What a difference one year can make!

I remember having a conversation with my mom about a year and a half ago. I was being a melodramatic 22 year old, and worrying about my future unnecessarily. I tend to do that frequently, the worrying about things that I have no control over. I think it is a genetic trait.

My fretful monologue went something like this: “I know I am only 22, and that seems pretty young. These days a lot of people don’t get married until they are closer to 30. But the thing is that doctors say you really ought to start having children before you turn 30, and everyone says you should date someone a few years before getting married, and then once you are married, it seems like a good idea to wait a couple years before starting your family. So really, I need to meet someone in the next year or two if I want to have kids!” In my young mind, this seemed like a really pressing issue. I know it seems a little crazy when you say it out loud, but I promise I am not the only young woman to go through this dialogue. (Some of my peers may have the good sense to keep this line of thought in their own minds though!)

My mother, such a patient woman, listened to my tirade, and then calmly smiled at me and said “Honey, a lot can happen in a year. God’s timing is best, and he already has a plan for you.” I agreed that God had it under control, but I didn’t really relinquish control completely enough to stop worrying over this issue. I knew she was right, but somehow I just couldn’t picture a whole lot changing in my life in one year.

A few months later, I got laid off from my job at a dairy farm. My boss encouraged me to use the time to go back to school. I had wanted to pursue something in the medical field, and caregiving seemed like a good starting point. I enrolled myself in an accelerated course to become a Certified Nursing Aide. My grandma agreed to let me live with her during the week to save me gas and ferry money. Her house was only a few miles from my school. So began my transition from Islander to Townie. A few weeks into the course, the agency who ran my school offered me a job. They said they had a client who needed someone immediately. It was a full time position. Since I was unemployed, I jumped at the chance. I went to school that morning, expecting to go home at 2. Instead, I was given a badge, page straight off of MapQuest, and off I went on my first caregiving adventure.

In the beginning of the year, I also decided to give online dating a try. I didn’t actually expect it to work for me, but a lot of people had suggested it and I knew a number of folks who met their husband or wife that way and they seem very happy. I thought that it likely wouldn’t work for me, but at least I would have a response when people suggested that to me in the future. I would simply say “Oh, I tried it and it just wasn’t for me.” I planned to put a profile on a Christian dating site, and remove it after one week. I worked up the nerve late one night and did it. A few days went by, a few creeps emailed me. This is easy enough, I thought. But on the third day, I received an email from the man who is now my husband. I didn’t want to meet someone that way. But there was just nothing wrong with him. And as much as you can like someone without ever meeting them yet, I liked him. I decided that simply meeting someone in an unlikely way just wasn’t a good enough reason not to get to know them. I am so glad I made that decision.

We emailed for a while, met, dated and fell in love. Last month we got married. If you would have told me a year ago that in one year I would be married, I would have laughed in your face and said you were crazy. But it’s true.

My momma was so right. A lot can happen in one year. God’s timing was best, and He had a plan for me.

What an adventure this year has been. It has been fulfilling beyond my wildest dreams; full of new experiences, adventures, laughter and love. I am looking forward to 2014 as a year to grow in our marriage, and in the Lord. It’s going to be a year to experience lots of new and amazing things with this wonderful man at my side.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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A Lesson in God’s Timing

Every December I make gift packs for people that are down on their luck. I cannot usually afford anything extravagant, but it is my hope that a simple gift bag with a warm pair of socks, a stocking hat, a few granola bars and basic hygiene items will show Christ’s love in a tangible way to some people who are struggling.  I remember being cold in the winter when I was younger and we didn’t have a house to live in. I remember missing meals occasionally and being hungry. I remember wishing we had a shower to use every day. I understand a small part of how individuals who are homeless feel every day.

Usually, when I drive or walk by someone holding a sign or simply sitting next to the street and I give them one of these gift bags, they receive it with a big smile of gratitude and a heart-felt thank you. I think sometimes we underestimate the value of the gift of true gratitude. It always warms my heart.

Today I was doing errands in Everett, and when I offered a gift bag to a man who looked like he was struggling, he responded in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  He looked at my car, and shook his head and said he couldn’t accept my gift. A tear rolled down his cheek. I didn’t understand.

He was looking at my rear passenger window. Several months ago, I came out my front door on my way to church on a rainy Sunday morning only to find that my rear passenger window had been smashed in. At first I thought it was a robbery. But nothing was missing from my car – they didn’t take anything.  I was puzzled about why someone would break a window without taking anything.  I assumed at that point that it must have been a punk teenager just being stupid. I vacuumed out the glass, taped some clear plastic over it, and planned to get it fixed in a month or so. It was somewhat distressing, but overall, I was grateful to be safe and still have a running car. A piece of missing glass is not a big deal, in the long run.

I priced different places to get it fixed, and chose the most affordable one.  I budgeted and saved up the few hundred dollars I needed. Then I got a horrible toothache, and spent that money on a root canal. I budgeted, and saved up again. I got an unexpected medical bill that I thought my insurance had covered. I paid it, and started saving again. Then I needed an engine repair. Rinse and repeat, about 3 or 4 more times. Long story short, it still has plastic taped over it.  It’s really not a big deal, but it does let out more heat than the glass windows do, and it is loud when driving on the highway. I keep meaning to get it repaired.

Today, that man just kept staring at my window, and he cried. I asked him why he wouldn’t accept my gift, and he looked me in the face, and told me a little of his story. You see, sometimes he feel s like no one cares about him. People drive by and avoid eye contact. When he walks past someone on the sidewalk, they avert their gaze and ignore him. He knows he is dirty, and unkempt, but he still thinks people should acknowledge him as human. He is right about that. He told me that one day a few months ago, he was feeling so angry and lonely because he felt unloved. He lost his temper and he smashed in a car window. It was my car window.  He didn’t say he was sorry, but I could see it in his face, and in his tears. He regretted what he had done. He understood that sometimes the people you hurt are the ones who care.  Tears streamed down his dirty cheeks, and he lowered his gaze. “I just cannot accept your gift. I should pay you for your window, but I can’t. I have no money.”

As he told me he was the one who had smashed my car window in, I got goose bumps on my arms. It was one of those divine appointments. I waited for him to look back up at me, and when he did, I was able to tell him that people really do care about him.  Some people are just uncomfortable with what they aren’t familiar with, and they don’t know how to show their caring. I looked him in the eyes and told him I forgave him, and I wasn’t going to report him.  I told him most people wouldn’t have been brave enough to tell the truth, and that it meant so much to me that he did.

When we finished talking, he still wouldn’t accept my gift.  I think we both learned something very valuable though. I learned why I haven’t gotten my window fixed yet. It wasn’t time. He learned that there is at least one person who cares about him. He learned what forgiveness feels like.

I was given a gift today. I was able to understand something that has bothered me. I was able to show love. I was able to gain peace. What a precious gift to receive this Christmas season.

 

 

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An Intentional Misrepresentation

There is a lie that the media perpetrates constantly. It is based on one big marketing ploy. If the media can convince you that for some reason you aren’t ‘good enough’ then they believe they have a better chance of selling you something that will make you be ‘good enough’.

Watch a few commercials on TV, and you will see what I mean.  “Every kiss begins with Kay!” touts a famous jewelry company.  Yes, the word kiss starts with a letter k. But heaven forbid that we ever kiss someone we love if we haven’t just been handed thousands of dollars’ worth of diamonds. (Guys, sorry. You just aren’t good enough if you don’t buy your girl new jewelry every time you want a kiss) Lie! I kiss my husband because I love him, not because of jewelry.

“This amazing break through formula doesn’t just cover your wrinkles; it actually makes them vanish, right before your eyes. Don’t let people look down on you for your wrinkles. Now you can have the young smooth skin you want again.” (Ladies, better watch those crow’s feet. A few wrinkles mean that all you friends will judge you. You better fix that, if you want to be good enough.) Lies! Heaven forbid we actually see aging as the natural and beautiful process that it is.

“For a limited time only, you can receive not one, but two bottles of our wonder liquid for not 49.99, not even 39.99, but only 35.99. This deal is really a once in a lifetime opportunity. Your friends are spending hundreds of dollars a month on eating plans and personal trainers, but for only 35.99, you can have the power to lose those unwanted pounds right at your fingertips. Drinking 8 ounces of this every day will slim that waistline, trim those hips and get you that coveted thigh gap you have always wanted.” Trimming my hips sounds more like a chainsaw massacre to me than it does a weight loss supplement. I like my bone structure how it is, thanks.  Leave the trimming for trees.  And some of us never get a thigh gap at a healthy weight. So I will pass on that too. Actually, being chubby doesn’t mean I am not good enough. It just means I am chubby, and that is all. The insinuation that you can’t be happy with your body unless you have a slim waistline, trim hips and a thigh gap is ridiculous.

It goes on and on and on. Car advertisements that insinuate that driving a very expensive and impractical car will somehow make a man more attractive. No, actually you will look exactly the same, but you will have a huge monthly car payment for the next 15 years. This will prevent you from making worthwhile investments and saving up for things that matter, like an education, or a home.

Clothing advertisements that try to convince us that if we just wear the right thing, we will look like supermodels. Fact is ladies, wearing those clothes might flatter you, but you will just look like yourself in nice clothes. There is no escaping from who you are and what your body shape is.  You might as well learn to embrace it.

Makeup advertisements that lead us to believe only women who look like they have had Botox on their lips are attractive. Lip-plumping lipstick is in my opinion one of the goofiest things ever invented. We teach our little girls not to pout, and then they grow up, and spend time and money trying to achieve the look of a perma-pout. When did we decide that a duck face is more attractive than a happy smile? I would like to have a word with whoever decided that pouting is beautiful.  I have nothing against women with naturally full lips. In fact, I think it is beautiful. But most of them also have bold facial features that look beautiful and balanced with their mouths.  Those of us with smaller lips tend to have smaller features. Making duck faces with your small mouth and plumping lipstick just makes your eyes and nose get lost, and they are nice too. Please don’t lose them. God gave you a delicate mouth for a reason. It’s beautiful. Embrace it. The makeup advertisement is lying. You are actually just fine the way you are.

That last sentence, it applies to most areas of our life. We are actually just fine the way we are. We all have areas that could use improvement. For example, I need to be more organized with my paperwork, and I could stand to be more disciplined about exercising every day.  I haven’t seen any commercials telling me that, though.  The media doesn’t know me. I know me. They don’t know you. You are a better judge of the things in your life that need improving than they are. And I would be willing to bet that it’s not your car, or your lips, or your hips or your clothes.  It’s more likely areas of personal development.

I would like all of you to stop listening to the voice of the American Lie. There is in fact nothing wrong with you. The fact that you have areas to work on only makes you human. Nobody can sell you anything to cure that, and I am glad. The messiness of this human experience is also a beautiful thing. We are all in it together.

The bottom line is this: You are ok. You are good enough. Don’t be a mindless consumer. Don’t listen to the lies this Christmas season.  Give yourself and others love and acceptance. It will go a lot farther than miracle weight loss liquid or new clothes. It will even go further than diamonds or a new car. I promise.

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Mirror Mirror on the wall….

Today has been one of those days where it just felt like every little thing in life ganged up on me to ruin my disposition. I overslept, which meant forgoing the daily shower that is almost a requirement for my sanity. I hate being dirty. I took a quick sponge bath, grabbed a protein bar for breakfast, slapped on the very minimum of makeup, threw my slightly greasy hair up in a pony tail, and headed out the door. On my way to work, I barely avoided two different crazy drivers who almost hit me. Red means stop, people. You have a blind spot, check it before merging. I arrived at my client’s house just barely on time, feeling rather out of sorts. Thankfully I had a sweet client today.

But this client has 3 cats. One of them apparently decided to crap right in the middle of the front steps, and yes, I stepped in it. Anyone a fan of the way that cat poo smells? Not me. It makes me gag a little. I spent about the next 35 minutes scrubbing cat poop out of their shag carpet, and off my shoes and off the front steps. Glad to be done with that, I threw away my disposable gloves, washed up thoroughly, and went to fix my client some lunch. I had taken my shoes off because they were wet from the scrubbing I gave them. Evidently one of the cats (probably the stupid step crapper) had also decided to take a whiz on the kitchen floor. So I gave up on lunch, threw my socks away, and cleaned that as well. I also tracked down all three cats in her big house and put them all outside.

After lunch one of the cats wanted back in, and I felt sorry for it, so I took mercy and let it in. Soon she happily curled up on my lap and was purring as I petted her. Presently, I felt something on my arm, and looked down and it was a flea! Yuck. I flushed it in some tp, and placed the kitty on another sofa. She could share her fleas with her own family, but not with me. No thanks! She came right back.

Presently the back door burst open, and in barged a burly looking man. The cat dug her claws deeply into my legs, hissed and leaped onto the floor. Evidently the man was my client’s son. Why he barged into the back door without letting us know he was coming is a little beyond me, but oh well.

He introduced himself with a booming voice, and said he was pleased to meet me, but that he had expected someone a bit older. An adult, perhaps. He said that with all my acne I couldn’t be a day past 16. I tried to swallow the tears rising in my throat, and gently informed him that I am actually 23. He said “Gee, haven’t seen anyone that age with acne, darlin’. But if you say so.” Evidently my stingy makeup job that morning had not been adequate for his approval. I know he didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. Likely he is just an outspoken person, and didn’t think how those words might make me feel. The way he related to his mom spoke of a kind heart inside him. But they did hurt me.

It seemed like the rest of the day just followed suit. Little things that wouldn’t ordinarily be a big deal just kept teaming up on me. I spent several hours on the phone with customer service representatives who repeatedly put me on hold and then somehow lost connection, and later with an automated phone system that wasn’t working properly. I ended up snapping at someone I care about because I was so frustrated about the whole situation. Of course that didn’t help at all. After apologizing I kept trying to get through to someone. I still haven’t accomplished what I need to with this company. But life has bigger fish to fry.

I went in the bathroom to wash my face, and looking in the mirror I heard that man’s voice “perhaps an adult…I have never seen anyone that age with acne, darlin’. But if you say so….” I looked at my reflection, and I didn’t see a successful 23 year old woman. I saw an insecure acne laden 15 year old looking back at me. In a flash all the insecurity that I felt at that age came racing back. All the pain, all the fear, all the unhappiness. I began to cry, and I began to hear the other hurtful voices that have said negative things about my appearance and my identity over the years. It all seemed to culminate in a symphony of hurtful words. I began to feel unworthy of love, unworthy of affection, unworthy of life. This is how I felt when I was 15. I was a very broken girl.
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I am not that girl anymore though. My acne is still with me, yes. But that other stuff, I have dumped a lot of it off as the years go by. There are times like tonight when it revisits, but I don’t let it stay long. I have learned to ask for help when I am hurting. I call, or text or message someone who loves me and tell them how I am feeling. I reach out to my God, who created me, and who designed me as a work of art, and treasures me. I do allow myself to remember those hurtful years, and to cry for that girl who was hurting. But then I remind myself of who I am now. I am a young woman with a big heart. I am a child of God. I am a survivor. I am someone who knows how to forgive. I have things to offer the world. I will not allow the hurtful words that have been said to me to identify me.

I turn on some worship music, dry my tears, and look back in the mirror. Now I see me. I see a 23 year old woman. She has acne, but it is only a reminder of the struggles she once went through and came out of a stronger person. The acne may take a toll on her vanity, but it doesn’t affect her identity. She knows who she is.
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Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to grieve. Grieve for the losses you have had. Allow yourself to remember. Cry if you need to. Then dry your tears, remember who you are, and move on. You are more than your flaws. You are more than the negativity that has been thrown at you. You are more than what you have lived through.

You may not love what you see in the mirror every day, but that person looking back at you isn’t who you are. You are what is in your heart. Sometimes mirrors lie to us. Sometimes society lies to us. Sometimes people say things that we misinterpret because of our insecurities. Thankfully, none of these things identifies us unless we allow them too.

Who are you really? You are your strengths. You are the things that make you a unique individual. You are a work of art, designed by the greatest artist of all time. You are precious. You are beautiful the way you are. You are loved. Please don’t forget it.

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An Unlikely Blessing

In June of this year, I signed a lease on my first apartment. I have always been someone who enjoyed being alone sometimes, so the idea of having my own space was exciting. I could decorate just as I desired, I could have as much or as little clutter as I liked. I anticipated the independence, the freedom and the solitude. I was worried about one thing though: I was afraid I might get lonesome. I enjoy doing things with friends, but I have never been the world’s most social individual. I was a little worried that left to my own devices I might turn into a hermit.

Thankfully, I serve a God who knows exactly who I am. He knows that I still lack patience at times. He knows that it might be healthy for me to be a little more social than I am on my own. He knows that I am happiest when I have someone to watch out for and take care of.

Moving day came around, and I excitedly jumped out of the moving van holding my belongings, and used my shiny new key to unlock the front door. Up the stairs I went, holding the first armload of things to bring into my new home. My mom and one of my best friends were helping me, and they also gathered armloads of boxes. We unlocked my apartment door, and started piling things in various rooms. No sooner could we get started than a blonde girl who looked about my age popped her head out of the door across from mine and said “Hi, I live in the apartment across the hall! It’s so nice to meet you. Are you the new neighbor? I can’t wait to get to know you. I hope we will be best friends. Do you need any help? I haven’t been doing much today, and I would be glad to help you unload your stuff. Do you like movies? What is your favorite movie? Do you like computer games? I just cannot wait to get to know you. The last neighbor in that apartment wasn’t too friendly……but I am sure you will be. You seem nice already……….” She kept up the cheerful chatter as she traipsed down the stairs behinds us, and back up again carrying household items. I have never been one to turn down offered help in a move, so I just thanked her, and kept supplying boxes to her waiting arms. I wondered when she would run out of things to say and to ask me, but it never happened.

And so started a friendship that would try my patience often, remind me what is important in life, and ultimately bless me richly. A few days after I moved in, she told me that she has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of Autism. She was relieved when I told her that I understood what it was, because she tires of trying to explain it to people. She told me she didn’t have many friends, and that she hoped we could spend time together. I liked the idea of making friends with my neighbor, and she seemed nice, so I agreed.
I am never lonely here. Sometimes I wish I could be just a little lonely, but I am ultimately glad that I am not. Almost without fail, when I get home from my job, she bursts out her door as I am unlocking mine to say hi and chat with me, and ask if I want to watch a movie with her. Sometimes when I have a difficult day and I am tired, I wish I could just sneak in my door silently without talking to anyone. I even oiled my door hinges so they are quiet. But our stairs creak loudly, and I am always discovered. Sometimes I face my door for just a moment when she pops out until I can find a smile, and then I turn to talk to her. This neighbor, who drives me bonkers on occasion, has blessed me.

Right across the hall, there is someone who is happy to have my company almost any time. There is someone I can share meals with, and help, and laugh with. She reminds me that I have something to give to the world. She reminds me that it is ok to ask for help. She isn’t afraid to talk to anyone. I am learning from that example.

Sometimes she comes to church with me, and one week she convinced me to go to the Monday night youth gathering also. I agreed reluctantly. I feel out of place in large groups of people my own age, and I didn’t know anyone who would be there. Monday came, and I hoped she might forget. She didn’t. We showed up a few minutes early, and I scoped out a seat and plunked into it, playing on my iPhone, and resisting the urge to hide under a chair somewhere. I would have been happy to shake the hand of anyone who approached me and introduce myself, but no one did. (presumably because of the giant wall that I put up that says on it “do not talk to me, I am aloof.” The aloof bit is not true. I am actually just scared. Having a wall that read “please come talk to me, I am friendly, but shy and scared.” Would be far more helpful, but I am not sure how to change it as of now.)

My neighbor had no such fears. She boldly went up to person after person, sticking out her hand to greet them, tapping them on the shoulder to get their attention first if necessary. She smiled genuinely and told them it was her first week there, and she was so happy to meet them all. Not one person looked offended at her introduction. They all smiled at her and introduced themselves. I sat there, feeling out of place and thinking “why is this so hard for me? She is having a ball, and all I can do is wonder why there are no other women in this room who are over 5’ 4’’ and why every single person here is dressed like a hipster.” For those of you who don’t know me, I am almost 6 feet tall. I grew up in the country, and never completely dropped the dress code. I am most comfortable in jeans, a hoody and my keens. My glasses are small, my hair light brown and wavy, and my makeup is neutral. I do not look like a hipster. I look like a cleaned up country girl. It’s what I am, and I am not ashamed of that. In groups like we were in though, I sure do feel out of place.

I learned something from her lack of inhibition that night. I learned that if you introduce yourself in a friendly manner, most people will respond in like. I am still working on summoning the nerve to employ this knowledge, but I am one step closer. This is just one of the many things she has taught me. I am grateful for all of them though.

Do you have someone like this in your life? Somebody who challenges your patience and forces you to be a better person and is a blessing to you in an unlikely way? Remember to be grateful. You are that person to someone else, and so am I. We all need someone to love us and accept us, and teach us and learn from us. That’s what friends are for. I am thankful for the built in friend that came with my new apartment. I remind myself of that every day when that door pops open and I am trying to summon my smile to greet her. She is my unlikely blessing.

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A Concept that changed my perspective for the better

I was introduced to a new concept in Sociology class when I was in college.  The idea was that every family has its own culture, and every household its own microculture. This point was made by our instructor when one of my fellow students asked her opinion about the differences that intercultural marriages may have.  Her response was profound. It was something like this: “of course intercultural marriages will have issues that arise from culutural differences. But here is a concept that you need to grasp before you marry: Every marriage is an intercultural marriage. Every marriage has problems that arise from cultural differences.”

cul·ture  (klchr)  n.

These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.

 mi·cro·cul·ture  (mkr-klchr) n.

The distinctive culture of a small group of people within a limited geographical area or within an organization such as a school or business.

                    (These definitions are borrowed from http://www.thefreedictionary.com)

This idea that every time two people unite, a whole new microculture is born was astounding to me.  I had always thought that if you married someone from your community, there would be very few differences in culture between you.  That scenario is possible, if you share religious background, ethnic background and are involved closely in the same community. But honestly it’s quite unlikely.  Families do things differently.

It starts at Marriage. Some families have one spouse that works, some have two. Some share domestic duties and others prefer traditional roles within the home.  When children are introduced, this microculture evolves further.  Some women want to stay home to raise their kids and others prefer to go back to work when they can and leave their child in the hands of a skilled childcare professional.   Some families feel strongly about breastfeeding, and others cannot understand why anyone would want to do that. Some families co-sleep for years, and others teach their children to sleep alone from day one.

The differences in culture from family to family continue to grow greater and more varied as the children grow up. What happens at meal time? How do we deal with the teenage rebellious years? Are we a family who openly discusses most issues, or do we feel that some things are better left unaddressed?  What clothing do we feel is appropriate for people at different ages?  What do we find funny and what do we find to be in poor taste?

Ultimately, each family will have a different answer to these questions, and literally thousands more. This is how the microculture of each household comes into being. Generation after generation, some cultural traits are passed down within families, and each household adds their own twist. For the most part, there is no right or wrong among this process. Different things work for different families. Different people believe different things.  Variety adds to the beauty of life.

My instructor was correct. When she told us that every marriage is an intercultural marriage, it was a statement laden with much wisdom. There are no families where compromise has not been used to resolve differences of opinion. There are no households where two people have never disagreed about how things ought to be done, based on their experience.  She told us that if you marry someone who grew up across the street from you, it is possible to have more cultural conflicts with that person than you might with someone from another country. That surprised me, but I have found it to be true.

As an in home caregiver, I see examples of this daily. The opportunity to see people in what I like to refer to as their ‘native habitat’ (their home) is really a precious one.  People all do things differently. For the most part, none of these families do things wrong as far as I am concerned. They just have a different culture than I am used to.  Let me give you a few examples:

I cared for a woman whose family all referred to their themselves as Japanese Hawaiian.  They had to tell me, because I wouldn’t have known otherwise. You see, their ancestors were from Ireland and Germany. They grew up in Minnesota and then moved to Washington. Their skin and hair coloring and their English speech patterns were very similar to mine.  But some of their behavior was different. They loved hula dancing, and they had Japanese art all over their home. They  often used phrases in Hawaiian or Japanese. They preferred food from those cultures, and I needed to learn to cook that way for my client.  I will never understand at what point they went from saying they appreciate the Japanese Hawaiian culture to saying that they are Japanese Hawaiian.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to me. It wasn’t wrong, it was just different. The fact that they explained their family culture to me helped me to be able to care for their mother in a way that she was comfortable with, and I did appreciate that.

Another of my clients had me sweep, mop and sanitize every floor in her house each day. It was a big house, and she had no pets or other family members living there. It seemed rather excessive. Her background was as a microbiologist, and her specialty was in virulent strains of toxic bacteria. Suddenly the excessively sanitary floors made sense.  I still don’t keep my floors nearly that clean, but in my case, ignorance is bliss.

I have a client who although she has lived here for 56 years, still considers herself Canadian, and would be very insulted if I called her an American.  She has rituals that she practices daily with a statue of the queen of England.  I consider myself an American, because I am by birth. I do not practice rituals with any statues. It’s not wrong that she believes differently than me. We certainly have a different personal culture though.

One of the clients I have cared for has advanced dementia. She is in her 90’s and is convinced that she is pregnant. Although the idea of it is humorous to many of us, for her it is very real. When she beams at someone who enters her room and gladly shares her good news with them, she doesn’t expect them to laugh at her or to tell her that she really isn’t pregnant.  In her mind, she is. Understanding that she raised 10 children over the course of almost 30 years  and was a stay at home mom who devoted her life to mothering helps me understand why this part of her life has come back to visit later.  So I smile and ask her what she plans to name this baby, and when it is due.

Some of my clients prefer that I use bleach on every dish I am rinsing to put into the dishwasher. Others don’t even own dish detergent, and figure that hot water and a good scrubbing is good enough.  At home I wash my dishes by hand with hot soapy water.  To my knowledge, none of us has become ill from having dishes that were too clean or not clean enough.

We all have our own culture. It is based on our experiences, our mentors, our community, our fears, our strengths, our preferences, and our dislikes. We are all unique. We all have something to offer the world, both as individuals, and as families.  We have many things we can learn from the world also. I have learned that there are many right ways to do most things. I have learned that being unique is ok, and even desirable. I have learned that no matter who I marry one day, we will have cultural differences that we will need to work out with good conflict resolution skills and the art of compromise.  I have learned that people are greatly varied, and yet very much the same on the inside.  We are all driven by a desire to be loved and accepted. We are all beautifully individual. I have also learned that I prefer my home to be cleaner than many, and dirtier than some, and there is nothing wrong with that.  I have learned to be patient, and try to understand why someone does the things they do before jumping to the conclusion that my way is superior. Maybe it isn’t. Or maybe for me it is, but I have learned a new way that I do not prefer to do something.

Next time you see someone do something that to you seems ridiculous to you, consider getting to know them, or politely asking why they do that. Maybe you will learn a new way to do something. Maybe you will discover that what they do still makes no sense to you, but they are a lovely individual. Either way, you will learn. And in my experience, learning is usually superior to judging.

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Exposed Movement. Here I am.

Ever since I read about the exposed movement (check out other blogger’s posts here http://eatingjourney.wordpress.com/exposed/) I have been trying to work up the nerve to do it.  It’s a scary thing though, exposing yourself to the world.  Even with the most personal parts covered by a bathing suit, my tummy shows.

My self image has come a long way in the last few years.  I am no longer ashamed to be seen by someone I know when I am in a bathing suit.  I no longer believe many of the lies that were told to me when I was younger.  Chubby people can be beautiful.  Chubby people do fall in love and get married.  Being chubby doesn’t mean I cannot enjoy dressing up and being fashionable at times.  It does not mean I am unacceptable.  It does not mean people won’t approve of me.

I thought I was doing pretty well. But the other day, I had 12 hours with a client who has advanced dementia.  She didn’t have any idea what was going on. She didn’t know who she was or where she was.  She wasn’t aware of the things that were coming out of her mouth. Some of it was funny, but some of the things that she said cut me to the quick.  I went home and cried my eyes out, feeling fat, ugly and unnaceptable.  The next day as I drove back to her home to care for her again, I asked myself why it bothered me.  Why should the words of someone who doesn’t even know what they are saying be able to change how I view myself? They shouldn’t.  They actually hadn’t.  The reason her words bothered me is because somewhere deep in my heart I was still holding to a belief that agreed with what she said. She had simply shown me where I still had some work to do.

So here I am.  Facing my body as a part of myself.  Accepting it as it is.  Attempting to kill those few final incorrect beliefs about my appearance and who I am.  I am participating in the exposed movement to show the world that I am not ashamed.  I am not ashamed to be a big girl.  I am not ashamed of my thunda thighs.  I am no longer ashamed of my squishy belly.  I am not ashamed to be taller than most women, or bigger.  I am me.  I live in this body.  I appreciate it for a variety of reasons.  It is a gift.  Your body is a gift too.

Without further ado, here I am.  Here are my attitudes about myself.  Exposed.positive self image 1

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Perfectly Aged

Who decided that aging is unattractive?  All healthy adults do.  We grow until we are in our late 20’s. (contrary to popular belief that we are done growing when we are 18, our brain is still growing until we near 30.) After we finish growing, aging begins.  It’s not really noticeable at first, but it’s happening to all of us.  We may look the same as we did when we were 20 for a while, but we are aging.  Gravity is day by day wearing at the perkiness of our overall body shape.  Fine lines on our faces begin to appear.  Streaks of silver show up on our heads.  The veins and arteries begin to become apparent on the backs of our hands.  Our posture may stoop a bit.  We realize that we cannot see up close like we used to, and we begin wearing reading glasses.  Perhaps we also use a hearing aid, and a cane or a walker. 

I don’t think any of these things are unattractive.  I see aging as a beautiful part of the cycle of life.  A body that is slightly worn out is a body that has worked hard.  Hands with a roadmap of veins on them are hands that have spent decades feeding hungry mouths, tending  those in their care and doing the work that was asked of them.  Don’t they have a right to age a little, or a lot, without being deemed ugly?  I think so. 

You know what I love about the farsightedness of the elderly?  They tend to see with their hearts.  Up close vision is failing, so they don’t notice my acne, or the stain on my shirt.  Instead they notice that I am pleasant to be around, and they value me accordingly.   They no longer judge based on appearance.  I want to be more like this.

I see silver hair as a thing of beauty.  Those silver strands represent a lifetime of learning, of acquiring wisdom and of imparting it to others.  I see a stooped back, and I marvel at all the weight it must have born over its life.  Perhaps it was used in manual labor, or perhaps it became bent from the children it toted around constantly.  Either way, it is a thing of beauty.  I see a walker, or a cane, and I feel so pleased that the individual using it recognizes the usefulness of something designed to keep them from falling.  Walking aids promote independence.  Independence is a beautiful thing. 

I see smile lines, and crows feet, and I see a lifetime of love and laughter on display. What a beautiful thing.  Wrinkles are only ugly if they are frown lines.  I see weathered skin and I know that person spent time in the sunshine, likely tending a garden, or caring for animals.  This is a lifestyle that rings true in my heart.

Often my clients tell me they are ugly because they are old. I gently tell them that they are wrong.  Aging isn’t ugly.  Elderly people are not unattractive.  In fact, our elders are a culmination of all that is beautiful in this life.   Aging isn’t always comfortable, or desirable, but it is absolutely beautiful.  If you don’t think so, then you need to learn to see with your heart.

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Growing up big

Ever since I was about 8 years old, I have been bigger than most girls or women my age.  As an adult, I am still larger than most women.  As a teen I really struggled with this, because society’s idea of beauty didn’t align with how I looked.  When I was about 13, I lost a lot of weight (unknown to most people, I even developed an eating disorder, but thankfully it was short lived, and I overcame it before it became too detrimental to my health) and I was discouraged to find that even at a very healthy body mass for me I was still larger than most of my classmates, and even most adult women.  I lost weight until a doctor told me I should really stop, and I still weighed over 200 pounds. A weight which for many people seems huge.  I was so frustrated with my body.  At my thinnest, I am a size 14. Which in many brands is a plus size.

Ok, plus sizes rant… Some stores have plus sizes all the way on the other side of the store from regular sizes (as though being fat is contagious or something? I don’t think I have infected anyone yet, and been this way most of my life… just saying).

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Being plus sized in today’s society, especially as a young woman,  is frustrating.  So when you see a girl walking down the street and her boobs are busting out of her top, or her short shorts are a bit too short to cover all of her voluptuous booty, or her tummy is sticking out of her shirt a bit, don’t judge.  Cut her some slack.  She is trying her best not to look like a grandma.  And it’s difficult to do.  Society comments a lot on the beauty of small women, but not a lot on the beauty of larger ones.  Society critiques big girls a lot.  Just look at the cover of any gossip magazine at the checkout counter of any grocery store.  There will be a headline about so and so gaining 40 pounds, or a blown-up picture of some poor unsuspecting celebrity’s butt cellulite.  It’s cruel.  And ridiculous.  Fat is not synonymous with ugly.  I personally think that a bit of body fat makes most people more attractive; it’s in the eye of the beholder.  Some of us don’t want to see every rib, and every vein.  They are inside for a reason.  But that’s just me.  I don’t think that pouchy tummies and soft thighs are unattractive.  Many healthy people have them.  It’s fine if that’s not your thing.  But it’s not automatically ugly, or gross, or unhealthy, either.  Men who look like bodybuilders aren’t my thing.  But that doesn’t make them ugly.  Lots of women like that look.  Lots of men like bigger women.  It’s the same thing.

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There is a generation of young people growing up bigger than our parents.  Many of my peers, and people younger than me are wrestling with a weight problem.  I would like to make a plea to everyone out there who has kids, or who will have kids in the future:

First: please learn how to eat in a way that doesn’t tell your body to store fat.  Learn the basics of nutrition, and feed yourself and your children healthy, wholesome food.  Get active.  Exercise every day and get your kids involved too.  Let’s not raise a whole generation of obese people, please.  Obesity is a real health issue which I have battled.  I am not currently labeled as such, but 40+ pounds ago, I was.  I have been there.  Don’t take your kids there.

There are a lot of us that are always going to be bigger though.  In spite of a healthy lifestyle, being active and eating healthy, some of us do not have it in our genetics to be thin, or small.  For the parents of these kids, specifically young ladies, I would also make a plea:

Dads: I don’t care if you see your daughter as sexually attractive or not (honestly I hope you don’t), but I promise you there is going to be a young man who does.  And if she has been told by her dad that she is valuable, and beautiful, she is going to expect him to treat her the way you want him to.  But if she has been told that she isn’t beautiful, and she doesn’t think she is valuable, she is going to settle for somebody you won’t like.  She is going to be seeking approval and acceptance in the wrong place.  She is going to pay a price for that which you will hate.  Please don’t give your daughters a daddy complex.  Accept them, approve of them and love them with all their rolls and insecurities.  Please find something about them you find beautiful, and tell them truthfully how pretty and special they are.  Every person is.  It’s not a lie.  If you can’t see it in her then you are the one with the issue.

Moms: model self-confidence for your daughters please.  If you feel ashamed of your squishy tummy, she is going to think she should be ashamed of hers, too.  If you refuse to wear shorts because you have cellulite, she is going to be worrying if her thighs are too flabby also.  If you are confident and comfortable in your skin, and you learn to love your body in spite of all its variety and flaws, it will help your daughter develop her own self confidence.  It’s ok to dress for your body type: I am not asking all moms to go buy and wear a bikini.  But don’t be ashamed of your body, either.  Don’t feel like you have to be completely covered around your daughter all the time, and don’t make disparaging comments about how much you dislike your body.   That body is the same one who is helping you breathe, and walk, and talk, and who brought your amazing children into this world.  Don’t hate it.  Don’t allow your inner voice of self-critique become an outward voice of critique that affects your daughter’s self-image too. Better yet, don’t allow it to affect yours, either.  Tell it to shut up.  You have better things to worry about.

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I am not asking everyone to embrace being overweight as a good thing.  I am not asking for it to be encouraged.  I am just asking that the bullying, the belittling, and the disapproval be stopped.  I am asking that every young woman be allowed to grow up with an understanding that she is uniquely beautiful, and not be made to feel as though approval or acceptance or value are hinged on being a ‘proper’ weight.   I am asking that we as a society take strides simultaneously towards good health and body acceptance wherever we are at.  I think that if we can work on this, it would be a tremendous change for the good of the young people in our lives.

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Learning to Trust in Spite of Fear

What is fear? One dictionary defines it as:‘a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined.’  My interpretation of that is that fear is an unpleasant emotion, and it can be caused by the thought of something we don’t like coming our way.  Fear is the same feeling whether the threat of something unpleasant is real, or imagined.

I can’t claim to understand everyone who had a difficult childhood.  But I can understand some of the things that many of us have in common.  One of those things is a lot of fear.  Trust issues are commonplace among those who have experienced abuse, especially during childhood.  One reason for this is because during childhood, our brains are striving to find a sense of ‘normal’. Our subconscious is learning  from our everyday experiences to make neural pathways, habits, and attitudes that will drive our behaviors for the rest of our lives.

What happens when a child experiences a lot of pain, loss and betrayal of trust as a child is that our brain begins to tell us that people are not trustworthy.  Experience says they will eventually turn on you, so it’s best to protect yourself. Trusting anyone with things that make you feel vulnerable is very difficult, because instinct is telling you that no matter how trustworthy they might seem now, it’s only a matter of time until they betray you. Those of us who have this issue owe it to ourselves, and to those around us to work at overcoming it as adults.  Because some people are trustworthy, and the person you hurt most by holding everything inside is yourself.

So back to fear.  I am kind of rabbit-trailing here today. Why am I so afraid of so many things?  Along with trust, I am also afraid of rejection, I am afraid of what people might think of me, I am afraid of judgement, I am afraid of people seeing my flaws, and I am especially afraid of loosing those who I love, even if I know they are going to Heaven.

Let’s address a few of these:

Rejection.  I guess I am afraid of it because it makes me feel like something is wrong with me.  But honestly whether or not someone likes or accepts me does not change who I am one little bit.  My identity is more than someone else’s opinion.  Who God created me to be doesn’t need approval from anyone but Him.  Buh-bye, fear of rejection!

What people think: Why do I care so much about this? I don’t want people to treat me differently.  I want to be perceived as a sweet christian girl who is fairly innocent.  But honestly, the sweet is questionable, and the innocent just doesn’t fit.  My bible study buds discovered the other night that I sometimes listen to hip hop and rap, and that I drink alcohol.  They nearly fell out of their seats.  I hadn’t realized that I hide myself that well.  But those things and all the other things I do that don’t fit that innocent little church girl don’t change me one bit.  My love for Jesus is sincere, and that is what matters.  People can think what they like.  Buh-bye, fear of other people’s thoughts!

Judgement of my flaws: I don’t think anyone likes to be judged by people.  I sure don’t.  I don’t like being told that my behavior is wrong, or unacceptable, even when it is.  I don’t want to think that other people can see my sin.  I like to keep it hidden.  But here’s a big newsflash for you all: I sin!  I do.  I have issues in my life that I wrestle with on a daily basis, and often I fail to make the right choice.  This fact doesn’t make me any different from  100% of the rest of humanity.  Welcome to the human race, Anna, here are your issues.  So go ahead and judge if you want.  You aren’t any better than me, and the fact is that God is the only one whose judgement means anything to me.  Buh-bye fear of people’s judgement.

 Losing those I love: I am afraid of this because it is beyond my control, and it hurts so much.  I know it is only temporary when they are going to heaven, but on this earth we are stuck inside of time, and the rest of my life seems like a long long time at this point.  I don’t want to wait until eternity to see my grandparents again.  I miss them.  I don’t want to wait to see my best friend’s momma.  I miss her.  Grief is painful, you never know when it is coming, and you can’t stop it.  I hate it, but I have to live it out, and accept the pain as a part of life so that I don’t become bitter or allow hate to over take my heart.  I might always be afraid of losing those I love. I love with my whole heart, and when someone that I love dies, I feel like a little of my heart dies with them.

But I know that God is the restorer or my heart, and that His love is never ending.  I ask him to restore my heart with his love, so that I can continue to love those around me that are still here.  I know that when I grieve, He is with me.  I think it breaks his heart the same way it does when I see a small child that I love cry.  I want so badly to fix whatever is wrong in their little life, and to restore a smile to their face. He cares.  Because we life in a world with free will, we have to endure hurt and grief.  But God cares.  He is with you.  Don’t forget that, even when you are mad at Him.

So I will ditch my other fears, and face this one with God’s help.  It might always be there, but it isn’t too big for God.  He will help me. And you, if you let Him.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”  ~Ambrose Redmoon

There are so many things that are more important than fear.  Life. Love. Trust.  Ask God for help, and face some of your fears today.  It won’t happen overnight, but I think it will bring you great freedom over time.  I know it has for me.  ❤

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