Bowing Down to Loss

This is the job of the living–to be willing to bow down before EVERYTHING that is bigger than you. And nearly everything in this world is bigger than you. Let your willingness be the only big thing about you.” -Elizabeth Gilbert

Preface

Elizabeth Gilbert just wrote the most brilliant Facebook piece yesterday about the grieving process, acceptance, and allowing yourself to feel the emotions of loss. This piece moved me so much, that it prompted me to think about my own reactions to loss.

Loss

When people we love are taken from us, it’s the worst, isn’t it? It’s like we have forgotten that these people we love were never ours to begin with.

No one belongs to us. And yet, when we love someone, we begin to subconsciously feel like God will never allow that person to leave our lives in any capacity. Or we would like to think that if they have to leave, that we would have some say so, or control, over how they leave us.

Sometimes those we love die.

Other times they decide to leave us.

And sometimes they may not physically leave us, but they become so different that we feel as if they have left us, because we can no longer relate to who they are.

When any of the aforementioned happens, my natural (although not productive) reaction is to try to change the situation in my mind, instead of accepting it. However, trying to change the situation only prolongs the process of grieving the loss.

Whereas acceptance, or allowing myself to feel the pain, actually causes me to move through the process.

When I was 16, my Grandma Sommers, who was a big part of my life and helped to raise me, died. She and my grandfather lived in the house behind us. I went to their house and visited them nearly everyday, up until she died.

And then I stopped.

My grandfather asked me to come over to visit as I always had. I mean, he wasn’t asking me to do anything difficult, right? All I had to do was to simply WALK ACROSS MY BACKYARD and open the back door (which he often left open) and to walk in and sit in a rocking chair next to him and listen to him tell stories. But I wouldn’t go. The thought of sitting in grandma’s rocking chair meant that I would crumble and I thought I couldn’t handle that. I didn’t want to sit in her empty chair and feel the loss.

Until one day, I missed my grandpa. And I knew he was lonely. So, I decided to visit.

It was the shortest visit in the history of visits. I maybe was there two minutes, tops. He had the opportunity to tell me about how he learned to heat up a sweet potato from the garden in his microwave, and I hadn’t even sat down, but I LOOKED at her chair, and the tears started to well up, and I told him I needed to go.

Grandpa walked me to the back door, as he always did, because he wanted to watch me walk home to see if I made it safely, without anyone snatching me up or something. He gave me a hug, and said, “We love you,” and then the tears I had been trying to hold in during those two minutes came out in a gasp–just because of his PRONOUN USAGE–instead of saying “I love you,” he said, “We love you,” which reminded me that there was no longer A WE.

Loud crying and gasping started as I ran–not walked–to my home, and closed the door behind me. I ran upstairs to my bedroom, closed the door, lied down on my bed, put my face on my pillow, and CRIED. I was feeling the loss. Finally. I was willing to feel the pain.

Each time I went to visit Grandpa Sommers, my visits lasted a little longer. I had a little more capacity each time, to accept that Grandma was gone. I was learning to tolerate the voice of grief in my head that said, “She’s never coming back. Never.” I listened to the voice. I cried. And I was willing to accept the truth.

The truth is never easy, but the sooner we bow down to it, the sooner we can have a chance to move forward.

There are so many times in my life, where grief pulled the rug out from underneath me, and instead of allowing myself to cry on the floor from the pain of the fall or loss, I jumped up and tried to grab the rug instead. Grabbing the rug leads to thinking that you know better than God. It leads to thinking you can change other people or their situations if you just work harder.

And please don’t think I’m knocking doing the work. There is a time and place for doing the work. But the process of grieving is no more work than showing up. It’s being willing to walk across the backyard and hold your grandfather’s hand for just a moment. It’s being willing to cry in your pillow every night, instead of stuffing and pretending everything is okay. You know what stuffing and pretending is? That’s depression (Liz Gilbert taught me that)– it’s not grief.

I know that grief comes and goes. And that some losses are ones that we can never completely recover from. There are losses that are simply incomprehensible to us. We wonder, “Why was this person taken away from this world?”

And yet, we somehow accept. And cry. And grieve. We do this on our knees, or sometimes alone, and sometimes in the presence of others. Some days truly suck and then you may feel better, and you have another sucky day. But you let yourself feel it all–and know that you are still here. And you are willing to feel it and walk through, to see what’s on the other side.

My grandma Sommers. (Stole this photo from Cindy Huss’ FB page).

Grace Elaine Sommers Whitehead

This past week my mom turned 79. It’s kind of jolting, because I don’t think of her as being someone who is close to entering her octogenarian years. She’s just my mom. However, she’s MY MOM. And being that I’m a mom, this has caused me to reflect on what it must be like to be my mom.

Sometimes I look at old pictures of myself from when I was a kid, and try to remember what my personality was like. I’m guessing my mom would say I was a happy and talkative child, and I was, for the most part. I liked to play outdoors in the dirt, ride my tricycle, talk to the neighbors, and play in the sandbox. I also liked to pretend I had imaginary friends and even children. One day I told my mom that I had two daughters–one named Ruthie (after my grandma who I was obsessed with) and Crouton (after my favorite salad bar topping-BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LOVE SEASONED BREAD?!). I was creative and liked to color and draw and watch the birds at the bird feeder.

My mom would sit at the foot of my bed every night until I fell asleep. We said bedtime prayers, and she helped me to learn how to pray. She cooked healthy food for us, and we always ate at the table.

(God, I should stop reminiscing because this is actually making me think about all the ways I’ve failed as a parent.)

But before I stop, I must mention one more thing.

I remember lying in bed in my childhood bedroom. Only I wasn’t a child anymore. I was 30 years old. My mom had pulled the curtains up, in hopes that I would feel the sunshine. It was springtime and it was beautiful weather. And yet, I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew my parents were concerned, but every time they tried to speak to me, I either cried or shut down. And all I remember thinking was, why can’t I just enjoy the sunshine? There are actual people who are getting up with the sun and going outside and living their lives and going to the grocery store and shit. And getting up to go pee was overwhelming to me. Eating was overwhelming to me. Showering was overwhelming to me.

I felt like I was getting evicted from my own life. This was during my second separation from my husband. Things were crumbling and I did not want to surrender. What I didn’t yet understand was that, as Glennon always says, nobody gets evicted from his or her life unless she is being called to a truer, deeper life. Rock bottom is always an invitation to something else- something even more authentic and beautiful.

My mother came into my bedroom. She sat down on my bed. She told me she had baked some homemade bread and had fresh strawberry jam, made with strawberries from our garden. While my mother is an incredible cook, it was very out of character for her to make homemade bread. I looked at her, perplexed. But then I knew: she’s trying to get me to eat AND baking may be her way of coping with the fact that her child is feeling hopeless and not eating or sleeping.

She convinced me to eat a piece of bread. She brought it upstairs to me and sat on my bed. I put the bread in my mouth and could tell it was nearly a perfect tasting piece of bread, so I began to chew it, even though I wasn’t enjoying the process of eating. Every time I swallowed food, it went into the pit of my stomach and I thought would vomit. But I didn’t vomit. So I continued to slowly and thoroughly chew the bread in my mouth so that I could nourish my body at least.

“I’ve been thinking,” my mother suddenly said, “about you.”

I sat up in bed. She had my attention.

“I have this vision of you in my mind. You are an exquisite, beautiful flower. And yet, you’ve been buried for so long under the dirt. The ground above you is hard and cracked, and the soil is not good. However, you continue to grow and you will soon sprout above this ground that is holding you back–this ground that has held you down for so many years, and you will begin to bloom. And you’re just the most beautiful flower. You’re becoming yourself and you’re stunning. You are going to bloom and break free.”

I looked at her in awe, because she was envisioning things for me that I simply couldn’t see. But what she said–her words–were so intricate and fascinating, that it drew me in.

Everyone has always loved my mother. At times I resented this, because I didn’t like sharing her. I would get jealous and hide for attention or act out (when I was a child, to clarify-not last week 😜). But now I know why people are so drawn to her-it’s because she showed up for them, and never fell apart. It’s because she’s a vault when it comes to trust. My mother has exhibited grace under pressure, time and time again. When others are stressed, she remains serious. When people are crying and crushed, she responds with compassion. That’s why people love her.

So that is my mother. She is a believer in things that dwell in truth and possibility. Happy birthday, Mom.

I am a Pokémon 

It is 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I am lying here in darkness and typing this blog on my phone on the eve of my 41st birthday. 

I am contemplating who I am and how I want to evolve. I’m like a Pokémon or something. (I don’t really understand Pokémon at all, but I know they, like, evolve, right?)

I want to continue to evolve and change who I am by changing what I do. In honor of my 41st year of life, I am sharing 41 truths I’ve learned as I have changed my thinking and my actions over the years. 

I love to elaborate. People who know me know that I’m the queen of elaboration and talking too much and overexplaining things.  But I will refrain from doing that in this instance because I only have a few minutes to write before my yoga class.

So here we go. How to evolve like a Pokémon, a.k.a, 41 random things I have learned:

1. Kids pay more attention to what you do than what you say.

2. A daily practice of meditation and prayer will change your life.

3. Judging others is not good for your health. It’s also a negative “low vibrational energy” way of thinking. 

4. Choose being truthful over being nice. 

5. You don’t have to be nice.  Like, really, you don’t. 

6. It is your responsibility to practice loving kindness, but this does not equate with being “nice.” It simply means you act in love for others and for yourself. 

7. The most courageous people show up even when they don’t feel ready. 

8.. That still, small voice inside of you will never let you down. It is there to protect you. It is the voice of God, speaking to you in quiet moments of truth. That is the voice that reminds you of what you need in this life, what to do next, and who you are. 

10.  When you are laughing you are healing. 

11. Practicing yoga helps you develop an understanding and compassion for your body.

12. Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love. 

Geesh, I can’t think of anything else. Maybe I don’t know 41 things. I’m going to yoga and then coming back.

13. It is not our job to make everything sunshine and rainbows for our kids. It is okay for them to experience pain and discomfort, and we walk beside them in this experience without trying to take it away. This is how they become resilient, kind, empathetic adults.

14. You don’t have to wear underwear. 

15. Processed food can make you ill. 

16. Meditate and pray. I know I already said that but that one needs to be on the list twice. 

17. Do not be afraid of pain.

18.  When you feel sad or anxious, go outside and breathe in the outdoor air. 

19. Let people be who they are. 

20. Do not assume what others are thinking. Ever. Ask them instead. 

21. Things that matter are going to take some time. 

22. You deserve happiness, respect, and peace of mind. 

23. What we cannot see, we cannot heal. 

24. There is no power in pretending. 

25. When you’re angry, ask yourself, “What needs to be protected?”

26. We can do hard things. 

27. Drink lots of water. 

28.  It is beneath your dignity to maintain relationships with people who do not honor your self worth. 

29. Relationships that you have to keep a secret are not relationships that contribute to your freedom. 

I can’t think of anything else. I lied about knowing 41 things.

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Hey! I’m back four days later, and I’m now too legit to quit, which brings me to my next truth…

30. Don’t quit on your goals just because they are hard or you’re having a brain freeze.

31. If you want to find your tribe, you must first find yourself. 

32. When choosing a life partner, consider first and foremost if the person is right for you (and your kids, if you have them). Family members and friends love to give their two cents, but when it’s all said and done it is you that must live with the person. 

33. Ask for help when you need it. 

34. Set boundaries with people. 

35. Get your “news” and facts from reputable books and research–not television news channels. 

36. Don’t write lists like these. 

37. I know nothing. 

38. Only you know what’s best for you. 

39. After all, I’m a Pokémon. 

40. When trying to decide whether or not you should stay in a relationship or marriage “for the kids’ sake,” remember that you being in a state of unhappiness is not healing for you or your children.  You being authentically YOU is what your children desperately want from you. 

41. You are what you love. So make sure who or what you are loving is good for you. 

We are in this together

I’ve been writing a ton recently, but all of it feels too personal or too fresh or too dark or too much to share with the internet at this moment. 

And yet, here I am now, in my bed, trying to sleep, and I suddenly feel the need to write something. So I’m typing this blog out on my phone, and I guarantee you there will be typos and awkward sentences because I may not even proofread it. 

You guys, my students come tomorrow as I am entering my 18th year of teaching. I am excited. We (the teachers) are just as nervous and have just as much adrenaline as the kiddos who walk through our doors. And it’s because of one reason: we want to make this year their best, and we know how important that first day is for setting the tone of the school year. 

So here I am, thinking about those kiddos, and thinking about my own kiddo who is nervous.  She doesn’t want to go to school because she’s kinda wired like me in that she is a ball of nerves. But she’s doing it anyway, and took photos of all her school supplies because she absolutely loves school supplies, and she’s thinking of how this new school year is always a chance to start something new. 

Every school year, I am nervous, because it is new. And every school year, I am excited because it is new. It’s a rebirth. It’s a new opportunity to show up and hone my craft. It’s a new chance to be real and loved instead of shiny and perfect (Glennon’s words, not mine). 

This summer I participated in the Hoosier Writing Project and met a group of teachers who inspired me to keep writing and to keep teaching. I also traveled to Mexico for a yoga retreat in a remote location that was only reachable by boat.  At home, I went to the farmers’ market and went to the pool with my daughter. I cooked and I wrote a lot of stuff that was the darkest and deepest stuff I’ve ever written. I met some interesting men who weren’t right for me. I argued with my daughter but also let her sit on my lap as much as she wanted to. I let her watch a ton of television and I didn’t feel guilty about it. I took my dad who has Alzheimer’s and my child on a vacation to California and I felt so many emotions during that trip that I had forgotten how it feels to be so up and down. I cried at the airport when two TSA agents didn’t understand why the airline needed me to walk my dad back to the gate. A TSA agent named Svizak came over to me, and said, “We will make this situation work. We are in this together,” and showed me such kindness that I cried even more with him because I felt safe and understood.

That was my summer. It was lovely and beautiful and hard. And now, I am ready to begin again. 

We have got this. We can make anything work. We are in this together. ❤️ 

I Remember

Tonight I did something I wasn’t quite sure I could handle. I went to volunteer at a counseling center for victims of domestic violence. 

There is a group of writers who are running a workshop at the counseling center. The objective of the workshop is to encourage the participants to tell their stories.  They can write about anything they want–meaning, they have the power to decide if they want to write about the trauma they have experienced or something else. I decided to volunteer specifically as an interpreter and writing tutor for the women in the group whose first language is Spanish. 

But I wasn’t sure I could do this. I wanted to do this. I have been wanting desperately to give back. My memories of expressing my creativity as a way to recover from trauma are some of the most powerful reminders of the beauty you can find within pain.

But I wasn’t sure I could do it.

What if I cried as someone told me her story?

What if I started to remember awful things and wanted to leave the room?

What if I couldn’t help the women I wanted to help, because my own memories got in the way? 

What if I wasn’t strong enough to lead them in their writing? 

These were the questions that raced through my brain as I pondered the potentiality of this opportunity.

And I decided that since those were all questions that began with “what if…,” that I wouldn’t have the answers until I decided to do the very thing I wasn’t sure I could do. 

And so I JUST SHOWED UP. I showed up and sat down next to some brave women. I observed them writing. The other workshop volunteers and I wrote alongside the participants when the instructor gave them a prompt. I watched the women seated next to me let the words flow out onto the pages without any hesitation. 

A woman I was interpreting for wrote about how she wanted to be an eagle. She began to cry as she was reading her story outloud to the group in Spanish. She stopped and froze. I handed her tissues and touched her arm. 

“You are so brave!” I whispered to her in Spanish. 

She nodded and continued to read. She has always loved eagles because they are strong and free. She said she used to be free like them once. But then something happened. And now she hasn’t been free for several years but she KNOWS she will be free again just like she once was. 

I looked at her, feeling a mixture of wonderment and empathy and pride. “Your writing will help so many people,” I told her. She nodded. She was so sincere and so real to me. She knew there was power in her pain.

You see, I had been so afraid of feeling weak, BUT THE OPPOSITE ACTUALLY HAPPENED. I felt the strength and the energy in the room–strength and energy and power.

Sometimes we doubt that we are ready to do emotionally hard things. And so many of those times we just don’t give ourselves enough credit. 

In honor of doing hard things, I am sharing with you an excerpt of my writing tonight. As I mentioned, we wrote in silence with the participants, as a form of solidarity. But also because writing is good for the soul. 

The writing prompt was a simple one. It was, “I remember…”

I Remember (by me)

I remember, now, that there were good things. I remember the sound of your laugh. So boisterous and loud. I remember how when you were filled with joy, everyone else was, too! I remember the smell of your cologne–so grossly strong, yet so good. I remember watching you play the piano. I remember how you slammed those ivory keys in a way that was over the top. I remember the first time I saw you play, I laughed outloud, thinking you were being funny, until I realized you were actually serious. THIS WAS YOUR ART. I remember how we laughed so hard at our inside jokes that we rolled on the floor, tears seeping out of our eyes. I remember how you lovingly touched the small of my back, and my nerve endings felt excitement. I remember how I wanted to be yours and how that simultaneously worried me. 

I remember how when I left, I couldn’t remember these things because that would have created confusion. I remember that the pain of you gripping my throat on the closet floor clouded all the good memories of you. 

I remember how the pain of loving you was my addiction. I remember how as I became stuck in this addiction that I had dreams of running away. Sometimes even flying away to a place you couldn’t find me.

I remember how much of a dichotomy you are. How all of it–all of you and all of us–couldn’t survive. I remember the day I realized how dangerous it was. 

I remember all of this. But I don’t remember sometimes, because if I did, it would be hard to watch our child hop into your arms for safety.

But I remember. I do. 

   

Haters Gonna Hate

Back in October, I went to a local writers’ conference. During the conference, we were encouraged to meet with book agents to “pitch” a book idea.

But prior to that, there was a seminar in which the agents sat on stage and listened to excerpts of people’s manuscripts read aloud. A manuscript was read, and each agent was instructed to raise his or her hand when a point was reached in the reading where he lost interest in hearing the story.

Each author had a choice, of course, as to whether or not to participate in this activity. I chose not to submit my writing, because the idea of it scared the crap out of me.  About 12 minutes into the seminar, I turned to the woman next to me, and I saw an intensity in her eyes that looked like anger and fear. I realized it was her manuscript that had just been read and criticized and dismantled by a bunch of book agents who didn’t know that this story was her creative BABY. They didn’t know it had been growing inside her brain for years, and they were strangers to the yearning that she’s had to get it out. They were just sitting up on stage, getting paid to say all the reasons they had NO interest in reading her writing.

Another woman was sitting on the opposite side of her. “It’s okay, they are just like that. Don’t take it personally,” she consoled her.

But I took it personally, AND IT WASN’T EVEN MY MANUSCRIPT.  I wanted to stand up and say, “Oh, just stop being mean!!! This is her BABY. Her creative BABY. Please stop.”

But instead, I bit my tongue and walked out.

Later in the day, I was scheduled to give a pitch for my writing with an agent. After what I saw the book agents do to people’s manuscripts inside the pitch seminar session, I really was considering bolting out of there and running home to hide under my covers and eat chips and salsa.

I told the other writers there that I was 99.9% sure I was going to back out of the bitch–I mean, pitch.

“Oh don’t!” They all said. “It will be a good experience for you, no matter what happens.”

Me: Okay. 😐

So I went to the pitch session. I sat across from the book agent at a small desk, and started to tell her about my blog. As I  began to speak, I could see her eyes bolting in another direction. Like, the thought instantly occurred to me that she was actually BORED, and I had barely spoken five sentences.

The best way I can portray what the experience was like to you, is to reinact the pitch session with my cat acting as the book agent. Because my cat and this book agent seem to be kindred spirits. So here goes:


The agent’s response:


My response to the agent’s response:


And then the agent, who, once again CLEARLY doesn’t give a sh*t.

Which finally caused me to go into my, “Oh my gosh , this is awkward” soliloquy, which I usually reserve for first dates:

 So, yeah. That didn’t turn out so well. Not that it should have, because it’s pretty clear to me that a book deal with this publisher wasn’t in the cards.

But here’s the big thing, you guys: we are creative beings. We are born to create. You–yes, you! I believe that every single person on this planet was created TO create. And only YOU can figure out what that thing is you are supposed to create.

But here’s the terrible thing that sometimes happens: someone tells us somewhere along the way that something we created wasn’t good enough. (This happens frequently in childhood.) And that memory sticks like glue to our brains. And it seems like these memories are some of the most POWERFUL ones that affect our development into adulthood.  

These memories are what cause us to stop creating. And it’s time for us to tell those memories to get the heck out of our heads because they aren’t paying rent to reside there anymore.

Brene Brown is a shame researcher, speaker, and one of my heroes. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she sums up what she’s learned about creativity:

“There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”

In an interview, Brene further expounds on the subject: “Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, and shame.”

Do you hear that? IT METASTASIZES. (And I know this to be true, because it is not uncommon for those who are not using their creativity to resent those who are.)

That is why, going back to my agent pitch story, it is important for us to be cautious about whose feedback we take seriously.

And you wanna know whose feedback I take seriously?  It’s the people who are in the shared fight with me, getting their asses kicked everyday alongside of me. As my hero, Brene says, “If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

If you’re not fighting to protect the same things that I am, how can I know that your feedback is coming from a helpful place?

And feedback IS important from the RIGHT people.  Feedback can be life changing from those who truly care.

So my wish is for everyone who has made the brave choice to create something to know this truth I’m about to share. And yes, I’m on a Brene Brown kick here folks, because if it weren’t for her research and writing, I wouldn’t know this truth, which lies in a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, that was the impetus for her book, Daring Greatly.

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It’s time to dare greatly. Will you join me in the arena?

We can leave our book agents and cats behind. 

 

 

Hey, Guys! I Made you Something!

Hi everyone. I just used an app on my seven year old daughter’s IPod, and I made this picture for you:  

 
Do you like it? I do, and apparently I’m seven years old, because I really enjoyed making it. I even wrote my name in the corner just because I kind of want to look like her. She’s sparkly and beautiful and colorful, and in this moment, I’m none of those things. So, I kind of, like, really want to be her. Actually, let’s just say I am her. I mean–that’s me. Do you like my self portrait?

And then I found an app on her phone where I can dress up a cat and make it wear a tiara. I don’t know why I did this. It just seemed like the logical next step after painting my self portrait. 

 

And then I discovered a nail painting app. But I could only paint three nails unless I was willing to pay $9.99 to “unlock the app.” I was trying to justify $10, for two nails, but I just couldn’t.   

So that’s kind of what I just spent the last hour on after my daughter went to bed. I guess you could say I’m stressed and not able to sleep so I’m distracting myself. 

I wasted time. It was silly. It was goofy. But I made something. I’m finding that sometimes I need to give myself permission to create. Even if it is dumb on the outside. It’s still energy. It’s still creativity. It’s still movement. 

And I think we all could use a little of that: energy, creativity, forward movement.

  

What it’s Like to be a Preacher’s Kid

Not many people know that my mom is a retired pastor. She went to seminary when she was younger, and decided to pursue her ministerial dreams just around the time I was entering kindergarten. I remember her ordination.

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My life changed forever when she became ordained. Going to church had always been a big deal, but now church became the center of our social lives.

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Even when we went on vacation, we didn’t get a break from church. Mom would wake us up early in the morning on Sunday while we were in Michigan or wherever we happened to be on vacation to “go to some church she found in the yellow pages.”

I’m thankful that I enjoyed most of the church related events that we attended. I liked singing. I liked the crafts we did in Sunday School. However, my mind always seemed to wander when anyone was teaching or preaching about the Bible.

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I always knew what was Biblically right and wrong, though. And I was often trying to push the envelope just a little bit, for the sake of getting attention. I would do things like wait until there were twelve people sitting around my grandparents’ dinner table to loudly announce that, “My brother stayed up late to watch naked women on television!” (NOT true, by the way… Or at least, not to my knowledge) Then my cousins would laugh loudly and my brother would scowl and look at me like I was crazy.

Last winter when I was at home in Kokomo, I saw an old acquaintance from high school. He was an athlete and didn’t know me well in high school; I was the antithesis of a popular athlete. In fact, if you were to pick up a thesaurus right now and look under the antonyms’ section for “athlete,” you would find my photograph. I was a quiet, klutzy nerd.

“Man, you’re friendlier than I thought. So were you like a ‘closet extravert back in the day?” he asked me.

I had to think about that. My friends and family knew I was talkative. But both in church and in school, I was fairly quiet. I wanted to do the right thing. I was afraid to be myself. I wanted to be perfect.

I am thankful to have the experiences I had growing up in the church, because it helped to prepare me and center me for the chapters ahead. The one thing I wish I had known is that it’s okay to be inappropriate at times. It’s okay to laugh at poop jokes and be goofy and if a bad word slips out every once in awhile, it’s okay. I don’t think my inability to recognize this was a reflection on my parents at all, but rather a result of just being in a lot of situations–both at church and school, where I felt the expectation was to be “appropriate” and serious at all times.

I put that pressure on myself. So if my present self could give my younger self advice, it would be, “It’s okay to push the envelope. Keep pushing. Don’t censor every stinking thing you want to say. It’s only when you are yourself, that the creativity can flow. So just be yourself, because that’s who were meant to be.”

What advice would you give your younger self?