Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Book

Here's the scoop: I might've written a book and I might be super excited about it.

I started this blog three years ago. Purpose: to keep friends and family up-to-date about my travels to Cambodia. I didn't know how much I would write or how often, but I figured, I like writing and it's easier than sending mass emails.

During my time in Cambodia, this blog turned into some of my only connection with the home I missed so horribly. There came a point when I realized that if I wrote only what I felt I "should", only what people would want to hear, then I would suffer in silence. So instead I wrote my thoughts, the events of my day and received emails, comments, and encouragement (some from people I've still not met face-to-face). I clung to blogging and connecting on-line for the support I needed to survive the year.

My teacher, Mr. Blake emailed me one day in Cambodia asking, "What if we turned your blog into a book?"

To which I replied, "Yeah, right."

He was serious and so was Review and Herald publishing. They expressed an interest and the last two years have been full of writing, adjusting, edits, emails to the publisher, and alas, sending in the finished product.

The two years that have followed on this blog have been a continuation of that goal: to tell an honest story. If not, what's the point? Have you noticed some of our latest catch phrases?
"I'm not gonna lie..."
"If I'm being completely honest..."
"I'll be blunt..."

You get it. There's only one reason we add this disclaimer before we make a statement: we spend most of our lives being completely phony. If this weren't the case we wouldn't need to introduce certain parts of our conversation with the "honest" part which begs the question: Was everything else you just said completely false? If we were always honest, we might often say:
"I'm going to lie..."
"If I'm being mostly dishonest..."
"I'll be fake with you..."

With a few too many issues and mental illnesses, I can't afford to spend the rest of my life pretending that I'm feeling, being, or acting in a way that contradicts who I am.

I have two main goals that I hope people gain from my book:
-it's okay to be human, to have issues, to have struggles. You're not alone.
-it's okay to have doubts about God, to question. You're not alone.

I want to tell an honest story.

I want someone to read it and consider sharing that "ugly" part of themselves that they thought only they possessed.

I want someone to feel liberated and free when they realize they aren't alone.

I want someone to feel hopeful knowing that they are not broken and ruined, but completely human and valuable on this journey we call life.

I want Oprah to add me to her Book Club, but I'll survive if she never does.

It's been quite a journey that's taken me
from garbage dumps in Cambodia

to dealing with my own garbage in the States

to healing and growing through the process of writing this book I can proudly call my own.

Thanks to everyone who has helped bring me here.

As the back cover of my book reads:
"A recipe for disaster? Almost. But Heather just kept breathing, kept praying, kept putting one foot in front of the other. The problems didn't magically disappear, and she didn't suddenly find peace and stability. No, she got hit by a car. And the eating disorder got worse. Oddly enough, though, she stumbled onto a completely new perspective on life."


Honestly, I'm Struggling
will be available this fall at Adventist Book Centers and eventually on-line at Amazon.com. More information to come.


I found my "why" the very last week at camp. Now that's not to say I was without a "why" for the first six weeks, but it became more clear to me.

During staff orientation week at camp we were asked to consider our "why." Top businesses and successful people have a clear destination in mind. They know why they are doing what they're doing. Other people know "what" or "how" to do what their doing, but that pales in comparison to people who know their "why."

For example, when a child asks, "But why?" and the parent says, "Because I said so," the child doesn't think, "Oh, it's all so clear now. I understand." They're thinking, Yeah, whatever.

This may be a big reason many people are unhappy or discontent. They know full well "what" they are doing (sacking groceries)and "how" to do it (put purchases in bags). What they may be lacking is a strong reason "why." Some purpose that makes getting up in the morning worth it.

Due to some unfortunate contract miscommunication, I was supposed to be done working at camp a full week before my plane was scheduled to leave. The director offered me a position in the kitchen to which my first response was, "Uh oh. No way." I get weird around food, especially when I can't get away from it. She told me I didn't have to, but I could try and see how it went. So I talked to Ruth (our lovely, understanding cook)and she told me she knew exactly what I could do. Two young campers had severe food allergies and my job would be to cook specifically for them.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Food allergies, you say? Poor little kids who feel left out at every birthday party and restaurant outings? In the process of making their food I can make my own food? I can make the menu and have my own schedule? Well, okay.

Mary couldn't have dairy. Not even one egg in a loaf of bread. C.J., her brother, also couldn't eat dairy, but was also allergic to soy, nuts, gluten, or corn oil. Quickly I became aware of the crazy limitations they had and realized I had some work to do.

Their mother explained that especially C.J. was used to rice, beans, and potatoes. But no, no. We can do better than that. Over the course of the week I made lentil meatballs, mashed potatoes, pancakes, cranberry cookies, apple pie, curry, tostadas, pasta, coconut pudding, and molasses cookies.

It was fun to get creative with their food and see the look on their faces when I brought out something other than rice and beans. On the morning I made blueberry pancakes, C.J. said, "What is this?" The poor kid had never had pancakes in his entire life.

I know what deprivation feels like.
I know what hunger feels like.
I know what left-out-ed-ness feels like.

My "why" last week was to help those kids feel normal, nourished, and happy.

Camp is over. It was a long one. I'm exhausted and so happy to be done.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Dear Mom and Dad,

These are the kinds of letters that worry you. The kind that make you nervous and anxious and want to fly to Tennessee to whisk me away to safety. But I know you won’t. I know you trust me. I know you’re concerned but realize that you can’t save me from everything, especially myself. So, that’s why I write.

Long story short: I ate foods with gluten (which makes my stomach hate me), then spent about an hour last night contemplating, “Throw up or not to throw up? That is the question.” I strolled around in a daze. I walked into bathrooms, then walked back out. I marched through the rain. I cried. I pleaded with God to stop me. I cried some more. I hated myself for even having this conversation, for having this struggle. I checked out of reality and instead debated whether or not I would head down that road again. I don’t think I came up with a good reason one way or the other, I just got tired and wet sitting in the rain trying to figure out how I ended up here again. So after an hour of ridiculously irrational behavior I decided that admitting I had thrown up to a few dozen people sounded more exhausting than just going to bed.

Sometimes I feel deprived. I know that I am doing exactly what I don’t want to do, then I do it anyway (thanks Paul). I rationalize why I am doing it: “I’m eating gluten because I deserve to eat good food and I don’t even care what it’s doing to my body.” It’s like my way to sticking it to the man. I wonder if I’m missing out. I wonder if life is this tumultuous for everyone or if I’m just making this up. I wonder if cinnamon rolls really will solve all my problems. They sure didn’t last night.

Eating gluten-free at camp hasn’t been easy. There are grocery stores nearby so I can get what I need and the cook lets me into the kitchen to prepare my food. The problem is their food always looks better than mine. While they’re eating lasagna and quesadillas, cookies and tiramisu; I’m making salads and pretending that garbanzo beans are equally satisfying.

I feel deprived when other people get something I don’t.
I feel deprived when I’m not getting my needs met (joy counts).
I feel deprived when life isn’t a board game I can control.
I’m writing to tell you that I’m okay. That I didn’t throw up. That after a clean seven months (the longest I’ve gone since returning from Cambodia), I’m still standing. I don’t feel awesome. In fact, I feel incredibly fragile. I feel scared. I want to curl up and pretend that there aren’t eleven teen campers under my care. I want to have time to breathe. Instead, here I sit with a full day in front of me and a full head of thoughts and lies and temptations and truths.

Don’t think of this in terms of food. Think of this in terms of your own junk. This is my something I wish wasn’t there. This is my issue, my dirt. This is the thing that hurts me and requires more of my thought and attention than I’d like to admit.

But I’m still standing and I just wrote to tell you that.



Dear Mom and Dad,

Don’t worry. I’m not going to change my major (I wouldn’t dare after all those term papers), but I’d be lying if I said that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind to change from English education to physical science.
Yeah, I’m a full-blown word nerd. Reading and writing have always come naturally to me. I bask in the joy of sentence structure and definitions, ideas and the words that portray them. I’m at home in bookstores and thrilled by the writing process. I want to teach young people how to use words and language to change the world. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t create change by just talking really loud. What mattered were the words he said.

At camp my bookish ways are left in Nebraska and the more athletic side of me gets to play. Sure, I enjoy some intramurals and dodge ball tournaments in college, but 80% of me commits to school and homework. Camp reminds me to play. Camp reminds me to laugh. Camp reminds me to get outside. Camp reminds me there is a whole population of littler people who don’t give a care about college and are more often enthralled by the person who just farted.

Now if I had to live forever in the world of petty nine year-old girls or the world of college-aged adults, I’m pretty sure I’d choose the population with which I can have a semi-rational conversation. Yet, camp still has a lot to teach me.
Let’s look at Tween week for example. This week brought 12-14 year-old hormonal bundles complete with awkward jokes and irrational thought processes. Now, I’ll take the Tweeners over the Juniors any day, but alas, they’re still kids. The girls are in love with some chump named Justin Beiber and are singing, “Baby, baby, baby, oh. . .” and the guys are pretty much disinterested in girls, but showing signs of hope.
This week eleven guys signed up for my basketball class. We started with basics: dribbling, passing, shooting, and the basic rules of basketball. They started dribbling off their toes and saying, “Nuh-uh” when I called fouls, but we’ve made a lot of progress since Monday. Today, Lawrence finally accepted that, yes, he did travel. Today, quiet Christopher overcame his fear and wowed us all by shooting and scoring. Today, Nathan moved his feet and protected the ball instead of assuming the fetal position. Today, something clicked and we all saw it.

“Wow, that was so much fun,” Mark exclaimed on his way out the door. He poked his head back in, “Thank you Ms. Heather.” Okay, I suppose those Tweeners are all right.
I spend five hours each week playing dodge ball. No, that’s a lie. I spend five hours each week refereeing dodge ball: “Yes, that ball did hit you.” This week wasn’t so bad though. We had no emotional break downs and by this age, they will actually admit when they got hit, especially when we can all see the imprint that the ball left on their face.

This summer, our camp has taken out the group morning worship and replaced it with separate cabin worships. This has been both a blessing and curse depending on the day, so this week on Wednesday I taught a yoga class for the fifty girl’s campers.
I demonstrated basics of yoga such as Mountain, Child’s, and Downward dog poses. We moved into a plank position which resembles the highest point of a push-up. After five seconds in this position anyone would start to struggle. The shoulders feel weak and the core muscles scream. “What is your body telling you?” I asked the girls.

“This hurts!”
“No more,” they told me.

We talked about breathing through hard times. We talked about our bodies telling us one thing and using our mind to calm the spirit.

We practiced some balance poses, which tends to frustrate anyone who has never done them before. As we all wobbled and shook and shifted our weight, we talked about being able to forgive ourselves and not compare ourselves to others. Yoga’s so good for the soul.

I like playing games.
I like challenging my body.
I like pushing myself a little farther than I could the day before.

When I think about switching my major to physical education, I know better. I would get bored. I would miss literature. At the end of a hard day coaching I wouldn’t want to relax and say, play basketball or go running like I do now, because I would have done that all day.

I’m in the right place. I suppose I can’t change my major every time something shiny passes my way. Thanks for listening. Hope you’re doing well.



Dear Mom and Dad,

I still cannot believe you surprised me at camp. I was just going about my day and BAM! There you were. You stepped into my world at camp and it was nice having you here. Immediately when I saw you standing in the cafeteria I was reminded of what it felt like when you flew half-way around the world to visit me in Cambodia. Dad’s response to this was, “Well dear, visiting you in Tennessee is much less extreme than flying to Cambodia.” Yeah, I get that. But until you’ve been on my side of things, you probably won’t see the similarities.
Living in Cambodia felt like I was watching a movie in a theater, alone. I wanted to tell someone about the movie, so I wrote blogs. I’d write the best descriptions I could. I’d try to explain the traffic, the heat, the filth, and the people. But really, like most things, it was something you just had to see for yourself. At one point or another of trying to describe a movie no one in your entire life has seen or even heard about, you begin to feel like your going crazy or maybe the movie wasn’t that interesting. I began to question myself: Am I making this up? Nope. Having my parents come to visit proved that.
My situation in Tennessee has been vastly, hugely, incredibly different than my life in Cambodia, but still, I’m trying to describe this life—this movie—that you haven’t seen. So no, I didn’t feel crazy or anything, just sitting in a different movie theater.
Thanks for your flexibility. Thanks for jumping and enjoying life at camp. Thanks dad, for helping Jeremy make repairs. Thanks mom, for supporting me even when I still had work to do here. Thanks for the gluten-free brownies and hugs. We went kayaking. We hung out at the lake. You were able to meet all these people I’ve been talking about and see this world that’s become a big part of my life.