Will you be my friend?

Remember when you were in elementary school and making friends was as easy as passing a note? You would ask if someone would be your friend with two boxes underneath to check yes or no. I wish it were that easy when you are mid-40’s ish and have kids headed into high school. It is so easy to get caught up in “life” and neglect those carefree days of play dates, climbing trees with your bestie, or knowing exactly who to talk to when you were upset. I have been feeling this way lately, a little lost, a little alone, a little unlike who I used to be.

In Jennie Allen’s devotional Made for This ~ 40 Days to living your Purpose she speaks of the importance of intentional friendships. She references the tv show Friends and how many of us longed for that type of friendship and feeling of being one of the gang. The truth is that true deep friendships require love and effort to keep them going. I realize that I got so wrapped up in being a mom, teacher, and having a special needs child, that I neglected to keep pursuing my friends and finding ways to connect on deeper levels. We all use the term BK, before kids, when we joke about how tired we are or unable to hang out with friends. I think some of us have used BK as an excuse for letting life get in front of our relationships.

Jennie prompted her reader to step out of her comfort zone and take risks. She also made it clear that in this stage of life, people are not going to pursue a new friendship. I need to put myself out there and be the one to purse friendships. Well, I did it!

There is a local blogger I stumbled upon called @littledotbigdifference. She promotes local businesses and philanthropies to simply share inspiration. On Instagram, she posted pictures of her hiking a mountain with 2-3 other women. Her caption is what caught my attention. It said,

“Sometimes you just have to grab a group of dreamers and best life chasers… and simply start. Start the week on the right foot…Start visualizing the life you want today and 10 years from now. We meet bright and early every Sunday and YOU are invited.”

She invited anyone! I did not have to prove I was pretty enough, fit enough, rich enough. Just DM her for exact time, and be there. So, I did it! I was at the mountain trailhead at 5:45am and scared to meet these women, but so thankful that I did. They were open, honest, funny, and genuinely caring people. So, if you are in the Phoenix area, join us when the weather cools down.

I pledge to invest more of my time in loving and giving to others.

Here’s to new adventures with new  and rekindled (some of you may be hearing from me) dear friends!

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. Mark 12: 30-31

Dance Lessons

I apologize for being absent the past few months, but my dance lessons have kept me on my toes. These dance lessons have been FREE! You heard me right, absolutely free, thanks to life. I have learned to waltz, tango, echappe, and even a little krumping. My technique is far from flawless, but I have survived and made it to the curtain call. Let me explain…

The school year started off smoothly, and I planned to waltz through my days with renewed energy and free time. We made the decision that I would resign from my teaching job to be more present for the kids. I would research and tour possible schools for Piper to attend next year. Sending our precious nonverbal 15 year old daughter into the den of high school hormones and the unknown is terrifying. We have stayed in our failing school district because we have been blessed with knowledgeable and caring teachers. However, high school is a whole new animal. I will share more about high school search in a future blog.

The waltz is supposed to be smooth with a unique rise and fall action. So, I embraced my life director, the Lord, and immediately tried to lead. I thought I had this all figured out. During the day, I would write, tour schools, and take Piper to doctor appointments and therapies. During the afternoon, I would prep dinner and then head off to tutor students. The tutoring money would equal my lost teaching salary. This was when I began my first dance lesson.

I thought I would be gracefully moving forward, but I had to learn the box step. In September, my mom was still recovering from her extensive neck surgery and unable to drive. So, I was her chauffer to doctor appointments and errands. She was still suffering with myoclonic jerking and in a lot of pain. During this time, my grandmother started to not feel well. One day, my mom called to ask me to pick her up and take my grandmother to the ER. We were shocked by the news that my grandmother had stage 4 cancer. My ideas of graceful smooth days gliding around freely turned into days practicing the box step over and over again. One step right, one step back, one step left, one step forward and then repeat endlessly. Every day was the same. They were filled with tears, waiting, and taking the lead for this family of strong women.

My next lesson started when my grandmother left us only 6 weeks after her diagnosis. The ballet term Echappe means slipping movement or escaping. My heart was broken that she slipped from us so quickly. She had been my support and listening ear for 46 years. I kept expecting her to pop over or give me a call to say she loved me. The lesson I learned is that in echappe, after the dancer jumps, she lands back on the ground in second position. It is okay for me to leap in sadness and grieve, but then I must bring my feet back down to be a mother,  daughter, and wife. That is what my grandmother would have wanted.

We had a couple weeks to grieve and prepare for her celebration of life. I was honored to be the family representative to speak. There were so many fascinating experiences in her life that made her the strong woman everyone came to love. I was starting to enjoy this new dance of slow, slow, slow, but then my dance steps turned to quick, quick, quick. The tango was my next dance lesson.

The week after the celebration of life, my mom went in for a hip replacement surgery. Once again, she would be unable to drive and in a lot of pain. Her jerking returned, and we ended in the ER two days after being sent home, for fear there was blood clot. When we stepped into that ER, our heart beats quickened because this was the same place we sat for hours before learning of my grandmother’s cancer. My mom and I cried, laughed, and tried to regulate our emotions. In the tango, the dancers’ orientation is constantly changing. It keeps the dancers on their toes. The next few weeks, my focus was on quick, quick, quick to the new year so then we could go slow, slow, slow and start a new time of hope with no pain.

I planned to dance into 2019 with high energy and excitement. Then I realized I also needed an escape from the grief and realization that our life would never be the same. So, I started my Krumping lessons. The dance from was actually created as a faith based artform. The word K.R.U.M.P. is an acronym for Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise. Youths started krumping to express their emotions in a non-violent way. This most recent dance lesson has humbled me. I need to rely on God Almighty and not dwell in a season of anger for all that occurred in 2018. I will Krump! Actually, I will ridiculously try to Krump and continue forging ahead with excitement and full belly laughing. If you see me, ask to see my moves, and I can guarantee that your day will be filled with laughter too.

Practice hope my friends, Jen

Weary

wea·ry
[ wee ree ]

1. tired: tired, especially in having run out of strength, patience, or endurance
2. tiring: tiring or exhausting
3. showing tiredness: showing or characterized by tiredness

I had to enter outpatient therapy and tried very hard to get healthy. My therapist was spiritual and divinely a Christian. She gave me a book of daily devotions with scriptures to help me through that time. Our sessions helped me to realize that the road will not just change overnight. It would be a long journey full of pitfalls and backslides. But I was thankful to be alive.

It seemed like I gained 20 lbs. overnight, once I started to eat and keep food down. This was the most uncomfortable I have ever been in my own body. I think what made it so hard, was that I was not supposed to do anything about it. I had to give my body time to heal with no dieting or excessive exercising. It needed a reprieve from all the damage I had inflicted. It is difficult to look at pictures of myself at that stage. Many pictures from college show my round, swollen face from all of the binging and purging. People probably just thought that was the way I looked. These pictures break my heart when I see them. My eyes are so empty and my body tortured.

Once I was not hiding behind the symptoms of my eating disorder, the root of my problems started to be revealed. I suffered from depression. My doctor suggested that I start taking anti-depressants. It took a while to figure out the right one. Some made me feel even more desperately out of control and others caused anxiety. I remember having to leave a class lecture because I literally felt I was going to crawl out of my skin.

Over the next few years, I struggled with needing a medicine to be normal. I wanted to do it all on my own. It would seem like I was doing well and could handle things. So, I often stopped taking the medicine and would spiral out of control. My eating would worsen and the depression would obviously take over. It is a battle that continued for many years. It is only now that I am forty-five, that I do not question the need anymore. I am chemically unbalanced, always have been, and probably will always be. I need medication to balance my thoughts, actions, and words. A diabetic needs insulin to survive. I need anti-depressants. This does not mean that I like being dependent upon meds. It is something that I have to do to survive. Actually, in truth, it is also something that I need to keep from going crazy!

My husband, Darrin, has been one of my biggest supporters. He often would notice when I “took myself off of meds” and persuade me to go back to the doctor. I am so thankful that God gave him to me. He has walked in circles with me for hours to keep me from purging. He has talked me through an anxiety attack that paralyzed me in a grocery store. It was the first relationship that a man stood up for me. A man actually wanted me to be healthy.

We married in 1998. I was teaching fourth grade at the time in a public school. My life and compulsion had been my students until then. I would stay at school organizing and writing notes, making sure the desks were in perfect order, and the room was cleaned. My body obsessions still continued. I was mostly healthy, with a few backslides here and there. It was better for me to obsess about school than my weight. I had found my husband and was supposed to be fulfilled. Yet, now I wanted the next step. I wanted a child. Darrin was adopted and wanted a child more than anything. He could not wait to look into the eyes of someone that shared the same blood. I could not wait to give him that opportunity with a child of our own.

 

Control

7d91553ff53f1ec3c074c3d79fa176a7

con·trol
[ kən trṓl ]

1. manage: to exercise power or authority over something
2. restrain or limit something: to limit or restrict somebody or something

My summer before college was once again filled with new beginnings. We moved into a handsome buttercup yellow house with a sprawling front porch in Morris Plains, New Jersey. The lush trees arching over the endless streets and the rolling hills were like a dream. I had never lived in such a beautiful fairy tale type place. Once again, I prayed that this would be the place of happiness for me.

The first months of college were surreal. I made friends, ate healthy, exercised, and enjoyed my nickname, Arizona Jen. This time was filled with so many new experiences: sorority sister trips to Manhattan, the Jersey shore and big Italian families. I would joke that I was the only non-Italian, non-Catholic student at Seton Hall. In my mind though, I started to notice there were many other qualities that set me apart.

My dad lost his job the same week I started college. The very job that had moved us across the entire country. The job that had changed my plans to attend college in Arizona. The job that payed for the house in New Jersey and the tuition for Seton Hall. My parents did not want me to quit school, despite my offer. The house was sold, my dad moved back to Phoenix for work, my mom stayed in a tiny apartment in Jersey with my two cats, and worked at a furniture store. There I was at college using up the money they were sacrificing for me to be happy.

My confidence began to spiral with guilt. This guilt lead to me feeling powerless over my future. I searched for something that gave me control. Food became that substance. I could control what went in and out of my body.

I would eat secretly in my dorm room and then vomit. This way, I could punish myself for not being perfect. Mean girls, bad grades, fears, moving, and not belonging all disappeared when I was in the midst of stuffing in food. Then the discomfort would be so great, that I had to get rid of what filled my stomach. After purging, I would loathe myself for what I had done. Each time, I prayed that tomorrow would be better. I would be healthy and happy. The thing that kept me hooked in this spiral was that it occupied my thoughts. It gave my mind an hour break from the insanity.

Lying became second nature for me. I had to hide what I ate and where I went after eating. This contradicted everything I was ever taught, but I felt that I had to. The binging and purging had become too demanding. I could not stop. Each moment in my day was consumed with thoughts of food, exercise, and how I needed to fix myself. It drove my every action and conversation. Soon, I became unable to maintain most of my friendships.

My freshman year of college finally came to an end. I needed a new start. A new start would make me healthy and happy again. My parents had already moved back to Arizona. God did give me a couple of friends that stuck with me despite my sickness. Perhaps they did not know about it, or maybe they liked me in spite of it. I am thankful these sorority sisters were the people that saw the good in me through the fog. They deserved a full time friend. I was not capable of being one.

After summer, I was very excited to start at the University of Arizona as I had originally planned. My high school friends had made new friends, pledged different sororities, and started new social groups without me. That was totally to be expected. Their lives were full and busy. I was happy for them, but sad we would not pick up where we left off in high school. So, sophomore year turned out to be much like the last.

I was in self-destruct mode. To make things worse, I started to control food by restricting my eating and using laxatives. I could live on bran flakes with water for breakfast and a frozen yogurt for lunch. But, that did not always feed my need to get the sickness out of my mind. I was trying hard not to throw up anymore. My mouth had sores in it, and my stomach ached all the time. I was always constipated and bloated. Laxatives seemed to be a good alternative. I figured that if I took a couple, my body would be purged of all the bad things. I would not have to throw up any more.

This seemed to be a good idea to me. I thought I would get better. Unfortunately, I did not. My body became more and more resistant to the laxatives, so I had to take more. Two laxative pills turned into ten, then twenty, thirty and more. I had to shop at different stores to keep people from noticing my disgusting habit. The large numbers of pills I was taking would keep me up at night, cause me to vomit, dehydrate, pass out, and miss out on activities because I had to be close to a bathroom.

My inability to manage my eating disorder culminated one night in the spring of my sophomore year. I felt I needed to take sixty laxatives in hopes that it would clean out all of my bad habits and thoughts. If it worked, the next day I would awaken to a new me and fresh start! Obviously, it did not work. My roommates had to take me to the university’s urgent care. I needed several bags of IV fluid to survive. At the end of the day, I was transported to the hospital, for what I thought was more IV. It turned out to be more than an IV. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward under the label of a suicide attempt. I did not think I was trying to end my life, just end all of the bad thoughts and habits. That is what I kept telling the doctors and nurses.

This place was awful! They took what few things I had away from me like my pencils, pens, shoe laces, and more. I had to sleep in a room with no door, next to a woman who cried out to non-existent people. Each morsel of food I did or did not eat was monitored. There were group therapy sessions and leather lacing. The lacing was not just a fun art activity. I think it was supposed to occupy my mind so that I could talk about my problems.

My parents called on the pay phone in the hallway soon after I was sent to the ward. They responded in opposite manners. My dad said he loved me, but did not understand. My mom was angry that I hid this from her and not asked for help. In my attempt to be the perfect daughter, I could have left my parents with no children. They must have been devastated. Cancer took my sister, and I was trying to end the life that God let me keep.

Lord, I am so ashamed by my disrespect for the body you gave me. This body is a temple. You made it specifically for me. You loved me so much that you even numbered the hairs on my head. Yet, I tortured and loathed it. Please forgive me. Let my future days be filled with honor and care for the gift of life you have given.

 

Move

moved

move [moov ] 1. change position: to change position or location, or change the position or location of something 2. change residence, job, or school: to change your place of residence, work, or study, or make somebody do this

My freshman year of high school, my dad’s boss let him go for spending too much time away from work during my sister’s illness. He was able to get a job in Arizona, my mom was seriously grieving, and I was somewhere in limbo. The “sand” continued to rub as I placed pressure on myself to do everything perfectly. I was my parents’ only child now. The only one to do things right. There was no one to come along behind me and do better. My sister was gone.

In the middle of my sophomore year, my mother and I joined my dad in Phoenix. I did not want to move to the desert at all. It was made worse, because I did not like high school. Actually, school in general was not my favorite. I did well, but had to study more than the rest of my friends. The compulsion to not mess up continued. I wanted to be perfect. Every time that I did not measure up to my standards, I felt beaten and worthless. It also did not help that I spoke with a southern accent. It was something that drew attention to me and made me sound ignorant.

At my new school, there was a flier posted about pom line auditions. This was much like a spirit line or dance team. My parents thought it would be a good way for me to make friends. We had taken dance classes before Amanda got sick. She and I loved to make up dances. It was those joyful memories that prodded me to try out. My confidence waivered when I saw the beautiful girls at the try out clinics. I feared being laughed at again. God’s crazy plan allowed me to make the pom line. There were twelve girls that danced and cheered at all of the football and basketball games. Many times were spent fooling around on the sidelines of games, practicing, and being busy all of the time. This saved me in high school from becoming lost or turning into a recluse.

My image of myself started to become an obsession. I wanted to be the smartest, prettiest, funniest, and most liked. The real me began to disappear under these pressures. My actions caused me to lose friends and hurt feelings. All of my efforts to fit in, caused me to not really fit in at all. The fragmented thoughts in my mind began to chip away at the real Jennifer. If I could go back to high school and be the real me, I would.

Toward the end of high school, my father took a job in New Jersey. My mom stayed in Phoenix with me until I graduated. I had already been accepted to the University of Arizona and had my dorm assignment. Many of my classmates also planned to go to Tucson for college. The potential to start a new chapter in my life was exciting. I hoped that it would be a time for me to develop deep friendships with those God placed in my life and actually feel like I belonged.

Fears began to creep up that I would be “left” on the west side of the country all alone. If I needed help, there would be no one to come to my rescue. My parents were all that connected me to life, so I decided to head for New Jersey with my parents. I declined my admission to the University of Arizona, and decided I would attend a college in New Jersey. Which university, I had not a clue.

The weekend after graduation, we loaded up the car and drove to New Jersey. This was far from the fabulous graduation trip that my classmates were having in Mexico. However, it was a memorable trip for us. We were in another state with another new address. It was our seventh state to live in, and I am not sure how many different apartments, condos, and houses we have lived total. All of the friends I had while living in Georgia had become a distant memory. It was too hard to send another “We’ve Moved” letter. This is another area that I should have been more diligent about. There were friends that I wish I had not let go.

My world kept changing so quickly. It seemed that as soon as my feet were planted, they slipped. My need to be in control started to consume me. I was not able to control where we lived, where I went to school, that I felt lonely, or afraid. My ability to make friends and keep them was poor. I had no long term friendships for me to learn from. I had become an only child when Amanda died. Siblings teach people how to relate and share with their peers. My understanding of my role in life was shaky. At that moment, I found a crutch that almost destroyed me. The one thing I could have control over was food. This was the beginning of an eating disorder that peppered my life for many years to come.

Lord forgive me. I did not know that my choices were going to affect so many people. You gave me many gifts that I hated and tried to change. I was made in your image, yet I tried to change that image. Forgive me for turning to food rather than you.

 

 

Sand

amanda

sand [ sand ] 1. material made of tiny grains: a substance consisting of fine loose grains of rock or minerals, usually quartz fragments, found on beaches, in deserts, and in soil, sometimes used as a building material

My beginning was in 1972 and not my own for long. A sister came into the picture four years later. She was a spit-fire named Amanda. We grew up in Georgia with magnolia trees, humidity, and church. It seems like as long as I can remember, we were at church. Church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Monday nights, Wednesday nights, and even Saturdays. This was our own safe world. I grew up knowing that God made me and loved me. My entire life I have never questioned that. I have questioned the path he chose for me, but not that I am his child. I thank my parents for raising me with faith and the ability to call on God at any moment.

Even though I had this understanding, my life was not perfect. There were always tiny grains of self-doubt. I often felt like an outsider. I tried to fade into the background in social situations, because I was an easy target to tease.

The summer before my seventh grade year, we moved to a rural suburb of Atlanta. My parents planned for us to transition from private school to public. This was culture shock for me. I knew almost no secular music, had always worn uniforms or dresses to school, and most of my class sizes had been less than fifteen.

I think I cried almost every day of my seventh grade year. The kids had all been together since kindergarten, and I did not look like a typical southern girl. Summer time had been filled with days at the pool and no sunscreen. I inherited the ability to become extremely tan from my Hungarian grandmother, so I started a new school looking quite brown. My eyes are dark brown and my dark hair had a fresh, stylish perm. So, I think the kids were not quite sure which group I should fit in to. The white kids thought I was black. The black kids thought I might be bi-racial but pretended not to be. It was 1985 in rural Georgia, so there were hightened racial tensions.

As the school year progressed, I made some friends and joined the Drama Club. The middle school plays allowed me to belong to a group, but it also gave others more ammuntion to tease me. Some of these incidents are still tucked away in the recesses of my mind. In the hallway one day, a group of girls put a price sticker on my back. One of them poked me and said, “Twenty-five cents? I wouldn’t pay twenty-five cents for you!” In class one day a boy told me I was the ugliest girl in the whole school. Another girl put a sign on my back that read, “Kick me, I am chunkarian!” I think she couldn’t spell Hungarian. Maybe all middle schoolers experience this kind of teasing. I pray that many do not.

My sister never encountered this. She was beautiful and funny. We could walk into any store and the clerks would notice her immediately. People were drawn to her. I regret that I was jealous. At that time I did not realize that I had many more years to command attention. Amanda did not.

Amanda was 10 years old when she went to Heaven. It had been a little over a year after she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. That year was full of hospital stays for her and my parents. Our lives were turned upside down. No longer were we concerned with dance classes or slumber parties. It was all about chemotherapy appointments and blood cell counts. I watched my vibrant sister swell from steroids, scream in agony if anyone touched her, and then become excruciatingly thin. She looked like a little old man. We used to put on plays, dress up, giggle, swim, and play. My sister was fading, and nothing I said or did could bring her back.

My parents chose to bring her home when the doctors told them the cancer had spread. Amanda was in a hospital bed in the front room attached to an IV. Nurses would come to check on her daily. My parents, grandparents, and family friends would be at her bedside daily to pray and read her scriptures. She began to hallucinate from the medicine. She spoke of opening the door to let Jesus in and angels surrounding us. It was always apparent that she was a special child of God. Her heart was to pray for others before herself. She was amazingly strong. In her short ten years, she did more to bring others to the Lord than most of us will in our entire lives.

I was there when she took her last breath. It all happened so fast. She would gasp and then moments would pass before another gasp. Eventually, they ceased. The doctor came to pronounce her dead. The funeral home came to take her body. I was angered that they covered her with a sheet before she even left our house. My chance to say goodbye was gone. It was very surreal for me as a 14 year old. My heart was breaking, but I needed to be strong for my parents. I did not want to make them sadder. Why had God let Amanda die and not me?

Her funeral was called a celebration. It was filled with music and words of encouragement. One of the songs was “Angels all Around Me” by the Bill Gaither Trio.
The lyrics seemed so true. She always knew that she was surrounded with God’s love. Amanda was no longer in pain, had gone to be with Jesus, and was in a place where she could dance and twirl. My truth was that I was left on earth with no sister and alone. It was bizarre to see the faces of people in agony, streaming with tears. Why couldn’t I cry? Did that make me a bad person? It was just so strange to see a lifeless body in the casket. The feel of her waxy skin made me realize that the body was not my sister. It was only a shell. A shell that had housed her spirit. My ability to understand life and death started at that moment. God let me see that our bodies are only temporary. Our souls live eternally with Him.

I seemed to watch through a fog as the next months progressed. My freshman year of high school began and the kids at school were unsure of what to say to me. I could hear them whisper about my sister dying that summer, but most did not offer their sympathy. If they had, it would have been to say, “I am sorry.” To which I would probably have replied, “Why? You didn’t kill her.” Not a very nice reply, but it was my way of dealing with hidden pain. It took many years for me to be able to summarize my thoughts and feelings. I was angry deep down.

Lord, I miss Amanda every day. I wish she could have been at my wedding, at the birth of my children, and there to answer a phone call. We had conversations that never took place and games we never played. Sisters are supposed to be there for one another. I could not protect her from cancer. My life with her was too short. I wanted more time.