Blessed Are the Mornings

The tick, tick, tick of the clock is the only sound I hear at the moment, punctuated every now and then by neighborhood cars as people start their day this last workday of the week. In a moment, my oldest will stir from his bedroom and start his routine for yet another day of high school. My husband and youngest two are still asleep, warm and cozy under down comforters in their rooms.

It is unusual for me to be awake so early. Mornings sneak up on me. I am well rested when I rise these days but it’s usually a slow acceleration from awake to functional. In contrast my husband can bounce out of bed with full energy and ability to hold a lively conversation the minute his eyes open.

Not me. Don’t ask me to talk first thing in the morning. Don’t expect me to remember anything either. My oldest son coined this phrase that we laugh about but it’s 100% true: don’t expect anything from me before I gain my “morning strength”. Coffee isn’t the magic elixir that delivers it, either. Morning strength comes only from standing on my own two feet for twenty minutes.

simon-matzinger-633741-unsplashIt’s not that I don’t like morning: I love it. I especially love waking leisurely to the birdies chirping outside and the gradual light of sunrise. I love seeking out a cool spot in the bed when stretching but then curling back up into the warm spot your limbs inhabited all night long.

One of my all time favorite things is when one of the kids climbs into bed in the morning and we get to snuggle and hug.. It’s even better when my youngest makes this little sing-songy whimpering noise, almost to the point of sleep-talking, when he stretches or settles into a new position. It melts my heart to hear it. We’re almost at the point where our kids have outgrown wanting to climb into bed with us. I’m gonna miss the smell of their freshly-showered heads tucked under my chin and the way their little bodies spoon mine. So sweet. So peaceful. Just warmth and protection, trust and love.

But on days like this, where I rise in the early morning as the first one up, I feel like I’m keeping watch over a sanctuary and helping its inhabitants prepare for a new day, except the inhabitants are people you love still angelically tucked away in their little cocoons for the night.

I have a routine when I rise first. I check on each heartbeat, plant a kiss on each cheek, stare in wonder how the faces of my children have changed yet again seemingly overnight, and then I leave to grant them peace, the luxury of sleep for however many minutes longer before their day begins.

Blessed are the mornings, aren’t they?

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Authenticity Matters

wim-van-t-einde-589443-unsplashI’ve never been one to toot my own horn. But a couple of times in my career, I found it necessary to hire someone to help me rethink how I present myself and how my body of work and accomplishments are shared with others. I hired a consultant, a business coach, to help me with it. In plain English, that means I hired a resume writer. I’m not actively looking for a job, but I need the sort of independent critique of my career that I can’t really get from people vested in my day job. 

She gave me a self-assessment that took over five hours to complete. We then spent an hour talking about it and how I want my career to progress from here on. One of the keystone questions she asked me is what I am known for and what I want to be known for.

After considerable thought, authentic is one of the words that came to mind. Let me tell you what this means to me.

I take my day job and professional career very seriously. My reputation, integrity, and ethics have always mattered. Thanks to an enormously influential undergraduate college professor in an honors accounting program, I learned early on that if we lose people’s trust in us as professional accountants – if we give them any reason to doubt our ethics – we were done. He taught us that unquestionable ethics, trust, and integrity were foundational elements in the field of public accounting and auditing where he coached all of us to start our careers. While I can’t say that I was naturally drawn to public accounting and auditing from an early age, this call toward high ethical standards was something that resonated quite well with me because that is fundamentally who I am.  

Fast forward, I began my professional career with one of the Big Eight world-wide accounting firms. Not one to want to screw things up, I was a pretty serious chick in my early work life. Always the arm’s length professional, always formal, and frankly, always a little bit stiff because I thought that’s who I needed to be. I didn’t want to ever destroy someone’s trust in me. But the real me is witty, and likes to use humor. It was exhausting to always be totally on guard, pleasant, and formal, because the real me is not overly formal at all times. 

At one point, I picked up an awesome client, my favorite place to work of all the places I had advised over the prior 20 years, and that’s saying a lot. One of the blessed things about that place was how much their culture values a sense of humor. To this day, the company hangs plaques on the wall to remind employees of what they value, but the thing is, it isn’t just words on a page, or a plaque in their case. Leadership, and therefore the employees, lived it and showed it, every single day.

It was there that I learned how to integrate the real me with the professional me. Totally,  authentically me. I found I could credibly be both trustworthy and light-hearted, yet fully able to deliver the gravitas that is needed whenever it is needed. All of these things are important because as an auditor, you are sometimes required to deal with some pretty heavy stuff, very serious business issues, and you need an outlet to laugh or you’d go mad.

What surprised me is how well people responded to the authentic me. Authenticity feeds integrity, something my husband and I try to teach our kids. What you see from me is what you get at work, at home, at church, with friends, wherever. I am the same person.

If you’ve paid attention to my posts, you may have learned that it drives me crazy to hear a leader say one thing but do another, or talk a lot of fluff or nonsense just to obfuscate a lack of substance. Our country has a dearth of leadership in that regard, and it’s something I can deliver, certainly on a smaller scale, so it’s time I talk about that.

What’s is your “brand”? What do you want to be known for and are you delivering it now? Is it coming across clearly in the ways you network, in the work you produce, and in the life you lead? What steps have you taken to hone what you present about yourself to the world? And how well-aligned are your work and personal lives? Do you want them to be?

Photo by Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash

Blog Milestone – 100 Followers!

katya-austin-554633-unsplashHey everyone! I just wanted to send a special shout-out to those of you who took the monumental step of following my blog. Thank you! In just a little over year’s time I have 100 official followers worldwide, in addition to slightly over a dozen email followers.

I realize that not everyone reads all of my posts, and that my blog topics can vary wildly from one to the next, but I appreciate that you take the time, and toss a few likes my way. For that I give a hearty thumbs up back to you, as much as I am still green at this, still very much a newbie. 

I would love to hear your feedback. What drew you here in the first place, what topics speak to you the most, and what would you like to hear more of? I’d even love to hear from you guys with a quick country or state roll call. 

Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart.

~Denise

 

Photo by Katya Austin on Unsplash

 

I Get That

A friend of mine and I make it our thing to visit a local vineyard a few times over the summer and dish about life. I look forward to these leisurely afternoons, outside on the piazza overlooking a serene lake circled with weeping willows and dotted with white swans. I feel like I’ve been transported to another world.

One day this past summer, I opened up to her like I rarely do with people anymore.

It was the week that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives and it seemed like all of America was reeling from the news. How did these two people, with so much going for them in life, do such a thing? Were they in pain? Why, oh why, did they do it?

But as I told my friend Amy, I get it.

Her face fell. She was floored. Wholly disturbed by my answer. Made me promise on the spot that I was ok and not feeling suicidal.

I’m ok. I was then and I am now.

But I get it. Of course, I’m assuming a lot here about what led these two wildly successful, talented, and beloved people to take such drastic measures. Maybe it was a moment of insanity, but maybe it was loneliness or despair.

I get that.

I understand feeling so utterly alone you fully believe that your life really doesn’t make an impact on anyone. I know exactly what it’s like to dismiss how other people might feel if I was gone.

It’s times like that when Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote isn’t very helpful:

You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.

On a broader scale, it’s not like I’ve made any major contributions to the world. I haven’t cured cancer. I’m not an entertainer. I haven’t run for office or served my community in any meaningful way. My career was a very big part of my life at the time but the reality is I was expendable. I traveled extensively for work. For years my best friend lived in New York while I lived in Ohio, so close, local, sustainable friendships were not my forte.

So, I get it.

I spent 34 years trying to find someone I loved who could love me in return, someone willing to spend their life with me. No one was interested, including a guy I dated for three years. He broke up with me mid-way through the relationship, then wanted me back. I grilled him on his intentions before I considered rekindling the relationship, and he made it clear that marriage and kids was something he wanted. It gradually became clearer, to him and me after 18 more months, that he didn’t want that with ME.

Everyone I knew was getting married. There were a couple of years there where I had six, then seven, then eight, then nine (!) weddings to attend, until they started to wind back down in subsequent years the same way they ramped up.

None of them were mine.

The lowest point was being asked to sing at the wedding of a family friend five years younger than me. I watched as my family’s anticipation and excitement grew over this wedding; the bride and groom were, and still are, adored. I didn’t even have a date for the reception so needless to say, I wasn’t in a great frame of mind leading up to this event. I wanted to be happy for the newlyweds. I really did. But what I saw was life passing me by in the most visible of ways.

It stung. No one noticed.

As I sang the last note of the final piece after the ceremony ended, I closed the music binder, walked out of the church past the crowd eagerly awaiting the bride and groom, got in my car, and drove straight home while the throng left for the reception to celebrate. I could not bear to witness people’s lives move on, toward togetherness, love, belonging, community. All the things I didn’t have.

dennis-kummer-171041-unsplash

It reminded me of the hundreds of times I flew for work, often at night. I’d look down at the landscape, thousands of little streetlights and houses as far as the eye could see, thinking about how each light represented a family, or at least a couple of heartbeats inside each structure. And yet my heart was not among them. It was the perfect metaphor, in a way. There I was, separated from all of that by quite a distance, that vast, beautiful, twinkling, interconnected web moving past me in slow motion, punctuating how far removed I was from all of it.

I felt like a freak. To celebrate this wedding took an inner strength and grace I just didn’t have. They say you should call upon family or friends to guide you through times like that, but I didn’t want to complain. What was the point? I was living through a chronic condition and complaining wouldn’t change the situation.

Besides, not one family member noticed I was missing from the reception. No one checked on me, not that night, not at any point. I fell asleep full of despair that night, convinced that something was inherently wrong with me. I honestly didn’t want to wake up the next day.

Yet I awoke to a gorgeous, sunny morning while the world learned the news that Princess Diana had died in Paris the night before. I wondered why it had to be her and not me that night. The world misses her, and still does, while I have yet to make an impact of any meaningful kind.

It’s been over 20 years since that day but I remember well those feelings of loneliness and despair. I didn’t marry for another four years or date my husband all that long before we married. I have children now. I love them and they love me. They are my world. While I may not cure cancer or leave any kind of significant mark on this world, maybe I make an impact of some kind on them. I do know I am utterly devoted to them, and God willing, I’m not going anywhere.

But make no mistake: when it comes to feelings of loneliness and despair? I get that. I wish that sort of loneliness and invisibility on no one. If I ever made anyone feel that way, I’m sorry. And if I ever failed to reach out to someone who feels loneliness and despair, for that too, I deeply apologize.

And if it’s you feeling this way, please keep going. It gets better. I would give you a virtual hug of belonging if I could. One day, you will wake to a gorgeous sunny day when life gets better. I can’t promise when. It may take longer than you want. But it will get better.

May we all find a way in the coming days to connect with someone who is lonely and hurting. Check on them, even if you have never given a second thought to whether they’re ok. Let people know they matter.

Photo by Dennis Kummer on Unsplash

Yes, Virginia, The World Has Changed

sergio-souza-796530-unsplashI work in the consumer products industry which is going through a tremendous amount of upheaval. I’ve heard it said more than a few times at work how “the world has changed” that it’s become cliche to say it.

Today our chief marketing executive briefed us on what we’re doing in the midst of all this disruption. Something about the way he made his point made me reflect on how I agree that the world has changed, pretty drastically if you ask me, and not just in the way consumers shop for things today. Somehow the pace and degree has accelerated to an unprecedented level.

But what exactly has changed? And was there a critical inflection or turning point when it happened, or were there more than a few? There’s the obvious change relative to US politics. There is the aging of the Baby Boomers and the rise of Millennials. I could go on but I want to know from your perspective: what else?

I genuinely want to open this up to all of you to answer. Now I want to caution you: it will be very easy to answer in the negative, to say, “this happened on X date, and it was much better before.” Let’s try to be neutral or certainly civil in the tone of the responses, so we can hear and learn from one another.

Let me play Virginia O’Hanlan in a sense, and ask you in your words, do you think the world has changed drastically? In what ways has that happened, big or small, in any aspect of life, and what or when was the turning point or turning points? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and yes, I welcome the perspective of the global audience I am lucky to have.

Thanks in advance for your insights!

Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

500 Thoughts

hans-peter-gauster-252751-unsplashSometimes the inside of my brain feels like this photo here → 

I seriously have about 500 thoughts running through my head tonight, these being the first few:

  1. At least three blog ideas (actually way more) where I simply need to find the time to write
  2. The packing and prepping for my daughter’s first dance competition of the season, tomorrow, which involves a weekend away and a desperate need to pack healthy snacks so I don’t feel like loser mom for not properly feeding my artist-athlete with a nut allergy
  3. Wondering how our powder room remodel is going, why our front porch is still torn up from some foundation work that needed to be done months ago, and why both of these things are taking longer than expected
  4. Why I hear a clicking noise inside Roxanne (my relatively new Jeep) and whether that’s just marginally annoying and I can live with it or if it’s actually something bigger I need to get looked at
  5. How to “market” myself better professionally internally or externally should it be warranted, and why this is getting more important than ever before
  6. Whether I should be posting/blogging/whatever on LinkedIn and what I should write about if so
  7. Whether I should be posting/blogging/whatever on Yammer which is our internal social media tool at work to “market” myself better professionally with my colleagues
  8. Music I want our little family of five to make for Christmas (a really “out there” idea even they don’t even know I want to do this year but we have the equipment and our own studio to pull it off)
  9. What Christmas gifts and donations are needed for
    • Immediate family
    • Extended family
    • Colleagues, Secret Santa and charitable donations at work
    • Teachers, friends, and charitable donations for our three school kids
    • Church charitable donations
    • Other coaches and teachers for our three kids and
    • Anyone else I’ve forgotten, because yes, there are years I have forgotten and I feel horrible about it
  10. When the shopping for all of the above needs to be done, when I’ll have time to wrap it all and deliver it
  11. How much anxiety I feel about going to CrossFit tomorrow because I have missed quite a bit this last month due to travel
  12. When in the world we’re gonna get a tree or see Santa, and both of those need to happen sooner than later
  13. Whether we will EVER get Christmas lights hung on our house but that depends on when the front porch slab is returned to its proper position and the yellow tape over our front yard is removed so the people hanging lights don’t fall into a foundation hole 8 feet deep
  14. When in the world the front slab of our porch is gonna get returned to its proper position so that UPS and Fedex can deliver packages to our front door, which is gonna happen a lot this month
  15. When I’m gonna get around to cleaning the house, because even though I actually hired someone to help us earlier this year (because, uh, duh: see all the above), she fired US for being slobs, telling us she is not our maid, even though “maid” is literally part of the name of her business: go figure on that one
  16. When I should start planning our trips for 2019, because planning is half the fun for me
  17. When I can start making the small health and behavior changes I learned about after reading The Blue Zones and taking the quiz mentioned in the book, because I have the potential to live healthfully to age 97 if I do
  18. Whether I have enough money saved for retirement to live until 97 (and I think we all know the answer to that one)
  19. Will any of my kids be in a position to take care of me or want to while I live to 97
  20. When in December I can invite every cool woman I know to my house for good wine, delicious food, and laughter
  21. Wait: when are the kids’ Christmas concerts?
  22. Oh shoot: I have no more vacation this year
  23. Whether my oldest understands how to use a planning calendar to stay on top of his assignments and goals
  24. Why am I worried about anything when I’m healthy, we’re happy, and we have everything we need when so many people don’t.
Pretty sure I need a glass of wine.

Absolute Heartbreak

Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of self-care. I take to heart the airplane analogy to put the oxygen mask on myself first before I try to care for another. Maybe it comes more easily to me precisely because I had been alone for so long. Then again, maybe I was alone as long as I was because I cared more about myself than anyone else.

I don’t know which it is.

I just know that I’m having a tough time of it. It’s like I’ve lost the ability to administer self-care. Death and senseless violence are coming from every angle and I can’t take it anymore. I want to reverse it, but I can’t. The pipe bombs, the synagogue shooting, then the Thousand Oaks shooting.  Those are just the most recent big ones.

My oldest son couldn’t believe that some people survived the Las Vegas shooting last year only to become victims again, both dead and alive, of the one in Thousand Oaks. He was looking to me to confirm how insanely coincidental it all was. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised at all. I explained it was a matter of when, not if, we’d know a shooting victim. The only question would be how close it would touch our inner circle. I told him to be prepared because it was coming.

I wish I had been wrong about that.


After a joyous Sunday celebrating our church’s feast day with liturgy followed by a banquet with our bishop, we started a new week of work and school this Monday. I came home after my 6am CrossFit class to find my husband on the phone.

It was immediately clear that something was really wrong, and my heart sank with first thoughts of my elderly mother-in-law but it turns out she is fine. As Ryun wrapped up the phone call, I discovered he had actually been talking to our priest, which was highly unusual. Then again, Ryun is just a couple months into his tenure as our new church president so he’s bound to get phone calls at strange hours from here out. Given that our priest was on the other end, my thoughts drifted to our bishop, and I feared that he got in a bad car accident on his return trip home.

What Ryun told me next was beyond comprehension: one of our deacons and his wife were murdered – shot to death – in their own bed, just hours after we had dinner with them Saturday night. As of Monday morning, we didn’t know exactly what happened or who did it.

The air was sucked out of my lungs while we both sobbed over the news. It was totally incomprehensible. Who would do such a thing to such kind, upbeat, unassuming people? It was absolutely frightening to think they were targeted. How could that possibly be? Another senseless shooting? How could they be with us one day and gone the next? How?


Saturday night, a group of us gathered for vespers since our bishop was in town, and we all went to dinner with him afterwards: our two deacons, our choir director, the board of trustees, and all spouses. 18 of us in all. Our reservation was messed up and we had to wait an extra 45 minutes to be seated so some of us grabbed a cocktail and chatted at the bar. Then when it came time to sit, the restaurant prepared a table for only 16 of us, so they had to scramble to find another table to tack onto the end.

There is something poetic about initially there only being a table for 16 but we made special accommodations for all 18 of us.

Ryun was really flustered and embarrassed. He felt it was a reflection on him, how disorganized it all ended up being, especially since this was personally our first time to meet the bishop. Ryun was equally concerned about the optics and finances of hosting such a big dinner when we’re struggling to balance our church budget. We don’t have enough revenue to cover a growing body of expenses, so this dinner felt especially frivolous and completely counter to the financial objectives Ryun communicated to the parish. Our priest insisted that we host the bishop in this manner especially since he himself could not attend due to a prior commitment. Ryun went forth as instructed, uneasy as he was, and didn’t want to make a big stink of it that night as it would be crass to do so in front of that whole group.

We ended up having a wonderful time with lots of lively conversation and laughter. You could feel a really lovely, positive energy among us, so much so that I suggested to Ryun that we get a photo of us to commemorate the night. So we did.

In retrospect, I’m so very grateful. It all makes a little better sense to me now why that large group of us ended up together that evening, and what a blessing it was to share a meal, to be in communion, together with each other one final time.

Our entire church community is reeling in shock and disbelief. As of this writing, their son has been charged with their murder. We can’t imagine the pain and suffering that led him to take their lives. We grieve for the kind people we’ve lost and the family they leave behind, including several relatives within our church community. We grieve for the fallen world we live in. We grieve for each other.

We are numb. I am drifting aimlessly through the week. I can’t begin to fathom how we’ll overcome this as a church community. I want the horror to stop but it keeps coming. I don’t know how to administer self-care or group-care. I don’t know anymore.

Why is our world falling apart? I feel every last bit of it, every day, with every incident.

mike-labrum-151765-unsplashI will miss Dennis. He was my choir buddy, and always complimented my singing and writing, both on Facebook and this blog. It was so comforting to know I got a big thumbs up from a deacon who supported my feisty, liberal, open-hearted beliefs. He loved Ryun’s music and enjoyed a rapport with him, musician to musician. We were both so tickled that they came out to hear him perform. I will miss Helen and wish I knew her better. I remember walking away from our conversation Saturday evening impressed by her youthful curiosity, particularly admirable from someone who was 72 yet looked and acted nothing of the sort.

Memory eternal, Protodeacon Dennis and Matushka Helen. You are loved and missed so dearly by your entire church community. Vechnya pamyat. And God willing, I will see you again and greet you with great joy even as much as I wish you were still here with us right now.

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash