The Pictures You Don’t See on Facebook: PTSD and My Son’s Service Dog Hero

Jul 11 2016

We went on vacation last week, and it’s not lost on me that we’re now part of a narrowing group of American families who can afford ridiculous luxuries like paid time off and time together in the sun and water. Never mind that this holiday was paid for by Nana and Papa, and not us; we won’t pretend generous grandparents involved in their grandkids’ lives and with the means to gift us family time isn’t its own elite past time. We’re beyond lucky. We know it, and we walk a line that’s littered with guilt and gratitude in equal measure.

I posted pics on Facebook to prove we vacationed. Our happy family. Smiles, surf, sun and silliness. And I didn’t feel guilty about that. Not even a little. I still don’t, in spite of the loud voices everywhere telling us we’re Fakebooking when we post the pretty things and are trying to deceive our friends by highlighting only the joyful parts of life and omitting the rest. Facebook is my scrapbook. It’s where I hold happy memories. And the more happy on Facebook the better, in my opinion. POST ALL THE LUNCH PICTURES, I say. I WANT TO SEE YOUR PRETTY SANDWICH, friends. And ALL THE BABY PICS, too. TOO MANY CUTE KID PICS, PLEASE. When did we decide to be the cranky, old lawn neighbors, anyway? “Damn kids! Keep your happy off my Facebook lawn!

I feel guilty, in other words, for having a vacation at all. Guilty and grateful because I want ALL the families to have one, too. But I feel no guilt for having a happy moment out loud, and one I can share in public. Maybe because I long to share your happy moments, too. Or maybe because I know that vacations and families and friendships and children and life are made up of the happy mixed with the unhappy. The joyful mixed with the barely-holding-it-together. The gasps of air at the surface mixed with drowning. The magic and the mess intermingled. Grace and grime all the time.

Maybe, for me, it’s because every moment like this one,

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comes hand in hand with innumerable moments like this one
IMG_0547where our son, who experiences Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from an early life that was deeply unfair to him, falls all the way apart.

Our vacations, therefore, are moments of trauma and triumph strung together haphazardly. Angst and sorrow sprinkled with joy. Frustration, mostly, for this precious man-child, and tiny glimpses of freedom, now and then, and not often enough.

I don’t usually share much with you about Ian’s life or ours with him. I have occasionally here and here and here and here. But mostly we keep what he experiences to ourselves because each of our kids has control over the “publish” button when it comes to their stories, and Ian is the most private of our kids, the one who’s most bewildered about this strange life; the most uncertain that there are good things out there for him; the most sure that he’ll be hurt again like he was in his first life, before we were there were champion him and fail him and champion him again, like all parents who mean well and succeed and fail in equal measure but still hope they’re not screwing it up entirely.

I took the pictures below of Ian with his service dog, Zoey, months ago, because he asked me to. He wanted to “watch Zoey do her job, Mom,” and so I sat with him while she worked as she so often does to ease anxiety and panic that overtakes my son but which he’s helpless to explain, bearing the double burden of PTSD with an expressive language disorder that keeps most of his thoughts and feelings stuck inside with no way out. I’ve kept these pictures private, of course, because they’re really not mine to share.

Except that Ian has asked me now for a week straight to show them to you.

We had a conversation after vacation. A conversation about Miss Zo and her special place in our lives. A conversation about the many who suffer, as Ian does, from PTSD and myriad other disabilities. A conversation about mental illness, with which I am far too familiar myself. And a conversation about what it’s like to feel so terribly alone, wading through the muck and mire and wondering whether there’s a way out.

Ian said, “Show them, Mom.”

I said no. A whim on his part didn’t seem like a good enough reason to show his anguish to the world.

He still said, “Show them.”

I said no again. And again. And again.

But he’s asked me every day for a week after that convo. Until I said, “Why, Ian? You usually want to keep this to yourself. You usually don’t want people to see this. And once we show them, it’s not possible to take it back.”

And Ian said, “So they’re not alone, Mom. So they know they’re not alone.”

And so, to honor my son and his battle, my son the hero, and his dog the hero, too, here are the pictures we don’t show on Facebook. A face of PTSD and the dog who would lead him to the light at the end of each tunnel:

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With love, friends, and the reminder from my kid that we’re not alone,

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More Hope Than Certainty

Jun 14 2016

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It’s 55°F outside and windy on the wild west coast where I sit in my flip-flops and parka, wrapped in the blanket I stole from the beach house, and write and write – by hand because I spilled coffee on my laptop AGAIN – and listen to the waves crash relentlessly, endlessly, while the sun and clouds fight for control of the sky.

I’m deliciously warm except for my nose and ears and fingertips and toes, which are ice, and I’m outside alone except for the teenager chasing her rainbow kite down the shore because it escaped her grasp and made the dash for freedom.

It would be more practical to sit inside where the temperature is controlled and the wind wouldn’t play with my paper and my hair. Surely I would be more practical there, too. And more productive. But my soul is one of the Wild Things and makes decisions sometimes for my body – when I listen – and She couldn’t sit inside today where She felt trapped by walls and ceiling. No, She longed to be set free today, so I’m taking Her where She wants to go and letting Her use my pen, which is always risky because my soul loves Jesus to the moon, and loves people, and says fuck a lot, so I never quite know where She’ll take us, my pen and I, if I give her free rein, but I am always interested to find out, and I’m more and more willing to let Her lead to these days. She loves well when I let her. Even me.

I woke up Sunday morning with Things to Do. Graduation Things for my high school senior. Packing Things for the retreats I’m running this week. One thousand things to finish by noon, and boxes and bags to throw in my fancy blue Pontiac with the cloth seats so I could book it for the coast where I hoped I’d beat my retreat guests, scheduled to arrive simultaneously with me.  I had, in other words, Things to Do and no time to Be.

Then I read Sunday morning’s news.

Orlando.
Shooting.
50 dead.
LGBTQ.
Biggest Mass Shooting in U.S. History.

The To Do’s faded away. My Soul sat us down. We bowed our heads and prayed:

“No.
“No.
“No.
“No.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
“No.
“No.
“Nope.
“No.”

We continued for quite some time. Days now, actually, the only variations, “Oh, Jesus, no,” and all the Goddamnits.

I thought maybe we should say something out loud, but the Soul said it wasn’t time for us yet, and Practical Me agreed that writing ALL the Goddamnits would take more time than we had at hand.

“AND,” Soul said…, “AND remember how we’re learning to not always tell others’ stories FOR them, Beth? Remember how we’re learning to tell stories WITH them?”

She’s right, of course. We are trying to learn this, my Soul and I. Trying hard to use our words to champion the vulnerable and marginalized, like our LGBTQ neighbors and friends, without speaking FOR them and rob their voices and co-opt their perspectives. Trying to learn to be good allies and friends. Trying to grieve our collective tragedies and losses while recognizing the particular and profound grief and suffering the targets of these attacks – the LGBT community – experience.

So I sat at the coast with new and old friends, in the wind and watching waves, and I scrolled through Facebook, where my friend, Geoff, who is a humanitarian at heart and by trade, who is a musician, who is kind and tall and handsome and gay and brave and a survivor, wrote this:

“Despite my sadness, I have great hope today, because at last night’s vigil I witnessed, once again, the community come together and show that, in responding to hate, our weapon of choice is more love. We greet with open hands those whose fists clench against us, we sing and joke and cheer when some would silence us, we assemble with lights and flags of all colours when some want us to disappear. The more we are persecuted the more deeply and widely our love spreads: for one another, our neighbors, and even our enemies. We say, You are invited to this party, too; there’s room here under our rainbow. We will not let you stereotype and demonize another minority in our name, either. And this is why, though we suffered terrible losses, we are winning.”
-Geoff Rempel-

“Can I quote you?” I asked Geoff.

“Of course,” he wrote, “if you wish, though I wrote those words with more hope than certainty.”

More hope than certainty.

More hope than certainty.

I love this. ^^^

Imagine a world with more hope than certainty.

More hope in love as a weapon than the certainty that our neighbors are evil.

More hope that we can find each other in the darkness than certainty we are two divided.

More hope in inclusion and invitations to dance and celebrate together than the certainty that the “other” is out to get us.

Yes. More hope than certainty. This is how I write, too, Geoff – with more hope than certainty. And how I live. And how I breathe. And how I love.

With more hope than certainty.

Always and forever.

This is, after all, what it means to be compassionately human and to live on after tragedies; to keep seeking change, and to act as if Love really does win in the end.

I keep seeing that rainbow kite tumbling down the beach. Free.

With love,

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A Blog in Which We’re Concerned with Me and God and Telling the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth: An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Nate Macy

Apr 18 2016

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Dearest Friends,

From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,

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A Blog in Which We’re Concerned with Me and God and Telling the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
An Authenticity Project guest post by Nate Macy

I like to think of myself as a forthright person, even if that’s not entirely true. I suppose being forth right doesn’t mean always saying everything that’s on your mind, but sometimes, in close relationships, it feels like a lack of authenticity to not be entirely known. Is there a difference between being without guile and being stupidly vulnerable? I wonder about God and why it says that God likes people without guile. I’m not entirely sure I like guileless people, that friend who feels free to say whatever critical-but-at-least-partially-accurate thing uninvited, or the person who speaks just a little too candidly about their problems, I find that strange and off putting at times. I’m not sure I even like my guileless self, it feels naked and stupid and scary. As George Bernard Shaw said “it’s dangerous to be sincere, unless you’re also stupid”.

But I also wonder if my defenses and cynicism keep me less safe than I suppose, less wise than I perceive, and more alone than I intend. Not being authentic with those who know and love us best means faking it, it means never getting to live in reality. Of course it feels vulnerable and scary, because it is.

When it comes to the Divine, that’s even harder. Being open and honest and vulnerable with an abstract all powerful being ranges from feeling psychotic to life threatening. In the faith tradition I come from, we believe that God wants intimate relationship, to really know us, and we call this “good news”.

Frederick Buechner says “What is both good and new about the good news is the mad insistence that Jesus lives on among us not just as another haunting memory but as the outlandish, holy, and invisible power of God working not just through the sacraments, but in countless hidden ways to make even slobs like us loving and whole beyond anything we could conceivably pull off by ourselves.

Thus the gospel is not only good and new but, if you take it seriously, a holy terror. Jesus never claimed that the process of being changed from a slob into a human being was going to be a Sunday school picnic. On the contrary. Childbirth may occasionally be painless, but rebirth, never. Part of what it means to be a slob is to hang on for dear life to our slobbery.”

Maybe that’s why we’re so afraid to be authentic, that the people around us, or that God will see that we’re all of us slobs and cynics and scared to death that anybody will really know us and see us for the complex mess that we are. But truth be told, most of us aren’t fooling anybody much, people can see the mess through the windows even while we hold the door closed. So here’s to trying to be real, as John Wesley would say, warts and all, and to finding that living the truth openly leads to freedom.

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Nate Macy, though typically smarter than this, occasionally makes questionable life choices like leaving his bio up to Beth Woolsey who OF COURSE sources info from All Nate’s Friends on the Book of Faces. 

Although he may be most well known as King of the Coveted Coconut Monkey, Nate Macy is also deeply passionate about the Bible, theology, music, guitars, sound gear, football, bikes, history, beer, and fancy footwear. Widely acknowledged as the World’s Best Dance Party DJ for his stunning work playing tunes, running light trees, and creating a fun, fab atmosphere with bubble and smoke machines at the Woolsey home whenever Beth loses her poo about the state of the church and just has to dance it out, man, Nate did recently admit to a troubling addiction to bubbles after he correctly identified a commercial bubble machine that is used in Christian concerts. He and his family are in our thoughts and prayers.

Nate Macy is the founder of the Boston Honey Bear Museum and continues his ministry of finding strangers in the Alps, rescuing small children from baboons, and teaching people important lessons about not leaving their email accounts open where he can send messages on their behalf. He once guest starred on “The Voice, The View, and The Vatican,” a late 2014 reality TV show that unfortunately never made it to air. Former poet laureate of Freedonia, Nate taught graduate courses in ice carving for the Royal Uruguayan Institute of Fine Arts before his placement in Oregon through the Witness Protection Program, where he became a Quaker worship pastor and learned he’s a 3 on the Enneagram. Nate has jammed with Ziggy Stardust, Cher and Fog Hat. It was also rumored he was a guest artist for Snoop Dog. Only a few of those things are true, but that’s hardly the point.

In truth, Nate is insanely creative, passionate about making and listening to a broad range of music, deeply loyal in friendships, so willing to think outside the box that there are times we’re not sure he knows there is a box, is deeply, deeply in love with his family, is incredibly appreciative and honoring of women who have contributed to growth in his life, loves participating with others in creating meaningful spaces of worship, and is an ongoing danger to all small, fury creatures when out in the forest with his 20 lb. compound bow and arrows, but he’s usually tromping around, so they have plenty of warning time.

Most importantly, Nate Macy is a fan of the muppets, knows how to make an indelible impression with a bowl of M&M’s, writes rad guest blog posts on authenticity, and hates the texture of many vegetables, which, although a moral weakness for sure, is endearing and makes this Man Among Men more relatable to the Rest of Us.

P.S. You can watch him debut as Ludacris at minute 2:18 in this video.

 

Mascara, Mystery, Mess and Me: An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Jen Foster

Apr 17 2016

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Dearest Friends,

From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,

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Mascara, Mystery, Mess and Me
An Authenticity Project guest post by Jen Foster

“Okay, this time without blinking!” she says, her laughter hiding just the tiniest hint of frustration. Pulling out yet another Q-tip, she cleans up the black smears of mascara under my left eye, retouching the concealer she’s carefully applied half a dozen times. My friend seems to have the cosmetic equivalent of a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser in her arsenal, but even her careful layering of tinted moisturizer, concealer, and some sort of enchanted unicorn powder can’t hide my dark under-eye circles. Apparently they have joined the smile wrinkles and double chin among my permanent, not-to-be-disguised features. It feels like we’ve been at this for hours, her applying my makeup, me blinking, mascara smearing everywhere.  How most women do this every morning before breakfast remains a mystery to me.

Handing me the mascara wand, she tells me to try it myself, that maybe that I can stop the incessant blinking and resulting smearing. I laugh too, hiding just the tiniest bit of my own frustration. I know that I am totally incapable of applying anything in a way that would meet her standards. This friend is a beauty pro. In college, she worked at a department store cosmetic counter. Now she sells high end skincare and makeup in her spare time between raising children, toning up at barre class, and looking effortlessly gorgeous and classy. This is a woman who, in the throes of postpartum exhaustion, somehow managed put on full face makeup every single day. Meanwhile, I spent those new baby days in a sleep-deprived stupor, never quite sure how long it had been since I had brushed my teeth. How we have remained friends is a mystery to us both.

I don’t do makeup. My skincare regimen consists of sunscreen and self acceptance.

It’s not that I never learned how to put makeup on. My mom’s bottle of Maybelline foundation and pots of taupe eyeshadow sat on the bathroom vanity beside her tub of Noxzema.  Each evening she’d religiously wash off the layers she’d put on that morning. She tried to teach me the value of a good base foundation, and I’m sure she’d have taught me how to use the medieval torture device eyelash curler if I wasn’t scared to death of pinching myself. But when all of my preteen friends were begging their moms for the chance to wear lip gloss or applying contraband eyeshadow on the school bus, I just wasn’t interested.

It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea of looking pretty, though my inner feminist tells me that if men don’t need it, neither do I. If each of us is created in the image of God, I’m not sure why that image needs a little more blush on the cheeks or sheen on the lips.

The reason I don’t wear makeup is that it feels phony, like I’m trying to look like someone I’m not. It feels like I’m pretending to be prettier than I am, disguising the real, very average me in favor of some costumed, painted version of myself.  It’s not that I mind trying on a new look. My favorite activity as a kid was dressing up as a princess in hand-me-down bridesmaid dresses; I still love that Halloween allows me to try on a new character for an evening. But those are days when it’s clear that I’m pretending to be someone else. Applying makeup feels like playing dress up, and doing that every day feels inauthentic.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not opposed to beauty treatments that make a gal look better. I shave my legs. (Oh, shut up, husband, I can hear you laughing. I do shave the bottom half of my legs on occasion.) I straighten my hair, and I’ve had it colored a time or two. I get pedicures with purple sparkly polish, and nothing could be further from my authentic toes than purple sparkle. Heck, last Sunday I squeezed myself into Spanx to smooth out the rolls that three pregnancies have bestowed on my abdomen. If wedging yourself into that kind of misery to look skinny at church isn’t putting on airs, I don’t know what is. Somehow, none of those feel like I’m being inauthentic. Why putting on eyeliner feels wrong and sparkly toes feel perfectly fine I cannot explain. But that doesn’t make it any less true in my mind.

I look back in the mirror, glancing over my shoulder at my friend whose patient smile shows me that she’s willing to clean up my mistakes as many times as it takes. “It’s a big night,” she says. “You want to look your best. You can do this.” I do want to look my best. But I don’t think I can do this.

I bring the wand toward my face, hand shaking a bit, which, let’s face it, really should have been a sign. If my friend, who’s actually been paid to do makeup for others, couldn’t achieve mascara victory, surely my own inexperienced, shaky-handed attempt was going to be far less successful. Slowly, I bring the mascara right to my lashes, close enough to touch but not quite there. I think about putting in contact lenses each morning, the times I’ve actually touched my eyeball without blinking. “You got it,” my friend reminds me. “Just a gentle swish across the lashes, a zig zag as you pull it away.” I touch the brush to my lashes, darkening the tips with just the tiniest bit of mascara.

I don’t blink.

Score!

I go for the other eye. This one is trickier – as a right hander, I have to reach across my face to get to the other eye, partially blocking my view of the mirror. Do I turn the direction of the wand? Change the angle of my wrist? Again, I bring the bristles close to my lashes without touching them. I go in for the kill, gently zig zagging as I drag the wand away. This time, I’m not just hitting the tips. I’m all in, baby. I’m getting all the lash plumping and lengthening and thickening that this little green tube can give.

Another score!

The left eye looks great. Stunning. Lashes out of a magazine ad. Poor right eye, who only got a glancing blow across her lash tips, looks forgotten and weak.

I get cocky.

I go for another layer. Bringing the wand back up to my right eye, I don’t even pause. Holding my eyes open wide, I touch the wand straight to my lashes, doing the zig zag pull, exactly as instructed.

BLINK. A hard blink. Mascara dots and smears are everywhere: on my lid, under my brow, like an arrow pointing right at those those under-eye circles yet again.

I laugh hysterically, trying desperately not to cry and ruin what bit of makeup might be salvageable. My friend pulls the q-tip container back out, her tube of concealer at the ready. She carefully begins to clean up the mess that my overconfidence created.  As she puts on the finishing touches, finally getting the mascara just right, I look at myself in the mirror. I look pretty good, better than usual, actually. I don’t look painted up like someone else, just a better version of me. The real, authentic me.

All those times that I tried to wear makeup, felt phony, and vowed to never touch eyeliner again?  The idea that makeup made me feel inauthentic? The feelings were sincere. But as I look at myself in her perfectly lit magnifying mirror, I start to think that maybe I could be genuine while adding a little color to highlight my cheekbones.

The real reason I still don’t wear makeup?

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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IMG_2542_edJen Foster is a North Carolina native currently living in the 1950’s era house she grew up in.  She’s a mom to three adorable but exhausting kids and spends large portions of her days searching for lost shoes.  She spent 14 years in higher education, helping helicopter parents let go of their college kids and serving as a bonus mom to hundreds of college students.  All those years of advising 18 year olds on what to be when they grow up have left her wondering what she might want to do in the event she ever grows up.  For now, she’ll stick with being a full-time mom with the option of becoming a writer/photographer/professional Pinterester down the road. She blogs at jenmcleanfoster.com.

On Cheering Each Other On: An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Stephanie Gates

Apr 16 2016

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Dearest Friends,

From April 8-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,

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On Cheering Each Other On
An Authenticity Project guest post by Stephanie Gates

96 days ago, my mom died.

I am a single mom. I have four kids who fall every odd year between 3 and 9. I’m doing my best to resurrect a career after 10 years at home. And I live far from family. Which is to say, I was burning all cylinders just to keep us afloat BEFORE my mom died.

No matter, 96 days ago today, my family lost my sweet, spontaneous mom. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. At age 60. With lots of little grandkids and a husband who was devoted to her and a life she loved. Just like that, she was gone.

But I don’t want to tell you about that. I want to tell you what happened next.

We did all the things you do – flew home, planned a funeral, saw hundreds of people I knew as a kid in my small southern hometown, sat in the sunroom with my dad and stared at one another, silent but together, then flew back. I walked in the door with my overtired, overstimulated kids, and just stared. Stared at the crumbs and dog hair and unfinished homework and piles of laundry and ninja turtles and baby dolls tossed into every corner in the house, at the routines I would need to re-establish, the deadlines I had missed, the dishes that had been used moments before her death, and never quite made it into the dishwasher … I took it all in, sat down, and cried.

Even if you haven’t lost your mom, you’ve probably experienced that moment. It felt the same – the EXACT same – as the moment you bring a baby home. Not the elation and beauty, not the first pictures and impossibly soft cheeks, but the other one, the one where it dawns on you that you have to actually keep a human being alive now.

In the weeks following the birth of every one of my children, I sat down at my kitchen table, covered my face, and cried. God, or Life, or the Universe, or Whoever it is that doles out babies and funerals, was wrong. I was, in fact, NOT capable of mothering this child. What were They thinking, entrusting me with this level of responsibility? ME, the woman who never makes her bed, whose filing system is basically just stacking all the mail on the counter until it topples over and I throw the whole mess away? ME, who has never, in thirty something years, figured out how to consistently keep her car clean? Whose life motto is “Good Enough”? What in the world made God, or Life, or the Universe, hand ME this precious tiny life and believe I could somehow lead it into conscious, whole adulthood?

I would cry, and tell Life that She had made a serious error in judgement. Then I would usually send a text to my best mom friend and say something like, “In the weeds. Pretty sure I can’t do this. Send coffee.” Then I would stand up, wash my face, and get back to work. Usually because by that time a baby was crying or a toddler was playing in the faucet.

I had the exact same moment after my mom died.

What was God – or Life, or the Universe, or Whoever makes the call – thinking? There was no way I could do this. I simply was not capable of creating the life in front of me. A life without my mom, where now I know all of the fundamental pieces of our lives can just … fade away. A life where my children would not know the woman who had shaped my very soul. It just wasn’t possible. There was no way I could pull this off. Whoever thought I could was just. flat. wrong.

From that place I emailed a new friend, an online friend who had lived through her own tragedy a few years earlier. I don’t remember exactly what the email said, but it went something like: “Dude. In the weeds. No way I can pull this off.”

And she did something that changed my life. Rather, that helped me begin to live out this new life, the one without my mom.

She didn’t promise to pray for me. She didn’t send Scripture. She didn’t offer the frozen silence I have learned to interpret as, “I really care about you and I’m so sad you have to go through this but I also have NO IDEA what to say or how you need me to respond.” She did none of that.

Instead, she cheered me on.

“You are doing the hardest part right now,” she said. “And you’re doing it! You’re already actively doing it. You got out of bed, you put kids on the bus, you put something that came out of a box in front of them for dinner. You know you can do this because you already are! You are so much more of a bad ass than you can see in this moment. But I can see it. You’re strong and capable and you’ve got this! Look at you go!”

Her words echoed like the cheers from the sideline of a race. I didn’t need advice, I didn’t need pity, I didn’t need the silence laden with concern. I needed a cheerleader. Her encouragement gave me the energy to stand up, wash my face, and get back to work. Pretty soon I had some momentum again, and it wasn’t quite so hard to imagine how we were going to get through the day.

So often, when our friends are staring down a life they did not choose, we don’t know how to respond. Once the cake is eaten, the casserole delivered, the funeral over, what do we do next? There are moments for all of it. Moments for prayers, moments for Scripture, moments for writing a check to help with unplanned expenses, moments even for silence laden with concern. But there’s also a moment when what we need most in all the world is someone to cheer us on. Some days, it’s the only thing that helps us stand up, wash our faces, and get back to work. Because maybe God, or Life, or the Universe, wasn’t so crazy after all.

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StephanieStephanie Gates writes, edits, and mothers a bunch of little kids in Denver, Colorado. If you have ever abandoned religion in search of faith, ever had to leave your hometown to find your home, or ever climbed to the very tip-top of a jungle gym to rescue an overzealous toddler, come sit by me.  We’ll talk.

You can follow my story at A Wide Mercy or follow along on Facebook.

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Is My Bulimia Showing? An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Nathalie Hardy

Apr 15 2016

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Dearest Friends,

From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,

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Is My Bulimia Showing?
An Authenticity Project guest post by Nathalie Hardy

This girl, twenty years ago:

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Is feeling so uncomfortable in these senior pictures.

The caption might read: Is my bulimia showing?

I ache sometimes to see old pictures and read old journal entries because I’ve blocked so much out, and yet carry much of it with me still.

Some of this is coming up due to floods of memories coming back as my high school reunion just came and went.

I would’ve loved to go but there were too many other things to budget for and I couldn’t make it work. But just thinking about connecting with people who knew me (to the extent that was possible) two decades ago, brought up some …. stuff. Good stuff. And also, not so good things.

After nearly two decades though I look back on this girl with more kindness and tenderness than anger and anguish. I see now that it was just all part of the plan, maybe not my plan, but …

There is so much I’d say to her to perhaps ease the journey. But then, it would be someone else’s story and if nothing else I have learned to own my story. All of the parts. And to be willing to be vulnerable, to tell the truth and to allow another to feel less alone. Or, perhaps to give insight into a loved one that baffles them. I don’t know the why, exactly only that I feel called and compelled to do so by something larger than my ego. Which, by the way, prefers I keep it a little less real up in here.

So, in no particular order and in a totally disjointed fashion I send these words to me, 20 years ago. And to you, and whoever else might need to hear them.

(Really? Twenty years?!)

I would tell her she is so not fat. And that even if she is, because she will be, the number on the scale is just information. A gauge by which to measure how she’s feeling on the inside. (I am not saying that’s true for everyone, just know that it was for me. And by was I mean is.)

I would ask her: What makes you feel good? Do more of that.

Also I would tell her to be honest with herself, especially with herself. And, if you’re telling the truth binge eating actually does not make you feel good. Ever. It just makes you feel empty instead of full of feelings you can’t digest. And that will feel like a relief.

Until you bloat again with all the big stuff you can’t handle and then need to binge them away again.

But they don’t go away. And you can’t eat the big, scary stuff away and you can’t barf it out of your system either.

You have to deal with them.

Yeah. I know, I would tell her. Sucks, huh?

Except it doesn’t.

Dealing with feelings, the actual messy part, is not so fun. But it beats avoiding them every single time.

People will tell you it’s not pretty to cry. They will say it’s not okay to be angry over something so stupid. They will tell you you’re making a big deal of nothing. They will tell you you’re being too emotional.

That, dear girl, is code for they can’t handle your feelings. But you? You’ve got this. Keep going. The anger will turn into sadness which will turn into acceptance and you will do things with that acceptance. You will “get” people. You will know without knowing. You will be okay with other people’s big, messy feelings and the world needs that.

You will learn to stand in the presence of hard feelings and let them be, yours or those of others. And you will learn to breathe through them. You will help other people feelokay. And that will mean something to you. It will mean everything to you.

You will learn what belongs to you and what does not. And you will learn to stand in the space of someone else’s disappointment in you and  be okay. For real.

I wish you got there faster, but you’re here now, and that’s all that exists anyway. Just, right now.

It will take you till you’re running out of thirties but it will happen.

And p.s. that stuff you think you can’t handle? You totally can. Not all at once, but you’re not alone and you never have been.

It felt like it because you didn’t trust other people to be there for you. You didn’t tell them what you really needed. Because you didn’t know.

If you only help others without ever letting them return the favor, you’re not being gracious and you’re not letting people love you back. Do that sooner.

I would tell her if you have to smoke to get a break at work, get a different job. Those quick cigarette breaks between bussing tables turn into 12 yeas of smoking a pack a day. Which, if you were being honest, you’d have to admit didn’t make you feel good either.

I would tell her you will never be “popular” until you stop caring about being popular. This will baffle you until you realize that no one ever really feels “in.” Ever. Even in the in crowd someone doesn’t get the memo that collars are being turned up today, but you won’t know that because on the outside looking in it seemed pretty perfect at that table. Later you’ll remember just as fondly the fun you had with your friends eating lunch on the floor by the band room (but will wonder why there?) And by lunch I mean hot pockets, Diet Coke and Sprees. Every day. For a year. It will be a long time before you stop trying to punish yourself for being born. And you’ll wish you did it sooner.

But now you know. And, again, now is all we have.

Oh, also: He won’t call you back unless you don’t care if he calls you back.

And, you’ll do better in the interview if you don’t care if you get the job, by which I mean if you don’t seem all nervous and desperate because you know you’ll be okay either way. Nothing truly important ever hinges on one thing outside of your control. Nothing. Ever.

Those are all lessons in irony. Also, non-attachment. That’s a thing. This will be one of your life lessons, at least from this vantage point there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. You will come to loathe the expression: “You just can’t get attached to the outcome.” Because you will. And then you’ll let go. And then magic happens. Every. Single. Time.

You’ll know this because you kept a journal and there is proof that this pattern is a Thing.

I would tell her to skip the glamour shots, you’re just not that girl. A ponytail with a pen in your hair is how you roll.

Someday, after a lot of therapy, you will decide you might, after all, be a good enough mother. And you will have kids even when it starts to seem impossible. And those kids will actually form a habit of looking for something to write with and then come to you to bend down so they can pluck your pen out of your hair. And this will make you oddly proud.

Take notes, on everything. You’ll never regret that. Even when looking back makes you cry and cringe. Even when your mom reads it, even when your best friend reads it and even when your boyfriend finds it. You might consider getting better at hiding it. Just sayin’.

Those notes are how you will remember where you’ve come from and lay track for where you’re going.

Because, you see, right now turns into yesterday in a blink. And yesterday informs today but without your notes it’s easy to forget the story of how you got to here.

Right now.

……….

Nathalie Hardy is a national award-winning columnist and reporter who majored in journalism when she realized she could make a living talking to strangers.

Since becoming a mother she manages to keep writing in the margins as she strives to be more Zen, less banshee. This book is a collection of some of those notes. Hardy has published freelance articles for numerous local, regional and national publications including Poets & Writers magazine. She facilitates journal writing workshops in person and at BigPictureClasses.com.
Hardy was a nerd before it was cool. She graduated with a journalism degree from Western Washington University in Bellingham.

On Wrinkles, Parenting, and Drawing on Napkins: An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Kristi Campbell

Apr 14 2016

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Dearest Friends,

From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,

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On Wrinkles, Parenting, and Drawing on Napkins
An Authenticity Project guest post by Kristi Campbell

As we sat around the dinner table tonight, I paused and looked at my little boy, who is – in his mind, a big boy – but remains little in mine because being six can’t yet be big. I also see that he’s no longer little-little. As I watched him open the straw for his juice box and insert it into the tiny foil hole at the top, I almost started crying.

This is a post about crying over nothing, and on wrinkles, parenting, and drawing on napkins.

“I love you, buddy. You’re such a big boy,” I said, thinking about how quickly and slowly life’s moments happen. I felt pride because he can open the straw for a juice box when once I wondered when he’d be able to do so. I watch him and cannot believe that we’re here. That he’s six, and talking and having conversations when once I wondered whether I’d ever understand some of his actions and words. Understand him. His progress. His him-ness. His growth is breaking and filling my heart every single day.

He’s both big and little. His closeness to me and his independence stretch and recede. I am constantly full of pride and exploding love. I am constantly missing the before-hims. I already miss now-hims as they happen and are gone, just like that.

I walk behind his chair and stroke his hair, remembering when he wasn’t yet able to hold up his little bald head.

***

I watched the sunset from my front porch and thought “Tomorrow, you’re not gonna be one of the little kids anymore.” It was the night before my sixth birthday. I walked to school alone each day, although my mom could see my commute from her kitchen window. She drew pictures on my lunchbox napkins. Most of the time, I looked to see what was on it before getting to school. I was a big girl. I was so young.

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***

Today, I met my son as he got off the school bus. He’d told a friend and her brother about Strike, his new pet guinea pig. He’d invited them to come over to meet her. As their mom and I walked, my boy and his friend walked separately, and crossed the street without me. “They must have looked both ways first,” I thought. I only felt a little panic. After he asked whether they wanted to “see the hamster dead,” they said yes, and he pulled Lightning’s box from the freezer. I think they regretted it, because the look on his six-year-old’s friend face? But their mom laughed, and I think it was okay. Okay enough, anyway.

His friends left, and I emptied my son’s lunchbox and tossed the napkin I drew on that morning. I wonder when my mom stopped drawing on my napkins. When I will.

***

“You’re gonna let us take him home? Just like that?” I said. “You check the carseat and we can just leave?” My son was a newborn, and I couldn’t believe that the guy in an Army uniform at the hospital said that we could go home because the carseat was acceptable. While part of me wanted to argue with him and say “but we don’t know what to do.” Another part whispered “let’s go” thinking that we’d better go home before they knew we weren’t actually qualified to care for an infant. I felt like a grownup. And like a child who needed her parents.

***

I look into the mirror. “When did I stop looking good?” I wonder. I think about how much better I looked 15 years ago. I can see the skin beneath my eyes become thinner and more papery by the month. I imagine myself in 15 years, and know that I’ll think about how much better I looked today than I will then.

I hope to be here in 15 years, worrying over my papery lines and folds. My son will be 21. He’ll be an adult. He’ll probably have abs and feel like he knows everything the way that I once did. The way that 21 year olds do. They’re so grown up. They are so young.

***

Back when I knew everything, I thought that by this point in my life, I’d be more organized, more legally prepared, more life-prepared.

Today, I know how little I know, and realize that with each year comes growth and power and more me-ness. That it gets easier and harder to forget how old we are.

There’s a me who lives inside, one without papery skin beneath her eyes. She feels like the same girl who stood on her porch the night before her sixth birthday. She feels like she did at 17 in love for the first time.

She feels the way she did in the hospital, the day she took her infant son home.

And yet, she also knows that she’s lived with enough intent during the important moments so that they are now a part of a wiser, more-papery-eyed her.

She’s finally old enough to know what she doesn’t know. I think she and I are okay with that.

Together though, we’ll continue the search for perfect eye cream because no age means that seeing papery wrinkles in the mirror is the same as seeing ourselves. Except for when it is, because we’re each all of the people we’ve been and will become. Some of them, especially the ones in our futures, have wrinkles.

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KristiKristi Rieger Campbell’s passion is writing and drawing stupid-looking pictures for her blog, Finding Ninee. It began with a memoir about her special-needs son Tucker, abandoned when she read that a publisher would rather shave a cat than read another memoir. Kristi writes for a variety of parenting websites including Huffington Post Parents, has been published in several popular anthologies, received 2014 BlogHer’s Voice of the Year People’s Choice Award, and was a proud cast member of the DC Listen to Your Mother show. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.