Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chili Cheese Fries

The curse lifted somewhere along Interstate 29, that road between Nebraska and Kansas City.

The lightness,
the calm,
the joy,
the wholeness,
they settled into my body with familiar ease like a favorite pair of jeans or a childhood memory that remains untainted by time or circumstance.

This just felt right.
Because it was right.

Six years ago, I adopted an eating disorder that has been a regular part of my vocabulary ever since. Only for the last year or so has it felt completely true to call myself "recovered." Now--in my book--"recovered" means that I no longer inflict life-threatening behaviors on my body. I'm still insecure. I still sometimes look in the mirror with disdain. I still refer to my tunnel-vision, periodical self-hatred as the beast that is Helga. I'm still human.

So it was confusing and frustrating when in December (when Jeremy and I got engaged), I felt Helga sneaking back in. The five months of our engagement reminded me of what it was like to live with an eating disorder: that hyper-awareness of my body, my fullness, how my clothes fit, how people commented on my appearance, what I ate, how I compared to other women, and (this time around) how I was going to fit into that damn wedding dress.

This was the curse: that indescribable joy of planning a wedding and a marriage to the man I love  
a hyper-awareness of all the photographs that would be taken, capturing my flaws for future generations.

It was a complex I couldn't seem to overlook.
It was an all-too-familiar reminder of where I've been.
It was a lot of self-inflicted stress that made me--at times--miserable.
I hiccuped. I was in over my head. I felt panicked.

But now, it's over.

The curse lifted as Jeremy and I drove away from our wedding bound for our honeymoon. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. A few miles down the road, we both realized we were hungry and the approaching Wendy's would not be ignored. I ordered chili cheese fries. Yes, deep-fried potatoes with chunky beef chili, and a pool of melted cheddar cheese. And never before (and never again) will chili cheese fries taste so freaking good.

Because I ate them knowing they were just chili cheese fries.
They weren't setting me back on my ability to fit into that wedding dress.
They weren't loaded with emotional and psychological baggage.
They weren't a trick or a toxin that would surely derail all of my self-control.
No, they were just chili cheese fries.

And it was in that moment, driving across Nebraska with my new husband after our picture-perfect wedding, that I realized the curse that had set in upon engagement...was gone.

It's a relief to not second-guess everything I eat and be overly-diligent about my work-outs.
But the last five months have shown me how easy it was to fall willingly back into the arms of Helga.

I still have much to learn.
I still have much to grow.

The journey continues with this experience in my back pocket.
So that I don't forget where I've been and where I'm going.

I'm going forward.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Jeremy and I were married on May 13th.
We went on a lovely honeymoon to the Bahamas for five days.
We drove to a lake house in Missouri.
Monday morning, I got a phone call from my sister that my Grandpa had died.

This high of our marriage and honeymoon was sharply jolted by the reality of death.
The reality that life is good.
And life is so awful.
At the same time.

I've had a difficult time knowing what to feel.
How to act.
What to say.
What to do.
People saying "Congratulations" and "I'm so sorry" all in one breath.

We drove back to Lincoln, packed up our stuff, and drove here to Colorado to be with family and celebrate Grandpa's life.

We weren't expecting Grandpa's death so soon. He'd been fighting two horrible allergic reactions to antibiotics he'd been given. But in spite of his pain, he insisted on coming to our wedding (an 8-hour car drive away).

When I saw him for the first time in Nebraska, I nearly gasped. I'd never seen him so sick in all his 90 years. He looked up at me wearily from the rocking chair he was sitting in and said, "I know I look awful. I'm sorry. But I really wanted to be here for your wedding."

He was in a lot of pain. His skin was falling off of his body. His hands were purple from lack of circulation. His body was failing him. I know it was so hard for him, but I'm glad he came.

It was the last time I saw him.
The last time I saw that knowing twinkle in his gray eyes.
The last time he called me "Heather the feather."
The last time he looked at me and I felt good and worth being proud of.

I don't understand death.
I don't understand how his heart stopped pumping.
His lungs ceased to function.
His body shut down.
And yet his spirit feels alive and real. 
Isn't he still at the farm where he's always been?

Sitting in his funeral on Friday, I listened as people told stories of his life: school, marriage, draft into the war, having kids, working the farm, being Grandpa. In my short 24 years with him, I feel like the best thing Grandpa taught me was the value of complete and total acceptance.

Grandpa was born in 1920.
Before World War II.
Before Civil Rights and Martin Luther King.
Before feminism and the women's equality movement.
Before 75 mph highways and international travel at the speed of light.
Before cell phones, the Internet, and Facebook.
Before life got really busy and fast and complicated.

With all that Grandpa has seen and experienced, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he said, "Oh Heather, you think that's hard, let me tell you..." or "Oh, these kids and their silly toys." But he never did. No. Instead he said, "Interesting" or "Tell me about that."

He never made me feel unintelligent or silly or petty or childish.
He always expressed a genuine interest in what I cared about and what mattered to me.

In our society of harsh and aggressive lines between what people think is right and wrong, good and bad, and how everyone has something to say about "those" people and "that" belief, Grandpa was just plain accepting. Even if he disagreed. Even if he didn't understand. He wasn't merely tolerant. He was loving.

And I will forever remember that about him.

Thanks, Grandpa.

May 13th

I am now a married woman.

On May 13th, we put on some fancy clothes.

We invited some friends.

We smooched.

We signed some papers.

And now we're married.

Badda bing, badda boom. What took five months and $4,500 to plan was over in four hours.

And now we're married.

Which basically means we share a bed.
We've seen each other naked.
And now we're using more "we"s than "me"s.

Our great adventure has begun.

It's less scary than I thought it would be. A few changes: important and meaningful, but small nonetheless. And we're doing just fine. We're talking. We're disagreeing.  We're compromising. We're figuring this out one day at a time, just like we always have.

If you would like to see the entire wedding album, check it out here:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Last Load of Laundry

I have not yet mastered the art of a satisfactory farewell.

How do I let people know how much I've appreciated their friendship?
How do I make peace with the past and move forward into the future?
How do I honor one experience while moving into another?

I know that when I most want to avoid something, I most need to face it. I have successfully spent the last five months pretending like this isn't the case. That everything will be fine. That I need not say "goodbye." That this isn't happening.
But it is happening.

I know this is true because someone, somewhere via Craigslist is now sleeping on my bed.
My walls are barren.
My books are in boxes.
My clothes are in suitcases.
Things are changing and I'm not sure I'm ready for them.

In 48 hours, I'll be married.

And I'm ecstatic. Thrilled. Overjoyed. Gleeful. Felicitous. This is what I want and there's no one else I'd rather spend the rest of my life with.

So, I am running a last load of laundry. I'm brushing my teeth. And I'm not quite sure what to do next.  I've lived with my sister, Ashley, and her husband, Ben, for the last three years. This is all I've known in college. This is all I've wanted to know. She came downstairs to say "goodnight" and mentioned that it is my last night in my room. And we cried.

What is the graceful way to move from this place to the big scary world of...of...marriage? Do I walk? Do I run? Should I test the water with my toe first? Should I have obtained a certain level of education or confidence or put-together-ness?

What will I do when I really just want to go home, to familiarity, to being safe and taken care every step of the way? How do I say goodbye to what was and move forward to what is?

I suspect that a satisfactory goodbye is one that honors both the past and the future.

I want to be satisfied with what just happened.
With the last 24 years I've enjoyed in safety and peace and comfort.

I want to be hopeful with what is to come.
With the joys that come with marriage and the forming of our own family.

So goodbye to what was:
to living in a house I didn't appreciate,
eating food I couldn't afford,
and driving a car with insurance fees I had no right driving.

Goodbye to my care-free and debt-free existence.
To knowing that my parents would always pay my gas home for Christmas.
To insulation from taxes and health insurance and tuition.
To naivety in general.

And hello to what is:
to a sweet and wonderful roommate,
to learning to budget,
and eating a whole lot more rice and beans.

Hello to the wisdom that comes with adulthood,
to not going to our respective homes at 11:39pm,
to ownership and responsibility of my own life,
to a great adventure with the man I love.

Goodbye, what was.

Hello, adventure.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Today, I graduated from college.

Technically, I've been done with college since December. But because there is no December graduation, I had to wait four months until May. And because I've been planning a wedding, my formal graduation weekend has been more of a blip on my convoluted radar rather than a thrilling or exciting milestone.

The last time I sat in a graduation robe was in 2006--my high school graduation--anxious and naive to my future journeys into adulthood. But this weekend, I put on that robe, those cords, that goofy hat, and I was reminded of all that I've worked to achieved in the last six years of college (yes, six).

I sat in the commencement ceremony today thinking of the long hours spent writing term papers in the library, that test, that teacher, and all the stress, sweat, and tears I've put into earning my diploma in English education (magna cum laude, if I may).

Diploma from Dr. Wagner (Photo: James Hall)

Bible from Pastor Rich (Photo: Richard Young)
But my time at Union wasn't just about academics. It was about relationships and spirituality and athletics and emotion and growth. I like to think that I've worked to achieve more in the last six years than just a piece of paper with some fancy writing. Hearing my name read as I walked across the stage today meant more than an academic accomplishment. It meant proof of a journey. 

Proof that I have what it takes to graduate from college.
That I've endured and overcome relational heartache.
That I've traveled around the world and back again.
That I've come face-to-brutal-face with myself and had to accept what I found there.
That I've come to better know God and to better know myself.
That I've learned to communicate my needs and avoid expectations.
That I've overcome a freaking eating disorder and sent it packing.
That I've accepted vulnerability and transparency as strengths.
This diploma gives me proof that I am stronger than I thought.

Because this journey through college has taken me to places I never wanted to go, nor thought I needed to go. But I did. And here we stand. Smiling. Smiling!

Jeremy and I (Photo: Richard Young)   

I can't say that years ago, I thought I'd be smiling this much. Feeling this much. Loving this much.

Pastor Rich and I (Photo: Richard Young)

And it wasn't academia that brought me to this point. 
It was people. 
Who cared.
And reached out.
And loved.
Without restraint.
Without apology.

And I'm grateful. To have a diploma--if even that was necessary--to prove the journey I've taken and the journey I'm continuing. With their impact on my life forever intact.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Caring Too Much

I have this crazy problem sometimes when I let other people tell me who I am.

When I forget my name.
When I allow my self-worth to be held in the hands of others.
Others who probably shouldn't be trusted. Yet, I want their approval so badly, I continue to want to know what they think about me. And continue to be let down.

This isn't a passive-agressive rant about "someone" that is doing something "to" me.
This is simply a personal declaration of boundaries, of self-respect, and of worthiness.
Because self-love and self-respect are all about knowing oneself and setting boundaries that protect who you are, what you need, and what you will and will not do.

It was pointed out to me today by a dear friend that I may care a little too much about what people think of me. Not that I necessarily care more than the next person, but my dear friend cares...well, he says...not at all.

At all?

I don't even know if that's possible.
I don't even know where to begin.

But he believes that two of the most important aspects of who he is are this:
#1. That all people deserve his unconditional love.
#2. That he doesn't care what people think about him.

And while my upbringing holds those two factors in conflict, he says that they fit together nicely. That by loving people unconditionally, he won't force them to care about him. Love doesn't force. Love doesn't guilt. So he will not bend over backwards or be something he's not just so they'll like him. To him, unconditional love and a thick skin go hand-in-hand. And I think I agree with him.

I'm often too soft.
Too delicate to what someone says to me.
How they look at me.
What that comment meant or what they really think.

And by being this way, I think I'm loving them. I'm caring. I'm concerned. Really, I'm just exhausted. I cannot continue to "care" this much.
I cannot continue to look to others for validation.
I cannot continue to be so concerned and fearful of making the wrong move.
I cannot and I will not.

I am who I am.
Not perfect, but a pretty good person still.
And I can best take care of other people and myself by loving them unconditionally AND recognizing that they may choose not to like me. And that's okay. Because I need not care so much.

Dear friend also pointed out what Ashley Judd wrote recently in her essay to The Daily Beast in response to critics ranting about her appearance:

"I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that."

Knowing myself.
Setting boundaries.
Knowing my limits.
Making decisions that are best for me even when others disagree.
Not giving my power, self-esteem, or autonomy to anyone outside myself.
"I value myself too much..."

Oy, that's another lesson I'll spend a lifetime learning.


I have my martyr moments, but for the most part, the above statement only frustrates me.

Because if we're all sitting around expecting people to realize that "I'm okay" really means "I'm not okay" we're only making our lives more polluted, more confusing, more Hollywood-esque, more drama-filled.

Why can't we just say, "I'm not okay"? What's so wrong with being not okay? Because most of us are not okay most of the time. Why can't we just ask for what we need?

Is it not like the movies?
Is it not how we grew up thinking it would be?
Is it uncomfortable?

A difficult reminder from a dear friend, "Heather, your life is your fault." It's true for all of us. It's one of those dang Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: taking ownership instead of placing blame.

Because I could think, "I'm falling apart here and no one's noticing."
Or I could say, "I'm struggling. Can you help me?"

Because the truth is people do care. But they can't read my mind. They won't interpret the clues correctly every time. So, why make it so hard for people to love us, to see us, to know us?

Learning to ask for what I need is a lesson I'll be working on the rest of my life.
It's so much easier just to get mad.
Just to play the victim.
Poor me.

No, there's a better way.
I don't have to get upset when people can't read my mind.
I can ask for what I need.

So I will...

I need grace.

I'm getting married in 9 days. So when you ask me how wedding planning is going and I breathe a heavy sigh and say, "I'm stressed." I'm telling the truth.

When I say I'm not getting much sleep.  I'm having a hard time quieting the list, the doubts, the "what ifs" in my head. It's true.

When I say I feel delicate. Fragile. Worried. I mean it.

I may not laugh at that joke that made me laugh a month ago.
I may not smile as easily. But I want to. And don't give up on me.
I may not remember your birthday, that thing you asked me about, or the Thank You card.
I may not be performing at my personal best the next 9 days.
I may cry.
I may feel overwhelmed.
I may snap at you.
And I'm sorry.

I'm asking for your grace.
Your patience.
Your love.

And even though I will not intentionally want to disappoint anyone, I just might. 
And I hope you can accept that.
I'm not perfect.
I'm doing my best here.
Please let that be enough.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What Ifs

In ten days, I am getting married.

In light of that fact, I feel like I am one interaction
one red light
one missed phone call
one flat tire
one over-cooked grilled cheese sandwich away from losing it.

From cracking.
From crying.
From eloping (only kinda...).

Last night, I couldn't sleep. I couldn't turn off my brain. Sleep came eventually, restlessly.

What will she think?
Where will we take pictures if it rains?
The MC needs notes.
I must send that e-mail.
He needs the weekend schedule.
That dress needs fixed.
I need to make that necklace. 
Where is my wallet?
What will my name be after May 13th?
How will the generator get back to the farm?
Who is transporting gifts?
Did we send a thank-you to so and so?
Drink water.
Must wear sunscreen.
How is he getting back from the airport?
When will this be over?

I am happy we are getting married.
I am also quite ready for this intense planning, organizing, and "us-focus" to be over.
I'm ready for that honeymoon.
I have no idea where we are going as Jeremy is planning it.
And I am so looking forward to it.

My dear cousin, Angie, sent me this e-mail today. She's wise:

"In these, the final days before your wedding, I am remembering how stressed out I became as my big day approached.  My gift or wish for you for this coming week, Sweetie, is the gift of a **thick skin**.  IN fact, if I could mail you a piece of leather in time to illustrate this point I would.  There are so many “What ifs” you could entertain.  - What if it doesn’t all go perfectly?  What if someone gets upset with you about something like your name change, etc etc.  Every “what if” scenario is guaranteed to stir up worry if you let it play through your mind.  So if you notice them please banish these future horror movies from your mind. 
And maybe you can have a thick skin this week, which things roll off of, so that YOU are protected from these events penetrating you so deeply, so that YOU are insulated from the feelings/opinions/comments of others. 
Because I, for one, don’t care if the venue’s hot, if the food is cold, or if you change your legal name to Heather Beather (which is pretty catchy, actually). We get to witness YOU marry JEREMY!!!  It’s going to be beautiful."
It's going to be beautiful.
Because it's ours.
It's our story.
It's our wedding.
And amidst all these to-dos and what-nots, we're in love and we're happy.