Saturday, December 14, 2013

Elizabeth and Advent

This afternoon I was waiting on a friend in Old Salem.  We were *finally* going to attend the Candle Tea together.  While I'm ashamed that it's taken me 11 years of living in Winston to go, I won't throw her under the bus and point out that this was her first time in 19 years.  (See what I just did there?)

As I was waiting, the line behind me grew and an older woman kept saying "Elizabeth!  Elizabeth!"  She was calling to her daughter who had let her out of the car and gone to park.  Later, her Elizabeth went off to the bakery in search of Sugar Cake, and her mom again called out to her "Elizabeth!  Elizabeth!" We shared a moment- as strangers tend to do with people named Waldrup- and began to talk about names.

My sweet Elizabeth's name was on the forefront of my mind as our time came for the Tea and we were admitted to the Single Brother's house.  Much to my surprise, I came face to face with one of the best parts of my 2013- a friend that I gained through my grief group this summer.  She was playing the part of hostess today, so we grabbed only a quick moment to speak, but the hug from my soul sister on this journey was both sacred and life-giving.

It wasn't until we were downstairs that my mind wandered back to my friend... and I spent time thinking of her sweet daughter who I never had the joy to meet.  Her precious girl- Elizabeth- was taken from this world as a teenager.  Seeing my friend living out loud years past her daughter's death is awe-inspiring and hope-producing.  Seeing someone who keeps her daughter's life alive to those she meets as well as who is honest with the pain and the grief... that... that is real.

We eventually entered a room in which the Nativity was laid before us- both in word and in sight.  I have shared with those close to me this year (and now I share with all of you) that 2013 has been a tough year for me spiritually.  I have sought wise counsel, given myself grace, and am daily working through my confusion and frustration with a God who is Big Enough to handle all of that.  I have worked through my anger with how His People care for one another- and some of the hurtful things that we say all while using His Name as power.

Yet as I found myself in front of the Nativity, I was again drawn to Elizabeth.

We chose to name our daughter Elizabeth because of the connection we felt to Biblical women who struggled with fertility.  Elizabeth in the New Testament- cousin of Mary (mother of Jesus)- shows up and we are told her story.  And a lot of her story is told in relation to the story of Jesus.  When Mary came to tell Elizabeth that she was pregnant, this is the account according to Luke:

39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

As Elizabeth is pregnant with her own child, that has nothing to do with her response to Mary.  Unlike so many women (present company included) I know, her response was not "YAY!  We can have babies together!!"  Her response was genuine joy for her cousin, reverence for being the presence of God, and admiration of Mary for her faith.

And in the midst of trials of faith and dark nights of the soul- that is what a I long for.  I long for someone to look at my life and say the words "You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what He said."  While I am not there in this moment, I look to Elizabeth for encouragement.  She was a woman who knew her God, and a woman who loved her family well because of it.

In these last few days in which we celebrate the Advent- the coming of Christ- I wish for us all to have a true encounter with Jesus.  While I don't know lots about how God works- I know that His son is good and kind and generous to those He loves.

And lucky for us all- we are those that He loves.

Oh come, let us adore Him.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Giving Grace: a Hall Pass for the Holidays

Just before Christmas 2005, Dan and I were in the waiting room of our Fertility Clinic awaiting yet another round of "trying."  I had been a regular in this room for months by this point, so not much of the reading material was new... except for a pamphlet they had out that talked about "Protecting Your Heart During the Holidays."  I read through it and felt as though someone understood our struggle.  It talked about giving yourself grace during a season that could be potentially difficult.  It mentioned giving yourself permission to skip walking by the Santa in the mall and seeing all the happy families with sweet babies waiting to see him.  It went as far as to say that if being around your own niece and nephews would be too hard, to excuse yourself from that year's holiday celebration.  While I was not about to walk away from our family's traditions, I imagined that having that "hall pass" was helpful to some people even further down the road than we were.

The "protecting your heart" theme has run rampant in my life in the last 2 years, and especially since we lost our baby in April.  I have had conversations with friends who have new precious children in their lives and apologized that I've not been in a place where I've been able to love upon them yet.  I've struggled with buying baby gifts- not at all because I begrudge them their happiness, but because at moments I've still been drowning in our own sorrow.  Friends who were due the same time I was, in full disclosure, were hard for me to see.  As their baby bellies grew and then became amazing miracles in their families, all that was growing for me was the vacant space in my heart.

Through the years, that brochure has popped back into my mind on occasion.  There have been moments that while they are non-baby related, I've relied on those same words.  In 2010, I was about six weeks out from losing my Stepmother to cancer, and I found myself stuck in a room where people were making jokes about death and dying.  I piped in and asked if we could change the subject.  I'm sure that it was not intentional, but my pain from that recent loss wasn't on the forefront of their minds.  They continued a discussion about "donating (someone's) body to science"... at which point I left the room.  In that moment, rather than lash out at those speaking, I instead needed to excuse myself.  Grace.

Pain seems to hover just at the surface of the holidays for so many people.  I remember one Christmas Party my family hosted in the early 90's- a friend came who had recently lost her husband.  My Mom was playing "The Carpenters' Christmas Album", and "I'll Be Home For Christmas" came on.  Very gently and tactfully, our friend asked my Mom to skip that song.  When Mom skipped ahead to "Merry Christmas, Darling" and saw a similar look of pain in our friend's eyes, she jumped ship and moved on to The Beach Boys instead.

So with all of that hurt ready to erupt during "the most wonderful time of the year", I give you your very own hall pass.  While you may not need to use it now, please understand that someone in your life might... and please accept their pass with grace and and understanding of all that it took to have them present it to you.

-Too hard to be around kids because you find yourself longing for one or missing one of your own?  Say no to the activity that will cause yourself pain.  The kindhearted people who invited you will understand your need to miss a year.

- Miss your spouse/partner/ex so much it hurts? Skip the "Couples Only" event where there will be lots of laughter and memories shared in lieu of some pampering just for yourself.

- Can't be around certain family members because they say hurtful things?  Excuse yourself from those painful situations.  It's okay.  They're family.

- Don't feel like hosting even though you always do and people expect it?  Let someone else take on that burden this year.  Shoot, go out to eat for once!  It's one year- people will survive.

- Just don't think you can handle one more sad holiday at home?  As a wise friend said to me last week- "I knew I'd be sad at Christmas, so I told my husband I'd rather be somewhere sad... and WARM."  Take off!  Get out of town!  Or even take a day trip to get you out of that memory drenched location.

- Old traditions too hard to handle because someone won't be there?  Make new traditions!  One of my favorite holiday traditions- our neighborhood Christmas party- was started because my Dad had just moved out and Mom wanted to do something fun and new.  She succeeded... even with the occasional music fail.

Now one caveat in the way of a warning: just like "Baby Blues", sometimes "Holiday Blues" are a much deeper seated issue.  Rather than just escape or hide or run- if you are at a place of significant pain, please get professional help.  Don't know who to talk to?  Message me- I have good connections with some mental health professionals.

Protect your heart this Christmas.  Use the Hall Pass when you need to.  Accept the Hall Pass when it's given to you.  Give grace, receive grace.

And God bless us... everyone.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


In 2010, I started taking cues from my friend Gina and posting a daily "Top 5" of things I enjoyed about my day on Facebook.  This was after that random tumor surgery, and while I sat on the couch feeling sorry for myself all day, I needed some mental redirection.  Like most things, after a while I stopped.  It wasn't that I was less mindful of my Top 5, it was that I began to feel I was bogging down my News Feed.  After Daddy died last year, Dan pointed out that he thought it was time again to start focusing on my Top 5... there was so much sadness, I needed to remind myself of the good in my little corner of the world.

When I brought back the Top 5, I got several private messages about how others "needed" to see them... that they encouraged their children/spouses/friends to do the same... and how a mental redirection was just what they needed, too.

This week, I had the pleasure of hearing a friend speak at my church about the same idea- choosing gratitude.  My friend, Peggy, shared her story of a bike accident in which she was hit by a motorist and left in a wheelchair for months- during which time her mother and several friends died.  Like my own story, grief upon grief can wear a person down.  But Peggy chose gratitude- she said from the first moments in the ER, she began focusing on what was good in her life and even in her unfortunate situation.  (She also noted later, btw, that she does a "Top 5" of her own in her journal each morning.)

Peggy's talk stirred up my own desire to re-visit my daily Top 5.  My last couple of months have been wrecked with grief, disappointment, frustration, and exhaustion.  But they also have been blessed with homecomings, laughter, shared meals, warm hugs, and joy.  I have shared snipits of these moments on Facebook, but more importantly I have gathered my gratitude in my heart.

One would think that with the "November 30 Days of Thankfulness" trend on the interwebs, that I'd be all over that.  I actually have never done it- not because I'm one of the people who is opposed to it (although the people who are the complainers 335 other days of the year who lead with "I'm thankful for the happiness I've found in Jesus" do crack me up), but because I kinda feel like I overwhelm my News Feed with it the rest of the year (see above.)  But given Peggy's gentle prompting this week- I feel compelled to share some of the great things in this brutiful life of mine with my dear Reader Friends.

Gratitude: November 2013 Edition (not in order of importance, lest any of you get offended easily)
1. Half Price bottles of wine a dear friends with which to share them.
2. Papas and Beer
3. Whimsical Women
4. A super fun Barenaked Ladies concert
5. Finally meeting the Barenaked Ladies at that super fun concert
6. My Book Club
7. Someone else offering to "throw me a party" for the first time in years
8. Upcoming weddings
9. Upcoming vacations
10. Reconnecting with old friends
11. Pumpkin Beer, Jaime style
12. Blogger dates
13. Working out- the biggest surprise of what I'm grateful for, because I've never EVER had that on a list
14. Watching E get so excited about babysitters
15. Date nights
16. Scandal
17. Buffalo wings
18. Upcoming holidays
19. Finding Daddy's coffee mug at Mom's house
20. My new planner
21. That Bunko got reborn
22. Movie dates
23. Planning showers to love on friends
24. Knowing that I have a Laurie Date on my calendar
25. Good books
26. New makeup
27. Good pens- including my new Dry Erase markers
28. Coffee
29. Our bus stop. Most of the time.
30. Short hair.

I've had 30(+) things this month (and last) that bring me joy... that make me pause in gratitude... and that take my mind off of the hurt.  And, as Peggy pointed out, there are still days with lots of moments of me wanting to scream out "God- I WANT MY OLD LIFE BACK!"... but in the moments in which I am thankful, I can enjoy this brutiful space where I am.

I am blessed.

And I am full of thanks.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bradshaw Lane

I've been a little MIA on the interwebs lately.  It seems that the stress of selling Mom's house has caught up with my body and I'm still fighting a week long cold.  As I shared some of my last few weeks with someone today, it's no wonder that I'm sick... my body just couldn't keep going at the pace I was pushing it.  So I'm going to allow myself to slowly process where we've been and where we're going.  For now, I'll share with you the note I left the owners of Mom's new place.  Warning: it's lengthy...  And a bit sappy.
Congratulations on your new house!  I hope that it quickly becomes your home and that you fall in love with 11 Bradshaw Lane like we did.  Not to force my story upon you, but I thought I would tell you a bit about it’s history...

My parents bought the house from Walt and Becky McCullough in the early 70’s.  I’m not sure if Walt and Becky were the original owners.  One of their 3 children, Natalie, was my Sunday School teacher when I was in Middle School and shared with me which of her siblings had what bedroom.

My brother, Chris, was a toddler when they moved from Woodfin and I was brought home from the hospital to my bedroom (the one beside the master) in December of 1975.  I never had another home growing up- nor did I ever switch bedrooms.  I left Candler for college in 1994, and only came home a few summers after that.  Around 2000, Mom turned my room into a den.  (My brother’s room- the one beside the hall bathroom- stayed a bedroom during our tenure here.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.)

My Daddy was responsible for the fabulous backyard at your new home.  He landscaped the steps- I often played wedding there and dreamed of my own backyard wedding.  I ended up not getting married there, but as you watch the light come in through the trees in the mornings, you’ll see why I was enraptured by the beauty of the woods.  He put in a hammock- complete with a spotlight which would be blinding to unsuspecting teenagers, and which only was turned on if a “warning” needed to be shared.  The swings he built were my respite- and I still would swing on them even through high school.  The Pièce de résistance in the yard, though, is the treehouse.  My Daddy and Papaw built that around 1980.  I helped by bringing them glass after glass of grape Kool-aid.  My brother and I played in it, my Daddy escaped to it, and it became a sought out location for (only the bravest of friends) summertime sleepovers- complete with spiders.

The house itself is full of great rooms and wonderful memories.  The room beside my brother’s was our Playroom that became a Computer Room that became a sort of Guest Room later in life.  My Mom worked in I.T., so were were one of the first families to have a PC at home.  My brother’s friends monopolized that during their visits.  I spent hours developing my skills on King’s Quest and Frogger, then later began using the computer to type letters to my pen pal in Wisconsin and as I toyed with my growing love affair of writing.

Mom and Daddy’s room housed a king sized bed which all 4 of us would pile on during special Saturday mornings.  Daddy would bring our portable black and white TV from the kitchen, put it on their dresser, adjust the antenna, and we’d watch Bugs Bunny while snuggled beneath their green blankets.  It was under those same blankets- and any others we could get our hands on- where Mom and I burrowed deep during the Blizzard of 93.  Our house was without power for days and got ridiculously cold.  (And boring.)  Ultimately, we were taken by sled (with the help of neighbors) to a nearby house on Monte Vista with a generator so that I could have a breathing treatment... and the best dinner of Shake and Bake chicken that I’ve ever eaten.  Nearly a week of canned peaches and Ritz crackers will make Shake and Bake taste like a 5-star meal.

The bathroom in the Master was Daddy’s- his smell of cologne, hair spray, and (gasp!) cigarettes is one that will bring tears to my eyes when I catch it now at certain bars.  (For the record, he started smoking outside in about 1983 when my pulmonary specialist “suggested” that maybe smoking around his highly asthmatic daughter wasn’t the best idea.)  When he moved out in 1989, Mom took over the bathroom and the scent changed to one of Ultima II makeup, Windsong powder, and Vaseline lotion.  

Mom had the bathrooms redone shortly after Daddy left.  Those bizarre low and quiet toilets were all the rage in 1990.  My friends loved coming in the bathroom and just flushing to watch it work.  My brother and I shared the hall bathroom at that point- I had the drawers on the right, his were on the left.  Our bathroom began to smell of curling irons and crimpers, Rave hairspray, LA Looks gel, and whatever girlie perfume was popular in that moment.  Chris left for college in 1991, so his scent never had a chance to permeate that room like all of the ones I enlisted to make my high school years perfect.

And speaking of those teen years, the downstairs den was the ideal location not only for sleepovers, but for tucking away with boyfriends in hopes not to be seen from upstairs.  There was only one spot where we could hide completely, so that was the spot we best not be in as Mom walked by on her security patrols upstairs.  I spent hours down there watching Monty Python with friends, watching my first presidential debates, and sitting by the fireplace on snow days.  Not to mention the time out on the patio porch swing- the exact location of silly homemade videos with best friends or stolen kisses with boys I haven’t seen in 20 years.

Our living room and dining room were revered in our family to be “special” rooms just for company.  We spent time in there on holidays or whenever we had visitors.  Our Christmas tree went front and center in the living room’s window and I spent tons of time mesmerized by it’s lights and by the train that encircled it’s base.  As we got older, we were “allowed” more time in those rooms and I enjoyed feeling so grown up as I would sit and read in the living room.  The one exception made when I was younger was that I was allowed in to practice piano.  Which I still wish I had listened to my mother and not stopped taking lessons.  

The woods surrounding the house lend themselves to unlimited exploration and enjoyment all throughout my childhood.  In the spring, little red berries and purple violets appeared to take over and bring life back from a dark winter.  Chris and I picked flowers, played spy, and developed our own Terabithia within the walls of the limbs.  We ran through the field behind the house and played in the creek- furthering my love of nature and developing my “non-wussy-girl” status among the neighborhood boys.  We explored and played together in the spring, summer, and fall and sledded together through the winter.

And speaking of winter- one quick suggestion: My Daddy planted bamboo as a privacy barrier between our house and the one next door.  On snowy days, the bamboo will bow down under the weight of snow and ice.  It’s beyond a pain to lift each stalk and pull your car out, but without that, the bamboo will break.  I’d suggest cutting it back before it turns so cold you have to deal with that inconvenience.  

I hate that because of the later stages of my Mom’s illness and her departure from the house that the “grounds” weren’t presented to you in their best state.  While the house is wonderful, the yard and woods will cause you to fall in love with your home.  I hope that as the Easter Bush blooms this spring and you are able to entertain on the deck, you’ll see glimpses of all of the egg hunts and cookouts and parties and memories as they float around you.

And my room.  While now the closet space leaves a lot to be desired, back in the day there was nothing I didn’t like about my room.  I apologize if the door isn’t in the best shape- it was slammed many times in teenage angst.  It was covered in bumper stickers (Ollie North for President!) and posters (Michael Jackson and Michael J. Fox to name a few.)  It was my respite from parents who didn’t understand me, from parents who separated, from a brother who annoyed his little sister, and an escape to spend hours on the phone with friends.  It was where I sat and journaled and read.  Where I laid in bed sick.  Where I grew up.  And before all that it was where I would climb up on my green toybox and look out the window waiting for Daddy to come home for lunch- a midweek treat.  I’d open the window all summer long (you’ll note that air conditioning only arrived a few years ago) and smell the scent of the woods and hear the call of the birds each day.  I’d nearly burn down the house there as I played with matches in second grade- and then proceed to lie about it to my Mom while she could see the paper smoldering in the trash can.  It’s the same room where I first began reading the Bible and started to figure out for myself what I believed.  And, ultimately, it was the same room where I sat at the desk and typed my Daddy’s obituary last year.  That room holds my memories, my tears, and part of my heart.

I hope that you will love this house nearly half as much as we do.  If you look at it from the driveway, it almost appears to smile.  My mother continues to ask about her home (as she constantly wants to return there and doesn’t understand that her Assisted Living transition is permanent.)  We always tell her that we’re sure that things are “fine” in Candler and that her house is okay without her there.  It’s my hope that as we continue to tell her that when she asks that her house would be more than just “fine”.  My hope for you is that her house... your house... will be quite wonderful.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Happy Birthday, Janer.

The summer after 9th grade, I was granted the privilege of taking my best friend to the beach with us for our family vacation.  That week stands out in my mind quite a bit... we were days away from getting our Golden Retriever and while laying on the beach we decided that we would name her "Sandy"... we made numerous trips to the post office on Hilton Head so that my BFF could send letters to her boyfriend... and that same BFF nicknamed my mother "Janer".

22 years later, my heart smiles when I remember "Janer".

My mother was and is the smartest woman I've ever met.  She spent her career managing people in the information technology world- something that was groundbreaking as she entered that field out of college.  College, by the way, that she attended and earned a degree in 3 short years.  With all A's, except for a pesky "C" in swimming.  She married her high school sweetheart who may not have been the World's Best Choice for her... but he sure made her laugh back in the day.

She struggled for years to have children and celebrated like crazy when she had my brother.  His baby shoes- both bronzed and the bright red pair- were saved in her cedar chest along with a maternity dress. I found those this week while I cleaned out her house... along with some baby outfits, *more* baby shoes, baby keepsakes, and baby pictures... all of the treasures of being rewarded the desires of her heart.

Three years after having my brother, she had me.  If she could she would tell you that I was a perfect child- no lie- which quickly changed when I became a teenager.  From the moment I began thinking that my mother didn't understand anything (and that I was right on so many things), our relationship changed until the point I realized that she just might be right after all.  I cringed every time I heard her sigh and say "Oh, Becky..."-- yet I realized after looking at each church bulletin, school newspaper, award, and card that I ever sent her that I filled her life with more pride than disappointment... regardless of how it may have seemed in those turbulent teenage years.

I developed a love of travel from Janer-- Hilton Head, Europe, Canada, New York... I saw them all through the lens of vacation with the best of intentions to enjoy every moment.  Our last "big" trip together was to celebrate my 30th birthday.  Her attention to details (and handwritten lists) made me roll my eyes at the time... I wanted her to "wing it" in moments when she couldn't... and now I see that time as one of the last big gifts she would be able to give me.

We started noticing her illness early- when you are that smart and that "with it", it is startling when things start to "slip."  Gently I tried to talk to her about getting help, but because of the walls broken down by disease, that wasn't possible.  Nearly 2 years ago we intervened in a big way, and almost a year ago we moved her to an Assisted Living site in town so that she could receive the care she needed.

Daily I struggle with how my mother has become another person.  Dementia is a horrible, horrible affliction and robs people of their identity.  Daily I want "more" for her... and I live with the doubt and guilt and sadness that comes with all of our decisions.  Over the next week I will finish up cleaning out my childhood home (the only house I ever lived in until college) and will officially end my mother's chapter in Asheville.  And because of that, I weep.

But today.... today is her birthday.  Today we will celebrate.  In a few short hours my house will be filled with family and friends.  We will have a luncheon and eat some of my mom's favorite foods.  I called her late yesterday to prepare her for the crowd- thanks to her caretakers, we had determined a plan that would allow her to be "ready" to see people and not be alarmed.  When I told her, she nearly squealed with excitement (if she was the type of person who squealed, that is.)  And in "old" Janer fashion, she said, "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone you told me.  I'll act surprised."

Who knows how she will be today- whether it will actually be a surprise for her or not.  Who knows if she will remember all the people here.  But I do know this: she will be surrounded with those who knew her as she grew up playing the piano, being the valedictorian, climbing the corporate ladder, as she was raising two children, and was a wonderful mother and grandmother... just by being Janer.

I wish you all had had the chance to know her then- but even if not, those here today could tell you story after story about what an amazing person she was....

... and still is.

I love you, Mom.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

the wonder of it all.

Today was a day for the books.  I nailed it.  I was so productive that I'm about to get in bed... and it's not even 7:00 yet.

Apart from my productivity (which I now refuse to document on here, lest I jinx my life) (and yes, I may be a wee bit superstitious from past experience), today stood out because of the roller-coaster-ness of it all.

Our pre-bus time was great this morning.  E woke up on the right side of the bed (surprisingly, since she went to bed so super late) and we enjoyed a cooked breakfast before school.  Cooked Breakfast doesn't always happen.  There's usually cereal, and 80% of the time she's finishing it at the bus stop.  But this morning, we had time- shower and all- for her to enjoy a more filling option.

I came in from the bus stop feeling my "I nailed it" High and got on Facebook.  Within moments I learned the tragic news that my home church family was hurting.  Death is never easy, especially when it's one so young.  My heart plummeted into the "there is so much sadness in this world" realm... I am grieving with you, Hominy Baptist.

I worked on uploading the pictures that my friend John had sent of items in my Mom's house.  Rather than head home to take pictures of items we have for sale, I emailed one of my oldest friends and asked him for a favor.  As I uploaded pictures, I was comforted by the love I've gotten from my second family... the past 2 years (and the 35 before that) when I've needed something they have been the first to arrive with helping hands.  I can only imagine that E will have that same kind of connection with one of her oldest friends, too.  Preschool connections are beautiful... we both are blessed to have them.

Thankfully, I've had lots of friends check in on me as I've posted details about closing up my Bradshaw Lane world.  While Monday threw me for a loop, today was less rough as I went about details about moving.  And as people started buying furniture, I knew that it was a blessing that the first 3 pieces to go were purchased by people I love so much.  One by my 2nd grade best friend, one by my high school BFFs sister (and the older sister that I coveted), and one by someone who is one of Mom's caretakers here.  It feels like Doing Good to pass things on to loved ones and not "just" selling them at a yard sale.  (But we're not above that.  Need some random furniture?  Let me know!)

I left that task feeling accomplished and encouraged and went on to my main task of the day.  Part of it was overwhelming, part of it was thrilling to finally have some organization to a previously messy part of my life.  And during it, a message popped up that one of my besties got AMAZING news today regarding her adoption process.  Such beauty in the midst of sadness.

I then went into full on Business Mode and made more phone calls on Mom's behalf... I am thankful to have time in my day to knock these things out.  They aren't "fun", but as I've said before, I feel like I'm honoring her life by taking good care of her affairs.

Shortly after (yes, the day went that fast) a sweet first grader ran off the bus full of stories of today's field trip.  We enjoyed catching up while I fixed dinner.  And then my sum-total of today hit me.  I was standing over the oven- looking at what I was cooking.  Normally, my meals "make sense" and fit together nicely.  We usually have dishes that would make sense in a menu-planning session.  But tonight's meal didn't.  Without thinking much about it, I prepared my Daddy's spaghetti sauce and my Mom's broccoli casserole.  I've never made those two dishes together- usually we'd have a salad or steamed broccoli if anything.  But tonight it felt right.  And I'm not surprised.  Sometimes, even your subconscious needs a little bit of home and it comes out in comfort food.

While we ate dinner tonight, I reflected on the sadness- and the happiness- of my day.  Broccoli casserole and spaghetti may not go together, but neither do tragic death and joyful adoptions.  Neither do Power of Attorney work and making chocolate chip pancakes.  Well, we don't seem to think they go together... but in this twisted up world we live in, they do.  I won't try to explain it... at this point I won't even try to understand it... but sometimes dishes go together and life goes together and emotions go together and it all just happens.

Monday, September 23, 2013

September 24, 2013- #dogood

I made some new friends last week and attempted to explain "Do Good" to them.  I told them that it started as a saying from my Daddy, but has become so much more.  That made me have to go back and explain a bit about who my Daddy was, and to tell that he died last year.

This was met with the usual condolences.  It was followed up with "How is your Mom handling that?" Well, I often say, my parents were divorced.  My Mom actually lives in Winston now (yay!) as she is battling dementia.  (ugh.)  My Daddy had remarried (yay!) by my stepmother passed away in 2010 with breast cancer. (ugh.)  I don't always give all of those details... because my life sounds too much like a freakshow.  But those details are real and are part of this messed up world in which we live.

On this blog, I have shared loads of my pain for all 3 of those events.  I have shared how I have responded to those hurts- the good and bad ways I've attempted to continue.  I've also shared our most recent loss- the loss of a child we won't know until heaven.

And all of that sadness can make one weary.

This weekend, I read a book about someone else's loss... and the negative ways in which they responded to pain.  I read it while I was snuggled up next to a sleeping almost-7-year-old and was caught in what I believe to be a holy moment.  With her peaceful breathing setting the tempo for my heart, I had a near epiphany of the beauty and goodness in my life.  So often weighed down by what I have lost, I have neglected what I still have.  And Lord knows I've learned that we are not promised tomorrow... so I am committing to see the beauty more than the pain.

I am thankful for so many of you joining our attempt to Do Good this week.  While it typically is better to Do that Good anonymously, I'd be encouraged to hear your stories.  If you feel like sharing, post them with the hashtag #dogood on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.  Or comment here.  Or send me a message.  I love that I feel like I'm watching a movement and not a memorial.  And I love that your stories prompt others to join that movement.  There is so much Good to be Done.  No more focusing on what is lost, let us focus on what is ahead.

I'll be compiling some of those Do Good moments for my next post.  Check back here at the end of the week and be encouraged yourself.

Do Good, y'all.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Doing (some more) Good

Yesterday, one of my best friends asked me if I was dreading next week.  Wholeheartedly I said yes.  Tuesday, one week from right now, will be my Daddy's birthday and my due date- all wrapped up in one hard day.  Those anticipated events would arrive with little fanfare if I would allow it... but y'all know that's not how we roll.

Before this most recent loss, we lost two other babies.  Their due dates came and went- "celebrated" and remembered by Dan and me.  We would cry- longing to have a child, yet never knowing if we would have one.  I wasn't yet in a place where I felt I had words to express to others what that pain was like- so I smothered it all deep down in my dark places and became a wounded heart.

The loss of this baby is different.  This baby was so loudly celebrated at his or her "arrival" into our lives that it feels only necessary to celebrate the due date, too.  We knew this baby in more intimate ways- we had names picked out, plans made, nurseries nearly assembled.  We were unable to discover the gender, but when I think about our child, I tend to think it was a girl.  I didn't have strong feelings about gender with the others, but maybe it was because I was so closely tied to the girl name that when I think of what she (he?) would be like, I see her as female.

This summer as Dan's aunties were loving on us, we talked about the fact that when I get to heaven, I'll have four children. FOUR. What the what.  I understand that many of my friends have more than that now- but in my earthly home, I only have ONE.  Four will be a huge leap.... thankful that I'll be surrounded by God's glory and not need to worry about raising four children!!

So as we anticipate the 24th and mourn her due date- as well as my Daddy's birthday- we are turning our thoughts away from our own sadness and hurt and looking toward the needs of others.

That day, we are asking some local friends to join us for lunch and to join us in Doing Good.  Our hope is that we will surround ourselves with the people who have supported us mightily in the last several years, enjoy being a community, and take care of the needs of others.  In my email invitation to my Tribe, I asked them to consider Doing Good by one of the following:

- Donating gift cards (that we will in turn distribute as needs arise)
- Give to Meadowlark Meals- a backpack program that helps feed at risk children at our local school
- Donating toward a childhood cancer charity.  (I'd love to recommend this one.)
And, since that initial email was sent, a friend has taken on the task of sending supplies to friends affected by the flooding in Colorado. Maybe you'll donate to that need?

Or maybe there's another need near you that you feel compelled to support... if not, I'd love to help you find one.  As I have said before, in the last 500+ days, some of the times I have felt the most "whole" have been when I've been taking care of the needs of others and not my own.  This is the heartbeat of the Do Good "movement", and it's my hope that you will join us in intentionally Doing Good on September 24th.

What a lovely tribute it would be to my own Daddy, his grandchild, and our community.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

hard days and tough battles

Overall, we're doing fine.

Overall, we are blessed.

Overall, we have more good days than bad.

BUT... sometimes there are days like today that knock you back a bit.

There are days when the grief of the world around you- recounting tragedy from a horrific moment in our nation's history- takes you down a slippery slope of sadness.

There are moments when you see pregnant women or new babies in passing and realize that you are a mere 13 days away from your due date... and all of that hurt bubbles up to the surface again.

There are times when loving friends around you ask the innocent question, "How are you doing?", and you answer honestly... with tears and truth flowing faster than you can wipe them up.

There are afternoons when you are left making hard decisions about your mother's long term care and you are just sick of being a grown-up.  And in that same afternoon you get sucked in to the vortex of sadness over her condition and you miss your old mom and you just want to go back to a time when she rocked you in that big (ugly?) yellow chair.

There are times when you can't remember something from your family's history and you want to pick up the phone to ask your dad... only to have your heart leap in your throat as you remember.

And there are weeks when you fall out of a healthy routine because of a ridiculous injury that occurred after cutting an avocado and unintentionally stabbing your hand and needing stitches.  So you sit on the couch and allow yourself one more Fresh Prince episode and spiral down toward self-pity and frustration.

And days like this are real.  And are painful.  Both literally and physically thanks to my hand.  And I share all of these thoughts not to have you on red-alert for my mental health, but to say that I'm sure I'm not alone.  Sadly, I know too many who are hurting in their hearts, their lives, their families.  Who knows what their trigger may be- 9/11? a Hallmark ad? a life event?- but when their trigger occurs... they, too, spiral.

Give grace, share love, be patient... we never know what sort of battle someone is facing.
Unless, of course, they are ridiculous enough to post it on their blog.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Windows on Grief

I have sat down multiple times to begin this blog post and I do so now with fear and trepidation.  I have wanted to share with you my thoughts on what was helpful in my grief- but I have been anxious that those around me would feel this is a passive-aggressive way to give praise or penalty for those who loved us in our pain.  It is not.  It is merely a response to our journey.

While I have begun this in my head at various points over the last 3 years, it finally is being written now because of the horrible tragedy that has affected my community in the last week.  A precious 4 year old boy died tragically this weekend.  Loads of this family's friends are friends of mine- and several of them have asked "how should I help?"

Goodness knows I am no expert on what to do in moments like this.  Rather than rely merely on my own experience, I have been pooling responses from friends.  I've talked to several dear friends who have recently lost someone, as well as I've asked those in my Grief Class at Sawtooth.  In these words you will find the collective experiences of those who have lost parents, friends, spouses, and children.  We cry tears together and lean on each other because the wound is quite raw.  So while I tread in to dangerous waters of offering "advice" on how to love someone in pain, know that I come to you humbly- bringing words from my friends as well.
the view from our classroom

Across the board, we were able to laugh at some of the things that people attempted to do to "help" that were far from helpful.  Yet as a whole, we all know that people come to you in those first terrifying moments just as scared as you are.  No one knows what to do- including the bereaved- and so we bump against each other in our hurt hoping to provide some peace along the way.  One thing that we shared in our class was remembering the statements people made in those first few days that could be remained unsaid: "I can't imagine losing my husband."  "I'll hug my babies extra tight tonight."  While we should love people with our empathy, we should speak to them with our sympathy.  Your friend did lose her husband.  She won't be able to hug her baby tonight.  Speaking those words- while thought to be comforting or showing your connectedness to the moment- aren't always helpful.

In fact, there was a great article around this same subject that was recently making the Facebook rounds.  We should chose what we speak to those in grief/crisis carefully, and this article lays out well the hows and the whys.

When talking to my friends, it was nearly universal of the same things we didn't want to hear: "It's okay."  "It's going to be alright."  "It's part of God's plan."  While those statements are so very well intentioned, they are unfortunately painful in the moment.  Most grievers know those statements are merely bandaids for their situation.  They will have to learn a new reality- and while it will involve God's plan, it's quite painful to think of Him as wrecking their life in the moment to get there.  (Note: one friend even went as far to say "don't push your belief system on someone who is grieving.  While you may be sure that adding your Truth to their hearts in this moment of pain, it may do nothing but push them farther away.)  When it comes to "well then what should I say?"-- keep it simple.  "I'm so sorry" is genuine, heartfelt, and doesn't try to "fix" an unfixable situation.  Never feel like you are responsible for "explaining" the unexplainable.  Having no words and just hugs is completely appropriate.  And hard as it may be, try to avoid the phrase "I understand."  While you may have had a similar experience, their moment of grief and their situation is their own.  You will likely not understand.  "I'm sorry" and "I love you" are enough.

What about bringing things by the griever's house?  Absolutely, if they are accepting visitors.  (Don't know?  Ask around.  While you may not be able to reach them in the time of crisis, ask someone on a closer "ring" than you are what you should do.)  Across the board, though, most people on the receiving end of grief mentioned that they loved gestures of love from friends, but requested that people drop of the gift, meal, card, or hug and then promptly leave.  While it seems that sometimes we suffer from this bizarre desire to get near the bereaved, we should not jockey for face-time with them in their moment of pain.  One friend commented "if you were not having regular lunch dates or coffee dates with them prior to the event, don't try to start now."  So true.   One thing to consider while dropping things by: don't give the grieving friend more work to do.  While I was so blessed with a bush to plant at the loss of our last baby (and look daily at my laurel with joy), another friend was given a tree that became a job in her early moments of grief.  Make sure you know their desires well enough to bring something by that requires more work.  And keep in mind the "nature" of the grief.  A friend said to me that while she enjoyed cards and meals at the death of her grandfather, that when her father committed suicide- cards weren't what she needed.  While it is more work on our end as friends, it's more helpful to evaluate the gesture through the lens of the recipient.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the bereaved should feel in charge of the situation as much as possible.  You don't need to play Dr. Phil to get your friend to talk- allow them to invite you in to their grief.  (And LISTEN!  Don't make it a grief competition or use their story to springboard to another horror story that you heard or read on Facebook.  Be present with your friend- while they may be unable to talk in the moment, being with them in silence is just as precious.)  Allow them to take the lead.  Hard as it may be, don't try to assume that what you would want is what they do.  Last summer when a friend died, his wife asked us to remove his clothes from their shared dresser before she and her kids returned home.  Months later when we lost our baby, a beautifully well-intentioned friend removed my baby "items" from our line of sight before we returned home.  And I lost my mind.  While it was exactly what my friend needed to begin her never-ending job of finding her new normal, it was the exact opposite of what I needed.  Those mementos of a child never coming to live in my house were all I had to hang on to the reality that I, indeed, lost a family member- and didn't just experience a medical anomaly.  Allow the bereaved to tell you what they want, and try not to make any executive decisions on their behalf unless you've asked.

After my fabulous experience this summer in several grief groups, I feel like I could go on and on about what I've learned about others' experiences with grief.  Instead I'll direct you to several resources and leave you with some action steps.

Read these:
Farther Along: The Writing Journey of Thirteen Bereaved Mothers
     I've had the honor of meeting one of these mothers this summer in my class.  This book contains writings from women who have lost children, as well as writing prompts in the back.  Also included in the back is a list called "I want to help."  One of the most helpful points for me was the line "It's never too late."  I've found myself going back now to friends who lost loved ones in my former, grief-free life and saying "I'm sorry.  I didn't respond in the way you may have needed."  I've gone back and told stories of loved ones who have died to their remaining family members.  It's never too late.

A Force of Will: The Reshaping of Faith in a Year of Grief by Mike Stavlund
     I met Mike at Wild Goose.  His book is a collection of his writings dealing with the death of his son.  It has given me tons of practical reflection on how losing a child is in a field of it's own, just as the women in Farther Along share.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
     Joan put into words some of the pain in my heart.  She talks about the fog of grief and how you believe "magical" things about the death of your loved one.  While it's a hard read, as are the others, it's beneficial to have first hand accounts of grief to reflect upon as you wade through your own or try to love a friend in their own moments.

Some practical "action steps":
*Meals are great.  Keep in mind that mass quantities aren't always helpful because those grieving aren't always able to eat.  However, if there is family in town, helping to feed all of them is a huge relief for everyone.  Make sure you know dietary preferences- one friend received amazing chicken and beef casseroles... and she was vegetarian.  When bringing food, drop it off quickly.

*It's lovely to think of any children in the home.  Elizabeth got some spot-on craft supplies which helped not only to make her feel loved, but to help busy her in moments of overwhelming grown-up stuff.

*Don't say "let me know how I can help"... figure out something to do and then gently execute it.  A text message saying "I'd love to take your child to the park.  Is Friday or Saturday better for you?" is much easier to respond to than trying to think of how you need help.  Because in all honestly, your grieving friend doesn't likely know how they need help.

*Keep calling and texting your friend even when you don't get response.  I read through some old messages the other day and found this beautiful exchange:

I'm not ok. :/ thanks for continuing to call, even though I've not been able to pick up yet. Love you.
Totally understand. Just know I'm thinking about you. Love you

When it comes down to it, caring for those who are grieving is a yucky, tricky road.  It's painful for all involved.  My summer of delving through my own experience has shown me just how different each experience can be.  But know this, dear friend... your gesture is appreciated.  One friend who I'd asked about her journey shared these words with me:

photos courtesy of Amanda Sullivan
I have realized the best thing from my perspective is to be grateful for what anyone does, since no one has to do anything and I know too well how busy life alone can be.  I truly can say no one has really done the "wrong thing" in trying to help me personally, because anyone who has tried has done so out of love.  So maybe the only advice to those wanting to help someone who is hurting is to do so only if you truly feel led, and if you are truly doing it for the other person - not for yourself or out of obligation.

Wise words.  On behalf of those receiving your love and compassion, thank you.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

these are a few of my favorite things (from this summer....)

I wish, like Oprah, I could give you all a little serving of each of these treats from my summer.  Instead, I'll lay them out for you in list form and let you decide if you'd like to partake.

Favorite way I've spent money:
1. Grief Healing Through Photography- the course I've been taking at Sawtooth
      Dan joked that this class should have been called "Becky Johnston, please take this class."  It has been just what I've needed for sure.
2. Working out with Debbie
      If you've missed me talking about it, I urge you to read this or this.  It's worth the money and then some.
3. Wild Goose

Favorite books:
For the grieving category (can't imagine everyone would love these)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
A Force of Will by Mike Stavlund
Other  (and both of my summer faves came from my friend MSTJ!)
Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Favorite restaurants:
Brothers in Clemmons
Jeffery Adams in Winston
That random one where Laurie and I got margaritas in Sedona
White Duck Taco Shop in Asheville
Blue Mountain Pizza in Weaverville
Universal Joint in West Asheville

Favorite water moments:
in the pool with Cousin Emily and the Aunties at Kure Beach
in the French Broad with Dan and E at Wild Goose
Splashville with E
in the sound with the Wessells
Saddlebrook pool

Favorite experiences for E:
Ms. Leslie's art camp
Camp Oonie Koonie Cha
Camp of Kids
Wild Goose
Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination

Favorite Birchbox treat:
Curly hair keeper
     Birchbox is the silliest way I've spent money this year... and one of the most fun!

Favorite summer meal:
Tomato pie, roasted vegetables, sweet tea
     ("My" tomato pie recipe is awesome, but it's better when it's prepared by the one who gave me the recipe.)
Sandwiches for D's birthday

Favorite drinks of the summer:
Anything from Addison Farms, particularly "Coming Home"
Beer, most varieties, if enjoyed outside
White wine with fresh peaches (thanks, Christy!)

Favorite 'other' summer moments:
silly string fights
convertible rides
beer outside
Indigo Girls at Wild Goose
winery afternoons
hiking at Graveyard Fields
walks in the rain
tears in a conference room
Hanover Seaside Club
Barenaked Ladies show
time with family in the mountains
birthday dinners
playing in mud puddles
enjoying the beauty of bridges on our road trip
Bob Evans' farm
truckers caps
dog parks
singing and swinging

One final note: One of my assignments in my grief class allowed me to look at all of the moments I've celebrated since the bottom dropped out in our world.  I have had lots of them.  Lots.  I am beyond thankful for the celebrating, especially as I remember that I "should" be 8 months pregnant right now.  Keep in mind that while my Facebook page has been updated a ton this summer with some amazing moments, that doesn't mean that every day is easy.  I have to wonder- as so many of us have discussed- how many of us remember and acknowledge the pain behind the posts.  The bad and the good moments are seasoned with tears... fortunately our days see less hard tears now and more tears of healing.  And for that, we are grateful.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Wildness of The Goose

Last night we got home from our first Wild Goose weekend.  I am 100% saturated, overwhelmed, at peace, and all of the other emotions that can land one both impassioned and immobilized.

What I am most overwhelmed by is that I had an encounter with God- and I was able to experience Him in a fresh way- something my wounded heart desperately needed.

I experienced Him most clearly in a remote spot of the campground- surrounded by strangers that I instantly connected with more than even friends of years upon years.  We gathered around a picnic table and shared our stories of grief.  Each of us shared our raw emotion and were met with tears, hands of mercy, and words of comfort.  Everyone around the table knew better than to say those cliche' remarks I've mentioned before- because everyone had experienced the hurt that came with those phrases.  None of us had the same cause for our grief, yet all of us had been changed by it.  And, for the first time in months, I was surrounded by real people- professional Christians- who shared that their grief caused them to relearn their relationships with God.  And no one freaked out by those words.

My newest best friend, Frank.
Our time was wrapped up by a rain shower- not uncommon for our whole time at The Goose.  As several of us walked away from that sacred table together, we decided to seek shelter for a bit and ride out the bulk of the downpour under a tarp or a tent.  As we went for our nearest option, I spent a glorious moment in time sharing life with a magnificent man and had one of the most holy moments that I've enjoyed.  He spoke my language and affirmed my struggle, my heart, and my life in a way that I will treasure.  He shared the story of his childhood- ironically one I had studied in school, but I was given a glimpse of the intimacies of those moments left out of the assigned readings.  I felt a moment of privilege in hearing his wisdom- and at the same time, felt like we were just sharing life as friends.

And that was one of the biggest beauties of The Goose for me.  NEVER have I been to a festival/ conference/ anything of the sort where it just was.  There was no pretense of the speakers.  There was no "us" versus "them".  We were all there to learn from each other- and no one came across as "I'm just here because my agent lined this up."  I was able to tell Phillip Yancey how I had, for years, gained insight from his readings.  I hugged Glennon from Momastery and we chatted briefly about her offline summer... and squealed about our love of the Indigo Girls.  Krista Trippett laughed when I apologized for the rain and told me she was sure I didn't cause it.  My new friends Mike and Mallory are wise in their fields and I run to their books to get to know them better.  My new friends Alice and Kylin Ann are pilgrims like me and we connected over tears and role play.  I spent extended time with the people from Food for the Hungry and know them as well as their mission.  Cindy Morgan laughed (grimaced?) as I told her I had performed one of her songs at a talent show.  Nadia Bola-Weber ate my homemade salsa.  Sybil MacArthur taught me how to journal in person- rather than just through her book that I've enjoyed reading.  I have never been less and more star struck at the same time.

I came home with a bag of new books to challenge my heart and my mind and multiple new CDs to continue to sing words of truth over my home.  I have assignments of finding children to sponsor and allowing myself continued time to heal.  I have full journal pages and a renewed desire to write.

And I have more mud and dirt in my clothes than I know what to do with.

Part of the beauty of this weekend for me was sharing it with Dan and Elizabeth.  I won't lie- I would have likely gotten more out of it had I not had to worry about where E was or what she was doing.  But having her sit on my lap as I (and Emily and Amy) sang "Power of Two" to her was a moment I won't soon forget.  Watching her drag her hair through the mud while she was swinging made me cringe and rejoice at the same time.  Having her ask questions about why we want tomato workers to get paid "One Cent More" and having her play in rivers that nourished my childhood were both balms to my weary soul.  Talking with her about our obligation to help others and watching her make friends instantly... good stuff.

And one final thought on the "Christian-y" part of it all...  The last conference I attended was Passion in Atlanta with some of my favorite people.  It was about as different from The Goose as one could imagine.  People were showered and dressed "nicer".  The speakers were more mainstream Evangelical.  The Goose, however, had names I had mainly heard on NPR versus Christian Radio.  They were people from a variety of heritage, and their journeys to Christianity were entirely different.  I heard a speaker use words I had never heard from the Passion stage- both in their content and their 4-letter-ness.  I saw same gender couples talking about their "right" to be in the church.  I had one-on-one moments with some big names- something that Kristian Stanfield should be thankful I wasn't allowed to do at Passion.  Shoot, even prior to attending The Goose I had another Christian tell me that he was thankful for people "searching" (his assumption that Nothing had yet been found by Goose attendees.)  I quickly asserted that we Geese had indeed found Something... and that His name was Jesus.

I found myself continuing to reflect on the differences of these 2 conferences until Phillip Yancey put it in perspective for me during his Friday talk.  He commented on the differences in the Right and Left parts of Church... and gently pointed out that we all- for all of our hipster attire, or patchouli wearing, or  agenda pushing, or Toms-buying, or barefoot walking, or Chris Tomlin loving, or Indigo Girls loving, or conservative or liberal... we all are just looking to Jesus to guide us.  It's hard for me- as someone who loves both sides of this continuum- to remember that as I see each side hurt the other.  However I think if we look at that- our shared desire to follow the One who loves- and stop pointing out how the other is "wrong"... that will be when real healing will come.

Grace and peace, friends.  And God Bless indoor plumbing.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

confessions of a fat girl.

Let me set the stage for you: I shudder when people use the term "fat" as a descriptor.  In fact, just this week, I corrected two little girls I heard playing and reminded them that we are concerned about being "healthy", not about being "fat" or "skinny".

I shudder... because for at least 70% of my life I have been overweight.

When I was little, I was cute with that little baby belly poking out.  As I grew, I was "healthy" until about 2nd or 3rd grade when I began the upward climb to overweight.  Mom and I used to talk about how it likely came from my love of whole milk.  I'd love to be able to blame whole milk.  Yeah, that'd be nice.  Damn you, whole milk.

A complicating factor in my weight gain/weight loss is that my entire life I have had severe asthma.  Severe to the point of hospitalizations so numerous I could not begin to catalog them for you.  Seriously.  Santa comes to see me on the peds ward at Christmas?  Yay.  Jack Hanna pops over in his khaki glory with a baby cheetah while I'm being treated at Duke?  Lucky me.  I wrote my own notes for missed school days starting in elementary school and Mom would sign them: "Please excuse Becky from her absence on March 15.  She had an asthma exacerbation."  I was proud of being able to spell both asthma and exacerbation from an early age.  I was not proud, however, of not being able to do normal kid things in PE.

Don't get me wrong- I LOVED that I was the DJ for circuit day and that I didn't have to run the mile.  Let's not lie, those were 2 of the perks of the disease.  (Well, that and the fact that Mr. Ianniello didn't make me dissect things because formaldehyde made me wheeze.)  But when I would need to sit out from a "basic" game of kickball on occasion... well that sucked.

How quickly we label ourselves and begin to act on those labels.

Me?  I was the SICK GIRL.  Who quickly became the FAT GIRL.  And that was my identity.

I was always friends with skinny girls.  Such is the plight, right?  My best friends were (and still are, mind you) these petite cute cheerleaders... it's by the grace of God I didn't try to throw them over the side of the canoe while we were at Girl Scout camp together.  My skinny girl proximity continues to this day... and it is only now that I don't compare myself to them.

So why do I refuse to call myself the fat girl these days?  Because of a mind shift... a total mind shift and, recently, a behavior shift as well.

About 12 years ago, I first stepped in to a Weight Watchers meeting.  I had allowed my weight (let's be honest, I didn't allow it like I gave it permission... I allowed it in that it crept up and up and I didn't acknowledge it until I got to a point I needed the professionals at WW to help out) to get out of hand and I was ready for change.  I counted points and went to meetings and became fixated on my diet lifestyle choice in a way that all good WWers know works.  I dropped around 20 pounds and was happy with my weight.

For a while.

Once I counted less points, I gained more weight... and when you throw in multiple pregnancies and hormonal craziness of fertility treatments... it was like I knew I was going back to F-- Girl land, yet I wouldn't acknowledge it.

In 2006 I experienced two miracles.  1, I got pregnant and was able to deliver a healthy baby girl. 2, I lost weight- both in my first trimester and then as a result of breast feeding.  In spite of the dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep, I was at a healthy weight and loved it!

So what made me put the weight back on if I finally conquered it?  One part of my weight problem is obviously food related.  But weight is not based solely on what goes in to your body.  We know the obvious secret... less food + more exercise= weight loss.  The exercise part scared the junk out of me.  Remember that kid who has bad asthma?  She never grew out of it as an adult.  I tried a group exercise class in college... I allowed the negative self-talk and fear to march me right out of the SRC at Carolina.  My one day in Hip-Hop-Arobics was hell for me, and I vowed not to go back.  I would go for walks on campus, carrying my inhaler in one hand and my pepper spray in the other (and a huge fear of confusing the two each time I need a hit of albuterol.)

5 years ago, my best friends (who I trusted to pour out my fears to before we started our group) and I trained together for a 5K.  I had to fight negative self-talk a TON on those early mornings doing sprints at the Y.  I was so angry that I was the least in shape.  I feared failure.  And, unfortunately, I ended up not being able to do the 5K we signed up for as I was recovering from pneumonia.  Yep.  Sounds like Sick Girl was right... she's never going to be able to do it.  Right?


After our miscarriage in April, I was cursed with baby-weight that didn't magically go away after surgery... nor did I have the luxury of breast-feeding it away.  (I did, however, offer to nurse my BFF's newborn in a totally inappropriate move.  I guess it's good I didn't push her over the canoe after all... she knows how to handle those comments.)  Every day as I looked at my mushy-er belly, it was a painful reminder of the baby I won't get to hold this side of heaven.  I knew that I needed to do something.

My dear friend, Debbie, had recently begun some group (or individual!) workouts that sounded do-able.  While Debbie herself is in amazing physical shape, not all the girls in her class are.  They are a wide range of ages, body types, and physical ability. I kept seeing posts on Facebook and asked Debbie on numerous times to give me the rundown... "It's rest-based."  "You do what you are able to do."  "No one looks at what you're doing, they are doing their own thing."

Sign me up.

So about a month ago, this girl decided to not worry about numbers on a scale (!!!) or what other people thought (!!!) and decided to get healthy.  I went to my first class with total fear and trepidation.  I told Debbie that I didn't want to be in the group picture that she always takes at the end of class.  I filled up my water bottle and faced my fear... and I didn't die!  Now I won't lie, I thought MULTIPLE times during the class that I might... but I didn't!  (And, I was so proud of myself at the end that I limped proudly into the group shot for all of Facebook land to see!)

Yesterday, with sweat pouring down my body during the work-out, I realized how healthy I have already become.

* I'm not always the fastest one on sprints, BUT I AM DOING SPRINTS!
* I can't do push-ups as beautifully (or as fast) as I'd like, BUT I AM DOING PUSH-UPS!
* I hate ab-work, BUT I HAVE ABS (who knew?) AND I CAN FEEL THEM!

Y'all... maybe these little baby steps aren't big deals to you- but they are mind-reforming to me.

I had to reach for my inhaler during yesterday's session, but it didn't stop me from finishing.  I am sore as I write this, but it feels so good!  And beautifully, my food choices are lining up with my exercise choices.  While I am not regimented in my intake, I don't want to undo all the good work I suffer through in the mornings.  Yes, I'm still enjoying s'mores this summer... or a drink or two with my sweet cousin at the beach... or Fried Green Tomatoes at a sidewalk cafe in Asheville.... but all of those choices are intentional, with no guilt or regret necessary.

I am a fat girl no more.  I am not held captive by my "can't do" thoughts.  I don't balk from group workouts because I'm worried about other people.  I am a curvy woman trying to give better shape to my curves.  I am a mom teaching my daughter to make good choices and to respect her body.  I want to retrain girls to think against "fat" and think about "healthy".  And I am still choosing to surround myself with cheerleaders who I won't push in the lake... for now.  For me, it's not mind of matter... it's mind over FAT-er.  And I'm winning.

**I'm happy to hook you guys up with Debbie if you're looking for an instructor who won't make you crazy.  She doesn't yell at you like Jillian Michaels and doesn't cheer you on like one of those Disney Channel sitcoms.  She puts your body thru hell- but it's FAST!- and shows you that you can do it.  She's certified in Metabolic Effect and is a lot of fun to boot.  Friend her on Facebook or message me for her contact info.  It's worth it.  If I can do it, you can too.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Without Expectation... an open letter to Thomas Wolfe.

Dear Mr. Wolfe,

As a native-Ashevillian, I have known of your life and work from the moment I knew what an "author" was.  I toured your homeplace, read your writings, sat on your front porch with a boyfriend, and even cried after your home was damaged in a fire.  I always grin in recognition of your angel when I see her.  I feel that you are woven into my story of childhood as a background character- despite the fact you died years before even my mother was born.

So it is with much respect and a bit of trepidation that I must admit: I disagree with you.

I believe, sir, that you can go home again.

I believe it... because I just lived it.

In previous years and trips west, I feel what your character Mr. Webber must have been feeling when he returned to his hometown to find it was not the place his memory had created it to be.  This happened for me previously as I visited my stepmother at my elementary school and felt like the halls were much smaller than I remembered.  It happened when I realized that some friendships were only going to exist for me in memory, rather than in current day.  It happened when my parents were sick or passed on and I realized that a trip home would not include the usual events of my trips west.

However, my heart just experienced a truer sense of a homecoming.  And it occurred without expectation.  I ventured home for a lengthy stay- to hike and to clean out my Mom's house.  Little did I know- because I had not made concrete plans- that my trip would also include a trip to a lovely local winery with friends... and checking out some venues that had been on my bucket list... and time with my girl and her dogs... and breathing in that miracle-working mountain air.  

I was gifted the benefits of surprise and healing because I had not "planned" for them to happen.

I sat in the auditorium at Mars Hill College and "felt" the goodness of teenagers hellbent on changing the world.  The pulse of that room stirred the same emotions in mine as I reflected on my first trip there 22 years ago.  I realized how "ripe" I was for that first experience- my heart was freshly broken from childhood expectations being taken away and was ready to be filled with love and laughter and opportunity to become who I wanted to be.  And as I was greeted by some of those same precious adults (who now loved on my daughter- also captivated in their midst), I felt the same encouragement and hope and respect from 22 years ago.  They believed in me then... and I think they still do now.

I walked around my Mom's backyard numerous times.  The overgrown weeds and bushes at first hurt my heart as I saw the lack of attention given to them by the absence of my mother.  In later days, I saw the green growth for the beauty it is... lush and life bringing.  I enjoyed watching my dogs explore that yard that I used to know by heart... and my favorite moment of the summer thus far happened when I had the chance to catch lightening bugs with Miss E in the very yard where my bug-catching-skill was perfected.

I walked through our fair city and pointed out sights and sounds to my precious girl- including pointing out your angel.  One day soon, I'll share with her your writing... as I'll share with her the writings of Wayne Caldwell... and the story I just read of Zelda Fitzgerald... and I'll tell her of the importance that southern authors bring in telling the story of our home and the characters we meet here.  I'll share with her the wisdom in your writings about not being able to return home- when you are expecting your home to receive you in the same way in which you left it.  And I'll also share with her my recent discovery that when you allow your home and all of the wonderful people and experiences you gained there to welcome you in their overgrown and weedy arms... and breathe it in... and not expect it to do much... but to just let you be... then... then you know that you are truly home.

And then... maybe then... parts of your broken heart will heal in an old way that feels brand new.

Respectfully submitted.