Thursday, October 30, 2008

Terminal

Immortality reminds me to keep living.

Randy Pausch became famous as he was about to die from cancer. A professor, father, husband, and friend to many, he gave a, now famous, last lecture to his students www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo . Oprah got word, and as it goes, the rest is history. The lecture talked about all the important things in life as well as how we still have life to live and what he'd do if he did. He wrote a book, traveled all over as the cancer consumed his body and sadly died this summer.

My senior year in high school, my government teacher, Mr. Beans, gave us the assignment to write our own obituaries. I remember realizing for one of the first times, I could really die at any time. I was not invincible.

I assigned the same project for my kids in Cambodia. It's good to think about death. It's good to live in constant awareness that, this could all end, quickly and awfully, and unfortunately.

We are all surrounded by the realities of death everyday. But it seems more often to be AFTER someone dies, AFTER a school shooting, or AFTER the plane crashes that we want to make the changes we might have had a life time to make.

"We are all terminal, some of us are just lucky enough to know it."
-I don't know who said it, but I like it.

What if I really lived as though I was terminally ill?

I'd tell my family how much I love them more often. Though, I doubt they'll ever fully understand, no matter how much I say it.

I'd say more of what's on mind, and that's funny, because I already talk quite a bit.

I'd eat more cheeseburgers.

I'd listen more to my intuition, yeah, the one I've only recently started hearing.

I'd wear brighter colors.

I wouldn't live in the constant fear that I'll never be enough and I'd just spend time with those who've never made me feel like anything less.

I'd talk to strangers.

I'd stop "should"ing myself into spending time with toxic people, doing things I just don't want to do, drinking more water, and exercising every single day.

I'd boldly sing karaoke.

I'd forgive myself for what Cambodia wasn't, take the lessons, and move on.

I'd spend more time doing completely useless, unimportant things, simply because they made me happy.

I'd record a CD.

If I was terminally ill, I'd give myself a break, take a deep breath, and just live. Let go. Let it be.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Citizen of the World

Ashley and Ben have helped me figure out my life...again. Yes, even we joke about the many times we have sat around their table and talked through, "Well, do these classes sound interesting?" or "What about journalism?"

Tonight we talked about college, classes, plans, and the future. As I am usually stressing about my lack of plans and direction as far as a major, Ben said, "Call me crazy..." and just sat there.

"Oh, umm, you're crazy!" I said.

"Well, call me crazy, but, what if you did what you want to do right now and enjoyed the college experience instead of waiting to be happy until you have life all figured out? Because your "ducks-in-a-row-ness" just isn't realistic. What if you were happy now?"

There's an idea. But Ashley added to it.

"What if you just took classes that sounded interesting and you enjoyed now, then decided on a masters program you are really passionate about 3 years from now?"

So instead of feeling like I have to necessarily pick a major and be tied to it, we looked at classes that just happened to look really good, like: Creative writing, Magazine writing, World Literature, Introduction to Teaching, and so on. Huh. So, I guess that means I'm an English Education major and then in 3 years I can be more specific if I even want to. I could change to highschool counseling, or journalism, or social work, or whatever.

For some reason, looking at it this way, made life seem so much easier and gosh darn, exciting.

Ashley and Ben are the two best listeners and communicators I have ever met. They remind me that I am ok, or even great, just how I am. They let me vent and share my struggles, insecurities, and mistakes. They celebrate with me in anything whether it is a successful new recipe or catching a touchdown pass. Ashley and Ben are insightful, open minded, accepting, and hilarious. Sure, our humor might not make anyone else chuckle, but it makes us giggle uncontrollably for hours.

A & B are not your typical married couple. They talk things through. They communicate well. Sometimes I ask them, "What is the hardest thing about being married?" and they answer honestly as if the other person was not in the room, because they've probably already talked about it with them.

Somehow I've never been bad enough, ugly enough, ridiculous enough, or awful enough yet, because I've never felt so much genuine, love directed at me. They actually convince me that I am loveable. Eventhough I often tell them that they must live in some imaginary world where life is much simpler and I make sense, they convince me that maybe I am ok just as I am.

Last time I called Ashley to tell her I had thrown up again, she said, "Yeah, I could already tell from how you've been talking" even before I told her. Ben hugs me and kisses my forehead as if I was his own daughter and I'm convinced he would really inflict a lot of pain to any other male who hurt me. Ashley lets me get my own food when we eat together because she knows it's easier for me that way. Ben jokes with me and is never afraid to tell me the truth as painful as it may be sometimes.

Before I left for Cambodia we sat at there kitchen table and I talked about wanting to be a citizen of the world and what that looked like.

Straight from the website: "A World Citizen is a human being who lives intellectually, morally and physically in the present. A World Citizen accepts the dynamic fact that the planetary human community is interdependent and whole, that humankind is essentially one. A World Citizen is a peaceful and peacemaking individual, both in daily life and contacts with others. As a global person, a World Citizen relates directly to humankind and to all fellow humans spontaneously, generously and openly."

It goes on to other things, but I told them that I had goals for what that meant to me.

As a citizen of the world I told them I wanted a broader worldview that included more cultures than just the American one I've grown up in. I told them I wanted to spend less money on clothes and wear what I really wanted to, not what I thought I should be wearing. I told them I wanted to wear less makeup. I told them I wanted to be a better communicator, be more knowledgeable, and be eating disorder-free.

As I walked out the door tonight, Ashley said, "Ya know, it seems to me you are becoming more and more of the citizen of the world that you want to be."

That is one the best compliments I could ever recieve and I'm convinced that she genuinely meant it.

Installment of Thoughts

Newest installment of recent, random thoughts:

-Has it already been 4 months since I've been back from Cambodia?

-I can hardly believe I am turning 21 soon. How does this happen? Time continues to blow me away at it's speed, fast or slow. A year ago at this time I was just getting back from a vacation to southern Cambodia, approaching November and trying to decide if I was really going to last another week, none the less, another 8 months!

-I voted and am glad to have done so. Sure, it will be nice for the ads to stop running and the media to devote all of their attention some where else, yet still, I kinda like election time. I won't get all patriotic on how I'm being a good citizen, I just think it's really cool that even for a few months I could strike up a conversation with literally anyone, strangers or friends about a topic we both know about. I guess that sorta happens with things like the Olympics or some kind of crazy natural disaster, but rarely does something so big effect so many people at one time. That's why I kinda like it.

-I've been randomly conducting interviews with students on campus asking them, "Do you believe in God?" and "Why?" It's been beyond interesting.

-Can't remember if I wrote this on my blog or not, but I will again: my book got approved! So come, 2011, you will see my book, with my name on it. The topic may be obvious, but just in case, it's about my experiences last year. I want to write a book I can be proud of. I want to write a book about things that aren't being talked about. I want to do something about the hypocrisy, shallowness, and silliness I often complain about, yet have not done much about.Yippee!

-Do I really doubt the existence of God or have I just been angry with God? I almost wrote 'mad', but 'angry' seemed stronger. I have been bitter and angry, confused and frustrated with...something?! But has it been a lack of God or a lack of God being my puppet?

-Next semester I'm taking Secondary Education classes. I'll try this on for size and see if it fits. I need to head, somewhere. Hanging out in college might get boring and costly without some direction.

-I feel like I am being proactive to tell my story, instead of complaining that no one wants to hear it. Why not lock 'em into the church where they can't leave, then talk? I am singing next Friday for vespers and speaking Nov.15th at V2. Writing this book will help me share my story too. This is good.

-I like to live by mantras. I always have some focus or goal that I am breathing for that day. Lately, the best has been, "Learn to live with bumps and imperfections". I am far from perfect. This is a good reminder.

-If it was up to me I'd live on cinnamon rolls, granola, soy chai, PB&J, mac n' cheese, and cookie dough ice cream. I'm not sure how I survived last year.

-I like how music moves people, to think, to dance, to create, to let their guard down, to give.

-I am reading Anne Lammott and I really like it. I think I like it most because she has dread locks and I get the feeling she isn't writing what people just want her to say.

-I've always, always wanted to be a barista at a coffee shop, a writer, a recording artist, or a personal trainer. But I'm trying to decipher between 'interests' and 'career options'.

-I adore Pandora.com. Check it out. Free listening pleasure. My favorite station right now is Sara Bareilles.

-I want to see the east coast. I think I will.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Where We Met

On a cool afternoon in Colorado this weekend, I went for a walk. Feeling defeated, I had gone to clear my eternally busy mind from the clutter that often consumes me. I had on my headphones and was briskly walking my way down the dirt roads that wind before the beautiful Colorado foothills.

About half way to my destination, a petite woman that I recognized as a family friend came walking towards me. Myself overwhelmed with thoughts, I didn't particularly feel like socializing, especially about the small talk that was about to ensue. Still, I knew that I couldn't just walk within 5 feet of her on this empty road and not say anything.

"Hey there! I know you. How are you doing?" I said.

"Ummm, I'm...o...k" she replied slowly, the words sounding forced.

"Oh really. I'm....o...k, too, to be honest. What's on your mind?" I inquired.

"Well," she hesitated, wondering how much she really wanted to tell, then just said it, "I'm still fighting this depression and anxiety that is ruining my life" her voice sounded weak. "But how are you? Home from school I see?" She sounded so tired and beat up.

"Oh, I'm so sorry" I said, knowing there was little else I could say. "Yes, I'm home from Union. But, since we are being honest, let's just say, today is not the best day of my life either. I just threw up, again, and needed to get out of the house to clear my head. It seems every time I'm doing well, I get kicked down again."

She knows about my ED and I figured that since she was willing to share, I would too.

Sadness spread across her already downtrodden face, "Heather, I'm so sorry."

We just sort of looked at each other for awhile, both wanting to cry for the pain that was dominating our lives. I was thinking of a whole life time of opportunities I may have had to actually "talk" to this woman and never really had, when in reality, we both really needed it right now.

So there we stood, along a dirt road, not another soul in sight, talking.

There really is no way I could have said, "Well, see ya later" and continued down the road. So, even though she was headed back home to where I just came, I offered to walk her home.

We talked about her fight with an illness that continues to threaten her life and my own. One situation: depression, compared to an eating disorder, isn't as far fetched as you might think. So I told her that.

"I know we are fighting different demons, but I just want you to know, I think we have a lot in common. I am fighting an illness that no one can see on the outside and it has often been a dirty little secret I felt ashamed of and no one really understood. I feel like I am very alone in this struggle and some days I wake up in the morning wishing I didn't have to live out another day. Some days life feels worthless and so lonely."

"Yes! I feel that way too" her face lighting up.

We reached her home after 30 minutes or so, and I told her how glad I was that me met. She said, "I think it was meant to be."

Neither of us had an answer to fix the other person's problem. I couldn't offer her tips, a doctor, or some new medical breakthrough and she didn't either. Because that is not what either of us needed that afternoon. We needed to be heard and know that someone else was feeling a bit defeated too.

That conversation never would have happened if I had said, "I'm fine" and kept walking. That conversation never would have happened if I myself wasn't struggling with something. We could relate to each other and hear each other. That conversation never would've happened if she wasn't willing to share her struggle with me.

Honesty continues to save me.

No, I don't like talking about throwing up. No, I don't enjoy writing about this, admitting this, or fighting this every day, but I am. No, I don't like going through the drill, post-purge: email dietician, call Ben and Ashley, tell Mom and Dad. I could keep this all a secret. But, every single time I tell those closest to me, because I know I need help and I'll never get it if I don't ask for it.

This is not the life I want to lead. Sometimes I feel like I will always be this way, and can't see the silver lining in any of this. But getting back up after another fall is all I can do.

I may have lost a lot of people's respect in all of this. Exposing what really goes on in my head is not always something I'm proud to do. But I see how I've been changed through it.

I literally picture this is a heavy weight of rocks. And as I share my experiences I hand each person another rock, then I don't have to carry it anymore. In turn, that person usually hands me a rock of their own. It's not that we have this eternally heavy burden to lug around and it never gets any lighter. We build muscle.

I could not lift anything more than a few pounds when I was a child. But with age, I gain strength. What was once an unmanageable burden becomes character.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Unrest

Tonight, I sat at the Art.Music.Justice tour concert with great artists such as Sandra McCracken, Sara Groves, and Derek Webb. There was wonderful music, moving stories, and pleas for support and activism to help solve the world's problems.

I am overwhelmed by what I've seen overseas. I've seen the bumpy roads, the injustice, the garbage infested streets, the fear, and the hopelessness. I've seen the naked children sleeping on the side of the road. I've looked into the eyes of a 12-year-old prostitute and been unable to look away.

The progression from Cambodia to Union college has been stark and unnatural. I'm not sure what the easier or better solution would've been. There are completely different circumstances depending on your part of the globe. I'm still having the hardest time wrapping my mind around how Cambodia and the United States exist at the same time. I don't understand.

I watched pictures flash across the screen tonight of young girls in brothels in India, sick children in Africa, and victims of sex trafficking in Asia. I cried, hard.

I was sad for those people, but I was mostly thinking of what I saw in Cambodia. You see, now it's personal.

I've heard concerts, mission stories, and seen movies like Invisible Children before, but have never been moved the same way I was tonight. As Sara Groves sang "When the Saints", I cried some more. I just kept thinking, Well, this is all well and nice and actually quite inspiring, but how does this song you are singing do anything for Ratanack who sits with his mother at their fruit stand hoping to make enough for food? How does this song keep Kagna safe from the men on the street? How does this song keep Oknha from getting deep into drugs and crime?

It doesn't. So I cried.

I feel so helpless to do anything to protect my kids. The fear of getting some awful email from a student telling me about one of my girls getting raped or her parents forcing her to marry a rich, foreign stranger, tempts me to break all ties with my kids. Then maybe this won't hurt so much.

I want to do something more than go to classes tomorrow. I can't see how I'm going to get through 3 more years of this. But I can't up and leave, hoping to save the world, I already tried that. And as fulfilling as I'd hoped it would be, the reality of being far from home, ED support, and familiarity, left me...broken. I feel like I tried, but maybe I'm just not cut out for the harsh realities of mission work, or else I would've really thrived.

If I'm not meant to work overseas, how can I live with myself knowing I'm doing nothing about it. I want to go, but I'm afraid to go.

Bono said, "God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them."

It's 12:30 am in Lincoln, Nebraska, which means it is Friday 12:30 pm in Cambodia. My kids have all been out of school for an hour and are bored trying to figure out how they'll fill their time until Monday morning. They have just finished eating lunch, rice for sure, in their hot, dusty kitchens. Fay is probably braving the dangerous streets headed to the market. Polly is teaching kindergarteners how to read. Sabbath approaches in Cambodia and really, there is never any rest.

I wonder if I'll ever have rest again.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

If I had never gone

As people ask, "So how was Cambodia?" I find my answers getting a little more light hearted. It wasn't any less hard, but I am less anxious because I realize I am not there now. Now I can move on with what I've learned.

I could easily list 10 things that have been negative changes in me the last year, but that's too easy. A good friend asked me recently, "What would you be like if you'd never gone to Cambodia?"

If I had never gone to Cambodia I'd still be secretly living with this eating disorder. I might still be struggling alone, hiding the ugly side of me I was so ashamed to admit to. Now, there is hardly anyone in my life that doesn't know about my struggles. I am more human to the people in my life now. I recommend going halfway around the world to anyone who wants to reveal a secret. If you do it through a blog, you never have to actually say it to anyone's face and deal with their reactions. No, bad advice. Still, it worked for me. I am better supported and understood.

If I had never gone to Cambodia I wouldn't have the friends I do now. I actually gained friends by flying away from them. Once there was distance I was better able to see my true friends who would stay in touch, as well as make new friends. New people came into my life via email as we got to meet each other. It has been so nice to actually start a friendship honestly, knowing each other's faults, so, that aside, we could actually connect and hear each other.

If I had never gone to Cambodia I might still be on the Christian placebo I'd been taking most of my life. It's not that I've never had a spiritual experience and it was all fake, it was just different. The struggles and situations are different now. I've been tested and forced to challenge a lot of ideas I've held as true. I ask a lot more questions about apparent "truths". I may have come to the same conclusions eventually, but being isolated in Cambodia sure sped up that whole process.

If I had never gone to Cambodia I doubt my students would be sitting in the new school building that they are now. CAS moved into the new school that was waiting to be finished because of a huge lack of funds. Friends and family from home stepped up in big ways and helped me raise over $8,000.

If I had never gone to Cambodia I'd be a junior in college, who sat through another year of classes not knowing what I wanted to do. I never would have felt, seen, smelled and experienced another side of the world. It sounds vague, but just having gone makes my worldview much bigger. I see now how my actions directly affect the rest of the world. I better understand how America is viewed by the rest of the world and am both proud and disgusted depending on the subject. I am grateful for my education, opportunities, and community. I am pained by our media, our morals, and our individualist approach to life.

If I had never gone to Cambodia I would have no idea how big and still, small the world really is.

If I had never gone to Cambodia I might be convinced that this is really all there is.

If I had never gone to Cambodia I wouldn't understand how great it feels to be called Ms.Bo by adoring 7th graders.

If I had never gone to Cambodia some of my students wouldn't know how to laugh at themselves, dance the macarena, or communicate better with the people in their lives.

Sara Groves has been giving me more fulfillment in her poetic songwriting than I ever expected. I feel like so many of her songs speak to me right where I'm at, especially, "Less Like Scars".

"It's been a hard year, I'm climbing out of the rubble,
These lessons are hard, healing changes are subtle.
But everyday, less like tearing, more like building,
less like captive, more like willing,
less like breakdown, more like surrender,
less like haunted, more like remember.

And I feel you here and your picking up the pieces, forever faithful.
It's out of my hands and bad situations, you are able.
And in your hands the pain and hurt, look less like scars and more like character.

Less like a prison, more like my room.
Less like a casket, more like a womb.
Less like dying, more like transcending.
Less like fear, less like an ending.

And just a little while a go, I couldn't feel the hope,
I couldn't cope, I couldn't feel a thing.
But just a little while back, I was desperate, broken, laid out, hoping,
you would come.

I need you and I want you here."



Thanks Sara.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I saw her at Walmart

Her eyes darted nervously from side to side, peaking out from underneath her wispy blond bangs. Her size 2 jeans loose around her waist. Wearing a hoody to hide her shape, she pushed the shopping cart that looked difficult for her to maneuver, exhausted and lonely. I could see her hips bones jutted out beneath her clothing. Her translucent skin was a dead giveaway, this girl is not eating, just like Jenny.

Jenny was a woman I met 2 years ago. She died March '07. Jenny lost her battle with anorexia. I hate even saying that. People say it about cancer victims too, that they lost their battle, like they were all failures or something. Jenny lost her life to an eating disorder, but her life was not lost, becuase I am still writing about it. I will never get the image of Jenny out of my mind for as long as I live. I don't want to.

The instant I saw this woman at Walmart yesterday, I thought, Jenny? No, it wasn't her. But this girl is dying too. I just stared at her as she walked away from me. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. Instead I stood in the aisle for about 10 minutes just watching her, my eyes filling with tears. The tricky thing about eating disorders is that, talking to the person sometimes makes it worse if they haven't accepted it themselves.

I remember a teacher telling me how I was getting too skinny and thinking, Ha, at least someone noticed. Success! Disgustingly, I took it as a compliment.

This woman in Walmart is a reminder to me that I am not done fighting this. The universe may be trying to tell me something.

After a particularly depressing weekend, something needed to change. It is so easy for to me to get stuck in a rut of self-pity and frustration over what my life is right now. Sometimes I just need a good shaking. So, I made a list of things that would make this week more fulfilling.

First, I approached both the vespers coordinator and the newspaper editor about the opportunity to speak and write about things that need to be said at Union college. Complaining about a situation does nothing unless I do something to change it.

Second, I called my dietician to help me straighten out my thoughts and gave me strength for another week. The amoebas in my tummy may not go away for another 6 months. They are causing more problems than I'd like to admit.

I'm great, fantastic, marvelous at filling my day with stuff to do and tasks to complete, but rarely do I schedule fun. So, I made a list of people that make me happy and I'm going to make the effort to be around them more often. The friends I already have, matter deeply to me. They continue to fuel me for the journey.

Writing is therapy. So I vowed to write in my journal every day this week and I have.

Atleast 85% + of the time, I've decided to wear clothes I could easily do yoga in or say, climb a tree. Comfortable clothes are a must. I haven't worn high heels in over 2 years and I'm still boycotting them. Ya know, those must've been invented by some sick man who wanted to attack women in dark allies when they tried to outrun him and sprained their ankles wearing his "trendy" shoes. Well, it's just a theory. Either way, high heels are crap.

Today, I went around campus and started interviewing students passing by. "Do you believe in God?" and "Why?".

This weekend I'm getting some friends together to cook Indian food show pictures from Cambodia.

The last thing yet to do on my list is, Consider getting dread locks. This one might take a bit more time.