“The Ouch Thank You’s of Life” by Lori R. Keeton

One of my favorite family traditions is the way we wrap our gifts. For as long as I can remember, we have all relished wrapping each other’s presents in such a way that the recipient has no idea what is inside.

A couple of years ago, my nephew wanted an enormous set of Harry Potter Legos that were sold out everywhere (of course). We explained to him that he would just have to wait until after Christmas to get the Legos because they were impossible to find. Though he was disappointed, he understood and accepted that he would not be getting them. Being the overly indulgent aunt that I am, I of course was the one that could not accept this reality and spent hours tracking down these coveted Legos via Ebay. On Christmas morning, when he got to my gift- a tiny box containing a note that led him on a scavenger hunt to find the Legos- I could barely contain my excitement. The fact that he was not expecting it made the joy of the gift- for both the giver and the givee- exponentially sweeter.


As I have considered my own path and watched many of my friends cycle through various chapters in their own lives, I have come to realize that God enjoys delivering His gifts to us in much the same way. In fact, the best gifts I have received have typically been wrapped in the most deceptive of packages.

Rejections, challenges, disappointments….

Ummmm- not exactly what I had in mind.

I imagine these types of “gifts” arriving into our lives in the most battered of boxes, covered in tacky wrapping paper and topped with crooked bows. The antithesis of the Tiffany blue box if you will.


In the Fall of 1995, I received one of these mysterious “gifts” when I moved to Gainesville, Florida to start law school. At that time, I had a long term boyfriend who was still in college, and I did not know a soul in Gainesville. To say I was not excited about the move would be quite an understatement.

I was so desperate to know someone- anyone- at that school of 36,000 people (a 33,000 student increase from my prior school) that I actually called a total stranger that a friend of a friend had casually mentioned I should contact. I felt pathetic- but my fears outweighed my ego at this particular juncture. Fortunately, she took pity on me and invited me to her house so we could walk to school together on the first day.

As I spent last weekend celebrating the fortieth birthday of my best friend- that girl who took pity on me our first day of law school- I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for that place, that time and even that loneliness because the gift it brought with it- Cathy- was and is without question one of the greatest blessings of my life each and every day.


When I was changing jobs a few months ago, I was again reminded of how the biggest gifts often arrive into our lives disguised as hardships. After having held the same job for fifteen years, the thought of going somewhere new was overwhelming. For many months, I was forced to deal head on with conflict, uncertainty, change, risk- all things I try to minimize in my own life because I spend so much time dealing with them for my clients. After many sleepless nights, a lot of trial and probably even more error, I realized that while the absence of those things from my life may have lulled me into a false sense of safety and protected me from feeling too many lows, their lack had also robbed me of the highs- and even the chance of having those highs. And that attitude had bled over far beyond my career. But perhaps the scariest thing I discovered was that had I not been pushed to the point of unbearable, nothing would have changed. Nothing. And now that it has changed and I am so much happier because of it, that realization both terrifies me and causes me to feel immense gratitude.

Much like the start of law school leading to the introduction of Cathy into my life, my job change was also an “ouch”… followed by a “thank you.”

And there are also those gifts that aren’t so much an “ouch…thank you” kind of thing but more of a “what the heck is this….oh…i get it… i think… yes… wow…seriously… for me… wow… thank you” thing.

When diamond earrings arrive wrapped in a vacuum cleaner box, it’s confusing.

When you are convinced you are supposed to work/live/marry someone/something/somewhere that fulfills A, B and C and it/he/she shows up with X, Y and Z, it’s also confusing.

It’s these checklists we all seem to have- whether we admit it or not- for what our mates, our jobs, our families, our relationships are supposed to be.


The irony of these expectations/lists/supposed to’s is that all too often we ask for something that is so much less than what we actually deserve and then initially feel disappointed when something better arrives. All we can process at first is the different; it takes a while to appreciate the better.

I love asking my close friends who seem to be in happy relationships (and yes, I realize “seem” is a big word and “happy” is a relative term) if they ended up with the type of person they thought they would. Almost without exception, the answer- from both people in the relationship- is a resounding no.

What I find even more interesting is that when I ask them that question, most have to stop for a minute or two before they answer because it is as though they don’t even really remember what was on that seemingly important “list” now that they have found someone who truly makes them happy.

The same goes for my friends who were once lawyers, doctors, consultants and are now successful and happy authors, photographers, chefs, etc. The list was just… wrong.

I would be a liar if I said I look forward to more “ouch…thank you” and “what the heck is this….oh…i get it… i think… yes… wow…seriously… for me… wow… thank you” moments in my life.

A girlfriend recently sent me a card that summed it up pretty well. It said “I am ready for some blessings that aren’t in disguise.” Amen to that.

On the other hand, where would I be- where would any of us be- without them?

When things happen that I immediately want to deem “bad” or “wrong” or “unfair,” I have learned to at least consider the possibility that something good could come from them. Maybe- just maybe- there is a once in a lifetime friend in the wings or the perfect job or even a soulmate.

Because I know how amazing the contents of these deceptive packages can be, I feel compelled to continue on the scavenger hunt that God has made for me and to try and feel excitement instead of dread and hope instead of fear about the future.

I must make my “thank you’s” every bit as loud as my “ouches.”

I must throw away the damn lists that waste space in my head and let my only expectation be that I will be blown away by what happens next.

And when times are tough and I find myself doubting the joy of these gifts, I must try to remember Austin’s face on Christmas morning when he saw the Legos….

The fact that we are not expecting it makes the joy of the gift- for both the giver and the givee- exponentially sweeter.


Stop and Smell the Roses by Lori R. Keeton

I had my picture taken this past week for my firm’s website. As I stood there feeling incredibly uncomfortable while the photographer kept telling me to relax (fat chance of that), I asked if children were the hardest to photograph. He thought about it for a minute and said “Actually, they are the easiest. They haven’t learned to be self-conscious yet.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s one of life’s great ironies, isn’t it?

In some very real way, we start off the way we are meant to end up.

But yet, we are convinced that children have so much to learn from adults. And that learning process is a lot like trying to put a bunch of balloons in a car.

We take these larger than life, untamed, unwieldy creatures and harness them until they fit as we need them to- as they are “supposed to” fit.

It starts out as this very necessary “taming.” Don’t play in traffic. Don’t touch the hot stove. Don’t dive into the shallow end of the pool.

But, over time, it becomes something different. More subtle. More complicated.

And, because it comes from that strange mixed up place inside each of us where fear and love seem to fight for the same space, infinitely more dangerous.

“Say you’re sorry.”

“Don’t talk back.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“He/she isn’t right for you.”

“Don’t major in Liberal Arts.”

“Grow up.”

And before you know it, they have.

And it’s tragic really.

One benefit of not having children is that you get to spend time with other people’s children and just enjoy them.

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You aren’t the one who is going to be embarrassed when they drop the f word at the grocery store or push another child down or throw a fit in the middle of church.

And the absence of those weighty responsibilities allows you to savor them in a very unique way.

It is like being on vacation. You don’t have to make up the bed or cook the food. All you have to do is sleep and swim and enjoy.

And enjoy them I do.

They have strong opinions. They know exactly what they like and want and aren’t one bit afraid to tell you. They aren’t stressed out. They don’t constantly look at their watches. If they get upset, they cry or yell or some combination thereof. And then they get over it. They eat when they are hungry and stop when full. They nap when they are tired. They don’t agonize over their bodies or bemoan their thighs. They believe they can do anything. If they don’t like you, they tell you. If they love you, they will tell you that too.

It is why I will sit at the kids’ table at every holiday until I am forced to leave.

It is why I am more likely to be found sitting on the floor coloring with the kids than mingling with the adults at any party I attend.

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Quite frankly, the more time I spend with grown ups, the more I love children.

I will endure their rawness in exchange for their authenticity and confidence any day of the week.

And while we tell ourselves that kids need constant advice and guidance from adults, I am not at all sure we shouldn’t be taking a page from their books every now and again.

I joke with my mother that my niece has her life more figured out at 15 than I do at 40.

But the thing is, I am not really joking.

When I was changing jobs, I felt very stressed about telling my niece and nephews because I worried they would be anxious about it. Translation: I completely transferred my own anxieties onto them.

When I told them, their responses were so simple- and so right.

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Have you ever been with a child and they say or do something that is seemingly benign and simple but yet it makes your heart ache?

I am convinced that in those moments something deep inside of us is remembering that we are supposed to be doing or saying that too. And our grown up souls miss whatever it is.

A few years ago, I was at a fundraiser luncheon for a charter school. Two of the school’s star students spoke to this huge room filled with stiff professionals all lined up like robots with their stupid smart phones next to their plates to be certain everyone knew how very valuable they were.

The little boy who spoke to the crowd could not have been more than ten years old. He got up to the microphone without an ounce of fear and explained that when he grew up, he wanted to be a pro football player. In his words, “I want to be like Cam Newton– except I don’t want to be Cam Newton. I want to be me.”

When he said it, I felt that pang. That ache.

And all I could think was how incredible it was that this child who did not have money to pay for his lunch most days was able to understand that his uniqueness was far more valuable than being an imitation of anyone- even a Heisman trophy winning athlete with obscene amounts of money.

I am pretty sure he was the only one in that room who truly grasped what makes us valuable.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago while at lunch with two of my favorite people on the planet who happen to be four and six years old (and their parents tagged along too). When we finished eating, we decided to take a walk. After a little while, the grown ups realized that we were late for this or that and got into that harried state of perpetual busyness to which we all seem to be addicted. As we hurried the kids along to get back to our cars, we realized that four year old Wynn was lagging behind. The three adults turned around with “Hurry up” or some variation thereof on the tips of our tongues. And this is what we saw-

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Yes, she had stopped to smell the roses. Not once. Not twice. But three times.

And the silly adults stood there speechless for a second or two and then did the only thing we could so as to pretend that we were as smart as she was…. We smelled the roses.

This week, tape a picture of yourself as a child to your bathroom mirror. And look at that picture every day. Really look at it.

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Let yourself see her spirit. Her energy. Her light.

Get reacquainted with her.

Let her teach you some of the things adulthood has caused you to forget.

Listen to her crazy ideas.

Laugh with her.

Let her remind you how amazing you are.

And take her to smell the roses- again and again and again.


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Legs Up by Lori R. Keeton

This past week a girlfriend and I were having drinks and she noticed an enormous purple and yellow bruise that seems to have taken up permanent residence on the side of my leg.

“Wow- that looks terrible.”

“Ugh. I know… I bruise easily.”

This response is the equivalent of “I’m fine” in response to “How are you?”

It stops the questions.

It changes the topic.

Mystery solved- move on.

Here’s the thing though- I don’t actually bruise that easily.

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But, I would rather tell a little white lie than admit that something hurt me.

As I thought about it, I realized how silly it was that even in the most mundane of ways, I don’t want to admit that something hurt.

In spite of irrefutable proof, I still feel compelled to deny pain.

Because I want to be thought of as strong and tough and unbreakable and… brave.

Yes- brave.



I am the “you’re fine- brush it off” babysitter when kids fall and skin their knees (or when grown ups have broken bones, hearts, lives).

I am that friend who feels compelled to remind everyone when we are en route to a funeral that it would be selfish to cry at the service. It isn’t “our day” after all (It sounds so much worse when I type it….). We must be strong for our friend.

I am the girl who can make the arrangements, have the difficult conversations with the doctors, call and break bad news with barely a crack in my voice (so long as I don’t breathe).

As a girlfriend of mine who is every bit as brave (i.e. stubborn) as I am has struggled to be “brave” in the light of her father’s recent cancer diagnosis, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it really means to be brave.

Is it really what I am describing? The ability to suck it up. To say “I’m fine” when you aren’t. To do things other people can’t or won’t. To smile when you want to cry. To never ask for help. To keep going when you are exhausted, scared and totally spent.

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Is that really what it means to be brave?

Because some part of me feels very unsettled by that.

My English major self knew there was only one “fair” way to answer the question- the dictionary of course.

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“Brave (\’brav\)- Having or showing courage”

(So annoying when a definition uses another word that I then have to look up…)

“Cour·age (/’k?rij,’k?-rij/)- The ability to do something that frightens one”

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Did they just use the “F” word?

(Thank God I am so good at pretending- otherwise, I would have to admit what an ass I felt like after reading that.)

After all these years- after all the attempts to hide it, bury it, ignore it and deny it- I have finally come to understand that being scared is an essential part of being brave.

They aren’t opposites. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

In fact, you cannot be brave without first being scared.

And there is no requirement that you hide the scared. I even checked the fine print. It isn’t there.

I actually feel ashamed for all the ways I have contributed to those around me believing otherwise.

For the times I have yelled at my sisters for crying when I demanded that they be “brave” instead.

For refusing to admit that things- rejections, losses and even bruises- hurt my feelings. Hurt my pride. Hurt my heart. Just hurt.

For hiding my tears when I had ever reason to show them.

For not letting the people who love me help me because I did not want to be perceived as weak.

Because the thing is, the bull shit is contagious. The mantra- “If you hide yours, I will hide mine too”- doesn’t make any of us better. And it certainly doesn’t make this hard thing we are doing together called life any easier.

And as I have thought about it more, I am amazed at the irony of how I have defined- and lived- “brave” for so long.

What on earth is brave or strong about pretending? About putting on a disguise and refusing to share who you really are with the world?

It’s everything I hate in fact. Fakeness. Insincerity.

And most of all- it’s cowardly. It’s the very opposite of what I wanted so badly to be by doing it. Go figure.

Several years ago, I went to a writing retreat wherein each person brought something they valued and told the group about it as an icebreaker. As I looked around the table of treasures, my eyes stopped at a beautiful elephant figurine that was missing a leg. I felt so sorry for whoever had dropped it in transport to our meeting.

However, when it was her turn to speak, she told a very different story- one that a girl who tries to deny even the pain of her bruises has never forgotten.

She explained to us that before her father passed away, he spent thirty years working as a psychiatrist. He kept the broken elephant on his desk- legs up- to remind him not just to accept- but to celebrate and honor- the brokenness of people.

At the conclusion of the retreat, we each took an index card and wrote down a promise we made to ourselves. I have kept mine sitting on my desk since that day…

“I promise to believe in myself and my writing abilities and not be so hard on myself (the broken elephant).”

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I can’t say I have always kept that promise.

In fact, I am pretty sure I propped that card up on my desk that day and promptly resumed my attempts to arrange my life- or at least to present my life- in a way where the broken legs of it didn’t show.

So today, I am dusting off that card- and the promise.

And I am inviting each of you to do the same.

It’s time to live “legs up,” don’t you think?

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“The Shoulds” by Lori R. Keeton

“What are you going to do when you get home?”

I look over at the pile of work that has sat untouched for the entire weekend and say “I should work.”

Then, I sigh.

A deep, heavy, burdened sigh.

This brief exchange took place between my mother and me a few weekends ago as we were leaving to go our separate ways after spending the weekend together in Virginia.

It stayed with me the whole way home.

The “should” I mean.


(Deep, heavy, burdened sigh.)


I truly hate that word.

I hate everything it stands for and everything it makes me feel.

If I could eradicate one word from my vocabulary that would have the largest positive effect on my life, it would be “should” (Well, it would actually be “yes” in response to all questions that involve alcohol, dessert and/or inappropriate men, but that’s another blog).


I should eat healthier.

I should exercise more.

I should work more.




I recently observed an elementary school English class where the kids were excitedly singing “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses…..”


Remember that song and how it taught you to listen for certain words to know what words would be coming next?

I got to thinking about what “should” signals is coming next.

Poor “should.”

There is just nothing good that follows it.

“I should….”

” I should have…”

“Should I….”

“You should/should have….”
JUDGMENT (and a nice dash of your own insecurity for having to act as though you have it all figured out).

Even if you try and dress up its ugliness by pairing it with something “good,” it still does not lead to a feeling of joy or gratitude or excitement….


“I should take a vacation” or “I should eat more dessert.” (Side Note: If you are a Size 2 and say this while bemoaning your inability to gain weight, we will never be friends. Ever. You have been warned.)

That’s the toxic power of “should”- it can take amazing, wonderful things- like dessert and vacation- and make them negative.



The word can literally swallow up entire years of our lives- entire relationships, entire careers, entire chapters.

And God it’s heavy.

I can look around my office or my bedroom and literally spot the “shoulds” everywhere I look like a “Where’s Waldo?” puzzle of guilt….


Piles of bills
“Things to Do” lists with nothing crossed through
Self-help books with unbroken spines
Dirty laundry

And so it goes.

The only thing more toxic than the “shoulds” is the “should haves.”

“I should have left my job/marriage/______________ (fill in the blank with whatever regret is eating you up at the moment) sooner.”

“I should have said no/yes/maybe.”

If God ever decides to let us live our lives backwards, I am sure all of these “should haves” will prove very useful.


Otherwise, what a colossal waste of time.

And the strange thing is that as powerful and destructive as “should” can be to our lives and our happiness, it is equally wishy-washy and weak.

Let’s face it- it isn’t like “should” inspires immediate action. It doesn’t. It inspires dread and delay.

Think about the Bible. God doesn’t tell us we “should” and “should not.” Nope. As a friend once told me, they are commandments- not suggestions.


“Thou shall/shalt not…” sounds a lot stronger and scarier than “Thou should not…” (And it makes things pretty air tight whether we like it or not.)

I have yet to hear one of my friends calmly say “You should not do that” when their kids are pummeling their siblings or spilling paint all over the carpet.



Recommendations, best practices, guidelines, suggestions. As a lawyer, when I read those words, what I really see is “Not required. Not binding.” No matter what you call them, they are all just a bunch of “shoulds.”



So what do we do with these maddening strong/weak “shoulds”?

Well, you should… Scratch that. Let me try again.

I do not know what you should do with your “shoulds.” As for me, I am trying to really listen to my “shoulds” and look for patterns. Are they coming up often with regards to my job? My friends? My family? Do they seem to relate to the same types of things over and over? Are they someone else’s “wants” that become my “shoulds”?

And maybe the most important question of all: How can I reduce the “shoulds” in my life and increase the “wants”? How can I create a calendar- a life- that is filled with things I want to do rather than that I feel obligated to do?


I think for all of us there is this struggle between who we think we should be versus who we are. And maybe that contrast is best understood by looking at our “shoulds.”

There are some people who are completely oblivious to this struggle. They have more or less looked around at our society and made a list of the things they are “supposed to” be and they refuse to look beyond that. They just set their minds to being it.

“I should have a good job…. I should have a spouse… I should have kids…. I should make lots of money…. I should belong to this club…. I should drive this car…. I should live in this neighborhood…. I should wear these clothes….”

And all these “shoulds” culminate into perhaps the worst “should” of all- “I should be happy.” But they aren’t.


Others- and I put myself in this category- struggle with the question- knowing that where they are isn’t where they are meant to stay but also being uncertain of where their “there” is located. There are times it feels like you are putting together a jigsaw puzzle, taking all kinds of experiences and jobs and relationships and more or less trying to see if they fit into your puzzle.


While I don’t know the secret to putting my (or anyone else’s) puzzle together, I do know that the “shoulds” are perhaps the worst road map of all.

Don’t get me wrong- the “shoulds” are tempting.

The path is so well-lit and easy to find. There are no hills, no sharp curves, no bumps. And it looks so damn perfect on the outside. Pristine yards, shiny windows and white picket fences (or maybe electric fences in this day and age).


And part of the reason it is all so tempting is us. We want to believe them. I want to believe them. It is the same reason I find myself ordering diet pills at 3 a.m. after watching a cheesy infomercial that promised I could eat whatever I wanted and still lose weight if I just took some pill. Give me that pill. Give me that life. I want it to be true.


And the people pedaling their “Christmas card worthy” lives are also great salespeople.


But the problem is, they are lying. Some may know they are being dishonest. But for most, I don’t think they realize it. I think they have lied to themselves for so long and worked so frantically to try and fill up their emptiness and insecurities that they don’t even know the truth anymore. They just can’t let themselves see it.

It’s tragic really. A beautifully wrapped package of air.


From what I can tell, the road to happiness is rarely Christmas card- or even Facebook status- worthy.


The road is bumpy and curvy and dark.

There are lots of detours.


And it always seems to be under construction.


There aren’t nearly enough “rest stops” for my taste.

You have to sit still at times and wonder if you will ever get to your destination (and try not to curse incessantly in these still times).


And sometimes you break down and literally have to wait for someone to come and help you get going again.


And the truth is we probably could be spared a lot of the pain and heartache we will encounter on this road if we followed some of those damn “shoulds.”

But by God, at least it’s YOUR road.

It may not always be pretty, but it is real.

And there are some amazing parts to it–

Sitting outside on a warm summer day with your friends telling secrets.

Laughing with your parents.

Kissing someone for the first time (or like it’s the first time).


Staying in your pajamas all day.

Soaking in a bubble bath with a big glass of wine and a trashy magazine.


Getting flowers unexpectedly.


Being told your beautiful/smart/courageous/amazing/all of the above

Finding the courage to try something new.

Holding a new baby.


Walking on the beach.


Forgiving someone.

Meeting someone who makes your heart race.

Experiencing the kindness of strangers.

So I guess maybe there is a point to all the “shoulds” that seem so relentless at times.

Maybe they are in fact the lights, the guideposts on our roads to happiness.


Maybe we encounter them to alert us when we are drifting off our road onto someone else’s, to tell us that the puzzle piece we are trying to make fit just isn’t the right one for us.

So maybe there is something good that can follow “should”– so long as it isn’t us.


The Answers by Lori R. Keeton

I am officially 40.

No more (legitimately) checking the “35-39″ box.

Other than the “featured ads” for “mature dating” showing up in my Facebook feed, it has actually been a lot of fun.

Barbie cake.

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Tiaras (yes, that’s plural- of course).

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Confetti, balloons, flowers.

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Designer- and I mean DESIGNER- shoes.

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And books.

Boxes and boxes of books.

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From Hawaii to Mississippi.

From people I have known my entire life to people I have never met.

Published from 1921 to 2013.

When I told my mom about the book drive, her first question was “what’s your goal?” (Does this give anyone a slight window into why I am a so… Type A/competitive? Shhh- don’t tell.)

In typical lawyer fashion, my answer was vague. “I don’t know- Do I need a goal?”

After much back and forth (i.e. she wasn’t going to let up), I settled on 40.

40 because I was turning 40. How original.

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For whatever reason (…. laziness), I stored the books in my trunk.

And this led to example number 1,451 of God’s sense of humor….

“I just don’t know what else to do. I need some answers.” I was teary and panicked- and thankfully on the phone with my best friend who could handle me teary and panicked.

She understood that there were lots of uncertainties going on in this particular chapter of my life that were terrifying to “I hate change/ not feeling in control/not knowing what tomorrow holds” me.

After (yet another) soul saving pep talk (thanks Cath), I stopped by the UPS store to pick up the latest shipment of books as I knew it would be a bright spot in my day.

In the second box I opened, I came across The Little Engine that Could.

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It made me smile in spite of my dark mood.

I slammed the trunk shut with “I think I can, I think I can” echoing in my head.

I can’t lie- it took me about 30 seconds (I am 40 after all- gimme a break), but then it hit me.

And all I could do was laugh- and then get out of the car and begin going through the books.

I cannot tell you how long I sat in that parking lot poring through the books that day.





Yes, remembering.

These magical “answers” I had been so desperately seeking had been with me- literally and figuratively- all along.

They were buried deep in my soul- and in my trunk.

And just in case you forgot them too, here are the ones that stood out to me:

1. You are amazing.

“On the night you were born, the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, ‘Life will never be the same.’ Because there had never been anyone like you- ever in the world.” -On the Night You Were Born

There never had been- and there never will be- another you.

Have you thought about that fact lately?

Really stopped and thought about it?

From preteen years through adulthood, we are bombarded by books and articles devoted to teaching us how to change- lose weight, get a boyfriend/girlfriend, make more money, be healthier, get a better job, etc.

When is the last time you read anything celebrating you- exactly the way you are?

Next time you walk outside and see the moon and the stars and feel the wind on your face, try to remember the moon smiling, the stars peeking in at you and the wind whispering about your greatness on the day you were born…. And know that you are still every bit as amazing- exactly the way you are.

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2. You have to be brave.

“You just have to be brave, and BELIEVE you can do it.” – Bella the Bravery Fairy

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As a child, we are constantly faced with opportunities to be brave- primarily because our lives at that time are filled with so many “firsts.”

The first time you tried to swim, the first day of kindergarten, the first time you spent the night away from home, the first time you road a bike.

Whether we knew it or not, all of those “firsts” required some true bravery on our parts (and the part of our parents).

There is something liberating about being naive I guess- about not being afraid to try and fail because you have not yet learned that failure is “unacceptable.”

Once you learn it, it is really hard to “unlearn” it.

But, it is also hard to deny the amazing experiences you have when you are brave. How good it feels when you take the leap and let go of the fear that weighs you down.

My mother texts me five words on an almost daily basis: “Every day is a gift.”

She is so right.

And I think failing to be brave and take chances is more or less choosing to leave the gift unopened. What a waste that would be.

3. The things that seem so scary usually aren’t so scary after all.

In The Monster at the End of This Book, Grover spends the entire book terrified of the monster who lives at the end of the book. With each page, he begs the reader to stop turning the pages because he is terrified of the monster that is waiting.

When you reach the end, you- and Grover- realize that the monster was in fact just Grover. Not so scary after all.

(Sorry to ruin the suspense for you all.)

It is appropriate that this was my favorite book as a child because I too- then and now- have a tendency to fear “boogy men” that really aren’t there.

It took me a long time to stop fearing the monster at the end of the book so to speak.

As an adult, that “monster” has taken on a lot of different forms through the years- failure, change, rejection, heart break.

But, just as Grover discovered long ago, it never really turns out to be as scary as you think it will.

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4. Have some fun. Scratch that. Have A LOT of fun.


Of all the rules that the children’s books caused me to remember, I have to say this one is probably the easiest for me. I am really good at having fun… I could make it a full time job (If you hear of any such job, let me know!).

I think one of the reasons I loved Ramona Quimby so much was that she was always having fun. Whether she was at school or doing chores, she still managed to have fun.

What a lot of “grown ups” seem to forget is that having fun is really important. It isn’t something reserved for vacation or weekends or “someday.”

I think there should be a rule requiring everyone- young and old- to do something fun- something- every single day.

Whenever I see kids at the grocery store in their superhero costumes or their tiaras and rain boots with lots of jewelry on, my heart fills with joy. They are the living embodiment of FUN.

So dust off your rain boots and get out your tiara…. You will be glad you did.

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5. Live YOUR “happily ever after.”

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There are some books that I really wish had been around when I was a little girl. Princess Bubble is one of those books. After I read it, I immediately bought it for my friends’ girls and still buy it from time to time whenever I have a girlfriend who needs to be reminded that it is okay to choose your own path.

The long and short of it is that Princess Bubble is a happy, smart beautiful girl who loves her house, her friends, and her life. But, people keep telling Princess Bubble that something is wrong with her- because she has not found a prince and gotten married. After all, that is how every fairy tale ends….

Ultimately, Princess Bubble realizes that she is happy with her life as it is- and that is what really matters.

As her Fairy Godmother explains, “Living happily ever after is not about finding a prince. True happiness is found by loving God, being kind to others, and being comfortable with who you are already! Happy princesses are people who enjoy others and like themselves. Happy people give of their time to help others.”

And therein lies one of the most obvious- but hardest- lessons of all. Your “happily ever after” may not look like everyone else’s. It may not look like anyone else’s. After all, there is only one you (see number one if you have forgotten). Wouldn’t it make sense for your dreams to be as unique as you are?

Don’t substitute society’s expectations for what you heart wants. The only thing you get out of that trade is regret.

6. It takes time.


As I write this blog, I find myself feeling a little disappointed in myself in spite of my preaching that we are all amazing. I cannot help but wonder how I managed to forget so many important lessons from my childhood. And that brings me to what may be the most important lesson of all- it takes time.

When I went to see The Velveteen Rabbit a few months ago with my friend Jami and her children, I had no memory of the story. In fact, I kept giving Jami the “eye” over her children’s heads as we moved closer and closer to the rabbit being burned with the other toys because I was convinced it was going to scar them (okay- me) for life.

It is confirmation of her great parenting that she was able to sense my fear and respond with that silent reassuring “smile and nod” gesture that only parents seem to be able to pull off.

When someone donated that book for my birthday, I had to sit down and read it so I would never be caught so unprepared again.

And the passage I loved most offered more reassurance than even the “smile and nod” can:

“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Isn’t that the truth? It does hurt sometimes. And it sure does take a long time to “become.” But that’s okay. It’s worth it.

7. Dream BIG and believe you can.

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It seemed appropriate that the final lesson should come from The Little Engine that Could .

When I started the book drive, I tried to have realistic expectations- hence my telling my mother that my goal was 40 books.

In my heart, however, in that part that is brave and that “thinks I can,” I hoped I would collect 400 books.


I did not reach my goal of collecting 40 books for the children at Kennedy Charter School.

Nor did I reach my “brave goal” of collecting 400 books.

Not even close….

WE collected 550 books for the Kennedy Charter School.


Can you believe it?

I open my trunk and just stare at the books, completely overwhelmed by the generosity and love of every person who donated.

And therein lies the final lesson I was reminded of by this entire exercise- dream big.

You never know what might happen.

550 books might happen.

When I came up with this idea, I thought that we would be giving the children who received the books the gift of hope.

I have come to realize that I received that gift as well.

And what a gift it is.

Thanks to each of you for that gift- and for your incredible kindness.

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The Gift of Hope by Lori R. Keeton

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“What are you doing to celebrate the big 4-0?”

Each time I hear this question, I look around to see who the person is talking to as it certainly could not be ME.

Oh, but it is….

I will be turning 40 in 49 days (but who’s counting?)

Fortunately, I am blessed with amazing friends (Yeah!)– some of whom reached this milestone before I did (Double Yeah!).

I have been so impressed with the ways they have chosen to memorialize their big days- 40 random acts of kindness, a party where guests packed food to feed the hungry, etc.

I have also been a little intimidated, wondering what I could do that actually “matters” to start this next amazing decade of my life.


The answer was so obvious that of course it took me ages to figure it out….

But, once the pieces found each other in my head, there was no doubt in my mind about what I want to do to celebrate turning 40.

And it all comes down to three amazing women who have shaped my life more than they will ever know.

My mom.

Miss Armstrong.

And Jackie.




I met Jackie the summer after my first year of law school. She was a student in a remedial English class I was teaching at a community college in Florida.

I am not sure which of us was more nervous on the first day of school: me- the teacher who was younger than any of her students or Jackie- the 55 year old student who was older than any of her classmates.

When she walked into my class with her head held high and took a front row seat in spite of the discomfort that I knew she felt, I instantly fell in love with her.

And when I asked the students what they hoped to accomplish in my class, her response rendered me speechless.

She looked me right in the eyes and said “I want to be able to write a letter to my kids and my grandkids. I can’t write a letter.”

I was totally overwhelmed by her statement- not just the total honesty of it, but the realization that a woman 30 years older than I was had lived a life that left her unable to do something that I completely took for granted.

I knew in that moment what I had to tell not just Jackie but the entire class that was eyeing this 24 year old white girl from Mississippi with serious skepticism.

“Jackie, if you will give this class your all, you will be able to write that letter by the end of the summer.”

She nodded her head, and she smiled the most beautiful, hopeful smile.

And she gave the class her all. Every day. It was a struggle. She would do her homework and then do it again. She would stay after class and come in early for help. She asked for extra assignments so she could get better. She was always the last to turn in her tests or papers because she methodically checked and re-checked her work.

There were times when I really questioned if I was going to be able to fulfill my promise to her. And I know she did too.

When I got worried and wondered what more I could possibly do to help her reach her goal, I thought back to when I was first learning how to read and write because, in a very real way, that is where Jackie was in her journey.

And that line of thinking took me straight to Miss Armstrong.


Miss Armstrong. I am not sure a student has ever loved a teacher more than I loved her.

She was my second grade teacher. She was a beautiful brunette who hot rolled her hair and wore button down shirts, khaki skirts that fell below her knee and loafers almost every day.

I would give anything to be able to track her down just so I could tell her how much she shaped my life and how grateful I am to her.

Miss Armstrong loved teaching, and she made me love learning.

The memory that has stayed with me most even 30 plus years later is that she read to us for 30 minutes every day.

I can still see her sitting on her wooden stool in the front of the classroom with the book in her lap.

The Boxcar Children series.

I was completely mesmerized by the adventures of Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny.

My love for reading and for words grew with every passing day and every new story- and it has never gone away.

And when I thought back to that, I realized that I needed to give Jackie the same gift that Miss Armstrong had given to me.

I also thought a lot about another great teacher- a beautiful English teacher whose students worshipped her and whose passion for reading and writing was also impossible not to catch- my mother.


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So many of my earliest memories center around reading with my mother.

There was not a night we did not read a bedtime story.

I could call my mother right now, and I bet she could recite The Monster at the End of this Book from memory.

And it isn’t just the reading I remember- it is the feeling of being loved.

No matter how tight money was, there was always enough for Scholastic book orders (oh how I loved the days the books arrived with the free posters that came with every order) and for book fairs.

And no matter how tight time was, there was always going to be time made for trips to the library.

As I got older and realized that the only thing I loved more than reading was writing, I wrote short stories and left them by the coffee pot for my mother to find.

She would read every one of them and tell me how wonderful they were.

She kept every single article or story I wrote.

Did it make a difference in my life? Let’s just say that I still have many of those stories and articles with her comments on them tucked away in my closet.

“Keep writing” she would always say. “Keep writing.”

And so I have.

And she gave that same priceless gift to her students.

They were so lucky that she was their “Miss Armstrong”-and I am so lucky that she is my mother.


And as my sisters and my friends have had children, I have gotten such joy from giving them books and from reading to them- and then eventually having them read to me.

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I want to be able to give that same gift to other children.

I want to be some child’s Miss Armstrong. I want to be LOTS of children’s Miss Armstrong.

I want to give them the “Boxcar Children/Scholastic Book/Book Fair” feeling.

I want them to experience what it is like to own a new book. The shininess of the cover. The crisp spine. The endless possibilities.

I want them to use their imaginations.

I want them to start writing stories of their own.

I want them to feel valued and loved as I did.

I want them to experience the comfort of being read to and the joy of reading a book out loud to someone.

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So, THAT is what I want for my birthday….

Books. Lots and lots of books.

I want for everyone who reads this to send me their favorite book(s) from childhood.

I want you to ask your children what their favorite books are and send those too.

I want you to tell your friends and your parents and your siblings to send books.

And when you do, I want you (yes, I am planning on being very demanding in this next decade!) to take the time to ask them what their favorite book was because you will get the joy of seeing their faces light up as they talk about it.

When I asked the question of my own family, I learned that my mom’s favorite was called Nurse Nancy and came with real band-aids. How cool is that? (Note- The modern version does not come with the band-aids. NUMEROUS people of my mom’s era have written reviews complaining of this absence). For my sister it was Nancy Drew. For my nephew, it was anything Dr. Seuss.

What is yours? (I know you are smiling at this very moment as you remember it.)

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I plan to donate all the books collected to the Kennedy Charter School in Charlotte- a school that is devoted to helping children to accomplish the very goals that I am talking about. Check it out- http://www.kennedycharter.org/KennedyCharter/franciselementary.cfm

I was at a luncheon there a year ago where they shared some statistics on literacy for children from low-income families. They told us that by the age of three, children from low-income families have been exposed to 30 million fewer words than their more-affluent peers. By the time they enter kindergarten, they are typically 12 to 24 months behind the national norm in language and pre-reading.

And the average number of books for those children? One for every 300 children. One.


That number brings me back to my student, Jackie- a woman who grew up in a home without books and without someone who read to her.

On the last day of class, I gave my students one last assignment– write a letter to someone they cared about.

When Jackie finished her letter and put it into the envelope, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and smiled that same beautiful, hopeful smile.

But this time, I saw pride in her eyes.

I will never forget it.


Please help me to share that gift with the children at Kennedy Charter School.


You can order from www.amazon.com or a ton of other sites and have the books shipped if you do not want to go the trouble of mailing them.

I have created a wish list on www.amazon.com in case you need some book suggestions– http://amzn.com/w/RMR0QRWQ1OOO

I have let the Kennedy Charter School know to expect LOTS of books….

I have even rented a mailbox to have the books shipped because I have no doubt that there will be many– The address for shipping is Lori Keeton, 401 Hawthorne Lane, Suite 110-118, Charlotte, NC 28204-2358. Phone if you need it for shipping is 704-342-4262.

Box is rented through June.




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Seeing Love by Lori R. Keeton

When my mom and I were grocery shopping while I was home for Easter, I asked if she remembered the Pepperidge Farm cakes we ate on special occasions when I was growing up.

They were kept in the frozen section in pristine, square white boxes.

I could not wait for the “suggested 45-60 minutes to thaw” to pass. I loved the cake, and I loved how fancy I felt when I ate it even more.


She laughed at my question and said it made her so happy that I have such special memories from my childhood.

And I do.

Memories of collecting S&H green stamps and then spending hours poring over the catalog with my sister, contemplating what life-altering items we should get with all of our stamps (great training for how I now analyze every single clothing catalog that comes in the mail), of going to Shoney’s and getting the cheeseburger that had a little American flag stuck in it, of waiting anxiously for Saturday nights so we could watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and I could dream about growing up to be a cruise director like Julie–a job that required socializing on a boat with sunshine and cocktails (how I ended up a lawyer when I started there is beyond me too…).


My first Madame Alexander baby doll that I named Lisa. I literally loved her to death by carrying her to every playground, sleepover and swimming pool I ever attended.

My Mickey Mouse phone with the yellow receiver that I got Christmas morning from Santa Claus.


My Michael Jackson birthday cake (bet you didn’t see that one coming– neither did my mother at the time).

Hearing my mother say “Good night, Sweet dreams, I love you” almost every night of my life (in person and then by long distance calls and now by Face Time).

The thousands of nights (yes, thousands) that my mom spent reading “The Monster at the End of this Book” to me- and somehow managing to do it with enthusiasm each and every time. (And yes, I still have a copy in my book shelf just in case.)


The day of third grade when I looked up from my desk on class party day to see my mother standing there with a huge gingerbread house for my class to decorate.

Peanut butter sandwiches on white bread cut in half, day after day after day (because that was all I would eat for lunch).

As I have grown older, I have come to realize that the gift of these memories is really twofold.

There are the experiences themselves- emblazened in my mind and my heart. Moments where I felt loved and safe and knew that I mattered- a lot- to someone. They are like a security blanket for my soul.

But they are more than that.

They did not just teach me to feel love– they also taught me to see love.

I see it in the most mundane places….

I was at the grocery store a few weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon. It was so crowded that there were only a few remaining carts (or, as I tend to call them and get endless grief for, “buggies”). One of the many inventions that kids today get to enjoy that we did not have while I was growing up is the grocery cart that allows kids to sit up front and “drive” while their parents shop. Talk about an improvement from the days of being crammed in the little front part where your parents put you so you could not run wild.

As I was waiting on the woman in front of me to get her cart, I heard her tell her young son in a quiet voice “No honey. We aren’t going to take one of the special carts today. There is only one left, and there may be another mommy who comes in with more than one child and she will need it more than we do. Okay?”

I fully expected a meltdown to occur, but her son thought about it for a minute and nodded and that was the end of it.

I doubt she would even remember saying that to her son that day. She certainly did not realize that I overheard the conversation. But, I will always remember it (and I hope her son does too).

I see it in the young….

I also remember stumbling upon love at a birthday party for a close friend’s son about a year ago.

The house was filled with kids running around, hyped up on sugar and the rush that being around other children brings.

They decided to go outside and play (thankfully), and the herd ran for the door.

Then, they all seemed to pause at the same time and look back.

To see such complete and total motion screech to a halt was noticeable to say the least.

I turned to follow their collective gaze.

I saw the birthday boy sitting on the floor while his best friend tied his shoes for him (a skill he has struggled to master on his own due to some developmental delays).

As soon as they finished, the two hopped up and the entire group then resumed their mission to conquer the world.

There were no words spoken.

No questions.

No complaints.

No judgments.

No sighs over the inconvenience.

They just waited for their friend who needed a little extra help- because they loved him.

And the old….

I am also lucky enough to get to see love in my job as a defense attorney.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

I would bet that many people who do what I do have never seen it- never noticed it. But that’s because they didn’t have “Good night, sweet dreams, I love you” and peanut butter sandwiches in their Dukes of Hazard lunch box I would bet.

As sad and hard as it may be to spend your days asking people questions about some of the most difficult moments of their lives, you also get to see the other side as well.

The truth is that there is rarely a tragedy that does not have a love story tucked in it. Trust me on that one.

Many years ago, I was in a deposition with an elderly couple that had lost their child in an accident. We questioned the father first. He answered our questions quite stoically- careful with every word and breath- determined to maintain his composure even as we discussed what had to be the hardest time of his life. He never showed the slightest emotion other than through the effort I could hear in his slow, measured breathing.

Once his deposition was over, we deposed his wife that he had been married to for 60 years.

When she told us about finding out that her son had died, she began to cry quietly.

Seeing her cry- seeing almost anyone cry- broke my heart. No matter how long I do what I do, I will never be able to watch someone cry without my chest aching. (Thank God.)

As she struggled to regain her composure, I heard a huge gasp. I turned to see her 80 year old husband sitting in his chair in the corner of the room with tears streaming down his face. The stoic man from 15 minutes earlier was literally weeping so hard that his entire body shook.

I looked at him- and while I hated his pain- I loved his love.

And when I later asked her about her husband and I saw the twinkle in her eyes as she described how they meet as teens and I heard her advice to me– “When you find a good man, honey, you can’t ever let him go,” I saw her love too.

I see it in strangers….

Love is really what connects us all. Every one of us.

We don’t really think of love and strangers as two concepts that go together (except maybe when we are drunk at 2 a.m. in a bar somewhere- sorry, Mom).

But, I have realized that love exists there too.

A couple of months ago I had a terrible day. I felt unprepared and overwhelmed and underqualifed and tired and pitiful and angry and sad. You got all that? I was literally at my wit’s end.

I had an important meeting after work at a restaurant. I was late. I was panicked. My poor car was so messed up that it had lights of all shapes, sizes and colors illuminated and a loud incessant beeping noise accompanied them. Yes- I am serious. The military could use the car to torture people. It was brutal to drive it anywhere. But, I was determined to save money and put off getting it fixed as long as possible.

I typically did not ever valet my car because I was so embarrassed by all the problems it had.

However, on this particular night, I had no choice but to valet because I was late.

As soon as I pulled in, the young valet met me at my car door. I jumped out of the car and just laid it out there like a drunk girl on a first date. “Ignore the lights, ignore the noise. Don’t use the automatic locks because they have stopped working. I am late for an important meeting so I have no choice. I’m sorry you have to deal with this I’m so embarrassed….”

I then ran inside the restaurant without even giving him a chance to respond to my diatribe, terrified he would refuse to park broken me’s broken car.

When I returned to pick it up an hour or so later, there was a different gentleman working the valet stand. I was actually relieved- embarrassed by how honest I had been with the earlier valet.

He said “The other guy used to be a mechanic. He wants to tell you something about your car, okay? He is getting it now.”


Of course I couldn’t get out of there without owning my pathetic-ness.

As soon as I saw him, I began apologizing. “I am so sorry. It has been a really bad day.”

“It is okay. Look- everything is fine, okay? Go get a new battery in the next couple of weeks and you will be fine. Really.”

As I got into my car, I thought how ridiculous it was for this 21 year old kid with nothing to worry about to try and convince me that all was well.

All was NOT well.

I drove for at least a mile stewing in my self-pity before I noticed that my car was no longer beeping.

I turned down the radio and listened. I drove fast and then slow. Slammed on the brakes and gunned it.

Nothing. No more beeping.

Everything was fine– because that sweet stranger- and former mechanic- had fixed my car while I was in the restaurant.

I can’t speak for why he did what he did that night.

I can only assume he didn’t do it for praise or for money- because he did not tell me he had done it when I picked it up.

Rest assured I would have given him every bit of money I had in my purse had I known.

I really don’t know what he saw that night.

But I know what I saw- I saw love.

Sometimes I worry that love gets a bad rap.

That I give it a bad rap.

I seek it- and then I run from it.

I complain about it.

I emphasize its sharp edges that can scar.

I laugh at it, mock it, minimize it.

Pretend it doesn’t scare me. And that it can’t hurt me (such a lie).

But the truth is that this whole love thing- this emotion that drives five year olds to tie each other’s shoes and causes 80 year old men to weep uncontrollably- is nothing short of amazing.

And I hope you feel it- and see it- everywhere you go….

“Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes in all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (I Corinthians 13:4-8, New Revised Standard)”

God’s Box by Lori R. Keeton

I recently woke up thinking about a table.


My first thought was actually “Am I late?” (as it always is because the answer to that question is so often yes) but, after realizing it was 3:07 in the morning, I quickly returned to the table.

I then calculated that I had three more hours to sleep.

Or to worry.

Or to make lists.

Or to work.

Or to write.

Or to worry about my lists and work and writing….

My brain was leaning heavily towards the worry option (which made sense seeing as it was the returning champion).

I tried to lead it down another path. I thought about beaches. I counted backwards. I breathed deeply.

I got so desperate that I even pulled out an article I had crammed into my nightside table with some yoga poses that were supposed to help you sleep.

Scratch that– even insomnia couldn’t get me exercising.

Worry was going to carry the day.

Followed by a dash of panic of course.

With a healthy serving of self-loathing thrown in as I surveyed my room and saw my overflowing work bag sitting untouched next to my bedside.

But I digress. A lot.

Back to the table.

I woke up thinking about a business luncheon I was planning and about how the food would not fit on the table in the room where the event was being held.

Should I get another room? Borrow a table? Change the food?

Taxes are due soon. I haven’t even started them.

Did I pay my power bill?

How overdue am I on my blog?

What if I never get published?

If I go to sleep RIGHT NOW, I am only going to get two hours of sleep.

I’m going to be so tired.

I shouldn’t have eaten those cookies. I feel disgusting.

I can’t believe I haven’t gotten my mirrors hung yet.

I am going to be 40 soon.

I am probably out of time to have kids.

What if I never publish anything AND never have kids?

AND never get married?

AND never get out of debt?

Before I knew it, the alarm was going off and I started my day feeling like an exhausted, old, disorganized spinster.

And it all started with a stupid table.

The whole exercise reminds me of Alice falling down the rabbit hole. It starts slowly and then the next thing I know everything is spinning out of control and nothing is at it seems. Big things seem small- small things big.


I shared these feelings with some friends. More than anything, I wanted them to tell me what I was doing wrong. I wanted them to tell me how to be more focused. More productive. More successful. More confident. Less stressed. Less frazzled.

I want an empty work bag. A perfect body (or at least one that doesn’t want cookies so much). A clean condo. A completely crossed off things to do list. Pantyhose with no runs.

I want to wake up at 3:07 a.m. with nothing to torture myself with for hours on end.

I want to be… better… at… life.

Everyone I spoke to had something different to say- some copping to the fact that they too feel inadequate sometimes while others chose to maintain their “Facebook lives” and more or less stayed silent as I spilled my guts.

But, there was one phrase that each and every one of them used.

And it stood out to me not only because of how often it was repeated but also because of how different the people were that said it.

“You know, you are only human.”


The first few times they said it, I brushed it off. Such an empty cliché.

But the more I heard it, the harder it was to ignore.

After several times, I realized that maybe God was telling me something. And telling me again. And telling me again. (Thank goodness He’s patient.)

Truth? I think I tried to disregard it because it bothered me.

And by “it,” I really mean that lovely word “only.”



We are only friends.

You are only cute (not pretty).

You are only a runner up, understudy, cast member.

In other words, you are only… average.

Perhaps the fact I saw it as an insult is indicative of the whole problem.

I tried saying that dreaded phrase whenever I started berating myself over an undone errand, a typo in a letter, a still to be mailed card sitting on my kitchen counter, etc.

“I am only human.”

But, it just didn’t sound right. So, I changed it a little.

“I am only human- but I am still amazing.”

Much better.

The true importance of accepting my “humanness” was driven home when I told one particular friend about my “Alice in Wonderland” spirals and her immediate response was “You need a God’s box.”


She told me that whenever I found myself worrying about something, I needed to stop and write it down on a piece of paper. Then, I take that piece of paper and place it in the designated box.

In other words, you literally- and figuratively- turn your worries over to God.

It sounded a little… Hallmark-ish… to me.

Nevertheless, after several more sleepless nights and panicked days, I decided to give it a try.

I am so glad I did.


My God’s box has became like a magnifying glass pointed at my life.

I have realized that many of the things- most of the things- I worry about turn out to be nothing. In fact, when I went back and re-read a sampling of the slips of paper in the box a few weeks after writing them, I could not even remember what some of them meant. Seriously.

I realized that as I loosened the death grip with which I clung to my worries, I actually began to feel better about myself.

I realized that as I was a little kinder to myself, I was able to be a little kinder and more forgiving of the people around me.

I realized that I could be much more productive and confident when I was not weighed down by things that I could not control.

Most importantly, I realized that God does a much better job of dealing with my worries than I do.

So now, when I wake up at 3 a.m., I turn on the light and get out a pen and I write all the thoughts down- post it note after post it note (after post it note). When I finish, I put them in the box, and I shut it. Tightly.

And then I tell God that I am giving it all to him because I am only human.

Only human- but still amazing….


Perfect by Lori R. Keeton



1.The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
2.The attainment of popularity or profit.

I vividly remember when my oldest sister Connie announced that she had left the practice of law to become a waitress.

(In truth, she was only a waitress temporarily while she saved up money to move to Chicago and become a realtor. But, the story sounds way juicier without that postscript…)

She waited until after she quit her job to tell our parents.

Smart move.

As for me, well, I remember being absolutely horrified by her decision. She was a lawyer after all. She made good money. She had security. She made our parents proud. She had a job that people respected. She was… “successful.”

And she was going to give all that up to go wait tables and hope that somehow she would save enough money to move to the NORTH and be a realtor?

Sounded like a long shot to me.

I felt so smugly superior. I was a straight A student. I did not waste time thinking about dreams or wishes. I was going to be a super successful lawyer. I would never quit my job- or anything else- on a whim.

Poor, poor Connie.

Fast forward twenty years.

Connie is a successful realtor, wife and mother of two amazing boys living in Chicago.

Yep. She did it. Every bit of it (and a whole lot more).

And I would venture to say her only regret is the years she wasted living out our parents’ dreams instead of her own.

Who’s feeling smug now? (Truth be told- she isn’t. She isn’t like that. Never has been. Annoyingly kind on top of living out her dream… She’s also thin. Ugggh.)

I have been doing a lot of soul searching as of late about what it really means to be a “success.”

A lot.

Because here’s the thing- I’m not.

At least not in the ways that matter to me.

And that’s a really big, scary thing to admit.

It’s the kind of tidal wave that can drown you if you let it.

Or, it can inspire you.

It gets you thinking, hoping, questioning, praying (a lot).

You start thinking about your crazy older sister- and about her courage.

And about how naive you were.

You think about all kinds of things.

I think about how hard I worked to be “perfect.”

Yes, perfect.

When I was in college, there was one particular professor I adored- Dr. Pearson.

It was like he saw me- the real me- from the first day I walked in his classroom.

Cautious, guarded, shy, insecure me.

He was the first person outside my family who told me I was a good writer.

I will never forget that.

Year after year, he sat back and watched me study and obsess and achieve.

He was there when I received awards and accolades.

He applauded.

But, he never talked about any of it.

Never mentioned any of it to me.

It pissed me off really.

And then, after four years of being my favorite professor, he decided to let me know his feelings by attaching a postcard to my final paper….

It said: “Rude awakening #457: Nobody really cares what your G.P.A. was.”


Crazy- just like my sister and her waitress job.

Surely my parents would agree with me, right?

After all, my greatest fear was disappointing them.

But, you know what’s even crazier?

I think my stepfather (a/k/a Dean) knew I would be living this very struggle a long time ago. Years before he passed away.

I have a framed picture of him in my bedroom in his uber prestigious military uniform that he gave me when I was 22 years old.


In other words, when I had it all figured out. When I was brilliant and perfect.

And you know what his handwritten note on the back says?

“I am so proud of you for what you have done, for what you will do, and most of all for what you are.”


Did you get that?

Because I didn’t. Not when I was 22.

I just put it on my mantle and kept studying and trying to be perfect.

I didn’t give much thought to what I was.

Instead, I was all about what I would do.

Fast forward 20 years.

Dr. Pearson?


I bet you wondered if I would ever truly get it.

All I can say is thank you for thinking I might.

I have a lot left to learn.

But, here’s what I know for sure….

Being a success has nothing whatsoever to do with how much money you make or what letters appear before or after your name.

It doesn’t matter if you have a cubicle or a corner office.

It doesn’t matter if you report to someone or someone (or a hundred someone’s) reports to you.

It’s about having the courage and the confidence to be a waitress when the world thinks you’re supposed to be a lawyer.

It’s about what you are- not what you do.

It’s in your soul.

It’s there.

And you feel it.

You can ignore it.

Run from it.

Tell yourself that the big house and the Mercedes make it all worth it.

But it won’t go away.

It’s the voice telling you that it’s totally okay to go be a waitress.

Or a lawyer.

Or a mommy.

Or a writer.

Or a CEO.

Or whatever it is that makes you wake up every day and feel thankful for this precious life you have been given.

Thank you Connie, Dr. Pearson and Dean- for inspiring me to dig deep enough to want to be so much more than “perfect.”



Billboards by Lori R. Keeton

I am one of those people who is fascinated by the concept of coincidences.

I am pretty much a sucker for any story that includes the phrase “what a small world.”

Once upon a time, I believed these seemingly random occurrences that linked a person to someone or something at a particular point in time were just that- random.

However, the older I get and the more I witness and experience them happening, the more convinced I am that these so-called coincidences are something much more magical and important than just happenstance.

As Albert Einstein so aptly explained, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”


My mom refers to these events as “God moments.”

I cannot tell you how often the two of us will email, text or call with the news “I just had a God moment!” or “You won’t believe this God moment.”

Some of them are big; others small. None of them are insignificant.

I realize when I tell people about these “moments,” some think I am stretching or searching- looking for a deeper meaning to something that simply does not have one.

While I respect their opinions (I let people be wrong whenever they want.), I also feel sad for them because these events bolster my faith on a near daily basis.

Don’t get me wrong- I am all about “the proof.” Maybe it is the lawyer in me, but I want to see evidence to support almost any point someone makes to me.


And these “divine coincidences” are no exception.

Fortunately, God knew that about me long before I ever did.

While in college, I was struggling with some decision or another. Quite frankly, I don’t even recall what it was (proof in itself that whatever it was was not that “earth shattering” after all- but don’t try and tell 20 year old me that!). But, I know for certain that I agonized over it as I so often do, terrified of making the wrong decision- or of making any decision really.

I felt lost and let down, having prayed for an answer and heard nothing in response.

I eventually prayed angrily. Yes, angrily. That part I remember.

“God- How can you leave me without an answer? I am trying so hard to hear what You are telling me, but I hear nothing. If You are trying to tell me something, I am not getting it. I am not like other people. I need something big and obvious. I need a billboard or something. Seriously.”

I recall feeling a little ashamed after that prayer- sort of the way you feel after you raise your voice at your parents. I had been too vocal, too bold, too demanding.

The next day I was driving down a road I had driven down countless times before.

And there is was.

My billboard.


I knew it was mine as sure as I knew anything.



“All He Asks Is That You Trust Him.”

That was all it said. No advertisement. No fancy graphics.

Eight words.

Eight words that I have since come back to thousands of times in my life.

Eight words that were meant for me- the scared, angry, doubting girl that demanded a billboard.

Even after all this time, I simultaneously laugh and cry every time I think about it.

He gave me my billboard.

And so much more than that.

Because it wasn’t just the answer to whatever question I was struggling with on that particular day- it was ultimately the answer to all my questions.

It is tattoed on my soul.

When I find myself panicking- about my career, my family, my finances, my future- I close my eyes and I repeat those eight words to myself. Several times.

When I do that– and I let myself really hear those words– it is like hitting a reset button.

They remind Type A, control freak me that God doesn’t expect me to to fix it or solve it or find my way out of it or into it.

To the contrary, He just asks that I trust Him with it. All of it.

Since that fateful day, I have been blessed to receive many other “billboards” along the road of my life.

A few months ago I arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina completely worn down and exhausted. I was having the week from hell. A huge presentation in Charlotte followed by oral arguments the following morning before the North Carolina Court of Appeals to be topped off with a return trip to Charlotte to catch a night flight to New Orleans for an early morning deposition (i.e. no beignets or Bourbon Street in that schedule).

The combination of being tired and having a long car ride alone is not a good thing. One can start feeling quite sorry for oneself.

For whatever reason, on that particular night and for those hours in the car, my brain fixated on how sad it was that my stepfather was not alive to know that I was going to argue before the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Since his love of being a lawyer is what drove me to become a lawyer, those types of moments were particularly bittersweet.

Sweet because I knew he would be so proud of me. He would have absolutely loved it. He would have sent me a card. Called his friends. Called his friends’ friends. Told strangers in the grocery store.

Bitter because there would be no such card or calls. No last minute tips. No “just in case” wake up call (as back up for my iphone alarm, the alarm clock and my wake up call!).

He would have been the person I called as I was driving down the interstate feeling too much fear and too little confidence. He would have answered the phone literally breathless with excitement over the prospect of my upcoming day.

And his attitude would have been contagious.

After the call, I would have walked a little taller and the load I was carrying would have felt a lot lighter.

But on that night, the load just felt heavy and the road long and lonely.

When I checked in, the woman who helped me was nice enough- although clearly on automatic pilot. She gave me her well-worn speech (need a credit card for incidentals, the gym is on the second floor (clearly a standard part of the speech given to everyone as I so did not look like someone who needed that piece of data), breakfast is from 6-10, one room key or two?) and directed me to the elevators.

I returned to the desk a few minutes later to get change for the drink machine.

As she handed me my change, she paused and looked at me- really looked at me- for the first time.

“I need to tell you something.”

As she said it, she looked confused- as though I had said something that did not make sense.

I waited, assuming she had forgotten some piece of her standard speech on the first go round (dry cleaning? the safe? check out? room service?).

She paused.

Her discomfort made no sense to me.

“You are awesome. You really are.”

Now I was the one looking confused.

“What did you say?”

“You are awesome… And I don’t know why, but I really needed to tell you that. Okay?”

I managed a weak “thank you” as my eyes filled with tears.

It was more than okay.

She was my card. She was my call.

She was- my billboard.

And the following morning when my cereal showed up from room service with a mini bottle of ketchup on the tray, all I could do was smile.


My stepfather always brought those bottles back to me when he traveled because my love of ketchup is a long-standing family joke.

A couple of hours later, I walked into the courtroom with a mini ketchup bottle tucked in the pocket of my briefcase feeling nervous- but awesome.

Very, very awesome.

While doubting, demanding, scared me may not know much, I know that God gives each of us these sorts of “billboards.”

A friend or stranger who happens to share a story with you at just the right time.

Unexpected opportunities.

A devotional.


A note.


A job posting.

Painful endings.

A chance encounter.

Ketchup bottles.

And for the most stubborn among us, actual billboards.

Be on the lookout- they are there.

All He asks is that you trust Him.