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, 

Monday, April 29, 2013

52 People Project - Jenn Smith

This is my "52-People Project" where I reflect on some of the people I have had the pleasure of walking side by side with on this journey of life. I hope to write each week; there will be no specific order.

This project is for me. As far back as I can remember, I have struggled with feeling alone. I look on Facebook and see 500+ friends and it boggles my mind. How can a girl with 500 "friends" ache from loneliness on a consistent basis?

We all tell ourselves stories that validate what we feel on the inside. We tell ourselves stories about why the jeans don't fit right, why we deserve to buy something we can't afford and why that girl doesn't like us. We justify our hate, our prejudices, our insecurites, and our fears with our stories. We are good at it. There are many stories I tell myself but the one I seem to have been telling myself the longest is the one that feeds into the ache of being alone. Perhaps I want to be strong enough that I don't "need" people. Perhaps I just don't want to ache even more when a relationship falls apart or a friend moves away. Perhaps I just long to connect more deeply with people than I feel they want to connect with me. I don't know, but this is my attempt to change the story I tell myself and to focus on the people who have held me up and who have loved me along the way.

I will begin with Jenn Smith

I met Jenn on the tennis court. She had on red shoes. My co-captain and I were trying to build a great 4.0 team and we were scouting out new players. After seeing Jenn hit the ball, we quickly asked her to be part of our team. It took me 6 months before I could remember Jenn's real name. I called her "the girl with the red shoes".

Jenn was quiet and somewhat mysterious. She is not one who opens up quickly. Each time we would spend together it was as if she was slowly opening the pages of my favorite book while I eagerly awaited the storyline to unfold. She was kind and thoughtful. Many nights we would extend just "5 more minutes" until past midnight talking over a cup of coffee at Shades of Brown. Needless to say, I would be the one doing most of the talking. She helped me feel interesting and significant...she still does.

If you don't know Jenn, you are missing out. She is amazing. She is incredibly creative. She can take anything and make it beautiful. If you have been in the gardens of Philbrook Museum of Art in the past 7 years, you have seen some of her work. You should see what she has done with our backyard!!! She is also musical. She sings and can play a mean guitar. To top it off, she is an athlete. We did our first (and only) triathlon in 2009 and she smoked me in all 3 events. She is great at anything she puts her mind to...that is just who she is. This inspires me!

Jenn and I are very different. I am the ying to her yang. Or maybe it is the other way around. While I am more laid back and disorganized, she is much more structured, tidy and aware of every tiny detail. Where I am more likely to be drawn to budget, precise measurements and numbers, Jenn is more likely to feel her way through life and is guided by beauty and balance. I tend to be a planner and sometimes have a hard time letting go and having fun. Jenn has helped me learn how to relax and pause long enough to see the beauty in the simple.

We don't always get it right as we navigate this life together. She has learned what "red-headed temper" means and I have learned what it is like when two incredibly stubborn people try to figure out who is right in an argument. But we find a way to work things out and we continue to learn from each other each day. She loves me in spite of the socks I leave all over the house, the toilet paper holders I leave empty, the times I talk when she longs for silence and the collections of drinking glasses I leave in the bathroom and on my night stand. Jenn knows my secrets...the things I wish I could hide forever or change for good; she knows my struggles and my inconsistencies and she still accepts me and chooses to stay.

I want to grow old with her. I want to sit next to her as we watch the boys walk across stage at graduation or down the isle to say "I do". I want to celebrate retirement and grandchildren with her by my side. I want her hand to hold when life hurts and I need to know that I'm not alone.

Jenn is my very best friend and I am so thankful to be sharing this journey with such an amazing girl!

Until next time,