Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don McLean - American Pie

Diary of a Dog

"Diary of a Dog"

This story begins circa mid to lower 1990's. This is how I see it all happening, despite the fact that I really don't know the very beginning of it all. She was a small mut of a puppy, who had a little bit of Beagle in her. Her master was a man. This man almost always wore a hat and he often had a problem controlling his temper. He would get angry about all kinds of different things and when this little puppy looked up at him she thought to herself: "Oh no, here he comes again." Looking straight at him and knowing what was coming next, all she could see was the man's hat. He would beat her and she would yelp and run inside the confines of the gated yard that was her world. She was faster than he, but he could corner her and take his unhappiness out in a brutal way. This went on for about a year, but for this 1 1/2 year old puppy it felt like a decade. If only she could get her freedom.

Mr. Brutal wasn't the brightest light bulb in the pack. Due to his tendencies toward violence, he didn't really have any friends or family. One day after Mr. Brutal came home from a hard days work, he realized that the next day the garbage men were scheduled to come by early. THIS, is what turned this little puppy's life around. While Mr. Brutal did remember garbage day and proceeded to take out the trash, he was so tired he forgot to close the gate.

Once the puppy realized there was a chance to escape, she took a leap of faith and ran out of the gate. It was especially scary for her because it was dark outside and she had never been out like this on her own. The world scared her. There were cars driving by, people talking and looking at her, and even from time to time people feeding her. This place was B I G. She instinctively made her way to the streets of Stafford, Texas. After a week of sheer survival, she was weary and just had to stop on the side of the road. Two people came by and looked at the pup, but moved on. Then, a good Samaritan picked her up and dropped her off at the SPCA.

Somewhere around the pups 2nd birthday a young married couple drove the approximately 50 minute trek from the Woodlands, Texas across the city of Houston to try and pick out a dog from the SPCA. The couple looked all through the available dogs and finally, the man suggested a Beagle mix that he thought met the requirements. After playing with the dog for a few minutes, the pups shyness, fright of men, and friendliness was evident. So, the couple thought about it and the man gave it a thumbs up. The young lady however, was not certain. As per a family policy that the couple had that they still adhere to today, (all big decisions made by this couple had to be unanimous) they left the SPCA that day without a dog. The couple went home and talked about the one dog they considered and the man argued the merits of adopting this dog. Still, the lady seemed unsure.

The next day while the lady was attending to other matters, the man slipped away and made the 50 minute drive right back to the SPCA. He went back to that same pup and pondered adopting the dog. He considered the fact that if he adopted the dog, he would have to be willing to give the dog up as this was a violation of the couples’ aforementioned policy on big decisions. The man thought for a moment and decided to adopt the dog. He drove the 50 miles home hoping that surprising his wife and having her see the dog again, she would be onboard. On this particular occasion, it worked out well for the man. When the woman arrived home, it was like she had met a whole new dog and was thrilled that the man went back and selected her. The dog was dubbed Carly, for no other reason than the man sat near someone at work that shared the same name. Although Carly was certainly housetrained, there were some mishaps along the way. The couple deduced from her behavior that she had very likely been abused by a man in a hat. It was their goal to rid her of her fears. She needed to know that when she was in OUR home, she always had a soft place to fall. She improved over the years, but I don’t think ever fully healed from the cruelty inflicted upon her. To the day of her death she had a tendency to cower if a man she wasn’t familiar with approached her. One problematic, but memorable moment occurred inside the couple’s apartment. The man had arranged for a friend to come over and they were going to play tennis at the apartment complex’s court. The man’s friend happened to be a big and husky guy. When the man’s friend arrived and went toward Carly to administer some pets, she ran onto the couch and proceeded to “soil” it in fear.

Carly was a valued member of the family as they hit many milestones in their lives. She was there when they bought their first house. She was there when the couple had their first child. She was there when they bought their next house. She was there when the man suffered through a serious illness. She was there when the lady went through some difficult times. She was there when they decided to move to live near family. Finally, she was there when the couples 2nd child was born.

It was right before the birth of the couples 2nd child though, that a severe decline in health seemed to become very obvious and sudden. In retrospect, the couple was probably distracted by the upcoming birth of their child and the business of life in general. Regrettably, the couple likely let the dog live too long and thereby, suffer. There were however, many considerations when determining to make the inevitably difficult decision of determining the death of their dog. Those aren’t excuses, but they are the facts. Making the decision for the man and his wife seemed to come quickly and easily. Their primary concern was how their 10 year old daughter would react. This is where the wife came through as she’s apt to do, and made a very wise decision. She elected to take the couple’s daughter with her for the “quality of life exam” as the man had referred to it. The couple was lucky in that the vet they took the dog to had just a couple months earlier put the man’s sister’s dog down as well. The vet, who had the name “Dr. Condolence” (not really, but it was an eerie last name and privacy must be protected), was exceptionally sympathetic and did an outstanding job of explaining to the 10 year old girl why it was time for the “dog to go to heaven.” The couple wanted to give their daughter some time to say good-bye. So, the euthanasia was put off until the day after Thanksgiving (4 days away). The man was surprised that he didn’t seem very affected by the decision that had just been made. Then, came the day after Thanksgiving......

Friday November 25, 2011, started off in what seemed a very odd way. The man woke up, got some work clothes on, and grabbed his shovel from the garage. The decision had already been made. The thought of Carly being incinerated horrified the couples ten your old daughter. The family was going to bury their beloved dog Carly in their backyard. The "site" was selected for viewing convenience so that it may be randomly checked for any disturbances from inside the house. The man knew from having done a substantial amount of planting that the surface in Central Texas was going to put up a big fight. He allotted 2 hours for digging the grave and it took all of that and a bit more. The 10 year old daughter helped the father as the persistent digging was an arduous task to say the least. Still, as they worked to reach their goal, neither the man, nor his daughter showed any emotion. After accomplishing their goal and the man getting a much needed shower, it was time for what the man later thought to himself of as “the drive to death.” The lady and her child specified that they did not want to go to the vet’s. The man picked up Carly, who was gently wrapped in a towel and placed her in the backseat. It was time for the lady and the daughter to say their good-byes. Both the lady and the daughter immediately began to sob, which in turn caused the tears to run rapidly down the man’s face. The lady and the daughter turned and walked back inside.

The man began “the drive towards death.” The man knew he only had a few minutes to think before reaching the Vet’s office. He continued to weep silently and made it to his destination in about 7 minutes. Upon entering with Carly, the man only stood for about 3 seconds when a “nurse” said, “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. Come right in here. The Dr. will be right in.” The man put the towel on the floor and placed his dog on it and laid down next to her. At that moment the man thought to himself; “You waited too long.” The Dr. came in and asked if he needed more time. “No.”, said the man. The doctor explained the process and took Carly to get some sort of catheter so she would not have to feel the pain of a missed vein when injecting the needle. When the Dr. returned with Carly, she asked him again. “Would you like some more time with her?” “No.”, said the man. The Dr. injected the needle and it was over in about 15 seconds. She checked Carly’s heartbeat and simply said, “She’s gone.” The weeping continued, but only in silence. The man was instructed to move his car to a back door with some privacy and Carly was delivered to his car well wrapped and ready for burial. The man thought about stopping and thinking, but quickly decided to just drive straight home. When the man arrived at home with Carly’s body, his daughter and wife were waiting. Upon entering the house, the three of them all looked at each other and wept, this time out loud. It lasted but a few short seconds, and then the lady said, “Go ahead and put her back there and then come on back in.” The family’s first experience with putting a pet down was over. The man thought for a moment about the irony of having to put the dog down, just three weeks and one day after his wife gave birth to his son.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


The A.E.S.O.P tells thread weaves a tapestry of inspired persons through their tales. Everybody HERE comes from SOMEWHERE.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Agony

Five days after my daughters birth, I was at home helping take care of my infant, when there was a knock at my bedroom door around 8:45 am.

It was my father. I'm paraphrasing but I think he said, "Son, I think you may want to come out here and take a look at the t.v. A plane has just slammed into one of the World Trade center buildings in New York."

A little bleary eyed, I walked into the family room and looked at the horrifying events that would continue to unfold. The second tower was hit by another plane and people were beginnning to jump off of the buildings. The Pentagon was hit by a third plane and there was mass hysteria in both Washington D.C. and New York. Speculation was rampant that a fourth plane may be headed for the White House. Really? I can't believe what my eyes are seeing.

Thankfully, Todd Beamer and others, "Let it Roll" and ensured the symbol of our nations government wouldn't take a hit as well. Looking back nine years, it's hard to believe it, but Osama Bin Laden was not a household name at that time. Oh, I knew who he was. I've always been addicted to the news. I was just having a hard time wrapping my arms around the fact that this guy who frequents caves in Afghanistan was wreaking havoc in two of America's most important cities.

Again, my mind was churning. "Does this guy have any idea who he's messing with"? Heck, my father worked for the world's greatest military for 23 years. I knew "our boys" would end up taking care of business. I remember looking at the t.v. screen a few days later as George W. Bush was in New York City standing in the back of a pickup truck with his arm around one of the firefighters. He had a megaphone in one hand and his other arm was wrapped around the man's shoulder.

I began to get chills going down my spine as he said, "I hear you. America hears you. And the people who knocked those buildings down are going to hear from all of us soon." The New York crowd went wild. I was proud to be an American. Moreover, I thought, "man you ticked off the wrong city and country". The big apple and the U.S. Military are forces to be reckoned with. I had a lump in my throat and I felt a sense of U.S. pride. I was cheering inside already for our boys about to go and battle.

Never underestimate your opponent


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Second Child

Okay, here it goes.....I am the second child between my mother and father. My mother was raised in Selma, Indiana. To this day there are still not other races living there but white people. My dad was born in Tennessee, but lived in Muncie, Indiana when he met my mother. As you know the mixed race thing back then was frowned upon.

My older full brother died before I was ever born. He was killed by his babysitter. I don't think my mother has ever really gotten over that. My mother did have another child, which is my sister. She is my half sister, but I have grown up with her from the start and never thought of her as anything else than my real sister. My dad has had several other children throughout his life. A couple I still don't know. Two of my dad's other children are my brothers. Justin who is the same age as my sister, grew up with me too. Whenever I came to visit my dad, we were together. Johnathan, my youngest brother, is 17. I knew him when he was a child.

The backdrop for my story begins here. My mother and dad divorced either after my brother died or when I was a small child. Don't actually know when. My mother joined the military and my dad joined the railroad.

As a small child with a single mother I had a blast! We traveled a lot because of the military, but I didn't mind because my mother was my best friend as a child. We did everything together. I can close my eyes and remember those times.

Then my little sister was born. I love her to death and always have, but deep down I blame her for having to share my mother and losing my best friend in my mother. I think I actually had a wonderful childhood, but it seems to me that once my sister was born my life was on the turn of getting worse. It didn't start immediately, but one outside the family could see the change. My mom got busier, I had to help with my sister, and I just didn't have any mom time!

I started acting out the older I got. Started getting in trouble. Stealing change from my family. Even from my sister's piggy bank!...I remember one time, I had been stealing from family so much and getting in trouble, that when my cousin stole five dollars from my Uncle Joe, everyone swore it was me! Even to this day they think it was me! I was there when my cousin did it and he still won't admit it.

I had a great childhood and teenager years, I just wasn't getting the mom time I wanted and then started to not get the positive attention I needed, so i turned to negative things. I can remember times when my mother was at every sporting event I had and cheered me on like no tomorrow. Then one day it stopped. Everything stopped. Praising me for good grades, watching me play sports, and going to do things as a family. She was too busy.

Somewhere around this time my dad went to prison for selling drugs. he did two six year stints. From day one of my mother finding out and telling me, her words were always, "You going to grow up just like your dad!" That hurt me to the bone because to me I loved my dad and he always showed me love and attention, so in that aspect I loved him, but also he was in prison! So, not only did she talk about my dad who I loved, but she was saying I was going to go to jail too! My mother loved me with toys and stuff like that when I got older. I knew I was loved, but I needed to see it and hear it by other means than just hardships? Not hearing I love you. You are a good son. I'm proud of you. My mother loved with an iron fist, not abusive, just not loving.

The end result to all of the love my mother stopped showing me was me being a man whore as Debbie would say. I dated two or three girls in high school all the time, looking for someone to love and love me back.

I played all sports in junior high, but in high school our basketball coach didn't like you playing if you played football too. So one of my favorite sports I had to quit to play my best sport, which was football. I played soccer and baseball too, but for some peculiar reason I always seemed to fail a class the first part of baseball season and never played for high school. I think if i had have played my life might have been a little different. Same goes for football. I was one of the best receivers we had during my time of playing for school, but the head coach didn't like me. In his terms, I was a trouble maker. So I played only defense my junior and senior year.

A highlight of my high school year was a picture in the Cove paper talking about Cove Soccer Team gets arrested. It actually wasn't all of us, but most of us. We were breaking into houses and cars and taking whatever we wanted. Stupid stuff. None of us needed anything. We always had money and did whatever we wanted, just being stupid teenagers bored to death, so we created our own adventures. Though I truly enjoyed doing it - the excitement of it all.

My best friend, who I feel is a brother to me, has always been there with me. Through the good and the bad. If I was there so was he. We were so close that both of us could walk right into each other's house, go in the fridge and get whatever, or just go to sleep in each other's rooms. We were family. Once in 10th grade we said to each other that one of us was going to go to prison and one of us was going to be successful. happened just like that......

I have been one who has seen his blessings go by and not grab them. My high school years were a mix of good and bad experiences. Though even the bad experiences brought me and my friends together. My best friend Chris was like a brother to me. We didn't always do right, but even through the bad we were always there for each other and our families. I love him as much as I love my my own family.

My Dad was always my role model even though he wasn't there for me. He was in prison....I was a good sports player in school with a not enough drive to reach the upper levels of play to go to college. Wanted to, but had no one to push me towards that dream. So many things happened in my life to get me where I am right now.

I went to prison myself. Something I never had to do but made it my destiny. I went to prison for 10 years on a 15 year conviction. I will tell you that prison was a dangerous, yet vast learning experience. I met quite a few men I could and do call my friends, prison guards and inmates.

My other best friend, is a stand up guy and my brother also. I love him as much as I love Chris. He not only kept me going, but kept my relationship with my wife going. He saw what i didn't see. He saw the good when I wanted to see the bad. He saw the future when I only saw the present.

I got involved with a gang in prison and had to do a few things I will always regret. Luckily, I made it out of prison healthy. Scarred emotionally, and mentally, but in one piece.

I can still remember the day I got out! It was a very emotionally draining day. I was going to get out and almost at the end of the day they tell me I wasn't going to get out til the next week! You can only imagine what that felt like. It felt like someone had torn my heart out! Thankfully, God, stepped in and made some things happen. I knew then that God had a true plan for me and my family.

It hasn't been all peachy keen for my family with me being home. Not only have my wife and I been through the ringer, but my oldest daughter has had some issues too. Mostly because I haven't ever been a real father to her. I question myself every single day, because I know I want to be, but how? How do you love your children when you can't even love yourself sometimes?

Thankfully, I have some good Christian friends and a great support group in my family and my friends. I can honestly say that without GOD in my life and in my heart and in the heart of my family and friends I would not be here today. I take one day at a time.

There is nothing better in life than to see your children smile when they see you. To see your wife smile when she sees you. To see your father and mother smile when they see you.

I am here to tell anyone, that when life gets bad and you want to quit..don't! There is hope. Seek Him and He will be there. Pray and he will listen. Ask and you will receive. People love you no matter how they show it, they do. And for all my family and friends, especially my children, Audreanna and Channah, Daddy loves you to the fullest!

Every day I take a step forward. Sometimes I take two. One day I will be the person everyone expects me to be and I expect to be. I hit rock bottom and slowly but surely have climbed that ladder to success.

Thank you everyone.

Thank you God.

Thank you for reading my story. It is real. It is sad. It is beautiful!

take one day at a time

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A New Voice

I have never been one to get very involved in the world of politics. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t get involved or keep informed due to the lack of caring. I was born an “army brat” and consider my family to be very patriotic! My dad was career military. He was a green beret, served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and retired a Lt. Colonel. I grew up in a household that discussed politics, watched the news every day, and believed that if your country needed you to serve, you did it without question. So then, how could I be uninvolved and uninformed as an adult?

I’ve asked myself that question many times. I now feel that I’m a big part of the current problem with our great country. I voted, but didn’t take the time to get involved or really learn about the issues. I was one of those people that now drive me crazy. I told myself I wouldn’t make a difference anyway and that we had a “checks and balances” system in place that would stop any type of radical change from occurring. Like many other Americans, my complacency has allowed the USA to head down the path it seems to be on now. I believe it to be a very dangerous path.

I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful and talented daughters. As our daughters grew and became involved in their activities, my priorities changed and my focus narrowed. My goal in life was to help them be as successful as possible in their endeavors. I think I was one of those moms that lost my identity. My schedule was completely based upon the needs of my children. I don’t regret making those sacrifices. That’s what parents do. I just wish that I had always stayed informed and up to date on the state of our nation. I should have balanced a little better.

My husband is what I call a Couch Commando Dad! During his down time, you can find him on the sofa with the flicker in his hand. I can guarantee that the television is either on one of the sports stations, Fox News, or one of the “mainstream” news networks. The girls and I constantly harassed him about his channel selections. We would razz him for a bit and then eventually migrate to the back to watch our pick of shows. I would complain to him that he should just watch the one hour of local and national news that came on our local station.

Approximately a year ago, I was on the computer in the family room while my husband was watching FOX. They were discussing the repercussions of passing the Health Care Bill. I started to get interested in the program when I noticed what I was hearing discussed on this station in no way resembled what I had been hearing on my local station. I was very naïve back then. I believed that news stations simply reported the news without any type of biased slant. As the days went on, I watched more news programs, and then watched other stations to compare the information. I was very curious and skeptical, but not quite hooked. I remember hearing about the House of Representatives passing Cap and Trade and sending it to the Senate. After listening to what was being said about it on the news, talking to people I trusted, and researching the information myself via the internet, I became obsessed. I refer to this as my awakening!

It was suddenly clear to me the direction our great country was heading. As a country, I feel we have always taken all of our wonderful freedoms for granted. Our forefathers fought so that we might have these freedoms. My father and lots of other great patriots fought to defend our country to assure that we would always keep these freedoms. In a million years, I would have never thought these freedoms might be threatened from within by our own government. I now understand that there are many Americans out there, and in our government, that don’t have the same respect for our freedoms or for that wonderful and historic document “The Constitution” and what it provides for us.

I now listen to every bit of news I can. I am a Tea Party member. I call and write my representative and my senators. I go to town hall meetings and take place in peaceful rallies and protests. I post links to current issues on my Facebook page hoping to inform and spark interest in other people. I am planning on getting involved in the upcoming elections in November. In a year, I have gone from someone that didn’t have a clue to someone that is very informed. People ask my opinion and actually care about what I think. It’s taken me 48 years to find my voice. I don’t ever want to lose it again! I now know that I can make a difference. Everyone has a voice. They just have to find it.

make a difference

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Our Mission

The A.E.S.O.P tells thread weaves a tapestry of inspired persons through their tales. Everybody HERE comes from SOMEWHERE.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Woman in the Mirror

Born and raised as an Army Brat, I was used to picking up and moving every three or four years. As a child, I felt like I was pretty well rounded. I always made friends easily. The summer before 7seventh grade we moved from Germany back to Texas. It was a typical Army move and I was excited to get back to school to meet new friends.

My parents bought their first house when we returned from Germany, so we were not going to live in on base housing. That would be different. But, as I said, I made friends easily, so I had no worries.

No worries, until I started school. The kids at my new middle school were different. Of course, a lot of them were Army brats, but a lot of them were not. I actually felt like the new kid for the first time in my life. I felt like that because a lot of the kids had grown up together and were unwilling to let newcomers into their circles. Still, I made friends, and to this day, I still have several of those same friends.

Seventh grade is a time in my life that sticks out the most to me because that is the year that my self esteem issues began. I had never thought that I was overweight before I started seventh grade.

I was always active. I was a cheerleader in Germany for four years. I had been in ballet for years, and had even been taught by a former Russian Ballet star when I lived in Germany. For the first time in my life I felt like people judged me because of the way I looked and not because of the person I was inside. In eighth grade I made the cheerleading squad. I never felt a part of that squad, I felt self-conscious. One night after a football game, a player pulled me aside and laughed at me and told me how ridiculous I looked in my uniform. I still remember how much that hurt.

I have some great memories from high school. I also have memories of feeling fat, ugly and never good enough. I look back now and realize that I wasn’t fat, and I was far from ugly. My insecurities made me feel bad about myself. The way I looked at others was warped. I look back now and realize that I wasn’t much heavier than most girls. I just saw myself differently.

My father got sent back to Germany when I was in the tenth grade. My mom, my sister, and I stayed in Texas because we were in school and my mom owned her own business.

It was about this time that I started smoking marijuana and drinking. I think that I thought it would help me to fit in. I was really good at hiding the effects of the drugs and alcohol. My mom had no clue. Maybe she did, but she never admitted it. The summer before my senior year I ended up losing a lot of weight. My mom used to say that I had finally blossomed.

The truth is that I had developed an eating disorder. I just didn’t eat. Or if I did, I threw it up as soon as I could find a safe place to do so. The fact that I lost some weight didn’t affect the way I felt about myself.

I never had a boyfriend in high school. I got asked to prom, then a week before the prom he canceled on me. My mom’s best friend had a son that was a year older than me, and he agreed to take me. How embarrassed I was that night. He tried to make it a great night for me, but I was mortified the entire night because I really didn’t even know him, and here I was at prom with him. I felt like a charity case. He didn’t make me feel like one, I made myself feel like one.

My parents divorced at the end of my senior year of high school. The two years that my dad was in Germany did nothing for my parents’ marriage.When he returned to Texas, he brought a girlfriend with him. This other woman was a lot younger than my dad, by over twenty years. I learned later that this particular affair wasn’t my father’s first affair. My mother had always stood by him because he would always tell her that he’d never do it again. He lied and she believed him every time.

My world turned upside down. I had always been very close to my father. This other woman changed all of that because not only did he leave my mom, my sister, and me behind, but he rarely came around at all except to berate my mother.

I continued to be the same cheerful person that I needed to be at school and to my mom. I could fall apart in private, and on most days, I did. Even my closest friends didn’t know how I felt. I kept it all inside and got through it all with the help of drugs and alcohol.

Graduation came and went. It should have been a more joyful occasion, but it wasn’t. My father decided, to bring his new girlfriend to the ceremony. No amount of begging from my mom, or me would change his mind. He couldn’t even let me have a happy memory. Instead of sitting together, my father’s family sat with him and my mother’s family sat with her. My family didn’t meet me out on the football field after the ceremony; they watched from the stands and then left.

I decided to hold off on going away to school for a year so that I could be around if my mom needed me. While my best friend enrolled in the University of Texas, I enrolled at the local community college with plans to move to Austin the next year. I never even finished my second semester. I dropped all of my classes because I liked partying and going to the clubs more than I liked getting up and going to class. I spent most nights partying and drinking. I continued to binge and purge. There were some mornings that I woke up and had no idea how I had even gotten home.

Throughout this time it is truly amazing that I never got pulled over for DWI, or worse, killed someone while driving drunk. My relationship with my father got worse. I didn’t want anything to do with the other woman, who by now had married my dad. He couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t accept her and welcome her into the family. I couldn’t believe he would choose her over his family. It disgusted me. It’s been many years and I’ve moved on, but it still disgusts me to this day. She knew he was married and had a family. He is definitely not blameless, but she should have walked away. The Army moved them away for several years and I rarely heard from my father, which suited me fine. I stopped partying and drinking and got help with my eating disorder.

Eventually, I went back to college and graduated from the University of Texas. I met a man and we fell in love quickly. Our whirlwind relationship quickly went from dating to engaged to married. It was nearing our tenth anniversary when I discovered that my husband was having an affair. I thought we had the perfect marriage. I thought I was everything that he wanted and needed. We had two children and were living the American Dream, weren’t we?

I couldn’t believe that another “other woman” was about to destroy my family. I decided at that moment that I was not going to roll over and lose my marriage. I loved him. He had hurt me, he had devastated me, but I was going to fight for my family. I immediately set up marriage counseling for the two of us. The other woman isn’t totally to blame, I know that.

One night after therapy the counselor told me that I didn’t need to come back to see her. I was surprised and asked her why. She told me that I was one of the strongest people she had ever encountered. She told me that she had no doubt that I would save my marriage and that after I saved my marriage I should write a book on how to do so. Really? I am thankful to her, because she not only helped me with my marriage issues, but she helped me work through a lot of issues with my father and my self-esteem.

The past six years since I discovered the affair have been long, but my husband and I are still together and our marriage is stronger than it has been in many years.

My relationship with my father has improved, too. Eventually, as I matured, I realized that I needed my father in my life. Shortly before I got married, I thought about eventually having children, and the thought of my father not being in their lives didn’t seem right. I decided to put aside my anger and start building a relationship with him. I am thankful to have my dad in my life; he and his wife are a large part of our family.

Some days I look in the mirror and see that person who is still very unsure of herself. Fortunately, most days I look and see the strong woman that I’ve become. I strive to be that strong woman daily.

put aside anger

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Sage and The Stork

My “story” is not very different from those of others. I’ve experienced happiness, heartache, and pain throughout my life. Fortunately, I’ve had more happy times and fond memories throughout my 38 years.

I am an only child and have been fortunate to have a large, loving family around me my entire life. My childhood prior to 11 was pretty typical, aside from the fact that my parents always argued in front of me. My father was more of a “buddy” than a father figure, leaving all of the discipline to my mother. My parents divorced when I was 11, the summer before I started sixth grade. My life changed forever at that point.

After the divorce I would see my father occasionally, and I remember him living at a different place at each visit – always living with a friend or girlfriend. When I was in eighth grade, I began asking my mother more and more questions about the divorce and my father. I believe at this time my eyes were merely beginning to open to the situation before me. I came to learn that my father was verbally abusive to my mother from early-on in their marriage constantly belittling and yelling at her. Until this point, my mother never talked negatively about my father to me. The more I learned of his affairs, drug usage, and abuse, the more troubled I became. Shortly after I learned of the “truth” of his behaviors, he called me on my 13th birthday. I told him that I never wanted to speak to him again. These were literally my last words to him.

You can imagine that middle school was quite difficult for me. Not only was I an emotional wreck, but I was an “early developer”. Unfortunately as I developed my figure early, my body also reacted to the hormone surges and I was overweight. I was teased quite a bit by others, primarily girls, which only compounded my emotional issues. I began getting involved in sports in the seventh grade, which helped me to slowly lose weight; however, I was not able to ever be as thin as I wanted to be. It took me years to realize that I will never be a size 6, merely due to the fact that I have a large frame.

I have always been a very outgoing, friendly personality, and for this reason, I have always had a lot of friends. Most of my friends were always older than me in high school. I attribute this to the fact that I was more mature than most people my age because of my experiences. I did not date much in high school because of two reasons: 1) I was consumed by sports, which took up the majority of my free time 2) I saw how all of my male friends talked about the girls they dated and slept with – which was rarely positive. So, as I got further along in high school, my closest friends kept graduating, which ultimately left me alone my senior year.

My first serious boyfriend was my senior year of high school, when I was 17. The boy was the cousin of one of my closest childhood friends. The relationship was a textbook case of codependency for both of us, which was interesting given that fact that he was in college and lived an hour away from me. Despite living in a separate town, we spent every weekend together and often saw each other during the week as well. A month into the relationship he told me that he suffered from bi-polar disorder. At the time I had a vague understanding of mental illness, but soon learned that I was going to get a crash-course in dealing with the disease directly. Our relationship was very intense for several months, but ended at the end of my senior year right before my senior prom. I learned recently that he came out of the closet in the last few years, after he divorced he wife.

In college, I dated often and truly came out of my “shell”. I chose to go to a top-rated private liberal arts university that was known for the diverse nature of its student body. My grades were less than stellar my first year as, like others, I partied too much. I joined a sorority (which I am still actively involved in at the alumni level) my sophomore year and held numerous offices in the three years of membership.

My exposure to the world and others heightened in college, as I learned of other cultures, religions, etc. This is when I became very liberal in my stance on social issues such as gay rights, pro choice and other controversial social issues. Never once, however, did I lose my belief in Christianity. I just believe that I became more tolerant, sympathetic, understanding and a less judgmental individual. These are values that I will hold for the rest of my life.

My last semester of college was quite difficult for me. My grandmother, a dear friend, passed away suddenly three months prior to graduation. Her death shattered me to the core. In middle school and high school, I would spend significant time with her and my grandfather during the summers while my mother attended graduate school or worked. My grandmother became one of the few people I would turn to about my troubles regarding my father. She was an amazing woman, and even 16 years later, I still think of and miss her almost daily.

The months succeeding her death were very difficult for me. I fell further and further into a depressive state. Shortly after graduation, I began seeing a psychiatrist in search of treatment for the depression. After just a few weeks of treatment, I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and began a combination of treatment with medication and twice a week counseling sessions. After a year of treatment, we finally were able to begin addressing my pain and resentment toward my father and how it affected every relationship with a man that I had ever attempted to have. Psychiatric treatment was the most difficult thing I have ever experienced in my life because it was a sort of “death and rebirth” process. I have been under psychiatric care or monitoring for over 15 years now.

Needless to say, my time in therapy was very confusing at many points. I actually experienced some of my most self-destructive behavior during those first five years. I was quite promiscuous, used drugs and often kept friends at an arm’s length distance. Finally, a breakthrough occurred when I was 26 and everything began turning around for me. Within a year of my turnaround, I met my husband. I know now that we were meant to meet at the exact moment we did, which is why my turnaround happened when it did.

We have been married for over ten years now, and have experienced many trials during that period. The largest test of our marriage and of my sanity in the ten years has been infertility on my part. After numerous years of extensive infertility treatment and surgeries, we learned in 2007 that I would never be able to conceive a child. During the years of treatment, I battled with my depression off and on, despite still being under treatment for the disease.

In late 2007, we received a telephone call about an unborn little girl needing an adoptive family. We dove into the adoption process hearts first, and let our heads never fall from the sky. After three months of doctor visits with the birthmother, planning a nursery and getting ready for the delivery, the birthmother vanished. I learned of the birthmother’s change of mind when her doctor told me that she was no longer interested in putting the child up for adoption. We never received word from the birthmother, nor did the attorney that we were working with. We – especially me – were devastated. I slipped into a deep depressive state, starting drinking a lot, having affairs and doing everything I could to escape the pain. The months afterward I began looking for jobs out of state and also told my husband I wanted to leave him many times. I had officially hit rock-bottom by the end of the year.

I began therapy on a more intensive level again in 2008 after the adoption fell through. It was helping me some, but I was never quite able to move forward. My psychiatrist changed my medication again, and we started to finally see improvement. In early 2009, I was still trying to figure out where my life and marriage were going. The pain of not having a child had consumed me to a point that I didn’t know what to do with my life, except for dive into my career. All I could do was ask for a sign from God or whom/whatever on what I was supposed to with my life. Within weeks of essentially throwing my arms in the air in “giving up”, we received a call to adopt an unborn boy.

My husband and I discussed for hours the possibility of adoption and the state of our marriage, and if adoption was even a decision we needed to make at that point. In the end, we decided to pursue the adoption. The boy was born five weeks after we received the call, and the adoption was finalized with no difficulties in the summer of 2009. I can admit that this child has essentially saved my life, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for him. We love him as if he were biologically our own, and our marriage has never been better.

I thank God every day of my life for my husband, my son, and most importantly, all of my experiences. My experiences, whether they were happy or sad, have made me the amazing individual that I am today – and I am THANKFUL for them all.

be thankful for the experience

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wonderful Life II

Well I’m not exactly sure if those were his exact words, but it does sound good. It’s funny how things happen when you least expect.

Fate brought us together. I was forced by a friend to venture to a new happy hour venue. John decided to frequent the same place after vowing to never go there again. It just so happen to be the same day. How cute is that? Eleven years later, this Chicagoan native, John, and I still share 'moving on'.

I always wanted to return to school someday and match my siblings with a college degree. Actually, it was more like making my mama happy. She was born and raised in Mexico and worked her entire life to provide her children with the opportunity she never had growing up. You see, I was the rebel of the family and thought a paycheck after high school looked more inviting to me than another diploma, so I took a different avenue and kept going.

Graduation, this special achievement, was a difficult one for me because it had been twenty plus years since I had sat in a classroom, but I did it. It was very rewarding seeing my mama’s joyful face at my college graduation as well as knowing that I had the ability to accomplish whatever I set myself to accomplish.

During my working career, it always bothered me to report to someone and watching someone else enjoy the profits of my hard work. I vowed that one day I would become my own boss. I had to return to work, become self employed with a prosperous business that I could feel good about managing.

I knew the consequences of returning to the workforce might not be beneficial to me while entertaining side effects of my medication. “Damn if you do, damn if you don’t” type thing.

I figured I could motivate and assist my partner to start his own business and have something for us to fall back on, a side job working from home. It was a good thing I did. The economy being in it's hardship status today, the company where he worked closed their doors after 13 years. He is currently forced to utilize his broker license to the fullest now just to make ends meet. Now, I can at least help when I can and as much as I can while doing things

Being a gay man, it was always a known fact that marriage or children would probably never be a possibility for me; I still had the parenting urge and hope that one day I would have my own family. Today, we have two wonderful little boys, Oliver and Bailey, our pride and joys. Oliver is the smartest Wire Fox Terrier you will ever know and a wonderful big brother to Bailey, our soft, cuddling and loving Bedlington Terrier. They are six and seven years old and bring us so much joy every day. They have the run of the house and love their big yard and especially the swimming pool. Yes, one of the major priorities of finding a home was having a pool for the boys. Oliver is my diver. Bailey is my “Michael Phelps,” the fastest swimming dog I have ever seen.

They may not be human, but they are our loving children and remind us every day of that fact. Finally, like everyone else, I wanted to someday own my dream home. Three years ago, we accomplished this dream. A home just perfect for our comfort and a large yard for the boys, plus the fact that we are both in our 50’s and do not need any stairs at this point in our life. It is our very own paradise to grow old together with our boys and a place large enough to accommodate our family and friends visiting from the Midwest. And believe me,
our revolving door is always in use as everyone loves to visit us as well as San Diego. It has been a wonderful ride getting to this place in my life and I will continue to achieve as much as I can. I will admit that with all accomplishments in life there can be some challenges along the way, but with motivation and a strong mind, if there is a WILL one will find the WAY.

As I said before, I continued to live a healthy life and will always keep a positive attitude about any and every thing around me. The key is staying focused and not utilizing any energy on the past, but work on the current issues of my life. I cannot change the past, but only take the positive of it to work for in my favor today. A good example is dealing with numerous medications on a daily basis. My thought is to take them and move on. The downside is dealing with side effects from them that challenge me all the time. I will never let them succeed with forcing me to surrender my most powerful medication, my mind.

Shortly after meeting my partner John, I was diagnosed with AVN (a vascular narcosis) and spent the next three years going through hip replacement surgeries on both sides. Actually, it was more like three hip replacements. At age 40 my doctors thought I was too young to have one until this miraculous doctor offered me a partial hip replacement. I found his enthusiasm in my case interesting as it benefited both of us in one way or another. The hope was that was supposed to last me eight years, but I wore it out in three. My energy level was higher than he expected and three years to the day, he was performing a total hip replacement on the same hip.

AVN is a joint decease caused by a medication I took in my earlier years battling full blown A.I.D.S. Again, this is where I realized it’s “Damn if you do and damn if you don’t”. Without this only steroid medication doctors recommended for me at the time which is the culprit of my disease joints, I probably would not be writing this story today. Full blown A.I.D.S. is where your entire Acquired Infectious Deficiency Levels are none. By the time the doctors were performing my third surgery, I became a champ on recovery and showing physical therapy my own routine.

I was soon becoming very well known at the campus of UCSD (University of California San Diego) Medical Center, first at the Owen Clinic with constant visit to my incredible primary physician, who monitors my medication and overall health issues then at Thornton Hospital Orthopedic Center where I am sure was one of their most profitable patients. No wonder all the “red carpet” treatment. It did not end there, soon thereafter, it was time to make myself known at Shiley Eye Center just to add to the list.

My Retinitis was starting to affect my vision drastically to the point where my only hope of vision survival consisted of numerous surgeries recommended and performed. While back in Chicago, I was made aware of CMV Retinitis setting into my eyes and that there was a great possibility of vision loss. The doctors at Illinois Masonic Medical Center performed necessary surgeries then to help save my eye sight for as long as they possibly could. Today, I have slowly lost vision in my right eye due the CMV Retinitis, but I still have one 20/20 eye vision in with my left eye.

It might mean for me to move my head a little to the right most of the time. Hopefully, one day I can be the first candidate for a Retinal transplant when available. Or maybe even the second, but I have hopes of being able to see out of that eye again. If not here on Earth, then I’m sure up in heaven when I reunite with all my peeps. Either way, it is what it is and I can still smile and hold my head up high.

Continuing my courtship with John, amazingly he has not run away, nor do I think he would. With our similar backgrounds, he too has dealings with side effects that are different in appearance, but yet just as severe. He amazes me with his ability to take on this adventure with me while suffering his own issues, but I truly believe we inspire each other to just keep moving on. That just makes me love him so much more. Especially when I’m forced to entertain yet another challenge God has put in my path.

As if UCSD did not know me enough, I was forced to make acquaintance with doctors at the Cancer Center. Well hold the tears, it was not as bad as you might think it would be, but the signs were there and the doctor has so far managed to perform the necessary surgeries removing any evidence of the big C. Currently, I am on a yearly “surveillance” treatment.

I can very well be a good candidate for the worse, but so far so good. All of these side effects continue to make their appearances whenever they chose and without my control. If it is not one thing it is another or like they say in Spanish “si no son tomates son chiles.” It is just something I have to deal with every day of my life and I still to this day will not let it get the best of me especially taking over my mind. My mind is the strongest medication I have and I will not surrender it to medication, illness or anyone. I am powered by the fuel that keeps me going. And John is the major motivating force of my life.

John and I recently added a new goal to my list that I never would have dreamed coming true.On December 27, 2008, my 50th birthday, our family and friends witnessed our commitment to one another at our fabulous wedding ceremony. Thanks to the wonderful State of California we were able to make our dream a reality. Now I can scream out those infamous words of Sophia from one of my favorite movies, the Color Purple, and mean it, “Look y'all I’ze married.”

As I continue to accept to live with challenge after challenges in my life, I am ready for whatever comes my way. I will not allow anything or anyone prevent me from happiness.

I have always lived by my own philosophy, “You are the only someone in this world that can make you happy. Others in our life only enhance it." This can easily be done with a strong mind and a loving soul. We all were blessed with the same tools; we just need to know how to make them work in our favor. God gave us the tool; we need to use it wisely.

Recently this year, I had both my shoulders replaced due to the AVN making yet another appearance. Not like the hip replacement recovery, this one a little bit more challenging. I’ll get through this one as well. Together with my husband we make a good life for ourselves in spite of challenges that cross our path. We continue to keep utilizing our most valuable tool and most powerful medication we have. While keeping control of our own minds, there just AIN’T NO STOPPING US NOW.

-Marc Medina

you control your mind

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Yundi Li plays Chopin Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2

The Wonderful Life I

I am not really sure anymore about what time of day it is, but as I lay in bed weak, nauseated, and attached to an IV that has become like a third arm in the past few months, I can barely keep my eyes open. So far the only medication available for me at this time is working a double whammy on me. Supposedly it helps to keep me alive, but killing me softly at the same time.

I can hear very well. I hear all the crying in the other room. God forbid they do it in front of me for fear that I fall apart as well. I can also hear everything else going on around me near and far. I can feel this illness taking everything from me little by little. First my hunger then my weight and now experiencing other organs not working like they should or use to anyway, but I still have my mind and that is the one organ I know for sure is still working and I am trying so very hard not to surrender it.

As I have no choice but to allow A.I.D.S. to take over my body, all I can do is think night and day about the childhood friends it took from me in recent years and especially the one right from my arms. Rolando, Peter, and Michael, my buds, I am so proud to give recognition to the world. They are in heaven just waiting for me to join them.

For some Godly reason, and I would hate to think that I am the true meaning of, 'only the good die young', I was forsaken and fortunate to meet with the much awaited prolonged medication to provide a self defense toward A.I.D.S. to fight for a chance to stay alive. To this day, I miss them with all my heart even more steadily than the desserts miss the rain. I think of them daily and feel them, my guardian angels, watching over me.

Today, I am ten years plus H.I.V. undetectable and living a healthy life with some major side effects of course, but hey, at least I still have my mind and I am alive. It has always been a wonder to me as to why I survived and what exactly the meaning of this second chance of life is. As I live and breathe today, I continue to work my mind to the fullest and do as much as I can in life for myself and especially for others.

Somewhere deep in my heart I feel the call to help others. On a much larger scale as it has become a passion for me to achieve. Many wonder where my enlightening energy comes from and I simply reply, it is fueled by all the love and support of my friends and family, especially my parents. It is constant.

My second chance at life, as I like to refer it to, started in the late 90’s. I was forced to leave the corporate world due to the constant re occurrences with my illness and all the side effects. It was also recommended for me to leave the cold climates of the Midwest. A.I.D.S. had taken its toll with my lungs and another pneumonia hospital visit could very likely be the big one. I took everyone’s advice very seriously and got the heck out of dodge and headed to the West Coast.

I was very fortunate to have a loving brother who opened up his home to me for the winter months in beautiful San Diego. He had no hesitation, and as a matter of fact insisted on me being there to help me with my recovery in a much better climate.

I come from a large family with five siblings. They have all shown much support before, during, and to this day. Without ever questioning my life style, they have always been there for me. It is the greatest feeling in the world. It is no wonder why I have always been able to just be me. We all live in different states. Through the wonderful upbringing of our parents, we all stay in constant touch with one another as if we lived next door.

After several years of sharing my life with the Midwest and the West Coast, at the age of 40, I made a decision to make San Diego my permanent home. It was a perfect opportunity for me to take advantage of regrouping and doing the things I had not accomplished while working and playing hard in Chicago. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Chicago and it loved me, but San Diego opened it arms to me and showed me that the rest of my life starts here.

Still wondering why me, why was I fortunate to be granted a second chance of life. I figured out that this would also be a good place for me to begin setting some positive goals for myself to accomplish before the age of 50. That is how optimistic I was about being around for a long time. I was not going to let anything get in my way of making a much better life for myself.

With my new cocktail medication, that took a while to work on my recovery progression, I slowly started to inherit a strong sense of positive thinking that made me realize that I could never go back to change anything that has happened to me. I only strive on looking at the positive side of everything around me and use my mind to the fullest.

Eventually, the perfect cocktail designed amazed the doctors, but had to be changed constantly just to keep up with my speedy recovery.

First on the agenda of my goals was to finally allow a relationship in my life if the right man was really out there just waiting for me. Working two jobs and partying like a rock star never allowed me to really focus on a relationship, nor did I allow it to happen either. I was living in the fast lane and loved every minute of it.

Some ask me if I ever regret any part of my past and my answer is simply yes. I do not regret any of my past, but do wish that during the past ten years of my recovery, I could have been an inspiration to others who fought A.I.D.S. and lost. Today, I hope to make that a reality and show them as well as the world that life goes on and one living with H.I.V. can have a normal life with a little motivation and support. I have a persistent personality and will give it all I have to acquire whatever I set my self to do.

Getting back to my agenda, after exactly one year of living in San Diego and almost to the day, there I was minding my own business as I always do.

When I heard a voice from behind that said , “Excuse me, but do you come here often.” I turned around and said to myself, are you kidding me, and there, to my surprise, stood the love of my life.

Well, I’m not sure if those were his exact words...

live and breathe today

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Glutinous Gremlin

I knew something was wrong with my physiology, as I slowly hiked up the remote South Bass Trail in the Grand Canyon in late May 2008. This was my thirty - fifth hiking trip in the Canyon since 1979 and I was having significant difficulty keeping up with my wife, Cathy (a good hiker). As we hiked up one steep switchback after another to the canyon rim to the finish of our seven day backpacking trek, I found my legs lacking any energy and I simply had no endurance. In retrospect, the day before we left Austin to begin our trip there was a foreboding sign: I had to leave work early and go home to my bed because of severe abdominal pain.

Fast forward to Dec. 2008 and I’m rejected as a blood donor for the first time because my hematocrit is too low. A visit to my PCP confirms I have iron-deficient anemia, and a referral in Feb. 2009 to my gastroenterologist leads to a colonoscopy and EGD with duodenal biopsies to determine the etiology of my anemia. After the anesthesia wore off, Cathy tells me that the gastroenterologist found mucosal damage to my small intestine consistent with an autoimmune disease called Celiac Disease (CD).

Subsequently, the pathology report reveals my duodenum had scalloping and a severe mucosal lesion with villous blunting (consistent with malabsorption), crypt hyperplasia, increased intra-epithelial lymphocytes, epithelial injury, and increased lamina propria inflammation. Post-op serology tests are positive for CD-related anti-tissue transglutaminase and anti-endomysium antibodies, which correlated with the mucosal damage to my small intestine.

I’m now advised to maintain a strict gluten-free diet (GFD) for the rest of my life. And I also receive a surprise phone call from my gastroenterologist sincerely apologizing for his presumed diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as the cause of my chronic abdominal discomfort for the past decade. Soon thereafter, I’m also diagnosed with osteopenia secondary to my CD and, per my gastroenterologist, if I hadn’t been so physically active it more than likely would have progressed to osteoporosis.

In July 2009, on a hunch, I see an endocrinologist because I still wasn’t feeling as well as I had expected despite having eaten “gluten-free” for several months. The endocrinologist checks my thyroid and diagnoses a second autoimmune disease: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. A rheumatology consult follows because of the onset of chronic symmetrical joint pain and lab results reveal positive ANA titers and low C3 complement, so I’m now being followed for periodic evaluations of my CBC, chemistry profile, and urinalysis and an annual Lupus auto-antibody panel.

Because of the hereditary nature of CD particularly among first-degree relatives my sister and brother and their children are also screened for CD—and my sister’s youngest daughter, age 16 (asymptomatic) and my brother’s youngest daughter, age 15 (symptomatic) are also confirmed by small intestinal biopsy as “celiacs.”

How could a harmless piece of bread, the staff of life, be “toxic” or pathogenic to a celiac? Surprisingly, the environmental trigger of CD is the gluten in the bread, which turns on the autoimmune response because it’sperceived as a toxin in susceptible individuals. Gluten, which gives bread its chewy texture, is a composite of storage proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and related grains within the tribe of the grass family Triticeae. Even a trace amount of gluten can trigger a response in some celiac patients and have an injurious effect absent any symptoms.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gluten is a ubiquitous staple in the American diet as white bread, white flour, and white rolls are among the top nine foods eaten by Americans. In fact, many processed foods contain gluten and even “wheat-free” products are not necessarily gluten-free (GF) because they may contain other prohibited grains such as barley or rye. Gluten is also found in cold cuts, sandwich spreads, canned meats, salad dressings, soups, condiments, and in flavorings, seasonings, preservatives, emulsifiers, thickeners, and stabilizers. Hidden sources of gluten are common in non-food products too such as prescription and OTC drugs (as a filler or an inactive ingredient), cosmetics, toothpaste, and even in envelopes (that you lick to seal).

Permitted or non-toxic grains for celiacs include wild rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, teff, and oats although oats remain controversial because some celiacs react to oats and/or because of cross-contamination with non-permitted grains during the processing and harvesting of oats.

Celiac disease is now considered a common autoimmune disease and it goes by other names such as coeliac disease; celiac sprue; non-tropical sprue; gluten intolerance, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy. It’s found in people of nearly all ages throughout the world and it can develop at any time in an at-risk individual. There is no cure for CD and children tend to present with the more classic signs of CD, including failure to thrive, chronic diarrhea/constipation, recurring abdominal bloating and pain, fatigue and irritability. The most common symptom in adults is iron-deficient anemia that does not respond to iron supplementation. But more often than not, particularly in adults, the symptoms of CD may not present as a one might expect: they can vary from no gastrointestinal symptoms (silent CD) to severe malnutrition or they can resemble an extra-intestinal (atypical) disorder.

I was born in Germany, but grew up in N.J. where I developed a love for good Italian food, subs, and later an assortment of baked goods and energy bars. I never paid much attention to how much gluten I ate—it was a lot—or to my immune system and how fundamental it was to just about every facet of my health, until I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease (and later Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). And despite not receiving my CD diagnosis until the fifth decade of my life, I now feel fortunate to have finally learned what was causing my chronic abdominal distress.

i knew something was wrong

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The New South

We pull into a gas station off the highway. The green sign at the corner reads Sweetwater City Limit.

We have been driving for hours and my mood seems to be dropping with the thermometer read out on the dash. The view from the passenger side of the minivan window since we left our home in San Antonio surrounded mostly by neon signs, rolling hills and Mesquite trees has gradually changed to a flatter, drier landscape. Even the junk food in the gas station is unfamiliar. I sit stubbornly in the car as my husband stands shivering while pumping gas. When my three boys return noisily from the convenience store, they grumble about the dirty bathrooms and their vain search for Takis Fuego, Lucas Palucas or tamarind candy covered inchile powder, complaining that the counter display boasts only bins of fresh dried beef jerky.

I look again at my cell phone and I silently pass the hand sanitizer to the back seat. The display shows that the text messages I have sent over the last thirty minutes or so are still pending. I receive another error message from my phone company that the texts will be waiting until we reach a coverage area, making me feel even further away from everything comforting and familiar.

We are headed to Lubbock, to spend the Christmas holiday with my husband’s family, but theSweetwater sign has taken me to a darker place in my memories than even the usual stresses from last minute shopping and family holidays can evoke.

Before my husband pulls the van away from the gas station, I ask him to stop so that my children can see the sign. They read the sign aloud and wait patiently as they stare at me with three pairs of eyes in varying shades of blue, so different from my own brown ones. The eyes come, most directly from their father, but also from my mother, Sylvia. Only my oldest son has met my mother, and even he was too young to remember her. My father died when I was 12, and a tight budget has prohibited a family trip to my childhood home in New York, so they have never met his family. They know only because I tell them often that their broad shoulders, deep laugh, full lips, creativity, and gentle spirit come from my father and his brothers, tall handsome black men, descendants of slaves and sharecroppers who were raised in my grandfather’s Baptist church in Harlem.

The story of Sweetwater is their story, and as I sit in the car staring at the sign, I share it with my children. I tell them about how my parents drove through this town, on their way from California to New York in my Daddy’s brand new Cadillac. When they got to Sweetwater, they were warned that my mother should sit in the back seat, and pretend that my father was her chauffeur. I know that for my three sandy haired, vanilla latte boys raised near a military base in the “New South”, the version of reality in my story is more distant and harder to imagine than Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.

Obama will be the first president in the conscious memory of my six year old. Hip Hop is the universal language of music for my preteen and his peers. My high school son’s friends think his dreadlocks are just a really cool hair style. The Civil Rights movement is something that happened a long time ago, even before their mom was born. Beyond the fact that no one they know actually attended a legally segregated school, they have no idea what it is like to be the only child of color in their class. Forget about “Whites Only” signs. They have never experienced the stares and the weird feeling like we got from the waitress when my brother and I went to the “wrong” restaurant with my mother. I have never had to play Nina Simone and explain why they weren’t invited to a birthday party sleep over. I have never had to warn them why it’s not a good idea to stop and get gas in certain small towns. Although I am eternally grateful for this, and for the fact that my family can without thought stop at any gas station along the highway, even in the smallest of Texas towns; I am also thankful for the gentle reminder that came with that Sweetwater sign.

I am also thankful

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Potter's Tell

It was a dark and stormy night…Just kidding (although it really was, lol!). The rain was the reason we didn’t head home after the midwife told us that I was not in labor. There were no more clients at the birthing center so she told us we could hang out there until the rain subsided. She lived just five miles away so she bid us adieu. I wouldn’t have driven all that way (again) to the birthing center if I didn’t believe that (this time) I really was in labor.

I sat in the darkened room confused and disappointed. Granted, this was my first drug free birth, although not my first baby, but just because I wasn’t screaming and writhing in agony didn’t mean that I wasn’t in a lot of pain.

My husband was stretched out on the bed, peacefully snoring. I was flitting from chair to chair to bed trying to find a perch that was comfortable. FYI, no such place exists when you are nine months pregnant.

The pains increased but the time between them remained steady at about two minutes or so. I didn’t want to wake my husband up if there was nothing he could do; we had spent all of the previous night and early morning in the emergency room for one of our other children. We were all exhausted. As it got closer to 11 pm, I found myself increasingly paralyzed by the contractions. My stomach was queasy. If this WASN’T labor, something else was wrong so I shook my husband awake.

“Call the midwife,” I panted. “I feel so sick.” I motioned for the wastebasket and he got it to me just in time. Exhausted from the sleepless night and morning, the contractions and the vomiting, I dragged myself to the bathroom, while my husband nervously paced around calling the midwife who instructed him to call the birthing assistant.

Perched on the toilet, I could barely hear him, but I felt relief for the first time in hours. It seemed to me that for whatever reason, that position took away the pain. I sat in the cool darkness of the bathroom, eyes closed, breathing deeply, grateful for the reprieve.

My husband flew into the bathroom, phone in hand. “Get off the toilet, now!” he bellowed. I was startled but resolute. “No, this is a good spot for me,” I assured him.

“You have to get off!” he said frantically.

“I’m not moving,” I murmured. “This feels OK.”

“Get off the pot now!” he shouted, tugging on my arms to pull me up. I plopped down. “You are having the baby now!” he said.

I remember thinking, “I think I’d know if I was having a baby.” But to humor him and reassure myself, I reached down for a quick feel.

Sure enough there was what could only be, a head.

My husband pulled me up and tried to lead me to the bed. I could only make it a few steps before the overwhelming urge to push came over me.

“I can’t do it. And I have to push….”

My husband dropped to his knees, his hands outstretched. “I see her,” he said. “Push again.”

And there she was, so tiny, in his giant hands.

There we were. Me, him, and her.

There was no sound. The room was dim. Her eyes, as they are now three years later, huge. She looked at us, still having not uttered a sound.

I wanted to make sure she was breathing so I poked her. She let out single momentary wail. We grabbed the sheet from the bed to wrap her in and looked at each other in wonder as we waited for the midwife. I stepped over the cord still attached to me and sat on the bed next to my husband and our brand spanking new daughter. We barely spoke save for giddy nervous laughter and the occasional “wow.”

When the midwife arrived some ten minutes later, the place was aflutter with activity. Lights flipped on, she barked instructions to the birthing assistant and to me. My husband caught my eye and we locked in on each other.

This was not how we envisioned the birth of our child, but it was perfect. When I think back on that day, and I often do, the quiet envelops me. I see her serene precious face and the awe in my husband’s face. On that day, we were immersed in God’s splendor and fully present for his wonder.

immersed in God's splendor

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Saving Suicide Scene

“We rarely do the suicide scene. It only works if we have an overly dramatic actress,” my brother in law said when I asked him which acting parts are available in our church drama. He wasn’t supportive of me auditioning for the play, but I knew this one was set up by a Heavenly Agent.

When I heard Reality Ministries was coming back to our church to put on the drama 'Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames' I trembled with excitement. I had always loved acting and was disappointed that my night shift job had kept me from being in the play the other times we did it. But this time I had a day job that would allow me to participate.

However less than a month before the production came to our church, I changed jobs and found myself back on the night shift with no promise of getting time off. So I prayed, “Lord, if You want me to do this as much as I want it, You’ll have to do something about the schedule.” Then I left it at that.

My first answer to prayer came when I ended up with a week of daytime orientation that happened to be during the exact week the drama was at our church. My evenings were free. So there I was reading lines for a part in the play. The directors took a lunch break and asked us to pray that they would cast the right people in the right parts. So we did.

After lunch they began handing out scripts, calling us by name. But each time they didn’t say my name, my heart sank a little deeper. “Lord, if all you want me to do is pray for the others I would be glad to do that. Sad, yes, but willing to…”

My second answer came as a voice broke through my silent prayer. “Pam, the suicide scene.” As the director handed me my script, I cringed, “Does that mean I am overly dramatic?”

I read the script to myself and threw it down. “Oh no, no way, I am NOT doing this scene,” I muttered. My heart pounded and my hands grew sweaty. The character was a lady who had become an alcoholic causing her husband to leave her for another woman. Desperate and broken, she rejected Jesus and pleaded for her husband to come back. When he wouldn’t she decided to let him live with the guilt of her suicide. This scene was much too familiar. It hit too close to home. Icouldn’t do it.

Nearly eleven years ago I had been rejected and abandoned by my husband. I had tried hard to deal with the hurt and anger on my own. I thought maybe I was over it all, but as I read the lines, that hurt and anger resurfaced and I wept. Ready to quit, a silent tugging at my heart caused me to persist. I knew my Heavenly Agent had picked exactly the right part for me, I just wasn’t sure why.

I soon found out. When I went onstage to perform, I became the woman in the play. I wasn’t me anymore but a character in a play.

As I screamed, cried and delivered my lines, something miraculous happened. A warm, soothing balm flowed over my aching heart as I recited the words on my script: “I don’t want Jesus, I want Mike back.” I instantly realized I no longer felt that way. I didn’t want the man who had hurt me; I wanted Jesus! Amazing. My heart didn’t hurt as much.

How could it be that in the eight minutes it took to perform my small part in a church drama that God would instantly heal a broken heart I had tried for 11 years to fix myself?

Simple: I prayed. God answered.

instantly heal a broken heart

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Simple Minds - Alive And Kicking

The Student is The Teacher

“Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love." --David McCullough

The quote above sums a lot of what my story is about and that is finding my passion in work. I still don’t know what I want to do. Well… if I were honest with myself, I probably do know. I just don’t feel at peace with it yet. I still can’t believe that I am suppose to be a teacher. Most people would say that this is noble profession and well-appreciated. On good days, I feel that way. On bad days I say to myself, “I could be making so much more money and still get the same amount of job satisfaction.”

I think I am a teacher because of a combination of my personality, my God-given gifts, and my environment. On good days, I am thankful that God made me who I am. I can’t imagine being anything else. On bad days, I wish I had the creative gifts to be an artist, jewelry designer, or even a gift shop owner. Those jobs just sound more fun to me. How cool would it be to wake up each day and create a necklace or painting? The problem - I lack the gifts and personality to make it happen successfully. Instead, God gave me humbleness, patience, understanding, empathy, knowledge-seeking, and problem-solving skills. Great, these are perfect for a teacher. So, why can’t I be at peace with this?

At the root of the problem is probably my upbringing. No, I am not going to blame my parents. They were fine. The problem is that I grew up the majority of my life in an upper-middle class neighborhood where people looked at houses, cars, and clothes. They were important and reflected status. We always belonged to a country club. My sisters and I knew how to behave in social settings. It was important to make a good impression. Parts of my family are still this way. I am not this way anymore. It creates too much drama and makes me discontent with what I do have. Also, being a teacher doesn’t allow for much of this.

How does this relate to me not knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up? Because I spent the majority of my young adulthood not focusing on what I was good at or trying to find what I was good at. Instead, I spent the majority of my time thinking, “What could give the most money? How can I maintain the lifestyle my mom and dad gave me?” Instead of taking liberal arts classes, I would take business classes. I hated them. I hated economics, finance, business math, and accounting. I hated going to school. I did poorly. Instead of saying to myself, “Hey, this isn’t your strength. You should reconsider.“ I said, “Hey, you are not very smart. You need to try harder.” At one point, I considered switching majors to education. My dad talked me out of it. He said that was a “Gee whiz” job. So, I stuck out business. I got my degree in Marketing and never used it.

During my last two years at college, I interned at General Motors. I did this during the summer. I made a lot of connections. Can you believe that when I graduated I never contacted them for a job!? I never ever contacted them. Why? At the time, I just said “I don’t want to move to Michigan.” Oh really, Michelle. You don’t want a well-paying job at a big company. I guess not. But, I thought I did. Isn’t that why I chose a business major? Isn’t that why I even wasted two summers interning? Now, I am not going to try and get a job there? What sense did that make? Wow - I was really screwed-up.

After college and for the next three years after that, I worked at the following places: a retail store, a downtown catering business, a hospice, a personnel company, and a software company. And guess what? I hated all of my jobs for one reason or another. I didn’t hate my job at the computer company as much as I was so VERY bored with it.

What finally changed? Two things happened in my life. I was commuting to work one day. I was stuck in Houston traffic on the way to work and I said to myself, “Why I am doing this? I don’t even want to go to work. It is meaningless and boring. I need a job that has more meaning to it. What could that be?” So, while I was stuck in traffic I began to play the “What job would I still want to do even if I won a million dollars?” The answer was teacher. The seed had been planted as well as another one. I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. It was time for me to figure this whole work thing out. I wanted to be settled so that I could care for her and be of sane mind. When I decided to just become a teacher, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace inside. After Alexis was born, I went back to school. It was a program for people who already had degrees but wanted to be a teacher. It was called An Alternative Certification Program. After one year of course work, I was able to get a job being a teacher. I still had to finish a year of teaching so I was on a probationary period where I still had to met regularly with the school professor.

The problem was that I started my teaching career in the hardest of all possible schools. I didn’t even have a chance to catch my breath before I was dealing with problems and issues that I didn’t even know existed. It was tough to say the very least. After three years, I had to leave the school; too much heartache and drama. The next 4 years have been better, much better. Without me realizing it, I have become a language arts guru. I didn’t plan on this. I never woke up and said, “Hey, I see this need and I am going to fill it.” I just did what was required of me and somehow, BAMM, I am considered the one to go to for language arts.

One would think this would be the end of my story, I have a job that allows me to spend time with my husband and daughter. I get to see my daughter everyday at school and have all holidays off with her. I get to go to Michigan to see my family each summer. But, guess what? I am still not at peace with it. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to accept that this is my life’s work. It seems too easy. But, it hasn’t been. It’s meaningful. Yes, but the pay is smaller than I’d like and sometimes the parents and students are disrespectful. But, the kids love you and your daughter loves having you at school with her. Yes, but next year, my raise will be $200.00 and I am taking on more duties. How am I going to afford to fix up the backyard? You get to see your sisters and mom every summer for two weeks! Yes, but today Johnny was so difficult to deal with…And the thoughts in my head go on and on and on…

find your lifework