Turn your face to the sun

Nov 07

Turn your face to the sun

My years at university were some of my favorites; I was blessed with a very high return on investment in college in terms of personal development, and I look back on those people and that place with great fondness.  During my long walks to my classes, I began to develop the habit of turning my face to the sun: to feel the warmth on my skin, to pause for a moment of reflection or gratitude, to experiences a moment of being wholly present, to pray.  It is, I think, part of the historical groundwork for my current mental game: look for the good, do today well, be present, seek joy, and be grateful.  “Turn your face to the sun” is a phrase I tell myself and kids when they need a moment or are having a moment.  It’s a practical tool, and one I use often.

It was five years ago today that I woke up from my first lung surgery to hear the news from the flustered recovery room nurse who leaned in to hear what I was trying to ask her as I awoke from anesthesia: my cancer is back.  It has metastasized.  It is now a life-long condition that will likely take my life.  Five years.  Wow!  I love my life.

I spent the day before that surgery (and, arguably every day since that surgery) doing my best to live my best life, to turn my face to the sun.  On November 6th, 2013 with Brad at work for the day and the kids off school, a girlfriend and I took our kids to Miami University to reminisce, play in the leaves, and revel in hope for the day.  I needed a distraction so that I wouldn’t think about the surgery and it’s implications, and I wanted to do something special with my kids.  We made the forty-five minute drive to Oxford in her minivan with two strollers and our five kids.  And we’ve done it every year since.  Yesterday was our sixth consecutive Election Tuesday in Oxford (and we always come home to vote!)  Our kids are five years apart from oldest (hers) to youngest (mine), and this year we asked them what they want to do: “Oxford, or do something else?”  All five voted to continue our tradition so we figure we have effectively brainwashed them.  Here are some future Miamians, classes of 2028, 2029, 2031, and 2033.



A little more 2013 cuteness, you say?

The first Tuesday in November is a normal school day for the Miami students and we definitely get some odd looks as we galavant around town.  Sometimes it’s cold, sometimes we’re in t-shirts because Ohio.  The leaves are always gorgeous and crunching underfoot.  We generally play at the uptown park, eat at Bagel n Deli for lunch (all our kids have their orders memorized), walk to South Quad and rub the turtles for luck, go to the student union for ice cream, see the seal, check out Upham arch, play in the leaves, and walk the Slant Walk.  It’s pretty much the full Miami experience.  We lost a football to a tree, some skin to the sidewalks, a frisbee to an arbor, and we leave our mark wherever we go.


You can see me and my varied hair situation over the years:


I clearly went to a nostalgic place as I reviewed photos from our past adventures.  It’s hard to believe it was “only” five years ago that Greta had that spiky ponytail and Maren still had a little lisp when she spoke certain words.

Contrary to what you may think, I don’t long for those days gone by: we rocked those days.  We couldn’t do them any better if we tried, and I am grateful we live fully and richly and well.  My memory sweeps over and through those days with smiles.

But we live and celebrate in the present.  There is no looking over the shoulder and we try not to look around the curves ahead.  Do today well; it’s a small goal, but it returns a big reward in terms of loving the life I live.

My diagnosis and my prognosis alters my thinking from many of my peers.  So many of my friends want time to stop and for their babies to stop getting bigger.  I am probably the only mom I know who does the opposite.  I think, “Come on Time.  Hurry up.  I want to see it all.  There’s so much more to come I can’t wait to see what is next in this beautiful, wild and wonderful life.”

Here’s to hoping for many more smiles, many more memories, and may we do it all with our faces turned towards the sun.  Five years.  And counting!  I am blessed beyond measure.


  1. Oh how your words warm my heart. Such loveliness. ?❤

  2. Lisa Smith /

    Love you Jen. My fav memory of Miami with you was coming to visit freshman year and taking you to Wendy’s where you celebrated ‘Real Food!’ Do you remember that? No idea why this sticks in my memory but it does. It’s been a full five years and I celebrate with you, my hugely inspirational friend. Xoxo

  3. Lindsay /

    Love you and love that friend whom you share this fun tradition with!

  4. You’re continuasly amazing. I aim to do better because of you.

  5. Kathi Roth /


  6. Karin Eppert /

    I love how you love! These blogs are snapshots in time as well – what a gift they are. 🙂 Love you.

  7. What a fabulous day and tradition! A day well spent. You have taught them well and I love that the kids chose Miami for Election Day. Love how the kids are posed the same in the group photo too…it really highlights the growth in 5 years! Thank you for the perspective on time with kids and the challenge to live today the best I can.

  8. Kim Rourke /

    Love. This!!! Live fully, richly, and well… I am taking this phrase with me today and making it my focused purpose! ?

  9. Peggy Wolfe /

    Love all the pictures…so many fun memories. You certainly do everyday well!

  10. Lorrie /

    I was inspired by your words, but behind those words I saw such strength and joy that only can be born out of a love for life and gratitude for the beauty of each day. May God continue to bless you and give you joy and an abundant long life.
    A Bible passage comes to mind: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cusing; choose LIFE that you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days and that you will live long in the land.”
    You have chosen well!
    God bless!
    Lorrie Hansen

  11. Bonnie B Jackson /

    Jen, what beautiful memories and of course, I love the Miami photos ?. Your face to the sun is much like my ” Sticking your face out the window like a dog does…So Happy ” love you!!

  12. Kris S. /

    What an amazing tradition! We were there last week; my parents are “Miami Mergers” and have both passed away. My mother had a donation to Miami in her will, so we had a tree planted outside of McGuffey Hall, as they were both education majors. It was the first time I had been on campus in forever and it was simply beautiful. And the tree with the plaque for my parents was icing on the cake. Keep on facing the sun!

  13. Jen,
    Praying in Va. Taking your challenge to Do Today Well.
    God sees you and your family.

  14. Fran Brock /

    Jen thank you for keeping us up dated.
    Always look forward to DO TODAY WELL.
    You are such a GREAT WRITER
    Thinking of You and your family always
    Fran Brock

  15. Praying, praying, praying. 50 years!

  16. It’s so true what you say–once cancer has taken an unwelcome place at the table, it alters your thinking. I wish I could have learned the lesson of living in the present without it (!) but such is the human condition.

    You remain in my prayers.

  17. Another Jen /

    <3 <3 <3

  18. Your memory-making with the kids is inspiring, and the legacy you have created for them (and us!) in “Do Today Well” makes us all better people.

  19. Prayers for you to have many more wonderful days!

  20. Cindy Mitchell /

    Jen, thank your for your amazing memories you have at Miami University.. I love your photos.. Man time does fly by fast..Cheers to you for being a strong awesome Mom, wife,friend and being who you are today..We just take one day at time and pray we have many tomorrows..My prayers are with you, your family and friends.Take care and in touch.

  21. What an awesome tradition! Miami is such a beautiful place! I love your dedication to truly doing every day well. You inspire me. Love to you all.