Category Archives: The Path Less Traveled

From the heart posts, stories from my life and other lyrical adventures I may find myself enjoying.

Worth the Risk?

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“I think there should be a God-honoring, obedient risk in our lives every single day…I’m saying that Jesus lives on the other side of our comfort.  And that when we get comfortable for too long, we start to miss our need for God.”  –Jennie Allen

I always find it interesting how I choose my next topic to write upon.  Sometimes there is a pressing notion on my mind, and other times it just slaps me across the face and I can’t get the thought out of my head until I have it down on paper.  That is what happened today as I read from Jennie Allen’s book “Nothing to Prove.”  This particular chapter talked about Jesus’ risk for us, and how we tend to avoid risk in life.  We like the comfortable spot in the chair, or in our church pew, just so long as not too much gets shaken up.  I started to contemplate all the “risks” I have found myself taking lately in life.  Things I would probably have never had the courage or tact to do even five years ago.  And I could see the point Jennie was trying to make.  We, as human beings, have a tendency to make our decisions based on fears (or the fear of risk) instead of relying on our faith to guide us.

Faith can have different meanings for various spiritualities, but for me, it means I am a follower of Jesus and I strive to live my life out in my faith through Him.  Jesus risked so much to give me life, and it makes my own fears seem obsolete.  So as I kept reading Allen’s book, I was thinking about my own battles with fear, how have I worked to overcome those fears, and what am I still lacking when I am supposed to obediently live the “what would Jesus do” lifestyle.  It also had me thinking about risk.

As a child, I would not have considered myself a risk-taker.  For those of you who knew me then, and even read this blog, you would probably agree.  I was always a rule-follower and didn’t stray far from the safe path in life.  I didn’t take huge risks when it came to school, relationships, or physical activities.  I chose not to “put myself out there,” whether it be fear of failure or rejection.  I came out of adolescence with only a few bruises, but what opportunities did I miss because I failed to take a risk? Because my fear of failing overruled my desire to see what the grass looked like on the other side of the fence?

Moving away to school was the first big “risk” I took, and it began a slow, yet steady tick of finding myself in life.  It has taken years, and a lot of life experiences, but I am letting that fear of risk slowly go.  Rome was not built in a day, so this does take time.  Yet, it is so liberating when you can finally be comfortable in your own skin and own your identity.  The space I take up in this world, I worked hard to own and this is just the beginning.  I have built some pretty amazing relationships in life, am putting myself out there more to become involved in big ideas, and realizing that fear and risk are not necessarily bad things.  Just so long as I can keep my faith in perspective and Jesus in my heart.  I am not expecting to move mountains or set the world on fire with my new-found, risk-taking attitude.  But what I hope to achieve is a more solid foundation to stand on as I get older and live my life.  To show my children that taking a God-filled risk can result in some awesome discoveries, no matter how scary the idea.

“Every time we risk, we place our lives in the hands of our God and test His enoughness.  It is for freedom and joy that we stand out past the limits and confines of our comfort.”  –Jennie Allen

Risk-taking means the chance of bumps and bruises.  It’s like me cringing when I see my kids race on their bikes or try to ski behind a boat.  I know there lies the chance for broken bones or bruised egos, but the flip side is the joy and elation they feel whenever they succeed.  The knowing and trusting that God has them in His arms and protects them more than I ever could as a mother.  It’s the million dollar question shored up by eternal salvation, grace, and love.  I just have to remember to let the fear go, to let the risk happen, and to trust more.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to let my kids run in traffic, or that I am going to hit the blackjack tables in Vegas.  Instead, I know I am not always going to be there to offer protection and help to my children.  And I know that Jesus watches over them as they take their own risks through life, just as I know He watches over me as I am taking more of mine.  It’s not an easy thing to do, to let go and let God.  But then again, who said life was going to be easy?

So I ask you to think about your own risk-taking, fear-loathing attitude in life, and maybe kick it up a notch or two.  See what you can do to put yourself out there more.  Will you build a new relationship, or perhaps mend an old and damaged one.  Will you jump towards a new career, or maybe move thousands of miles away.  It’s hard to say how the cards will play when you take a risk or two, but I pray you find it and settle in for the ride.

Until next time,

Cheers

 

 

 

 

 

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Walking Through the Door of Opportunity

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I am a little chagrined at how long it has been since I have posted on my blog.  It just goes to show how life can put a road-block in things.  But this morning I had some solitude and I also had a project to work on for a friend.  I was able to self-reflect on why I wanted to become a part of something unique and special.

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It’s funny how people come into your life at just the right moment. One minute you are finding yourself struggling with change and the next you have this wonderful individual sitting across from you at your local coffee house, sharing about life and relating to similar circumstances. I met Raelenna Ferguson at a point in my life when there needed to be a change in myself. Approaching 40, I was really beginning to feel the desire to give more of myself, to focus on deeper relationships with people, and to make a positive impact on the world for my two children. I just didn’t know where or how to do it. My church is huge on overseas mission trips, but I felt that just wasn’t the right fit for me at this point in my life. My children are young and although the tug on my heart was growing, I just didn’t think God was pointing me in this particular direction. Little did I know He would soon gently lead me in the direction He wanted for my life.

A random morning in Starbuck’s not only sparked the beginning of a wonderful friendship, but it was also God opening a door for me to become a part of something bigger than myself. That opportunity was One City. When Raelenna began to speak about her vision for this organization I knew I wanted to be a part. It had everything I was looking for in my heart; growing the community we lived in, developing relationships with people I would most likely never cross paths with, and helping lift people up by simply believing in them. Over the next several months, the more I heard about One City from Raelenna and her husband Jeremy, the bigger the pounding in my heart and soul became. So when I was asked to be a member of the board, I knew the answer. Prayerful considerations and talks at home with my family ended with a phone call to Raelenna telling her I was all in.

Fast-forward almost two years and now One City is a physical reality. There is a building, and a solid plan that focuses on job training, enriching children with the arts, and creating a safe place for people of all socio-economic backgrounds to come together and share this crazy thing we call life. Being a member of this board not only integrates me with some amazing people who bring a tremendous amount of integrity to One City as an organization, it is going to expose me to another aspect of life I never knew existed right here in Cape Girardeau. It will make me get out of the comfort zone I have lived in for 38 years. It will offer my family an opportunity to get immersed in new cultures and meet people we probably would never run across in our daily routines. This depth of personal and spiritual growth is why I wanted to be involved in One City. It was the change I needed in life to offer opportunities to people from all walks of life. But what I would soon discover is how I am changed by what I am learning and experiencing from my involvement with One City. My heart is softened and my eyes opened to the reality that God changes us simply through relationships.

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Sometimes I feel we can miss the forest for the trees when it comes to volunteering and finding ways to grow as a person. We can easily stay caught up in the materialistic aspects of life and society. Sometimes it takes a person or an idea to make us be still and listen to what our hearts are trying to tell us. I challenge you to find that inner voice and see where it can take you. See what kind of impact you can have on the world around you, especially your immediate environment. One City is a great way to do this, to find yourself a part of something bigger, to make a difference in someone’s life and have them make a difference in yours. We are all spiritual beings in a materialistic world, and what we do with this one life is up to us. So come join us, in whatever capacity you can, to shake things up and make a difference in the world together.

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“I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that He will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”

– Mother Teresa

Siri, You Don’t Get Me

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I have to post this small little blurb today because I feel like all you iPhone users out there can relate to what I have to say about good ol’ Siri.  Now, I don’t know if you feel as I do when it comes to hands-free driving, but I like the idea of letting my voice do the work while my eyes stay focused on the road and my hands do their job of driving the car.  So when Apple developed Siri a few years ago, I thought it was going to be the next best thing to sliced bread.  Unfortunately, my Siri experience has been terrible.

Can I just take a moment to poke fun at myself?  How do you know your relationship with Siri is on the outs?  It is probably pretty clear she is just not that into you when you hit the magical button to ask a question and she repeatedly tells you “I’m sorry Samantha, I don’t understand that.” Ever had that happen?  Yeah, I thought so.

As I was driving this morning, dropping off my children at their various schools, I was needing to know when our local Barnes and Noble would open.  “Ah,” I thought to myself, “I will ask Siri.  She knows everything, right?”  Push the button and speak into the virtual microphone.  “Siri, can you tell me when the Barnes and Noble in Cape Girardeau will open today?”  Siri replies, “Samantha, I don’t understand what Noble is.”  Wait, what?  Okay, deep breath, and let me turn down my music to eliminate all background noise.  Try again. “Siri, can you please (because maybe if I am overly polite, she will give me my answer) tell me when BARNES AND NOBLE IN CAPE GIRARDEAU WILL OPEN TODAY?”  Here she goes, it’s going to happen this time!  “Samantha, here is the location for Cape Girardeau.  Can I help with anything else?”  Sure, I can tell you what direction I would like you to go…any guesses oh wise, fake language, computer voice?

Now, you have to get a visual here, because I am driving in traffic, yelling to wherever my microphone is in the car, trying to focus on the road.  If you passed me this morning, now you understand why I looked like a giraffe driving a vehicle, craning my neck towards the ceiling in search of the mysterious Bluetooth microphone.  Okay, let’s try this again.  The car is quiet and I hit the magic button.  “Siri, pretty please tell me when Barnes and Noble will open in Cape Girardeau.”  Awkward silence as I watch the colorful neon light pulse on my phone’s screen.  “Samantha,  here are the searches I found for Hungarian paprika.”  ARGHHHHHHHH!!!!!! It takes sheer strength to NOT throw my phone across the vehicle and suddenly I find myself pushing the button to tell Siri what a big loser she was, how she couldn’t understand me, and I thought she was a complete idiot! There, now see how you do, SIRI! Microphone drop, BOOM, I told her. Her response?  “I’m sorry you feel that way, Samantha.”  Whatever.

Needless to say, I had to wait until I reached a red light to search Safari for opening times of Barnes and Noble, which had absolutely zero to do with Hungarian paprika.  Still trying to figure that one out, Siri.  So, for those of you out there using iPhones and having amazing “Phomances” with Siri, good for you.  For the rest of the Siri rejects out there, I feel your pain.  And if you use another brand of phone, you may have no clue what this entire situation feels like, but then again, my iPhone has not exploded on me yet.

I was just a girl, driving a car, waiting for a simple answer.  All I got was Hungarian paprika.

Until next time,

Cheers!

The Shadow of Control

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I read an amazing book by a woman named Susan Jaramillo titled “How God Rewrote My Heart.” Jaramillo is a strong woman to have endured the trials and tribulations she experienced throughout life. The book focuses on how God helped her heal from all these experiences. Short, sweet and to the point, I could relate to how she felt in certain life situations, even if our experiences were completely opposite.  Susan hit upon how control ruled her life and how her spirit was broken because of the lack of self-worth she felt.

I guess it brings me to finally put onto paper my own story of struggle and of defeat. It is nothing earth shattering, especially if you think about the struggles others in the world can deal with each day. But none-the-less my story is about a point in my life when I hit my own rock bottom and how control and lack of self-worth engulfed every aspect of my world.

I have written previously about women and our self-worth in a post a few years ago, but my own personal vendetta did not get included in the article. Now I feel like it is time to get the demons out on paper. It is time to come to grip with my own personal failures and mishaps.

It is hard, when you are young and naïve, to really see how one’s own decisions impact the people around you. I never gave much thought to this notion, mainly because I never really believed enough people cared what I did in this world. It was my own Demon in my head telling me how worthless I was to everyone. If I had to really think when this all began I would pin it around young adolescence. Growing up is so hard for any kid, and throw in insecurity, the mix becomes a toxic concoction of self-hatred and self-doubt. I always felt extremely inadequate when it came to friendships or finding my own niche in school. The only place I felt safe and secure was my academic life and knowing my teachers respected my efforts in the classroom. I was a shy kid, kind of a loaner in school with just a few close friends. I would never have labeled myself as popular. I avoided trying out for the cheerleading squad or dance squad. I stuck to more “academic” pursuits because I felt comfortable there. So as I hit high school, I stayed out of parties for the most part and skimmed the parameter of all the “in crowds.” I just didn’t ever feel “good enough” to be a part of those groups, and I was afraid of rejection. I never saw myself as pretty or savvy enough to be included in things they did. I didn’t really date anyone either because I knew I was not the one guys wanted in our high school. I was awkward, felt a tad overweight and had crazy curly hair. But I was smart, and for some reason that was a comfort to me. I knew I could do anything that required the use of my brain. My close friends included me in social things and tried to help me come out of my shell. I loved them, and still do, for their loyalty to me as a friend and “personal cheerleader” in high school.

What pre-teen or teenage girl doesn’t feel this way? Like the entire world is looking at her with a magnifying glass, just waiting for one wrong step. My own feelings of self-worth didn’t have a thing to do with the amount of love my parents showed me. I grew up in a good household where my parents lived lovingly under the same roof, my dad had a good job and my mom stayed at home to care for me. I did not have any brothers and sisters in my home to make me share things or deal with the daily annoyances I find my own kids struggling with today. It was a great childhood, but for some reason I became the left out play dough, unable to form into something flexible and easy to mold. I was always opinionated at home because that was where I felt safe and secure. Aside from that you would always find me amicable and easy-going because I didn’t want to cause disturbance or annoyance. I chose what situations I wanted to be in, and stayed far away from areas I felt unsafe or uncertain.

I lost myself in books and movies, anything to pull me out of my own head and my own thoughts. By the time I reached the end of my high school career I was deciding on how the hell to get out of my small town upbringing and try to create my own persona, my own identity. I wanted to be away from any stereotype and discover how the world really lived outside “Peyton Place.” Going off to college seemed to be the best thing, moving away from home and attending a good school that gave me the academic challenges I so craved.

My senior year was an exciting time because by December I knew where I was going to college and I saw this light at the end of the tunnel. Freedom to make my own way, meet people from other states and really find what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I think I worked a little harder on appearances that year too, and I even became interested in a boy. Perhaps by that point I could relax a bit and “sail” my way through the rest of the most awkward and uncertain time in my life: high school.

I only saw one side of leaving home, my side, and it was invigorating. I didn’t consider the other side my parents experienced. The fear of letting your only child go out on her own and praying everything you did while she/he was growing up would come to fruition. That is what my mom and dad experienced after dropping me off at school, looking back in the review mirror as I proudly waved good-bye to them. They were lost to the battles that lay ahead of me. They were lacking proper ammunition to deal with the struggles I would soon face in college.

The beginning of freshman year was an adjustment. Being a kid who loved routines, I had to take some time before figuring out my own. Once I did, it was also very hard for me to let go and have fun. I felt I had this immense responsibility to myself, to my parents and to the world when it came to my grades. I needed to show everyone that I could do this—move away from home, attend a prestigious university on a public school education and blow the world away. I realized then my days of breezy afternoons by the pool were over. It was go-time and I needed to pull up my bootstraps to get the grades. So I did, but in the meantime, my failures I received in the classroom knocked down the fragile self-confidence I had developed my senior year in high school. I was back to square one, surrounded by exceptionally smart people who went to private schools in large cities or boarding schools on the coasts. They were also beautiful, thin, well-groomed individuals, especially the girls. I had no idea where I fit in on this campus. What I held so dear in high school, which was my intelligence, became completely challenged and my lack of self-esteem did not help the situation.

My parents often talked about things they saw me doing after school. Would she be a doctor? Would she be a lawyer (maybe because I was so argumentative), or would she be something else? My parents were in the medical field, so that is all they knew. But they never shied away from the idea of me doing something different. I just could never gain the self-confidence I needed to get out from under their shadow of successes. I never felt independent enough to make mistakes and be okay with it. For us, mistakes were bad and for me mistakes were irreversible. I couldn’t live with irreversible. So when it came to earning good grades and succeeding in my college courses, I wanted to blow the damn world away. Yet, the pressure that is placed on someone’s shoulders can be excruciating. When that pressure is personally put there, the effects can be life changing and severely damaging.

Freshman year wasn’t a complete bust. Don’t get me wrong at all here because I did meet some girls I felt a strong connection to and enjoyed being around. We all became pretty close that year after living in the same hall, and we ended up staying together until the end of our college career. But as life ebbs and flows, mistakes are made and life-lessons are learned, the relationships began to change. In the beginning, we felt the same about the environment around us. We had come to the school because we knew the education would be outstanding but I don’t think we were expecting the rest of it. As I contemplate on this time in my life now, as a 37-year-old adult with a family and life experiences under my belt, I realize how much we had on the ball if we had just recognized it. But college is so hard for adolescent kids. Everyone is trying to fit into this perfect mold and also discover who he or she really is as individuals. Some people find it right off the bat, others it takes years to develop. But my college experience was not full of fraternity parties or sorority socials. I had chosen not to pledge after going through rush during my freshman year. I remember being so nervous around all the other girls; they were so perfect. I just didn’t see myself fitting into their perfect world. Perhaps it was good I did not join because I struggled enough with control as each semester passed and I placed more and more expectations on myself with my classes.

Those expectations grew into something bigger and more dangerous and suddenly I found myself in the rabbit hole of self-control and restrictions. I destroyed the relationships I had built around me during my college career because of my reckless obsession to become perfect. We, as a group of girls, did not know how to handle it, and I let it go too far. Who can ever be around someone who never smiles, who is stressed out all the time and feels such a lack of self-worth? It is depressing and sour, and relationships won’t last a single minute longer than necessary. I take all the blame on losing my friendships from college. I can’t blame those girls for not wanting to be around my crazy-mindedness and me. I was so intense and self-imploding; I didn’t even want to be around me.

Here we go on the journey of an eating disorder. It is an ugly journey that completely engulfs every being of your mind. It is a disease about control; at least that is what mine became centered on in college. I loved my coursework, in spite of the occasional boring required class. My professors listened to my viewpoints during lectures and I never felt awkward when I visited office hours. My brain was there in front of my face and body. It was the first thing someone saw when I entered the room. But placing intelligence in one basket entirely can be dangerous for someone of my nature. I wanted perfection in my classrooms, especially when it came to grades and my budding passion for becoming a writer of some kind. It fed the Demon that told me to portion out servings and live on a fat-free regiment. I could tell you how many calories and fat constituted normal “pantry” foods. At meals, I would count in my head how many calories I ingested during one meal. I controlled how much I ate, what I put in my mouth and how long I stayed awake to study. It was an endless cycle of self-destruction. It blew away my body, and it engulfed my friendships in flames. It was an awful way to live, and I have only myself to blame for it all.

College was the time when I started running every day and when I really began working out. I was trying to make my body match my brain so when I walked into a social setting outside of classroom professors and students I could feel strong and empowered. Running allowed me to break out of the ironclad determination I slipped on every day I attended class. I could breath easier and loose myself in the natural high running can give a person. I competed with myself on how fast I could run at times or how long I could last if I didn’t count the miles. When you are living on a diet of low-fat carbohydrates and little protein, your body starts to shrink. For me, it was a visual affirmation to how well I was running my life. Yes, I could do this all on my own. I could earn the grades, be my own self away from my family and begin to fit into the beauty I saw all around me on campus.

It makes me sad when I sit and write about this because I see now what a waste it all was for me, and for my parents. I blew away four years of my life and missed out on fun times and everlasting friendships because of my self-destructive, obsessive behaviors. It can make a person become so humble to fully accept such a verdict. To know that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to my actions. I am the one to blame.

This inner competition sticks with me today, although sometimes I have to squelch that Demon and make it behave. The self-competitive me became the anorexic me after freshman year. Finally, it is out and in the open. The ugly, nasty “A” word that every parent fears will label their child. My parents lived that fear when I came home for that first summer after finals. I had ended the relationship with the boy from my high school senior year and my heart was broken, my spirit demolished but my intellect was intact. I had earned high grades that year. I had also lost 15 pounds since Christmas break, and I really didn’t have 15 to lose.

I changed, and not for the better. My grades kept going higher as my weight went lower during each semester. I watched relationships become damaged and endangered during the rest of my college career. All because I was trying to fit into this mold I believed I needed to fill. I placed that expectation on myself, despite the pleadings of my parents and my closest friends. The latter part of my Junior year was when I hit my lowest weight, under 100 lbs. I had not had a menstrual cycle in months. My roommates and my parents had an intervention one night before midterms. It still makes me tear up after all this time when I remember those conversations. The anger and despair we all felt at one time, in one tiny dorm room, now floats across my mind. I knew I needed to change, but I didn’t know how to do it. I was tightly wound, rigid as steel and I wasn’t sure I would ever become the person I was before I came to college.

But I fought, and I fought hard, to find myself on my own. I knew I had to change and that I had to be the one to do it, but it would not be overnight. I lost a roommate after junior year because she could not live with it all anymore. I wouldn’t have blamed the others if they had moved out too. No one can survive around someone who is hard as stone and driven to a point of madness about academic responsibilities. I dug deep in my soul to find strength to let go of my inner demons. I needed to relinquish the control I was trying to have on every single aspect of my life. I needed to learn to breathe again like I did before I turned into this crazy monster that forgot how to have fun and relax.

I know now, with time and wisdom, my lack of self-worth brought me down the path of self-destruction. It got to the point when my parents wanted to bring me home to them. They threatened to pull me out of school and move me home if I didn’t start to eat more and put on some weight. My hair was beginning to fall out and bones began to protrude in places. So I agreed to eat, and my mom would drive down to school every so often hauling a load of my favorite treats and goodies. Doing anything she could to make me eat. But what is ironic is how that was the last thing I needed. I get that now as a parent because parents will do anything to protect their children. All my parents wanted to do was protect me and help me find myself again. My parents and roommates did the best they could in that situation. But my mom’s brownie truffle was not the answer to the problems at hand. It was a Band-Aid to a very large sore.  I remember my mom stopping in Nashville one weekend, bringing me yet another bucket of brownie truffle. As she placed the bucket on the counter she proceeded to tell me how proud she was that she didn’t even “lick the spoon” while making it. That statement was a slit to my anorexic wrist. You don’t tell someone suffering from an eating disorder how excited you are for restricting your own self from something. The anorexic (me in this case) will take that to the next level. It just goes to show how intricate this disease can be to someone not suffering from its claws. When she left that afternoon I threw the entire container in the trash completely untouched.

My parents tried to find a psychiatrist on campus for me to see. I met with some old-school psychology guru who had published a few books through the university’s press. It appeased my parents and kept me enrolled in school. I was now surviving on two fronts. As a student wanting to earn the grades and as an anorexic hiding her dirty secret from the world. He was a nice man, and we only met for about an hour. He told me how worried my parents were for me and talked to me about why I didn’t need to put so much stress on myself. The honest truth here is I could not remember one thing the man said to me during that visit. There was no personal connection. He was just a means to an end for my mom and dad. I appeased it all so I could pretend I was getting better and able to change. Again it is the intricate workings of a mind whittled with self-doubt. I just wanted to get out of there so I could hit the library again and continue preparing for exams. He gave me one of his books to read and told me to call if I needed more help. I left that office knowing I would never see his face again. I lied to my parents when they called to ask how it went. I said the man really helped me and I could already feel myself getting better. Again, another Band-Aid to a huge ulcerated sore. It made my parents feel better, especially with them feeling helpless and lost as to how to handle my situation. I did end up reading this guy’s book he signed and gave to me. It wasn’t bad, just not what I needed at the time.

This was how I lived the remainder of my years in college. Trying to put up a good front of being “healthy” and eating better, yet compensating for all the additives in my life. I ran longer, worked out harder trying to “adjust” for what I put in my mouth in front of friends and my parents. I was fighting a constant battle in my head that said I needed to get my shit together, but also not to cave to weakness. I was the one in control here, nobody else. I called the shots when it came to my lifestyle. It was a slow beginning to the process of retraining my brain for anything close to normalcy.

Before my senior year of college, I took an internship in Washington, D.C. That was a great summer. I lived in a city full of energy and fun people who were like the “old” me. I found a bit of myself that summer, making new routines and reminding myself that what I did with my body was for health and happiness and nothing else. My brain led me through it all, keeping me focused and grounded. My heart began to heal from a long and exhausting point in my life. I turned 21 that summer in France with my parents, and I learned on that trip how to develop a healthy relationship with food. I also became in love with wine and it introduced a new level of connection with my mom and dad. I know this is why I have such a big heart for wine and all it encompasses. That summer was a time of healing for me and again I was finding myself opening up to a new point in my life. I had decided to move to Dallas, Texas with my dear friend from high school. She was graduating from Texas A & M the same time I was graduating from Vanderbilt. My life was finally coming together, and it was in a good way.

Changing was not easy, but slowly, with time and a lot of perseverance I prevailed. My friends helped me, as did my parents. But the biggest help to me was myself. My ability to see reality for what it was and take slow and steady steps away from the muck of anorexia. I never did see anyone professionally for my disease. I worked through it myself with books, strong friendships and a passion for learning how to eat the healthy way.

I had to completely re-wire my entire relationship with food after college and post-college. It took a good ten years to really discover living with a nutritious diet. I continued to read books, find videos and television shows on cooking and create my own perspective on how food should taste and what I wanted to eat every day. Gone were days of frozen vegetables for dinner or saltines and honey for lunch. I was now discovering an entirely new lifestyle, and I was beginning to fall in love with wholesome food. I knew what I cooked and ate was going to be good for my body. I lost the fear of putting something in my mouth. I lost the fear of relinquishing control over something because I was completely involved in my diet.

Unless you have walked the footsteps of an anorexic or bulimic, it is hard to understand what goes through the mind of someone suffering from these diseases. The issues are real and ugly and completely opaque to the rest of the world. One little word or a phrase can turn someone’s sphere upside down. And now that I am older and have worked through my own issues with my eating disorder, I have become so very sensitive to what the rest of the world discusses. I know that word or phrase which destroys a girl’s (or boy’s) self-esteem and self-worth.

My eating disorder led me down a new path with food. I am to the point now where I love knowing how beneficial healthy foods can be for the body, and I am not scared to sit down and eat full meals. I no longer count calories when making meals. I just simply assess what I feel hungry for and what I think my body may need. I let go and started letting healthy food rule my diet. I was finally becoming free of my Demon. And I also learned to enjoy wine with my meals, and discover the beauty and potential it has on one’s life.

I ended up graduating from Vanderbilt with honors, and they were earned with blood, sweat, and tears. I poured my heart and soul into my education and desire to become a writer of some kind. Thanks to my professors and my parents I had a new kind of boost and it was that I could write and do it well. My dad always told me writing is something that can never be taken away from me. A person doesn’t forget to write if it is a talent that comes naturally to them. Something completely inherent in my soul, this is what writing is for me. I had battled dragons of control and self-worth in college, but I had come out the victor. I had bruises and scars that would take many years to heal, but they are also reminders of what I know I can do to make myself better. I know I have the strength in me to put up a good fight, and my experience as an anorexic showed me how to put my dukes up.

Age is not a bad thing because it also gives you wisdom. I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine about finally getting comfortable in my own skin. It took time to figure that out, and it wasn’t an easy discovery. I am not saying life is always peaches and cream, just the opposite in fact. But I have read enough books about how negative society can be, how all kinds of media can prey on men and women and how such unrealistic expectations are completely worthless. Each page I turned made me realize how much easier my own battle would have been with these recitations and realizations about body image and health. I know my experience with an eating disorder led me to the path of learning to love food, to learn how it nourishes our bodies and what I can do to make myself stay vibrant from the inside out. It led me to develop a stable relationship with exercise and listen to my body. I know when to reach for goals and when it’s time to back off. God allowed the failures of my early twenties to open the door and discover happiness and confidence. How poetic His pathways can be for us when we are simply still, listening unfiltered to His words.

I have often wondered if my experience would ever help prevent someone from going down the path of destruction as I did in college. I was one of the lucky ones who made the turn before real damage was done to my body and my mind. Yes, it took some time to heal physically and mentally from my experiences, but it was peanuts compared to what some boys and girls go through with an eating disorder. And unfortunately, it all starts at such a young age, often before kids hit double digits. Coming back to the town I grew up in to raise my own family, I see small glimpses of destruction and I want to reach out and stop the train wreck I know will happen in a few years to these individuals. How sad is that? Our children are finding out at such an early age what self-worth is and isn’t in life. It makes my stomach flip and is why I am so protective of my own children, especially my daughter. I will fight for her and fight hard to keep her on the path I wished I had stayed on years ago. I have my ammunition ready for whatever battle I face. I just wish I could protect all the soldiers out there who will succumb to the unrealistic expectations lurking out in the real world.

Thank you, Susan Jaramillo, for being brave enough to share your story with the world. It gave me the strength to share my own story in hopes it might touch someone.   Perhaps it will permit someone feeling lost and forgotten to stop and smell the roses. Allow someone to realize they are shining stars amongst a sea of darkness called Reality.

If you know someone suffering or if you are suffering from an eating disorder, please have the strength to get help.   Find a friend or loved one to confide in. There is no shame in what you are experiencing. The shame comes from ignoring the problem and letting it fester like an open wound. Power comes with knowing how to heal oneself, and that power lies within you. Although I was able to work through my issues alone, there are some out there that may need the love and support of outside help. It can be hard for the friends and family of someone suffering from eating disorder to disassociate their feeling and emotions from the problem at hand. They are too connected to the person suffering from the disease. If this is where you find yourself, there are also countless third-party resources available, like the National Eating Disorder Awareness website (www.nedawarness.org), to provide direction. Counselors and therapists are specialized to help people heal from this disease and can hold an individual’s hand through the walk of recovery. Or simply talking to someone recovering from his or her own disorder, such as myself, could be a great place to begin the pathway to freedom. If you know someone suffering from an eating disorder, reach out to that person; give them the confidence they need to find a way out of those invisible chains of destruction. You never know what people really need unless you first open up your heart to them. Eating disorders are a silent disease that can be cured, treated and overcome.

For anyone who needs an anonymous ear to listen, I can be reached at sbrhodes@sbcglobal.net.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas

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Driving home tonight on a December evening, the night is so clear and beautiful, I notice the stars above. Looking quickly through my windshield, since the road I am driving is a two-lane highway, it makes me remember days I stood outside at night with my dad and surveyed the different constellations in the sky. My father loved the stars and when we stood outside at night to let the dogs outside for one last potty break he would tell me different names for each one in the sky. Now when I look at the sky I always think of him. I know the Big Dipper is part of Orion’s belt and where to find Venus on a clear evening. I didn’t know the stars like he did, and in actuality, he probably didn’t know that many. But he was my dad and he knew the world. It didn’t matter if what my dad told me was wrong because he was there with me sharing something new and wonderful about my environment.

December is a wonderful time of the year. Everyone seems to be hopped up on the holiday cheer. I try and remember what it means to be a part of the holidays because the people around me love it so much. But inwardly this time of year is a bit hard. Just for the simple fact that my family is so different and there are huge chunks missing at our Christmas tables. But I know now I have to think on a bigger scale when it comes to Christmas and the holiday spirit. There is something greater in the world than my heartache and happiness. Is that not what this time of year means? To think outside of oneself and focus on others because no matter how awful things might seem to us, there is always something far worse and far harsher.

I looked at those stars tonight on the way home and realized my daughter sleeping soundly in the backseat deserved more than my own heartache. She deserved the belief I still have inside for a great Christmas. She deserves to know the love and friendship I grew up with around the holidays. Wrapping gifts, gathering to laugh and reminisce, those are memories my children need to have in their hearts. They need to experience the joy and love that comes from serving and helping others that need a lift in life. I suddenly realized tonight while driving how important it is for my own children to see me enjoy the holidays. They don’t know the true hurt that can come from an ugly world. Their family is intact and safe. Their life is still pretty sheltered in the idea that a large guy in a red suit is going to fulfill their every wish on Christmas morning. But is that really the true meaning of Christmas? Finding the perfect gift? I have already stressed about what to buy whom this year and it boggles my mind that I need to focus so much on the material aspect of the Christmas season when I really need to be focused on something much bigger. Christmas was not designed around the largest gift under the tree. It was created thanks to the birth of a sweet baby boy who saved the world from itself.

Thanks to those stars in the sky tonight, I realized while driving my daughter home that I need to open my mind and heart up to something more. I will always miss those holes in my heart, but the ones I loved and lost wouldn’t want their absence to take away from anyone’s happiness. I need to realize that Christmas is not about finding the perfect gift or fulfilling a quota. It is about finding a person to love and help. It is about being kind and understanding to one another. The holidays can be stressful enough without all the added materialistic and narcissistic aspects of today’s world. Think about Zu Zu’s petals in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and what they meant to George. It was a representation of how good life can be without all the fluff. So go focus on YOUR stars in the night sky and find what YOU believe in to make this holiday season a memorable one for yourself and for your family.

Merry Christmas and Holiday Cheers!

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Discovering the Essence of Time

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I have not had much time to post on my blog lately.  The holidays are starting and I find myself using up my spare moments getting ready for turkey dinners and holiday parties.  It’s a great time of year, but a very hectic one and the stress levels can often rise higher than a person desires.  Today I have been thinking about time, but not time in the sense of business meetings and various appointments.  No, the time I have contemplated on today has been God’s time.  I don’t usually write about my religion or my love for God on my blog  for the simple fact my thoughts are very personal.  But today I can’t seem to get Him out of my head, so it must mean I need to get Him onto paper and in this blog.

As a planner, having someone remind me that God’s timing in life is not going to coincide with what I want can be a little annoying.  Why can’t it all just work out and fit into a nice clean mold?  It won’t do that, and unfortunately, life takes an exuberant amount of patience (something I seriously lack!).  With events that have taken place recently in my life, I find myself amazed how God can put people directly into my path just when I need them.  I may not recognize it at the moment, but eventually, I get the “ah, well what do you know” kind of realization.  And He does this on His own timing after I have come to Him for help.  I feel like I had that recently, His timing on some things I didn’t even see coming.

The holidays are not always the happiest of times for people, including myself.  I miss those who are not longer with me, but I love to see the joy of the Season on my children’s faces.  If things in your life seem bumpy or uncertain, just remember we are not working on a typical schedule.  Life does not pan out according to our timing.  What we need and when we get it are not decided by us but are laid out in a delicate pattern by something greater than ourselves.  We are not supposed to understand the “whys” or “whats” of a situation.  It is easy to go through the motions and disassociate ourselves from what really matters.  I am just as guilty of doing this as the person next to me in line at the grocery store.  But every once in a while we get a smack upside the head and a gentle voice whispers to us, “I am here, and you are truly loved by Me.”

Until next “time,”

Cheers!

Finding Your Zen Moment

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If you are a fan of 90’s comedy, you may recall the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray.  The entire premise behind this film is repeating the same day over and over again.  As a mom of two, I feel like I LIVE this movie.  The alarm goes off, run downstairs to get liquid fuel (STRONG coffee), kids dressed, kids’ breakfast served, lunches made, kids’ teeth brushed, shoes on then out the door.  Wait, I just locked the door and realized I still am wearing pajamas-what the?!?

How easy it is to find ourselves in a rut that has us doing the same thing over and over again without stopping to smell the roses.  I find it can be the quickest way to drain the happiness tank no matter how positive a person you may be in life.  Going back to my new “journal” on happiness (see previous posts), a couple of lists involved naming things I am really good at and what gets me out of my head.  What gets me out of my head?  My goodness, just going to the bathroom without two children, two dogs and a cat would be a “get me out of my head” moment! But I did contemplate these two things and made myself step outside of my comfort box and really evaluate what I feel I do best and how that helps me “get out of my head.”  Basically, I discovered how many of the things I felt I was really good at doing also helped me find that zen moment.

What really constitutes finding your “zen moment?”  I thought about things that help me find inner peace and calmness.  Yoga, writing, listening to calming music, those are just a few things I listed that help me become relaxed.  You don’t have to sit and meditate to find  zen.  I really think the list was trying to make me realize what I do to find peace and quiet throughout my day.  Tonight it was typing on my computer, drinking a nice glass of wine and burning a candle that smelled of sea salt and jasmine.  There are a million things we could list on paper to help us find inner calm and sanctity.  But why do we forgo such a necessity?  Do we feel guilty for simply discovering what helps us become the best version of ourselves?

I also started thinking about how important it is for women (okay, men too) who work, raise kids or both, to find those moments that have us step outside of our crazy, busy heads and find a moment.  Because doing so will help us be able to focus on and accomplish those things we are considered “good at doing.”  Besides putting down writing as one of my better qualities, I listed being a mom as something I feel good about.  Am I perfect, well, absolutely not!  But I do try hard each day I open my eyes and see the faces of my kids.  I don’t wake up thinking “man, I am going to yell and scream today at every stinking thing my kids do.  Yeah!” No, I really do make a conscious effort to be the best that I can be at whatever role I find myself in for the day.  Always a mom, but perhaps I need to be the friend who listens or the person to give someone a friendly “hello” at the grocery store.  I feel by finding what gets us out of our head and helps make us realize what we are good at can bless the rest of the people we encounter throughout the day.  It creates a sense of positivity and elation, something to be passed along to others around us.  I never really thought about that until I was forced to write it down on paper.

I like the fact I had to sit down and really think about the things which make me who I am without someone else having to point it out for me.  I don’t feel like I am being narcissistic or vain.  I am simply recognizing the gifts God has given me as a human being on this earth and what I can do to help others around me who have other talents I definitely lack.    It creates a sense of how we interact with one another in this world, no matter what role we have in it.  Finding that zen in your day, no matter how short or long it may take, also helps you discover the inner self to make you smile and show the world who you really are in life.  I challenge you to list things you feel you are good at and find things to help you get outside of your head.  And remember to take the time to zen yourself out during a typical busy day or week.  You never know, maybe it will be the key to your own happiness.

Cheers to you all today!

 

 

 

The Many Hats of a Daughter

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Have you ever had that feeling, like when you ride a roller coaster and hit the biggest hill? It is the feeling of butterflies in your stomach like it will fly out of your mouth. It provides a sense of immediate euphoria, a natural high, so to speak. I had that today, and I wasn’t even really coasting down a hill on a roller coaster. I was simply driving down the ramp to get on I-55 South from Perryville to Cape Girardeau, Missouri.   I have been under some stress and strain lately and was just trying to get home with two kids in the backseat when I happened to look up and experience it. I suddenly felt like a bird, flying high over the Southeastern landscape of rolling hills and crops. In the distance, I could see the tip of the Bill Emerson bridge that graces the Mississippi River, some 30 miles away. I imagined myself as that bird, coasting in the wind stream, just simply being for a moment in time. No responsibility, no one depending on you for anything. Just simply being a part of nature and something bigger than myself. Relishing in the beauty of what was before me without tears of despair.

For a split second in time, probably for 8 seconds, I was that bird flying high above the rolling world and all its problems. Euphoria was mine and it was beautiful, invigorating but discouraging all at the same time. Because once the car stopped, the music shut off and my foot touched concrete, I suddenly was thrown back into the mayhem my life has been the past week. The ride was over and reality set in strong and hard like the boulder (known as the World) Atlas was forced to carry in Greek mythology.

I stated above that my mom has been ill. I wish I could say this was something sudden, but it is not. It has been an ongoing thing since I lost my dad. Slowly I have watched her mentally slip away from me and crawl into this hole I have been unable to drag her out of for some time. How unfathomable it is for a child to suddenly realize they are no longer the child, but the parent of their parent. That is what I have become; my mother’s caregiver, support system and lifeline. A slew of hats for one daughter to wear, and I am not sure I am up for all the challenges it brings. I want to give my mom the best, do my father proud.  I thank God for my better half in all this. How could I accomplish those tasks without my spouse?

Four years ago I lost my father. He had been ill, a slow and gradual deterioration that he hid from all my family, myself included. I have this feeling my mom has been doing the same thing. Despite efforts from everyone around her to become a part of us and create the next phase of her life, she has struggled with not having the love of her life around day after day. I admire her for that love and dedication towards someone. It shows the amount of love she has for this world and those around her. My mother is an amazing woman, she has taught me all I know in terms of how to be a genuine soul in this crazy world. She has laughed through life, had her ups and downs, and been completely imperfect and wonderful. As much as I am a part of my dad I am just as much a part of my mother. So seeing this deterioration of her life and health happen before my eyes while I have been helpless to stop it has killed me inside. A slow death that hits you suddenly, like a train plowing across the tracks.

It has made me think of the many responsibilities, or “hats,” a daughter wears throughout life. How does the saying go? “A son is a son until he takes a wife, a daughter is a daughter for life.” My mother told me that a long time ago, way before I was married or even dating anyone. Almost like her own premonition that I would be the one to nurture and help my dad and her as they aged throughout life. I didn’t have the opportunity to care for my dad, although I would have if he had offered the occasion. There wasn’t enough time for it and I lost a piece of that responsibility.

Now we turn to my mother whom I want to care for, but I also want her to reciprocate that care with optimism and gumption to get out of bed every day. One of my latest hats, I guess. One of the many other hats I have acquired throughout my life. Being a wife to someone I love dearly. Being the best mom I know how to be to my children and trying to be supportive and active in the lives of my friends and family. So many hats yet my head keeps shrinking somehow. Or maybe that is what happens when you take on the heartaches and hardships of others and forget to make time for yourself. You forget to breathe in and out, to survive and be present for the ones closest to you. My big fear with all my hats is that my daughter has experienced my emotional processing of several “hat falls.” She has seen me grieve over the loss of an unborn child, a father and now the health of my mother. Will that forever change her for good or bad? I always talk openly with her, but I am so fearful I am making her into an “old soul” too fast and stripping her of childhood naivety. Despite efforts to hide the few anguishing moments I have had, she seems to sense something in me, a need for her hug and comes running to the door.

Perhaps it is the same connection I have had with my own mother in the past, maybe not so much in present time because I am trying to raise my own daughter. But there are definite correlations and I am fully aware of it all. Yet, the emotions continue and again I switch hats with every hour of the day. Each change brings a variety of sensations. Frustration, anger, fear, sadness and heartache are all swimming around on top of my head while waiting for me to reach up and grab the proper “attire.” I am taking care of my mother now, helping her get well and back on her feet. Am I doing what my dad would want and agree with regarding her healthcare? I will never know and I have never felt so far away from him. No calming words and reassurance that all will be okay. I am swimming through medical jargon alone because my mother is not able to really tell me honestly. I rely on others’ advice, but in the end, I just wish I had my dad here. It is hard to explain the hat of an “only daughter.” Wanting to be in so many places at one time and realizing you can’t. How awful a realization that is for someone of my personality. I have always been a person to do it myself. Go it alone, but now I can’t do that and I have shed tears over the loss of that independence. Yet, the support I have from my family, my husband and even my kids lift me back up to see the dawn of another day. To put my Scarlett O’Hara shoes on and say “tomorrow is another day.” I can do this, and it will all be okay in the end. There is no way on Earth I could survive without them. I just have to get to a place I feel comfortable with, and I have to get my mother there too.

Therein lies the road as it diverges, one path easy, the other rough and rugged. Time will tell which path we are led down.  Time will tell me which hat to wear next.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

–Robert Frost (1874–1963)

 

 

 

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“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

This is just one of many great quotes from an American literary masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald back in 1925. I recently became obsessed with this piece of literature after watching the latest version on film with Leonardo DiCaprio and Toby MacGuire (2013 is the release date). There is also the older version with the amazing Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, which I have seen. But for some reason when I saw this particular version on a flight home from Miami a few weeks ago it really spoke to me. The characters reached out and seemed to grab me while I was sitting in my middle seat waiting for peanuts and water. Perhaps it was the acting or the wonderful music, or perhaps it was just the story itself and all the various characters in it.

Before I delve into this post, many things have floated across my mind while thinking of what I wanted to write. I have jotted down pages of ideas and correlations to what you will read (or I hope you will read) in a moment. One correlation I probably should save for a different post is how Gatsby can mimic the main character, Donald Draper, in Mad Men. It is not exactly the same scenario, but I saw so many similarities that combining the two together in this piece would be more of a collegiate essay than a simple blog post. But perhaps if you have watched episodes of Mad Men and understand the main character, then you will see the same correlation I did as I read The Great Gatsby. All the ups and downs Draper went through over the series I could see neatly wrapped up in Fitzgerald’s novel, down to the last shot of Draper getting his Zen on while sitting on a California hillside. It’s definitely enough to talk over a great bottle of wine or an “Old Fashioned.” Now back to the main point of the post…

Here is a brief synapsis of the novel in case you have not had a chance to read the book or watch one of the above movies. The main characters include a rich socialite couple, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, a budding Wall Street man named Nick Carraway (he is also a writer by trade), and of course the main man Mr. Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is considered “new-money” in the wealthy society ran by families such as the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Astors and the Buchanans (fictional family, of course). Believed to have earned his fortune from bootlegging in an era of prohibition, Gatsby is a phantom to the people of New York City and Long Island Sound. Taking place in the Jazz Age when sex and alcohol were fluid amongst society, the love Jay Gatsby has for Daisy Buchanan leads him to throw lavish parties for all of New York society at his estate in an effort to reunite with her after a five-year hiatus. Gatsby had lost touch with Daisy after leaving to serve in World War I. Despite efforts to write and continue the courtship they began, Daisy ended up marrying Tom, a man considered to be more her “equal” in the social circles she inhabited. The story tells of how Daisy and Jay are reunited, thanks to Nick, and the tumultuous summer these three characters experience together. It tells of a man (Gatsby) who recreated himself into a superstar of his day in efforts to reclaim a lost love, or a life he felt he was cheated from because of circumstances out of his control.

What I loved so much about this novel is how, even though it takes place 90 years ago, the underlining premise behind the characters resonates greatly in today’s society. The selfishness found in Daisy and Tom, careless people who “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made….”(Fitzgerald, p. 179) is seen so often in our own culture, one would think Fitzgerald’s novel was written just yesterday. But the beauty of this work doesn’t just lie in the facets of cultural living; it lies in the warped realities in which these people existed.

Turn on any reality television program and I feel like I revisit the pages of this novel. People constantly wanting to be someone other than himself or herself in efforts to “fit in better” with the going crowd. I see this even in daily life, to some extent, because someone is always trying to keep up with the “Buchanans” of our time. Do we not all do that at some point? When we step outside our door, do we tend to put the “best face” forward to give the appearance of having it all when in reality, most of us are a hot mess? These are the questions that continued to pop up in my head as I read Gatsby page by page. Like looking in the mirror and seeing bits and pieces of Daisy, Tom, Nick and even Jay appear before me, the novel led me to really step back and look at how we all live our life in today’s messed up world. Full of temptations and excess, the very evils that affected the relationship of Jay and Daisy also affect the relationships we have in our own lives, does it not? Really think about it for a moment, especially if you have had the opportunity to read this book. They are beautiful parallels of society that tend to eat at our core and rot us from the inside out while simultaneously smelling of Turkish roses.

I am not audacious enough to say I avoid all the gems and jewels this world offers. Very much the opposite, I hate to admit. I like the niceties in life, and I don’t mean just simple clean, running water or a roof over my head. I am talking about the superficial adoration of things like beautiful shoes, purses, and clothes-you name it and I have focused on it. Am I a bit like Daisy Buchanan? It is enough to make me squirm a bit in my seat, but I would be lying if I answered no. I am not alone in this large vessel of material infatuation. It is the very thing I had to chuckle over while reading because we are ALL like this, even if we find ourselves being the most philanthropic in our respective communities. It is because we are human, and human beings have a great propensity for obsessing over shiny, pretty objects. It is just the length some of us go for these pretty trinkets that differentiates us from the person next to us in the check out line at our local 7-11 convenience store.

This is the point I feel Fitzgerald wanted to bring to the forefront with this particular novel because he saw how cruel and careless humanity could be no matter what decade it is. It addresses our baser instincts at survival, our instincts to overcome obstacles and the need to flaunt our prettiest feathers in front of others like a male peacock attracting a mate. It is something television series are made of (think Mad Men here), yet Fitzgerald was able to capture this vision in 180 pages. It shows the extent people will go to find love and adoration, to find acceptance and feel a part of something special, something “big.”

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Then you have Jay Gatsby, whose purpose in life started out being something bigger than what he was, but took a turn towards obsession when he let himself go and fell in love with Daisy. Instead of becoming whom he originally had in mind, Gatsby became what he thought Daisy wanted in a friend, lover and husband. Gatsby used his wealth as a façade of respectability. His big parties were a ploy in the hopes of getting Daisy Buchanan to step foot inside his grand estate located on the side of Long Island Sound known as West Egg (new money), which lay directly across the bay from her own grandiose estate on East Egg (old money). Playing a part, creating a role in order to fulfill personal desire and somehow belong in the world, this was Gatsby. Had Gatsby just focused on his original plan and created a life based on what he wanted instead of what he thought someone else wanted, the outcome of the story could have been different. But that is not what Fitzgerald was after here; it is too simple of a solution. Things get in the way and make a mess of endless possibilities we see for ourselves, just like Daisy did for Gatsby and the future he had mapped out for himself before meeting her.

What does a person do when all they have accomplished in life stems from trying to re-create the past? Do we not all want to return to some point in our life that was wonderful and happy? This is what Gatsby wanted to do-recreate a time in his life where he gave all of himself to one person who was completely out of his realm.   Obsessed and focused on creating a future with Daisy, despite the fact she was already married, Gatsby took whatever opportunity (mostly illegal) offered to give him the financial stability he needed to play fairly in Daisy’s social field. Ironically in the end, the very means used to gain Gatsby’s wealth repulsed and scared Daisy away from him. The idea of living a lifestyle from a source she saw as less respectable caused her to turn away from something she believed she wanted. The wicked twist of human nature claims another victim in the game of wanting to belong; we have all experienced this to some extent at some point in our life. It would be asinine to shake our head in denial and look the other way.

Perhaps there are bigger messages to take away from Fitzgerald’s novel besides simply reading a good yarn. Maybe we can use the significances laid out in his story as a means to remind ourselves how cruel the world can be and what we can do to amend it, even in the tiniest of circumstances.

This brings me to the character of Nick Carraway, the ultimate optimist in the story and the person who comes out the most damaged from living within the toxicity of careless society.

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Nick’s opening line in the novel, first page, first paragraph and it offers a great description into the kind of character he possessed. He saw the love and desperation Gatsby felt for Daisy. He saw the misery and loneliness she felt in her own life. He also realized the arrogance and debauchery of Daisy’s husband, Tom. Nick was a voyeur, an outsider looking into the menagerie of a messed up world. A world he was sucked into briefly and enjoyed, but a world that left him cynical in the end.

It is another piece of the proverbial puzzle I felt as I read the pages and watched the film because I see a bit of Nick in all of us. We strive to be the person in the room with an open mind, devoid of criticism for our fellow comrades. It is the white dove of peace amongst a cloudy sky. Call it the angel on one shoulder that combats the devil on the other, but it is the Hope given to humanity as a reminder to be better than ourselves for the good of those around us, not for the selfishness that can flow within us at times. Nick is a beautiful addition to the characters in Fitzgerald’s book, rounding out the human psyche in a way that makes us less into assholes and more into people doing the best we can in life, but happen to slip and make mistakes along the way. It reminded me, despite a world of trinkets and treats, how we can become the better individual who recognizes selfishness and is willing to do something about it.

This post was not truly meant to be a book report, but a reminder to myself and to those who happen to read these words that human nature is real and ugly but ultimately improvable. We just have to maintain a little more Nick Carraway in us, avoid less of the Daisy’s and Tom’s and perhaps remember to maintain more reality than Gatsby did. If you have not had the opportunity to read or watch this story, I highly recommend. Even if you don’t take away the same viewpoints as I did, make your own assumptions and enjoy a great piece of literature.

 

 

 

The Falling Man-a 9/11 Documentary

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How can you not remember that day? September 11, 2001. I think time stood still for several hours; at least it did for me. Let me back up a bit before I get into this particular piece. So my eldest child has been sick this week with some crazy virus. Therefore my hours have been off and I found myself searching the other night for something to watch on television.   Flip on Hulu and search “documentaries,” there you go–9/11 and the “Falling Man” piece popped up. I immediately became obsessed. This date resonates with me, as it probably does with most of my generation. It was a day that will and can never be forgotten by our country. Whatever your stance may be for the actions taken after this day, you can’t ignore the utter despair and loss that was felt on September 11, 2001.

The documentary I watched the other evening was addressed the “Falling Man.” Now, if you were alive and older than say, seventeen, then you may or may not remember the “Falling Man” picture that escaped some news markets during the time of 9/11. I remember that picture vividly. I was 22 years old, living in an amazing city with the world at my feet. Life was supposed to be footloose and carefree at this point. I was to find myself after a strenuous academic career and really just learn what made me tick. Life was good and I was working, having fun until…reality. Some terrorist, for reasons unfathomable to me, decided to wreak havoc on my country. In turn, this meant it wreaked havoc on me, my generation, those before me and after me.

I sit in my kitchen typing tonight and I still feel the same despair, anguish and anger of that day. I had come out of an early morning meeting only to discover the world had changed in a matter of moments. I worked in public relations at the time, simply a post-graduate position, learning the ropes of the industry in a big city so I could eventually move up in this particular world I loved. I had high hopes, dreams and expectations, as does any college graduate who has worked their ass off to get where they are in life. I accomplished this feat, so when 9/11 occurred I almost felt the rug pulled from beneath me. I remember following other co-workers into my boss’ office to view the television. It was 8:25 A.M. central time and the first tower had been hit, followed by the second. We all watched in horror, listening to the news commentary going on at the moment. How could this possibly be happening? Then it did; the first tower fell and I remember looking over at my boss and telling him, “this is my generation’s D-day. This will be our Vietnam.” And it was this mayhem, and it still is this reality in today’s society. My grandfather fought in WWII, my father fought in Vietnam and Desert Storm…so I know a bit about military history. The good fight we wanted to have in this situation was, and may never be, fully achieved.

Being a solid American patriot, I love history and when I saw the documentary on the “Falling Man” I knew it was a piece of my history I wanted explored and explained. Do you remember this picture? We all heard accounts on newscasts about bodies falling from the World Trade Center, hitting vehicles and such below. None of this was shown on camera, but some clips you could hear it happen. And here was a photographer who happened to capture a moment of someone’s life and decided to tell it. “The Morning Call” out of Allentown, PA was the publication to show it (one of my college roommates was from Allentown) on their publication dated September 12, 2001.

According to the documentary, people in the community were appalled to see such an image. Yet, I remember the first time I saw it in a publication (I think it might have been Time Magazine). The image brought tears to my eyes, and it still makes me have that “ugly cry face” we all hate to show others.

It was not disgraceful to me, or dishonoring a life. It was reality; a moment in time I can never fully comprehend. Bodies falling and hanging out of a burning building…who am I to judge their actions? These are individuals who were mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and the list goes on and on. So, who am I to judge their actions, their decisions at that particular moment when I was tucked safely away in an office in downtown Dallas, Texas watching this entire event happening from a television?

Questions came up in the aftermath of their faith, their Christianity, and asking the world why they would make such decisions. I am a Christian and I believe God is in everything I do, but I also believe He was with those individuals that day as they were hanging out of smoke-filled windows, gasping for air while praying for an answer. Do I think these people committed suicide? I am not arrogant enough to make that judgment call, and I leave that one up to my God. Perhaps this is why I am always sobbing whenever I see or think about images of falling people from the Towers. Because I know these people had just gone to work on a “normal” day, telling their loved ones good-bye, see you later…only to find themselves hanging hundreds of stories above the ground with burning fuel and smoke around them. No, I don’t judge these individuals and I whole-heartedly believe the God I love and cherish so much does not hold it against them either. That kind of judgment is a “worldly” assumption, not a Heavenly one.

In this documentary I learned about the quest to find the identity of this one falling man, a man who represented so many others, and the setbacks that went along with this journey. Obviously it was not an easy one to make, and took several years and a few mistakes until it reached completion. But eventually it was made and the man was Jonathan Briley. He was a worker at the Windows of the World, and the last moments of his life were made into Pulitzer Prize material. And yet, it still brings tears to my eyes because this man was so loved by his family and so strong in his Faith, yet he still made the jump. His decision and his time, all with the Creator he held so dear to his heart, came together in just under 10 seconds. A moment, have you ever thought about your own life in such a short timeframe?

The controversy that surrounded this one photograph involved disgust, like anyone viewing it became an individual dishonoring the person, based on some voyeuristic appearance. But in reality, when you really think deep and hard, is that what you see? Is that what you feel? It is NOT something I feel when I see these images. I see a PERSON, in their last MOMENTS, coming to peace with what God had put before them. At that moment there was no blame or finger pointing, it was just about this one person in his or her last moments. It was ugly, sad, beautiful, peaceful and mournful all at once. How many situations in life can we witness such a deluge of emotions and representations all in a matter of seconds?

This one image of a falling man, AKA Jonathan Briley, represented so many that day in terms of lives lost. The men, women and even children that perished without a choice; it was this representation of life lost, families destroyed and chaos released amongst the masses that captured the heart of America. But there was such a story to be told with those who fell from the windows of the World Trade Center.

I go back to the image I began this piece with, a man simply falling. He is not struggling, yet instead, he is shown in a poise that exudes grace and simplicity. One knee bent, the other leg casually straight. It was as if he was taking a dive off some high dive at some no-name high school swimming pool.   Behind him you could see the image of the concrete windows of the Tower. So you knew, going in and looking, that this was no ordinary jump. And it made you question, did it not, your own existence and how much control you have over it? We are given choices in everyday life, but what we do with those choices is what makes all the difference in the world.

Do I shun the people who jumped from the Towers that awful day in recent American history?   Absolutely not, and I can say that in the strongest of faith. I think the moments we saw makes us really step back and look at how we address tragedy, reality and where we exist in between all of it. It deals with the toughest choices in life. The jumpers were not heretics or anti-Christian. They were simple people given a choice. I whole-heartedly believe they made their peace with God and that last fall was with Him. He was there, holding their hand, walking them to Paradise because the choices to get there were awful. Burn alive or jump…what would you do? What would we all do?

This piece is not to drag you down, make you feel guilty or insignificant. It is a piece to make you think long and hard before you judge. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see what you would do in a situation. One thing I have learned in my life is to not judge, to not jump to conclusions, but to really evaluate the situation on all levels. Does this make me stupid or incoherent? I don’t think so, simply because life has made me really do this action. Step back and put yourself in the shoes of the person you attempt to judge. Maybe that is why I get so choked up when it comes to 9/11 and the Jumpers. I feel they got a bad wrap as weaklings and agnostics. But in reality, when we are faced with such dire situations, what would you do? None of us really know until we have flames and smoke licking at our own ankles.

Take the story of the Falling Man as a lesson to not judge, or pre-judge someone or some situation until you have fully lived it. Until you have fully breathed its last agonizing breathe. Do not judge, and remember to believe in something bigger than you…something that can make the lasting impression on those around you in society. My belief is that God is with me every step of the way. Whatever tickles your fancy on the spiritual realm, one thing must hold true and that is we are all humans surviving in this world. Please let love and honor hold you higher than anything else you may feel. Love God, Love Others and Make Disciples.  #lglomd.org

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