Sunday, August 13, 2017

Remember Those Feathers?

If I had a dollar for every email I've received over the last four months about my lack of writing, I'd have more than enough money to fund the documentary my son and I have been working on for the past three years and retire to some gorgeous horse ranch in Montana and live out my golden years in style. Speaking of the documentary, "Not My Father's Child," if you haven't checked out the new trailer and the character vignettes of Mark, Nate and Dortha on our Kickstarter page, you really should. After seeing the news of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, yesterday ... the hate has to stop, friends, and I believe down to the very core of my soul that Nate, Mark and Dortha's journey from hate to hope will change lives.

I want you to know that I truly do appreciate all of your messages encouraging me to grab myself a cheese and mayo sandwich (minus the bread, of course) and climb back on up into the tree house and begin writing again. A special thanks to those of you who've been sending me suggestions on topics you think will rekindle my desire to write ... some of them have been, ummm, quite interesting to say the least. Suffice it to say that I'm almost 100 percent sure that, should I ever return to my more prolific days of writing, I will not be writing a post about toenail clippers.

For all the odd, somewhat frightening and perhaps even borderline insane ideas regarding possible topics I should write about, there has been one particular theme that has sparked my interest somewhat. Many of you have suggested that I should re-post the entries in various categories that stood out for some reason ... post with the most views; post I received the most messages about (two posts, one for most positive messages and one for most negative); post with the least views; post that received the most comments on the blog itself; post that generated the most Facebook interaction; and so on. The following note has had me pondering this idea for several weeks ... a note I received permission to share with you.

"Dear Terrie,

We've never met but I feel like I know you because of your beautifully written words in your blog. You are one of the rare writers who possesses both the courage and the ability to write honestly from your heart. I have soared with you, laughed with you, cried with you and sorrowed with you and I am honored to have been allowed to vicariously join you upon your path.

My heart is deeply saddened by your withdrawal from writing as your words have over the years been such a meaningful part of my days. I lost my husband to suicide seven years ago, thus I know the depths of darkness that depression can lead one into. My Benjamin had battled the disease since the days of his youth and was faithful to remain in counseling and follow his prescribed medication regimen. But, as you so artfully describe it, the wolf at the window finally broke through and devoured my Benjamin.

I know not of what despair or hurt has seemingly stolen your hardly fought after rise above the darkness, but I beg of you to return to those of us who so need your wisdom, your humor, your honesty and even your pain. Perhaps re-posting some of the posts that were dearest to your heart would be of help in restoring your heart. Perhaps once read again, your words will allow those of us who believe in you to respond in kind by sharing our words with you.

May God bless you, Terrie, as you are worthy of His blessing and His love. As you are the love of so many who stand at the ready to help you in any way we can.

Cynthia"

Perhaps it's quite telling that many of the posts which fall into the categories mentioned above are ones I wrote with guest bloggers ... more than a bit ironic for sure. So for you, dear Cynthia, and all of you who've mentioned the re-posting idea as perhaps being the ladder that will lead me back to the tree house, click the link below to see the post which received the most comments of any post since the beginning of this blog. I do feel, however, that I should tell you that I'm quite skeptical that this re-posting endeavor will be the means to the outcome you desire. But I guess it might be worth a shot. Why not, right?

December 31, 2014 --- "A Room Without Feathers"



Thursday, August 3, 2017

You Can't Build a Tree House if You Don't Have a Tree

People often ask me just what it was about the tree house my brother Jerry built for me when I was a young child that has caused it to remain so deeply embedded in my heart. My answer to that question is always the same, of course, and that answer is love. I can close my eyes even now and picture the marvelous little structure that was my tree house in all its glory ... built out of scrap wood that Jerry scavenged from who knows where. I can see the cream-colored, flour-sack curtain that hung loosely across the slightly crooked window ... the silver metal roof that provided shelter from the rain ... the handmade bookshelf that held some of the greatest literary works of all time such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and The Swiss Family Robinson.

It wasn't, however, the grandeur of the small wooden palace nestled in the arms of the tree that stood in the front yard of my brother's house or the carefully crafted items that resided within it that keeps my tree house securely fixed in such a lofty space within my heart. What gives that quaint little shack its permanent residence and secures its place of honor within my heart is love. If ever a big brother loved a little sister, my big brother Jerry surely loved me. My sister-in-law used to tell me that the only reason she wanted to date him was because I was so flipping adorable sitting in his lap high up in the lifeguard chair at the pool where he worked during the summers. Well, my adorableness and the fact that she thought he looked like a Greek god.

Though I'm sure there were times when Jerry must have grown weary of me following around behind him like a puppy dog, he certainly never let me know. No matter how many questions I asked or how many meltdowns I had or how often I was just a general pain in the butt, Jerry was consistently patient, kind and loving toward me. I don't remember him ever getting angry with me, or anyone else for that matter. My brother had a way about him ... he had a spirit of compassion and love that permeated every relationship in his life. From his wife and young sons to parents and siblings to his students and fellow teachers, Jerry genuinely loved and cared about people, and he wasn't afraid to show it. My brother poured his heart into the lives of others and into everything he did ... even a little wooden tree house that once rested in the limbs of a strong and majestic old oak tree in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

We had a heck of a storm here in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, one that packed winds strong enough to snap trees and down power lines all over town. At the height of the storm, there were more than 100,000 folks without power, myself included. Almost two weeks later, evidence of the ferocious attack upon the trees of the city still sits stacked on many of the sidewalks and streets around town waiting to be removed ... tenacious reminders that even the strongest of trees can be broken or destroyed by the treacherous winds of a powerful storm.

I took a different route home from work last night than the one I normally take because traffic was at a standstill on the interstate and the last thing I wanted was for my 10-minute drive to my apartment to take an hour. The different drive took me through an older, well-established neighborhood that you'd expect would be filled with tall, towering trees ... and it obviously had been, until the storm came. As I drove past stack after stack of brush, limbs and sawed-up tree trunks, tears filled my eyes ... a small drizzle of liquid that quickly became a torrential, snot-dripping, shirt-drenching downpour insisting that I stop my car and pull myself together.

Lest you assume that me sitting in my car last night crying my eyes out over a bunch of ripped-up trees means that I've finally cracked up completely, I assure you that I haven't gone completely off the deep end just yet ... at least I don't think I have anyway. In fact, I probably would have made it home last night with only a few sniffles and a couple of slightly red eyes had I not seen what looked to be the remnants of a tree house piled up next to what had once been a large and majestic oak tree. As I sat in my car bawling, I wondered how old the tree was ... I wondered how many storms it had withstood over the years ... I wondered how many families had been sheltered by its limbs ... I wondered why this particular storm was the one that brought it crashing to its death ... I wondered who built the tree house ... I wondered just how much love and how many hearts the old tree and the little wooden structure once held. 

Depending on your perspective, I suppose, possibly one upside to my not writing very much over the last several months is that it's afforded me extra time to read through a ton of the unread emails that have been accumulating in my inbox. And, as is always the case when I read your words, I am humbled by your overwhelming kindness and honored that so many of you entrust your own stories to me. I'm inspired by your collective strength and courage, and I'm blessed by your wisdom and your willingness to help others. Please know that I do not take lightly the encouragement you're sending for me to begin writing again. I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear that there are at least a few of you out there who miss me and my crazy ramblings, and one or two of you who even think I'm a halfway decent writer. Now that I think about it, the couple of you who think of me as being a good writer might want to seriously consider seeing a head doctor. Seriously.

So here's the thing, friends ... you can't build a tree house if you don't have a tree. Just like Mother Nature's fierce winds ripped so many of the old, majestic trees in Kansas City from their places of belonging and safety, the winds of life can do the same thing to the trees of our hearts and souls, threatening even the deepest of roots and the strongest of branches. And just like the storm here in KC a couple of weeks ago took everyone by surprise, so often do the storms of life ... storms you think will never come to you ... storms that cause you to question all that you once held dear ... storms that make you question whether you can survive.

I regret never building a tree house for my three children when they were young, but the places where we lived had only young and immature trees. There were no trees that were strong, stable or deeply rooted enough to hold such an important refuge and retreat. I couldn't build my children a tree house all those years ago because I didn't have a tree, and I think the same may be true of this blog. You can't build a tree house if you don't have a tree, friends ... or can you?






Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but You Can't Make it Eat an Apple

A couple of weeks ago, my 5 1/2-year-old granddaughter attended her first pony camp, which, by the way, I knew was definitely misnamed after viewing the photos my sweet daughter-in-law sent me of my teeny-tiny, little-bitty, she's still my baby girl Coradoodle sitting in the saddle atop a huge horse. Pony camp? Seriously? That camp should obviously be called "If You Let That Monster Horse Hurt My Precious Granddaughter, You Will Face the Wrath of Ghee" camp. But, my little grandgal had absolutely no fear of the giant misnamed "ponies," and she was super excited to tell me on Skype all about everything she learned at "pony" camp.

I don't think any of us really know what sparked Coraline's infatuation with horses, but I've come to the conclusion after more than a year of her being obsessed with all things horses that it's not just a passing phase for her. She genuinely loves horses and wants to learn everything she can about them. In fact, she already knows the correct names for most parts of a horse's body, how to bathe a horse, what all the pieces of the saddle are called, how to get a horse to go or stop, how to get it to turn right or left, and even what a horse likes to eat. I know you're already thinking it, so I'll just go ahead and say it for you ... both of my granddaughters are undoubtedly geniuses. 

Fortunately for Matt and Becca's bank account, one of Matt's colleagues has an inside connection at a local stable so Coraline's been able to do a fair amount of horseback riding free of charge. As fate would have it, I suppose, the stable horse that Coraline has developed an extra-special bond with is an even more gigantic beast than the ones at pony camp. His name is Kota, and he seriously has to be the biggest horse ever born into the horse kingdom. The thought of climbing up on Mr. Kota's back would have most adults shaking in their cowboy boots, but not my little Boo. Debunking the myths that animals don't have feelings or that they don't possess the mental capacity to remember certain people, Kota lowers his head for Coraline to pat him the minute he sees her, and he's a perfect gentleman every time they go for a ride. And if he happens to take too large a bite of the carrot that Coraline feeds him post riding session, Mr. Kota gently puts his mouth down onto Coraline's hand and graciously and gently returns the surplus carrot. Gross and sweet all at the same time if you ask me.

During one of our Kota conversations on Skype, I asked Coraline if she ever fed Kota apples because I'd always heard that horses like apples. Her eyes were as big as saucers as she quickly said, "No, no, no, Ghee! I do not feed Kota apples because he absolutely does not like apples." She shook her head back and forth as she added with great emphasis (probably to be sure that I got it), "Ghee, no apples for Kota. No matter what you do, Ghee, do not try to feed apples to Kota because he does not like apples and will spit them on the ground if you try to feed them to him. No, no, no, Ghee ... I do not feed apples to Kota." And of course, me being the type of Ghee I am, I immediately replied, "So Coraline, do you ever feed Kota an apple?" Suffice it to say, my little grandgal was more than a bit exasperated with me as she went through the entire Kota doesn't eat apples story again.

As much as I wish I could tell you that my writing tonight means that my blogging exile is over, I'm afraid I can't. I was thinking last night as I drove home after babysitting one of my co-worker's two kiddos that in the past I could and probably would have easily written a couple of blog posts in the three or so hours after the kids went to bed. Last night, however, instead of writing, I finished up some projects for work and then I watched episodes of Law and Order that I've seen so many times I could almost quote the dialogue word for word. Many of you have written to ask me why I'm not writing or if there's anything you can do or say to get me back to the keyboard, and I honestly appreciate both your concern and your encouragement. The simple answer to your question of whether I will ever get back to being the prolific writer I once was is I don't know. I hope so, but I just don't know if or when that might happen.

One of the trademarks of my posts in the past has been my ability to find the lesson or truth or deeper meaning in the everyday things of life, and though it doesn't happen often these days, I think I may have discovered one in the story of the special connection between Coraline and Kota, and I'll leave it to you to decide if you see it, too. That sweet little girl and that gigantic beast of a horse are as different as any human and animal could ever be, and it doesn't matter at all. There exists a connection between those two that isn't based on size or color or status or wealth or age or power or intelligence or species or physical appearance or whether their favorite snack is apples or carrots. I'm sure there will be many other horses that come into Coraline's life over the years, but I'm willing to bet that she will never ever forget Kota and the special place he held in her heart. I'd also like to believe that Kota, that gigantic beast of a horse, will never forget the little blond-haired, blue-eyed girl who brushed his mane and put clean hay in his stable and fed him carrots. Not apples ... just carrots.

I'll give you one hint on the lesson, friends ... it has nothing to do with horses and everything to do with humans.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Why it Matters

Remember all those posts I wrote that I felt needed a disclaimer? Well, my post tonight can be added to that list. Some of you won't like what I have to say this evening ... heck, it very well could be that many of you won't agree with I'm going to say. And so you know, I'm completely okay with that ... you have a right to your opinion just as I have a right to mine. I don't believe, however, that having differing opinions about something gives anyone, myself included, the right to judge or hate or mistreat another person. Now that you know my post this evening may not sit too well with some of you, let's get on with it.

Over the course of the last week or so, I've received a large number of emails asking me what I think about the guilty verdict that was handed down in what the media has dubbed "the suicide texter" case. If you're not familiar with the case, here's a very condensed recounting of what happened. A teenage girl sent her boyfriend, who had been struggling with depression and had made suicide attempts in the past, a barrage of text messages encouraging him to go ahead and kill himself. Even when the young man exited his carbon monoxide-filled vehicle and told the young woman he was scared, her reply via text message was, "Get back in." The 17-year-old girl told her 18-year-old boyfriend to get back in his truck and die ... and that's exactly what he did.

The young woman was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter a little more than a week ago and could receive up to 20 years in prison for her role in the young man's death. There has been and continues to be a great deal of controversy surrounding the case, and there are many who believe that the guilty verdict is in direct violation of a person's right to freedom of speech. The young woman waived her right to a jury trial, therefore allowing the one solitary judge to decide whether she was innocent or guilty ... I can't help but wonder if she's regretting that decision considering the outcome of her trial. I'm sure her attorneys are already working to file an appeal to have the verdict overturned, but for now she's out on bail until she goes back to court in August for sentencing.

Now, here's where I'm guessing some of you won't like what I have to say about this terrible tragedy. It should go without saying that I think the young woman's actions were deplorable and that she must be held accountable for the messages she sent and the words she spoke to the young man in the days leading up to death. And I think it is equally necessary that she be held accountable for what she didn't say or text to him or someone who could have helped him in the final moments of his life. As to whether I think she should receive the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison ... I'll just say I'm sure glad I'm not the judge who has to make that decision. I do hope that part of her sentence includes some type of mental health treatment, because there's not a doubt in my mind that she desperately needs it.

For those who are upset about her being found guilty because of what the decision could mean in regard to freedom of speech, there's a part of me that understands where you're coming from and why you're so concerned. But there's a bigger part of me that thinks you're forgetting what's really important in this tragedy ... a young man is dead and a young woman's life is ruined forever. Many of the articles I've read about this case have asked the question, "Can words kill?" In this particular case, I would have to say yes, words can and did play a role in the young man taking his own life. Had that young woman written or spoken different words to that young man ... a young man whom she knew was depressed and in such a fragile state ... had she encouraged him to live instead of die, I think he very well might still be alive today.

I don't think the discussions about freedom of speech or what kind of precedent the verdict in this case may have set for future cases are what should matter most to us. I'm not saying being concerned about those things and discussing them aren't important, because they most certainly are. I believe, however, that what's most important about this case is that we recognize why it matters. Though they may not be as extreme or blatant as the young woman's texts to the young man, we're just as guilty of sending the same message to others. Believe me, I know this is true because I've been there ... times when words spoken to me, or not spoken to me as the case may be, felt very much like I was handed a loaded gun and goaded, even begged at times, to pull the trigger.

Every time we make someone feel worthless ... every time we exclude someone from a conversation ... every time we dismiss someone's pain or discount someone's illness ... every time someone is hopeless and we stand by and do nothing ... every time we judge or look down on or ridicule another person ... every time we don't apologize to those we've wronged ... every time we know that our words are wounding another person's soul and we speak them anyway ... every single time ... every single time, we're committing the same crime ... we're committing exactly the same crime.

At what point do we accept that we aren't put on this earth to care only about ourselves? How many deaths will it take for us to understand that it is our responsibility to look out for each other? At what point? At what cost? That's why it matters, friends ... that's why it matters.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

No One to Tell

Unless you count the mini ones in the little pots at Home Depot, I had never seen a live cactus until last weekend. I've seen plenty of photos of the unusual desert plants, but those photos paled in comparison to seeing the real thing with my own eyes. Seeing all the different varieties of cacti last weekend in Phoenix reminded me of how I felt when I went to Maine for the first time and saw the lighthouses. There are some things in life you have to experience firsthand ... things you have to see and feel for yourself ... things you can never comprehend until you see them with your own eyes and feel them with your own heart. Things like majestic lighthouses that stand regally above the rocky Maine coastline. Things like prickly cacti that grow strong and tall in the burning sun of the Arizona desert.

The reason for my visit to Phoenix last weekend wasn't because I was on a quest to check seeing cacti in their native habitat off my bucket list ... not hardly. I traveled there with my son Brad and our sound man Jason for a very special filming session for the documentary I talked about in my previous post. Our time with Nate, Mark, Dortha and Mark's beautiful family was incredible, made even more special for me personally because Mark's daughter graciously allowed me to hold her precious 3-week old baby and give him his bottle. To experience firsthand ... to see with my own eyes and feel with my own heart the abiding love that exists within this family despite the horrible circumstances they came from ... it was truly incredible.

Their visit last weekend was the first time that Nate, Mark and Dortha have all been together in many, many years, and we were beyond honored and humbled that they chose to include us (and allow us to film) their reunion. There were plenty of tears as they talked about what it was like to have Fred Phelps, Sr. for a father ... his tyrannical demands and irrational rantings ... the severe and devastating beatings he levied against his wife and children ... the doctrine of contemptible hatred he preached from the pulpit. There was laughter as they talked about the ways they would try to avoid their father's wrath and of the few fleeting moments of joy they had as children. I have no idea how many hours of footage we left with when we headed back to Kansas, but I do know that the stories we captured on film ... the stories of three of the strongest, most courageous people I've ever known ... their stories are ones that absolutely must be told.

You'd think after all the time I've spent interviewing Nate, Mark and Dortha over the last few years that I would have come to know everything there is to know about them and their stories by now, but something struck me last weekend as I listened to them discussing their childhoods once again. I've always wondered why they never told anyone about their lives at home ... why they never shared with someone what was going on in their world. And then last weekend, it hit me like a ton of bricks ... they had no one to tell. They had no one to tell about the horrible beatings they were receiving ... no one to tell about the denigrating, demoralizing, despicable verbal assaults perpetuated on them by their father. They had no one to tell. Nor did they have anyone to tell about the good things in their lives either. They were isolated from other people. They were trapped. They were on the outside looking in. They had no one to tell about the bad things, and they had no one to tell about the good things.

I know some of you know firsthand that having no one to tell about the stuff of life, both bad and good alike, is tough, perhaps even one of the toughest things we as humans can experience. We are created to be social creatures and to be in relationship with one another. The desire to be connected to other humans is woven into our DNA from the moment we are conceived. We are meant to do life together ... we need to do life together. We all need someone to tell ... someone we can trust with our deepest, darkest secrets and our most incredible joys and successes and know that those parts of us are safe with that person. I know what it feels like to have someone like that, and I know what it feels like not to. We all need someone to tell, friends ... not a single, solitary person should ever have to feel that they have no one to tell ... about the bad ... about the good ... and about everything in between. We all need someone to tell ... every single one of us needs to have someone to tell. That we do ... that we do indeed.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Not My Father's Child

"Mom, wake up! Get out of bed and wake up and listen to me. I need to talk to you right now!"

Those are the words every parent fears hearing when their phone rings in the middle of the night and startles them awake from their deep and theretofore peaceful sleep. My dad used to say that no phone call after midnight when you have teenage or young adult children is ever a good phone call. I would agree with my dad's statement for the most part, I suppose, with the exception being when you're the mother of a particular young filmmaker who has quite the track record for having some of his most brilliant ideas during the hours when other folks (like his dear old mom) are sound asleep. Such was the case a couple or so years ago when the ring of my phone jolted me from slumber and I answered to hear my movie-making son say, "Mom, wake up! Get out of bed and wake up and listen to me. I need to talk to you right now!"

I had no way of knowing that night as I sleepily tried my best to focus as my middle kiddo rattled off his most recent brilliant idea that the conversation we were having would end up changing both of our lives forever. That wee hours chat we had that night was the beginning of an incredible journey for us ... a journey that continues to test us in ways we never imagined possible ... a journey that has introduced us to some of the most courageous, compassionate, caring people we've ever known ... a journey that will be a forever reminder to me of how tremendously blessed I am to have such close relationships with each of my children.

Brad's couldn't wait until morning idea that night was that he and I should work together to tell the story of Nate Phelps, son of the late Fred Phelps, founder and leader of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Some of you may have read the posts I've written over the past couple of years regarding our film-making pilgrimage, and I would imagine that more than a few of you have been thinking we had failed in our endeavor or had simply given up on our quest since we've been relatively silent about the film for a while. Not true in either case ... in fact, we're currently ramping up big time and, providing we secure the funding we need, we hope to have a rough cut of the film done by the end of the year.

Part of that ramping-up process for me is writing copy for grant submissions and the film's soon to be launched website. I've been doing a lot of research over the last few weeks, wading through mountains of statistics and scientific studies. Before I embarked on my recent research endeavor, I thought I was well-versed on what Nate, his brother Mark and sister Dortha went through when they chose to leave Westboro. I thought I had good insight into the range of emotions they must have experienced in the days, weeks and months following their departures. I was wrong.

Last weekend, I discovered something when I was reading about various forms of psychological trauma that can occur when a person is rejected or shunned by others. I was surprised by what quickly became a common theme in what I was reading ... the devastating consequences of being ostracized. For all the conversations I've had with Nate, Mark and Dortha over the last two years, I failed to recognize or acknowledge one of the deepest wounds inflicted upon them by their father ... his decree that they be ostracized from both the church and their family.

Medical professionals have come to the conclusion in recent years that ostracism is among the most devastating experiences we can endure because it is deeply connected to our most fundamental human need to be accepted and to belong. In fact, it's been scientifically proven that ostracism can adversely affect a person's cognitive ability and in extreme cases even reshape the brain's neural pathways. The need to belong, to matter, to be included is so strong that when someone is ostracized, he or she experiences psychological and physical effects immediately. Neuroscientists have found that social or personal rejection is experienced much like physical pain ... they are both connected to the same neural circuitry in the brain. One of the reasons that ostracism wounds so deeply is because it isn't confined only to the period when it happens ... just remembering a past episode of ostracism can produce the same level of agony as the original experience. The bottom line? Ostracizing someone is one of the most hurtful and cruel things a person can possibly do to another human being.

I'm sure we can all recall times in our lives when we felt excluded or rejected or even intentionally ostracized by others, and I know that some of you are in the midst of such a situation right now. And I'm equally as sure that we can all agree that ostracism creates a deep and lasting pain like no other. It's dehumanizing ... it robs you of your self-esteem ... it screams that you don't matter ... it shouts that you aren't worth being included ... it crushes your feelings of belonging ... it destroys your ability to trust ... it buries your willingness to be vulnerable ... it crushes your spirit and shames your soul ... it tears apart your heart ... it wreaks havoc on your mind ... it shouts that those who ostracize you have a better life without you in it. I say again, ostracizing someone is one of the most hurtful and cruel things a person can possibly do to another human being.

To you Nate, Mark and Dortha ... I'm so very sorry I didn't get it ... I'm so very sorry I unintentionally minimized that part of your pain ... I'm so very sorry for what you each endured and continue to endure even today. I'm so very thankful for each one of you and so very, very, very honored to be on this journey with you guys. Love you beyond words and respect you beyond measure. 

To everyone who happens to read my post tonight ... please think long and hard before you send someone who trusts you into exile. Remember that none of us are perfect ... remember that life is so very short and that not one of us is guaranteed another tomorrow. Take care of one another, friends ... take care of one another.

"If exposure to ostracism continues over an extended period of time, the individual's resources for coping are depleted. He or she will feel alienated even from those whom they feel close to, thus increasing feelings of depression, helplessness and unworthiness. Nothing threatens our core being and social nature more than being ignored or excluded." --- K.D. Williams and S.A. Nida


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Not Enough Glue

Being born 15 years later than the youngest of my three siblings meant that I wasn't part of all the great adventures they had together when they were kids. And yes, I'm quite certain that my brothers and sister did indeed partake in more than a few great and glorious adventures prior to my existence because they told me in great detail about said adventures many times over the years. Sometimes I wonder if them telling and retelling me about all the things they did together in their youth was their way of trying to make me feel better about missing out on all the fun ... or maybe they did it because they knew I always felt like I was the odd duck of the family, the one on the outside looking in.

While I don't know what their reasons were for doing so, I do know that by sharing their stories with me, my siblings allowed me to know them in a way I couldn't have had they decided to keep their childhood adventures to themselves. There's something else I know about the stories my siblings shared with me all those years ago ... I know there are truths and lessons contained within them that need to be seared into my brain and melded into my heart far more now than I did when I was a kid. Take the story of the time my brothers were roughhousing and broke my grandmother's favorite vase, for example ... if I ever needed a story to wash through my soul ... if I ever needed to believe in the goodness of people ... I need it now.  

I'll spare you the lengthy details of the unedited version as told to me by my sister and brothers, and just relate the basic gist of the story. Each summer, my brothers and sister hopped on a train and traveled from Tennessee to Kentucky to spend a few weeks at my grandparents' house. On one of those extended summer visits, my brothers were goofing around in the living room and my brother Jerry stumbled into a table that held Granny's favorite vase and sent it plummeting to the wooden floor. In a panic, Jerry quickly scooped up the pieces of the broken vase, tried to glue it back together as best he could and put it back on the table, hoping that Granny wouldn't notice his crude and childish attempt to fix what he had broken. It turned out that Jerry didn't have to worry long about getting punished for breaking the vase ... his guilty conscience got the better of him and he confessed later that same day what he had done.

My brothers didn't get punished for their careless wrestling and roughhousing that day, nor was Jerry punished for breaking Granny's favorite vase ... no lectures, no grounding, no scrubbing floors or having their favorite cereal taken away for a month. Instead of attempting to teach her grandsons what very well might have been a temporary lesson by punishing them, Granny chose to show them what true unconditional love and forgiveness really look like. If the story I was told down through the years is true and I believe it is, Granny's focus that day was on Jerry's attempt to fix what he had broken and him owning up to what he had done. In Granny's eyes, what mattered most of all was my brother's effort to repair the damage he had caused ... it was the glue that meant so much to her, friends ... it was the glue.  

So why am I breaking my blog silence to write about something my brothers did more than 65 years ago? Why am I telling you how much I need the truths of this story to fill every part of my being? Because I personally know seven people who have lost someone they cared about to suicide in just the last few weeks. I'm writing because the seven people who ended their lives decided there wasn't enough glue to put them back together. They decided they were too broken ... that their souls were too shattered ... that their hearts were too crushed ... that their minds were too fragmented ... that the betrayal was too deep ... that the pain was too intense. I know what that feels like ... I know what it feels like when every fiber of your being is screaming that you don't have enough glue and that you never will.

There are so many who live every single day of their lives praying that someone will see how broken they are ... praying that someone will help them glue the pieces of their lives back together ... praying that someone will tell them they matter ... praying that someone will care whether they live or die. We need to be kinder to each another ... we need to remember that words can wound far worse than any sword ever could. We need to not give up on each other, and we need to own up to it when we break each other's spirits. We need to focus on the glue, friends ... we need to make sure our families and friends and neighbors and co-workers know that we want to be their extra glue when they don't have enough. We need to leave absolutely no doubt in their minds that we see them ... that we hear them ... that we need them. We need to care more ... we need to love harder ... we need to listen longer ... we need to understand that even our next breath is never guaranteed.

By the way, my brother Jerry saved every penny of his allowance and bought Granny an ugly, bright blue, violin-shaped vase to replace the one he had broken. Both the broken vase and the ugly violin vase held a place of honor in Granny's home until the day she died. I remember asking her why she didn't throw the broken vase away, and she said, "Because your brother cared enough about me and how sad I would be over my broken vase that he used every drop of glue in the bottle to try his best to fix it."

May that be our legacy, friends ... that we care enough about one another to use every drop of glue in the bottle to fix things.





Monday, April 17, 2017

13 Reasons Why Not

In my previous post a couple of weeks or so ago, I said that my heart and I needed to take a breather from writing for a while, and though I wish I could tell you that's changed, I can't. As much as I wish I could tell you that I woke up this morning feeling like I could suddenly write the breathings of my heart again, I can't. But for tonight, there's something else I can't do ... for tonight, I can't not write. No matter what may come ... for tonight, I can't not write.

One of the young gals I work with stopped by my desk a few weeks ago to ask me if I had seen the new Netflix original series "13 Reasons Why." I told her that I had heard about it but that I hadn't watched it, and she told me I absolutely must go home that night and watch at least the first episode. I watched way more than the first episode that night, and it only took me a few days to watch the entire series. Had I not been so overcome with emotion several times that I had to hit the pause button until I could compose myself, I would have most definitely binged-watched all 13 episodes in one sitting.

The series has already garnered millions of views since its release on March 31 despite the tough issues it deals with ... bullying, rape, homosexuality and suicide. It's not surprising at all to me that "13 Reasons Why" has become such a hot topic of conversation among both teens and adults alike. It's also not surprising at all to me that there's a great deal of controversy surrounding the series, and though I do have an opinion regarding some of the questions that are being raised, what I think about those things isn't the reason for my post tonight.

I'm writing tonight because there are families and friends who are grieving the death of a loved one who committed suicide. I'm writing tonight because there are people at this very moment who feel that death is the only way to end their pain. I'm writing tonight because there are so very many, myself included, who fight every single day to keep the wolf on the other side of the window. I'm writing tonight because there are people of all ages who see themselves in one of the characters portrayed in "13 Reasons Why."

I'm writing tonight because one person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes. I'm writing tonight because in the U.S., suicide rates are highest in the spring. I'm writing tonight because every suicide intimately affects at least six other people. I'm writing tonight because depression isn't about being sad or looking for attention. I'm writing tonight because I know firsthand that depression is a nasty, nasty beast that cannot be fully understood by those who've never experienced it. I'm writing tonight because I know all too well that depression robs people of their will to live, forces them to believe others would be better off without them, shatters their relationships with family and friends, and shreds every ounce of hope they once had. I'm writing tonight because staying silent makes things so much worse.

I know I've said it many times over, but be kind to each other, friends. Make it your mission to care. Make it your mission to listen. Make it your mission to see when someone is hurting. Make it your mission not to give up on those who need to know they matter. Make it your mission to be one of someone's 13 reasons why not, instead of one of their 13 reasons why. Be someone's reason why not, dear ones ... be someone's reason why not.

"It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other ... it has to get better somehow." --- Clay Jensen, "13 Reasons Why" 


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Because You Deserve Better


"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." 
--- William Wordsworth

First, how could a guy with the last name of Wordsworth not be a writer? I mean seriously, right? And yes, Wordsworth really was his last name and he, together with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication "Lyrical Ballads" way back in 1798. As you may have gathered from the title of his first writing venture with Mr. Coleridge, Wordsworth was a poet; in fact, he was Britain's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850. I'm betting the significance of his surname wasn't lost on Mr. Wordsworth, and I'm guessing I'm not the only person who upon hearing his name immediately thought, "What are words truly worth? What are they worth to other people? What are they worth to me?" Pretty deep, I know, but I think it's definitely worthy of some pondering and mulling over.

I first read the quote at the beginning of my post this evening many, many years ago when I was a student in college, and the words of Mr. Wordsworth obviously made a lasting impression on me. So much so that I once wrote them out on a note card and taped the card on the ceiling of my bedroom to serve as a constant reminder to me of the importance of writing from my heart. If I haven't learned one other thing about writing in all the years I've been putting pen to paper, I've learned this ... Mr. Wordsworth was absolutely correct in his instruction. But I would add something else to the indisputably wise words he penned so many years ago ... if you can't fill your paper with the breathings of your heart, you need to stop filling your paper until you can.

Have you ever fallen so hard that you got the wind knocked out of you? So hard that you wondered if you'd ever be able to breathe again ... so hard that you were sure you were going to die right then and there? I know I certainly have, and it's such a scary feeling when it happens ... it's almost like you can feel the life being sucked right out of you. It's one of those feelings that stays with you, one that you hope you never have to feel again. It's terrifying ... completely and utterly terrifying ... to wonder if you'll ever be able to suck the air back in again. You struggle to breathe ... you want to breathe ... you need to breathe. But you can't, at least not for a while anyway ... you just can't breathe.

Many of you have written asking where I've been and why I haven't been writing, and you deserve better than me offering up no explanation as to my missing in action status. And that's what this post is ... it's my feeble attempt to explain as best I can why I'm not writing much right now. You deserve to know that I'm not writing because I can't write the breathings of my heart, and until I can do that once again ... well ... my heart and I need to take a breather for a while. Thank you for your notes and your kind words, friends ... I appreciate each one of you so much more than you'll ever know.

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." 
--- William Wordsworth




Monday, March 27, 2017

What Are the Odds?

You'd think I would have learned by now that the posts I worry the most about posting are the very posts that I most need to post. I spent some time this morning before I went to work reading through some of the emails I've received in response to last night's post, and I can't begin to express how deeply moved I am by your words or how truly humbled I am that you would entrust your stories to me. Some of you have suffered such great loss ... some of you are fighting to stay alive ... some of you are doing everything you can to keep someone you love from taking his or her life. Please know that even though I can't read all of your messages, my heart is with you all. You aren't alone in the fight, friends ... you are never alone in the fight.

When I got home from work this evening, I took Ollie for a long walk ... one of those long, meandering, I have much to mull over walks. When we got home, I built a fire and flipped on the television thinking I'd watch for a few minutes while I ate my dinner. I guess it shouldn't have surprised me when "Ordinary People" just so happened to be the movie that was playing ... an older movie about a family whose oldest son died in a boating accident and whose youngest son tried to commit suicide following his brother's death. 

What are the odds that movie would be on television tonight? The night after I posted Mark's letter about losing his friend Olivia to suicide. A movie I haven't seen in over a decade and yet it appears randomly on television tonight. I think maybe Someone wants to make sure I get the message.

What are the odds, friends? What are the odds indeed?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fade to Black

Before you read tonight's post, there are a couple of things you should know. Other than this opening paragraph, I didn't write the words you'll read. I found them one night while I was browsing through emails, and I've wrestled with whether I should post them. You should know they're not easy words to read and that they're even less easy to get them out of your brain once you do. I wish I could believe that it was only by chance or coincidence that I just happened to open that particular email, but I don't. I believe I was meant to read this young man's words, and I believe I am meant to carry his words with me forever. It was no accident that I opened his email, and it's no accident that I now have the peace I needed to have before I could share them with you. I would ask that you read the young man's words with a spirit of compassion and grace ... I would ask that you be kind to one another always ... I would ask that you never take even one moment for granted.

Dear Mrs. Johnson,

I'm Mark and I'm writing to you because I know if you read this you'll help me get other people to read it to. I don't read your blogs much but my friend does and she told me to read the one you wrote back a while about it being easier to die and some others you wrote about being depressed. And when I did she told me I should write to you and you maybe would read it and get other people to read it and here's why. My friend Olivia died 8 days ago on her birthday after she hung herself in her room and she text me right before she did and said "fade to black". I thought she was joking and didn't mean it because she used to say that a lot. Like she would say when she was way down that she wanted to fade to black like the last scene in a movie. Olivia liked movies better than most things except for her little brother Hal. I thought she loved him enough that she would be ok and be able to keep coming out of the depression but not even that was more than her sadness was. 

I can't sleep much since Olivia died because I think I should have done something to help her or been a better friend and kept in touch with her more than I did after I got a new job at the mall. I cared so much about her but it wasn't easy sometimes to be her friend because of the depression she had. When she was in a good place she was the best and so much fun to be around. But it was like I knew even in those times that the sadness was still there and just waiting to get her down again. And when that happened so many times that the depression made her hate herself so much it was hard to keep watching it and I guess I got tired and stopped talking to her as much and told myself she'd be ok in the long run. And now she's dead and I can't sleep because she trusted me and I wasn't there. And I keep reading the text she sent me all the time when she said fade to black.

Why I'm sending you this letter Mrs. Johnson is because my friend says you're a real good person that wants to help lots of people and maybe my letter can help keep someone else from killing themselves. My friend Olivia was 17 years old the day she hung herself and it was Hal her little brother that found her and he is only 11 years old. I hope by a miracle you read my letter and put it in your blog if you want to and I hope it helps other people. Thank you.

Mark


Monday, March 20, 2017

And Just One More Thing

I have a confession to make ... it's been a while, a pretty long while, actually, since I've started a post with those words, and I'm sure you're on the edge of your seats wondering just what my confession might be. Though I would like nothing better than to share with you the plethora of thoughts I have regarding confession being good for the soul and how important it is to be open, honest, real and transparent in all things, I'll restrain myself and get right to my confession ... I seriously envy people who can think quickly on their feet and say everything they need to say in every conversation they have. Yep, I surely do envy those people a lot ... those people who are in touch with themselves and their thoughts well enough that they rarely, if ever, have to say, "And just one more thing." Whew ... I feel so much better now, like a giant weight has been lifted off of me. It's true ... confession really is good for the soul.

As I'm sure you've guessed by now, this evening's post is my "And just one more thing" addendum to my previous post, Soul Staring. After reading a bunch of emails I received following that post, I realized I had left something out ... an important something that happens when my little hound goes with me when I venture out to public places. People are so taken with Ollie the wiener dog that they're far less likely to judge me because of my short, spiky hair or my suspenders and bow ties or my tattoos. It's crazy, I know, but it's definitely true. People who might otherwise stare me down with "the look" (and if you're gay, you know exactly what "the look" is and what it feels like when it's sent your way) ... well ... they don't do it when Ollie's with me. I think he's giving off some mighty strong anti-hate vibes or he's my own personal cloak of invisibility. People are so focused on his cuteness and how well-behaved he is that they don't even notice that I'm different than them ... they don't see gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor, old or young. People see a woman who loves her dog and a dog who loves his human. And that, my friends, is pure awesomeness times a billion.

I know some people think I'm a few fries short of a Happy Meal when it comes to my canine pals I've had down through the years, and they may well be correct in that deduction. All I know is that there are few better ways to learn about unconditional love or loyalty or forgiveness or trust than from a dog. Imagine how much better the world would be if we humans could do for one another what my Ollie does for me. Just imagine if we didn't see race or nationality ... just imagine if we didn't see economic status ... just imagine if we didn't see gender or sexuality ... just imagine if we didn't see age. Just imagine how much better your world would be if you could do for others what my Ollie does for me. Just imagine, friends ... just imagine indeed.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Soul Staring

My life-saving head doctor and I first discussed the possibility of getting my wiener dog Ollie officially certified as an emotional support animal after the first time he traveled to Canada with me. I paid for Ollie to go with me on that trip, and it was worth every single penny I spent. The difference in my anxiety level about flying was like the difference between climbing Mt. Everest and walking up a tiny little hill. It was unbelievable how much more relaxed I was on those flights ... having my faithful little wiener dog curled up in my lap on the planes calmed my nerves better than any amount of Xanax ever had. It was obviously clear after our first journey together that the best thing for me, and Ollie, too, for that matter, was to ensure that he be allowed to travel with me from then on by doing whatever was necessary to get my furry friend his official emotional support animal credentials.

While my initial reason for getting Ollie certified was so that he could keep me from having a full-blown panic attack every time I got on an airplane, I soon began taking him with me on the weekends when I ran errands, too. I'm one of those dog parents who feels horribly guilty when I have to leave my pooch at home alone on the weekend after he's been at home alone all week while I'm at work. And besides that, those of you who've been reading along with me for a while know that shopping runs riding on an airplane a darn close second when it comes to anxiety-producing activities for me. It only took a few weekend errand-running excursions for me to recognize how much less anxious or stressed I feel when I take Ollie along with me. Just as I have no idea why I suddenly began having anxiety over things I never used to feel anxious about, I also have no idea nor can I offer any explanation as to how or why my little wiener dog helps me the way he does. All I know is that anxiety and panic attacks suck big time and Ollie is a Jedi master of calming me down.   

I'll readily admit that in the beginning my desire to have Ollie become a certified emotional support animal was completely and totally selfish. Yep, that's right ... in the beginning, it was absolutely all about him helping me. I don't know why I didn't see it before, but I've recently come to realize that my little pal helps far more people than just me. The photos I post and the stories I share on Facebook of his wiener dog adventures bring chuckles to lots and lots of people. Tired and weary travelers go from frowning to smiling the minute they see Ollie prancing through an airport. Starbucks drive-thru workers giggle like little kids as he happily gobbles up the whipped cream in his puppuccino. Shoppers and workers alike grin from ear to ear as they exclaim, "Oh, my gosh, he's so adorable!" when they see him sitting atop his blanket in the kid seat of the shopping cart. Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of Walmart ask if they can give him one. People ask if they can pet him. People ask if they can hold him. People ask if he can come and sit with them in their wheelchairs. The plain and simple truth is that Ollie helps far more people than me, friends ... the plain and simple truth is that there's something about Ollie that just makes people happy.

For all the wonderful scenarios about people and Ollie that I just mentioned, however, a couple of weeks ago, something happened on a Saturday that completely eliminated any teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy lingering shred of doubt I might have had about my little hound's capacity for helping others. I had some extra time in between a couple of appointments, so I decided to stop by Half Price Books and pick up the book I needed for book club. It was just after opening time, so there were more employees than shoppers in the store. It seemed like only seconds after I asked where I could find the particular book I was looking for that Ollie and I were surrounded by every single employee in the building. They were all oohing and aahing over my adorable furry companion when suddenly one of the girls who looked to be a little older than the others in the group stepped closer to me, leaned over and gazed deeply into Ollie's eyes. When I told her she could pet him if she'd like, she looked up at me and I immediately noticed that she had tears in her eyes.

"I love your dog," she said in a soft voice that cracked as she spoke. "He's staring into my soul. Do you see him?"

I have to admit that I was taken aback by her words ... in all of the encounters Ollie and I have had with other people, no one has ever said my dog was staring into their soul. I didn't have a clue what to say to the girl, so I just nodded my head and smiled. She wiped at the tears that were by then running down her cheeks as she turned and spoke to the co-worker who was standing to her right.

"Look at his eyes, Sarah ... do you see his eyes? They're soulful ... he has eyes that see what people don't see. This dog is staring into my soul, Sarah ... do you see him?"

I'm one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason, and I think there was a reason that my first appointment ended early on that cold and snowy Saturday morning. I don't believe it was mere coincidence that I decided to spend my unexpected extra time in the bookstore ... not even a little bit do I believe that was simply happenstance. Though I don't know what was going on with the young woman and I'm sure I never will, I do know that my sweet Ollie boy helped her somehow ... somehow, my little wiener dog stared into that gal's soul and helped her.  

Needless to say, I've thought a great deal about the young woman and her reaction to Ollie that day, and in doing so I've come to realize that there's a huge lesson to be gleaned from what took place in those few minutes that morning ... a lesson that's not just for me, but for all of us. Some of you will think it's stupidly simple, and some of you will think it's impossibly difficult. What do I think? I think it could easily be life-changing.

We can't help each other until we stare into each other's souls.

I think I'll leave you to ponder on that one for a while ... roll it around in your mind and let it settle into your heart. Be careful, though ... it may well change the way you look at those around you ... it very may well indeed.  


Monday, March 6, 2017

A Special Kind of Love

Some would argue that I haven't learned much in my 57 years of life, and there are days when I'd have to agree with them. I'd like to believe, however, that at least of couple of those life lessons not only managed to get through my bull-headed, stubborn-as-a-mule mind but that they also managed to take up permanent residence in my heart. For all the things I should have learned along the way but didn't, there's one I learned a few years ago that will be with me forever ... unexpected friendships are often the best ones of all. Take my friend Yosef, for example ... he's without question one of the greatest friends I've ever had. His was truly an unexpected friendship ... one that I could have never anticipated ... one that I now cannot imagine ever living without.

I met Yosef when he first came to interview for a job at the company where I work. I happened to be at the front desk when he came in and me being me and him being him, it only took a few short minutes for us to become engaged in conversation. When he finished his interviews, he came to find me at my desk and we chatted some more, exchanged email addresses and agreed that we would keep in touch even if he didn't get the job. I'll never forget the day Yosef texted me to say that he got the job and would soon be moving to Kansas City from New York. I'm not sure which one of us was more excited ... him for his new job or me for my new friend. 

There's not much that Yosef and I haven't talked about over the last couple of years ... not much at all. From dating to depression to cooking to rock climbing to wiener dogs to airplane rides to hippie parents to grandchildren to marriage to politics to religion to wanting to make a difference in the world ... you name it and Yosef and I have talked about it. And if by chance there's a subject we haven't discussed, I am certain that we will at some point. He's chopped firewood for me, checked on me when he knew I was afraid (like tonight), found a fantastic deal on a new TV for me when I moved and then spent a ton of time hanging it on the wall above my fireplace, wiped away my tears more times than I can count, laughed at my stupid jokes, and perhaps my favorite of all ... he came to my desk every single day to give me a great big hug. I'll tell you something about Yosef's hugs that I never told him ... there were weeks, months even, when his hugs were the only human touch I received.

A week ago, I learned that Yosef would be leaving our company ... my sweet friend is off on his next great adventure, and there's not a doubt in my mind that there are big things ahead for him. There's also not a doubt in my mind that we will stay close and that our friendship will always remain one of the best of my life. Yosef teaches me every single day what it really means to be a true and loyal friend ... through good times or bad, sadness or joy, health or sickness, abundance or need ... Yosef teaches me every single day what it really means to be a true and loyal friend.

There's a special kind of love between Yosef and I ... an unexpected friendship kind of love. Thank you for being my friend, Yosi ... I count you as one of my life's greatest blessings, and I thank you for being my friend.



Monday, February 27, 2017

It's Their Loss

Saturday night, I did something I never ever thought I would do, and I did it because I love my daughter. Now before I tell you what that something was and have you go thinking I'm the most awesome mom ever, I must tell you that my quick and initial first response to her request was a solid and firm, "No, I won't do that." So, you see, I'm really not the most awesome mom ever ... not by a long shot, friends ... but I do love my kids with all my heart, and Saturday night proves that I'll do just about anything for them. Even if that "anything" means returning to a place I swore I would never go back to ... a place that once felt like home and the people there like family ... a place where I once felt loved and accepted ... a place that was once my refuge ... a place where I once thought I mattered ... a place where I once felt like I belonged. Last night, I went back to my former church for an event my daughter asked me to attend with her and my son-in-law ... I went back because I love my daughter.

I've come to the conclusion that there are certain types of hurt ... deep down to the pit of your soul hurt ... that may not ever go away no matter how hard you try to get rid of it. Some hurts are like wounds that just won't ever fully heal, you know? You can do all the right things ... you can put medicine on them, keep them covered with a bandage, follow all of the doctor's instructions to the letter ... and yet the wound is still there. It may look from the outside as though it's healed, but down deep inside ... way down deep inside where no one else can see ... the wound remains. That's why what I did Saturday night was such a big deal for me ... that's why I first said no to my sweet daughter's request ... because there's a wound down deep inside of me that still hurts ... that's why, friends ... because that wound still hurts.

I could hear the disappointment in my daughter's voice on the phone when I told her I wouldn't go. She didn't complain or judge me or tell me I needed to get over it, quite the opposite, in fact. She said she understood ... she said it was okay ... she said she loved me. My mind sped down memory lane as our call ended ... memories of my kids growing up in that church ... memories of people whom I loved so dearly ... memories of characters I played in VBS skits ... memories of teaching Sunday school ... memories of how quickly it all changed ... memories of leaving, ashamed and wounded and broken. I can't explain it, but as those memories washed through me, I knew what I had to do. When I convinced myself that I could actually do so without bawling my eyes out, I called my daughter back and told her I had changed my mind ... I told her I would go to the church that evening with her and my son-in-law.

Amazingly, lightning didn't strike me down when I stepped inside the walls of my old church, nor did I have a heart attack and die right there on the spot as I had feared I might. My heart was beating faster than a race horse runs, and I did think for a brief moment that the wonderful dinner I had just eaten might choose to escape the confines of my stomach. I won't lie ... I was happy that there weren't many people there for the event and that the ones who knew me were kind. They hugged me and seemed genuinely happy to see me. The whole experience was quite surreal for sure and I definitely don't want to do it again anytime soon. But the smile on my daughter's face ... the smile on her face and the light in her eyes made me know with complete certainty that going with her and my son-in-law to the church Saturday evening was most definitely the right thing to do.

As I drove home later that night after a spontaneous ice cream outing with my daughter, son-in-law and a young couple and their two daughters, an all too familiar sadness began to make its way into my heart ... the sadness of loss. When people whom I thought were among my closest friends suddenly disappeared from my life when I came crawling out of the closet I had spent my entire life hiding in, other people would say to me, "It's their loss, Terrie. You're a wonderful person and they didn't deserve you. It's their loss, Terrie ... really ... it's their loss." I wanted to believe those words back then but I couldn't. I want to believe those words now but I can't. I couldn't believe them then and I can't believe them now because actions speak far louder than words.

When people who were a huge part of my life ... people who once called or emailed or texted or dropped by to say hi almost every day for years suddenly stopped doing those things ... people I trusted ... people I believed in ... people I thought really and truly cared about me ... when those people could so easily walk away, when they cared one day (or at least I thought they did anyway) and the next day they didn't ... well, that makes it pretty difficult, if not impossible, to believe "it's their loss." That's one of those kinds of hurt ... down deep to the pit of my soul hurt ... that may not ever go away no matter how hard I try to get rid of it ... the hurt of knowing that it isn't their loss at all.

I know I've said it lots of times before, but tonight my heart is heavy and tonight it bears repeating ... be kind to one another, friends. People are so much more precious than riches or power or fame or any of the other things we so often spend our lives chasing after or trying to obtain. What greater wealth is there on earth than the wealth of being in relationship with one another? What greater power is there on earth than the power of a listening and caring heart? What greater fame is there on earth than the fame of making a difference in one another's lives? If we must chase after or try to obtain anything in life, may it be kindness ... may it be respect ... may it be compassion ... may it be putting the needs of others before our own ... may it be forgiveness ... may it be love.