Innocence Lost

I know too much now.

Pregnancy used to be this mysterious, magical thing that happened to people, and in some ways, it still is. But I will never be able to think of it again in the same way. When people get pregnant on TV shows, all I can think is, “Nope. That’s wrong. That’s totally unrealistic.” And when people look at a positive pregnancy test and say, “We’re gonna have a baby,” I just cringe. I heard a story about a lady who had her nursery fully decorated and ready when she was only 7 weeks pregnant, and I said, “I REALLY hope she brings home a baby because she obviously does not know that losing it is a possibility.”

I know that reality all too well. I was talking to a friend yesterday about the experience of loss in general. A friend of hers was murdered two years ago, so she knows what it’s like to lose someone suddenly, unimaginably. I mentioned the Thestrals from Harry Potter – the horse-like creatures that could only be seen by those who had been touched by death – and I said I really appreciate J.K. Rowling for making those things up because they’re something I can totally understand. Once you’ve experienced a profound loss, you’re just different somehow. You may not see creatures that others can’t see, but you truly do have a different kind of sight.

I know what it’s like to hold a baby for the first and last time. I know the empty feeling that comes in the days and weeks afterward when you should still be carrying life, but you’re not. I know the fight you have when you need hope more than anything, but having it feels like a betrayal of your loss. I know the special combination of excitement and terror you feel from the moment the next pregnancy test is positive. I know how slowly the time seems to pass when every day counts.

I see pregnancy much differently now. I know what’s happening at every week and what the major milestones are. Someone (I can’t remember who, so if it was you, don’t be embarrassed) recently was surprised to learn that pregnant women think in terms of weeks. I said I was 24 weeks pregnant, and they were like, “How many months is that?” Maybe some women think in months. I don’t know. When you think in days, it’s hard to imagine thinking in months. I’m 25 weeks and 4 days today, and I have to think in days because my baby’s chances of survival literally improve with each passing day. If she were born today, she’d have a 2-3% advantage over yesterday. I don’t know if it’s healthy to think this way, but it seems to help me get through each day, so I do what I have to do. Like I said, I know too much.

I know how the cervix works. I’ll give you a demo if you bring me an empty toilet paper roll. If you give me an empty toilet paper roll and a pair of scissors, I’ll show you how cervical incompetence works. If you give me an empty toilet paper roll, a pair of scissors, and some yarn, I’ll show you what a cerclage is and what it does. But if you are pregnant now or hoping to get pregnant in the future, it might be better if you didn’t know because the fact of the matter is that it’s quite rare, and you probably won’t have to deal with it, so there’s no need for me to scare you.

I know WAY too much about remedies for constipation that are safe to use during pregnancy so that you don’t have to push at all to poop. For most pregnant women, this is great info to have in order to avoid hemorrhoids, but for those of us with cervical incompetence, it’s an absolute must. (This one is a little silly, maybe, unless you’ve dealt with it, in which case you know it’s no joke.)

I know what a sunshine baby is, what a rainbow baby is, and what a pot of gold baby is. I know about all the ways to put extra progesterone in your body and the reasons for doing it in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. I wish I didn’t have all this knowledge. I wish I could be one of those moms on the mommy boards complaining about how I wanted a boy, but it’s a girl (because I have nothing else to worry or complain about). I wish I could be thinking right now, “I only have 3 more months to get the nursery ready,” instead of, “If she came right now, she’d be in the hospital for a few months, so we’d have time to throw something together.” I wish I could be blissfully unaware of the survival rates of preemies born at various gestational ages. But I can’t do any of those things. I know too much now.

This whole post feels a bit self-indulgent or whiny or maybe even arrogant to me somehow, but I don’t mean it to be any of those things. I might be complaining a little, but I don’t feel like I’m better than anyone else because I’ve been through something terrible. This is just what it’s like. And the truth is I have much to be thankful for, but that’s another post. This one doesn’t have a tidy bow on top and likely never will. I hope it makes no sense to you at all. I hope you gave up reading halfway through or read the whole thing and thought I should suck it up.

But if you can relate to everything I’ve said here, you aren’t alone. And now you know that I know too.

Happy Hanukkah

I know the holidays are over and this is very late, but it’s something I’ve been pondering for a few weeks now, and I feel like I just really got a handle on it myself, so I’ll go ahead and say it. Better late than never, right?

Just a tiny back-story to start: I made Christmas CDs for all of my coworkers for Christmas, except for my Jewish boss, who got a Hanukkah mix. I didn’t have a lot of Hanukkah music, but I found some really good tunes, and I ended up having more fun making that mix than the Christmas one. I’ve also enjoyed listening to it more. I thought, at first, that it was because those songs weren’t so familiar and played out, but the more I listen to them, I think it’s something different.

People keep asking me how my Christmas was, and I keep saying that it was good, but lacking. I did Christmas things because that’s what I do at the end of December, but I’m not really sure I celebrated Christmas this year.

I feel like some Christians might get upset or concerned when I say things like this, but just hang with me. I really preferred Hanukkah to Christmas this year. That doesn’t mean that I’m converting to Judaism or that Jesus’s birth is insignificant to me. Hanukkah and Christmas are not mutually exclusive holidays. Just because they happen at the same time of year does not mean that they are in competition. They simply celebrate different things. They tell different stories, and this year, my own story lines up better with the Hanukkah story than the Christmas story.

Christmas, for me, this year, was just too big. It was too overwhelming, too much to receive at one time, too much to change. Christmas is about a world-changing event. The way we count our years revolves around it. It was the beginning of a new era. It was THE BIG ONE for all mankind. But my heart is still too tender for that. Overwhelming is overwhelming whether it’s good or bad, and I couldn’t open up to the overwhelming joy of Christmas because I’m overwhelmed enough. Or maybe I’m just not in a position to see the big picture right now because pain causes you to focus in on it so that you can take care of it one step at a time.

Either way, I felt like while Christmas was happening all around me, I was oblivious to it. Christmas might have been like the sun rising, but I was sitting in a blacked-out room. What I had in the room with me, though, were candles, and they were just what I needed. If I had opened the curtains, I would have been blinded. The candles were just the right amount of light.

The story of Hanukkah goes like this (the extremely condensed version, but correct me if I’m wrong in any way): The Greeks had taken over the Holy Land and made it illegal to study the Torah. The Maccabees were the leaders of a Jewish rebel army that fought to get their land and their religious rights and traditions back. They won despite being horribly outnumbered and outarmed (is that a word?). The Greeks de-purified all the ceremonial oil in the temple, but the Jews found ONE jar that had been overlooked. It was only enough for one day, but it miraculously lasted for 8 days, which gave the Jews enough time to purify more oil according to their laws.

As I listen to music about this, I relate to it in two ways:

  1. I have felt very ill-equipped to deal with my life over the past five months. As I look back on each week, I continue to see that things are easier than they were the week before, but I often still feel overwhelmed. Some days, the sadness is still very oppressive. But the Maccabees were overwhelmed and oppressed, and they fought back and WON, not by their own strength, but by that of the God who stood with them. That gives me hope.
  2. There are days when I don’t know how much more I can take, but somehow, hope remains. There are days when I feel that my hope should have dried up a week ago, but somehow, it’s still going. I don’t know how, but it’s there. I’ve found one little jar of hope untouched by sorrow, and it’s keeping me going against all odds.

So happy Hanukkah, everyone. Whether you’re Jewish or not, may you experience the light of hope that miraculously continues to shine until your supply is replenished.

6 Reasons to Marry Your Best Friend

Today I’m supposed to talk about my best friend, which is going to get really sappy really quickly because Will is my bestest best friend. But before I get to him, let me say that I have amazing friends, all different, and all special to me in their own ways and for various reasons. I’ve got friends I’ve had since before I can remember having friends. I’ve got friends with whom friendships were forged under the most trying of circumstances – adolescence. I’ve got friends from college who watched me (and bore with me) as I did a fair amount of growing up and becoming myself, making a fool of myself as expected along the way. I’ve got friends from New York who took on the big city with me, who didn’t bat an eye when I started cutting my clothes up and got my nose pierced, but loved me, accepted me, and appropriately challenged me. I’ve got friends from Raleigh, who, though they are my most recent acquaintances, have become family. Literally.

And when I say literally, I literally mean literally. Whitney has spent the last couple of Christmases with my family, yes, and she is very close to literal family, but I’m talking about the friend who is now actually my family – my husband. We sometimes have surreal moments when we just can’t believe that we are married because still, after two years together, only a quarter of our relationship has been romantic in nature. We were friends for six years before we ever got together, so we often find it hard to believe that we get to kiss each other whenever we want, and we often find it hard to believe that there was ever a time we didn’t kiss each other.

Smooching is only one perk of marrying your best friend, though. Here are some more:

1. Hanging out with friends is simple.

We each have some friends that the other doesn’t know (or doesn’t know well), but we don’t hang out with them all that often because they don’t live nearby. If they did, we’d try to hang out with them a little bit more. The friends we hang out with the most are the ones we’ve both known for years, the ones we knew before we ever got together, the ones who, when we started dating, said, “Well it’s about time!” So I almost never have to go to awkward parties with Will’s friends and make small talk (introvert problems), and he’s only had to do that once or twice with my friends and family. Nope, none of that. We just hang out with people we both know and love.

2. Spending time together is fun and easy.

You’re friends! You’ve already spent time getting to know each other and developing “your things” – the things you always do together and/or the things you only do with each other. You have your favorite restaurants and hangouts, you have your inside jokes, you probably enjoy a lot of the same things, and you know what to expect from each other. Sure, Will and I have our disagreements, and we get frustrated with each other at times, but for the most part, being together is enjoyable. We don’t get tired of each other. We just do the things we’ve always enjoyed doing together, and it’s great!

3. The relationship moves at a comfortable pace.

I have two things to say about this. First, a lot of Christians get married lightning fast. The joke is that they just want to have sex, but they have to get hitched first, so they speed the process along. I’m sure there’s some truth to that, but I sincerely hope it’s not the whole truth because marriage is a huge step, and you really should be sure you’re ready to commit to marriage with that specific person before you do it. Otherwise, you are likely in for a bumpy road and a lot of heartache. I believe it is entirely possible to meet, fall in love with, and commit to a person for the rest of your life in a very short span of time (my parents did it), but it’s rare. By marrying your best friend, you can take it fast AND slow at the same time. A lot of people we met when we were engaged (or about to get engaged) were shocked that we’d only been together for such a short time, but as soon as we told them we’d been friends for six years, they were fine with us getting married.

Second, I always hated online dating because it took me six dates to decide whether I liked a guy enough even to be friends with him, much less date him. But by the time you’ve been on six dates with someone, news flash, you’re dating. The pace of it always made me uncomfortable. But with Will, I already knew I liked spending time with him as a friend. I then learned pretty quickly that I loved being in a relationship with him, that in fact I loved him. With that knowledge, stepping into engagement was a no-brainer, and even though marriage is a scary prospect that brings a lot of change, we were WAY ready for it by the time our wedding day rolled around.

4. There aren’t a lot of surprises.

Will and I were friends for six years. By the time we started dating, I knew what foods he liked, I knew how he liked to spend his time, I knew (more or less) how tidy he was, I knew the kinds of things he would want to do and the kinds of things he’d need to be coerced into doing. By the time we got married, I knew even more, and that knowledge has been invaluable. They say the first year of marriage is the hardest, and I think that’s the case because there’s just such a steep learning curve if you haven’t been living together beforehand. But when you marry your best friend, you know what you’re getting for the most part.

5. You always have a buddy.

We fully acknowledge the fact that we are disgustingly sweet a LOT of the time, and the romantic part of being in a good relationship is GREAT. But sometimes, you just don’t feel lovey-dovey. Sometimes you feel wretched and gross and gassy, and you don’t want to be touched. Sometimes you’ve had a hard day, and you don’t want to deal with it. You just want to watch TV and veg out. Sometimes you’re tired and don’t feel sexy at all. And in those moments, the good thing about being married to your best friend is that you’ve always got a buddy. You’ve always got your friendship – your simple enjoyment of each other’s company – to fall back on. You CAN just veg out together and watch TV. You CAN just lie next to each other in bed and look at Facebook. You don’t feel the need to constantly impress each other, and you don’t have to worry when the googly-eyed phase of your relationship stops being a 24/7 thing. Our googly eyes come and go, but our friendship fills in the gaps in between.

6. You can talk about everything.

I mean everything. Everything from the frequency and consistency of your bowel movements to theories on life and purpose. And when things are tough and you need to talk to someone, you’ve always got your best friend there with you, wanting to hear what you have to say. And when things are absolutely abysmal and you would rather not talk about it because you think it will hurt too much, you’ve got your best friend there too, encouraging you to keep talking or just letting you cry it out.

If you didn’t marry your best friend, I don’t think it’s too late to be married to your best friend. We got there slowly, and with a lot of movies. I think you can too. Find some common ground, have fun together, make jokes, laugh, flirt, watch silly TV shows, talk about your poop, ask about each other’s day, talk about your hopes and dreams and theories on life and purpose, and maybe do a little smoochin’.

*This post was co-written by Will and Beth. We are also available for parties…but bear in mind, we are very awkward at them.*

5 Things to Heal the Soul

Everybody has their own remedies for a hurting soul. I’ve already talked about time and God and how you have to participate in the process, but here are my favorite ways to pass the time, connect with God, and receive the good to dilute the bad.

  1. Music – I’m working on a post for next week with the mix I’ve made. I’ve been listening to it over the past week or so as I’ve made and tweaked it, and it’s really good. Music is just good for the soul no matter how you’re feeling.
  2. Rest – Y’all know I love my sleep, and when I say rest is good soul-healing, that includes sleep, but it also includes waking rest. Lie quietly for ten minutes (or five if you’re antsy), and just breathe. Just breathe in and out and let everything go. Rest in bed, rest in a bubble bath, rest while lying in the grass with the sun on your skin. Just give yourself a break. Ordinary life is hectic enough. When you’re recovering from a trauma, you need this even more.
  3. Food – By this, I don’t mean eating your feelings or whipping your appetite into shape. I’m not talking about using food or your control over it to momentarily feel better. Enjoy your food. Appreciate it. Use delicious ingredients in your cooking, and really savor the flavor as you eat. Take your time chewing and really tasting each bite. And be grateful for it.
  4. Hugs – Hugs are awesome.
  5. Laughter – We watched a lot of comedies in the weeks immediately following our miscarriage, and sometimes we felt guilty about laughing so much, but boy did we need it. I’m sure there’s some sort of chemical process that happens in your body to make you feel good when you laugh. I won’t pretend to understand it, but I know it works.

What about you? What heals your soul?

Light Incoming

Thirteenth century Persian poet, Rumi, said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” The band Roman Candle sings, “Come tell me something, any words are fine…let me know if the big light is shining on me.” Rock bottom is usually where people finally allow others to help them. The vulnerability that comes with grief, loss, or injury can actually be the thing that allows light, love, and healing to enter. When you get to that point where you can no longer keep a stiff upper lip, you either shut everything out and sit alone in your depression or risk letting something in, knowing that even if it is good, it will still hurt at first. And because it hurts, it’s really tempting to close yourself off again because, let’s be honest, you’ve had enough pain for a lifetime already.

But friend, I beg you to grit your teeth and bear the initial sting because it will get better. A sharp pain for a short time that leads to long-term healing is better than a deep ache that never ends. So let people love you. Speak the name you don’t dare say for fear that it will rip your heart in half all over again. Talk about your grief, and hear others well when they say, “Yep. Me too.” Feed yourself good things – good words, good music, good food, good relationships, good touch. Be kind to yourself.

I know being kind to yourself sounds both like common sense and like an impossible task all at once sometimes. If you’re having trouble with it, here are some suggestions:

  • Listen to a good album.
  • Take a hot bath or shower.
  • Eat something delicious.
  • Take a nap.
  • Hug somebody.
  • Do some light exercise (or heavy if that’s what you need, but the goal is to be kind to yourself, not punish yourself).
  • Get outside, and breathe deeply.
  • Read a good book.
  • Play a game.
  • Watch a comedy.
  • Enjoy a hot cup of something (coffee/tea/hot chocolate).
  • Go swimming, and just float.

Let the light in, friends. Don’t let the darkness permeate every space inside you. The darkness gets to a point where it feels comfortable, but it’s killing you. The light hurts for a moment, but it is the only way to really live.

Healing

They say that time heals all wounds, but I don’t think I believe that. I think it takes time for wounds to heal, but I don’t think time itself is the healer. I’ve read a lot of the internet, and I’ve come across a whole slew of message boards where women who’ve lost a child to PPROM discuss their struggles. And there are plenty of ladies out there who seem no better off after two years than other ladies after two months. But then there are ladies who seem further along in their healing process at six months than ladies who’ve waited six years. I’m very careful to use the word “seem” in this discussion because I clearly have no idea what’s really going on in their hearts. I can only see what gets typed on the internet. But everyone is different, so I think there must be more at play than just time alone.

As a Christian, I believe that God is the best healer there is, but I think I also play a role in my own healing, so the whole process is a sort of dance, a cooperative effort, a give and take that eventually results in acceptance of my situation and myself in it.

Everyone participates in this process in their own way, so it can take more or less time depending on who you are, and it looks different for everyone because God relates to unique people in unique ways designed to best engage them. For some people, reading about God’s loving nature and promises in scripture is the only thing that helps them feel better. Other people connect with God more through music. Some of us need to feel a physical presence, and for that, God gives us people to hug. Some of us need to feel peace in the midst of turmoil, and for that, he gives sleep. Some of us need chocolate cake for a week, and for that, God gives us old high school friends who own a bakery and are willing to make deliveries.

My temptation is to say that your healing will only go as quickly as the extent to which you engage with God in his healing offerings, but I don’t know if that’s true. I just don’t know. And I won’t attempt to box up healing in a tidy 3-step process because it’s not that simple. What I have experienced, though, is that when I acknowledge the good things in my life – our friends and family, the support they’ve shown us, my cuddly husband, the love I feel for others, the love they show me, the freedom I feel to be myself knowing that God accepts me completely, good sleep, good music, a great job with amazing coworkers and students, chocolate cake, etc. – when I acknowledge all these good things, it feels like they replace little bits of the bad.

Maybe that’s what Isaiah was getting at when he said that the Lord had anointed him to provide for those who grieve, to give them “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). Maybe everyone who has loved and supported us through the loss of our daughter has been anointed by God to provide for us, to switch out the bad for the good, little by little. And maybe very slowly, I’ll even start to find good things in what right now feels like an entirely bad situation. I’ll let you know if/when that happens, but in the meantime, thank you for everything. I hope you know how big a part of my healing you’ve been so far, and I want you to know that I see it, and I appreciate it more than I can say.

Verbal Crayon

I’ve always said that I’m better in writing, but I guess I do both pretty well. In the first year of the mentoring group you may have heard me talk about before, we decided at one point that each of us had a kind of super power. We gave each other nicknames to reflect our powers, some of which were cooler than others, I thought, but they were all pretty spot-on descriptors. They told me I was a verbal crayon because I was able to communicate with words in such a colorful, fun, beautiful way. They were so kind.

You guys have also been so kind. Thank you for your sweet words of encouragement as I process grief, loss, fear, anxiety, terrible sadness, hope, anger, guilt, pain, and love right out in the open in front of God and everybody. I don’t know what possessed me to write all of this in public and not in my own private journal (because the writing process is the same, and it’s therapeutic either way), but I’m glad I did. So many of you have told me that my words have been helpful to you, or that you think they might be helpful for someone you love. One friend who is a nurse even asked permission to refer patients to these words now and then. And y’all, I am honored and give permission freely to all of you to tell anyone and everyone about my silly little blog.

If you send someone to me please tell them – and if you’ve arrived here looking for support, help, strength, or encouragement after a miscarriage – 4 things:

  1. I’m so sorry. Losing a baby is awful, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone ever.
  2. All are welcome here. All are respected. All are loved.
  3. If you find things here that don’t help, just skip them. Come back to them later or just write them off forever. I’ve read so many well-intentioned things in the past month that have only left me in tears of frustration, anger, and hurt because I’m just not in the right place to receive those words. I may revisit them in two years and find that they ring true, or I may never go back to them at all. But right now, if they aren’t for me, they aren’t for me. The same goes for my words and you. If they aren’t for you, that’s ok.
  4. But if you find anything that helps, anything that brings hope, or anything that just makes you feel less alone, then I am so glad that I chose to process my pain in public.

Nothing will ever make losing a baby ok, but if anything I say about it helps someone else, then I feel like my daughter has a purpose, that she’s contributing to the world, that she’s working for hope and redemption, that she’s someone I can be incredibly proud of, and that she’s not entirely lost.

Unreasonable

I used to say things like, “Everything happens for a reason,” and, “This is part of God’s plan.” I’m not going to say those things anymore, especially when death is involved. Jesus’s death and resurrection were physical so that ours could be spiritual, but I think that in the original plan, there was only life, both spiritual and physical. And I think that in eternity, there will be only life. And while we are physically living, we are meant to experience life in abundance. I think that death is an indication that something is broken. I don’t think it’s part of the plan.

That is not to say that I doubt God. I’m a big believer in the redemption of all broken things, and I hope that I’m in the process of healing. I think these are God-given things that come after a death or loss, but I will not say that God planned the death of my daughter. (Nor will I say that God planned the death of my great-grandmother, who passed away after living a long, full life.) I think we find hope and redemption after a death occurs, and those are good things. I think we have healing, hope, and redemption because we have death, loss, and brokenness. I do not think we have death, loss, and brokenness so that we can have healing, hope, and redemption.

I don’t really know how it all works, but what I do know is that in this time of loss, it is not comforting to me to hear people say that it’s part of God’s plan. It’s not comforting to me to think of God as someone who plans death for babies and pain for parents. It is, however, comforting to think of God as someone who comforts, someone who loves, someone whose heart breaks with mine over the brokenness of death, and someone who brings healing, hope, and redemption.

So if you’re dealing with a death, be it sudden or expected, a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or a loss of any kind, I want you to know that there is hope for the future. There is always healing and redemption to be found. Just try to hang in there. I know that’s what people mean when they say that things happen for a reason. They mean that if you hang in there and work toward healing, healing will come. They mean that in time, you will learn a lesson or come to appreciate something about the hardship. They mean that this will not always be the completely and totally horrible thing that it is at this moment. But that’s not always the way it comes across. So if someone says something insensitive or hurtful to you, I know it’s hard, but try to remember that people are not always the most eloquent, diplomatic, sensitive, or helpful in times like these. They don’t know what to say, but they want to say that it’ll be ok and they love you.

And if you love someone who is experiencing a death or loss of any kind, consider refraining from saying things like, “This is part of God’s plan.” If your friend expresses this sentiment, you can certainly support the belief, but be aware that these words are not always comforting. Honestly, the best interactions I’ve had since my miscarriage three weeks ago have been with people who’ve:

  • said, “I’m sorry.”
  • said nothing, but just let me cry.
  • said, “You can talk about it if you want to, but we totally don’t have to.”
  • brought food and talked to me like a normal person.
  • texted me cute/funny animal pictures.
  • cleaned and/or helped me clean something.
  • played games with me.

It’s ok if you don’t know what to say to comfort people. They don’t need to hear your theories on why it happened or what’s to come. They just need to know that you love and support them where they are right now.

Sharon’s Truth

Sharon and I have known each other for several years. We met at church and sort of lived on the outskirts of each other’s lives until she joined the mentoring group last year. I love, love, love that she volunteered to write a guest post for me because we are so vastly different. That means that she brings a voice, a life, an experience, and a wisdom to Onward Hoe! that it would never have otherwise. Here she is to tell us her truth.

I have a kinship with the quotation “Keep it copacetic”.  I understand the concept of coloring within the lines and I thrive where there is order.  I can even enjoy chaos provided there is some semblance of order to it.  Organized chaos is my specialty, but only on a limited basis.  And therein lies the rub.

Copacetic is defined as something existing within a perfect order.  Keeping it copacetic is my attempt to control the how and why of things to create and maintain a perfect order.  As a kid I was the fun-loving only child who liked the organized chaos of coercing my friends to push me around on a riding lawnmower because I simply loved to go and needed a way to do so without starting the motor since it was forbidden.  I spent afternoons with friends riding our Big Wheels in our basement within the chalked lanes, stop signs, and turn lanes that I created.  There was creativity, but existing alongside that was organization and a general framework.

In general this served me well throughout my school years and college.  I was an introvert who honed my extrovert tendencies and exercised my leadership to create a narrative for that position and organization.  There were few leadership opportunities that I did not seek to tame.  I thrived in college because there was a space and time for me to ask questions but operate within a framework that was familiar and over which I had some control.  Eventually I graduated with a degree in political science, pre-law concentration and began my work as a paralegal.  In all my years of working within the legal field, I have continued to thrive in that ability to operate within a space of systems and structures that can change but don’t do so suddenly and without some warning and some influence or coercion.

Within my personal life, my relationships thrived when I felt safe to be crazy.  This likely explains my eventual marriage to a man who is jokingly referred to by many in our social circle as “chaotic evil”.  He is the yin to my yang yet we overlap in ways I would not have imagined.  There is safety, once again, within that field of operation of allowing free reign within an established set of parameters.  I was blissful in entering our relationship and marriage, happy to have the freedom to be less inhibited.  So, when I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me without warning, I began to chastise myself for letting down my guard and allowing a less-than copacetic system within my life.

September 8, 2008 marked the date that my world paused unexpectedly while inertia hurtled me forward and somewhere I heard that clichéd record-scratching sound in my head.  My husband of eleven months called me at work that morning to say that we’d gotten the results of his recent medical tests and it wasn’t good.  Leukemia became the cause of whiplash and an adrenaline surge that propelled me to somehow drive home from work, call family and friends with the most ominous news I’d ever given in my life, and get over to a major medical center to check my husband in that afternoon.  There was no passing go and most certainly no collecting $200.00.

Our friends and family surrounded us and it was most certainly a God-send.  We met with doctors and nurses, confirmed that it was a type of leukemia that had a specific plan for treatment that would include about two and a half years of various stages of chemo, and discussed our family planning methods more times than I’d like to count since there was no predictor for whether radiation would be a rest stop along the way and how that could affect our future family creation.

One of the main doctors on my husband’s treatment team is nationally known for his development of a specific treatment regime to deal with the type of leukemia that infiltrated.  We were encouraged by him to keep our one-year anniversary plans on the calendar so that we’d have a goal in mind.  I am ever grateful to that man for giving me that shred of hope three days after my world spun out of control.  Whether he knew it or not, he gave my copacetic-adoring heart the jump-start to continue.  After a three and a half weeklong intensive treatment regime in the hospital, my husband came home for a few days before we left to celebrate our one year anniversary.

Those three and a half weeks and the months and years that followed spoke to my copacetic-loving heart because I found peace in the fact that there was absolutely nothing that I could do.  In this instance, this was a God-thing to heal and to use the doctors and nurses along the way.  I could not cushion the blow of a dwindling immune system, but I knew it was to rebuild a healthy one.  I could not prevent the chemo medicine from wreaking havoc on his stomach lining, but we knew the outcome would be infinitely better.  There was chaos operating within order and there was simply nothing I could do and no responsibility that I had to perform, other than to be there in that experience with my husband and the two of us together seeking to keep our humor and wits about us through it all.

I’m happy to report that we have recently celebrated five years of remission in the only way that is fit:  our annual Survivor Party where we invite lots of people, grill lots of food, and have lots of laughs.  It symbolizes an annual marker to the survival that my husband celebrates and it reminds me that there was a time in my life that I stared down one of the most dreaded things and still felt peace and eventually deliverance to a celebration along the path.

I wish I could bring that same peace into my churning world now.  There are moments when I have ALL THE QUESTIONS and none of the answers.  My heart pounds and my temples throb because I simply cannot process all the change, all the frustration, all the unknowns.  I desperately hang in the balance of understanding how to have faith and hope and still process the realistic frustrations and disappointments of life.

But then there are moments where I look at the things that celebrate from whence we came and I remember that I am stronger than I thought and my copacetic-seeking heart has found kinship and peace before.  There is nothing to prevent that from happening again.

And that’s my truth.

Who’s in Charge Here?

I have a friend who is a model. Literally. I don’t mean that in the same way that people say, “She’s a rock star,” to mean that she is just an awesome person. I mean literally, people pay money to take her picture, and then they use it in advertisements and stuff. Also, she’s done some runway work, so you know it’s not just that she’s pretty easily Photoshoppable. She looks good no matter what she’s wearing, what face she’s making, how she’s standing, or what her hair is doing. She really is just that gorgeous and perfectly proportioned.

She’s also pretty outspoken against Photoshopping models, models being required or pressured to be unhealthy-skinny, and body shaming in general. I appreciate that about her a lot. I think it’s VERY important for the people who are being hired to advertise clothes to be real people with real bodies and not some unattainable, computer-manufactured shape and size. I think it is crucial to the future of our society (not just girls and women) that we get a more realistic idea of what is normal and healthy and beautiful. And anyone or anything that promotes a healthy body image and encourages girls/women to love their bodies is fine by me.

However, I wonder how effective the message is when it comes from girls who already have what most people would consider an ideal body type. Earlier today, my model friend posted on Facebook about the recent Target Photoshop faux pas, saying that it’s not ok to do that to a girl’s body, especially when you’re selling bikinis to impressionable, self-conscious, teenaged girls. 100% agreed. Later, she posted this handy chart of bikini bodies, which I think is great. But part of me responded to the latter with, “Easy for you to say. Your body really does belong in a bikini.”

Here’s the thing. It’s nice and warmfuzzy and girl-powery and all to say that any body with a bikini on it is a bikini body, but what would we really think if we saw a 350-pound woman with lower back hair and stretch marks jiggling her way around the pool? Really, if we’re honest, what would you think? What would I think? Would people say, “You go girl,” or would they take a picture of her as inconspicuously as possible and tweet it with a mean caption about a beached whale? Would people walk up to the deck chair next to her and ask if the seat is taken, or would they keep their distance and be uncomfortable that she’s there at all?

Y’all, we live in a culture where public breastfeeding makes people antsy, offended, and downright nasty, and where pregnant women are considered unfit to wear bikinis. It is ridiculous.

I honestly don’t know how to fix this problem because if a thin, busty, hairless girl says all body types are beautiful, the girls whose bodies are less than ideal (societally speaking) will say, “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to deal with this.” But if a fat, lumpy, stretch-marked and/or hairy girl says that all body types are beautiful, then a lot of people will say, “Yeah… Yeah, whatever you have to tell yourself. Now please cover up/bleach your mustache/pluck your chin hairs/wax your happy trail.”

I am absolutely in no way saying that there is anything wrong with skinny girls, busty girls, fat girls, hairy girls, models or the Loch Ness Monster. What I’m asking is –

Who can fix this?

Who is currently deciding which women are beautiful, which women deserve to be seen by the masses? Who is currently telling us that we must have a gap between our thighs? Who decides how much of a woman’s body to slice off with Photoshop? Who is telling our 11-year-old girls what they’re supposed to look like in five years, how they’re supposed to control the shape of their bodies at a time when their bodies are completely unpredictable and out of control? Whoever is in charge needs to take responsibility for what they’re doing to us, how they’re making us believe outright lies about ourselves and others, how they are shaming us, and how they are causing immense amounts of pain.

How can we get to these people and convince them that all body shapes and sizes really are beautiful? Or to speak their language, how can we convince them that they’d probably sell more clothes if people could see how the styles will really look on their body type? How can we get our society to believe that all women are beautiful and valuable, that there is no wrong kind of body, and that we’re all ok, even if our thighs do rub together?