DAVID THE LION– A STORY ABOUT CRUELTY

fighingIn my 11th grade American Literature class, my students and I started talking about this cycle of cruelty among the characters in the novella, particularly the villain and his wife. From our analysis of Of Mice and Men, we decided Steinbeck argued that cruelty can be a reaction to fear or loneliness. We shared some of our won experiences where we had seen others act cruelly to others due to fear or loneliness and even looked at our own actions. I couldn’t help but remember a high school acquaintance whose name I will change to David who was cruel to another kid and wondered about all the possible causes for his rage. I’m still haunted by my own cruelty for not doing anything to stop what I had seen or help. We all spent about 30 minutes writing about an experience. I shared my story later with them during our readings:

It was an unusually hot day in May my junior year in high school after a late Spring storm’s winds and thunder had electrified the valley before rampaging on to the East. David was going to fight another guy that day. Big, tough David with reddish hair and tattoos who worked out and drank beer and got drunk and liked to fight.

Who the other guy was I did not know. But the rumor hummed around that they were meeting at Beryl Park after school. And that is all I or the other teens at Alta Loma High School needed to know.

We all piled into our friends cars and blared out Rage Against the Machine and Nine Inch Nails from our radio speakers, pumped for the entertainment of plows and punches, laughing and shouting excitedly for the coming show: thirsty.

We all sat on our tailgates in the parking lot. A collection of used Jeeps and Bugs, lifted F-150’s and Tacomas, and shiny new Ford Mustangs lined with teens in Doc Martins and baggy jeans–white kids with too much time, waiting for the guy to show up whom David was going to fight.

But the guy didn’t show.
And David was ready to fight.
Fight him.
Fight someone.
Fight anyone.

He needed to release that angry beast raging inside of him. Angry at who or what, I don’t know. His father perhaps–a lion of his own past who called him stupid or weak? A mother who left him for her drugs two days before his 5th birthday? Maybe a child-molesting uncle? Or a long-legged girl who broke his heart his sophomore year?

We thought it was time to go, disappointed, heads shaking and downcast, eyes parched for the sight of blood, ears for the thud of punches and the fumbling of legs over shoulders and backs. Maybe because the violence could somehow make us feel alive.

But just as we started to pack up to leave, David started to roar; roar like a hungry lion. Colors poured out of him—black and red and purple, pouring from his mouth and his pores and his eyes.

We all turned and saw and knew. Something crazy was going to happen. The hairs on the back of my neck and arms delightfully sprang up in response.

And so he charged at some random guy there. Some guy just like me or him or her—smoking a cigarette and wearing a wife-beater and unlaced Vans. He sat there just like the others–there to watch. The guy had no idea he would be the one David would fight as we all watched with mouths agape. And he did not have time to prepare, as he laid on the hood of his car, lighting another cigarette with the burning tip of the first, only to look up to hear the noise of David’s roar and see him charging after him.

David beat the $#!% out of that kid. Beat him to a bloody pulp—missing teeth, a gash across his brow, eyes swollen immediately. He left that boy unconscious on the hot, black asphalt that day in May of 1996.

And everyone backed away, disturbed by the width and depth and height of David’s anger, not wanting to be next; and recognizing the severity of what just happened, they felt that surge of fear of cops and sirens, and quickly hopped into their cars, squealing away.

I stood there watching the kid moan on the rough parking lot asphalt, stagger up and stumble back down with eyes of confusion—no doubt wondering what happened.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

He didn’t answer–just laid there and wiped the blood from his lip, eyes wet with tears, and looked around, studying at us through murky orbs, as if he were trying to decide if he was really seeing us.

And then I just walked home with my friends: a cruel act of silence. I left him isolated and abandoned because I was afraid of what I saw. And perhaps because I was afraid of that evil part of me in the layers of my kind shell that liked the entertainment. I wanted to push his bloody image away from me at any expense. Not realizing that the image of him left alone in that park would haunt me the rest of my life.

I wonder if this experience hardened him. Made him angry and cruel. Just like David.

 

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Wheat and Dairy: my untitled saga with the foods I love and hate all at the same time.

file_000From the time I was a small child, I have fond memories of wheat and dairy.  My mom has a picture of me at the age of 2 digging into a white cannister of sour cream with my bare hands while wearing a sour cream filled grin. I have flashes of running into the kitchen at my grandma Barbara’s house at the age of 6 and eagerly jumping up down as she sliced a sliver of cheese from a ball of mozzarella she kept in the fridge. As I grew older I discovered the amazing dream of cream cheese smeared over toasted everything bagels, of American cheese melted and gooey in a grilled sourdough sandwich with tomato soup on the side, of mexican cheese melted in between flour tortillas on a flat-iron skillet, and the surprise leftover cheese on the paper that wrapped my animal style burgers at In and Out. For years, I’d come home in the evening from a long day at work or school, and pour myself a tall glass of ice-cold milk. When I was pregnant with my first and second sons, I’d down the entire glass in my left hand while still holding the gallon jug in my right and then pour one more before finally resting the jug back on the refrigerator shelf. And don’t forget Kraft Mac and Cheese. I was just excited about Mac and Cheese night as my own children, and enjoyed once a year making my own homemade version with nutmeg and exotic cheeses.

To me, dairy and wheat were the essential two main food groups. They were the center piece of every great soul food. They were what made food worth eating. Wheat and Dairy were worth singing and dancing for.

Dairy and I had a love affair that lasted 31 glorious years and then slowly crumbled into a final once-and for all break up around January of 2016 before I kicked wheat out as well.  So imagine my despair as I struggled through our slow 5 year break up before finally being ready to call it quits for good that cold, winter day.

At some point in my life, I started having stomach pains. I don’t even remember when they started. I could have had them my whole life, I don’t really know. The sort of pain I struggled with slowly just creeped up on me and annoyed with me with a constant dull aching in my belly. Always present. But never strong enough to bring to me to tears or send me rushing off to the doctor.

But I began to recognize that I did always have a belly ache. And I neither liked it nor understood what could be the cause. When I decided to switch doctors back in Fall of 2011, I started to find answers. My doctor was big into finding the sources of illness. So when I went in for an annual checkup and she had me fill out a questionnaire, my belly aches came up. From that and a few other red flags that sparked her interest, she sent me to a lab to get a large amount of blood work done. When it came back she sat me down and shared the good, the bad, and the ugly. And one of the ugliest findings was that I was allergic to cow dairy along with some minor allergies in wheat, shellfish, dust mites, cats, dogs, and cockroaches.  She suggested I cut down the dairy, at the very least milk, and see if my symptoms improved. That and get rid of our cat. But that’s another story.

41 weeks pregnant

I decided I would give up just the milk and see, but there was no way I’d give up cheese or sour cream. I mean that would be like food suicide. But even with that, sure enough, my stomach felt much better, especially in the evenings.  It took just a few months before I began enjoying my almond milk alternative. Now I crave it like I craved milk. And when I was pregnant with my third and fourth child, guzzled almond milk the same way I did cow’s.

But the pain didn’t go away, go away. It lurked. And over the next few years, the ever-present dull-ache seemed eventually to become just as strong as it had been in my milk days. My allergy was getting worse. I learned the hard way overtime, that I could not eat ice cream anymore or else I’d be hunched in a fetal position crying on the floor in pain. But even when I was good, I just couldn’t escape the pain completely.

And then one day in December, I imagined what my body would feel like if I didn’t ever feel the belly pain again, and the idea of it was so relieving that I actually cried. It was then that I realized, I’d have to make the decision to cut out dairy completely once and for all. No more quesadillas. No more Mac and Cheese. No more alfredo sauce over my spaghetti. I cried again. It’s funny to think about how emotionally attached we can be to certain foods, but it is true.

So I did it. In January of this year, I started a 30-day detox program and not only cut out dairy, but cut out wheat and soy and sugar among all sorts of processed chemicals. I never felt so good in my life. I was sold. Never would I go back to a life of dairy again. But an interesting thing happened to me after the detox. I tried wheat again, thinking I would just stick to a dairy free life. But then I noticed the anxiety I often felt in my chest returned and my belly swelled up. I remembered that blood test a couple of years back. This is what my wheat allergy was doing to me? All those years of anxiety? All those stressful tears? All those years of thinking sit ups were pointless? When I think of all the pain I could have escaped, all the chest pains I could have relieved….no amount of cheese or wheat seemed worth it anymore. I was over it.

But like any break up, there is a transition period. And there are weak points. There are times where you have to stare at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself why you broke up in the first place. I had to start thinking creatively about my foods and begin to find beauty in other flavors. Honestly, the first couple of months, I found little joy in eating. Food became merely something I had to eat to nourish my body.

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singing for celery

It has been 10 months since and it has gotten easier. I have stumbled a couple of times when I haven’t planned and had to resort to eating something with wheat or dairy in it, then reaping the consequence. And yet my belly has healed enough that from time to time, I can enjoy one meal with a small amount of it in it without suffering too much, but nothing more. And I’m okay with it now. I may even start singing for my food again.

 

Like this article? Read more articles about gut health by Theresa at her new blog http://mamaguts.com

 

Word of the Day Reflections and Rants: Intellect and Failure

I’m having my students freewrite on topics we are discussing in class to prepare them for writing their personal statements for college applications. This week we’ve written and discussed hidden intellectualism and response to failure. I like to write with them. It helps us all get to know each other as we start our class discussions. Here are mine on the two.

Intellect— The other day, we were at  a new friends house and the wife asked me what my husband and I liked to do when we were not working or running around with our kids. I thought about it…..when it came down to it, we liked to walk around places, sipping coffee or tea, and talking about “intellectual” things like philosophy or politics or cultural issues in our society. We are not sports people. We do like to travel but haven’t had time to since we’ve been popping out babies every other year the entire time and trying to grow a business. And in between changing diapers, driving kids from school to soccer practice to karate practice, showers and bedtime songs and prayers, we have time to sip on some coffee or tea and talk about why society is crashing or why Trump is the lesser evil than Hillary. We just got bikes so we can do that together, but haven’t actually started. I felt so boring. What do I like to do? I think I have become so habitual in my life due the circumstances of being a working parent that I almost forgot what I like to do. There was a time in my life where I snow boarded on weekends, camped during spring and summer breaks, laid out on beaches, flew to foreign places and swung from tree roots into warm waters. There was a time in my life where I laughed and told jokes over cold beer and chips and salsa or cried over poetry I wrote while Dave Matthew’s bellowed his blues through stereo speakers. Am I still that person? I think I am. I just don’t have time for her right now. Still, Owen and I have made some quarter goals this year: a weekend getaway once a quarter to a place we’ve never been, a date night once a month, and date-night with each of our kids individually each quarter. So I suppose with that, there will be more hobbie-like activities in our future outside of our usual family fun. Why didn’t I remember that when our friend asked me that question?

Failure–I hate failing. I let it really affect my self-perception and esteem. If I fail, I criticize my self-worth even at times. But those are for things I find important. If I don’t care about the activity or issue and I fail, I see it as a mistake and want others to brush it off or forgive me quickly. But I suppose I feel the same way when I do find the issue to be important. I may hate myself for it. But I sure hope others don’t. And I gladly and appreciatively accept forgiveness and encouragement. I need it. If I don’t get that, I will wallow in my own self-hating despair. I admire my husband. He sees failure as learning opportunities. If he fails at something, he highlights the positive in that he now learned a lesson and will use that for his own growth. I’m cautious. I prefer to take safer routes. I’m a teacher because I knew there was a salary and a pension and a pre-planned set of dates that I get off. No guessing. Less risk of failing and yet still a subject I love–English. Owen loves English too. But he is not afraid to take risks and for that reason he’s the perfect entrepreneur–a consultant on video marketing. He uses language to teach others how to make money through video and uses language to get viewers interested in products and services.  I love that about him. We both love language. But because of how we react to failure,  our careers are established. Thankfully, I’m decent enough at teaching, I haven’t had too much failure to wallow about in my career.

 

Summer Blessings

13445400_10154927222784746_4419286371882224395_n (1)After our trial the last year with cancer, it has been such a nice break this summer. This morning at church, our pastor had us look at where God has us right now and where he might be taking us in his big plans. During that time, as I reflected on where he has me right now, I couldn’t help but praise Him as I saw blessing after blessing in His active working my life. I wanted to share them with you and let you know that every single thing on this list has been given to me by God and for God–No one can tell me there is no God because I know Him personally! 🙂 This isn’t an eloquently written post by any means, but its truth and I felt lead to share.

13512128_10154932488199746_4493964367166036115_nSo the first thing is my relationship with my children has grown this summer. When my daycare provider told me that she needed the kids to come in at least 2 times a week this summer to keep their spots open (3 kids is a lot of income to lose for the summer when you are a daycare provider), my first thought was “Maybe I can use that time for me time! I can go to the beach, read a book, take a nap!” And then of course, the other day could be used for business–lesson planning, work on my books, my app, Owen’s business, etc. At first that is what I planned to do with those two days until God clearly spoke to me and told me to use that free day to take one of my kids out each week on a date for one-on-one time. 13415497_10154891369579746_7140565395515364686_oWhile I was sad to lose my lost me time, I knew it was right and also loved the idea. I  knew it was much better and God-glorifying than a me day. So I’ve been doing it and it has been such a wonderful time! James and I went to a movie, had lunch together and chatted, then held hands as we walked to the beach. Kanan and I did something similar, but he actually talked me into jumping in the cold ocean water and body surf with him. Once I got past being cold, I had an exhilarating time. I felt alive! Then Benny and I enjoyed our one-on-one time at Chucky E Cheeses and the Lego Land Water Park. He is going through a whiney phase lately which he still pulled on our special day, but with his bright brown eyes and chubby cheeks, He was easy to forgive. Won’t have time for Scotty to get a date in without causing an imbalance with the boys, but she alrady gets so much attention given she’s the baby. I really feel the boys are the ones who really need that special time. But even on days when we are all together, we have had such a great time going to Balboa park on free museum days, enjoying the refreshing water at the waterpark on hot days, or working in the yard.

Next, when I found out the cost of making an app last year, the marriage app project that my friend Nikki-Marie from TheMomIWantToBe.com were working on last year seemed to feel impossible. I put my focus on my sick husband and teaching and pretty much forgot about it. That is until my cousin came up with an app concept and started successfully crowd-funding to make it. It has since inspired me and Nikki-Marie to do the same and we are now writing the scrip13434815_10154926962694746_32091562682476397_nts and getting the logo made for the campaign. We both strongly believe that this app could potentially save marriages if people use it. What is more God-glorifying than that? We are praying God blesses our endeavors and helps us get the funds to make it. Hoping to have the video filmed at least before I return to work.

Then, we found a new church. And while our old church was wonderful and helped Owen and I grow so much, we are so excited to grow deeper and make more friends in the church community as well as follow God’s lead in where he plans to take us through this next church community. If someone had told me two years ago we were going to leave our old church, I would have kicked and screamed and cried. But over the last two years, God has really prepared my heart for this change. We like the church too so much. Our new pastor has an interactive way of teaching–having us pull out paper and draw concept pictures so we can connect to the teaching as it relates to13442337_10154926961649746_7051367176373135726_n our lives. He teaches verse by verse. We just finished going through the book of Nehemiah and just started the book of Jonah. Seeing how these prophets helped create change in large communities for God’s glory has been so inspiring. While the church itself is much smaller than our old church, the new pastor’s vision is to be very active in the world. Everyone there is really friendly too. The pastor and his wife even took us our family out to lunch and had our kids play while we got to know each other!  We are really excited about his vision for our community and how we might be involved to serve God’s purpose and heart for people.

Finally, Owen and I have been talking about moving to Temecula the last few months. It wouldn’t be for a couple more years, but Owen has been so excited about the move and passionate about the decision.While the idea of living closer to work and being more connected to that community as w13445686_10154927222944746_2781050758264998830_nell as the lower cost of housing was appealing to me, I knew if we did, I’d have to ask my oldest son to choose who he wanted to live with. And I knew he’d choose his Dad. The idea of losing my son has been weighing so heavily on my heart. I have wept so much over it in private moments. Having him every other weekend for material things seemed like such an awful decision, but  When I first brought up my issue with moving, he didn’t budge. I don’t remember how I worded it, but it was brief. So I have resorted to prayer the last two months.  I’m doing a Beth Moore study right now on Believing God and during the study I came to recognize that God loves my son Kanan as well. And he would not want any decision to be made that could hurt him. I felt lead to trust that he would take care of it. I didn’t know how, but he would. Then a week ago, Owen prayed out loud during family prayer for God to let him know if He wanted us to move to Temecula or not. I praised God then because I knew that believe godGod must be working on his heart for him to be questioning the decision and asking God. I thought, I would wait for God to tell him. But a few days ago, I was hanging out with my friend Brianne, who I feel God used to speak to me. I brought up the move to Temecula and she immediately pointed out the concern for Kanan. She suggested I speak to Owen again about it, but I decided to just wait and let God speak to him because I didn’t want to start a fight and didn’t think Owen would agree with me. Maybe God could speak to him through a friend or divine revelation. But last night, I felt God tell me “Why are you waiting for Me to speak to Him through someone else? Don’t you think I could use you to speak to Him?” So I got up the courage to risk a fight and I told him my concern. But I brought up the possible damage it could cause Kanan and our family. Immediately, he said that he never considered those possibilities and that we would not move to Temecula. Then today, he brought it up again, saying that it his job to keep our family together. Yes! No fight. God just worked. He took care of it. He worked on Owen’s heart and worked on me to get the courage to bring up a sensitive subject when I hate conflict.

So right now I am just basking in God’s love and mercies. We are not experiencing any trials right now and I feel so safe.I feel very much like we under God’s canopy of protection right now. It is a joyous place to be. I know that if you are not in a trial that you just left one or about to be in one. We had a huge one this last year. And while I know this middle place won’t last forever, I want to acknowledge it, and thank God for it. I also hope to encourage any of you who are reading this to trust in God. He is so good and mighty!

Broken Idols and a Quest for Self-Worth: a love story

My senior year in high school, I made it my mission to get Bryan Parker (name changed) to fall in love with me. No I take that back. To fall BACK in love with me. Admitting that asks for a back story I’m not entirely willing to share or else write an entire novel instead of a 750 word blog and a mess of baggage that would make a psychotherapist squirm in his chair with delight, but its true.

But looking at the whole story almost 20 years later, I realize now that this mission was much more than just gaining Bryan’s heart back. This mission was about forgiving myself. About proving my stepfather wrong. And about making myself worthy of love. It was a selfish quest built on low self-esteem, a distorted self-image, and a lack of identity and self-worth.

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My senior photo–on a mission for self-worth

He was my first love my sophomore year. 5’11, quiet, with dark brown hair, blue eyes, a few freckles on his slightly turned up nose. He often wore blue-checkered, collared shirts and flannels with jeans. I still remember the way he looked walking through the halls—head down, a mop of thick dark hair hanging over his brows, his arms crossed, and his large black pack-pack filled with honors level coursework hung over his shoulder. He loved science, art, and cars. I gave him my heart, my soul, my everything.

And my stepdad did not approve. His anger simmered and boiled over and exploded the summer between my sophomore and junior year when all the truth about our relationship had been uncovered.

Fast forward to December of my junior year in high school—after a forced break up, a transfer to another school, no knowledge of my phone number, and no contact with my old friends or old life—my stepfather left our home forever and I came back to my old high school in Alta Loma, an affluent campus at the foothills of Cucamonga Peak, excited to be back and talk to him again.

That is until I found out that Bryan had hooked up with someone else while I was away. One of my sisters friends.  I felt so cheap. He couldn’t make it 6 months without having to find someone new? Didn’t he love me the way I had loved him? Didn’t what we have mean anything to him? And so in an impulsive anger, I got back at him by hooking up with his best friend.

And I regretted it immediately.

Of course, he was mad. He refused to talk to me. Ignored me the rest of my junior year. It was probably for the best. I had to really emotionally heal from all the anger inside of me. I was angry at my stepdad, myself, him, and the world. But alas, the details of my junior year in high school is for another story. This is about getting Bryan back.

So the summer after junior year, I woke up one sunny morning in a campground in Santa Maria and looked out at the big blue sky, listening to the lazy beats of Sublime playing from my best friend Lisa’s car stereo, and I decided I was no longer angry anymore. I could smile genuinely again. I had friends and fun life away from the strict rules of my stepfather and the misery of that angry junior year. But one thing was missing in my mind. I couldn’t truly have made it, until I got Bryan back.

I don’t really remember the details of the strategies or the sequence of events and how I did it. But I got pretty far. Smiles and notes. Flirtatious hello’s and invitations to come to this event or that event. I had the advantage my senior year of a very active weekend life. My group of girlfriends had developed a great connection with some college-aged friends who lived nearby and were always throwing parties, going to the river, concerts, and clubs. And they liked us. So eventually, Bryan accepted. And I always made sure I looked amazing when he would come. This was probably right after the new year of 1997.

Eventually we were walking to class together, and even kissing again. We in many ways my senior year, had the all the experiences I had only wished to have had with him when we were together under my stepdad’s reign. But this time I don’t think we used the term “boyfriend and girlfriend.” Still–I wasn’t going to push it. I just needed to hear those 3 special words.

I got close. I remember him telling me that he liked the way I dressed better than my friends. That he liked the way I danced better than others. I remember him saying sweet words like “you are so cute.” We even went to prom together. I think it was at prom that I felt that I had finally made it. I was at prom wearing a stunning silver sequenced floor length gown with a peak-a-boo halter and my hair up in curls with the love of my life who looked like Jake Guillinhall on the red carpet. My stepdad could bite it, I thought. Maybe I was still angry at him, at least.

But then something changed.

Within a couple of weeks, after I had given Bryan my book of poetry I had basically written all about him and other feelings from my life, he found pages in the book that had been torn out. I had torn them out because I messed up my handwriting, scribbled too much out and didn’t want it to mess up the beauty of my book. But he didn’t see it that way. He started getting paranoid, thinking that I must have been writing about other guys. He called me names: vindictive, liar, manipulative. I didn’t get it. I begged him to believe that he was my one and only. But he just couldn’t get passed it. In the end, I think it was all rooted in his inability to forgive me for my real transgression the year before.

One rainy day in May, he wrote me a note. It said, I hate you too much to be your boyfriend. But I love you too much to be just friends. All is lost. 

I wrote back, how can I have lost someone, I never truly had?

Still–I asked for one last date, in hopes that somehow it could be amazing enough to change his perspective. I wore my white crocheted sundress and matching white sandals, my hair down and curled, thankful the el Niño rains had dissipated long enough for a brief sensation of spring. In my mind I had played out an entire scene—laughter and joking, holding hands as we walked down the sidewalk.  One long last kiss under a big oak tree and him realizing that he didn’t want to miss any of this. That he was wrong and being silly and that he loved me.

That he would drop me off but then turn around half way, run out from his car and catch me just before I reached my door. The rain would start pouring down from the sky, his hair dripping wet, and his clothing soaked. But he didn’t care. He’d cry out, “Theresa! I love you! You are the only one I can see my life with!” And then I’d run to him and we’d kiss right there in the rain, its sheets wrapping us in our forgiveness, washing away all of the anger and tears forever. We’d then spend the bright summer frolicking on the sands of Huntington Beach, planning the rest of our lives together.

But he was emotionally gone by the time we had that last date—like someone literally turned off a switch in him. We went out, but he didn’t make eye contact. He didn’t ask questions. We sat awkwardly over our meal listening to the tinking of our spoons against our porcelain bowls and the slurping of our sodas through our straws. It culminated at the Koffee Klatch off of Foothill Blvd. where we talked about our futures. More like only him after I asked the questions, trying to keep the conversation going…to keep the night going. Anything but say goodbye. He talked about college, grad school, and becoming a doctor. He didn’t mention me in those dreams.

He dropped me off around 11 o’clock at my house and I sat in that passenger seat of his father’s white Camaro wanting so bad for him to recognize that this would be the last time he’d see me and that this would make him sad. So I said goodbye. No kiss. No long last hug. Just goodbye. I opened the door slowly, and then closed it–watched him turn the car around out of the parking lot of my apartment complex and drive away. I stared at those red tail lights until they became tiny pinpoints and then dissolved into the darkness of the night. He never did turn around. I stood there a very long time under the silent black sky. Then went inside and cried myself to sleep.

I wish I could say that it was good riddance. That I knew I had done nothing wrong and chalked his behavior up to a crazy, paranoid boy. But I didn’t. I was devastated. I sunk into a deep depression. Graduation came and went. I walked. But he was not there to give me flowers or a lei under the misty, twilight sky. After that June night, I spiraled through a series of self-destructive and self-hating actions that summer after senior year while the rest of my friends began preparing for college. My mission had failed. And he saw me the same way I felt  my stepdad saw me: worthless. The first three months were the hardest, darkest of my life.  I essentially became what I thought I was.

But in an upside down and twisted version of the summer revelation I had the prior year, the August after I graduated high school, I woke up around 4 P.M one late August afternoon with no job to go to and after a night of binge drinking. I looked in the mirror and knew I had to get out or I’d never get out of the pit I had put myself in. I wanted to be happy again. But I couldn’t if I stayed in that town where everything reminded me of them. Of Bryan. Of my stepdad—The men I both loved and hated. The ones I spent so much energy trying to get to love me for me– two opposing sides of the same coin I had hoped to use to redeem my self-worth.

In desperation, I called my real dad up—the dad I saw only during the summer from ages 8-12 and then one weekend a month from thereafter. He invited me to move to San Diego and move in with him. I could go to college out there and start a new life.

So I did. I packed up my stuff on my mom’s birthday, kissed my brother and sister goodbye and left. I don’t even think I said goodbye to my friends. No goodbye party. No goodbye call even. I think I finally told them I was gone after I had already been there for two weeks. I was over that life. Everything reminded me of him and of the awful person I had become.

That move was the best decision I ever made in my life. I essentially recreated myself, becoming the person who I always wanted to be. I got my driver’s license,  went to Palomar Community College, and graduated with honors and an A.A degree. During that time, I worked as a waitress for 5 years in the evenings and a jet ski resort in the summers in Carlsbad. I transferred to Cal State San Marcos and graduated again with honors and a B.A degree after cocktail waitressing at a local watering hole and trying my skills at editing jobs for a few large companies.  I then enrolled in the credential program and became a teacher, wanting to make a difference in the lives of teenagers who maybe struggled with their identity as much as I had when I was young. I made many friends along the way. Dated. Got a long-term boyfriend who I loved. Traveled through Mexico and Costa Rica, snowboarded on numerous mountains in the West. I lived a great life.

But one thing still haunted me all those years. I still dreamed about Bryan in my sleep. Always a similar story. We see each other after many years. Hearts race. We reunite. And I’d wake up wishing I could just get him out of my head and my heart. I didn’t want to dream about him. Finally at the age of 25, after I confessed to my mom my haunting dreams, she told me that sometimes, people can develop “soul ties” with their first loves they were intimate with. Makes sense when God says he will make the two become one. And that perhaps that was the issue. She prayed over me to cut the ties and release me. I know it sounds crazy, but the craziest part about it all is that it worked. I no longer dreamed of him. I was free to finally move forward with my life 100%. And that even meant forgiving my stepdad for all he had done to hurt me. And later on realize, I too had done much to hurt him. My eyes were opened.

It’s been 11 years since my mother cut that soul tie between Bryan and I, and just the other day, his profile picture showed up in my Facebook feed as a suggestion for a friend. My heart did not skip a beat. It was like looking at any old picture of a friend from long ago. Somebody I used to know, as the Gotye song goes. But I did actually laugh a little because there was a girl in the picture too. And she looked just like me.

Funny thing is, she looked Hispanic too. And this conjured up all sorts of memories of him in a light I hadn’t really seen before. I remember he hated that Hispanic part about me. He was so embarrassed that I was Colombian that he hid that from his own father, who had a confederate flag hanging in his garage. And he hated it when I spoke Spanish, always asking me to stop. I guess he changed too. Twenty years will do that to any of us, I suppose.

All those years in high school, I had built him up in my mind to be so wonderful, believing that if I had him, it meant I was worthy of love. But the truth be told, he was flawed too. He had been the entire time I worshiped him. But I don’t think I saw it because I had elevated him to a position that was meant to save me. And we don’t like our saviors to be tainted.

While this story in many ways is about a love story gone awry–it really is about a love story with myself. How and when do we begin to love ourselves? When should we give our selves away and what are the consequences  when do? Today, I don’t need him or my stepdad or anyone other than God to define my self-worth. To do so makes them idols and makes our self-worth only as strong as the person we build our self-worth upon. When they fall or fail, we do too. I did. And as I look at my own amazing husband now, and our four beautiful children, I thank God that somehow he gave me the strength to pick up the pieces of that shattered dream and reform it into something so much better than I ever could have had with Bryan. I just didn’t know it then. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. But thankfully, I’m not in the shadows, looking back at the light.

In Sickness and In Health– a reflection during Owen’s treatment last Fall

Owen and I right before he started treatment

Owen and I right after surgery but before he started chemotherapy.

No one ever writes Cancer on their life plans. At least in my circle of experience, we don’t. We plan for the good life. Not trials.  I planned for a teaching career, marriage, family, travel. And while I already have experienced so much, when I married my husband, Owen Hemsath in October of 2009, I had no idea that almost 6 years later, my 35 year old husband would be diagnosed with a Cancer so rare, doctors don’t know how one gets it, or how to cure it enough so it doesn’t come back.

If anything that is on the list of events not to experience during one’s life for many people, especially health conscious ones like our selves. This is why I have spent so many hours reading health articles and meticulously shopping at the grocery store for organic vegetables, alkaline water, GMO-free foods, no food dyes, and products with no high fructose corn syrup. I did it so we wouldn’t get cancer.

So even after multiple trips to the hospital for chest pains so bad it brought Owen to his knees on our living room floor, night sweats so strong it literally left the sheets soaking wet, weight loss and the loss of appetite—I still didn’t suspect Cancer.

I knew something was wrong, no doubt. I’m the one that urged him to go to the hospital each time. But I thought it was a lung infection. I thought it was that damn cat my husband refused to get rid of that had given him so many sneezes and coughs—it had finally done him in. That we’d go and get a big bottle of antibiotics and the problem would be solved.

But hospital visit after hospital visit with no answers came and went until April of last spring.

So at the 4th visit in two years, there Owen and I sat in the brightly lit emergency room at Scripps, Encinitas at 2 o’clock in the morning, hoping this time we’d get some answers as we watched the pretty doctor with the brown pony tail and mousy ears  come down from upstairs, studying his CT scan and EKG results and white blood cell count with her eyes brows drawn close together at the center—concerned. Perplexed. None of the doctors on any of the 3-4 other ER visits had that look on their faces.

“What’s wrong, doctor?” Owen said finally, pale- faced and looking so small under the hospital sheets. “Your face has cancer or something written all over it. Are we looking at something like that here? Or am I misreading you?”

And we watched her sit there silently, studying his face. Hesitantly. Like she was already regretting having to say the words. “Yes,” she said.

At this point, it is difficult to explain what it felt like. For me it was like I was not actually in the room. Like I was outside of my body watching this whole scene in front me on a television or movie screen. I watched myself put my hand on his knee as he stared stoically at the doctor—so strong—and then watched him crumble into millions of pieces like a sack of flour the following day after the oncologist came in with the unofficial diagnosis of lymphoma.

And even now, four months later, after the official diagnosis of thymoma, after the surgery that removed the 12 cm sized tumor in his chest that had spread into his heart, after the first 3 rounds of chemo that has stripped him of his hair, beard, eye lashes and color from his skin, I still feel like I’m watching it all. I make sure the heroine in the story acts heroine-like—supportive and loving, doing more around the house and maintaining her joy, seeking God for her strength. I pray just like the rest of the audience that the hero in the story beats the cancer and is able to achieve all of his life goals that cancer has sought to destroy—successful business, travel, speaking gigs, a home in Carlsbad, and giving to charity.

We now begin our fourth round of chemo today. I say we, because whatever affects him affects all of us. He is my love and I am with him through sickness and in health. And while I don’t look forward to the nausea this week or the fatigue or even the sadness that I know he will feel as he lays on the couch wondering how and why this happened to him—I do look forward to the increasing amount of closeness that he and I have developed through this. There is something that sickness does to a marriage when the couple loves each other. There is gentleness and a cherishing that increases significantly for both parties.

This chapter is not over—we’ve got at least 2 more chemo rounds and an entire month of radiation. In two weeks we get the next CT scan to see if any of the treatment has made a difference. Who knows when this chapter will end? I know that it is silly now to finalize life plans. Plot twists come our way and complications arise that the hero and heroin in the story do not anticipate.  I guess the point of life’s story is how we handle it when it comes. Will we allow it to change us like a good dynamic character? Will we resurrect in the end as the hero and be stronger than ever before?

Valentines Special–Free Download of Children’s Book on Love

agape heartValentines Special–Free Download of my Children’s Book, “How to Love Like Jesus: a Guide for Children and Their Parents.” Now through January 20th.

One of my students came in yesterday and asked if I could read a definition paper she wrote on love. She chose to focus on what love is versus what love is not. I breathed in a sigh of relief when I read her quote from the Book of Corinthians where the Apostle Paul defines love. And I then knew for sure she had taken it to heart when she went on to explain that love was not a hormonal feeling but a committed action that someone does for the ones they love. She went on to bring up Romeo and Juliet and typical high school romances that more often fall in to other categories outside of real love, and it hit me–Valentines Day will be coming up soon and so many people will be speaking about love without really knowing what it is.

Wouldn’t it be appropriate then as a Valentines Gift to give our children a book that helps them understand what love is from a biblical standpoint so they too can start their lives off on a strong foot, as my student has? It is so rare. And the world bombards us with lies about what love is.

The front and back cover of the children's book How to Love Like Jesus: A Guide for Children and Their Parents.

The front and back cover of How to Love Like Jesus: A Guide for Children and Their Parents.

My children’s book “How to Love Like Jesus: a Guide for Children and Their Parents” has not only helped children, but many of their parents better understand what real love looks like in real life.

For this reason, I am starting a promotion. You can get a FREE DOWNLOAD of the kindle version of my book starting today from January 16th through January 20th. If you like it, I encourage you to read the book to your children on Valentines Day or as you approach the holiday. Even better, if you like it, I encourage you to Buy “How to Love Like Jesus” . At $9.99 with numerous, colored illustrations and engaging questions for your children to ponder, you will see from the free-download that is worth it.

The book is appropriate to read to children as young as 2 to as old as 12. You can use just the illustrations with your younger ones, but use the written text with the older ones. You can read one section at a time, or all at once if they have the attention span.

Don’t have a kindle? Don’t worry, the link HERE will give you a safe download of an app that will help your iPhone or computer be able to read the kindle file for free.

I hope you enjoy the book. Please leave any comments or suggestions below or on the Amazon page. I do use affiliate links on this blog to help support it. It does not cost anything extra for you, just allows Amazon to share a few pennies with me for linking the books they host.