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Death’s doorstep

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May and June 2013 042It was the most surreal conversation I have had, ever. Our dear friend and mentor from our college days, Doug Burck, called a few weeks ago to tell us personally that he has his ticket punched to go to heaven and should be heading there in a month or so. With his unique candor and contagious laugh he announced that his kidneys have failed and he only wants to do dialysis for a short time. This is our Doug that keeps us laughing with his stories and jokes, guides us to find God in everything, and has adopted us as his own kids.

So Doug gets to decide when he wants to pull his own plug and board the train to Heaven. And get this. He’s excited about his next adventure. Sure, he’s sad to leave his wife of 30 years behind and all of us who can’t really imagine life without him but he’s so Heavenly minded that he, albeit a bit nervously, looks forward to what’s ahead.

Not many of us get to know that we have 2 weeks left but Doug has been given this gift and with it he’s connecting with every dear friend he has to say goodbye, he’s making things right with others, and he’s savoring every minute with his wife.

He and his wife were our bridge to independence during those fragile college years where you are simultaneously letting go of parents with one hand while reaching towards the unknown of independence with the other. He prided himself in being the pebble in Cory’s shoe, forever challenging him yet he was the gentle salve my troubled heart needed.  He knew how to love each of us, right where we were at. And they continue to bless the next generation as they have poured into our kids as well with yearly reunions that highlight our year.

Tonight we had one of our last conversations (man that’s difficult to type) in which he challenged our son Cade to “be better than me”.  He said, “take what I’ve taught you and go further. If you don’t push to be better than I am than I will feel I failed.” He went on to tell Cade that he sees wisdom in him and he wants him to use that for God’s glory (little did he know that Cade’s name means, “Wise warrior”). He said, “If it’s possible I will greet you at heaven’s door and I want to see that you’re bruised and bloodied from your battles for God and when I ask you if you strived to be better than me, I hope to hear you say ‘yes’.” Big words for a 16-year-old to digest to which Cade tenderly responded, ” I will never forget you. You mean so much to me.”

Such a legacy. He poured into us. He poured into our kids. Open arms. Open heart. Unconditionally accepting. Feisty yet tender. Prodding us ahead to be better, stronger, and to live with integrity.

I know he’s excited but I am not ready to say good-bye. These are the relationships that forever change us, they become part of who we are and live on through us. I am a better person because of him and as we say good-bye I promise, Doug, I will keep striving to love others completely, fully, and tenderly as you do. If only I could master your feisty and rambunctious laugh.



Living Without Walls now available on Paperback!

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By popular demand, Living Without Walls is no longer just a digital book. You can now have you very own copy sitting on your bookshelf. Complete with a recipe section!

Hoping to inspire, Living Without Walls has hit the reading scene with great reviews.

Get your copy on Amazon today!


Six days and counting to the book release

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After many requests since it was first released digitally on Amazon last February, it will be available on paperback on February 1st.

Living without Walls is so much more than a hiking adventure. With refreshing candor and vulnerability, Julie O’Neill shares both the struggles and successes she and her family encounters as they takes on the challenges of the great outdoors. Along the way, she not only conquers her own fears and uncovers her own strengths, but encourages us all to do the same. Her story makes me want to challenge myself to live a healthier life.”

-Jami Carpenter Co-Author and Editor, Education in the Neon Shadow and Westside School: Our School, Our Community, Our Time Executive Producer and Host of Vegas PBS Book Club television show

Why I Am A Fence-Sitter

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priefert-ponderosa-fence-3I struggle today to articulate all the emotions coursing through my veins today for I am a fence sitter. I straddle many worlds of opinions, never firmly landing my feet in any one camp solidly. With all this political rhetoric flying around I feel like it’s my duty to decide on a camp. With theology strongholds being wielded at each other like deadly weapons I just want to duck and leave the game and declare officially, “If this is Christianity, count me out.”

I struggle as I watch the marching women waving signs that say “Love Trumps hate” because I agree, can’t imagine why we all don’t agree and why all camps aren’t walking together. I struggle as I read Facebook posts like this: (this gets graphic so read on knowing you’ve been warned!) “I just heard an interview with a Christian missionary who was at the inauguration. She said that she believed Trump would help our country return to Christian values. Could someone please explain how she might think this? Please. ‘Cuz last time I checked, grabbing pussy was not a Christian value.” This, of course, spawned a lot of logical and rational responses pitting “those that love and accept” against those that don’t (Christians) – these were their words but clearly, Jesus is not being represented as who He is to many onlookers if their conclusions based on a missionary lead them further from Christ. And honestly, this missionaries comment led me further from Christianity too (but I cling to Christ). Perhaps this missionaries comment led Christ further from Christianity.

Because when I read in Matthew: This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ and in 1 Corinthians it elevates love to it’s rightful status on top: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I struggle because if this is how we are to live and breathe and interact with humanity than why all these divided camps?  God really does have great stuff to share with the people of this planet but we are getting in the way and the message is getting distorted and some of us camp cheerleaders are unintentionally preventing the message from being able to change lives like it can so powerfully do. 

I straddle both camps because I want to live a life that lives to glorify God and not myself, that lives to love with open arms whoever you are and whatever you believe, that cares about this planet and how we treat it but also cares about the lesbians that live down the street.   How could the same God that created this planet and created each human life not want us to care about and advocate for these things which he brought forth? (But to believe this keeps me up on my fence).

By choosing to take strong stands in our camps we are missing the point – relationship with each person that crosses our path, genuine conversations, kindness, love, and even acceptance are what matters.  We are so sure we are right (no matter what camp we are in) that we are killing relationships before they can start. We talk to each other to persuade and teach. What ever happened to talking with each other to listen and learn? I can truly learn a new truth, a new perspective, and a new insight from people in all sorts of camps (but learning doesn’t happen if I am talking).

By spouting our strong opinions (such as crazy notions that Republican = Christian or belief in global warming is somehow anti-Christian) we are losing our neighbors because they (and sometimes rightly so) think we are just crazy. We don’t listen well. Because we think we “know” we don’t need to listen. Because we don’t listen we don’t gain friends with anyone but those who think just like us. This way of living makes for deeper trenches between the camps. Bridges burned. Motes with flesh-eating piranhas dividing us.

This week has been hard. It gets a little uncomfortable with two feet dangling on either side of the fence. Conversations so quickly get heated as people from each side spew their rhetoric. From my vantage point, I am staying right where I am because it allows me to have friends from all walks of life, beliefs, and perspectives. I am blessed to have rich conversations with all sorts of people because hopefully, they are feeling safe and not judged to think the way they do. And their ideas add depth to my ever-forming ones. It allows me to love and enjoy people, listen and learn versus converse to try to teach my “obviously correct” position, and hopefully, in the end, shine a little Jesus.

My only belief right now that I can say I know for sure is this: the older I get the more I realize how little I know.

And this belief keeps my ever-ready-to-learn-and-grow-spirit content on my perch on the fence.

Join my campaign!

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So there has been many requests to release Living Without Walls on paperback. It’s been a ton of work but it’s finally almost done!  February 1st, 2017 is the big book release date and I could use your help to get the word out! I have started a campaign with Head Talker. How it works is this: If I get 25 supporters or more, then on February 1st, 2017 my campaign will go LIVE which means, it will send a blast notification to all of your friends on Facebook or Twitter letting them know about the book release. It’s simple.
It does not keep your friends contact information and keep sending anything. It just sends the notice one time. By doing so though, we can reach millions of people, letting them know that my book is available. It’s pretty exciting and so easy to do!
This book has gotten great reviews and feedback so far as it’s more than just my little story about hiking.  Instead, I hope to encourage people to face fears, move forward, and bravely conquer the obstacles in life. It encourages us all to spend less time plugged in and more time with each other. It’s a book about fear, victory, and all of the emotions in between.
SO, if you want to help, join the campaign!  It’s a few easy clicks!
Here’s the back cover synopsis:

With humor and insight, Julie O’Neill chronicles her family’s journey on the John Muir trail in the High Sierras as she battles her inner fears reliving a backpacking adventure turned disaster that almost took her life 16 years earlier. Along the way, she sets a powerful case for children and adults to unplug in nature, in order to reconnect in everyday life, and in Julie’s case, find healing. Living Without Walls convincingly shows that the more high-tech we get, the more we need to take the time to introduce our children—and reintroduce ourselves—to nature and to our very own humanity. Part memoir, part manifesto, Living Without Walls is a testament to the power of nature to tend to the whole person as portrayed in this blazingly honest, entertaining, and savvy account. From Julie’s near-death experience in 1996 that nearly stopped her from setting foot in the wilderness again to the heartwarming moments that come from uninterrupted time as a family on the trail, Living Without Walls will captivate and inspire, as you join the O’Neills in their summer cruising at 2 ½ miles per hour.

Thanks so much for all your support!!

Living Without Walls Available for Pre-orders Now!

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Day 24: Hiking with kids - our 200 mile summer: Comaraderie on the trail

My marketing plan is simple and grassroots!  I am relying on folks like you to spread the word about my new release, a memoir about our family’s 200 miles in the High Sierras. I started this book to answer the question we got so many times, “How do you get your young kids out here for these long trips?” Our daughter is 12 and has clocked over 1000 miles of high Sierra backpacking over the last five summers. It’s a valid question.

But the book that came flowing from my pen, the one that I needed to get out there first before I could answer that original question, seemed to be more a question of how do I get myself out in those remote places? For as I was honest and just noticed the thoughts that occasionally (and sometimes more than occasionally) floated across my mind, I began to realize that anxiety was all too often thrawting my care free spirit.


And, how could I get past this?

Did I want to get past this?

And thus, my first book was born.

Two options for ordering:

  1. On Amazon for your Kindle:
  2. Sample or purchase Living Without Walls on Smashwords:

If you read it, please leave a review and let a friend or two know too! I’d greatly appreciate it!

Happy trails,