This is Us, and how It Was Me

The show that has flushed all of America’s tear ducts has a storyline, a scene, or a character that brings back memories for everyone who watches it. Maybe those memories for you are ones of happy bickering with siblings, falling in love, and familial reconciliation— however, the memories for me (and for some of you reading, I suspect) are much more somber.

When I was 16, my biological father came cascading into my life via a newly created Facebook account. At the time, he told me he was newly sober and living at a VA facility in White City, Oregon. I rolled my eyes… I’d heard it before. Emails, drunken phone calls, and birthday cards every few years punctuated my childhood. Tales (mostly lies) about how fun and how glamorous his life was found themselves to me every few months, and then I wouldn’t hear from him for a year or two. After the age of five, I stopped seeing him as my dad and more of a strange cross-country uncle that I had in my life. When he friend requested me, I told my mom “hmm, Tim has a Facebook. Cool. Maybe I’ll get more updates.”

When I was 17, I got a message following message:

“Hi sweetie…went thru ruptured appendix surgery…biopsy came back, doctor called me this morning letting me know i have cancer…I know i haven’t been there for you & glad joey was able to take the roll.  Anyways, i go under the knife thursday noon. If they can’t get it all…im calling it a wrap..i dont want to live w/out quality of life (so to speak) But want to make sure i got all your correct info, so you can get my insurance policy monies. I’m lucky to have such a beautiful daughter 🙂 and I wish you all the best.  Love ya 🙂  If you want to call…”

My. heart. sunk. He had just celebrated 1 year of sobriety, and I had been ignoring his messages for months. I was a senior in high school, and too busy to be bothered by him. I walked out to my parent’s front porch and called him and told him I was going to visit him in Oregon, and asked him 1,000,000 questions. He told me I didn’t have to come, and not to waste my money. I told him I’d hold off on the visit but that I would eventually come out there whether or not he wanted me to. One month later surgeons tried to go in and get the rest of the cancer, but much to their frustration, it had already metastasized to every major organ in his abdomen. He was officially terminal.

The doctors said he had months at best, so I dropped everything and booked a flight to Oregon for the next week. Five days after turning eighteen, I flew cross-country to meet a man and his extended family that I hadn’t seen since I was in diapers. We had a visit, his sister Tami showed me the Oregon countryside, and we all fully expected him to die within the month. We were wrong. I got to make several more trips out west to see his family as his cancer dragged on for two more years. Tim went through 11 rounds of chemotherapy before finally succumbing to cancer without any family present in the VA domiciliary infirmary surrounded by who I hope were his favorite nurses.

The last visit we had he couldn’t leave his bed except for to sneak cigarettes outside of his room on his short walks. His bones looked like they wanted to poke through his skin, and I was honestly afraid to hug him too tight for fear of rupturing his stomach because his tumors had taken over his whole body. I still lie awake some nights still with visions of his frail body clutching his walker as I drove away in a borrowed car on my way back to the airport.

He died over Fall Break my Junior year. My wonderful dad came to get me and drove me back to Virginia and I made arrangements for his cremation, burial, and stressed for weeks as to how I was going to pay off the remainder of the balance that was left at the end of it all. I picked out his epitaph sitting in one of my psychology classes and fought to keep the debt from going to collections. I didn’t go to the funeral, and I still haven’t been to Oregon since. He’s buried in the National Cemetery just miles from Crater Lake (one of the most serene places on Earth) and one day I’d like to go see that headstone I anguished over. I like to think Tim’s final resting place is symbolic of the peace he now feels— peace from addiction, from cancer, from never feeling like he was good enough.

While we didn’t have meaningful interactions with one another until I was nearly an adult, he changed me. I’m still not sure if I’m better off for having gotten to know him in his twilight hours only to lose him, but I know that I don’t regret it. He didn’t raise me, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t my father, and no matter the mistakes we make trying to navigate being human in this world, everyone deserves to be loved in the final hours. He was an amazing man— witty, charming, and kind. Everyone who spent the last years of his life with him misses him dearly, and I loved him. I have his huge forehead, and sarcastic morbid sense of humor. Not to brag, but he said over and over again how proud he was of me and how I was the best thing he ever did. It’s been three years, and I’m still processing the entire ordeal, and I’ll likely continue to evolve my feelings on the subject.

All of that being said, THIS IS US IS MAKING ME CRY SO MUCH. I don’t want to spoil the show, but there’s a storyline there that hits way too close to home. NOT COOL NBC. But honestly, I’m thankful. It’s reminded me that I’ve made it so far since going through Tim’s death, and reminded me to live purposefully in the wake of loss. Does anyone else have any crazy TV related emotional trauma right now?

Anxiety and Obsession

When I was young, I was famous for pushing the limit in regards to things which excited me. Be it something I wanted from the store, somewhere I wanted to go, or something I wanted to do– I was relentless. I’d ask over and over and over again until my parents, grandparents, friends, and teachers were ready to strangle me. I learned quickly to justify things I wanted to do in hopes it would allow them to realize the urgency behind my wishes. I can often feel myself becoming annoying and unbearable, but I can’t seem to stop myself from “beating a dead horse.”

Thinking back, I wasn’t trying to manipulate them into giving me what I wanted from a sense of deservedness, but because getting where I wanted to go, or getting the item I was pining for was the only thing to relieve the compulsion I was feeling. I don’t know now if I was spoiled, or what caused me to become this way– all I know is that I’ve been living for over 20 years now and still give in to every obsession that plagues me.

My most recent realization is that my obsessive tendencies go hand in hand with my anxiety– I convince myself that getting something new, or going somewhere fun, or doing something different will make my life better. For example, I’ll read on the internet that taking probiotics and weight loss seem to be correlated. For the next 24 hours, I’ll do nothing but read about types of probiotics, success stories, reviews, dosing, and price. Within a day of the beginning of my obsession I will possess a probiotic and the moment I get what I’ve been compulsively reading about I’ll feel sweet relief–almost a sort of high. It’s not materialism, it’s a temporary treatment for my anxiety.

I think when I’m busy obsessing over a show, product, or place I find less time to worry about things that are really bothering me: money, health, missing my family, the state of the country, how dirty my apartment is, etc. The grand distraction works, but also doesn’t always benefit me.

Perhaps when I feel a new obsession coming on, I ought to pause and take a moment and take a small step toward tackling a stressor that’s actually making me anxious. For example, right now instead of online shopping for new makeup I should organize all of the monthly bills that I have due this week and make a plan to get them paid. Either way I’ll feel better about my life, but by focusing on a real problem I’ll be doing my small part to ease my anxiety at the source.

Will I do that though? Probably not. I’ll probably continue to obsess and worry myself and others to death about meaningless things, because that’s my nature. However, realizing this about myself and others will hopefully allow all of us to understand each other better.

tl;dr: Next time someone you love is relentlessly bugging you about something they want, somewhere they want to go, or someone they want to see– give them grace. See it as an outward expression of anxiety. Help them see that you understand that you can’t stop talking about it, and try to help them relax. They’ll thank you later.

 

Sorry I Can’t Stop Complaining About Trump

Hello, it’s me: your friendly neighborhood left-leaning democrat. I am the one who doesn’t think the Hillary memes are funny anymore, and who LOSES MY MIND SOMETIMES ON TWITTER over current events. Here are my thoughts:

Today at work I was literally pleaded with by a new coworker to stop talking about politics. I actually pretty often find myself unable to shut my mouth regarding my grievances with the government, even when I’m completely aware that everyone around me is becoming uncomfortable because they support what I’m condemning or vice versa. To some, I’m sure I appear to be a sore loser who can’t stop until everyone agrees with me. I think I really just want to be truly heard.

As much as it pains me to say, I’m currently wishing that I was among the Americans celebrating the current administrations actions and words. Some people I know are blissfully going along with their day to day lives feeling safe and represented in the interests of our country. However, on the left over here all I want is to go one day without reading a headline about America that absolutely gives me anxiety— real heart racing, helpless, anxiety.

All of that being said, if you’re someone reading this and finding yourself ready to comment something rude about my beliefs, please know that I’m talking to you

The average Trump Supporters I speak to on a daily basis make fun of people like me— the ones who are genuinely panicking about our futures. Personally, I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression, which in my case leads to negative thoughts, obsession, and the occasional (or in my case frequent) existential dread. The headlines currently running about our government—you know the scary ones that reveal inconsistency and rushed decisions? Those aren’t just “I told you so” reminders for me— they’re warning signs. Signs that tell me I was right to worry during election season and things are only going to get worse. I lie awake at night and fear that my rights as a woman will be reduced, or that my LGBT and black friends lives will be valued less than their white neighbors, or that the poor and disenfranchised won’t have access to quality medical care, or that immigrants will be shunned from the USA because of the country listed on their birth certificate (I could go on but you get the point). Last month, I called my mom three times at work worrying that I would lose my health insurance. I can’t stop waking my boyfriend up at 6am to panic to him about the latest briefing or statement from a foreign power. While I do find myself at times able make jokes about the president, it’s not all some cute joke to me anymore and I’m not just throwing a fit. I’m terrified and my psyche is being affected by the Office of the President.

The worst part of all of this is that whenever I express these anxieties online and in person to those around me, I’m typically met with mockery. Generally, the people who are comfortable with this administration and think my anxious thoughts are ridiculous do nothing to comfort me. They can only seem to find names to call me, like “snowflake” and “liberal crybaby” (but we can discuss that moral failure later). I’m not saying my opinions and political beliefs can be swayed (or that my opinions are the only right ones)— because my mind is already made up about this current chapter of American politics. However, I am suggesting that if pride was put aside and occasionally my neighbors were able to understand my anxieties (or at least try to understand) our political conversation would be much more productive, and frankly, people like me who are struggling to accept what’s happening around us would be a lot more mentally healthy.

So if you are someone who feels tempted to type something sarcastic after reading paragraph one and two of this blurb, please consider the following: some of us aren’t just annoyed that we didn’t get our way, and for some of us this isn’t just a contest. Our way of life and our dreams lost in this election, and because of that, we’re now struggling to find our place in this new America you love so much. Thanks for reading.

New car, new me?

Two years ago I was a junior in college driving a 1994 Jeep Cherokee with more rust than paint and unsure of the future. One of those things has changed.

When my trusty Jeep (affectionately named Cletus) got to the point that I could no longer drive it back and forth from Knoxville to Roanoke, I knew it was time I reach out to my parents to brainstorm solutions to my car problems. Rather than pour another dollar into my Jeep, they decided to dip into their hard-earned savings to buy me a pre-owned 2003 Volkswagen Passat off of Craigslist.

With a new car came a symbolic new chapter of adulthood. That summer I went to Bonnaroo for the first time, turned twenty-one, went to clubs, and began to seriously think about dating for the first time since high school. I was a mess, I tried hard to meet the wrong guys in the wrong places— taking drinks and dancing with strangers to feel wanted. Much to my then frustration, I was unsuccessful (however now I’m thankful for my failure).

Within a year of getting that new car, I started a serious relationship, failed college, moved into a my first apartment, adopted a dog and a cat, and became a car salesmen. Whew. Life got weird, fast. However, for the first time in my life I have a semblance of control. Gone are the days of depending on my parents and living under the structure of a strict Christian college campus. Here are the days of wine, Netflix nights at home with my boyfriend, and bills.

Of course, with every new chapter comes a new car (at least in my case). Last week, I signed a lease on a 2017 Subaru Crosstrek and I can’t wait to see where I am in life at the end of the next 36 months.

My Country, ‘Tis Not Thee I see.

I don’t have words. Well, no words that I can type and ease my uneasiess over what’s happening, anyways. My heart aches and I can do nothing to soothe it because I see things happening that I will not accept. I won’t call this place “my country” right now, despite my citizenship because my country is so much better than what I see.

My country ‘tis a place of hope, founded by refugees fleeing persecution and dreamers with hope of a better future.

My country ‘tis a place of progress, where society gradually becomes more accepting of “the other” and we work to truly become one people.

My country ‘tis a place of knowledge, where we listen to the brightest of minds on how to make the world a better place.

My country ‘tis a place of compassion, where we notice our neighbors in need and sacrifice so that their children can thrive alongside ours.

My country ‘tis a place of opportunity, where one’s skin color, gender, socioeconomic class, nor ethnicity determine his or her ability to succeed.

My country has free trade, open borders, and representation in government.

I don’t recognize my country in this place I see on the news—a place of fear of anything we don’t recognize in the mirror, a place of greed, and a place which wages war on compassion.

I know my thoughts on the state of the Union rattle off like the verses of a funeral dirge, but I’m distraught. I lack the words to make all of this feel right… because it is wrong.  We will eventually leave this era of history, and my only hope left is that there are some remnants of my country left when it’s all said and done.

For the Love of Refugees

I will preface this post with the following information: I am a Christian—meaning that above all I follow the commands of Jesus Christ in Matthew 22:34-40 to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and will all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Until recently, I assumed all Christians followed these two commandments in all aspects of their lives: their relationships, their careers, their behavior toward strangers, etc. However, it seems evident to me that as of late, some American Christians have re-interpreted scripture, somehow, to reflect some new commandments they deem more important than the ones Christ gave during his time on Earth.

It seems as if American Christians have adopted the following commands:

  1. “Remember that your safety, and the safety of your family, is more important than the safety of anyone else.”
  2. “Do anything and everything necessary to ensure America is a Christian nation in which Christians can live comfortably and without strife.”
  3. “Spend, invest, and save in a way that no only ensures the material wealth of your family system, but also makes sure that you have enough money in the bank to rely on no one but yourself.”
  4. “Resist any change that threatens your way of life—remember, Western Culture is the best culture.”
  5. “Some people deserve our help more than others”

The intermarriage between American Nationalism and Christianity has created a generation of ethnocentric entitled members of the body of Christ that want nothing more than to achieve the prosperity that comes with the ultimate realization of the “American Dream.” We create missions boards to handle our tithes, and truly mean well in doing so, yet when it comes to actually sacrificing we are frozen in place. We’re so scared of having to rely on non-material things for happiness that we cling to them as if they we essential to our very livelihood. With the combined resources of American Christians, we could very well end poverty and live in a world in which people did not have to go without while others prospered, but instead we focus on legislating morality and ensuring our own prosperity over others’ livelihood. I am as greedy as they come, don’t get me wrong. Capitalism has left its mark on my spending habits and I live well beyond my means in the hope of happiness—but happiness isn’t the end game toward which we should strive. Instead, we ought to strive in all aspects of our lives to follow Christ’s two most important commandments stated in Matthew 22.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly Truth

Defining virtues based on goals and performance are two very different things. Intention and action while sometimes congruent often are unrecognizable from one another in reality. If I were an author penning my ideal life narrative, I would write myself as an ambitious, compassionate, and creative person. I’d write myself as an idyllic character—the one each and every reader is rooting for. In that narrative, I’d make the choices with singularity of heart and with the best diplomatic solution in mind. The character in the book would have it all together, but not in a prideful success-driven way, but a way in which leaves the character feeling at ease and free to help others in their times of need. This version of myself would never pass rash judgement or complete tasks out of selfish ambition—but rather act as a harmonious liaison between God and the people around me. At this point in my life, this version of myself seems like the person I want to be. However, based upon the actual narrative of my life, this woman does not exist.

Instead, I am fiercely independent and head-strong. I say all of the wrong things, and hurt people’s feelings. Instead of committing to loyally loving the people around me, I profit on creating humor from their shortcomings to the benefit of my own self-esteem. I’m rotten to the core, and at times it seems that the inevitability of the evil within my being will overwhelm me. I procrastinate, I cheat, and I lie. Just when I’m sure I’ll be taken under by the wickedness that oozes from my thoughts and actions, I remember that I’m not beyond salvation.

In this life, I’ve been entrusted with the love of some of the best people on planet Earth. I have parents that taught me generosity in the midst of hard financial times, and love me even when there is no beauty to be found in my behavior. I am lead by some of the brightest men and women ever, who always show me grace when I truly do not deserve it. My friends fill my life with laughter and joy even when depression seems to weigh me down like a lead blanket. Considering all things, the good in my life certainly overwhelms the bad on any given day of the week. No matter how dismal my outlook becomes, there is always a still small glowing light of redemption—no disaster is too far removed from the rejoicing that this life has brought me.

So, if one were to outline my life’s narrative based upon the virtues I’ve embodied throughout my twenty-one years I believe they would see one virtue standing taller than the rest: redemption. Without the stains left upon the pages of my story by horrible things in my past, present, and future there would be no evidence of the power of the good in my life to shine brighter than any of my mistakes or trauma. Life is not ideal, and this world is not paradise—but when I slow down to evaluate the wonder that I have to learn more about how to find the good in the world, I find myself hopeful after all.