The Cusp of 2015, The X I’m Standing On

I turned 36 this week which—according to Brett who’s a “doctor” (sssshhh, don’t tell him he’s not)—is the beginning of middle age. This is why he sucks as a doctor because I looked it up and it’s right up there with some of his other medical advice—false information. For the record, Brett does moonlight as a weatherman and does a fine job at it. Where were we?

“You know,” I told him, “just so you know, I’m fine with the term ‘middle age’. Everyone knows the middle’s where it’s at. The cream in Oreo cookies, the meat in a burger, and—oh hey, look! I found another great middle for you.” I raised my right hand and pulled the four outer fingers down so the middle one had the stage for its sun salutation.

“Ha ha, very funny,” he added. “I’m just sayin’, welcome to the club, baby.”

The end of the year is always weird for me. I go into a bit of a post-Christmas funk, I have a birthday, a new year arrives. My mom used to find me as a kid, crying in my bed on the night of my birthday because “everything’s over.” Because I believe in handling funks in the healthiest way possible, I no longer climb into bed but instead get out of dodge and go shopping. I kid. Well, actually I did shop and we are leaving town, but I’m a big grown up now and try to funnel everything I know about change and learning and goals into my end of the year reflections. Come along.

I was reading some old birthday posts the other day and found the one from the year Nella was born. That year. Whew. It will always stand out as such a beautiful year of growth for me—one where I not only fell in love with this precious baby, but all these hidden things about myself (yes! Believe it or not, my own journey is about me!) and my misguided dreams were discovered–and I didn’t even have to open the boxes. They were opened for me—unwrapped, top pulled off, tissue pulled out, box put in my hand and all I had to do was look at the truth inside and do something about it. Our new circumstances (which I now realize aren’t that different from the old circumstances) challenged me that year, clearly pointing out true north in life every day. For a little while after, that was my story: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected. I wrote a book, met new families, stood up and talked about perspective. I was Mom who Finds Beauty in the Unexpected, and every day felt emotional and alive with inspiration and intense feelings. I didn’t have to dig hard for lessons in life—they were in my face, and repeated themes lit the path for everyday understanding: Find beauty! Redefine perfection! Look for new perspective! Love wins!

It’s been five years, and all those little truths are still there, still lighting the path while maybe not as raw and in-my-face as they were with a new diagnosis. Life moves on and one event, no matter how big it is, does not completely define us. The theme of my birthday post the year after Nella was born was “I am capable.” And this year?

We are many stories.

As a writer, I often find it easier to write when life is hard. Heartache equals good material. I mean, look at song writing. How many songs are there about heartbreak and broken relationships? A hell of a lot more than songs about soccer moms passing out popsicles after a victory game, I’ll tell you that much. After contributing to a writing retreat this year, planning one for next year and getting to know the attendees, I’m definitely aware of this. Writing is a beautiful tool for dealing with pain and uncertainty in life. Participants shared really hard and beautiful stories at Doe Bay, but I remember one friend who admitted, “I had a happy childhood. I live a good life. I didn’t experience some of the tragedy you’ve all shared, but I still want to write.” Writing and digging through the comfortable parts might be the greatest writing challenge of all—and the most important.

Life and its infinite truths are constant—beauty, birth, death, heartache, vulnerability, love. It’s our ability to see the truth these experiences hold that changes—when the numbness of comfort is removed. We need to make sense of things and find truth when life is hard—for survival’s sake. But what about when things are going well? What about those windows when our vulnerabilities aren’t pulsing loudly, when hardship doesn’t clearly point us north? For this reason, I can lose my way sometimes when things are going well, and I’ve been guilty of feeling the need for emotional defibrillation when there’s no obvious “story” happening. There are thousands of stories in our life outside of the big hard things though that call for our attention and lead us north. It’s not that heartache equals good material; it’s just that heartache alerts us to where it’s buried. The good material is there all along. My goal is to unbury the good material—to open my eyes enough to see the hundreds of stories that exist in my life, no matter what we’re going through. I don’t want to miss their truths. They are all important.

I saw the movie Wild this week–a book-to-movie success considering I turned to my mother-in-law when it was finished and said, “I can’t even talk about it. We should just walk to the car now.” There’s nothing glamorous about a three month journey up the Pacific Crest Trail–in fact the physical and emotional brutality of it is exactly what allowed Strayed to rediscover herself and move forward after her mother’s death. But there’s something alluring about her experience, enough to inspire many others to set out on the PCT in search of the same kind of enlightenment. We want to be broken, we know that solitude and challenges pull something out of us, we feel we’d be better after having gone through it–that we’d know something we didn’t know before or prove to ourselves and maybe others that we’re strong and fearless.

I want to push myself this year, try new things, take a class or two, get out of my comfort zone–yes. That’s important for growth for all of us. But I don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that some big experience unearths the story of my life any more than standing still and paying attention to all the small stories that exist and are waiting to be discovered right here, right now. And I don’t need to wait for some hard thing or trek in solitude to be suddenly side-swept with inspiration to write that next book I’ve been saying I’m going to write.

I return to one of my favorite quotes:

“No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.” 

~Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

There’s so much richness right here for all of us, no matter how mundane our routines are or how much of our week we spend in car pick-up lines. Our story is not controlled by what happens to us but rather how we write it.

There’s a wealth of good material for 2015 and every year after it. Here’s to finding it, using it well and passing it on.


A look back at my favorite little stories from 2014. Pieced together, these moments taught me a lot about love, community, vulnerability, kindness, beauty and the impact I have to help make life better for those around me–from the little people in my own home and friends in my community to women in countries far away. But the best way to bring treasure to someone else is first to recognize your own–the X you’re standing on.

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Happy New Year, fellow Middle Age Friends!

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Leave a Comment
  1. I’ve followed you for years now. I just wanted to say I love what you have to say and how you say it… it always seems to hit home for me. Thank you for inspiring me. Keep on keeping on girl! Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks for writing this piece, Kelle. I loved reading it!! Blessings to you and your sweet family in 2015!! Heather

  3. This makes me say – YES – so true, I love the picture of standing on a red X, what a great way to get centered in the now this year. Looking forward to hearing so many stories of the little things in life that make up the richness of our nows. Once I wrote a poem with a line about Kara that was something like, “tiny hands that smell like Cheerios” because it was just a simple breath of life back then I wanted to remember forever. Cheers and Happy New Year!!

  4. Kelle, Happy (belated) birthday!!
    I get that having a child with Ds doesn’t define your life. I am still trying to differentiate my life from wife, mother, advocate and hoping 2015 brings me back to me. Looking forward to a year of growth! Love your pics, as always! Happy New Year from another Middle Ager!

  5. This was beautiful – you captured so many thoughts I’ve had myself recently. Thank you! Happy New Year!

  6. Beautiful post Kelle. Truly lovely. I’m not sure, but I could swear someday I’ll look back on this time in my life and realize that I’m in the process of unicorning the hell out of middle age. Word for 2015: awareness.
    Blessings to you and yours in the new year.

  7. Happy New Year, Kelle! This is such a rollicking, wise post – great good thoughts to chew over. I’m inspired to look closely at my own “themes” and my path. Plus I had to laugh at your “middle age” conversation with Brett :) Hang in there and have another awesome year with your awesome brood.

  8. Oh Kelle- this is so, so, so good. I feel like I can’t even start my “New Years” post yet because I simply don’t have anything BIG to say and this reminded me that it’s all important. The mundane, the exciting, the new, the old. It ALL matters. Good writing, girl. Happy New Year.

  9. Middle Age is always 15 years past what your current age!

  10. Happy Belated Birthday, Mamma! Can’t believe it’s been 5 yrs since Nella’s birth – which is when I started reading/following. It’s truly been a beautiful, inspiring ride, and I look forward to what 2015 holds for you & your family! Wishing your family much Love & Happiness in 2015! The best is yet to come!

  11. Great pictures of a great year gone by. I wish I was 36…Enjoy every minute of it. My friends and I think we’re middle aged and we’re “slightly” past 50 now (and still having a pretty darn good time!). Happy New Year!

  12. I hope 2015 is filled with many blessings for you and your family.

  13. I share the sentiment from above that I have followed you for years…..and

    Ok, first off, how the heck has it been so long since Nella was born?!

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful, crazy world!

    Here’s to middle age!! I just turned 34 :)

  14. Like the first couple of comments, I’ve been reading along for a few years. You write my favorite blog and I’m very excited to read along in 2015. Happy New Year!

  15. First, I scroll through your pictures and suddenly come to a full stop. My beautiful Northwest Washington right there in the midst of them. Those islands I see from my window…ah, I remember you coming this way. Sweet.
    Second, I talked to a dear, dear friend this week who longs more than anything for exactly what she has–the ordinary, doing-the-laundry-even–mundane dailiness of life, because she knows the limit of her life. She’s measuring it out in weeks now. That x you quote is a wavering line for one such as her. For her, and countless others, there’s a longing that isn’t grand or mountain-tall. It’s just for breath. I love how you notice such daily moments, think deeply of them, and don’t let things slip through your grasp. It is healing.

  16. This is so good and what a happy look back. I think your X is a pretty amazing place. Love to learn from you.

  17. The concept of standing on the red x resonates with me. Why do we always want what we don’t have, and vice versa…..even when we have what we really want, but we can’t see it?

    I too have been pondering the end of this year, and the beginning of another. I feel like I don’t have another year to waste, like I have to start living with more determination because there’s no more time to screw around. I’ve got some deep thoughts over here which I absolutely do not need to go into right now…sufficed to say, I think we’re all struggling with same basic things, regardless of our geographic location, economic class, education level, or profession. It should provide solidarity and support to each of us, that such smart, classy, creative and energetic women should all be striving towards the same basic things: peace, contentment, relief from anxiety, and having the knowledge that we’re doing all we can for our families and that they are safe and secure in our love for them.

    Happy New Year from a 39 year old who doesn’t feel middle aged at all, but rather like a child on the verge of discovering the next chapter in this adventure called LIFE.

  18. Love this post Kelle! Your birthday posts always resonate with me as we share the same birthday. I’m good with 36 too, content and happy on my X. I like feeling planted and growing where stand. I hope 2015 brings much joy to your family!

  19. Such good photos you have here 😀 They just made me so happy! Thank you so much and happy new year!

    May God bless you and your family :)!

  20. I love this quote! Sometimes I feel a little guilty for feeling content, so this will be one I print and frame as a daily reminder. Thank you and cheers to 2015!

  21. Such richness in the writing here, i need to go back to it tonight and read after the kids are in bed – happy new year from Hong Kong, here is to the beauty of right now x

  22. Some lovely pieces of writing here, I need to go back an reread again as it’s so rich. I’ll wait till the baby is in bed lol ! Happy New Year from Hong Kong – here is to contenting to find beauty in the here and now  xx

  23. Happy New Year to you and yours, Kelle. This was such a perfect post to read today as I’m contemplating the new year and what’s to come. It’s always such an inspiration to me when I stop by here and read your words – thanks for that!

  24. Hey, it may not be quite appropriate, but I thought I’d let you know that for whatever reason, for the entire photo year montage that you so kindly created above, as I scrolled through it, “gloria” (entire choir singing) kept playing and playing in my head.. glorious life. :)

  25. I really enjoy the reflectiveness of this time of year (I don’t think that is a word though, is it!) The photos of Africa made me wonder if you have written much about your experiences? thanks xx

  26. What beautiful photos to showcase a beautiful year! May this new year bring even more wonderful moments to you and your family! Happy New Year!

  27. Beautiful post, beautiful year,beautiful you. Happy birthday and happy 2015!

  28. I can relate to writing the most when sadness or burdens or doubt take hold. The words seem to flow easier. And in the moments of happiness and joy, we just seem to live them. We don’t necessarily take the time to write them down and describe the depth of those feelings.

    Right now I am experiencing the most “down” time in my life. My husband is suffering from severe depression and just recently admitted it and sought help. I feel adrift most days, trying to support him, care for our 3 kids under age 4, and trying to keep this boat afloat. I feel like my hold on my own life is slipping. I feel lost. I feel lonely. I feel overwhelmed.
    But you’re right – sometimes you don’t get a gradual introduction to personal growth. Sometimes it is thrown into your lap and you just have to deal. And that’s where I am. Out here treading water and trying to figure out the life lesson in all this, what will be pulled out of me. This post reminded me that we have all been there, no matter what particular circumstance.
    Happy new year, Kelle.

  29. your pictures from this past year made my heart all mushy Kel…love ya!

  30. Hope you had a wonderful Birthday Kelle and have a fabulous year!

  31. I love your perspective, and often leave your writings encouraged and inspired in one way or another… Even if its just in knowing another sister on this journey is struggling with some of the same things I am! Thanks for being so real, and for giving others permission to be REAL also… Blessings. Jordan

  32. I just caught up one on your last five posts while at work on a quiet Saturday morning with a cup of coffee. What a great way to start the day. I feel inspired. Thank you for always doing that to us. You touch so many lives and I, for one, am forever grateful. Happy Birthday, Happy New Year and Happiness in 2015 to you and your whole family.

  33. Also, I learned so many new songs and artists from you and have a beautiful playlist going from many of your suggestions. Any chance you’re planning to bring back your playlist in 2015? :) If not, feel free to pepper your favorite artists or new songs among your posts :)!!!

  34. Want to wish you a Happy Birthday & Happy New Year…even though I am late!! Thank you for sharing your journey. So glad I stumbled across your blog almost 5 years ago…seems like it was only yesterday that we “met”.
    LOVE from Tejas,

  35. What great photos! Such a sweet family. Love the excitement as the little one in the last picture brings in 2015!

    -Living Chemical Free

  36. Love it! Happy New Year, Happy Birthday and Happy Life!

    Continue your journey and thank you for sharing it so that we may join you and have our eyes opened to our own possibilities.

    Thank you for your gift of inspiration :)

  37. Your pictures always make me so happy! I was updating my blog (finally!) and thought I’d stop by and say Happy 2015 to you and yours!

  38. Hi! I’ve been a “lurker” off and on for years. Honestly, I do more looking at your pictures than I read the posts. :o) The picture of your oldest daughter with the toy camera and “taking” Nella’s picture! That was SO cute! :o) Happy New Year!

  39. These are my favorite posts. I am going to do one just like this right now too.

    No more crying tonight. I am off to search for glitter.

  40. Beautiful.

  41. That bird shirt you are wearing in the picture of you and Nella under a pier! I love it! Where is it from?

  42. Dry Falls in Highlands, NC – I had no idea you were in the area! I live in Cashiers – right down the road from Dry Falls actually. Most beautiful place on earth (WNC) in my opinion. Glad you got to visit this year!

  43. very nice and very interesting
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