Tag Archives: kindness

A thought exercise (for me) and job offer (for Mindy Kaling).

Guys, I am struggling. All the hormones, all the waiting. The exhaustion — mental and physical. The guilt and negative thoughts. I’m really struggling.

But after an hour of tears in my therapist’s office and the ugly sobbing of so many incredibly unkind words toward myself, Dr. C suggested a thought exercise.

While I can’t quite wrap my mind around self-kindness, to treat myself as though I were a good friend, I can invent a friend and do pretty much the same. (I’m excellent at make believe, which is the nice way of saying lying.) I can invent a friend with a new diagnosis of, say, MS. (She was infertile at first, but Dr. C though maybe that would be a bit too much. So MS it is.) A debilitating and life-altering disease. A diagnosis that affects an individual and his or her partner. Sort of like infertility…

What would I say to that friend?

To my fictional friend, recently diagnosed with MS.

Your life is different now and will always be different. But your life is most definitely not over.

In fact, nothing has actually changed. Instead, you have an answer. It’s a terrible, horrible, no good and unwanted answer. But it’s an answer. And the answer doesn’t actually change a single thing about you.

The MS was always there. It’s a cruel trick of genetics, fate, chance. A cruel trick of whatever it is you believe controls the uncertainty in life.

(Personally, I believe in biology and probability, even when I don’t like it. (And sub-parenthetical, I apologize for being the kind of friend who cites their own blog in a letter to a friend.) But I have to let you chalk it up to whatever it is that you believe in.)

It’s not a punishment or a judgement on your moral fiber, the being that is you. It’s a circumstance. And you are not a victim of circumstance.

You are brave. You are resilient. You are head strong and heart sure. You love and are loved. None of those things will change. They are, like you, unshakable at their core. Because they make up your core.

Yes, there will be bad days. Days when MS feels like the only thing. When it feels suffocating and dark and all encompassing. Those days will pass. And there will be good days, days when you forget MS exists at all. Those days will pass too. Each is only a day. A day inhabited by the same brave and beautiful you, capable of anything and everything. Even surviving, living, thriving.

No one who loved you before loved you because you didn’t have MS. And there’s no reason to expect that anyone will love you less because of it. You are loved for something much deeper than your external circumstances, including what your body can or can’t do — by your spouse, your family, your friends, your dog. Like you, those loves will not change.

But the MS may, and likely will, change your mind and work some magic on your heart. It may increase your capacity for empathy and understanding. Maybe it has done these things already. Yes, it may also sometimes make you feel jealous and ragey and bitter about the able-bodied, unaffected folks around you. But a small price to pay for the beauty and appreciation and opening of heart you get to experience, don’t you think?

It’s not so much that MS itself is a blessing. More so that it’s not a curse or a punishment. It’s not out to get you. It’s not your fault. And because you are who you are, you can take what MS gave you, the cliched lemons, and make some cliched lemonade. Maybe some lemon bars too. Because you’re talented in that way and always go beyond the cliche to find something a little deeper and a little more dusted in powdered sugar.

Yes, MS is forever and it is yours to live with for all that time. But you will. Live. And love. And be happy and sad. Joyful and sorrowful. Grateful and jealous. Brave and scared. Just like everyone else, but also a little bit different than most.

I can’t necessarily understand, but I’m here for you, as your friend, as someone who loves you. And I’ll always be here for you, as someone who tries to understand and never stops loving you. No matter what.

Always.

R

Meant to be a mom or not, I can be a pretty stellar friend. Certainly a better friend than internal monologue-ist (which is not a real thing, I just invented it to make the point that I’m a total jerk to myself). And now, when my own verdict arrives in the near future, I can read the letter above. I can sub out the MS and sub in a state of infertility no longer changeable. And most importantly, I won’t have to go to my crappy internal monologue-ist for her thoughts on the matter. In fact, I may even have to let her go and re-post for the position.

We’ve decided to go in another direction…

Help Wanted — Qualifications: eloquent, Harry Potter fan with good sense of humor. No jerks need apply.

And with that, I suspect I may be trying to hire Mindy Kaling as my internal monologue-ist. She’s even had appropriate experience. This could be excellent.

{Source}
Couldn’t have found a better picture — results on Thursday. Two days is like forever from now. {Source}

A deeper understanding of the tapestry. Because: Always.

Yesterday was a hard day. In the same way that every day has been a hard day, but a little bit worse. I had a big work deadline during the day and a remembrance service for the baby in the evening. Work was stressful, I got home late, Curly couldn’t even be bothered to say hello when I got home (oh that moody pup can cut me!), and the remembrance ceremony was more than just hard — it was disappointing and untouching and all it did was make me cry more tears without any of the healing I had hoped for.

Remembrance

I’m sure it wasn’t the service, I’m sure it was me. I’m sure it was the bitter shell that’s building up around the outside of my tender heart. There were so many families there. Families with kids. And I wasn’t prepared for that. I expected a room full of other sad women and while it probably was actually a room full of sad women on some level, my eyes could only see something that made me feel jealous and angsty and ungrateful. I felt ugly from the inside out.

But before that, between my bummer of a non-greeting from Curls and the short drive to the hospital chapel for the service, I opened some mail and sat down to the table for a quick bowl of chili and walked through the park with my pup on a leash. Though hurried, I felt like I had a couple moments of clarity where some big stuff started to coalesce…

We’d been gone for a week with the mail on hold and Monday was a federal holiday, so the stack that arrived on Tuesday was kind of enormous. I studiously ignored the multiple insurance EOBs (people talk about children being expensive — non-children are too and it hurts quite a bit to open those up and see the bill for a broken heart continue to grow and grow) and other bits of business-y junk and not junk, but kept aside a letter that made a rattling sound from my friend Adriane and a heavy envelope from my Auntie Pam.

For a second I thought that maybe Adriane, realizing my appreciation for the dramatic, love of all things microbiology, and need for rest (maybe in a coma), might have sent me some anthrax spores and a guaranteed trip to an isolation suite in a hospital in Minneapolis near her where she would be my only visitor. She’s tiny and adorable and would be really hilarious to the out-of-body-coma-me seeing her in a big biohazard suit. It was such a good idea, but I was disappointed on the spores end. What Adriane had actually sent was a really, really beautiful note and an incredibly thoughtful gift of forget-me-not seeds. Forget-me-nots. Because she knows I’ll want to remember.

My Auntie Pam (the reason I’ll always insist on being an auntie and never an aunt) also sent a beautiful note and gift of remembrance — an angel ornament for our Christmas tree. But she also sent me two ridiculously exciting and probably haunted books she picked up at a little used bookstore across the street from the super-haunted Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, located very near to my best cousin and his best wife’s house. (To be clear, Mike only has one wife, I don’t mean to imply that there are multiple and that Christina is the best — she just earned the title of “best” when she married my best cousin.) She had thought of me, really me and my gone forever baby and the things I love, even while she was there visiting her own newest (and probably best (see above)) grandbaby. More tears.

After I opened the mail, I sat down to my finally-cool-enough-to-touch chili and re-read the words of Shauna Niequist about grace that I had already read once in the morning. I started reading Savor again on Monday morning. I had put Shauna away for a while, unable to bare her musings that sometimes (often) include family and motherhood in a way that I just couldn’t hear for a minute. But Monday and Tuesday were both about grace and powerfully so.

Shauna on Grace

I re-read those passages and looked up from my bowl. My eyes and my mind flashed around the kitchen at the clutter on the counter top and table that I had been (jerkily, ungratefully, offensively… but probably somehow protectively) referring to as “pity presents” and they suddenly weren’t that any more. They were, all of them, tangible reminders of so much love.

Flowers from Lara

I finished my chili and picked up Curly’s leash for a quick walk through the park. My mind turning over and over and over in the cool air. Pieces clicking together even as I bent over to bag up dog poop (because I’m a super responsible pet owner, even when distracted) and threw it away.

I was mad at God and the words “God has a plan,” the words I’ve heard so many times since the middle of September, felt like acid crawling through my insides. Because if God has a plan and his plan includes infertility, the months and years of waiting for nothing, then God is kind of an a-hole. And if God has a plan, and his plan is to take my baby, to prevent me from being a mother, to punish me or to hurt me or to cause me pain, then God is a jerk and I hate him. But that didn’t really fit for me because if God stops the hearts of babies, then God must also be responsible for whipping up the atmosphere into the frenzy of tornadoes and hurricanes. God must also slam tectonic plates together in a way that causes earthquakes and tsunamis. God’s blueprints must include untold levels of death and destruction. I don’t think I believe in that God.

Instead, deep down, I still really, really wanted to believe what I’ve said so many times. That God is good. Always. No matter what. And to believe that, I have to believe that God is love and only love.

And, bag of poop in hand, I realized I do believe that. Always. Because in addition to God, I also believe soundly in biology and physics. Meteorology and plate tectonics. Love doesn’t change biology, it can’t stop gravity from happening. Love can’t seed a rain cloud or move the winds. Love can’t shift the earth’s crust, make mountains or waves. But love can and does, as I have soundly witnessed, stir people’s hearts to do amazing things in the wake of unpleasant biology, physics, meteorology, plate tectonics, or any other unchangable earth-fact.

Love sends words and notes and gifts of comfort and remembrance (i.e. not pity presents and I’m sorry for ever even thinking it). Love is the reason anyone ever healed or rebuilt, from the (universally speaking) small miscarriage to the large floods of New Orleans and earthquakes of Nepal. When these things that cannot be helped, by God or anyone else, happen, when our lives are shattered, God is love and love is there to help us pick up the pieces, to inspire others to grace and compassion and goodness in ways that were unknown before the break.

And I hate that and love that for the same reason that Shauna Niequist wrote about yesterday, October 13th, when she said:

“I don’t really want to need grace… I prefer to believe instead that the math works: there are good things about me, but they’ve checked the math and because I’m funny enough, they can let go of how terrible I look most days, or if I’m interesting enough, the fact that my house is dirty isn’t such a big deal. But that kind of math is specifically anti-grace. Grace isn’t about netting out on the right side of things.

If arithmetic is numbers, and if algebra is numbers and letters, then grace is numbers, letters, sounds, and tears, feelings and dreams. Grace is smashing the calculator, and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic.”

It doesn’t have to make sense or to work out mathematically. Which is what I’ve been trying to do. To account for the heartbreak of infertility and miscarriage as something deserved and the kindness of others that, since not earned, must be pity. The God I believe in, the love he is and inspires, the grace, compassion, goodness, and even grief, that necessarily follows, just doesn’t work that way.

So what about Under the Tapestry? My whole premise — the idea that God is weaving a design that, no matter what it looks like from down here, is really, really beautiful “up” there. From the other side, whatever that might mean.

Well. Apparently in August of 2013, I had an idea, and it was a good one, but even I didn’t completely understand my own words — the bedrock on which I based all the rest.

I still believe that God is the weaver. But what this experience has taught me is that he is not the spinner too. Life produces threads, sometimes we color them ourselves — sometimes we do even more than just color them. Sometimes we shear the sheep, clean the wool, card, spin, and dye it all ourselves before we hand it over to the weaver. Sometimes life does it for us — biology, meteorology, physics, time. God just (not really just, but I think you know what I mean) incorporates those strands into our tapestry. Weaving them all together with the love that he is, into the design we cannot know on this side of eternity. A love so big and broad that it spreads out to all the people in a way that seems huge, but is really only a tiny glimpse.

Love begets compassion and kindness. Love begets grace and forgiveness. Love even begets grief and hurt. All those things stem from love and God is love. Love. Not a genie, puppeteer, or master of the physical universe. Not an architect, blueprint in hand. Not in my mind, anyway. He can work on our hearts, souls, and minds… but not physically. I really don’t believe that that’s how it works.

 

As hard as it is for me to wrap my mind around the above, it’s even harder to write about. Honestly, and not humbly, it takes some courage to put my thoughts about something as big and contentious as the idea of God out in space knowing that someone could hate it; will hate it. Especially when my thoughts aren’t exactly reverent (e.g., “then God is a jerk and I hate him”). While I was in Hawaii, though, my friend Dawn (bringer of light — her name is perfection) demanded I listen to a podcast (my first ever, truth be told, which is surprising for an Audible fan like myself, don’t you think?). Dawn has often sent me inspiring and powerful and thought provoking things to read and I’ve never been disappointed, but she has never ever demanded anything. And this time she demanded, so I listened. The voice on the line (Thomas Keller — here) was talking about how when we express our emotions and our questions, even the angry and fearful ones, it’s a prayer. A prayer for understanding, acceptance, peace, grace. Considering my general opinion of myself as an absolute crap do-er of prayer, this was music to my ears. I may not be good at on-the-spot holy father thou arts and such, but confused, out loud emoting is definitely my kind of thing. So let’s chalk this up to a prayer of that type. I’m confused and I’m hurting and I need desperately to better understand God in a way that brings me comfort rather than anger, because I don’t think anger is the point. And it’s certainly not a healthy place to stay. I wish mightily to be a person who is comforted by a well-timed bible verse or a phrase like “God has a plan,” but I’m not. I don’t find a lot of meaning in platitudes, no matter how true, probably for the same reason I don’t like small talk. It has to be deeper for me. Nearly 2000 words deeper plus 217 other posts, I guess, all to get to the place where I started:

The dark threads are as needful

In the weavers skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver

In the pattern he has planned

So I guess God is good. Always. Even still. Because how can love ever be bad in a world that can be so hard?

Diamondhead View

Thanks be to the benevolent witness.

I’m currently listening to The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. It’s so excellent. A million and one times better than stupid The Girl on the Train, which was in no way redeemed even after ignoring the whole “pathetic, fat Rachel” (in a British accent, even! Ray-chul…) thing that set me off initially (I finished it this morning). I knew Sue Monk Kidd wouldn’t let me down though. Not after the beautiful Bees and Mermaids. In fact, early on, I fell completely in love with this line:

“There’s no pain on earth that doesn’t crave a benevolent witness.”

And it’s so appropriate right now that I can barely find the words.

Except words are my thing, so I’ll manage something…

 

Infertility is a super painful and super personal thing. There’s not a lot I can do about it and certainly nothing that you can do for me. So why talk about it? Why share my story? Why have the conversation at all?

Lots of people have said that it’s because I’m brave and strong (which makes me feel embarrassed and super impostery). That they’re thinking of me and praying for me, sending me positive brain waves and maybe even some pixie dust or something (which makes me feel so unworthy). So many really, really nice things. Really genuine, kind, heart-felt, loving things.

It was all so nice that for a second I let it get dark… because sometimes nice makes me go there. And nice laced with hormones? Yeah…

I’m not brave or strong. I’m just honest. And wordy. And maybe people think I’m only saying it so that they’ll think I am, in fact, brave or strong. But that’s not true. I’m really, really not.

And maybe I’m soaking up too much nice, too much love, too many prayers and positive thoughts, getting high on all the pixie dust. All those things that could be better spent on someone else who really is suffering.

Maybe no one really wants to hear any of it at all and the comments and likes and texts and emails and phone calls and little IG hearts are all just gratuitous — a way of saying FINE. Talk about it enough and we’ll acknowledge you, but only because we feel like we have to. I imagine myself up on my tippy toes, fists balled up at my chest, eyes squeezed shut, screaming “acknowledge meeeeeeeeeee!”

Maybe my mom and dad resent the time, the plane tickets, the boring week of nothing but travel to and from the top of the middle to the bottom of the middle of Wisconsin, over and over again. Nothing but work and tv and movies and whining and injections in between. All without any guarantee of actual, living, breathing, human grandchildren in the end. And they’ve got some of those already. Really cute ones… wouldn’t their time be better spent with them???

God, I’m so annoying. So self-indulgent. Self-pitying. Self, self, self-ish.

 

But then Sue Monk Kidd said it — said what it really was. Infertility is painful. So painful. Emotionally, spiritually, financially, physically. And when I talked about it, out loud (on the internet), I was really asking for a benevolent witness.

And I got one. I got ten. And so many more. I got so very many benevolent witnesses. I got you. My goodness, I got so lucky.

 

It’s really hard not to be super emotional right now. Every word, every comment, every like, every text, email, phone call, whatever, has been unreal. So appreciated. All I wanted was a benevolent witness and I got so much more. Benevolence in the extreme. So when my friend Erika offered to wear ugly shoes if only it would help me to be a mom… and my grandma told me that it’s at times like these that she still misses her mom and was so glad my mom was here with me… and my cousin Beth(y) offered up her house for overnight stays in Madison along with best wishes and other nice words… and my in-laws made a special trip to and from Marshfield just to shuttle my mom back to the airport… and so many other big and little things (that all feel like big things to me) in the past couple of weeks… oh the tears. So many tears. Big fat tears of thankfulness and gratitude and what-on-earth-did-I-do-to-deserve-to-be-surrounded-by-so-much-kindness-ness.

I really wish I had brought my mascara with me this morning… could definitely have used a touch up before heading straight into the office.

 

So, by way of a long and emotional outpouring of gratitude for the insanely generous support you’ve given me, seriously, even just by reading… another quick update.

Today’s appointment at Generations confirmed that my eggy little ovaries are ready for the trigger shot. Seth’s currently setting up a Dexter-style kill room (11% off at Menard’s, perfect time to stock up on plastic sheeting) and at precisely 8:30 pm, we’ll do a big injection of HCG, which will set us up for egg retrieval exactly 36 hours later on Wednesday morning. The best part of it being trigger day: one more injection tonight (as opposed to three) and a completely injection-free day tomorrow. My super sore abdomen is already trembling with relief. (Actually, that’s probably just more fluid on it’s way… but we’ll call it relief for the moment.)

I’m definitely at a peak level of insanity — a state of nervous excitement under hormonal extremes that is entirely novel. (FYI: normal pre-menopausal estradiol levels range from 30 – 400 pg/ml… mine are currently upwards of 2000 pg/ml and on the exponentially upward part of the drug-induced curve, so…) I feel so excited by the possibility, by the fact that my response so far has been “textbook” (oh how I Hermione-ly loved hearing those words come out of Dr. Stanic’s mouth this morning), and that we really are just about to be with our maybe baby. I also feel terrified that it’s only maybe and that I have to have surgery on Wednesday and that there’s nothing I can do to make anything better, but then again, also relieved that there’s nothing I can do to make it worse.

 

I keep saying “we’re almost there,” but honestly, every step of the way has been a choice. A conscious decision to do this thing, despite all the different varieties of tough, because it’s something that we think will be worth it in the end. That our end is as a family of more than two humans, one puppy girl, and several semi-sentient plants that hate me just a little bit for not being watered quite as often as they ought to be. As such, we’re never really “almost there”… we’re just there. In the thick of it. Choice or not, though, it has been painful.

For this pain, my soul has craved a benevolent witness. I so appreciated those words, that sentiment, and that I have absolutely not been disappointed. Thanks. Seriously. Thank you.

The Barren-ess

Well, well, well…

Did you know that this was a thing?!

National Infertility Awareness Week
National Infertility Awareness Week

I had no idea… and I am. So… awareness!

And one in EIGHT couples? Wowza. Friends, I hope that for many of you I’m swaying the odds in your favor. Goodness knows I know many more than 8 other couples though. Dang.

Recently, I passed what I’ve long considered “the point of no return” — I started taking birth control.

Seems counter-intuitive , doesn’t it? But apparently, birth control is a necessary step in the IVF process. No more wishing, hoping, praying, imagining that this month will be the month that a spontaneous pregnancy catches us by surprise. We’re committed. Past the point of no return, if you will, on the way to IVF.

Early, early last Monday morning we headed down to Madison for the uterine mapping process. I’ll spare you the details, but it was not exactly a fun time. One step closer. Now that I’m on the pill though, I’m happy to just check, check, check these things off my list and get to the real business at hand. Egg collection, fertilization, implantation, and then, God-willing, a legit pregnancy. Cross my fingers, hold my breath, say my prayers, beg all the powers that be…

Honestly though, stumbling across this infertility awareness business, recognizing that I’m just another 1 in 8, makes me feel a whole lot less bad for myself. It’s a lot easier to be over-dramatic and woe-is-me-ish when I’m preoccupied with the utter uniqueness of my situation, which is really not all that unique at all. Tough, yes, but not unique. Barren, but not a barren-ess… nor the barren-est.

Misery really does love company, I suppose. But misery loves joy too. And support and friendship and happy news. Misery can even not be so miserable all the time because the notion of whether or not I’m going to have a family this way or that one is really only one small part of the life that I am living… which also happens to include blogging and smiles and products for curly hair and a floppy-pawed pup and buzz-cutted man, etc, etc, etc (please don’t tell Grammarist i just listed et ceteras, it’s so super wrong). Yes, sometimes procedures and tests and waits, anxiety and pain and grief, but even lives not marked by infertility include all those very same things. I’m just one of the eight in which infertility happens to be a major source.

Ain’t no thing. Except sometimes when it’s a thing. And in this week, I guess we should maybe chat about that thing on account of it being a week dedicated to the awareness of infertility.

So: some people are infertile. Some people like me.

Some people also have cancer or webbed toes or choose to adopt despite not being infertile at all. You never know. Different strokes. I guess the best way to go about it all is to remember what my fortune cookie said that one time: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting their battle too.

Fortune Cookie

Regardless of the appropriate etiquette and practiced responses we’re supposed to be referring to (those links are specific to infertility, of course, not webbed toes)– I think with a little kindness about it all, remembering that there is a battle going on, one we might know nothing about, we can’t really go wrong.

Even my own attitude seems to swing somewhat wildly… some days, like today, I feel relatively non-nonchalant, infertility is just another thing. Other days, infertility feels like The Only Thing. With respect to etiquette and responses and such, I certainly can’t expect you, my husband, my dog, my mom, or anybody else to try to gauge that. It’s simply not fair. I can hope for kindness, though, and so can you. And while you obviously don’t need one more thing to be aware of (infertility! autism! breast cancer! colony collapse, drought, pandas, and webbed toes! so many Things!) it can’t hurt to remember that the radar of others’ isn’t necessarily tuned to the same channel as our own and, as such, discrepancies regarding awareness do exist. Because our radar spheres have overlapped in this moment (and I know that all of these metaphors are super non-coherent, scientifically speaking, so yeah) here I am, bringing infertility onto your screen.

Blip! You’re welcome.

Not really though. More like I’m welcome. Because it’s my self-serving blog, not yours.

Wiiiiink.

Anyway, I’m really going to go write that book review of I, Lucifer now. I keep thinking about it, obviously my mind wants to talk talk talk about it. See you then!

It’s almost Easter. But before the bunny, a face-chewing jungle cat.

I’ve written approximately (well, exactly, actually) three unpublished end-of-lent-hello-easter-thanks-be-to-joan-for-all-the-fodder-for-reflection posts. This is the fourth and this is the one that’s actually going to get published and it’s going to be nothing like those other three. Because they were all full to the brim with words, but lacking in genuine-ness.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

We all deserve better than that.

Better than vague-eries. Something more down-to-earth, personal, relate-able.

So let’s start with this morning.

This morning I got my face chewed off. (Metaphorically, of course, I life in Wisconsin where cud-chewing cows far outnumber face-chewing jungle cats.) Right away. First thing. Hello office, what’s the message on today’s page-a-day calendar… BAM.

My attacker, which is an over-dramatic way of saying it to be sure, got POed at the end of the day yesterday, but said nothing, and had all evening, all night, and all of the early morning to whip that anger up into quite the frenzy and went all out first thing. Instant headache.

And over nothing, actually. A case of mistaken identity, in fact. But on account of all the whipping and the frenzying, there was still a lot of yelling and complaining and negativity. And not just to me. Also about me to others. It’s too much! My shoulders are basically attached to my ears. My head won’t stop pounding. And I let it get me all kinds of whipped up too.

So in my next meeting, when I had the chance to vent to someone I thought likely to be understanding, I did. And he said, “speak life! Have you heard that song?”

I had not.

So he pulled it up on his phone. So great: Toby Mac – Speak Life

A snippit of the Speak Life lyrics-- UTT-type material, eh? {source}
A snippit of the Speak Life lyrics– UTT-type material, eh? {source}

The message was exactly what I needed to hear. And then we discussed how we both wished my attacker (over-dramatic, again and as usual) could be happier. Calmer. More at peace.

More able to speak life, whatever that would take.

It was kind of nice.

 

Before Lent even began, I read a book published by the creator of the Church Health Center in Memphis, TN. I loved the book so much, and I’ve told you about it before. What I haven’t really talked about yet, although I’ve embraced it in its entirety, is the Church Health Center’s focus on the seven virtues described by Paul in Colossians 3:12-14.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, wholly and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you have a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Compassion.
Kindness.
Humility.
Gentleness.
Patience.
Forgiveness.
Love.

Quite frankly, striving toward any one of those qualities hardly leaves room for allowing frenzied anger to become like a Dole Whip at Disneyland (like you don’t know what I’m talking about) and the notion of “speaking life” speaks to that whole heartedly.

Getting angry and whining about it to someone else hardly embodies compassion. Certainly not kindness or humility. And gentleness and patience? Absolutely not. Least of all forgiveness and love. Speaking life does.

And most importantly, in this Easter season, and especially today on Good Friday as we reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus, we would do well to remember that these virtues are exactly what his life stood for. (Yes, yes, yes… I say “we” like I’m being all wise, but honestly, you and I both know that I am the one who would do well to remember this fact… yes? It’s really not that wise, it’s 100% selfish, but there you have it. Anyway.) These are the characteristics that he embodied (love especially, the binding agent) and that he asks us to, at the very least, work real hard toward embodying ourselves.

No matter our spiritual tradition, or lack thereof, I think it’s fair to say that these are virtues we all admire, regardless of our color or creed, religion, philosophy, nationality, shoe size, or handedness. (Fun fact: in chemistry, S- and R- isomers are based on the Latin words sinister and rectus meaning left and right, respectively, because left handedness was considered evil and scary and sinister. Hence, the inclusion of handedness in this list here for all my readers trapped in the 1300s. Fascinating, right?) As such, I think it’s also fair to say that when it really boils down to it, we all want the same thing. Goodness and love, kindness, patience, forgiveness, gentleness and compassion. Light.

And interestingly, at the beginning of the Gospel according to John (because I skipped ahead to the New Testament for an Easter interlude), John describes God as bringer of life and life as the light of mankind. (Math math math… commutative property… if a = b and b = c, then a = c.) So, if God = life and life = the light of mankind, then God = the light of mankind. God is light, God is good.

And that leads me to my second favorite thing to think about when I think about my spiritual life… the notion that God is good. Always. No matter what. (Totally stolen from the brilliant Jeannett at Life Rearranged, which I love so much, but she seems like the type who probably wouldn’t mind and, in fact, would be likely to deny that her seemingly simple phrase completely changed my life. It did though. For seriously.) Like our common ground based on the seven virtues. I think this notion of God being good is also true no matter what, where “no matter what” can equal anything — color, creed, religion, philosophy, nationality, shoe size, or handedness. Always, in fact.

So those are the things I remind myself of every single day. Try to, anyway. I’d love for it to be a bitty little tattoo on my inner wrist, but given Seth’s opposition to me inking anything on my body anywhere and his exceptional willingness to put up with a lot of other crap, I have settled for bracelets:

Mantra Bands on top (you can get them here) and an Etsy purchase below (here).
Mantra Bands on top (you can get them here) and an Etsy purchase below (here).

I’m missing a couple virtues still, but I’m working on it. I’ll find the rest. One glance down and I’ll remember:

Compassion.
Kindness.
Humility.
Gentleness.
Patience.
Forgiveness.
Love.
Always.

One glance down, every day and all the time, I will remember what Good Friday was about, and more importantly, what Easter Sunday really means. I will remember that I have goals, goals beyond those of the workplace or the home or the physical world in general– goals related to my spiritual well-being, goals related to the kind of person that I want to be. One who embodies compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. Always.

And in those moments, when I am reminded, I can practice. Alas, I am human, so in this case practice will undoubtedly never make perfect, but it can make me better and I think that’s worth trying for. As far as I can tell, a lot of us are trying.

So when I got angry, angry, angry this morning, someone else whose giving it his best shot reminded me of those virtues. And maybe I’ll get a chance to return the favor. Or maybe not, maybe I’ll get a chance to pay it forward instead. Honestly, compassion, forgiveness, love… that stuff feels a lot better.

And as the Lenten season ends and I stop reflecting on the other-worldly and come more soundly back to earth in the hilarious (because seriously, I’m hilarious, right?) space I occupied on Fat Tuesday and before, I plan to tell you about what Satan thinks of forgiveness. Because I just finished reading his (Satan’s) book about it. And it was le fascinating.

In other words, book review of I, Lucifer coming up very shortly.

In the meantime, Lord give me strength not to destroy my insides with Cadbury eggs!

Happy Easter, my friends!!

V is for a vacation… with and from my values. With is better. Trust me.

I started writing this V-themed blog post in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, August 21st on a chartered bus heading from LAX to San Diego after a very long day of traveling.

This is what the inside of the bus looked like at 2 am PST somewhere between LA and San Diego... because I thought it might be blog-worthy.
This is what the inside of the bus looked like at 2 am PST somewhere between LA and San Diego… because I thought it might be blog-worthy.

V… vacation… values… it popped into my head, I started writing (and then got very bus-sick, so put it away), and it’s been writing itself in my brain since that day. More and more and more. Time to get it on the screen and then out into the ether.

Since that super late night/very early morning bus trip in California, I visited friends and got an opportunity to see their new house and ridiculously adorable new puppy.

Oh how I want to steal this sweet puppy and make her my own!!
Oh how I want to steal this sweet puppy and make her my own!!

I boarded a cruise ship with my husband and said friends (plus some new ones!) and cruised down the coast of California from Long Beach to Ensenada and back.

I think we all know that the towel animals are legitimately the best part of a cruise, am I right?
The towel animals are totally the best part of a cruise, am I right?

I got on a plane, came home to Wisconsin, weathered an eczema flare and a bit of a head cold, and welcomed my sister, her husband, and their two ridiculously cute little girls into my home.

GAHHHH!! The cuteness of my nieces! I can barely stand it!!!!
GAHHHH!! The cuteness of my nieces! I can barely stand it!!!!

And now here I am, back and ready to tell you about my vacation– with and from my values.

 

We’ve talked about all kinds of values in this space– some explicitly, more often implicitly. But based merely on that word cloud that pops up on the right, I think we can get a pretty good picture of the things that are important to me: family, friends, kindness, love, health… Harry Potter. These are things that I value and I try to live my life accordingly.

Except when I don’t.

When it comes to kindness and health, I spent some time on vacation with and from both. With was where it’s at. Trust me. Let’s talk about that.

 

Kindness

Getting to our friends’ house in San Marcos was quite trying. I’ll spare you the details, but you’ve all traveled by air, you know what it’s like to miss your connecting flight… Long story short: 12 exhausted passengers (including three from first class and one mom with two young children) were waiting at the closed gate when the agent came back from sending off our flight without us. That’s a recipe for a very angry party. And that gate agent? She was a very easy target.

Lots of people were yelling lots of things at her… demanding managers… using the phrase “first class ticket” over and over again…

But kindness, you know?

Patience and such… catching flies with honey… it’s something Seth and I value. And we made it to San Diego that night. Late, yes. But completely unscathed and super happy to see our friends. No yelling necessary.

But then there were new friends of friends and I got super scared. I was a little Judgey McJudgerson, assuming I wasn’t going to like people… mostly because I assumed they wouldn’t like me. They were all from SoCal and had cool hair, listened to cool music, owned cool companies, wore stylish clothes, and so on and so forth. No way could they have all that and still be nice… except they were. And then I felt like a big ol’ dummy for not giving them the chance I would have wanted them to give me… and that they did give me.

Kindness. It’s something I value. That was a good little lesson about it. Also, I have some new friends (with cool hair and cool jobs and cool music and cool locales– suh-weet!).

 

Health

I also value my health… and it’s a constant struggle to uphold this value in my daily life on account of all that stuff with weight and food and gastrointestinal issues and such. You’ve read about it if you’ve been reading along.

First, the upholding of the value: I packed weights! In my carry-on bag! That I dragged across the country! And more importantly– I used them every day!! They were just 2.5 lbs a piece, but a 20 min Jillian Michaels-based circuit workout once a day plus some “olympic jogging track” walking with my friend Melissa and I felt awesome, awesome, awesome about getting some physical activity in, even while on vacation. Yes, TSA and I had to chat about the weights, but I joked with them and it was all good. (Oh how I wish I could have gotten a picture of the weights on the xray screen– it was hilarious!)

TSA guy (to other TSA lady): come look at this!

Me: It’s weights!

TSA guy: How much?

Me: Just 2.5 lbs a piece… I’m not very strong!

TSA lady: I only do three [grin].

We all laughed… ahhhh ha ha ha ha! (And Seth just rolled his eyes…)

Health FTW!

Except… I decided that since I was on vacation and since it was super hard not to eat gluten while traveling, I was just going to do it. And I did it. On the plane (Biscoff cookies… nom nom nom…), in the airport in Minneapolis (I got the chicken nuggets rather than the sandwich on a bun– a feeble attempt at limiting gluten intake…), a Subway cookie on that crazy bus (because it was my consolation prize!), and by the time we made it to San Diego, my hands were starting to get puffy.

I didn’t eat gluten the rest of the time, but the damage was done. And by the time I got home to Wisconsin, I was in a full blown eczema flare.

Boom.

In retrospect, it actually looks much worse while healing... those blisters don't seem so bad. It's the complete loss of skin after the fact that's hardest to bare.
In retrospect, it actually looks much worse while healing… those blisters don’t seem so bad. It’s the complete loss of skin after the fact that’s hardest to bare.

Super suck. I beat myself up about it for a while, mostly because my hands freaking HURT.

Then my therapist made a really good point: health is hard, even if you value it. AND… what would I say to my friend Melissa? (I think that’s his new favorite line…) I’d be kind to my friend Melissa, of course, so I gave myself a little break. (A little one.)

The blisters are gone now, all my skin has peeled or flaked or done whatever it’s going to do (I’ve coined the term “handruff” to describe the skin flakes my palms leave behind on pretty much everything I touch until the new stuff grows in), and some new fresh stuff is finally growing in nicely. It was a rough week — definitely not worth the cookies and nuggets, no matter how delicious. (Biscoffs… so delicious!)

 

Basically, vacations are tough for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love them… they’re awesome. But sometimes I make them harder for myself than I really need to, just because I don’t stay consistent with my own values. I value kindness… I value my health.

The most important thing I think I learned from all of this is that your values are your values, no matter the place, no matter the circumstance…. that’s what makes them a value and not just a passing fad.

 

(Good news: I also value blogging and the wheels seem to be perpetually turning and turning and turning! I’ve got some words percolating about family and friends of friends that I’m excited to say. WOOOORDS! Yay!)

 

PS: Harry Potter

Also, real quick, Harry Potter is a value that I never leave behind… and our little cruise vacation was no exception. Melissa, Emily, Christian, and I went to Harry Potter trivia night on the ship. We were late and didn’t get to officially participate, but I can say with absolute confidence that the four of us would have ROCKED IT had we been there the whole time. That ship on a stick would have been ours! Lucky for the other contestants, we were only playing for fun!

Be nice to me…

… I gave blood today.

Have you ever given blood? When I first started giving, back in 2001, the Red Cross always handed out a sticker after you’d given. They said something along the lines of, “Be nice to me, I gave blood today” and oh my goodness… did I ever wear that thing proudly.

So proudly!

(Second in the amount of proud-ness only to my “I voted” American flag oval sticker. You know what I’m talking about.)

In the 13 intervening years, I’ve given a couple (a few? several?) gallons combined to the Red Cross, the US Armed Services Blood Program, and now the Blood Center of Wisconsin (BCW). I give regularly knowing that I’m a healthy young adult with a large blood volume (consequent to large body size) who’s not scared of needles, not prone to passing out, has no religious or other objections to blood donation, and doesn’t even get so much as a headache from it. (Plus, I really like Fritos and they almost always have Fritos afterward.) But more importantly, I hope that if ever I or a loved one ever ends up needing a blood transfusion someone else will have given. So while I can, I do. Especially given that there are many people who, for whatever reason, cannot.

I really cannot say enough good about the staff of the Blood Center of Wisconsin. Admittedly, I was bummed when I moved to Wisconsin and had to lose my “status” at the Red Cross, but I got my gallon t-shirt at BCW  a couple months ago and they’re always amazing. They call to remind me whenever I’m due to give, they come right to my work on a regular basis, it’s easy and quick, the staff are super friendly, they always congratulate me on my hemoglobin (thank you for recognizing that it’s not easy keeping it above 13!), and I’ve never, ever had a bad poke from a single BCW phlebotomist (knock on wood).

Also, Fritos.

Today was no exception regarding the awesome BCW staff. I chatted with the phlebotomist today about her sweet puppies and mine and by the time I was done (remember how I don’t have a ton of platelets? I fill the bag real quick– it’s awesome) I was pretty much good friends with Kathy and wanted to meet her sweet Gracie and Ivy (tox foy terriers) desperately. Then, while I was having my snack, I met a young MA (seriously– 19 years old, so young!) from orthopedics and we chatted over Fritos (I was not kidding, I really  love them), juice, and a BCW volunteer timing our 10 minute rest. She was so nice!

There were stickers afterward, of course, but they said something about being a hero and I couldn’t bring myself to take one. (Let alone wear it if I did.) I can donate, so I do. And while I hope that day never comes, if I ever need a transfusion, I hope very much that someone else would have donated for me. (Pure, unbridled selfishness.)

Had the stickers said, “Be nice to me, I gave blood today” things may have been different. Because I love that. Except I kind of feel like I had one on anyway. Because everyone was crazy nice to me today. And that’s when the sum total of many recent overly pleasant experiences struck me:

I have become my mother.

Sometimes I make my mom dance with me. It's awesome.
Sometimes I make my mom dance with me. It’s awesome.

Random segue, right? But hear me out.

Kathy, the phlebotomist, and I, are basically tight now. I know about her two sweet pups and the story of her previous pup being put to sleep when she turned 18 and got sick. I know how upset her rough-and-tumble, 72-year-old, tough guy husband was when that happened. She knows that I desperately want another dog and that I plan to guilt trip Seth for one upon reaching 2 years of infertility (heads up, babe!). I met one of the newest Marshfield Clinic employees and know now that she’s 19 years old, from the small town of Unity nearby (like small, guys, even compared to Marshfield, but it’s cool, she really likes small town living), that she graduated from high school early at 17 (me too!), and that she and I are both fans of Dr. Pathak from endocrinology.

Last week, I chatted with the lady at the pharmacy about the hand cream I was using and we discovered that we both love CeraVe– it’s amazing stuff! She was glad to know how much I like Vaniply for my hands though. She’ll consider it next winter.

In Phoenix, I chatted with a conference organizer when I checked in at the registration desk and found out that her brother-in-law is the football coach at Michigan Tech and next in line to take over as Athletic Director and don’t you just love the UP?

And I could go on.

This is my mom’s thing, though. People talk to my mom. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to her, “How do you know that person?” and she responds, “I don’t.”

But, but, but… I’m an introvert. That’s not supposed to be something I do.

I’m confused.

My mom truly has a gift for connecting with people and I’ve always (always as an adult, of course) been impressed by that. She can talk to anyone about anything and it’s not even weird. Yes, as a child, it was embarrassing and I constantly had to get my ma-ommm-mmuh on to warn her that she was being overly familiar (like she cared), but something about it seeped in through the cracks. She took the genetic milieu she passed on to me and spiced it up with some wicked nurturing just in time for adulthood. In-ter-es-ante.

For the vast majority of my conscious life, my mom has worked with people who struggled in school. When I was really little, she taught adult ed to people working toward their high school diploma or GED. She worked nights then, something like 5 – 10 PM, and she often let me come with her to do dissections or other awesome things. Her students would come to our house. They played Carmen Sandiego with me… they took me trick-or-treating… they taught me the law of supply and demand as they understood it. None of these people were “like” us, but I didn’t know that. My mom was nice to them all; she truly cared about them all.

As I got older, my mom moved into elementary education. She taught then, and still teaches, in Willow Run, a notoriously tough district in the area. She is truly an incredible and gifted teacher, and she consciously chooses to put her time, energy, and considerable expertise into an underprivileged school district… not because she couldn’t go somewhere else, make more money, have more prestige, but because she loves those kids. She loves that community. And again, even though so many of those she serves have so little, they live lives so different from those in which my parents raised my sister, brother, and I, my mom has never looked down or spoken ill of anyone* as a result of their circumstance, their intelligence, their socioeconomic status. I have for my entire life been welcome into my mom’s classroom and, as an adult, she has invited be back to sub in her district, to do science experiments with her kids, to be Facebook friends with her fellow educators.

I think my mom and I would both agree that I’ve always (always, like since I was disturbingly young) been the more manipulative of the two of us. But while I was working to get out of a lie at the age of 4 (I liked to dress up like an old lady and invite my mom to make me some tea– tended to do the trick quite nicely), she always knew what she was doing– working the long con. And she wins.

But really, so do I. Good parenting, and all that. I’m glad I got to hear about Kathy’s dogs and the young MA’s childhood in Unity. And I bet they enjoyed talking about it and hearing about my own sweet pup and my time spent living in Washington, DC. Sharing is caring, and such. Because people are people, no matter what job they do or where they come from or where they’re going. My mom taught me that and apparently, it stuck.

My mom has always known what’s up, that life is better when you walk around acting like everyone is wearing a “Be kind, I gave blood today” sticker… except I think it’s safe to assume that Be Kind is enough. No blood donation necessary.

 

Do you see this woman?! How could you not want to chat with her?! HOW?! (Also, she digs the alligator, which is awesome.com.)
Do you see this happy and kind woman?! How could you not want to chat with her?! HOW?!
(Also, she digs the alligator just like the rest of the fam, which is awesome.com. Almost time for another Vonck family wedding! woot woot!)

*I’m not going to lie to you right now and I certainly don’t want you to get the impression that my mom’s a saint (because she sure-diddly-isn’t!), so I need you to know that this statement is true only because my mom’s a 100% equal opportunity complainer– rich kid, poor kid, he or she can be a “little s***” either way. (That’s my favorite one. Always made me laugh, especially considering that we’re not allowed, under any circumstance, to even say butt hole.)**

 

**My blog, I can say butt hole if I want.***

 

***Sorry, mumsy… won’t happen again. (Not even kidding, Seth, my 32-year-old husband, texts my mom to tattle should the banned phrase ever pass my lips.)

Spread the Word to End the Word

I told you about my friend Aimie last week– she’s super awesome. And now you know. The thing she invited me to last week was also awesome. So awesome that I decided it really required it’s own post.

The event was part of a campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word. The word they’re talking about? The R-word. It’s not cool to say, it’s not fun to use, and it doesn’t make for good jokes. The end.

Before the killer puppet show (don’t worry, I’ll tell you about the puppet show), a man named Jason got up and told us his story– his moment of realization about the R-word. And this is what he said (huge thanks to Aimie for getting this for me… truly, she’s awesome).

A few days ago I heard a joke that made me laugh. Actually it has made me laugh every time I have heard it (at least 50 times since grade school). The joke is “whats better that winning a gold medal at the Special Olympics? Answer: not being ret**ded” WAIT! keep reading. I am certainly not evil it has just been funny since I was a kid because of how bad it is BUT before you judge me….trust me, if that joke offended you and you enjoy sweet sweet justice…then read on. I went to the YMCA today after being quite ill with the seasons newest ailments. I somehow mustered up enough drive ( with minor remanents of bronchitis I think) to do 15 minutes of Battle ropes, a full 45 minute upper body weight training routine and 5 inclined miles on a treadmill (if you have ever seen a fire hydrant run for it’s life then you would know just what accomplishment that is for me). Feeling pretty darn good about myself I headed to the locker room. I first called my wife to boast of my accomplishments…and to give a small warning that I might pass out if I don’t sit down for awhile. I told her of my plan to take a breather and then sit in the hot tub for 5 minutes. We laughed about my lack of fitness and probability of impending embarrassment of having to be fished out the YMCA hot tub. Now off the phone and ready to relax I walked into the pool area. It was much louder than usual and there seemed to be A LOT of people in the pool for that hour. In the hot tub sat a single young man keeping to himself. I normally don’t engage the “tub sitters” when I am there, I’m just not that kind of guy. I get this odd sense of relief when the person in there is around my age and quiet. I walked down into the tub and what happened next was so unbelievable that I am taking the time to write about it here. No sooner than the water hitting my waistline the man stood up move towards me with serious sense of urgency and commitment. With his right wrist anchored on his belly he extended his hand out to me and in tone and volume that you would expect from the greatest circus ring leaders he belted ” HI MY NAME IS MATT! WHAT IS YOUR NAME!..I responded with “Hey Matt my name is Jason, nice to meet you”…in which he volleyed back “HI JASON, MY NAME IS MATT AND IT IS NICE TO MEET YOU…YES…NICE TO MEET YOU!”. The look in this young mans eyes during this remarkably animated salutation was nothing short of the most confident, endearing, genuinely inquisitive and caring look I may have ever seen. Just then a older man interrupted us and said okay Matt, back in the pool. He quickly acquiesced without any hesitation. Watching him return to the pool I then realized that the pool was full of people that required some additional attention and had unique personal challenges. Now I was alone in the hot tub watching. As I watched I literally felt my heart warm, warmer than the waters around me…so warm in fact it radiated to my face and made me smile. Now for the Amazing lesson part… I sat back for another moment by myself enjoying my appreciation for what was going on around me when it happened…It was one of those moments that I wish the whole world could experience. A young man in his late teens early twenties made his way down the stairs into the tub…now I recognize that look of supreme confidence and braced myself for the engagement I was about to have. He moved through the water quickly and with purpose. Sitting down in a hurry in the corner opposite of mine he immediately took notice of me and spoke out in a passionate tangent ” MY NAME IS PHIL, HAVE YOU HEARD OF ME?DID YOU HEAR I WENT TO STATE LAST YEAR?THERE WERE A COUPLE OF US THAT WENT TO STATE LAST YEAR?I’M SAVING THIS SPOT FOR MY FRIEND?WHATS YOUR NAME?…jason…HI JASON ..another person started to make there way into the tub… HEY THIS IS JASON..JASON THIS so and so…HE WENT TO STATE TOO..A COUPLE OF US DID …as he continued to speak the hot tube began to fill up to capacity…and Phil, one by one introduced me by name to each of them. He also told them where to all sit, where to stand and finally his friend arrived to take his place at the right hand of the GREAT STATE CHAMPION PHIL. Now the hot tub was literally filled to capacity with standing room only. I was surrounded by some of the happiest and content people I had ever had the pleasure of being around. I couldn’t help but smile as I heard them laughing and talking each other up with such sincerity and innocence. An older woman was standing outside of the tub watching this crew of AMAZINGLY CONFIDENT CHARACTERS with personalities that could fill the entire pool not to say much about the small hot tub. I had to ask… Excuse me miss…is this some type of group event are all of these amazing people from the same place and are you a volunteer? And with a smile she looked me straight in the eyes and said…yes I am a volunteer and these are the Marshfield Swimmers…The Special Olympics Swim Team. Phil stood up and announced it was TIME TO PLAY THE GAME WITH THE BALLS IN THE OTHER POOL and the tub cleared out as fast as it had filled. I was the last one to exit; meeting that woman at the top of the stairs. I had only one more question for her…where do I sign up to volunteer? She introduced me to the Team manager and quickly gathered all of the paperwork. She said last year they had 9 athletes and this year they have 16 so they can use all the help they can get! She was almost as excited as I was. She made a comment that I will never forget for as long as I live ” you know, they will look at you as a role model”..I let that responsibility settle in for a moment and responded “I think they are the ones that are the role models “…her and the manager both nodded. When I left with my paperwork in hand I sat in the car for a moment and just smiled. I could hear God laughing at me in enjoyment as if to say ” ohhh my little jug-head, you are too easy sometimes, a little inappropriate joke for the set up, a couple of my very special children for the delivery and BAM…life change….bet you wont laugh at that little stand up bit again will you?”. I know this is long post but I really felt compelled to share it here. I start next Tuesday and I cant wait…but, for those of you that know me I have to add one more thing…last year … 6 of the 9 athletes from Marshfield went to state. So as luck would have it…looks like I will be helping awesome people be awesomer! Thank you for reading and I hope it inspired you in some way. 

The kids loved it Jason’s story. Naturally. And I was left grinning from ear to ear. It’s a big deal– to be able to change your mind, your outlook, your world-view because you realize that there’s a better way. Too cool!

And after that awesome story, some puppets told the rest!

20140303-215202.jpg
That’s Hairy– kind of Big Bird-like and very cute 🙂

Hairy and Company and their human friends told some stories, sang some songs, and made us all laugh and cheer. Aimie and I laughed especially heartily when we realized that someone had turned an awkward hybrid of our friend Michele and me into a puppet. A puppet named Dudley.

Dudley was shy at first, hesitant to even introduce himself to all of us. Then he did, “Hi! I’m Dudley! I have problems and I wrote a song about it!”

Word, Dudley!

Hi, I’m Rachel! I have problems and I write a blog about it!

Oy, that was poignant 😉

But seriously, I was thrilled at the message these kids were getting. To be yourself, to respect others, to be ok with differences, because really, we’re all a little different in a lot of different ways. And they loved it! They sang the songs and danced and cheered for those crazy puppets. They clapped for Jason and yelled out responses to questions. It was so great!

And the biggest message? Mental capacity is just one tiny way in which we might be different from someone else. One. Of millions… billions… trillions even! So respect it, limited or not, and look for the things that make others special.

Spread the word, yo!

A Creepy Ode to My Friend Krystal and a Reminder to Keep Trying

This morning a beautiful e-card full of hummingbirds and flowers popped up in my inbox. It was from that crazy nice security guard who gave me a ride on Friday– he was thanking me for the doughnuts! All I wanted to do was thank him for being so kind on so many yucky days! Goodness gracious, do I ever love living in Wisconsin. The kindness in this place, it’s nearly overwhelming!

A Jacquie Lawson e-card. A huge smile on my face.
A Jacquie Lawson e-card. A huge smile on my face.

It’s the littlest things, isn’t it?

This is the reward for trying.

I was reminded of that all weekend. How important it is to try, even when you’re scared or shy or nervous or anxious. Trying makes all the difference.

You see, my friend Krystal came over this weekend (and she brought her husband and daughter with her– also kind of cool!) and I was stressing before hand. Why? I don’t know… but I always do. Krystal is super happy and kind and fun and pretty like you wouldn’t believe. She’s an amazing mom and crafty and hilarious and has excellent taste in movies and gorgeous, super long, curly hair. Every time I see Krystal I get nervous all over again that she’s not going to like me.

Except the first time I really met her, she proved me wrong right away.

Seth was one of Krystal’s husband’s groomsmen and I flew to Green Bay from DC for the wedding. I didn’t know them much at all– I just knew that they were cool (perhaps a little too cool for a nerdy girl like me) and that Seth loved them. I had to go to the rehearsal with Seth since he was in the wedding and what else was I going to do in GB (in January!) while he was busy with wedding stuff. I thought it would be awkward and I’d be out of place, but I wasn’t! At all! Krystal was so warm and kind and actually excited to meet me. Krystal’s one of those people who attracts people just like her too– her family was warm and kind, her friends were warm and kind, everyone there was just welcoming and happy and all around good to an overwhelming degree.

In my warped mind I kept thinking… but, she’s pretty!! how can this be? and yet it was, and my warped mind was w-r-o-n-g wrong. My second track tries to get it’s punches in every time I am going to see Krystal again, but when she gets out of her truck, smiles big, gives me a hug, squats down to pet my overly-excited pup and then gets excited that Curly still pees for her (Krystal is literally the only person who still gets excited pee from Curls, quite the compliment), I’m instantly at ease.

I don’t have any babies, but Krystal trusts me with hers. My dog is a maniac, but Krystal loves on her anyway. I’m not an exciting person, but Krystal is content to chill on the couch and watch movies. I make a lot of Harry Potter jokes, but Krystal always laughs at them. I tell Krystal a story about eating an entire can of Pringles, and Krystal tells me that not only did she eat an entire can of Pringles, but she did it laying down and got so many crumbs all over her chest that her husband threatened to take pictures.

The best part is that Krystal does all of this even though she’s seen me at my worst. I remember going to their house in GB one time when I was in the midst of a pretty deep depressive episode. I could barely force a smile and I was horrible, horrible company the whole weekend. Another time I had a migraine like you wouldn’t believe and all I wanted to do was lay down on a cold pillow in the quiet dark and pop a couple Excedrin every couple hours. They took me to the drugstore for Excedrin (sweet relief!) and made sure we had enough puppy chow (mmmmm… puppy chow…) to get through the weekend. (I really, really like puppy chow.)

It’s true that things don’t always work out as you’d hope, but trying is always worth it because it just might. My sister-friend* Melissa told me one time that while she’d prefer never to see me hurt, she would always prefer that I get hurt for trying rather than for not. (And FYI, she told me this on a phone call from the freaking Ritz-Carlton Laguna Beach while she was celebrating her birthday with her husband. Taking the time out to call me– crazy woman, and crazy good friend!!!!) Even though it’s scary and the prospect of not being well-received is difficult, it’s worth it for those instances in which you befriend a Krystal or make someone’s day with doughnut holes.

 

*On vacation, Melissa and I automatically become sister-wives and it’s awesome. Our husbands joke then that they are brother-husbands, but that’s ridiculous and doesn’t make any sense (obvs). We are sister-wives in that we cook together and hang out together and take care of the (Melissa’s) kids together… and all those things are more fun because of it. It’s so awesome! I’m pretty sure I would not dig the polygamy aspect of sister-wifery,** but the companionship part? Totally!

 

**Pronounced WHIFF-ery, not WIFE-ery… like the brothers Deslaurier on The Mindy Project.

I have a hard time getting over things… cannolis help.

I’ve worn a lot of different uniforms for a lot of different reasons. I played t-ball, soccer, and basketball as a kid. I ran cross country and played soccer in high school. I was in the marching band (the magic of polyester, topped with a big black hat, and a half foot tall sparkling silver tassel to top it off) and marched around the Lincoln High School football field and through parade after parade in the city of Ypsilanti dressed in some seriously crazy stuff.

Please take a moment and enjoy this ridiculous-ness... I'll wait.
Please take a moment and enjoy this ridiculous-ness… I’ll wait.

I also worked at Showcase Cinemas Ann Arbor and wore the uniform for both concessions (again with the polyester, but at least no tassel) and ushering/cashiering (where I swapped out the plastic apron for an additional layer of polyester by way of a vest).

{Source-- omg, you can find anything on the internet!}
{Source— omg, you can find anything on the internet!}

But none of those uniforms compared to the one I didn’t realize I was wearing.

When I was in middle school, I was super uncomfortable with the way I looked. Getting dressed was the worst and I spent hour after hour after hour trying on outfits for school the next day– trying to find the thing in which I looked the least fat (vanity plus insecurity in a 13 year old, good stuff). Unfortunately, there was never an outfit that was good enough and I ended up reverting to the thing I felt most comfortable in: a jacket.

We weren’t actually allowed to wear coats in the school, so that was somewhat problematic because the thing I felt most comfortable in was a sleek running jacket my dad let me borrow. But I managed to outsmart the system. I had gotten the coolest (to me) University of Michigan wind suit set at Meijer and that was the thing I felt most comfortable in. And the jacket, as part of a set, was, at least in my mind, innerwear not outerwear. So I wore it. I wore it pretty much every day, over every stressed-over jeans and t-shirt kind of outfit and with my matching pants at least once a week.

I guess I never really thought about what that jacket looked like to other people. All I knew about that jacket was that I didn’t feel fat in it– and at that time, that was enough.

It was only several years later (like several, several, maybe 10 or so) that I found out that I was being made fun of… pretty much always… by a lot of girls who called my jacket my “uniform.”

Look, there goes Rachel, in her uuuu-ni-foooooo-rm.

Sigh.

I knew I wasn’t a cool kid. I knew there were a lot of mean girls in my school. And I knew better than to think I wasn’t the butt of many of their jokes. But it still hurt. And bad. Even though it’s been a whole lot of years since and I never actually heard it, I frequently think of those comments… those girls… those feelings…

It’s like in Harry Potter when Dumbledore lets Harry gaze into a memory in his Pensieve– it’s so much more than just a memory. It’s an experience, full of feeling. That’s what it’s like in my mind’s eye every… single… time… that memory strikes.

{Source}
{Source}

It struck this morning. I got dressed, I put on a gray turtle neck sweater and black slacks. It’s kind of a go-to outfit for me, but I was feeling pretty ugh about it this morning. I wanted to put that jacket on– to be comfortable. And the memory came back. The mean girls were talking about me behind my back.

But when I walked in to work this morning, my friends were all gathered in one office and busy planning our Italian-fest lunch. I was instantly struck by how much I adore all of these women… not one mean girl in the bunch! When they tease me, it’s totally to my face, and it’s nice to be in on the joke!

I thought about the contrast between the Micheles, Maries, Aimies, and Debs of my life as an adult and the Connies, Kellys, Lauras, and Taras of my past. As we grow up, our community becomes driven more by choice than by circumstance. Today I feel that very poignantly… and I have chosen well (and not just because Marie made us homemade cannolis today… although that’s part of it).

Pure delicious-ness!
Pure delicious-ness!

This afternoon, I ate a lot of Italian-ish deliciousness to say “ciao!” to my friend Marie as she heads off on a two week adventure of a lifetime (to Italy, obviously)… I could have used my jacket. And in my new, friendly girl world, everyone would have said, “There goes Rachel in her comfy jacket— she’s awesome for doing what feels right! Dang!” Because that’s what friendly girls do.

I’m still not a cool kid, but the people I have chosen to surround myself with really don’t care. The facts are these:

  • I have bushy, early-books-in-the-series-Hermione-like hair.
  • I use way too many Harry Potter references.
  • I get nervous around people I like and ramble uncontrollably.
  • I sweat copiously when nervous. And I’m often nervous.
  • I wear the clothes that I feel most comfortable in, stylish or not. (Usually not.)
  • And sometimes I hang on to my magic wand while I’m watching tv or talking on the phone.

But I like my curls (raise the roots!), Harry Potter is sheer genius and I plan to love it and read it again and again for the rest of my life (always…), some people like the way I ramble because it means (1) that they don’t have to do all the talking and (2) they certainly can’t sound worse than me, black is pretty much my favorite color to wear anyway and sweat really doesn’t show, confidence comes from comfort and confidence is always classy (stylish or not), and the wand… maybe that’s just a little bit weird. But it’s fun, I like it, and I really don’t care.

I know I’m 30 years old and I know I should be over it. But words HURT. And I wish I didn’t even know that those words existed. But I do. And I’m going to have to move past it. Especially considering that it’s likely I’ve hurt someone in that same way– we all say hurtful things at times. Especially when we’re young. But I know without a doubt that I’ve grown up to be a much kinder person than that. And I hope that those girls did too.

I hope that they grew up to be kind. I hope that they don’t feel the kind of hurt I still frequently feel when those memories creep up on me. And I hope that if they have children, they’ll help them to be kinder people than they were as kids. That’s my plan for my own someday babies, anyway.

 

Fun fact: the movie Mean Girls is actually based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. Tina Fey knew the basic premise of the book, but hadn’t actually read it yet when she won the bid (is that the totally wrong terminology???… perhaps the rights? the opportunity? the chance? something?) to write the movie script. Fascinating, right?! I fully intend to read this book… eventually. It’s on my “Women’s Interest” book club reading list. Its the fourth book club on my list of “Book Clubs I Want to Start” because I really am that girl of all the characteristics listed above.

 

PS: I know these posts about getting made fun of, and perhaps what might be considered “bullied” this day and age, can be something of a downer. I really don’t want you to think it was all bad though. I really did have some great friends all throughout elementary, middle, and high school (see Emily, Kelly, Stephine, et al) and despite (literal) wedgies in the hall (I really wish that weren’t true) and the occasional overheard negative comment or two, I was a happy kid having a good time at my school. I cheered for the Railsplitters, I played on the teams, I went to the dances, and painted my face for pep rallies. All American kind of stuff. It’s just impossible to extract the mean girl (and boy!) stuff from all of that and unfortunately, as an insecure chubby girl, a lot of that is what really stuck.

 

PPS: Ok, I actually wasn’t even chubby. Not after like 8th grade anyway. I just thought I was and let people tell me I was. But from where I sit now, dang, I was svelte!! (Kidding, I just looked up svelte and it means “slender and elegant”… I was slender, not elegant. But svelte sounds so good there, all italicized, doesn’t it? Let’s just leave it and move on.)