When It Hits You All Over Again

The atmosphere in Wrigleyville seemed weird and off-kilter. Every sports network seemed to be talking about The Big Sell Off, and in that particular neighborhood there was no getting around it. I walked past a popular mural of Kris Bryant, simultaneously chastising myself for getting emotional. When I shared about it two days later, I was teased for acting like someone had died. And while no one had, the past two days had me thinking of someone close to me that did. Back in 2016, I came down to Wrigley Field (after the Cubs had won the World Series) to stick a note on one of the brick walls in his honor. And since that era has officially come to an end, I found myself wondering how he would have felt about it. What he would think. And I hated having to wonder instead of ask. 

A few months prior I couldn’t sleep, my surroundings unfamiliar. I thought of his little sister’s upcoming wedding and all the ways he could be honored during the occasion. “Together Again” by Janet Jackson played like a loop and I felt the tears before I could register the specific emotion. It wasn’t long before the sniffles became muffled sobs, and I had to bite my lip so I wouldn’t be heard. What’s up with you, woman?! You were euphoric a half hour ago. 

It wasn’t as much sadness as it was vulnerability.  One of the many waves I’ve experienced in the last five years. 

More recently, I was watching a documentary about the life and music of Eric Clapton. He had lost a young son with the same name. And there I was, bawling until my tear ducts had nothing left to give. 

And I suppose that’s just one of the facets of grief; the outpouring of love that you feel like cannot give because that person isn’t physically present. It happens when a memory pops into my head, one that I haven’t thought about in a while. Or I’ll start making correlations between songs, movies, little things that don’t immediately register but hit me later.

There is something about losing someone so young and so suddenly that can only be expressed from the deepest parts of me. I’m not afraid to weep, and I weep to this day because it still seems surreal. Wait, this actually happened? This wasn’t just a bad dream?

My saving grace has been the way so many that I’ve grown up with came together to celebrate his life, and still do to this day. I’ve experienced a similar loss before and didn’t mourn openly, and it led to near disastrous outcomes. It’s easy to say that everyone has different ways of coping, but to go on as if someone didn’t exist, to never mention their name again, that seems almost unfathomable to me. I give thanks that while Connor’s body is not here on earth, his memory and his spirit continuously live on. I see it in my hometown, which I have a different appreciation for compared to a decade ago. I see it in the things he loved, from hunting and fishing to the different bodies of water he spent his days on. I see it in the color green, and in country music. I remember his laugh, his smile, and his sense of humor. 

I knew that fun side of him, but one regret that keeps showing up was that I never got to truly know his heart (or at least we never sat down and had one of those deep conversations). 

I wish he could tell me somehow that he’s okay, and that he’s been reunited with those who went after he did. 

My anger has never been at God, but at the way the rest of the world seems to keep turning while trying to deal with the fact that this has impacted me without words to describe. Even as we’re still going through a pandemic and death is common, many of us hold grudges, live with hardened hearts, or don’t think before speaking, as if it could be the last time. Conflict should not be avoided at all costs, but discussion and resolution should always come from a place of love, regardless if those involved see eye to eye or not. 

I wrestle with that on a daily basis. That and wanting to tell certain people I love them without making it weird. 

I miss you Connor, now and always. 

I know you’re here in some ways, and until we meet again.

On Celebrating My Body

Four years ago this month, I chose to take my body back, putting my energy toward healing rather than hurting and destroying. Recovering from an eating disorder is not black and white, and there is as much of a mental component as there is a physical component. The beginning of the pandemic rocked me mentally, and I found myself teetering on the edge of unhealthy habits in order to cope with the stress of the unknown. Anxiety left me with little to no desire to eat, and when I did I was concerned about my ability to keep it down.

There are times where this kind of journey, this process, this life, has felt like basic survival. Going through the motions. Taking steps and following plans in order to go forward instead of fall backward. And yes, there are seasons, like at the very beginning or after a relapse where that’s the best course of action. But at what point does one shift their focus from surviving and actually start living? Or living again? 

Celebration is vital, and it’s something that’s not talked about enough in support groups and communities. We can talk about body positivity, neutrality, love and acceptance all across the board, but it becomes an echo chamber if we can’t identify and therefore practice what it looks like. And we deserve to. 

Especially now. 

Take All The Pictures (And Pose)

The very invention of the photograph was to create and keep memories, and for a long time you had to appreciate it, regardless of how it developed. Even before social media, I loved picking up a camera and capturing the beauty around me, even at the risk of annoying everyone else. Photography has become a favorite hobby, and I’m not going to deny that I love doing photoshoots (and having mine taken). I haven’t spoken about it much due to the fear of frequent discouragement, but I have been curious about modeling, regardless if it involves money or not. I’m fascinated by the creativity, the set up, and the way everything comes together. 

I want to remember the days, the moments where I feel good; good, confident, and completely and unabashedly myself. As scary as it is to see my body change, it’s even scarier to think about where I’d be or what I’d have to go through if it didn’t. It’s a sense of maturation, a softening, even if it’s not conscious. Your body is allowed to evolve with your mind, and it’s part of why I wear less eyeliner, only use hot tools on my hair when truly needed, and am most comfortable when wearing less clothing. 

I try things, but I don’t share it all with the world, because not everyone deserves to see it. I have a right to pleasure and enjoyment, but I’m rather selective about who I allow into that part of my life. It already feels vulnerable enough, and if I’m going to make it public, there has to be a purpose. I reject shame, and making anyone else feel that way merely because we’ve had different experiences.

Cultivate a sense of Adventure

I adore exploration; There’s something romantic about getting on a train or a plane and wondering what the day holds, who I might meet, and how it would change my life for the better. The recovery time might take longer, and I have to priortize rest and relaxation in the same way I do having a social life. All I can say for sure at the moment is figuring out how to do both is ongoing.

My family and I had to delay a vacation due to the pandemic, and then ended up making it happen almost a year later. It took a lot of balance with making lists and doing research, while still trying to roll with whatever was out of my hands (especially in terms of weather). I’m still a work in progress in regards to asking for what I want, and claiming victory in speaking up and putting something out there. This is especially true for me in relationships, both personally and professionally. 

It’s the kind of curiosity, vision, and creativity that has carried me through a lot of hills and valleys in life, even more so in this last year. 

Move. Dance. And Don’t Worry So Much 

Movement is a gift, and one that I often take for granted. I love to dance, regardless of speed, and despite never having concentrated on one specific type. At times I’m hyper-aware of the way others might watch me, which is why I’ve never been keen on taking classes (due to the impulse of self-comparison and criticism, wondering why I feel like I could but can’t seem to do it like those around me). But when I’m with people, when the lights go down low and the music is loud, I give myself full permission to go all out.. Sometimes I’ll start in on it without fully realizing what’s happening. Sometimes I’m in church, and sometimes I’m on a sticky dance floor surrounded by old-school paneled walls holding memories that could span decades. 

I’m going to a wedding in a couple of weeks, and I haven’t been part of a crazy party since my birthday back in 2019. I’d like to think I’d kick my shoes off and completely let go, or maybe ease back into it, depending on what the vibe is. But I will be in my element, and I will try not to overthink anything. 

Sip and Savor

My relationship with food has been complex as far back as infancy, texture sensitivities and subconsciously absorbing elements of diet culture playing key roles. I know that I enjoy grazing/snacking more than taking in fuller portions, and the latter can be overwhelming to the point where it causes anxiety. I’d like to expand my palate more (I take pride in trying mushroom stuffed pasta recently), but it’s all in the baby steps. I don’t label any food as good or bad, and do my best to listen to what my body wants and when it wants it. Rather than restriction, I focus on variety, even though there are days where all I can do is get something in my stomach, even if it isn’t particularly nutritious. 

I want to be fully able to see food as an experience, rather than something to rush through or survive on. I love the meditative aspect of cooking, and the sentimentality of drinking coffee in the morning and wine or tea in the evening. It’s those parts of my day that force me to go slow, to look around me and pay attention. And if you’ve ever heard me make a raunchy reference to eating chocolate (mousse, gelato, etc) maybe after reading this you’ll understand why. It should be pleasurable, and damn it if it can’t be sensual every so often. 

And when I can’t rejoice in my skin, or the things that come with it, I simply try to show it compassion. Here we are, calloused fingers and toes. Thank you, slightly pudgy tummy that sticks out because of poor posture. It all moves and functions differently, but I adapt and I figure it out. 

Yes, I have thin privilege. Yet I also live in a handicapped/disabled body, which society at large does not celebrate (if that was the case, ableism wouldn’t exist). It feels like a paradox, looking one way but having multiple layers to contend and come to terms with. And that is a whole story for another time. 

Right now, I thank God for four years, and for the way he physically made me. Even where there are days where I struggle and question and want to just get it right already. 

Here’s to draping myself in grace, and grace for those around me.

Let it be so.

When I Talk About…

Initially I wanted to tell as many people as I could, or at least many as I thought needed to know. When you keep a serious problem like an addiction/disorder under wraps for a length of time (whether intentional or not) you suddenly don’t want to have a filter anymore. You want to tell the truth, all the time, believing that’s exactly what you need to do to heal. And perhaps in a way, I absolutely needed to back then.

But as the saying goes, not everyone can handle the truth. And my truth is that recovering from an eating disorder is complex and multi-faceted. Three years later, I’ve come to regard it as something sacred, a big part of my life, but a part nonetheless that not all can be part of. There’s an assumption where if you don’t openly discuss the absolutes of who you are, you must be ashamed of them. Yet what if it’s not shame, but protection, that motivates the quiet? A healthy protection of progress, and protection of self.

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My best friend asked me how I wanted to celebrate, given that the pandemic had put the original plan on pause. My immediate family was supposed to reunite in Florida after my brother’s return from deployment, and we’d even spend a day at Disney. The courage to share with my mother what that trip would mean to me, what I had accomplished personally, was enough of a celebration in and of itself. It was tough to come up with anything else beyond that at the time.

I dreamed the night before the three-year mark about being surrounded by cakes, each one looking too damn delicious for words. And the morning of the seventeenth, I finally came up with a short-term idea (well, mostly). It should involve macaroons or chocolate truffles (two of my favorite sweet treats). I want to get dressed up and go dancing when it’s safe enough. Do a photo shoot. Anything that allows me to appreciate food and my body.

And yet, recovery is so much more than that, and I want it to be a focus as I continue to grow and evolve: it’s about getting in touch with yourself, valuing yourself, and ultimately coming back to yourself.

The romantic in me. That sense of child-like wonder and awe. The sensitive smile with a tender heart who cries easily. She doesn’t need to be found because she’s always been there. She just got buried under a lot of garbage for a while. And though I’ve done a lot of work in terms of getting to know her again, there are aspects I’m still learning to accept and embrace.

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As Sunday ended, I had a hard time falling asleep, so I began to pray:

I’m sorry that I haven’t always loved and cherished this beautiful creation that you’ve given me.

I’m sorry for when I didn’t show it compassion or understanding.

I’m sorry for the ways in which I allowed my body to be disrespected and used. I wasn’t strong enough back then.

Thank you for three years of healing.

For learning how to honor, rather than avoid hunger.

For trusting myself enough to know what I need when I need it.

And thank You for walking with me through it all, especially in the moments when I’ve felt very much alone.

Of course, there is grace; grace for when I wake up too late and feel like I don’t have time to eat breakfast because I must play catch up. Grace for when I chug a protein drinks or various snacks just to get something in my stomach. Grace for when I the constant news of COVID-19 made me want to hug the toilet because I couldn’t hug anyone else. When I fear that gaining weight will no longer mean I’m beautiful, because that’s what I’ve known and was used to

But I am more than that. I have my heart, my mind, and my spirit. My church, listening to podcasts, reading books that make me think, quiet time, all remind me that I have a body, but other parts of me just as much nourishment.

In some respects, with diet culture so prevalent, I’m always going to struggle. I’m now just finding the gumption to call BS when I see it. And it takes a lot of mental energy to let things go when people around me just don’t “get it.”

There are good days, and there are hard days. I’m grateful to be part of each one of them.

Take Me To The Water

When the new dawn broke

So did I

A movement

A leaning in

Beyond books and quiet morning prayers

Becoming a face of what I had once avoided

Perhaps even feared

Quenched in me what I didn’t know I needed

 

Connection

Conversation

And Community

 

But something popped up

Which has me at a loss of description

A cloud? A fence of thorns? Surreality? 

Unprecedented circumstances keeping human contact at bay

Unable to open doors, exchange greetings, or even touch

 

Technology, having been soured by old-fashioned rhetoric

Has now become a lifeline to our loved ones

And to the outside world

But so many

Already weary

Stuck between “new normal” and “temporary reality”

 

More recently, on a walk

The rain came down

And I felt it seep to my bones

But I wasn’t cold, or discouraged

I welcomed it

A washing of current anxieties, grief, and fears

 

And I began to envision again

The new dawn of a new season

Not by a calendar year, but one of hope

Where distance is not bound by six feet 

Gathering freely

Dancing, singing, and embracing

Lingering for a little longer

Not rushing from point A to point B

 

Until then

Lead me to the water

Where peace lives, in my mind and in my spirit

Cascading on my like the falls

Sprinkling like rain

Filling my soul

Again and again

And regardless of what happens, or when

May the well within me

Not dry up

The Shape of Grief

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A somewhat balmy and overcast Saturday morning, just a day or so before his twenty-fourth birthday. I shuffled through grass and sand, greeting and hugging those I hadn’t seen since the inaugural memorial fishing tournament the previous year. While sitting down and waiting for a few others to return from fishing, I mentally began going through the names of people that I hadn’t said hello to. Oh, I need to go say hi to Connor!

It was subconscious, and the reality hit me just as quickly as the original thought had come up. Connor was the reason we were all there, casting lines, reminiscing and taking in things that had been added to the garden. We were celebrating another year of his life, despite that he wasn’t able to celebrate here with us on earth.

Momentarily panic-stricken, I didn’t know whether to cry or merely shrug it off. The former would have been more than appropriate, but I felt guilty for wanting to do so randomly and in such a public place. Later on, I would feel guilty for not crying, but in that moment, I grabbed a Miller Lite (one of his beers of choice, if I remember correctly) and tried to see all the construction business taking place across the lake at my childhood home.

How has it been two years? A question repeatedly asked at Country Thunder, a rich summer tradition and the last place I saw him alive. I was adamant on staying for Luke Bryan, and raised a glass with the best of them as I was reminded I loved this music so much in the first place. I wanted to honor two great men that were taken from this world much too soon, who left an imprint on my life and memories I still recall to this very day.

It’s not just the bitter sweetness of birthdays, weddings, or long-standing traditions. It’s when your world, your perspective, your life as you know it has changed, but everything else around you acts like never nothing. You suddenly feel distant from those who haven’t experienced it, and truly the only way to understand it is if and when you go through it. The concept of not taking anything for granted and loving people while you have them—most of the time it’s just lip service until you’ve been wrecked to your shoes by a sudden loss or looked death in the face. Tack on the popularity of being savage versus sensitive, and that’s a whole other wall to break through.

It’s when you know you’re not the only one going through it, but feeling like you’re the only one willing to openly and honestly talk about it.

Reminiscing has been, and continues to be a saving grace. I didn’t get to do that at twenty-one, when a friend from high schooll was killed in a drunk driving accident. It helps me to see that living counts for something, even in the moments that made you angry or pissed off, but seem so small now.

There is no formula for grief; it is not linear, and most of the time it’s not temporary. Books like Option B and The Colors of Goodbye are helpful, but ultimately the best thing I can do is face the waves when they come. Sometimes I just bob with it, like when I randomly get the sniffles and goosebumps at work and can act like I’m fighting a cold. But if I hear Eric Church or Cole Swindell, it’s best to just hold me and let me cry it out.

I learned a long time ago not to be afraid of emotion, and the discomfort that often comes with it. I don’t know how to answer, “Why do I get my cat back but not my son?” (A miracle that is not mine to share), but I say without question that you do not tell a parent when or even if they should stop grieving the loss of their child (and vice versa) Don’t assume that talking about a lost love one always makes people sad or brings back bad memories; at the very least, it never hurts to ask. And while we all grieve differently, there’s a huge difference between doing so privately and full-out running away from it.

There is room for both joy and pain, particularly when it comes to navigating life after tragedy. It doesn’t have to be a blessing or a gift right away, nor might it ever be. Sometimes it just the unfortunate and painful reality that has to be dealt with.

I am grateful that Connor’s life has brought me closer to those whom I’ve known since I was a baby, and brought me peace with various situations that I’ve struggled with up until then. And I will always refer to our little group of siblings as the seven of us, nothing less.

He has given me a new appreciation for where I grew up, a place that I wanted to leave behind completely beforehand.

I am grateful for the garden created in his honor, a place that I can hopefully bring my future partner and children to someday.

And I am grateful for his spirit; a spirit that I will not apologize for trying to keep alive, whether it’s through the stories I tell about my life, or the motivation to give love and to love deeply.

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Take care of them, Lord.

Amen.

Going Back To Church (Or Trying To)

 

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I go to church, but I have not gone regularly since I was seventeen years old.

Around the 2008 election, I began to hear the hissing whispers of what now seems to define the Evangelical Christian movement on the cultural landscape: You have to be a Conservative Republican. Pro-life and Anti-Abortion. Do not support marriage that does not involve a man and a woman. And having sex before that means you will not have anything to give to your future spouse (especially if you are a woman). The Bible is clear on X, Y, and Z. If you don’t fully believe in any of these things, you must not truly love Jesus.

Uh, what?

That led to an even bigger question: should I believe these things because I feel that they truly right? Or have I just been spoon-fed every Sunday to do/say what a pastor tells me to?

I froze, spiritually, as if merely speaking that out loud turned me into an outsider. I was terrified to bring it up with anyone, given the friendships I’d cultivated since that first summer at a youth group camp were beginning to fade and I feared being brushed off and simply told to “check the Bible.” It seemed much easier to just sleep in, rather than try to sing words that sounded hallow or nod along to a message aimed at the absolutes rather than those who dare question and investigate.

God and church. Church and God. Such an intertwine was all I had known back then, and needed to take time to untangle.

College made me both curious and apprehensive to see what faith looked on campus, attending various groups and giving each one a genuine try. There was an emphasis on being different, and I already was fighting a separate battle with unintentionally standing out in the face of ignorance. There was always something off about the atmosphere, a superior us versus them mentality. I was only a freshman, and didn’t want to get pitted against a place I was just beginning to love and would be at for the next four years. I would attend Sunday services every so often, but continued to keep lingering doubts to myself. I wanted belonging, but not enough to risk rejection.

I was far from the pews, but not from the foundation; I still prayed regularly, kept a journal, and read the Bible. I knew that I needed God, but I also needed to see what that looked like between Sundays. I had lived a shelter life as a young girl, and didn’t want to be confined by four walls while on my own. I still had many a spiritual conversation in bars, coffee shops, and even after a weekly summertime tradition of The Bachelorette.  I’m grateful for the friends that reassured me this season was normal and human and nothing to be ashamed of.

A transitional nudging led me to one of the most popular megachurches in my local area, yet real connections were sparse, and I kept wondering if I would ever find a gathering place to call home, especially as I was evolving into adulthood.

Writing this, home seems to look like a hodgepodge of different cultures and ethnicities, neighborhoods that have their own distinct vibe and flavor. Whenever the fundamentalist/progressive divide becomes apparent, I remember how important it is to be aware, but not afraid (at least to the point of running away from real community). I don’t see the point in debating, because ultimately we can have the same beliefs but different convictions on how to live out those beliefs. I’ve learned that it’s okay to disagree with those you admire, and still gain knowledge and wisdom from them. But yet I cannot deny what has been tugging at the core of my soul for a long time:

There are some things that are just between a person and God, whether it has to do with their body or their sexuality. Sometimes, “speaking the truth in love” means simply listening, and remembering that we humans have a limited perspective in comparison to the One who created us.

Leaving church (for however long) does not equate to abandoning God. Yes, we are called to gather together, but that is no reason to invalidate wounds, pain, and abuse caused by it. There will be seasons where Jesus Calling and online podcasts feel safer than walking through sanctuary doors.

Anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental health struggles have absolutely NOTHING to do with a lack of faith. Pastors are not the same as doctors or psychiatrists, and be wary of those who act like they are. It is wise to seek counseling, and it is just as wise to take medication if you feel moved to do so.

If you don’t want to be lumped in with those that feel they need to hate certain groups of people in order to be “good Christians”, then stand up and live out who you say you are.

I am still wrestling with a lot, especially when it comes to gray, or even flat out bad theology. I don’t like the term “broken” because of how it was used against me as a young girl by those that bullied and ultimately misunderstood me. Phrases like “hungry” or “thirsty” often make me want to draw closer to God than the former; reminding me that I still desperately need Him without feeling less than human.

I could never be an atheist; I have been through too much and experienced enough miracles to know that we didn’t just get here by simply appearing out of nowhere. There is something much bigger than you and I, although I cannot pretend to understand or comprehend all of it. That is why faith is often referred to as a mystery.

Funny how when I first started attending church, I sought out a safe place from what I had no control over. Nearly ten years later, I find myself in similar circumstances, though my brain is still a sponge.

I still have questions and am skeptical at times, but the beauty of faith is being able to discuss it all on a deeper level and be able to grow from it. Wherever my journey takes me, I trust that what is hurt will lead to healing, and what needs transforming will lead to grace.

After Midnight

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It’s easy to hope before midnight then it is to have faith afterward.

Ringing in 2018 was calm and low-key, the majority of the celebration spent with family or family friends. We sipped drinks, played games, and I discovered the deliciousness of assorted macaroons on one of the dessert tables. I was in no rush for the current year to be over, savoring time with my loved ones and trying not to fall asleep before the clock struck midnight.

When the years-end rolls around, there’s a massive fixation on goal-setting and trying to do things differently. There’s nothing wrong with that as a whole, but too often they come attached with life-size expectations and are rooted in people-pleasing. I’m a huge advocate for growth and self-improvement, but not to the extreme where I believe that I missed the mark (in most areas) every single year.

2017, despite its hurdles and unexpected challenges, was one of the most transforming years that I’ve experienced since my teens. I got out of head and faced some uncomfortable truths, and once the initial sting wore off, I realized that I’ve become more like myself than ever. I won’t deny that mistakes were made and resulted in taking responsibility for my own crap, yet I’m not going to cower in shame either. I became a better writer, owning my words and beliefs and perspective. I slowly learned about self-compassion, and that being your own best friend doesn’t mean being alone.

It’s why I chose to set intentions, which focuses on one’s mindset as opposed to being dependent on what one can or cannot accomplish. Not a formula for solving problems or a quick fix for happiness, but something I strive to take with me each day; it’s not about where you start, but how you walk through what you go through.

I know I won’t always stick to it, but I intend to:

-Hold myself to a standard of grace instead of perfection.

-Live in the tension and confusion of the unknown instead of seeking immediate answers or a fix.

-Be fully present when in the presence of people I care for (i.e. take a breather from social media, which I need for the sake of my emotional health).

-Choose love, compassion, tenderness, and trust.

Let it be so.

One day at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Twenty-Five

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Tomorrow is my twenty-fifth birthday.

It’s not considered as big of a deal as eighteen or twenty-one, but I wouldn’t call it “just another day,” either. I’ve seen and done a lot, but I’ve also had a few close called in the process. One was a pretty serious surgery when I was just two weeks old, and the prognosis was grim. The other was the result of a dark depression that followed me everywhere as a teenager, snickering and whispering that I wasn’t good enough or strong enough. I’ve also carried a sense of self-awareness, that what is given can be easily taken away, and just because it has been around for a while doesn’t mean that it will be there forever.

A quarter of a lifetime is something. It’s not the end-all-be-all, yet there is a sacredness and an emphasis (though I don’t know how to describe it). Maybe I’m just feeling humble. Maybe, despite the years that have passed, I’m not entirely sure if I’ve accomplished a whole lot. And maybe I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic, preferring to have balanced expectations and be surprised than the other way around. I’ve always had mixed feelings about birthdays in general, as I have to work at not getting wrapped up in what I want to happen (versus what actually does). And for the sake of not sounding conceited or ridiculous, I’ll leave it at that for now.

I haven’t picked a word yet, one that I can set both long-term and short-term goals around.  At twenty-four I wanted to be bold, and that definitely manifested itself in ways that I wouldn’t have expected or imagined. Brave sounds too cliché, especially when I don’t have a whole lot of trouble with that. Merely being, however, is an entirely different story all together. It has been a struggle, like having my hands tied and being forced to accept whatever happens to me in life. It had no sense of direction, no end-goal or destination. There has to be more to it, otherwise it doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

What about being unapologetic?

Like many, I’ve developed a habit of saying “I’m sorry” too much and too often. Sometimes it slips out when I don’t realize it, becoming my fallback even in the midst of trying to do simple things like getting from one place to another. Admittedly, it has also become my way of diffusing tension in emotional conversation or situation; rather than just allow both parties time to process what took place, I’m quick to jump up and take blame for the discomfort. Part of it has been ingrained in me since childhood, and part of it stems from fear and insecurity. I’m constantly afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, especially at the wrong time. If a question or moment of vulnerability is met with silence (more so when it comes to texting), my anxiety kicks into over-drive and I automatically assume I’m at fault. It’s not good for my relationships, and it’s definitely not good for my emotional health.

“Unapologetic” does have negative connotations: the refusal to grow and evolve, or to make changes when you know that your current path is doing more harm than good. There’s a lack of responsibility, of owning up to mistakes and taking proactive steps to make amends. And there’s an aura of self-centeredness, of basically flipping the bird to everyone around you. With my history of taking tough as nails to the extreme, I can understand why these assumptions exist. And just because I re-define it does not mean that these assumptions will automatically go away.

When I think of what tends to define me, what comes to mind are the ways in which I care for others:  depth, compassion, curiosity, sensitivity, stubbornness, grit, and patience are all driving forces that influence how I interact with people around me, despite having days where I felt like I needed to hide or at least tone it down. Not everyone communicates in the same way, or feels as deeply as I do, which is why it’s unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable. But I refuse to apologize for trying to add light into the world, for wanting to treat people like human beings and show them that they matter. I have always known who I am, but have not always been confident in the ways in which I feel led to be my own person. With the country and the world so divided, I believe in seeking to understand as much as I seek to be understood. Whatever is done out of love, and in a loving way, should not be followed by regret. In other words, I will not take something back (that I did for the sake of reassuring, affirming, or supporting) just because a reaction might be difficult to read.

What lies ahead is unclear, but my purpose is not. Here’s to another year of opportunities, risk, creativity, faith, and adventures.

Here’s to feeling alive at twenty-five.

Photo Credit

When Loss Comes Closer

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And only the good die young…

 My mom and I had gone to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field that Friday, and that was the song he closed with as we began to make our way toward the exit. We stopped for a little bit to dance and sing along with the rest of the boisterous crowd, but part of me was (and still is) unsettled by the song’s popularity. I had a really funny feeling that drove straight into my soul, and I remembered how I had lost a friend from high school to a drunk driving accident three years ago. But as I would come to find out two mornings later, that wasn’t the only reason why.

I will always remember the day he died, and the day I heard the news. On August 27, 2016 I was in Chicago for an unofficial high school reunion, sipping wine on an apartment balcony that overlooked the city. The next day, I was getting ready for a date when I noticed that I had two missed calls from my mom and brother, and they texted that I call them back immediately.

“There’s been a car accident and it was fatal,” my brother said. I called my mom and she confirmed the little that she knew. I don’t remember the actual feeling of being sucker punched, but all I could do was put my hands over my face and cry.

“Why?” I kept asking over and over to the empty bathroom. I had known Connor and his family from the time I was a baby; they were our neighbors and we had all pretty much grown up together. The accident happened during a rainstorm, and he was only twenty-two years old.

I laid down on my bed and instantly grabbed hold of my favorite blanket, a Hawkeye theme where the edges of the material had been tied together. His mom and sister had made it for me before I went to college, and I held onto it in times homesickness or stress. Even though I was no longer in Iowa, it continues to be a source of comfort, my “blankie,” if you will. I spent the rest of the day battling a splitting headache, probably because it was all too much to process at the time. I wanted to reach out to Kaitlyn, his older sister and one of my best friends. I knew that bullshit clichés and platitudes would be of little comfort, and more than likely more than one person was trying to pile them on.

The days leading up to the funeral were filled with anxiety, part of it relating to being in shock over the tragedy that had taken place. This wasn’t the first time I’d been faced with an unexpected passing in my life, but it was the first time I felt like I was allowed to openly grieve because I knew the person really well. On one hand I was numb, silently going through the motions and merely observing everything that was going on in the situation. But I also wanted to be strong for the others that were in mourning, as Connor was not only my brother’s best friend, but also my best friend’s brother. She has held me up during many difficult times in my life, and now it was my turn to do the same for her.

I arrived later than intended on the day of the service, so the process of saying goodbye while simultaneously offering support felt rushed and all over the place. Certain aspects of that day will remain in my memory forever: the look of anguish on my brother’s face as he helped bear Connor’s casket up and down the church aisle. My mom’s arms around me as we both stood and cried together. The way my legs shook in anticipation of finding the family and silently hugging each of them (and the way they seemed to be comforting me more than the other way around). It was all very much surreal, and I’m not the only one who felt like they were existing between reality and an unfathomable nightmare.

I had hoped and expected something inside of me to break, where the floodgates would be opened and I could get everything out and be done with it. When that didn’t happen, I became frustrated and uneasy, wondering if there was something that I needed to tap into or a switch that I needed to hit in order to find closure. I had heard that one of the ways to process the loss was to have a conversation with the deceased person. Knowing that I’m a much better writer than a conversationalist, I decided to write him a letter.

It was two pages of me reminiscing, grieving, and ultimately thanking him for being such a large part of my life. I had an amazing childhood, where the six of us practically lived in our own little world for at least a decade. At a more private memorial, I relayed stories that our parents hadn’t either known about (or had forgotten about) until then. I then did one final sendoff at sunset, releasing the words into the lake in us kids had grown up on, and would now hold a tender mixture of joy and pain. I began to understand that the grief would come in waves (which it still does) and would often hit me when I least expected it.

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There are no words to aptly describe the pain of losing someone so suddenly, and especially when they have so much life left in them. And it’s been painful to see people that loved him (and he loved just as much, if not more) in so much agony, although that’s not to say I regret bearing witness to it. In a weird and morbid way, I’m thankful that I allowed myself to see and feel everything that I could, even if it hurt like hell. Nobody wants to talk about the fact that death is part of life, although no amount of knowing and preparing will decrease the weight and impact of the loss. It fucking hurts, and it fucking sucks.

I don’t know if Connor’s passing happened for a reason, and I don’t think that everything does happen for a reason. Yet I have learned a lot about compassion, and what it means to show up for people in their darkest hour(s). For the love of all that is good in this world, please stop with the whole “If I can’t take away the pain, then it’s pointless to do anything” way of thinking. There is always something that you can do! Go to the person that’s hurting and let them know that you love them and that you’re there. There is so much love and power in the simple act of merely being there: sitting with them. Holding them. Letting them be sad and mutually sharing in that sadness.Listening. And if you can’t physically be present, you can still send flowers or a card or something. How much time does it really take to type out and send a text message that says, “I’m sorry for your loss”? Pick up the damn phone. Write a letter or an email. Whatever you do, know that the smallest amount of support and tenderness is better than nothing. Show up and show love.

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but walking with someone through tragedy is NOT about your level of comfort. It’s not about you. I’ve learned how to be extremely vulnerable in those moments where I have no idea, to say, “I love you and I’m also terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing right now.” I understand that’s where a lot of the hesitation and resistance lies, because no one wants to make things worse or end up being the insensitive jackass who meant well but epically failed. There is grace in that, because at least the person is making an effort. Questions are always better than assumptions: “What do you need?” “How can I be there for you?” “Do you want to talk, or do you want to just sit in silence?” Never assume that you know what a grieving person wants or needs, just because you might want or need to do that in a difficult situation. Again, it’s not easy and often requires stepping out of your own box of comfort. But if it makes people feels less alone, then damn it, swallow your pride and do it.

I waited at least a day or so to tell anybody on the outside (unless I absolutely had to). I’ve had this habit of telling people too soon (when bad things happen) because it keeps me from being sucked into a black hole of depression and despair. Contrary to popular belief, it is helpful to have the support of those who didn’t know the deceased, or at least that’s how I feel. There were times where I needed to breathe emotionally. There were times where I desperately wanted the perspective of those who had already been through it, or whose minds weren’t shrouded in the clouds of unspeakable loss. When another friend died three years ago, I ended up turning to alcohol and random strangers for comfort. I didn’t want to numb the pain, but I wanted to feel connected.  And now I would rather be a raw, emotional wreck than go down the path of functioning alcoholism again.

Maybe it is expecting too much, or maybe it’s wanting to know that you and your experiences matter. It’s a lesson in real friendship, about who’s willing to be there and who isn’t. People make mistakes and they mess up, but pure silence does say a lot.

It’s been over one hundred days. One hundred days where I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that he’s no longer here on earth. I miss his smile, his laugh, and the way he made fun of me whenever I got tipsy. The memories still keep popping into my head, though most were from ten or twenty years ago. I post old pictures and am still hoping that somewhere in one of our houses, there is a picture of all of us together, at least one. I still feel a little guilty over moving forward with my life, especially since there are a ton of people who are still living with the pain as if it just happened yesterday. I know he would want me to live my life to the fullest, to love people around me with everything I have, and to not spend my days in darkness. I think about things that I’ve been too scared to mention out loud: weddings, babies, and a plethora of occasions that will never be exactly right without him. I continuously find small ways to honor him, whether it’s occasionally drinking his favorite beer or leaving his name on the wall at Wrigley Field after the Cubs won the World Series. I’ve never been into hunting or fishing, but those things now remind me of him. Country music is more meaningful than it ever has been, especially Eric Church and a variety of songs that now make me happy and sad at the same time. This is all neither good nor bad, but it’s reality. It’s the new normal that we all have to live with.

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It is said that pain changes with time, although I’m fully aware that it will never go away completely. I don’t know how I’ll feel a year from now, or what I’ll have learned from it in the next three or five. I understand that grief is the price we pay for loving people, but a broken heart is also an indication of a life well lived. I’m blessed, fortunate, and honored to have known such a kind soul, and I thank God for all of it.

Life is really is precious. He left a mark on the world, and I hope somehow he knows that.

I miss him. Now and always.

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The Waterfall

The coffee was absolutely delicious.

The all-inclusive resort was a perk.

I’m not sure I would do the zip-line again, but I’m glad I tried it once.

Yet out of everything I experienced on my inaugural trip to Costa Rica, the highlight of them all was a little-known local spot that my family and I decided to spontaneously visit a day beforehand. We packed a cooler, hired a driver, and set out to cross a long-time item off my bucket list: standing under a waterfall.

We had to hike a bit in order to get there, but having done my fair share in Colorado and Arizona, I wasn’t all that concerned. As we got closer, I could hear the sounds of the water and began to giggle like I used to when I was a little girl (side-note: this is how you know when I’m really happy). I had to force myself to walk slowly so that I wouldn’t trip and fall over anything, which was a challenge as the anticipation kept building. Once we made it all the way down, I couldn’t believe my eyes:

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Swimming out to the surrounding rocky area was a little bit tricky; I wore my gym shoes so as not to risk cutting my bare feet, and apparently was so excited that I forgot to take my glasses off at first (I did go back and put them away, but initially I wanted to make sure that I was able to literally see it all). I put my arm muscles to good use throughout, and eventually clawed my way up and around, standing close enough to be under this sight to behold, but far enough away from the edge so as not to lose my balance.

There aren’t words to truly describe what I was feeling in that moment, but grateful would be a good start. I know that not everyone gets to do something like this, and certainly not everyone who deals with physical challenges like I do on a regular basis. I was thankful for legs that can move and eyes that can see. I was thankful for the risk we took in asking a stranger to get us there (and back). I kept saying, “thank you” over and over again, sometimes in my head and sometimes out loud.

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I’m not sure if I jumped off of anything or just slid back in off the rocks (probably the latter, because I’m not a jumping bean like my sister and didn’t trust what was at the bottom). We swam around for a bit, and at one point I tried to duck under the fall and so that I would be directly behind it. The current was incredibly strong and aimed to pull me in several directions, where I became panicky and momentarily thought I would get sucked under. It was somewhat scary because my body was getting tired, and I’m not exactly skilled at treading water. I eventually found my footing and stopped to rest in the shallow end.

Before we left to head back to the resort, I stopped and said a quiet prayer in front of this amazing creation. I had dreamed of doing something like this since I was a child, and knew that I would always remember it. If not what it looked like, than definitely the freedom and wonder and awe that I felt in the midst of it. I’ve never been a travel fiend, but this made me want to explore more. It also dawned on me that a lot of my bucket lists aspirations have to do with water. In my lifetime, I would like to experience the following:

Swimming with dolphins (technically I’ve already done that, but I would like to do it in a place where I’m not with a boatload of people and have a little bit more time to enjoy being around one of my favorite animals).

 

Slow dance more often; I haven’t slow danced since my senior prom, but I don’t have to be at an event or party. It only takes two people, am I right?

 

Be kissed in front of Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom.

 

Witness sea turtles hatching, or just look at sea turtles. Turtles in general are adorable!

 

Have one of my essays be accepted for publication.

 

Sit on a rooftop and watch the sun rise in Chicago.

 

Meet the Blackhawks, or at least catch up a game up real close.

*I’ll keep adding as I think of things. This is just a shortened version.

I’m a dreamer. I’m a romantic. And I don’t mind it at all.