Thursday, June 23, 2016

Being Here…Unedited and Alive

Having the ability to crop pictures to edit out my thick midsection and learning the art of holding the camera at just the right angle to avoid my double chin has allowed me to stay in denial about my escalating weight. But then a picture is snapped and the unedited version smacks me in the face; I am losing the war against my body's apparent desire to go up yet another size.

In 7th grade drama class, a boy asked me if my real butt was in fact my real butt. Apparently he thought I had stuffed a pillow down my pants for effect. Either that or he was just reinforcing his reputation of being a complete asshole. But either way, I became very aware that my body wasn't necessarily going to cooperate with my desire to blend in with my thin friends. Even at that young age, I started sipping weight loss shakes for lunch while my classmates filled their cafeteria trays with nuggets and fries. Please don't misunderstand me; I am aware that I have never been obese. I am thick. Nobody has ever been shocked to find out that I played softball, if you know what I mean. I have so often felt the unfairness of how my skinny friends could seemingly without consequence be able to eat brownies, go for that 3rd or 4th slice of pizza or enjoy a consistent flow of Coca Cola.

In 2009, I rather easily lost nearly 35 lbs. My days were filled with exercise as I trained for my first Sprint Triathlon. I had a best friend full of encouragement and she participated in the journey toward health with me. It really felt somewhat magical. I felt like I had found "the secret" and I felt such joy. In the 7 years since, I have been through a divorce, struggled my way out of the closet, lost friendships, spiritually unraveled and rebuilt, survived a 65mph collision with a parked car, bought a home, made several job changes, stood by my mom's side as she struggled with and lost her life to complications of dementia, had 2 knee surgeries, lost 2 pets that I loved dearly and travelled the rocky road of a second marriage. These are not excuses for why I find myself 40 lbs north of my 2009 weight. I am where I am because I have eaten too much of the wrong things and beer has been my companion on a pretty regular basis as I have faced the reality of this journey called life.

If I were to be completely honest, I would admit that I have been pretty depressed off and on since the death of my mom in October. My day to day emotion isn't necessarily a sadness but more an empty space that nothing seems to fit into. The pull of the empty void feels constant and sometime food and drink allow me to temporarily forget that I ache.

Please allow me to interrupt right here to say what this blog isn't - it isn't a plea for people to tell me that I look great the way that I am nor is it a vanity blog about how I need to lose weight so I can love myself again. This is my story about how something shifted in me. For months, I have been struggling with a feeling of restlessness. I have felt like I was searching for something that just wasn't there. It was like chasing a shadow but not being able to determine the shape. Historically, reading a good book, writing in my journal, listening to podcasts, playing tennis and spending time with friends would be just what I needed to refocus and find joy. But lately, it all has just fallen flat leaving me to wonder why happiness is playing "hard to get".

Fast forward to this past weekend. I won't be able to explain what really happened to me but something lifted in the six hours shared with 200-300 people with a common purpose of deep love, understanding and acceptance at the How To Be Here Experience with Rob Bell. One lady stood and shared about her ache from the loss of her husband and how badly she wants to bypass grief and find her next purpose. One young man shared that he was recently diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma and he struggled with the weight that his wife carries being both his caregiver and the mother to their young children. And another woman stood to share about her struggle to know how to support her son who finally found the courage to admit that he is gay only to have his father (her husband) disown him. The journey of life is so complex and I think the greatest hinderance to my healing was the feeling of being alone. Hearing these vulnerable stories and feeling the deep love and concern shared among strangers did something to me. A healing happened.

The edited snapshot with Rob Bell
And then as the meeting wrapped, an unexpected picture was snapped. I hadn't had a chance to try to suck in my gut or turn just the right way. There I was in all my glory - pudgy belly, full cheeks, more than one chin...a wave of embarrassment followed by shame came over me as I stared at the picture. How could THAT be how I look? I quickly zoomed in to "fix" it - cropping out my stomach and adjusting the photo so that it didn't include my whole arm in the frame. And then the peace came. I zoomed back out and looked at my belly and cheeks and chins. That's me. I'm a bit of a mess. I've had a hard few years. I have eaten too much and exercised too little. I've been hurting and it shows. I have done the best I could and now I give myself permission to let go and change how I engage with the world and how I take care of myself.

I think I am ready.

So, this is a new chapter in my story. My goal is to be fully alive. It will be a day to day decision to work my way out of my habits to numb the intermittent emptiness that I feel. Some days will be easier than others and that's ok with me. I want to sweat more and reengage with people that challenge me to be my best. I want to eat more good things and less bad. I want to sip and enjoy the taste of a beer instead of rushing through to grab another. Ultimately, I want to get to a place where I don't feel the need to crop and hide. I hope that will come from losing some inches but maybe instead I can learn to be OK with whatever the camera reveals. Time will tell.

No matter how all of this unfolds, I am thankful for this journey. I am beyond thankful for feeling alive again. I have told Jenn for years that she will always know when I'm in a healthy place when I write in my journal or blog and when I have a stack of library books on my nightstand that aren't covered in dust. I bet you can't guess what sits waiting for me on my nightstand as I write these words…dust free books ready to engage and entertain me and I can't wait!

Until next time….
Anne Lamott

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

52 People Project - My Mom

This past Wednesday something was said on the radio that raised a grammatical question and I reached for the phone to call my mom. She has always been the queen of grammar. Sometimes she filled the role so well that she interrupted even the simplest of stories to correct the storyteller. Often I found myself working out the "I's" and "Me's" beforehand in order to be able to get through my tale without interruption. When I was 8, 12, and 17, this was a great frustration but now as an adult, I feel thankful for the correct grammar my mom instilled in me. I still get it wrong sometimes and I am by no means a grammar nazi but it has given me some confidence in my writing and verbal communication.

Perhaps many don't know the journey my mom has been on over the past few years. Growing up, my mom's mind was a steel trap. I can remember many times my dad quietly asking as acquaintances walked away "who was that?" and my mom was able to recall their names, how we knew them and maybe even finer details like where they lived or the names of their children. Her memory was mind-boggling. She was an avid reader; she likes John Grisham and Nicholas Sparks. History, Science, Math…she seemed to know it all. She attributed that to the wonderful teachers she had at Skiatook High School so many years ago. I often wondered why she didn't make the trip to Culver City to be a participant on Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune. I wouldn't have been the slightest bit shocked if she would have won.

My mom was also very social. When I was young, I remember my mom spending hours on the phone with friends and family. She spoke with her mother almost every day even if only for a few moments to catch up on the gossip from her home town. I moved from under my parents roof over 20 years ago and I could rely on hearing from her at least a few times a week and sometimes a few times a day. She taught children's Sunday School for many years and she would happily host work and church events in our home. She was a member of the choir and attended a weekly women's Bible Study and volunteered serving food at church socials. I don't think she has missed a single one of her High School reunions; often she has been on the planning committee for the weekend events. Even up until 6 months ago, she would gather with some of her high school friends to have dinner and play Mexican Train. Connection was always important to her.

My mom on vacation 4 months ago
I can't put a finger on when things started changing. Maybe it is like the infamous frog in the pot of hot water metaphor. Change came so slowly that we didn't realize what was happening, but nonetheless, it has happened. The mom I once knew is gone.

Slowly my mom has withdrawn into herself. Her appetite has decreased and her hours of sleep have multiplied. There are times when the boys and I go by for a visit and she doesn't say a word. With a great amount of help from my father, she hosted Thanksgiving this past year. She ate quickly and quietly and retired to her recliner as we finished eating and cleaning up. Connection and fellowship seem to be the furthest thing from her mind.

During a recent hospitalization, I went to see her. I spent a little over an hour with her making sure that she was comfortable and settled for the night. We had conversation but only about things that were tangible in the room. We talked about the dry erase board and what it said and about how interesting the ceiling tiles looked. We talked about the bed and whether it was better with the legs up or down. It seemed to be more comfortable keeping conversation in a space where she didn't have to tap into the foggy details of history.

Within the past 2 weeks, she has started taking new medications and there has been some improvement. She is now having some "good" days where she is a recognizable version of her old self but those days are occasional and unpredictable. This past weekend, I was going through my phone voicemail messages and realized that I haven't received a call from mom since December 12th when she called to ask me again what the boys wanted for Christmas…a question I had answered at least a half a dozen times already. I hope I didn't roll my eyes or have a twinge of frustration at her question. I hope I was kind and loving. I hope that I told her that I loved her and that I was here for her if she needed anything. I hope that she will get to a place where she wants to call me on the phone again.

My grandmother (my mom's mom) passed away in 2002 and it drives me crazy that I can't remember exactly what her voice sounded like. I so wish I could remember what she sounded like when she said my name. There must be a part of me that refuses to let this happen again. I have 18 voicemails on my cellphone that I can't bring myself to erase. With a tap of button, I can hear my mom say "Hi baby, this is your mother" and several calls end with "I love you."

I am thankful that I still have time with my mom. I look forward to the moments that feel normal. I have deep respect for my father who, although he is not in the best health, takes care of her day in and day out. We don't know what this journey will look like. I am certain there will bumps along the way. There will be uncertainty and sadness but hopefully there will be some good times as well.

My best advice to anyone who is reading this blog is to take a few minutes and call someone that you love. Memorize their voice and tell them that you love them. Slow down and appreciate the simple things…those mundane things that we take for granted are the very things we may miss the most.

…because there will be a time when you too will absentmindedly reach for the phone to ask a question that can't be answered.

Until next time,

(Ha! And yes, I wish my mom could check my grammar before posting this blog!)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

52 People Project - Clark Brown

Roger Waters "The Wall"

On May 5, 2012, I got to experience the music of Pink Floyd live. I think I was the only person in the sold out arena who was hearing Roger Waters sing for the first time. It was just as I imagined it would be - surreal, bizarre, amazing and unforgettable. The music however was not the best part of the night.

The concert was a perfect excuse for Jenn to gather with some of her best friends from her college years at NSU. They made a mini-reunion of it and I got to tag along. Friends came from across the United States to spend time together. It was fun for me to finally meet people I had heard so much about as Jenn would tell me entertaining stories of her past. What I found most compelling about Jenn's friends that night was how genuine and real they were. Nobody seemed to have anything to prove. It was just about being together, telling stories of the good ol' days, poking fun at each other, having some drinks and bursts of laughter.

Just a few days after the reunion, on May 7th my facebook friendship with Clark Brown began. From the moment I met Clark it was obvious that he was a nice guy. He was down to earth and easy to talk to. His smile was piercing and he found it so easy to laugh. I had never met someone who so quickly made me feel like I had known him my whole life. Clark was from New York and would frequently check in by email to see when we were going to come for a visit. He wanted to do anything he could do to help make our trip amazing. Clark had a way of making sure I knew he was thinking of me. One of my favorite conversations with him began, "Hi five, Becca. How are you?"

On June 8th, 2013, while Clark was getting ready for work, he unexpectedly suffered an aortic dissection. He was airlifted to a New York hospital where he underwent a 7 hour surgery to repair the tear but in the surgery he suffered a stroke. On June 10th, Clark died at the age of 42.

The news of his passing spread quickly through facebook. When I read that he was gone, there was shock and a sudden emptiness. How could someone so wonderful and full of life slip away so quickly? It just isn't supposed to happen this way.

Unfortunately, over the past few years I have had a handful of friends pass away. Facebook has been a fantastic forum to grieve publicly. In a very strange way it allows me to feel that they are still here. My mind has played tricks on me many times over the past week as I have seen pictures of Clark on my Facebook feed. It just seems easier to believe he is still here than to accept he is gone. When I open my last email from Clark sent on May 29th to wish me a Happy Birthday, I have to struggle through the denial process and accept that the conversation is over.

I wish each person reading this blog could have had a moment with Clark. I wish you could read the many messages people have left on his wall. I wasn't the only person who Clark made feel so special. There are hundreds of posts from people who Clark blessed with his life. With each new post, my heart aches at the loss of this amazing friend to so many. A few days ago I learned that even after his death, Clark was able to make an impact on others in a tangible way through the donations of his organs!

I want to be like Clark. I want to pause more often and make sure that people know that I am thinking of them. I want people from every walk of life to know that I accept and love them. I want to be passionate about life and about the things that make me smile. I want to travel to see friends. I want to stop for 2 seconds to send a text just to give a virtual high five. I want to see the value of connection with others and then do something about it. I want to give of my life the way that Clark did by loving people and always having a smile to share.

Rest in Peace Clark.

A long pause was required before writing that previous sentence...I really don't want to accept that you are gone. You were one in a million! Clark Brown, I am thankful for the few steps we got to share in this life; you taught me a lot about the person that I want to be. I'm forever grateful!

Until next time,

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

52 People Project - Raegan Smith Robbins

This is the fifth installment of my 52 People Project where I reflect on individuals who I have had the honor to walk side by side with on this journey called life.

This past weekend, we had a wedding in our backyard.

Each Spring, Jenn eagerly plans the layout of our backyard. Who am I kidding...all year long she plans and strategizes to make everything even more amazing than it was the year before. But this Spring, she was even more meticulous with the placement of each plant and flower to make the perfect backdrop for her baby sister's special day.

I met Raegan 4 years ago at a Starbucks when she was in town visiting family. One thing I knew immediately about Raegan is that she is as beautiful on the inside as she in on the outside. She is genuine and although heads turn when she walks into a room, she isn't self consumed.

If I had to be completely honest, I would admit that I sometimes make assumptions about people. I never would have expected Raegan to be so down to earth. When Jenn and I participated in the triathlon in Austin, we stayed with Raegan. She was so generous letting us invade her space and I couldn't help but be in awe as I watched her stand over the stove and eat Macaroni & Cheese mixed with tuna.

Raegan came out to support us at the triathlon. She had to park so far away from the finish line that she got blisters on her feet from her cute shoes. She was in so much pain but smiled anyway. It meant a lot to have someone cheering us on.

I'm not sure how and when Raegan met Jake...but into our lives walked this very handsome and hilarious guy. The first time I really got to know Jake was when we made the car ride to Ada together for the funeral of Jenn and Raegan's Papa. I was nervous to be in the car with him for such a long time...worried that we would run out of things to talk about. However, now I'm pretty sure Jake and I would NEVER run out of words to share with one another. Jake makes Raegan laugh. He is intelligent and works hard. They aren't perfect. They have each had their run-ins with "crazy" but never at the same time and I love how they have pushed through the hard times and have come out stronger as a couple.

Raegan and Jake live in the Oklahoma City area with their 4 "children". Penny, Bristol, Milli and Lil are all dogs that they have rescued. I've never met anyone who loves dogs more. I'm pretty sure Raegan would adopt 30 if it were legal. Raegan is a hair stylist. I think she is one of the very best! Jake is a financial planner for Northwest Mutual. Last year he was awarded the Rookie of the Year for his region as well as recognized as a Top 10 Advisor in his company. He is kind of a big deal :)

Raegan and Jake, your wedding was beautiful. I can't imagine a more perfect picture of love. I have so enjoyed laughing with you and watching your love grow through the years. I can't wait to make many fun memories with you and grow old together as family. Thanks for letting us be part of your special day. And more than anything, thank you for accepting me and accepting us without hesitation. You have always made me feel like part of the family and for that I am humbly thankful! You are two of my very favorite people on the planet. I am so thankful that we get to share steps along this journey called life. Love you both!!!

Monday, May 20, 2013

52 People Project - Alicia Shiever

The Coram girls!
This is part 4 of my 52 People Project where I reflect on individuals who I have had the honor to walk side by side with on the journey called life.

In 2011, I met Alicia Shiever when she came into town to "ride along" with me. She was the new hire for Coram in the Oklahoma City market and I was actually pretty excited to have a new teammate. Little did I know how much I would end up loving her.

Medical sales suits me well. I love relationship building and love the concept of "under-promising and over-delivering". It feeds something deep in my soul knowing that I am helping patients get home where they long to be after a hospitalization. The downfall to sales is that it can be a lonely job. Most days are spent travelling from one account to the next trying to be at the right place at the right time to get a referral.

On the loneliest of days with Coram, one of my very favorite things is when my phone vibrates in my pocket and I see Alicia's name on my screen. She almost always has a story to tell or something to complain about that leaves me in laughter. She not only helps me strategize and problem solve, but she also lends me her ear and offers advice when I need a friend. Although in the past 2 years we have only been together in person 6 or 7 times, through text and phone conversations, she has become one of my closest friends.

A picture to prove it 
She is hands down one of the funniest people I have ever known. She isn't afraid to talk to anyone. A few years ago we were at national conference and coincidentally there was a national baby doll convention going on at the same hotel. Let me break this down so you understand. There were hundred of grown women walking around with very real looking dolls in strollers as if they were real infants. They would feed them, burp them and change their diapers. It was a bit creepy, sort of comical and a little sad at the same time. We tried to be kind and not stare. Alicia, however ended up talking with the ladies and when asked if she wanted to hold one of the dolls, she said "sure!" Alicia is the only person I know who could have done this and made the "mom" feel so proud.

Before and After
Alicia is also an inspiration to me. Less than 9 months ago she hired a trainer and started her journey to healthy living. I have watched in amazement as she has shrunk by over 30 lbs. She went from pulling over in the middle of the day for french fries to a lifestyle focused around healthy eating and activity. What compels me the most is that she is honest with me about her struggles and she makes me feel like I can do whatever I put my mind to. I am so proud of her.

A picture of the hospital after the storm
Today Alicia sent me a text at 2:47 stating that she was in Moore in the path of the larger-than-a-mile-wide tornado. She had stopped by Moore Medical Hospital this afternoon on her rounds and had stayed when a "Code Black" was issued. When I was finally able to get to a television, I ached. Through tearful eyes, I watched the storm engulf Moore and leave devastation in its path. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I heard that she was OK. Just a few moments ago, this was her Facebook post:

"Just letting everyone know that I'm ok. I was in Moore Medical Hospital when it was hit with a straight blow. We had enough notice to move all patients to the cafeteria where myself and all other patients and staff were. We all got on the floor. We clung to complete strangers. We could hear it coming and tearing the roof off overhead. By far the scariest day of my life. So thankful for prayers. For protection."

I frankly don't know what I would do if something happened to my sweet friend.

Just under a month ago, I resigned from my position at Coram to pursue another job in sales with a local long term care facility (LTAC). In the past month, I have learned a lot about myself and my purpose which I will unravel and put in words at another time. But one thing I do know is that home is where my family is and Coram is my family! In about a week, I return home to my position at Coram and I couldn't be more happy.

Alicia, I can't wait to be co-workers again! It is such an honor to walk this part of my journey with you. Your heart of compassion and determination blows me away. I am glad you are safe! I still don't know how I got so lucky to have you as a friend! Love you!!!

Until next time,

Monday, May 13, 2013

52 People Project - Liliana Gullo Ross

This is part 3 of my 52 People Project where I reflect on individuals who I have had the honor to walk side by side with in this journey called life.

Liliana Gullo Ross

In 2005, I started volunteering at Crisis Pregnancy Outreach. It was around July when I picked Liliana up to take her to see her doctor. She was quiet but engaging. She told me a few details of her story and had an entertaining conversation with my 3 year old, Foster who kept calling her Ms Arianna instead of Ms Liliana. From our conversation, it was pretty clear that she had made up her mind to parent the son she was expecting and she had selected a family as her Plan B. 

Jason and I had chosen to pursue adoption after struggling with infertility. Crisis Pregnancy Outreach is an agency that places children in families through Open Adoption. Birth mothers get to chose who will parent their child and an open relationship is established between the birth mom and the adoptive family. I was drawn to this concept because I believe there is so much power in honesty and openness and adoption is an amazing act of LOVE! 

In December, our phone rang with the news that there was a girl who wanted to meet with us about placement. I was told that I may remember her...her name was Liliana, that I had given her a ride to a doctor's appointment months earlier. She had given birth to Caleb in September. She loved him deeply and felt that adoption was the right choice for her son. There was something so special about the moment we sat down with Liliana, her parents, her sister and baby Caleb. We instantly felt like family.

A day later, we learned that we were chosen to be Caleb's parents. 

On December 27th, several cars pulled into our long driveway. Liliana arrived with Caleb, her parents and her 5 siblings. It was a emotional time as Liliana so bravely handed me her baby boy and trusted that I would love him with as much deep tenderness and genuine love as she did. I was honored and humbled by her trust. 

When Liliana drove away that night with her family and I held Caleb in my arms, I ached. My heart broke for the pain that Liliana must have been feeling. How could I ever truly thank her for this gift? We were not sure exactly what the relationship was going to look like. She asked for time to heal and I respected that. But only a few days later, she called me and we talked. Our friendship began and we developed a genuine love for each other. 

Liliana and I have been friends now for over 7 years. I love her more with each passing  year. She is married to an amazing man who spoils her rotten ;) They have 3 boys who keep her running. We typically find time to spend each holiday with the Gullos...we basically find any excuse to get together and eat good food and laugh. They feel like an extension of us. I love them like family. 

Liliana is an amazing birth-mom. She does a great job making sure Caleb AND Foster know that she loves them. Caleb knows that he was in her tummy and knows that I am his "mom". It seems normal to him. He feels so special knowing that so many people love him. 

There are no amount of words that I could string together to express how thankful I am for the gift Lilana gave us. I love her with all my heart and I am so thankful for the steps we have shared on this journey!

Until next time, 

Today happens to be her birthday! Happy birthday Liliana. XOXO!!!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

52 People Project - Gigi Ferguson Lewis

This is the second installment of my "52-People Project" where I reflect on individuals who I have had the honor to walk side by side with in this journey called life.

Gigi Ferguson Lewis

I don't exactly remember meeting Gigi. It just feels like we have always been friends. It was somewhere around 6 or 7 years old at Exciting Eastwood Baptist Elementary School where our friendship started. We later attended Metro Christian Academy together and both graduated high school from Holland Hall. I have always found it funny that she and I were drawn to each other; we are quite opposite. Gigi is petite and somewhat soft spoken. I tend to be more on the "sturdy" side and can be a bit loud. Gigi loved Hello Kitty; I liked G.I. Joe. Gigi always looked cute and her clothes matched; I would throw on the first thing I could get my hands on. In 6th grade, during the president's challenge, she held her chin-up for longer than anyone in the class. I think I help mine for 2.5 seconds. She was up there for hours...not really, but it sure seemed that way. 

At some point, in our childhood, our parents thought it was a good idea to sign us up for duet piano lessons at Trio School of Music. Before going to class, Gigi and I would go to the convenient store on the corner to get our sugar fix and fill our music bags with Jolly Ranchers. After spending a majority of our lesson trying to keep us from talking, wiggling and giggling, our poor teacher, Ms Hern probably had to slip next door to Charlie Mitchell's for a stiff drink to regain some sanity.  

One of my favorite things about my friendship with Gigi is that our sleepovers would turn into 3-4 day stretches. Whether she was staying with me or I was staying with her, we would always beg for "just one more night". I loved when I got to stay with her... especially when her mom would cook Teriyaki Chicken for dinner. Gigi and I would sleep on the hide-a-bed in the den where we would count the rings of the grandfather clock and find reasons to giggle until we fell asleep. Sometimes we would wake up before the rest of her family and we'd cook french toast and watch cartoons. Those were simple times that I loved spending with my best friend. I think I still even remember her phone number. 492-6038 if I am not mistaken. 

Although we had spent a majority of our elementary through high school years together, college took us in separate directions. Gigi met Dan and I stood by her in a hunter green dress and heels as they said their vows. Gigi stood by me a few years later for my wedding. We both later graduated from nursing school. She has 3 wonderful children and is a pastor's wife. She is probably one of the most beautiful people I know inside and out. I don't see her much these days; our paths just don't cross. When they do thought, it is as if not even a single day has passed. I love her deeply and I am thankful I got to spend so many years of my journey with such a sweet friend!

Until next time,