all night. At the table. On the floor in front of my bed. In the dining room while pacing and making plans.

On that first day when you’re heart breaks into 1,000 pieces, nothing seems quite real. You almost wonder if you’ll wake up from it. On the second day, everyone is forced to start making really big decisions. Within seven days, you’ve most likely survived the viewing, the funeral, and the burial. For us, nine days later we celebrated our first major holiday without my dad – Christmas. Those firsts sometimes hit like a ton of bricks. Eleven days later, I was back at work editing and posting stories about an accidental shooting. More bricks.

From there on out, life sometimes feels like a corn maze. Sometimes you’re on the right path, and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you’re going in circles and seeing the same things twice. Oops. It’s haunted sometimes; there’s the regrets and if onlys, and it feels like someone (maybe it’s yourself) is trying to chase you out of this horrible place and you’re screaming while running for the exit you can’t find.

Not all days are bad. There are really good days and there are actually a lot of normal days. You learn that no one and nothing will ever let you grieve for as long as you want to, so you learn to go on and pretend in most situations that everything is OK.

There are possibly more moments when you remember not to take things for granted. You see everything differently – from the clouds, rainbows, and sunsets, to the lightning, wind and starry skies. You notice more deeply when you’re on an adventure your loved one would have enjoyed having too, and you hope he’s with you somehow. For me, one of those moments was riding on a working choo-choo train from Durango to Silverton this summer where Travis, his dad and I all ended up with soot on our faces, wind-blown hair and memories to last a lifetime. The afternoon Travis and I took a boat under the Golden Gate Bridge was another moment my dad would have loved. Of course I thought about him when Travis and I were hundreds of feet above ground in a hot air balloon this August, and on the morning my mom and brother’s family was in town to see hundreds of hot air balloons launch all around us. I also know he would have loved to finish a race with me, so I don’t doubt that he actually did in spirit on Oct. 18.

Remember how I said my heart is healing? It’s a slow process, but I know that it is. During that training run on the trail by my house, I started thinking about how I was really close to reaching my 200th heart post on Instgram since May. I thought about the places they’ve been found and the people who have sent them to me. They’ve been discovered in the sky, as potato chips, in canyons and pumpkin patches. Friends visiting Scotland, England, Ireland and Japan and photographed them on sidewalks, sewer covers, statues and flower fields. Hearts have appeared as watermelons, water spots, bubbles, bricks and bark. They are everywhere, and they often come with a happy story or adventure attached.

I’ve known how incredible this is, but it struck me again during that run. I realized even though my soul broke into 1,000 pieces 10 months ago, every time I find a heart, or every time someone sends a picture, it’s like one of the shattered pieces is being put back together.

Sometimes your heart breaks into 1,000 pieces. It’s true. Sometimes life is just that way.

On that first day when you’re heart breaks into 1,000 pieces, nothing seems quite real.

I’ve lived 313 days since then and I can tell you it’s all real now – the pain, the loss, the grieving. But I can also tell you the healing is real, too, and you’re helping me with that. Thanks so much for sending me your hearts – your miracles – because they’ve become my miracles, too. I always say this, but we’re really all in this together. Thanks for taking me in, for thinking of my family, for sending your love and for helping at least 200 pieces of my heart feel like they’re on their way to being whole again.

As my husband reminded me yesterday when he gave me a heart necklace, every piece of my shattered heart has the ability to love everyone else, too. And one day, we’ll live in a space where there is no suffering, loss, or danger. Until then, I can work on making that place inside my own living, beating, healing heart.

IMG_20150809_223736 IMG_20150911_184822 IMG_20150928_204935 IMG_20150926_075941 IMG_20151015_105525 IMG_20151016_210817 IMG_20150906_211723 IMG_20150816_130231 IMG_20151012_060231

 

the heart hunt: part 3

One morning on my way to work a few months back, the song “I’m Already There” by Lonestar came on the radio and took my breath away just a little bit. I was coming around the corner to the building, then I parked and sat in the dark while listening to the rest of the words.

“I’m already there
Take a look around
I’m the sunshine in your hair
I’m the shadow on the ground
I’m the whisper in the wind
And I’ll be there until the end
Can you feel the love that we share
Oh I’m already there”

Of course the song hit me as it never had before since it’s about a man missing his family and the ways he shows them he’s never completely gone. The words are perfect for me and tell the story I am living. In the first few months after my dad died, I would get to work before sunrise and was lucky enough to have a few minutes some days to walk up to the roof and look out on the soft pink and smokey blue clouds at dawn. One morning I saw birds flying among them and it felt like it was on purpose – like my dad sent them for me. I’m so thankful for the moments I feel like I’m being looked after, and for those minutes when it feels like heaven is really just barely beyond what I can see.

You know how I’ve been looking for hearts? I see them everywhere now. Yesterday I was on a hike and saw more than I can count, and brought three heart rocks home. Today that Lonestar song crossed my mind again and I thought about how whenever I see a heart, it’s like my dad is saying “I’m already there. Take a look around.”

I also see that this sentiment has reached so many of you, too. I can’t believe how you’re looking out for me. In the last month since I wrote about this heart hunt, I’ve received hearts from places as far away as Hawaii, Florida and even Japan! There have been so many I can hardly believe it. Thank you so much! The last five months or so have been the hardest of my life, but these little surprises that show up in my text and Facebook inboxes make me happy every time. I’m going to attempt to post them all here, and I apologize if I forgot any. Just know every single one has been a bright spot in my day, my week, my life – and your friendship and love means a million times more.

I’ve decided to make a public Instagram page, @huntingforhearts, where I can post hearts as I find them and as they are sent to me. The page will be for my dad and I hope it will showcase love in many unexpected ways near and far. I invite you to join in and/or follow along! I think you might be surprised at how fun they are to discover. I love hearing about the stories and places where my friends and family members have found them.

There have been so many hearts found in the last month I was able to make six collages! They are labeled below left to right, top row to bottom row.

Heart Collage1

1. My cousin Amee in Arizona sent this photo after she and her kids found a heart-shaped Cadbury egg.
2. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who sent me this photo of beautiful bleeding hearts. I love these.
3. During her vacation in Hawaii, my friend Candace found this coral heart. I’d just read that day that heart rocks are often found at beaches because they are tossed and turned. I love the analogy that love can be carved from the rough waves in life.
4. While visiting my friend Brittny in Washington in May, she showed me this picture in her apartment which contained three hidden hearts (two are pictured here).
5. My junior high and high school band buddy Christiane saw this heart in her bathroom tile the day after she read my last post. She said she probably steps on it every day. Christiane lives in Utah and came to my dad’s viewing after I hadn’t seen her in years. We’re emailing now after she sent this heart. Some friends last for life, no matter the time or distance.
6. Our friends Emilie and Garrett came to visit me and Travis from Utah over Memorial Day weekend. We were standing in line at Chipotle when Emilie noticed she was wearing a heart shirt filled with names of strong women. Emilie is one of the strongest women I know.
7. My friend Devin in Washington sent this photo from Olympia after the trees at his apartment were trimmed. It’s a heart inside a heart, he said.
8. My elementary school friend Latasha sent this heart over Facebook. She said she glanced over at her Ten Commandments plaque and saw the reflection of a heart. She also said she was glad my dad could be in her life every day now. So sweet.

Heart Collage2

1. After a Florida storm, my cousin Genevieve sent me this heart over Instagram while on vacation. I love stormy skies.
2. My friend Holly, who has been my friend for almost 10 years now, sent this heart from Virginia the day after my last post.
3. My friend Latasha sent this heart from Utah of her fuzzy heart socks. She included the hashtag #huntingforhearts which I’m now using for my Instagram posts and page name.
4. My mother-in-law Irma said she thought of me when she saw this photo of New Caledonia, which is a French territory comprised of dozens of islands. Her text came from Arizona.
5. My mom’s sweet student in Utah made this. “More hearts makes more love.”
6. My sweet cousin Katie Rae almost walked right past this ladybug one day, then had a feeling she should go back. When she took a closer look, she found a heart right behind its head. Her dad died a year before mine and when she sent her text from Utah, she said she knows our dads are watching over us. I know it too.
7. My friend Kelly said this photo is admittedly mushy, but that she wanted to send it anyway. It’s from her honeymoon in Hawaii. I want to see that rock someday if that means I’m in Hawaii!
8. This photo was taken by me last weekend while walking around our neighborhood.
9. Brittny sent this photo of heart-shaped garlic she found while making dinner with Devin one night. She says garlic is heart healthy, you know.

Heart Collage3

1. I spotted this heart on a stoplight in Seattle while visiting Brittny. We walked everywhere that day and had the time of our lives doing all the touristy things.
2. My dear friend Miranda, who has the cutest boxer in the world, sent this picture from Utah of a heart spot on her dog. His fur just grows that way!
3. Memories of sleepovers at my friend Nikie’s pond in Idaho came back to me when she sent me this heart. I love that place and thinking of the rodeo before sleeping under all those stars.
4. The other day, my lifelong friend Mindy found this perfectly-shaped chicken nugget heart while making dinner with her kids.
5. My sweet sister-in-law Melissa was having a bad day and almost sent me a text to tell me she looks for hearts everywhere and never finds them. Then she looked up and found this on her wall – a heart my brother painted in their bathroom for her a couple Christmases ago.
6. This heart comes from a Scentsy light. My friend Jamie, who used to make me laugh every day at The Herald Journal in Utah, saw it on her wall and thought of me.
7. Melissa continued to see hearts after that day she thought she couldn’t see any. She and my mom found this one in my mom’s yard one day.
8. My mom eats kid food sometimes (she is a first grade teacher after all), and one day at lunch they served her this heart-shaped chicken patty.
9. A gum heart was found on the ground in Ohio and sent to me by my good friend Mandy.

Heart Collage4

1. During the Tulip Festival at Thanksgiving Point in Utah, my sister-in-law Jackie spotted this brick heart with my mom at The Secret Garden area.
2. One day while helping Travis in the backyard, I saw this heart rock. He turned around and wondered what in the world I was taking pictures of!
3. In Seattle, Brittny and I joined in on the Gum Wall madness and she made this cute pink heart.
4. While in Arizona for Mother’s Day, Travis, his parents and I were walking and I got so excited when I saw these cactus hearts. Pretty much anytime I see hearts I gasp and need to take pictures immediately. I’m sure sometimes this is annoying.
5. Floss fell on the ground and made this balloon-like heart. My sister-in-law Nikki sent this from Washington.
6. We went dancing for Brittny’s birthday and on the way home, I spotted this lovely piece of trash and a cigarette butt on the ground. I got really excited of course and made Brittny snap this photo. Devin was laughing at how non-glamorous this heart was. I have to admit, it was pretty funny … and I was tipsy which probably makes more sense, right?
7. Just the other day, my friend Nikie sent me a picture of her heart-shaped pizza lunch from work. Yum!
8. My friend Holly told her sweet little friend I like hearts and the girl insisted Holly take this photo and send it to me from Virginia.
9. My friend Mandy recently went to Japan on vacation with her husband and spotted this heart shape at a Buddhist temple. Wow … Japan! That was so kind of her to send it and knowing it was from a Buddhist temple, I thought Travis would love it, too.

Heart Collage5

These hearts were all captured by me on the La Luz Trail in Albuquerque, the beach in Ocean Shores, Washington, and the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo (the heart is on the giraffe’s neck).

Heart Collage6

These were also captured by me at Ocean Shores; at a coffee shop in Seattle (Brittny told the barista, “she likes hearts, so if you can do a heart, she’d like that”); the Petroglyph National Monument where I got more excited over hearts than the actual petryglpyhs; in Santa Fe right before a hike with Travis, Emilie and Garrett; in Olympia near the water in front of the Capitol Building; in the sky above the La Luz Trail (look for the bird in the clouds here, too); and at my best friend Jenn’s house on the day I met her baby.

Thanks again for making this hunt for hearts reach far beyond what I could have imagined. I will always, always, always be grateful for that.

the heart hunt: part 2

I am truly amazed at what my hunt for hearts has turned into. What started as a game inspired by my sister-in-law a few years ago has turned into something that makes me feel loved in a unique, special way by my friends and family during the hardest months of my life. Since I posted about the heart hunt and shared that first photo of a heart potato on Instagram, I have received photos of unexpected hearts found in Utah, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Washington and Maryland while I’ve continued to find them in New Mexico. Please keep sending them to me via social media, text messages or emails, and I’ll keep sharing mine with you. Let’s all feel the love together.

I’ve mentioned this before, but every time I’ve had a few bad days in a row, something good happens and sometimes all that means is seeing a new heart on the ground or in a tree, or opening my phone to see a new one from someone I love. I want to share these hearts with you as I rejoice in the wonderful friends and family I have.

Here goes:

Just a few days after I posted that potato, I was tagged in this photo of spilled yogurt from my lovely friend Hayley who lives in New York and has known me well since the awkward, fun high school days. She helped me survive and thrive my sophomore year, and I still love any time I hear from her.

IMG_20150218_151017

During my job search, I had to step out of the office for a few minutes sometimes to answer phone calls. One day I stepped out to call a couple of people to see if they would be references. As I was talking to one of them, I looked down and saw this water heart on the ground. I felt that had to be a good sign. Things didn’t turn out exactly how I expected with that particular job I was calling references for, but I truly believe things worked out even better. I needed to remember to have hope.

IMG_20150223_100015

That day my sister-in-law Nikki also found another water heart in Washington. Two in one day! That had to be an extra good sign.

IMG_2767

February was both long and short with ups and downs, but on the very last day of the month, my friend April in Maryland sent me this mushroom that was trying to grow into a heart.

IMG_20150301_125946

Two days later, I spotted this perfect, tree-made heart on the ground.

IMG_20150302_123353

And another two days after that, my friend Janalee in Cache Valley, Utah, spotted this heart-shaped chicken nugget and said maybe this heart hunt was turning into a trend. At the time, I had no idea how right she was.

IMG_20150304_212940

On Sunday, March 8, Travis and I recreated our first date by going to a talk by This American Life creator Ira Glass and eating at a Thai restaurant.  Between the talk and dinner I spotted this leaf on the ground of UNM campus. Since this was my Valentine’s Day present to Travis, it seemed very fitting.

IMG_20150308_172348

The next day the sky presented heart after heart to me.

Heart Cloud

The next Sunday, Travis and I went to the Botanic Garden and I looked for hearts but didn’t see any. Then just before bed, my friend Brittny sent this picture from Washington Beach. Friends always seem to fill in the pieces.

IMG_20150315_222034

Later that week, I went to Colorado to see my friend Stevi and go to an epic Garth Brooks concert. I thought about my dad a lot that day because my family was celebrating his birthday in Utah. I saw two hearts that day … twice the love! Stevi was pretty sure the first one was made of geese poop, but hey, a heart is a heart. Plus, I’ve told you my dad loved geese.

IMG_3458

IMG_20150321_142655

On my dad’s real birthday, my friend Hannah spotted this heart in a parking garage stairwell after volunteering at a children’s hospital in Florida for four hours. Perfect timing.

IMG_20150324_062359

The next photo wins for the cutest heart sent from my sister-in-law Jackie of my little niece Madison. Hearts can be handmade.

FOT6E7E

On my last day of work, my coworkers surprised me with a cake decorated in pink hearts. It was so kind of my friend Hawa to think of hearts that I almost cried.

IMG_20150327_163014

The next day, I found a heart in the form of a red curry potato chip.

20150328_150622

More hearts came from Washington near the end of March when my friend Brittny visited a cemetery there.

FullSizeRendergrave IMG_0089grave

On Easter, I told you we went to the Botanic Garden again, and this time hearts were everywhere.

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

Hearts came from Maryland again. April said she was on a walk with little ones to look for bunnies. Along the way, the 5-year-old noticed the stars and made a wish to find a bunny named Sparkles. So cute.

IMG_20150407_053058

A shadow at a park in Arizona created this heart and my cousin Caree sent it to me. So happy.

IMG_20150408_054208

The next day, my cousin Genevieve’s little girl noticed a rip in her mom’s jeans and said it looked a heart. This photo came from Texas.

IMG_20150410_072018

Last weekend, I went to visit family in Utah and my first night there, my mom and I found heart sunglasses at Charming Charlie. There was only one pair and my mom said I should have them. She looked so cute in them though so I went home and promptly ordered a pair for her. Now we can be heart twins from afar.

IMG_20150417_234835

I couldn’t resist putting them on my niece who looked pretty cool, too.

20150412_174802

During the trip, my mom and I went to the Tulip Festival at Thanksgiving Point. Near the end, we spotted hearts within the leaves.

IMG_3605 IMG_3606 IMG_3608

My mom helped me with my first bridal show at USU’s Spectrum. While we were setting everything up, I thought, “I can’t wait to tell Dad.” I think it was the first time I forgot for a second that he’s gone. Later during the show, I noticed a section of seats that looked like a heart. I feel really good about that day because I tried something that was scary for me. Even though I didn’t get to tell my dad about it, I think he was proud anyway.IMG_20150411_172526

For my mom’s birthday, my sister-in-law had a bracelet made with my dad’s handwriting on it. She got the text from a card he gave her and sent it to an Etsy shop owner. It turned out beautifully.

20150413_131040

On my last day in Utah, my mom and I stopped by the cemetery and I got to see the lovely flowers and wreaths placed there for my dad. My uncle Jay crafted the big metal heart. It’s perfect.

20150413_163657

I want to thank everyone who has sent love the last while whether it was through these heart photos or in another way. I’ve received more kindness than I’ll ever be able to explain. This week marked four months since my dad passed away. I believe he keeps sending us signs that he’s close by and I never want those signs to end. I love the way hearts are appearing for so many people right now. Love is a miraculous thing and comes in many forms, just as these hearts have. When you look for them, I promise you’ll find them.

scars

heart flower

Easter made its way into my heart this year. I’m someone who loves holidays and celebrating for any reason possible, so I have always enjoyed the egg hunts, the candy, and the annual festive dinner. This year, however, Easter meant something more to me because it promises the most beautiful thing we could ever receive – life after death and resurrection. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice and because he defeated death, we will, too. This means I’ll see my dad again and we’ll all be together.

Before my father died, I had other relatives move on from this life, but most of them were timely so the pain wasn’t so harsh. Easters came and went and although I thought of what it meant each year, it never sunk deep inside me. Sometimes your heart has to be ripped open in order to receive the most wisdom and joy.

When Jesus was nailed to the cross, he died with holes in his hands and three days later, he was able to show his scars so that believers would know it was him. The scars proved he lived, and they also proved he was healed.

Everyone will have wounds that will leave physical or emotional scars, but what’s amazing is those scars prove we live and survive. A friend who has almost too many scars to count due to multiple bouts of cancer and several surgeries talked to me about this recently and reminded me that scar tissue doesn’t grow on the dying – it grows on the living – and if we are ever left with a scar on our body or heart, it means we won a battle.

This friend knows what she’s talking about. She has scars on her neck, chest, back, abdomen and more. What amazes me is her positive outlook. She told me, “People think of scars as this horrible thing when really, the definition of a scar is the healing of a wound. So the scar is after the injury and it means you’re whole again. It’s a good thing. The scar is showing that whatever it was, whatever thing you went through, you made it. You survived. And I love that.”

I don’t have many physical scars, but one has been growing on my heart since my dad’s life ended unexpectedly one day. I can feel it, and I know that scar will be there forever. At some point, though, that will mean that I’m healed and even though I will never be the same, the scar on my heart will mean that I made it. I’m sure there is some way God knows all our scars both inside and out and he is proud of them because he knows we fought something hard.

There are people who fight and survive more difficult and tragic things than me. There are so many things I’ve read about that seem unimaginable to go through. I was taught to believe that Jesus knows every one of those struggles, that he died for those pains and he’s there to help ease the suffering. His scars are proof of what he went through, and he’ll be there as we get scars, too.

Today we spent the morning at the Botanic Garden where hearts seemed to be everywhere. Right after I told Travis and his dad to look for them, we found them in some bright red flowers, and then we found some more. Then as I was talking about my dad, two geese flew up from behind a tree, and later two more (or maybe they were the same pair) landed on the water in front of us in the Japanese Garden. My dad loved geese. It felt like he was with us today. And in that moment, maybe a little bit more scar tissue grew on my heart.

I hope you had a wonderful Easter. I hope you never feel alone. I hope whatever battle you’re going through leaves a scar that reminds you that you survived, too.

love is in the air

Heart Cloud

There’s just something about Albuquerque clouds. I have never seen them gather the way they do here. Some days they sit on top of the Sandia Mountains for hours creating dramatic views of fluffy gray against the brown and gold desert mountains. On the west side, sometimes they look just like clouds from the “Simpsons” – all puffy and white. I’ve seen them in real life the way they look in a few Georgia O’Keefe paintings, and I’ve witnessed them turn every shade of sunflower, tangerine, grapefruit and lilac, and a few times lately they looked just like pink cotton candy hovering above the city.

I knew yesterday would be a day to spend some time admiring the clouds. They’d been gathering over the mountains for hours, and by the time I got out of work, they were everywhere – white, puffy and moving with the wind. I’d planned to head to a trail near my house and go for a walk, and while driving there I turned to my left and saw a perfect heart-shaped cloud turned on its side. I wanted to take a picture so badly, but my car was in motion and by the time I could have pulled over to stop, that cloud had morphed into a blob. It only took two stoplights for it to change – two stoplights that decided to stay green for me, even though I wanted so bad for them to turn red.

This gave me some hope and an idea, though, that maybe once I got to the trail I’d be able to see other clouds shaped as hearts because they were moving and changing so quickly, and there were so many of them.

I parked my car and started searching immediately. I took a few pictures of the clouds before I saw any more hearts, then started on the path, walking slowly to take them all in. I kept looking behind me and to my sides because that’s where the best clouds were. Directly in front of me they were beginning to gather too closely and they were getting dark like they could rain.

I thought of my dad of course, and as the hearts began to appear for me, I had to wonder if he was messing with the clouds just for me. Can angels do that, I wondered? Could he read my mind? Was he learning the sciences of the sky, the earth, the clouds? It was definitely a nice thought.

I must have seen at least eight hearts within a half hour. I may have stretched my imagination for a few of them, but they were there for me. I decided that afternoon that we see what we want to see. If I hadn’t been looking, I would have missed all the hearts in the sky. For someone else, they wouldn’t have mattered at all. It’s all about perspective, and it’s all about choice. We choose if we see the good, the bad or the lovely. We choose whether or not we see something beyond what is presented to us, and we can choose to believe something bigger than this world is watching out for and making the world a beautiful place. Love is really in the air, we just have to seek it. The best part is when we do, it appears everywhere.

Heart Cloud Heart Cloud

Heart Cloud Heart Cloud Heart Cloud Heart Cloud Heart CloudHeart Cloud

the heart hunt

It was Thanksgiving 2012 and Travis, my mother-in-law and I were in the kitchen slicing mushrooms, mixing up green bean casserole and peeling potatoes when we came across this:

Heart potato

A heart potato.

My mother-in-law started telling us how my sister-in-law, Nikki, loves natural objects shaped as hearts, so we took a picture and sent it her way. After that, Nikki got me looking for hearts and whenever I come across them while walking down the street, driving in my car, or in photos people share, I always think of her. I even think of her when the heart is un-natural, such as in the shape of a cookie. I’ve come to love hearts, not just for my sister-in-law, but for myself. It’s a game I like to play.

A while ago, Nikki sent Travis and me a wooden plate where we could collect rock hearts we find on trips and trails. Her family loves to find and keep them, each with memories attached. I love this idea, and I try to find them every time we’re hiking. What I’ve found, however, is often times the hearts I see are much too big for my pockets, so I take pictures. I’m starting to see them a lot more often now, not only in rocks, but in cactuses, shadows and other unexpected places.

Since it’s valentine’s weekend, I want to share a few with you and their stories.

Way back in September 2013, Travis and I were on our way home from our wedding weekend in Utah. We’d spent a few days hiking around the orange arches in Moab, then drove back to Albuquerque. At some point, clouds began to gather and we ended up in a rainstorm. But before that happened, some of those clouds cast this shadow:

Heart shadow

Travis noticed it first, and said it looked like a heart with an arrow going through it. It’s the biggest heart I’ve captured these last few years, and it’s so fitting we saw it right after our wedding.

During our honeymoon in Portugal a couple months later, we loved walking down the cobblestone roads in Cascais. It was a beautiful city with beaches, ocean views and quaint little restaurants. On one of those walks, we came across some broken cobblestone, perfectly shaped as a heart.

Heart cobblestone

On that same trip, I tried desserts at every bakery I could, and wouldn’t you know that one my favorite purchases was a simple black-and-white heart cookie.

Heart cookie

Heart cookie

Now we’ll skip ahead to last summer when Travis was in Utah for a week for work. He was able to watch an air show with his mom and snapped a photo of the smoke one of the planes left behind while twisting and turning through the sky. I loved this so much.

Heart clouds

In July of last year, my parents came to visit and we took them on a day-trip drive through the Jemez Mountains and Los Alamos. We did a short hike to a waterfall, and a long walk around White Rock Canyon Rim where I told everyone to be on the lookout for heart rocks. Well, look who found one:

White Rock Canyon Rim rock

A little more than a month later during our first wedding anniversary weekend, Travis and I hiked La Luz, which is our favorite trail in Albuquerque. We were on the trail for 16 miles that day and it was hard, but fun, and we came across this:

La Luz Heart

A week or so after that, Travis and I made our way to Montana to see Glacier National Park. It was one of the most amazing and beautiful places I’ve seen, and during that trip, we came across a couple more lovely hearts. I couldn’t believe the one we saw in the water. It was absolutely perfect.

Glacier National Monument Heart

Glacier National Monument Heart

Then in November, we spent an early Thanksgiving with Travis’ parents in Arizona and during that weekend, we went to the Desert Botanic gardens where they have cactus after cactus after cactus. Lucky for us, my mother-in-law spotted this prickly gem:

Heart cactus

Most recently, I had a friend from Utah who was in Albuquerque for work and I took him to the Sandia Crest so he could see the view. We went on a short hike on the top of the mountain and found a couple more hearts in the middle of the trees and snow.

Crest Heart

Crest Heart

The last two hearts were especially meaningful to me because I try to see my dad everywhere. I had to wonder if he’d remembered that day last July when he and my mom went heart rock hunting for me. Maybe he left a sign for me last weekend in the snow that also kind of looks like Mickey Mouse. I have to believe my dad is looking out for me and that he’s somewhere his spirit can see us. If I don’t believe that, I have nothing.

Love is everywhere. I know that. Sometimes it’s small enough to fit in our pockets and sometimes it’s too big for us to handle. Usually it’s in places that aren’t tangible, like when it’s more of a feeling than anything else. Sometimes it’s a shadow or a rainbow or a song – all things we can never physically feel, but we can see or hear. Sometimes it’s in things we can touch, like our friends, our family and even food, rocks, cactuses and clouds. Even when it’s far away – like in a shooting star my mom saw the other day – it can still feel close because we can see it and feel it make its way inside us. Perhaps that’s the most magical thing about love. It has countless forms and it’s in infinite places. It’s common ground, and it brings us together.