Legalism/Unity – A Free Verse

Legalism says we’re different.
Too different.

Legalism says here’s a piece of chalk:
Now draw a line. 

Legalism is the air-
Used in inflating egos.

Legalism says don’t question.
Just nod.

Legalism says
only show them your good side.

Legalism says
you’ll never be good enough.

Unity says we have differences
but also God. 

Unity says see my ugly;
see our ugly.

Unity says admonish
in love.

Unity says let’s discuss
and work this out together.

Unity says gather for
‘Iron sharpens Iron’.

Unity says
But with God all things are possible.

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“Let’s Rename It.”

I clocked out of work on Monday, sat in my car, and checked my phone for voicemails and text messages. My art teacher has cancelled most of our planned meetings since her cancer diagnosis but today, I was notification free. My gut feeling wasn’t positive, but I drove over to her place anyway.

I was greeted at the door by my winded and pale friend. She grasped the door firmly and it took all her energy to just speak. “It changes from one moment to the next. I was doing better earlier,” she explained. From there I was beckoned into the kitchen where she placed a cracker-sized piece of sourdough topped with cheese, salami, and tomato in my hand. She leaned over the kitchen counter and tried to forcefully eat hers. “I’m trying. I’m really trying [to care for myself].” I watched her take a half-hearted bite while tears trickled down the corner of her eyes. She was exhausted. She felt defeated.

I forcefully swallowed the salami cheese lump in my throat and hugged her gingerly. I had tears too. “I’m sorry you are going through this,” I whispered. I walked back to my spot and finished my snack for her sake.

“I’m trying to pray fairly,” I told her. “I pray with faith for God to fully heal you if that’s His will, but I also pray that if it’s your time He gives you strength and lessens the pain.”

She nods and then apologizes for crying and I tell her it is perfectly fine to cry.

Her photoshop lessons are on pause indefinitely. Since she is now technically in hospice, we work on end-of-life planning. She helps me with painting and I help her gather pictures for her memorial montage. It’s just as heavy and grim as it sounds in theory, paired with her sharing sweet memories from certain snapshots.

We began with a new desktop folder. “What would you like to name it?” I dare not name it myself.

“Last.” She says firmly.

I type in her request with a heavy heart. We open up her pictures folder and go through each folder, one by one. I wouldn’t say this was a miracle, because I was CTRL+Z’ing some of the accidental shortcuts I made, but we had the folder name disappear twice when it shouldn’t have. Either her archaic laptop was freaking out, or I was subconsciously undo-ing more than once. The important part is that I wasn’t trying and truly didn’t understand why the folder name kept changing if I had so many images in there already and it wasn’t undo-ing THAT.

“Look. It disappeared again!” I searched her desktop for the Last folder and found it hiding out as “new folder 4”. “Perhaps last is not the right name for it. We need something more hopeful.”

She tightens her jaw. “Let’s rename it.” She takes a moment as her voice quivers: “Hope.” She apologizes again for crying. “Maybe it’s not my time yet.” We both remain quiet in the intensity of the moment. She pulls out a tissue and wipes her eyes. “You know, this is the first time I’m crying for me.”

Even though the buggy little four-letter folder may have been a glitch or oversight on my part, it truly was a miracle for her. It strengthened her and gave her hope for that day. And I know in that way, it was from God. It was a sign she isn’t defeated yet.

As the Hourglass Gets Low the Sand Becomes More Precious

I went over to my painting instructor’s home with my painting in hand and a small bag of groceries she requested now that she can’t drive. It was mostly catholic candles and fruit.

She sat me down at her table and offered me a bowl of warm soup. Her kids may be grown but she extends her Italian Mom hospitality to me. As she speaks, she keeps telling me, “Eat, Eat!”

I know that with the cancer and her collapsed lung she tires more quickly so I obey her and ladle another spoonful into my mouth.

“I just know in my heart I’m not going to make it this time.”

A lump formed in my throat as I forcefully made myself swallow that mouthful of chicken noodle soup.

My spirit sunk as I searched for words and knew there were none to offer. Just this weekend, I ran across a powerful quote: “Learn to give support, not advice.” This time support was listening. I knew it wasn’t time to conjure up some false encouragement or tell her she could fight it. But I wanted to. So badly. She was entrusting me with her deepest feelings; ones she couldn’t even express to her children.

I wanted to remind her how strong she has been in life – how she raised three kids as a single parent and at one point juggled three jobs to make ends meet. I wanted to blurt out how she defied cancer last time with only a 5% chance of survival. But I also saw the tired in her eyes and knew this life and pain had caused her to grow weary and weak. She knows heaven is on the other side and isn’t scared to talk about death and dying.

She went on to explain that chemo was not an option right now because it is so potent and hard on the system and that at this point, she was only pursuing radiation to ease the horrible pain.

We moved into the painting room and I saw a little spark of energy as she helped me figure out how to blend my acrylic paints correctly with my cheapie brushes. I saw that smile and pride in her work and how happy art made her. I fought my sunken feelings and concentrated on what she instructed.

The phone rang a handful of times during our lesson. Her son, worried, asked her to spend the night. Her doctor, the one who helped her beat cancer four years ago, called to express his sincerest sadness in finding out she had cancer again.

When she came back from the calls, she helped me figure out the next part of my portrait and then went on to tell me this and that about what she would like me to help with if her time came to a close. She wanted me to help her children with the picture slideshow. She wanted me to make sure her paintings and her stories for each one were rightly recorded. I nodded and shook off the sadness best as I could but my face couldn’t hide it. When she noticed she asked me not to cry and of course those words opened the flood gates. I tried to compose myself as quickly as I could as I knew my sadness pained her.

Over the course of this year, her right arm has grown weaker. She had no idea what was causing the intense pain and her doctors didn’t figure out it was cancer until last month. Now she has cancer in multiple spots in her bones and is fighting a collapsed lung. I’ve never paid her a penny to take lessons. We had a special agreement that I’d give her Photoshop lessons in exchange for painting lessons. The last several months with that weakened arm, my “lessons” have mostly been visits where she tries to make me feel like I am instructing her even though she isn’t able to do much.

I know in my heart we’ve formed a sweet friendship and she mostly pretends to still trade lessons for my sake. She wants to see me further my painting abilities and at this point doesn’t really expect much of a trade. She isn’t even instructing at her two jobs anymore, yet she has invited me to continue our lesson time even though she is very weak.

I think of all the other things she could be doing with these two hours once a week, knowing she could possibly only have until the end of this year, and I realize how special this gift is. She is gifting me something very precious: some of her remaining time. I will always be grateful for these moments.

Words that Sting and Mall Therapy

There are few things that can sting my heart so badly but attack my mental capacity or pressure me about wedding plans and unfortunately you have me in a bad spot.

My practice of marking things to spam has helped me greatly but admittedly, I am still shaking off these words.

You see, my parents had a family friend stay with them and in the course of us interacting while they were here, she spoke few things to me and the few that she did were obsessed with me being married.

I was there the night she and her son arrived. She found a moment and called me to sit down at the table and asked me, “So do you have any good news?”

I may not always pick up on social cues but I definitely knew where this question was directed. However, not wanting to cause a scene and having something exciting to share, I proceeded. “Yes actually! I got a raise and title promotion at work! I’m now the media director at my company.”

Her response? A scoff and half-hearted muttered “Oh.” And that was the end of that. No more questions, no more conversation.

The next evening I was hanging out with them again and my brother, his wife, and baby were also there. We were sitting on the floor watching Kai crawl [a new and still cutely awkward crawl!] around.  She asks me, “When is the big day?” Half shocked, half speechless, I asked her what big day. She told me, “Oh you know.” I told her flat out I didn’t. That’s when instead of dropping it, she decided to respond with. “Look at your brother. He’s already married and has a baby.”

Ouch. Instead of taking my chance to stop the convo, you end it with comparing my achievements (or lack thereof in her book) to my brother’s.

It hurts because everywhere I turn people are ASKING me that question. And while I know many of them are just genuinely curious, it’s really hard on my emotions. And when I keep it short they always ask me if my boyfriend has sat down with me and discussed it and how far we’ve worked on getting to that point. That part is complicated. Would I like to be married soonish? Uh…why do you think it hurts so much? But is that even practical right now? Not even. And even though I have no hard or jealous feelings towards my brother and his little family, the fact that he has one has made it OPEN SEASON for people who know my family. It’s like Nate is A, therefore I am B.

All that to say, still sore and wounded, I turned to my favorite pastime for therapy – shopping. I went straight to the mall after work, partly to make a return, and mostly to get lost in the noise.

The Laura of two years ago would have scavenged the racks looking for every deal in existence. The Laura of two years ago would have tried on anything relatively in her size and bought half of it. But I’m not her, and that surprised me in a very nice way. I had a mental list of shops I wanted to go to and once I got to the mall I didn’t feel the need to go into most of them. I mostly browsed and breathed in the bustle and the diverse languages and sounds and smells [because PTL I can smell right now!]. I got the most satisfaction going into Sephora and sniffing all the perfumes I hadn’t been able to before. I bought one shirt, one necklace, and ate a comforting bowl of poke salad and my heart was content in that.

To-do Lists and Chicken Soup

Lists help me stay sane. I haven’t always been this way – in fact, I remember my friend Amber tell me she liked to write down lists that sticking in my head in college. It’s therapeutic to me now it’s the little bit of hand writing I get in this digital world and I’m able to transfer any anxiety of any task to the paper once it’s on there. It helps me be more thorough and make the most of my time.

One of the beautiful things I am seeing is that menial tasks are showing up less as I minimize more. Things that required daily attention only need weekly attention now, in some cases. This is a result of less stuff to clean/put away and working on methods to get things done more efficiently but also choosing not to create new projects I cannot devote time to (the last one being the hardest for this scatterbrained multitasker.)

I would love to get to a point of optimizing my life where I could be a good and hospitable person and not worry about my room and surroundings being a train wreck. I recognize this is both a physical stuff thing and an attitude change. I want to be able to embrace rather than fight the hotel my home can be sometimes and focus on the people not the stuff around that makes it uncomfortable to have them there. As much as I kick and scream at the relatives and friends and just how much traffic we get at the house, there is a sweetness to knowing our home is well loved and people feel at home here.

One of the sweetest examples of hospitality I’ve seen lately is through a lady in our non profit planning group. She primarily helps with silent auction items. Since we live pretty close to each other and she isn’t always able to make the Saturday morning meetings, I’ve been offering to pick up/drop off items and take them to the meet. We live about 20-25 minutes away from the meeting spot, and she has school aged kids in sports and other activities on the weekend. I let her know it would never be a problem for me to drop by because it’s a lot easier for me to hop in my car than wrangle some kids with different schedules and homework and she laughed. 😉 We don’t speak much outside of drop off/pick up. I text her that I’m there and she always comes out and spends a few minutes talking to me. Not about the event, but actually about my day and whatnot. And she always asks me if I’ve had dinner yet and lets me know she made plenty. And if I say no (I always say no) she always asks me if I’m sure.

She hardly knows me, only needs to know my name and number, and yet she goes out of her way to make sure I’m not hungry, because there’s chicken soup inside her home. Her home, where her kids and life is. Where she got a 5 minute warning that I was on my way and probably didn’t spend that 5 minutes scrambling to clear the place just in case I said yes. What a heart check for me.

People over things. Never the other way around.

A Late Bloomer, A Once Dormant Seed

Do I know myself? 

The obvious answer is, “Who could know you better?”

As easy and sufficient as a yes could be, the truthful answer is, “I’m still getting there.”

I am a late bloomer in the sense that I have only spent a handful of years searching, discovering and asserting things that makes me essentially Laura.

As a person pleaser, it has taken me YEARS to be open, honest, and consider MY feelings being of equal importance. The idea of taking and giving is hard for me. I have a hard time opening up but I want to speak up when needed and know it’s okay. I have the right to voice my opinions. I have the right to communicate my feelings even if they won’t be well received. It always shocks me when I do speak up how much I audibly needed to hear it.

As a goody two shoe growing up in a highly conservative and religious environment, I held back so much of myself trying to fit a mold. I love Jesus. I also love secular music, fantasy and supernatural movies, all types of art, and don’t always see things as black and white. And others don’t fit the mold so well either, but I didn’t honestly know that because we, myself included, were so bent on seeming perfect. I hid all the parts of me I thought were weird or that others wouldn’t like. The truth is despite scoffing at legalism, it was a cloud that hung low and was always on my mind. Shaking off that fog has been GREAT for my faith. I want to be real with people.

I’ve only diversified, traveled, and encouraged my own thinking since about 23. My bubble growing up was pretty tiny. I’m naturally introverted and have always been a family girl and homebody. I grew up with both parents working and they never made it a big deal to set up play dates or whatnot. My brother actively sought out friends and hangouts, but I was quiet and internalized my loneliness. How could they know I wanted more if I never said anything? I kind of settled. I was group bullied by girls in my 4th grade class and physically abused by a guy in public school that threatened to kill me if I ratted him out and in hindsight, should have had some counseling. I was removed from public school and homeschooled, which was a great opportunity, but I also carried a bitterness and apathy from those experiences. People betrayed, people hurt me, people weren’t worth investing it. So I shut almost everyone out. It took some unwavering friends and leaning on my faith to get me out of that pit. I had to figure out that others were also hurting and that I couldn’t show Jesus’ love with that attitude. I had to invest in people even if it was hard.

As a teen and young adult, I never really said yes to socializing events/self-building opportunities. I also wasted too much time using what opportunities I had going to malls with people instead of really talking deeply with them and rooting our relationships. It wasn’t until the latter half of my college career that I was in an area that wasn’t predominantly white. I enriched myself in different cultures by getting to know students of other nationalities and through college classes. I realized there was so much more. As my friends moved away, I slowly started taking solo flights and losing the anxiety of being alone in a new space. At 25, I moved out and liberated myself with the idea of being self-sufficient. I finally found a new home church around 26 and a church body that was what I needed. At the end of 27, I realized stuff and clutter was dragging me down and now I am more mindful of who I am and what I need physically and mentally.

– I’ve grown to love myself and take me as I am. With mindfulness and the body positivity movement and embracing feminism, I am more aware and accepting of myself. Yes, I am fat – I’m not longer scared of that word or what it means. It doesn’t hold power over everything else I am, and I have a lot more than pounds to offer. I’ve realized that even though I don’t feel able, I have so much potential and it is worth it to try and take risks.

There are some people in their late teens/early twenties that I look at and think, “Wow, I wish I was that self-aware at their age.” But I know I’m not the only late bloomer. There are many of us, and rather than looking at years wasted or not given their full potential, we should celebrate that our petals have opened, and we have so much more to see and to be.

Yes, I was dormant: I was a seed waiting for the right conditions to sprout. And I have sprouted. And I am growing.

8 Months

My non-profit planning meeting just finished, and I had just grabbed a simple bite to eat, and hit the road to my brother’s place.  Almost every weekend there’s been a call asking if I can help with the baby while they gain some sanity. Not because my sweet nephew is an inconvenience, but because my brother’s concussion is still alive and well 8 months after the accident.

My SIL just got Kai fed and napping and placed him in my arms. My brother just got up to get some small tasks done — and boom: one of the most painful migraines he’s experienced in months hits. I sat on their couch rocking the baby ever so slightly to keep him soundly asleep as his father wept at the kitchen table not even 20 feet away.

If you saw my brother, you would usually hear cheer in his voice and the soundness of his intelligence as he engaged in a deep conversation with you despite having a constant headache. You would assume he was fine. Sometimes I even forget for a split second. And then, moments like this occur when you really see the monster rear its ugliness.

My brother called out for my SIL to make some quick food so he could eat and take his medication. His words were trembling and she quickly put something together and stroked his back and spoke gently with assuring words to him. His weeping was only stifled enough to swallow the meager meal in front of him so he could safely take the prescriptions lined in front of him. R counted out the dosage of multiple things and made sure in the fog of emotions and pain N could follow and confirm.

It was like watching the most heart-wrenching play unfold before me and I tried to stay quiet and bat the tears away from my eyes. This has been N and R’s reality for 8 months. This has been little Kai’s reality for 7 months – his entire life so far. It’s been mommy running around trying to clean the house, trying to make enough money to pay the medical bills, trying to do her best choosing to exclusively nurse while taking daddy to multiple appointments each week. It’s daddy trying to keep him entertained while bracing through a war of emotion and constant pain. It’s mommy holding back a break down because her home is a mess and she hasn’t had a moment to compose alone in close to a year.  It’s daddy feeling powerless and trying to fight feelings of depression and inadequacy as a husband and father and fighter.

To be honest, most weekends I feel like I’ve cut myself short because of the 12+ hours I am there when they call. But how could I say no? How could I not do what I can to give them the smallest flicker of stability when this is their reality? This is more important. So I rock the baby ever gently and put off the piles of laundry and whatnot that await me at home for a weekday.

So 29 Happened. Still Quarter-lifing?

Guys. I’m 29 now. My last little slice of 20’s.

I’m not sure how much longer I can claim quarter-lifing. If this is a quarter I’ll be making newspapers for being the eldest woman in my county or something. Hah! But I’m not also into my thirds, God willing! I’d like to live past 60 if that’s in His plan. So I’m kind of floating. I’m still dealing with a lot of quarter-lifer issues, so I think the blog name still is very fitting.

My birthday was a mixture of doing taxes, dog sitting, just chilling with my boyfriend, and then a delicious teppanyaki dinner (my first teppan ever).

Being a glass half full person and someone who likes new starts, I’m sure I’ll embrace 30 next year like a boss. I’ll be pumped to enter a new decade of life and ready to take it on. This year being the tail-end of a decade though? That was kind of hard on me. Am I wrapping up my twenties right? Am I where I need to be? Did I do enough? Those kinds of thoughts went through my mind.

To be honest, as a teen, I thought I’d get a good job straight out of college, be married by 27/28 and ideally have my first kid by 30. I’d be so well into my career I could freelance and do the whole STAHM/lady boss mom thing. But the reality is I’m not married yet and that doesn’t bother me. I’m more hard pressed about my job. I have a great job with solid benefits. It’s not in any way ideal, but it’s close to home and pays the bills with a little extra. It’s not anything to brag about or that would make me notable in the design world though. I also live in an area that is high cost so things like buying a house seem like a world away. And I guess part of my humble pie is realizing the greatness I wanted as a teen is going to take more effort than I’ve put in and longer than I desire. And so does the rest of plan A.

In 2015 I promised a whole bunch of stuff and it didn’t all work out, and in 2016 my birthday was spent at the hospital as my uncle was dying, so I’m keeping 29 year old plans simple.

1. Open that darn IRA/IRA-ROTH already!
2. Continue to learn about adulting in the realm of finances and “future” smarts
3. Get myself on a better habit/schedule of life tasks. And that includes self care
4. Work on keeping up to date with design skills
5. Spend more quality time studying my faith and acknowledging God’s work in my life
6. Be braver in making local friends.

The Silence is Dumbing

There are days where I clock in and clock out and in those 8 hours have never spoken a word.

There are days where the only dialogue I get outside of my house is the total charged for my groceries.

There are days I spill my guts through texts and emails because that’s the only outlet I have.

I feel like my conversational skills have atrophied and when I open my mouth, I am clueless on how to share what I’m thinking or don’t even know what to say. As my mouth moves, my brain cringes at the vomit I half-heartedly conjured.

I feel like sometimes I disregard my feelings because it’s too hard to accurately portray them. Or I don’t sufficiently give my cause. And I hate that, because those are the only swords I have that convey mental capacity and tenacity.

I feel like my vocabulary and thoughts only work on paper or typed out from a keyboard.

One of the compliments I have often genuinely received from others is that I’m a good listener. I wish I could equally project myself and cultivate my speaking ability to match my propensity to listen.

I do enjoy listening. But I also want to be heard.

Regret on Repeat

This year so far has gone very well for mental health and well being. I feel balanced, positive, and have been good as far as being present and taking things one day at a time. Last Friday, however, I felt like I blew it.

Work has been a bit awkward lately as we tackle extra projects and everyone is waist-deep in their work. This meant less communication and a monthly meeting being delayed for nearly two months. In that period of time, I did my best to seek out and persistently take on what I could but communication was more minimal that usual. I kept telling myself this next meeting I’d finally get everything straight.

The meeting came around, my portion was rushed in about 10 minutes, and the flurry of other information caught me off guard. Anxiety crept up and I realized but couldn’t control the onslaught of nervous and not-nearly-effective questions I contributed and I felt compulsive and incompetent for the group discussion. It was just not a good meeting. In the end the moderator asked if next group some of us felt comfortable leaving figures in a small sector’s hands and I hastily volunteered to sit that meeting out. I felt like I made such a mess.

That night my head spun and the feelings of regret and replays of the meeting flooded my head. It took a lot of effort to finally fall asleep. You win some, you lose some. I’m glad the next day was filled with fun at a theme park with cousins so I could destress.

What I couldn’t take into consideration  was that at that meeting, it was pointed out that the ads I designed were top scoring for the publication. And yes, that is a team effort to put together, but also equally my merit and design work as the graphic designer. I might have felt like a failure and even seemed awkward to my peers, but the proof is in the pudding that I am able to contribute to the company and our efforts.

This evening, now that my mind is clear, I think I’ll pour myself a big cup of coffee and untangle the emotions and try to come to terms with both the positives and negatives. The positives to encourage me, the negatives to mental prepare for how I can perform better next meeting.