Episode 91: Seacoast Digital Fast with Jeff Stern

April 28, 2019

All In with Pauline Hawkins

Jeff Stern 1

 

Jeff Stern is a filmmaker, senior lecturer in Media and Culture at Bentley University, and the creator of “Seacoast Digital Fast” an event taking place May 3-5. Jeff talks about how digital fasting became one of his projects and what he hopes the event will do for the participants and what it will eventually become. He also shares a great perspective on going “all in.”

Three songs that would be on the soundtrack of his life: 1st song: “Rock & Roll” by The Velvet Underground; 2nd song: “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel; and 3rd song: “Upside Down” by Diana Ross.

For more information, go to: http://seacoastdigitalfast.com/
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https://www.instagram.com/seacoastdigitalfast/
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For I Am Yours: Watercolor Illustrations

I’m thrilled to share another completed illustration for my children’s book For I Am Yours.

For I Am Yours

Lorraine Watry is the amazing illustrator, and she’s been blogging about her process for her followers and students. She has never illustrated a book before, but her watercolor paintings have won numerous awards.

To read more about her process, go to:  https://www.lorrainewatrystudio.com/blog/2019/3/1/for-i-am-yours-childrens-book-illustrations-in-watercolor-by-lorraine-watry

 

Choose to be Teachers and Students

My daughter and son-in-law asked me to speak at their wedding. I was honored but also hesitant–what could I, of all people in their lives, say about marriage? The only thing I know without a doubt. With their permission, here’s my speech:

As we gather to celebrate your journey together, I want to share with you a little wisdom I’ve acquired along the way. After 15 years in education, I’ve realized a very important fact: We never stop being students. As a matter of fact, even without an education degree, we are all teachers as well.

This concept applies perfectly to our relationships. Every thought, word, and action speaks volumes for those willing to listen, watch, and engage. If we choose to be diligent observers of the people in our lives, we learn the important aspects of who they are. But as much as people observe us, they can’t know everything about us, unless we teach them. We must not be afraid to share the inner workings of our hearts with those we love and trust.

Therefore, Nicole and Tripp, you must choose to be teachers and students of each other.

As much as you think you know the person standing in front of you, there is always something to learn about each other. You must be willing to teach the other what makes you happy, angry, or sad; you must be willing to learn how to ease each other’s burdens and how and when to give each other space.

I know from watching the two of you together, that you have already learned much about each other and are not afraid to teach each other about your needs.

But as time goes on, each of you will change and grow—sometimes together; sometimes apart. But if you make the commitment to always be a student and a teacher, you will learn about the changes and teach each other who you are becoming. You will learn to give each other space and comfort when you each need it because you will teach each other when and how. Just as teachers can’t expect students to know what they have not been taught, you can’t expect the other to know how to meet your needs.

Teach each other with patience and love. Engage with each new stage with diligence and passion. Be dedicated students of each other and your relationship.

Just as you have chosen to marry each other today, Nicole and Tripp, may you choose to be teachers and students for the rest of your lives.

The Philanthropic Experience: A Student’s Perspective

One of my current college composition student wrote a personal narrative essay that beautifully illustrates one of my ideas to reform education (

https://paulinehawkins.com/2012/11/21/high-school-reformation/

).

This is what I proposed in that post:

The Philanthropic Experience

For those students who don’t want to continue their formal education but aren’t ready to go out into the world on their own, I’d like to offer them a philanthropic experience. Currently, only students actively involved with their churches have opportunities to have this type of experience. Students can participate in a “missions’ trip” that will concentrate on giving back to their community, whatever that community may be (local or global). This experience would need to be partially self-funded (travel and living expenses, but government can fund the supervision needed for those students). Once they’ve had that experience, they may come back and continue their formal education or have discovered what their path is and pursue that.

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Travel/Pix/pictures/2013/12/5/1386262243685/Pelourinho-Salvador-Brazi-008.jpg?w=620&q=85&auto=format&sharp=10&s=2da05ce1061654577044b90f7c90a3c8
Salvador, Brazil

This is what Justin had to say about being one of those students and having that experience:

“A Brazilian Soul” by Justin Moore

From September to December of 2015, I spent three months volunteering in Salvador, Brazil, and it was the best thing to ever happen to me. My comfort bubble was absolutely obliterated, and because of it, I am mentally, physically, and socially stronger. A year ago, I had no plans of doing any traveling or any plans in general. I was lost and unsure about what to do, and the future seemed like a terrifying monster called life that was going to chew me up and spit me right back out. I have always been that friend on whose shoulder people cry, and I have always been fascinated with foreign cultures. These two seemingly unrelated attributes led me to volunteering abroad. Thank god for Brazil.

Brazil helped turn me around even before I set foot in the country. With three months to go before leaving through the Cross Cultural Solutions program, my parents started nagging me about what I would do until then to make money. Their pressure and message of how only failures sit around all summer really impacted me. So I did something I had never done before: I got a job. It was a part-time, telephone-surveying job and paid about nine dollars an hour. The first week, I was terrified of making a mistake and felt as though I was wasting my time. It wasn’t until I received my first paycheck that I finally experienced a sense of pride and confidence. I never applied myself in high school, did terribly grade-wise, and never really achieved academically. After my first paycheck, I had this unfamiliar, rewarding feeling. I had worked hard at something and received something back from it. That money made me independent. It motivated me to work hard. And it showed me that I could succeed in life if I put my heart into something.

            After a couple months of working, it was finally time for me to saddle up and head out. It wasn’t until I saw the people of Brazil that I accepted I was abroad. I had landed in a third world country in a city that was 80 percent non-Caucasian, was poor, and spoke Portuguese. It was a strange feeling to be the minority now in seemingly every aspect of life. A taxi picked me up at the airport and drove me to my home base in the heart of the city. Boy was that a drive! Here I was, an 18-year-old, middle-class, white Justin from America, looking out the window at what could have been Pluto for all I knew. All I could think was, “Justin, what have you gotten yourself into?”

I settled into a modest apartment and realized I had a few days before any of the volunteering began. The other volunteers hadn’t yet arrived; I had nobody to see an no place to be. I made one of the best decisions of my life and joined samba (Brazilian dance), capoeira (Brazilian martial art), and Portuguese (Brazilian language) classes. These classes helped me immerse myself in the local culture, make some friends, and boogie down too!  Three months of samba and capoeira were amazing. Socially, I learned how to interact with those from other cultures and be more open. Physically, I lost 25 pounds and got into the best shape of my life!

The other participants of the program started to roll in the day before we began volunteering. I soon realized that not only was I the youngest, but I was also the youngest by 14 years. High school had taught me that the upperclassman were in charge. Strangely, that’s not how I came to think of the other volunteers. Living and working closely with my “elders” for three months, I began to feel more like their peers. We learned to respect each other, regardless of age, religion, and background; because of it, our group turned into one big happy family. I was not their son; they were my brothers.

The first place, and originally the only place1, where I volunteered was Orfanato Vo Flor (Grandma Flowers Orphanage and Daycare). Here, children between the ages of four to seventeen live or are dropped off each day if their guardians cannot provide a “safe environment” for them while they are at work. It is almost completely unstructured, and the children there run amok in a maze of broken glass and filth. One might say this is not a viable “safe” substitute, but these kids had parents who were drug addicts, physically or mentally disabled, and with little or no means. Sometimes they didn’t even come from homes at all and lived on the street.

I was incredibly nervous on my first day. When they dropped me off, I could feel every eye on me. I walked alone into the favela2 and stuck out like a sore thumb. I sought out the director of the orphanage and poorly understood the directions she gave me. We parted ways, and I stumbled back into the main area where all the kids were hanging around. I had no idea what I was supposed to do at the facility. I was terrified of being an awkward waste of space that just sits there and does nothing but consume oxygen. Then, out of the blue, a young girl named Ana Lucia ran over and pulled me into the best experience of my life.

Ana was the first out of all the children there to approach the intriguing but intimidating beast known as the American. Everyone else was too nervous. Once she did, however, every other kid swarmed in and started jabbering away and pulling on my clothing. I felt like I was in a petting zoo where I was the animal and they were overly enthusiastic humans. I spent the first day being dragged from place to place and shown a kind of love I had never experienced. The love was a sweet mixture of foreign fascination, friendship, and trust. It was insanity, and it was beauty.

I quickly went from exceptionally anxious to incredibly overjoyed at my situation. For the next three months, I spent my time cleaning, feeding, and playing with those kids. Every day, I would walk in and suddenly be absorbed into the gleeful screams and hugs of 30 children. The children loved me for who I was, and, in return, I gave them the love that they weren’t receiving at home. To them, I was American father, chio, –which is Portuguese for “uncle”—and brother. It wasn’t until I left that I realized how much I loved them, and how they were like my children.

When the volunteering ended and I flew back to the States, the experience and change in my life didn’t hit me until I lay back in my bed for the first time, crying, realizing what an unexpected miracle Salvador had been for me. The combination of the way I lived, the culture, and the work with the kids mixed together to give me a truly euphoric feeling. I had grown so much as a person, and the way I had gone outside of my comfort zone had allowed me to develop into a man who was ready to take the next step. I was confident, determined, and prepared to move on with my life. It was time to stop dwelling on the mistakes of the past and work towards my goals for the future.

Brazil is what gave me the confidence to start classes at Great Bay Community College as a full time student. Brazil is what gave me the energy and motivation to apply for a job at a software company, rock the interview, and then get the job. Brazil will always be remembered as the place where I blossomed into the man I am today. The friends I made and the experiences I had have helped me understand myself in a way I could never do in high school. I was that kid who had no idea what he was going to do. Now, I feel like an unstoppable force ready to take on the world. I miss my South American friends, Salvador, and the gift they gave me. I can truly say I will always have a bit of a Brazilian soul.

Footnotes:

1 I originally only volunteered at Orfanato Vo Flor, but I also ended up teaching two separate English classes for adults and teenagers (Centro Redentorista Missionary) and working at an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS (CAASAH).
2 A favela is an urban slum in Brazil.

How different our world would be if more “lost and unsure” students could have this type of experience.

 

 

Friday Writing Challenge: My first kiss and first love

Writing Prompt: Your first love and first kiss; if separate, discuss both

KissMy first kiss:

The sun was shining through the branches and leaves. His face was luminous and shadowy at the same time. Our faces were already close. The makeshift fort had just enough room for our young bodies to sit facing each other, our left legs touching. I looked into his eyes and saw him drawing close. My heart tightened. I was too young to understand what I was feeling, but I knew it was important. As his lips drew near, my eyes closed. I felt his lips on mine. They were soft and gently pressed mine for only a few seconds, but their imprint has lasted for decades. When he pulled his face away, he said earnestly, “You know, we have to get married now.”

“We do?” I looked at him confused. “Why?”

“Because we kissed. Kisses are special. You should never kiss someone you don’t plan on marrying.”

I contemplated his words before answering. “Okay. I’ll marry you, but we have to wait until we’re older.”

“Of course.” We lay down next to each other, my head on his arm as we looked through the leaves and felt the sun speckle our five-year-old faces.

My first love:

There he was, walking past me. His shoulder length hair covered part of his face, but seeing his profile, seeing his eyes look in my direction and acknowledge me with a smile and a nod was what I woke up for every day. I couldn’t wait to get to school just to stand in the halls and wait for him to walk by. His acknowledgement of me was proof that I wasn’t invisible. His nearness proved my aliveness. My breath caught in my throat every time he looked at me. Thankfully, he rarely talked to me at school. I could never speak to him in the light of day. I needed the cloak of night; I needed liquid courage to sit or stand next to him.

The entire year, I held onto the memory of his lips on mine, his liquid breath mixed with mine, waiting for the moment when he would accept my love and make me a real girl.

 

Next week’s prompt: Ten interesting facts about yourself

 

Blessing 27: Nelson

Ian, David, Rob, Nelson, and Mike in August for Rob's wedding.
Ian, David, Rob, Nelson, and Mike in August for Rob’s wedding.

My father-in-law, Nelson Hawkins, was a blessing in my life for so many reasons.

Even during the last few years, things between us didn’t change. Nelson continued to send me Mother’s Day cards, birthday cards, and Christmas presents–something no one would have expected him to do–yet he never stopped treating me like a daughter-in-law, and that was such a blessing. That was just his way; Nelson was always thoughtful with the people in his life.

As much as Nelson’s unconditional love for me blessed my life, the biggest blessing was in the example he left all of us, especially these last few years. Nelson truly showed us how to live.

After his heart attack a few years ago, most people would have slowed down and settled into a comfortable, sedentary life–but not Nelson.

This year alone, at 76 years old, Nelson went to Pasadena, CA for the Rose Parade and Charlotte, NC to drive the track and go to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. About once a month Nelson went to Nashvilles (a country bar in Henrietta) to dance the night away. He was a member of the Broadway Theatre League and went to a play every 2 or 3 months. Every month, he traveled somewhere for a concert; most recently he went to Buffalo, Canandaigua, and Long Island. And of course, Nelson was in Homestead, Florida for a NASCAR race when he died. Meeting Jeff Gordon was on Nelson’s Bucket List and he was one day away from watching his NASCAR hero race again.

But that’s not all. Nelson had a full schedule for 2016: Daytona 500 in February; Kissimmee, FL in April with his sister Joyce; Buffalo in May for a Carrie Underwood concert; and Watkins Glen for a NASCAR weekend in August of 2016. It makes me sad that he won’t get to do all the things he planned, but it makes me happy that he was living his life and doing what made him happy.

Nelson’s life embodied this poem:

This is your life.

Do what you love, and do it often.

If you don’t like something, change it.

If you don’t like your job, quit.

Stop over analyzing; life is simple.

All emotions are beautiful.

When you eat, appreciate every, last bite.

Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people;

we are united in our differences.

Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself.

Some opportunities only come once; seize them.

Life is short.

Live your dream.

Nelson lived his dream; he taught us that every moment of our lives is worth living. Nelson didn’t sit around, waiting for his life to end; he died living.

Anxiety’s Guide to Public Speaking

By guest blogger: Mirade Leigh

Public Speaking          Some people have no problem speaking publicly. They can get up in front of a group of people, large or small, with confidence, without breaking a sweat; their hands do not shake; their face will not flush; they do not so much as stutter. If you are one of these people who can confidently breeze through any kind of presentation, performance, recitation, or speech, then this essay is not for you. I am not one of those people and can only write about what I know: fear, humiliation, and crippling anxiety.

Opportunity. Your teacher or professor has assigned a presentation. It could be anything from a personal narrative, an informative speech, a persuasive speech, to a PowerPoint presentation. Regardless of what your assignment is, you must stand up in front of a group of people, and that is terrifying. For me, it started in senior English. One innocent afternoon when I thought the world was working in my favor, I walked into class to hear my teacher assign a poem recitation. This was a class I did not so much as whisper in. I could not speak in this class without fear ripping any tiny amount confidence I had to shreds. Now, I was being asked to stand up, all eyes on me, and recite poetry? With no dramatics, I believed this to be the worst news I had ever received; this assignment would be the end of me. If you have had this “opportunity” in your life, then you know what I am talking about.

Denial. The “opportunity” has now forcibly made its way into your life and you will create any excuse possible not to participate in this assignment. There may be many absences involved. You might even flat out tell your teacher you are not doing it–that you cannot do it. The word “cannot” will not benefit you and will only get you into trouble. It is important to understand in the early stages of the public speaking journey that you are not unable. If you can walk, talk, crawl, or mumble, you are in fact able. Questioning your ability will only set you up for failure. Now, with all that said, you will still attempt to tell your teacher or professor that you cannot do it. You might say it through stifled tears, avoiding eye contact. You might be wearing the saddest puppy dogface this world has ever seen, but I am telling you with 100% certainty that they will respond with, “Yes you can.” This will feel like a punch in the gut. You will leave feeling defeated and misunderstood with no compassion or sympathy within miles of you, that the world is out to get you and nobody seems to care. Push aside all feelings of self-pity. I understand being nervous and I understand fear, but you will not move forward until you give up this idea that you are unable to do something. Remove the word “cannot” from your vocabulary, immediately.

Acceptance. Sometime after your somewhat emotional breakdown, you will realize the assignment is necessary, you will not be taking a zero, and you must go through with it. I would like to tell you that your nerves will soon settle, but that would make me a liar. The fear you were experiencing when you first heard of the assignment is most likely the same, if not worse. This time there is no avoiding involved. Instead, day-by-day your anxiety will build. The only way it will stop is when you say that last word in front of your class and step down from the humiliation. You might as well take your coat off and stay a while because you have a ways to go.

Thoughtful decisionmaking. Before you can begin the actual presentation process, you must have the written piece you plan to present. Whether it is a speech or poem, your specific assignment might require it to be a personal piece you have written or plan to write. For my poem recitation, I had to choose from a variety of poems written by others. Regardless, if it is your writing or someone else’s, the subject you choose to go with must be something you are passionate about. You cannot expect to speak about just anything in a monotone voice with no feelings toward the subject at all; if you do not enjoy it, neither will your audience. What you say has to mean something to you, make you feel something, so in turn you can make your audience feel something. Anybody can say an assortment of words in front of a group of people and consider it public speaking; however, it is not public speaking done well.

Memorization. It is not only important if it is required for your assignment, but memorization helps calm your nerves. Do not focus on how you present until you understand and have memorized what you are presenting. You may or may not have a paper template with you for your presentation. If you are presenting a speech, of course you will have it in front of you for your presentation. This does not mean you should not have almost every word memorized. You should have read through it enough times that each sentence comes out with ease and flows so you can make eye contact with your audience rather than looking down at a piece of paper reading word for word. You will only have it with you as a guide. Your assignment may also require complete memorization, with no paper template, for example, a poem recitation. Do not become overwhelmed by this. Memorize line by line. Read each line repeatedly. When you have it down, add the next line, and recite them together. Repeat for each paragraph or stanza until you no longer have to read; you can just recite. From the moment you know what you are reciting until you step up on stage, you should be, either aloud or in your head, reciting every chance you get. Knowing that you have every single word memorized can take away the anxiety of forgetting a line while you are presenting.

Expression. When it comes to what and how, sometimes the how can be more important than the what. This is where the present in presentation comes in; it is how you express, articulate, and gesture. When speaking publicly, your hand gestures, your articulation of words, and your expressions not only help your audience understand what you are talking about but also make them feel what it is you are talking about. Get rid of this preconceived idea that judgment will follow your expression. This is how good public speakers get their message across. The reality is that those who do not care, will not remember your presentation even an hour later, and those who do care, will remember the positive influence it had on them and how you made them feel. Twenty years from now, people are not going to be ranting about how much they disliked your presentation and how they still experience second-hand embarrassment. Once you stop flattering yourself with the fear that people care that much about what you do and how you do it, you ease the fear of judgment. You will be practicing a lot in front of the mirror. You might even have to research certain things to understand fully the meaning, so you can present it with confidence. Good presentations do not come easy; they take time.

Final Product. The day is here. You are up on stage with the lights beating down on you. You might be sweating; you are probably shaking; and you still are not sure if you can do this. I would suggest you just go through with it because running off stage will cause you far more humiliation than a couple of stuttered paragraphs. You might become so overwhelmed that right smack in the middle you forget the next line. Do not sigh. Do not roll your eyes. Do not make an awkward comment followed by an awkward laugh. Pause. Your mouth is working faster than your brain can form coherent thoughts; you know this inside and out. Continue. Nobody noticed; it was just a dramatic pause. Also, talk slower. Look out at the audience. Notice people nodding, closing their eyes with their heads raised, soaking in every word. Right at the end of my poem recitation I noticed one of the judges reciting the poem with me, nodding, absorbing the meaning. Look for those people; the reassurance will calm you. When you are done, take a deep breath. It is over; you did it.

Your first mistake on this journey was seeing public speaking as a dreaded task instead of an opportunity. Any chance given to you to face a fear is not one you want to give up. After my poem recitation, I ended up going to the school wide competition. I placed second. For the first time in my life, I could see my fears sprawled out on the road ahead of me, and excelled despite it. You do not have to perfect the art of public speaking. You do not have to become a professional public speaker. You do not even have to overcome the fear. Just be afraid, and do it anyway.

 

Mirade is a current student and rising star. Her process analysis essay about public speaking shared such great advice about life in general, that I had to share it on my blog (with her permission, of course). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If you are fearful about anything, follow Mirade’s advice: Be afraid, and do it anyway.

Hope Found: Lessons from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I have a confession to make: I’m suffering.

I say this not to elicit sympathy; I just want to be truthful. So please don’t think I need a pep talk, want attention, or that I’m just trying to bring other people down. My truth may not be other people’s reality, but I think there may be a few people who can identify with my suffering. Maybe we can lean on each other through this painful time.

As a writer, I also find tremendous healing through writing. It helps me to unpack my emotional baggage: When it is all out in front of me, I can decide what I can release and what I need to look at more closely, so I can heal. If I try to dismiss all my pain too soon, I will do more damage than good.

I could do this privately, but in this social media world we live in, so many of us walk through our days, seeing glimpses of those around us who seem to be living perfect lives. I don’t want to be put into that category. I know I have some great things happening in my life; I’m not trying to negate those things. But I also don’t want people to think that a few good turns erased all my pain –that it was easy for me to get over the events that crumbled my world.

Lord of the RingsRecently, I was able to re-watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy with Ian. He had never seen the movies, so I was able to enjoy a favorite journey with the innocence of a child. It spoke to me so deeply from this vantage point that I now have to use the movies’ words: They so succinctly mirror my own.

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

~The Fellowship of the Ring

What is my ring, the thing I wish never happened? There are quite a few, actually.

  1. My marriage of 23 years fell apart. It was not just because two people decided they couldn’t be married to each other anymore. It was so much more than that: I trusted completely and loved unconditionally, and I shouldn’t have. As I continue to unpack my emotions around my divorce, I’ve realized that it’s not the end of my actual marriage that brings me the most pain; it’s the end of the marriage I had hoped it would be some day that makes me suffer. I had convinced myself our marriage was so much more than it was. I placed all my hopes and dreams in my ex-husband’s hands. I wanted to grow old with him, but he was never the man I thought he was. I have to let go of that hope and create a new vision for my future. It’s not easy at my age to see a different future. I am working on it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not painful.
  2. I am now a single mother. I never wanted to navigate through this life alone; I fought it so hard that I hung on to my marriage longer than I should have. Now, every day I struggle with the things I didn’t have to worry about when there were two adults in the family. Can I pay my bills? Will I have to get another job just to survive? How can I raise my son if I am working all the time? Can I raise my son to be the man he needs to be without a man in his life? Will I have enough money to help my daughters with their weddings? I can offer them nothing — I can’t even offer an example of a successful marriage. I can only be an example of what not to do. I have failed at the one thing I truly wanted to succeed at more than anything else.
  3. I have squatters in my house. I left my house in Colorado to move out east to be closer to my family. I left, trusting that my house would sell quickly. In November, I had my first legitimate offer. Everything seemed to be going along well, until I found out I had squatters. These people told my real estate agent that they had been scammed. Someone “rented out my house” to them. I felt bad for that family, so I let them stay until after Christmas. The house was scheduled to sell in January. In the mean time, instead of that family being thankful for my compassion, they destroyed my house–so much so that the buyer rescinded the offer. Now, the squatters are holding my house hostage; they are keeping me entrenched in a past that is filled with pain.
  4. I am at war with myself. The optimism that defined me is wavering; cynicism is making headway in every part of my life. I used to trust, almost instantly, the people I met. I used to believe in the inherent goodness of all people; some just needed more help finding that goodness than others. But now I battle daily with every person I encounter–I see a person’s potential, and then I see his or her potential to hurt me. I’m keeping people at bay; it’s so much easier than allowing anyone to get close enough to hurt me again. However, this cynicism hurts as well. It goes against my core being: I want to believe in the goodness of people, but every time I trust someone, I find out I shouldn’t have. So what do I do? I know I have to develop new ways of interacting with people before the wall I’m building gets too high, if it’s not too late already.

So, yes, I am suffering.

But thankfully, my story does not end there. I have to believe that there is more at work in my life than the will of evil. Like Frodo, I have to decide what to do with the burdens I was meant to carry. I’m not ready to say that these thoughts encourage me, but they are turning me in the right direction. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has become the perfect inspiration to help me move forward.

We watched Frodo’s journey and his mythical battle of worldly proportions with awe. Ian and I cheered as the fellowship fought great battles: our hearts swelled when Boromir redeemed himself; when Aragorn defended Frodo with honor; when Pippin and Merry took up arms with courage; when Gandalf stopped the Balrog with “You shall not pass!” These mythical creatures fought against unbeatable odds. Everything was caving in around them, yet they held onto hope. I watched with fascination and then asked myself: Would I fight as bravely if I were there?

Then it hit me: I am there. I may not be fighting Sauron and Orcs, but I am fighting my own battles. I started to see Frodo’s journey, not as a mythical battle, but as the day to day suffering I must battle and overcome. There is a war waging against me–the battle of despair. Will I let despair win or will I fight it with hope?

Like Frodo, I stopped believing in myself. But Sam’s words gave me strength:

Frodo : I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam : I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

~The Two Towers

In the midst of my suffering, I have had dark days where every moment was spent either releasing or choking back sobs. However, I have to believe that this darkness is only a passing shadow. My current suffering will pass–I have to believe it will pass. I’m holding on to Sam’s words, that there is good in the world, that the sun will shine out the clearer. I will believe them because these are the things I need to believe in. Believing in them is winning half of the battle, isn’t it?

I’ve discovered it’s all about choices. It may not be the choice between good and evil, but it is about choosing to keep fighting rather than giving up, choosing to love rather than hate, choosing to hope rather than despair.

Near the end of his journey, Frodo could not carry the ring to Mount Doom to destroy it. The burden had taken its toll on him and his strength waned. But thankfully, Sam was there:

Sam: Then let us be rid of it once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!

~The Return of the King

We all need a Samwise Gamgee in our lives. Thankfully, I have had many people who were my “Sam” through this journey; people who carried me and are still carrying me to the pit of doom so I can release my burdens.

The final element to this healing path is that I have to accept that things will never be the same again, and I have to be okay with that.

Frodo: [voiceover] Thirteen months to the day since Gandalf sent us on our long journey, we found ourselves looking upon a familiar sight. We were home. How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold. . . . My dear Sam, you cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be and to do. Your part in the story will go on.

~The Return of the King

If I’m strong enough to fight through this suffering, the reward will be a better life than the one I have but not without great cost. Indeed, there is no going back. I can only move forward. I also have to understand that there are some things that time cannot heal; there are some hurts that go too deep–I just have to accept that. It doesn’t mean that I cannot build a new dream with my family; I just can’t have the old one, and that has to be okay. I cannot be torn in two over this suffering. I have to find a way to become whole again for Ian, Carol Linn, Nicole, and myself.

One way I can become whole again is by finding ways to be a “Sam” for others who need help carrying their burdens.

I hope, in some small way, this post has done that.

Relay for Life: A Survivor’s Story

It’s been five years since Ian was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor: Primary Adenocarcinoma of the Brain. It was rare, one in a hundred million; the tumor had sprouted tentacles, and we didn’t know for sure if we had found it before it had spread; there was no protocol for treatment; there was no guarantee that Ian would see his fifth birthday.

Cancer became a swear word in our house; we wouldn’t–couldn’t say the word in Ian’s presence. We knew his survival depended on us staying positive. And there was nothing positive about cancer, so we worked hard at keeping the word and the devastation of the disease away from Ian.

After an aggressive treatment plan of six weeks of radiation and six months of chemotherapy, Ian defied the odds. There was no cancer anywhere in his body. Not only that, but he was not in a wheel chair as predicted. He was physically, mentally, and emotionally strong. And there is no sign of the cancer returning. We say Ian is cancer-free, not in remission, because “remission” denotes that it could come back.

We have been so thankful for the medical advances that cured Ian. We are thankful for the people who supported us emotionally and financially. As the years have passed, Ian has a little better understanding of the dangers of cancer, and what he actually went through, but we still don’t talk about it very often.

That could be why we had never gone to a Relay for Life event in the past. This was our first year. I wanted to go to support my friend Berni’s team at the event; I thought Ian and I were ready to pay it forward.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that arrived when I did. I wasn’t prepared for Ian’s emotions and hesitancy.

As we walked up to the registration table, I was reminded of all the things I wanted to forget. The word I protected my son from for all these years was proudly displayed on banners and t-shirts and wrist bands. We saw people in various stages of their battles: some hairless, some with a range in hair lengths; some fragile, some vibrant; and some still fighting for their lives. I had an intense desire to take Ian’s hand and run in the opposite direction: I didn’t want Ian to see this. Cancer was no longer our reality; we had put Ian’s fight behind us, or so I thought. I didn’t want to remember our battle, yet it grabbed me by the throat and held me hostage.

I tried to hide my pain, while reminding myself that I promised Berni I would be there. I couldn’t turn back now. Ian, however, wasn’t holding back his feelings. He wanted to leave as soon as we got there. I reminded him of the bouncy house and other games he would play. I convinced him to stay, but I started to doubt that decision. Did it do more harm than good for Ian to be there? IMG_0581

When we got to the tent, Berni gave Ian his purple survivor’s shirt. It had “Finish the Fight 2014” on the front, and “I am strength. I am hope. I am a survivor. Walk with us to finish the fight.” on the back.

Ian didn’t want to wear it; it was too big; he was uncomfortable. Was it because, like me, he didn’t like the word “survivor”?

Shortly after we arrived, we went to the “Survivors Lunch.” The organizers gave Ian a cup and a pin; they gave me a survivor’s “Caregiver” sash. We sat in a sea of purple shirts and sashes–but all the survivors were adults. As Ian and I walked by, I heard the comments: “That little guy is a survivor? How terrible that he had to have this disease.” The grip on my throat became tighter. So many people have battled this disease. So many people are fighting for their lives for the second or third time. And they felt sorry for Ian. IMG_0583

Ian was also uncomfortable with the attention he was getting for something he could barely remember–and what he did remember was painful: being bald, vomiting, needles, waking up from anesthesia–and me crying. He hates when I cry, and any talk of his cancer makes my tears flow. Within minutes of our first conversation with a survivor, the tears were choking me. But that wasn’t the worst part. What had me in a vice grip was that Ian heard that “it” sometimes comes back; my fears for my son were spoken realities in these people’s lives. I looked for an escape route.

I felt like we didn’t belong there. We were years away from that traumatic time in our lives. What good did it do to bring it to the surface again?

After lunch, we walked around the track and looked at each of the booths. As I saw the number of people who donated their time and resources to raise money to fight this disease, my perspective began to change. I was able to step away from my personal pain and see that everyone there had similar pain. They, however, released their pain, so they could help put an end to this disease, while I had been harboring mine. I had been protecting Ian for so long, that I didn’t realize that I was protecting myself as well. IMG_0650[1]

One of our favorite booths was where a young girl (she couldn’t be more than twelve) was donating her time and talents as an anime artist to raise money for cancer research. Just the other day Ian said to me: “I want an artist to draw me, Mom. Can we do that someday?” And there she was. She took a picture of Ian and turned him into an anime super hero. It’s by far the best item we got from the booths.

Ian also loved playing games. His favorite was the “dunking game.” He threw a softball at a target at least 15 times and dunked the various participants at least ten times.

Then it was time for the “Survivor’s Walk.” Ian and I joined the survivors and walked around the track. The survivors had purple balloons that they released after one lap; it was meant to be symbolic for the survivors, but it helped me release my hold on Ian’s story.

I watched as Berni’s team walked their lap. My appreciation for her and what she has done for years for this fight grew with every step.

IMG_0637 At nine, they had the Luminaries Ceremony: People decorated white bags in remembrance of loved ones who had lost their battle with cancer; Berni had two bags. They ended the ceremony with a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace.

As we silently let the music pour over us, I remembered the words that helped me stay strong five years ago:

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Chorus:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

I cried through the song, knowing that these words were still ringing true for me: I still need grace, and I still need to open my eyes to the things I’ve been blind to.

For the rest of the night, Ian joined an impromptu soccer game on the field. He was having so much fun.

Watching Ian run and play made me realize that we both needed to be there. Ian embraced his past–a past I tried to sugar coat for him because I didn’t want fear to interfere with his healing. I wanted him to envision his future so he could live through the pain and work towards that day when he could run and play again–like he did last night. He played so hard he could barely walk afterwards.

The future we envisioned for him in the midst of his battle is his reality today.

Relay for Life is raising money so other people can have a future like Ian’s present.

Protecting Ian was necessary five years ago, but now I will envision that we are warriors helping others “Finish the Fight.” Ian is a symbol of hope for all the people currently struggling–he had a devastating diagnosis, but Ian beat the odds. We want others to have that same hope.

Legacy of Love

Mother’s Day 2014

It’s hard to believe that I’m at the half-century mark in my life. As the years pass, I can’t help but reflect on my life and the people who have shaped me and the people I have shaped. As a woman, I have been blessed by loving women in my life. That love came at a cost: My grandmother and mother went through painful situations, yet they survived with more love to give, not less. The best legacy they gave me was the legacy of love. As a mother, I hope to do the same for my daughters. On Mother’s Day this year, I wanted to honor the beautiful women who have showered me with love.

Here is my legacy of love:

Baba Vicky

Baba and Dedo with me and my brothersBaba Vicky was the strongest, sweetest, smartest person I have ever met. I praised her often, but she was too humble to accept my praise, especially when I praised her intelligence. I remember one time, after a deep conversation about life, I told her:

“Baba, you have so much wisdom. What would I do without you?”

“I try my best . . . but how can you say that? I have broken english . . . I can’t read or write . . . I’m dumb . . .” and then she shook her head in disbelief.

I corrected her: “Baba, don’t ever say that! What you know about life, about people, could fill a book. I have learned so much from you.”

She chuckled, and then grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze. She always had the softest hands. “You make me feel good,” she said.

“You make me feel good, too,” I said back. After a brief moment of silence, we fell back into our conversation.

She always gave me the best advice. When I talked to her about someone who had hurt me, she told me:

“If you want to be forgiven for the mistakes you’ve made, you have to learn to forgive others. We all need forgiveness at some point in our lives.”

I’ve tried to honor that advice, but it’s sometimes harder than it sounds.

When I told her I hoped to have a marriage like hers and Dedo Gus’s someday, she told me:

“If you want to have a good marriage, love him the way you want to be loved, and do what makes you happy. That’s how he will learn how to love you and make you happy.”

She had so much wisdom.

Baba Vicky’s wisdom had humble beginnings. Velika Popovski (Kordovich) was born on March 12, 1921 in Bukovo, a small village outside Bitola, Macedonia, a former Republic of Yugoslavia. She was one of eleven children, but only five of the eleven survived to adulthood. They had a small plot of land with a few animals. Baba Vicky worked hard with her hands all her life: She took care of her siblings, worked the land during planting and harvesting seasons, and cooked and cleaned for her family. Wherever she was needed, she did her job well. She completed a 4th grade education in a one-room schoolhouse because that’s all that was available to girls in the small village.

Her life changed, she would tell me with a smile on her face, the day Kosta Kordovich (Dedo Gus) came back from America. Everyone knew he was looking for a wife to take to America with him. During the mid to late 1930s, it was customary for the young Macedonian men to go to America, make their fortunes doing the jobs that many Americans refused to do, and then come back to their villages to find a suitable wife. For women, these men were their only ticket out of their laborious lives.

Velika didn’t bother trying to get Kosta’s attention like all the other eligible girls. She felt she was too plain and too poor to get the desirable Kosta’s attention. Her distance may have been what grabbed his attention in the first place, but Dedo Gus told me, “I know quality when I see it.”

After just a few days, Kosta knew that Velika was the woman he wanted to marry. His family was very upset. They felt that she was too plain and too poor for their son, especially when he had his pick of any girl he wanted. He refused to listen to their complaints, and Velika and Kosta were married on November 13, 1938.

Baba Vicky moved out of her parent’s home and moved in with Dedo Gus and his family. She knew they didn’t approve of her, but Baba Vicky was comforted in knowing that Dedo Gus loved her. His love helped her to hold her head high.

Shortly after they were married, Baba Vicky became pregnant. She earned the respect of her new family by working hard and not complaining. In August of 1939, Dedo Gus was told he had to leave Bukovo without Baba Vicky because of the turmoil in Europe. Her paperwork wasn’t ready, and WWII was imminent. Dedo Gus had earned his American citizenship, and if he did not leave Yugoslavia at that time, he would lose his citizenship.

Dedo Gus left on September 3, 1939, and Baba Vicky gave birth to Ana, my mother, on September 4, 1939. Baba Vicky and her mother-in-law comforted each other, and my great-grandmother depended on and loved Baba Vicky as if she had been her own daughter. The two women formed a strong bond. Baba Vicky was heartbroken that her husband had to leave, but it did not break her. She stayed strong for her daughter. As time went on, her in-laws looked to Baba Vicky for strength and guidance.

Six years had passed without a word from Dedo Gus. Everyone told Baba Vicky that Dedo Gus had forgotten about her and probably found another woman in America. She refused to believe the rumors. She refused to leave his family. After years of waiting and never giving up hope, she finally received all the letters he had sent her over that six-year period. The war had stopped all mail for a number of years, and then sorting out the backed-up mail took another few years. My grandmother’s heart soared; Dedo Gus was alive and well, and waiting for her to join him in America. It took another six years for the government paperwork to come through. In the meantime, Dedo Gus sent goods from America to his wife and daughter. They went from being pitied to envied in a few short months.

They eventually received visas and gained passage to America in 1951. Baba Vicky was excited to see her husband, and happy that her daughter would finally meet her father; but she was also scared. Twelve years was a long time. What if he had changed? What if he didn’t love her anymore? She also was not naïve enough to think he had been faithful to their marriage that whole time. She had no idea how she was going to face what awaited her in America, so she faced it head on, putting everything that happened in the past where it belonged.

I am blessed to have Baba Vicky as the matriarch of my family. Her story illustrates her strength and courage that made her the woman I came to know and love. I am thankful that she shared her stories with me and gave me advice that still rings true today. But more than that, I am indebted to her for the examples of love she left me. These are the prominent memories of my beloved matriarch, memories that revealed deeper truths than even her wonderful advice:

She put love in every meal she made. That’s what made it taste so good.

She always did her best job. She had pride in her abilities, so it didn’t matter what anyone else thought of her, which made everyone love her more.

She made everyone feel important, a special kind of love.

She laughed at herself often; she knew life was too short to take herself too seriously. That is how she loved herself.

She smiled every chance she could, bringing joy to those around her.

When she loved someone, she held his or her hand for as long as she could. That’s why she kept her hands so soft.

My grandmother, Baba Vicky, was an amazing woman. I miss her so much. She died in 2008, but her mind left her a few years before that. During the last few years of her life, she didn’t remember much. She could recall things from her youth, but she didn’t remember who I was most of the time. I like to believe that during those last moments of her life, as we stood around her bed, God gave her back her memories, so she could see how much we all loved her. I placed my hand in her soft, now frail hand, and even in her weakened state, I felt a tiny squeeze before she took her last breath.

Baba Vicky’s legacy of love is filled with courageous decisions and love in its purest form.

 Ana

Outside the movie theaterMy mother’s love has also shaped my world. Even when it doesn’t make a lot of sense to give, she gives to loved ones without batting an eye. I attribute this to her tender heart; however, one does not become tender without a lot of pain.

Ana Kordovich (Galovski) was born in Bukovo on September 4th, 1939. The day before her birth her father was called back to America because of the turmoil in Europe. This led to a 12-year separation that tormented my mother’s heart.

During those war years, everyone suffered, but young Ana had unique pain that stemmed from a fatherless childhood. One of my mother’s significant memories was when she and my grandmother had to escape an Italian invasion by quietly walking through an ice-cold river up the mountain; the other young children had fathers to carry them. Another painful memory is the way village children taunted her with vulgar names because Ana didn’t have her father present. These experiences left a permanent scar.

She and my grandmother were finally able to get government approval to join my grandfather in America right before Ana’s teen years began. Ana’s first encounter with her father was filled with wordless tears and tight embraces. Even years later, when I asked my mother and grandfather about the day they met, they could only respond with tears; no words could express the love rushing into the void.

Ana struggled with learning English at first, but quickly caught up and earned high grades in school. In her twenties, Ana met and fell in love with an incredibly handsome man; Ana and Jovan married before she truly knew what she was getting into. As handsome as he was, my father had a darkness in him that equaled his looks.

It wasn’t until I became an adult and heard these stories that I was able to understand how incredible my mother truly is. With all this pain in her past, how did she not become bitter? Once I became a wife and mother, I better understood my mother’s heart.

When I was younger, my mother’s high-spirited yells used to embarrass me at my brother’s soccer games: One time a referee actually threw a whistle at her, telling my mother to do a better job. About eight years ago, a volleyball referee almost threw me out of a game for yelling at him about a ridiculous call against my daughter. Now, I know that my mother’s love for her children forced her immediate defense of their being wronged, no matter where she was, no matter who it was.

In my teenage years, I judged her for staying with my father for so long: He was abusive, an alcoholic, and a gambler. I wondered how she could be so weak. Now, I understand her choices had more to do with her love for a man who could be kind and gentle and charming most of the time; more to do with her love for her children and the fear of their growing up without a father in their lives–a pain she knew too well; more to do with the hope that my father would become the husband and father in our lives that she so longed for. She refused to give up on him, not out of weakness, but out of love and compassion and hope. Like my mother, I believe in the vows I made, promising to love, honor, and cherish, in good times and bad.

When I went to college, I thought I was so much smarter than my mother and her high-school diploma. All I knew is that she worked for an insurance company. Later, I discovered that she started as a secretary, worked her way up to an account executive, and built up her own insurance book of business. Not only was she smart, but she had a strong work ethic, an understanding of personal relationships, a respect for individuals (not the size of their wallets), and a faithfulness to her word and the needs of her clients. The most amazing things she has been able to accomplish with her high-school degree are surviving a divorce (in 1979, divorce was not as common as it is today), raising three children on her own (all of whom went to college), pay off her house, bail her children out of financial set-backs, and still have enough to provide for her grandchildren.

My mother is a blessing not only to me, but also to so many people. She lovingly gives to others, even if they don’t deserve it. Because my mother loves with a tender heart, she gives grace, rather than justice.

My mother’s heart is larger than the average heart: It has the propensity to love deeper, give greater, and forgive fuller than any heart I have ever known. I am thankful to have been raised by such a woman; I am blessed by her legacy of love.

My Formative Years

My children :)I don’t regret my past. It made me who I am today: A compassionate woman who makes a positive impact in this world.

People are shocked when I say that after hearing about my less-than-ideal upbringing: My father was an abusive alcoholic; I was beaten many times during his drunken rages. Also, as a girl, I had less value in my European family than my brothers; when I was sixteen, I met a man who knew my father for ten years, and he remarked, “I knew John had two sons, but I never knew he had a daughter.”

I grew up as a shy girl with very little confidence in myself, which is very different from who I am today.

It wasn’t until college that I considered myself even somewhat attractive. I found it quite surprising when I received any attention from the opposite sex, but I liked it. What I also discovered is that college boys liked me a lot better when I’d been drinking. Unfortunately, it started a vicious cycle of drinking and falling in love with the wrong boys. I ended up binge-drinking and binge-chasing young men who only wanted me for one thing…that is until I met Dennis. Dennis and I went out on dates; I met his parents; I hung out with his friends; he thought I was beautiful. I was his girlfriend. He was my first legitimate relationship. I had never been so happy.

But then, we heavily celebrated my 21st birthday–I didn’t remember much. A few weeks later I discovered I was pregnant.

I was devastated when Dennis changed his mind about marrying me. I had to move in with my mother as I prepared to become a mother. I felt a scarlet letter burn my chest as some of my family members were so disgusted and embarrassed by me that they couldn’t look at me. The day I told my father was the first time I ever saw him cry. Thankfully, I had people who stood by me and supported my decision to keep my baby.

Those nine months slowly changed my life. As I felt my baby grow, I felt my confidence grow as well. I started thinking about the kind of woman I wanted to be for my child. Who I was at the time would not be good enough. I depended on the legacy of love I received from my grandmother and mother to become the mother I needed to be.

I transformed myself through their examples and the growing love in my body.

Nicole

Nicole is still a blessing!Nicole Marie Galovski was born on July 9th, 1987. I held her in my arms and fell instantly in love. She had big blue eyes and platinum blond hair. She seemed to respond instantly to my voice. I cried from pure joy, the first I had experienced in my life up to that point. Nicole was perfect, and I couldn’t understand how I could have anything to do with something so angelic.

The transition from me to us came with its challenges, but Nicole and I weathered them together. I continued to live with my mom, so I could provide a safe, loving environment for Nicole. Even though I had a college degree, I didn’t apply for any teaching jobs. I couldn’t imagine putting my baby in daycare, so I watched children out of my mother’s home during the day and worked in a restaurant at night and on the weekends when my mom was home to watch Nicole. I made plenty of mistakes, but I learned from them so I could be a better mother.

Even though those years were difficult and far from perfect, I wouldn’t change anything about them. Nicole changed my life for the better. Her presence in my life removed me from the downward spiral I was in. I hate to think about the life I would have led if it weren’t for Nicole. She became my reason for living, not just existing from one intoxicated state to another.

People have told me over the years how proud they are of me for not choosing abortion. I am extremely thankful for that decision as well. But the truth is Nicole saved my life. I was on a destructive path that only a miracle could alter; Nicole was that miracle. God gave me Nicole so I could get and stay on the right path. I’m nowhere near perfect, but I’m definitely closer to the person I need to be because of Nicole.

Nicole is a grown woman now. She is strong and confident and witty and beautiful–everything I wanted her to be because it was everything I wasn’t at her age. She lives two thousand miles away from me, but she still keeps me on the right path. A few years ago she wrote me a letter in response to a difficult situation I didn’t handle very well. Nicole lovingly pointed out my mistakes, and added, “you’ve told me everything I’ve been doing wrong for 24 years (and I hope will continue to do so), and that has helped me out more than anything else; it’s changed me for the better even if it made me mad initially.” Even during her admonishment, she praised me for the mother I had been in her life; even with the distance, we weathered this challenge together. I appreciated her perspective and her candor. She saw that I had stepped off my path and lovingly brought me back–again.

That letter marked the day our relationship changed: We now come together as two women who have an unbreakable bond, even though we don’t get to spend nearly enough time together. I am blessed to be her mother. With Nicole in my life, my legacy of love continued in her and through her as we taught each other unconditional love.

Carol Linn

10-2D4DEA04-51412-1280My understanding of love was challenged most deeply by one person: my second daughter Carol Linn. Our troubles began when she turned 12 and escalated to an explosive moment when she was 18. At that point, she left my home to venture out on her own. As painful as that was, it was absolutely necessary for the salvation of our relationship.

Before she moved to the other side of the country, I knew there were wonderful things about her; however, they were clouded by the rebellious teenager that challenged our relationship every breathing moment. I loved the woman she was becoming, but struggled with the child she still was. We needed distance. We needed clarity.

For me, it has finally come, but I’m not sure if Carol Linn has clarity yet. Does she know and understand how much I love her? If she doesn’t, I have confidence that someday she will. Why? Because she is who I was at 20. She is the child who fulfilled my mother’s curse: “I hope you have a daughter just like you someday, so you know how I feel.” I do understand now. I just hope it doesn’t take another 20 years for Carol Linn to love and appreciate me the way I love and appreciate my mother now.

Recently, I apologized to my mother for the pain I caused her as a teenager. However, I also thanked her for the blessing she thought was a curse. Carol Linn is and has been a blessing since the day she was born. Throughout my pregnancy, I prayed that she would be a girl; I was blessed when I held her in my arms for the first time. She was perfect in every way: She had a full head of black hair, perfect eyebrows, big brown eyes, and beautiful fingers and toes.

As she grew, she proved to be a mischievous child, always getting into and out of precarious situations. When Carol Linn was a year and a half she would climb out of her crib after I put her down for a nap and get stuck on the changing table. She would call for me to come rescue her. She seemed to know what she wanted but didn’t know what to do once she got there. She had such confidence in herself, even at this age.

She also had courage. After we said goodnight to the girls, Carol Linn would crawl out of bed, crawl into the playroom to get a toy, and crawl back into her bed, like a little ninja, without us ever knowing or hearing her in the adjoining room. In the morning she would have a bed full of Barbies.

I think it was this self-confidence and courage that allowed her to verbalize her anger. She was four years old the first time she told me she hated me. I had sent her to her room as a punishment for something. She wrote “I hat Mom” on the wall with a permanent marker. After we made up, she crossed out “hat” and put “luv” instead. As funny as that story is, it didn’t prepare me for the number of times I heard “I hate you!” during her teenage years. I didn’t believe that she meant it, but she was pretty convincing.

I know I made a lot of mistakes as her mother. That could be what led her to be indifferent towards me as her parent; she didn’t seem to need me in her life. I wanted her to depend on me, but she never did.

I got so caught up in her disobedience that I forgot the ultimate goal as a mother was to raise an independent woman. Carol Linn was independent already. Instead of realizing that, I battled with her; we despised each other. We hurt each other in ways that made it difficult to find our way back to each other. In February of her eighteenth year, I naïvely thought I would gladly say goodbye to her the day we brought her to the airport. Instead, I cried uncontrollably the whole time.

I didn’t want to lose my child; I just wanted the pain to end. When she left, the pain did vanish. None of the past year mattered anymore. But it was too late because I lost my child anyway.

Now, she has the freedom to choose her own destiny; freedom to live her own life, far away from me. She needed distance, so she could test her wings. As much as it still hurts to have lost my precious little girl, it needed to happen. I had to make room for a new relationship.

Carol Linn has been living with her sister Nicole for two years now, and I can truly say I love the woman she has become. I tried so hard to make her become someone she wasn’t that I missed out on the amazing person she already was. I wanted her to be me now, not the me I was at 18. I made so many mistakes at that age; I wanted her to learn from my experiences. Life doesn’t work that way though. She had to choose her own path, her own way, on her own terms, exactly how I did it.

With distance and time I think I have gleaned an understanding of Carol Linn’s frustrations. I tended to point out the differences between her and Nicole. I know how that felt. I could never measure up to my older brother. It made me angry. I’m sorry I did that to her.

All the time I spent being frustrated with Carol Linn stopped me from acknowledging her wonderful qualities: She is kind to people, and she forgives often, but protects her heart. She lends a hand to anyone who asks, even if it’s someone who has hurt her before. She loves to read and write. Her sense of humor is amazing. She catches on to things quicker than I ever do. She has great taste in music and movies. She also has an innate ability to see the beauty around her and to frame it through her camera. I am so impressed with her pictures.

While she was under my roof, it bothered me that Carol Linn hid her life from me. But now, I see the truth: I was jealous and insecure because I wasn’t part of her private life. I now understand what admirable qualities Carol Linn possesses: She can keep a secret; she keeps her private life private.

In addition to learning to appreciate all of her wonderful qualities, Carol Linn has taught me to let go of the things and people I have no control over, including the past. I wish I could take back those angry words I said so many years ago, but even Carol Linn would say, “Don’t have regrets, Mom. It will be okay. It’s in the past. Move forward.”

She has also taught me the true meaning of love. It’s easy to love someone who treats me well. But how do I love someone who challenges me and despises my opinions?

I just love her. That’s all. I love her because she is Carol Linn, that same beautiful human being I gave birth to. She doesn’t have to agree with me, think I’m the best mother ever, or believe that I made the right choices for my life. I just have to love her, love the woman she is.

As I sat in Nicole and Carol Linn’s apartment on a recent visit, I watched them take care of their home and each other. They have an obvious love for each other that only sisters can have: They share private jokes, knowing smiles, and comforting cuddles. They give each other the freedom to go their separate ways with the security of a family to come home to. In some ways, it was bittersweet for me: I know I didn’t always provide that type of home for them, but I’m thankful that despite my mistakes, my love provided them with enough guidance to create that security for themselves. Their love consoles me and fills me with joy.

Our legacy of love has been filled with challenges, but it’s those challenges that shaped us; it’s part of the love my grandmother and mother offered to me and what I offered to my daughters. And it’s that same love I see in them, and the love they give to me. None of us have lived perfect lives, but we have learned to love deeply in this imperfect world. I know that my daughters’ lives will be filled with love, wherever their paths take them, because they are endowed with this legacy.