Your Voice Matters

I had read a few days ago that the “Play me I’m yours” piano art display was happening here in Mesa and I wanted to see the pianos…all 24 of them, decorated by local artists and placed in a variety of areas around the city of Mesa.  How exciting to see this kind of public art and have it invite me to play that piano.  I took lessons as a child and loved the piano…the sound is soothing to me.  And though I don’t play as well as I would like, I wanted to participate in this cultural, artistic event.  And then I read that the pianos, all 24 of them, would be on display at the Mesa Arts Center for one Sunday afternoon, the kick-off for the installation of the pianos.  Yay!  With my camera ready to go, my husband and I set out with friends to see those pianos.

I had every intention of going to the kick-off for the “Play Me I’m Yours” piano display and blogging about the pianos, which all inspired me. And it was lovely to watch others sit down to these works of art and create more art through the music they played.  My heart was loving this.  I even sat down at a couple of the pianos and just played a little, not remembering any of the music I played all those years ago.

I took many pictures, all in anticipation of sharing what I was seeing, but one piano kept calling to me, pulling me back to it many times. It was not the most colorful of the pianos…it was all done in black and white.  But to me, it was the most beautiful.  It spoke to my very soul and to my voice. 

Your voice matters.

And written on the piano was why the artists write. And it drew me in…..had me thinking about my writings now and throughout the years. 

Why do I write?

As a child I kept a diary to record for eternity the memories that I was sure I would some day forget.

As a teen I wrote to heal, to deal with the pain, to find my voice when I was not aloud to voice my thoughts, feelings or emotions. I wrote long stories that some believed were works of fiction but I knew they were the truth hidden behind the voices of made-up characters.  I wrote poetry, expressing all the emotions I kept inside of me. 

As I grew into adulthood, I continued to write, to record the memories of the many trips we took, to record my thoughts and feelings about the world around me, and to record the many things I wanted to tell my boys. And I continued to write poetry to express my emotions.   As I traveled my personal journey to lose the weight and finally deal with the baggage, I wrote to let go of the pain, to heal the child within me. 

And now I write again, to share my story in the hopes that it may help someone who is now or has traveled that painful journey through abuse and loss. And I write in hopes that my stories can help others to understand those who are like me, that what is shown to the outside world is not necessarily what is truly going on, that we all have our own stories, our own burdens and deserve love, understanding, and second chances. 

I write to record the memories of this life shared with my best friend, to remember the stories when we are old and our memories fade.

I write to show that you can come out of those dark days to the other side and have the life you have always wanted.

I write to celebrate all that is beautiful and glorious in this world we live in. What a wonderful life it is when our voice matters!

 

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One Decision and a Life is Forever Changed

One decision can change a life.

One decision changed my life and out of that tragedy I have found the life I was meant to live.

One decision made by a man….a stranger…..irrevocably and drastically changed the course of my life and took from me, the one person who loved me unconditionally. At the time, I had no idea that my life would ever be “normal” again. I had no idea that anything good could come out of this tragedy.  Instead I felt as if I was being sentenced to life….life in hell and that God had abandoned me.  Despite all of that, my life today is exactly where I dreamed it would and so much more.  I have the life my mother wished for me and I would not trade any of what happened for the life I have today.  Good does come out of bad, though we may not realize it for many years.  I am where I am supposed to be and everything I have overcome in my life, all of the good and the bad, all of the life altering events, have led me here, to who I am today and where I am today.

37 years ago today, February 24, 1979, I lost my mother. The week leading up to her death was filled with fear, dread, anxiety and the unknown.  My mother spent one week in a coma, lying in a bed in ICU.  Exactly one week before her death, February 17, 1979, she was in a car accident…..one caused by the decision of a total stranger. This man made a decision to get behind the wheel of his pickup truck after a day of watching sports, hanging out with friends and drinking beer.  And that decision, to drive after drinking cost my mother her life.  One decision can irrevocably alter the lives of many. 

February 17, 1979 was a gray, rainy day….a normal winter day in the Pacific Northwest.  My sister and I were going to a slumber party for a friend’s birthday that night and I was so excited.  Earlier in the day I had argued with my mom about going and as she drove us to our friend’s house, I was still upset with her.  I thought the argument and my feelings were why, as we drove through the rain, I felt dread in the pit of my stomach, a foreboding that something bad was going to happen.  I shrugged it off and jumped out of the car, saying a quick good-bye to mom.  I was ready to have fun with my friends and would see mom the next day when she picked us up.

And then the phone call came. My friend’s mother had me come to her room to talk on the phone to another friend’s mother:

 “Terri, how did you get there?” was asked of me

 “Mom dropped us off” I answered

And then through the phone I heard her say to someone that “she doesn’t know”.

And then came the words that would change my world—“Your mother was in a car accident and is in the hospital. Your dad is on his way from Washington and your neighbor is coming to pick you and your sister up and bring you home.”

If they had called my dad, it had to be bad. We hadn’t seen dad in months and I did not want to see him now.  My legs began shaking; barely holding me up and the tears began to flow.  My friend’s mother took the phone, finished the conversation and she held me.  And she prayed with me for my mother.  This woman gave me comfort and it would be the last time I would be comforted for years.  I will never forget her hug, her kindness or how comforted I felt that night, sitting in her room with her.

My dad and my older brother made it to Portland in record time.  They picked us up and we headed to the hospital late that night.  After hours spent in the waiting room, the nurses finally let my sister and I see our mother.  I was scared…..really scared.  The nurse explained what we would see when we walked into the ICU…..but it did not prepare me enough.  Lying there in that bed, hooked up to tubes and wires, bandages around her head, was my mother….the strongest, bravest, most loving woman I knew and lying there she looked so fragile.  It took everything I could muster to not cry…..they would make me leave if I got too upset.  The nurse told me to hold mom’s hand and talk to her…..she said that even in a coma, my mother could hear me.  Holding mom’s hand in mine, I leaned real close and whispered to her that I was sorry—sorry for arguing with her that day.  I told her how much I loved her and how much I needed her.  And she squeezed my hand.  She had heard me.

That was the last time I saw my mom alive.

One week later, she was gone. She left me……

I have never again felt so deeply the pain that I felt when I lost my mother. I felt as if I was in a dark body of water, fighting to stay afloat as the weight of all that had happened was pulling me deeper and deeper under the water.  I knew I would never get out.  How could God let this happen?  How could God take my mother?  How could He possibly need her more in heaven than I needed her here on earth?  How could a loving God take my mother, knowing that doing so would mean that I would have to live with my abuser, live in a house that from the outside seemed happy….yet behind closed doors was a nightmare I could never wake up from?  Yes, I was angry with God and I did not know how to move on.

I do not want anyone to feel sorry for me….that is not why I share this. I share my story in the hopes that it will help someone, somewhere.  We all have our own burdens to bear.  And what we see on the outside may not be what is really going on…..behind closed doors life for some is very difficult.  And the events in our lives, the tragedies, the celebrations, the losses all lead us to where we are….shape the way we see the world…..and affect our choices.

And we can learn from those life altering events….years later I can now reflect back and see the good that has come from all of this.

Yes, I felt God had abandoned me. And I was very angry with God.  What I have learned is that God does not “let” things happen nor does He make good or bad happen in our lives.  Instead, God gives us what we need so that we can get through the trials and tribulations.  And God did that for me.  He never left my side.  He gave me those years with my mother, time where she made sure that I had a strong foundation in faith….a faith that would carry me through the abuse and a faith that carries me through life.  My faith is what gets me through every day.

I also strongly believe that good comes from bad. If I had not lost my mother, I would not have been back in dad’s house……that was more “bad”….. But I also would have never met my husband nor would I have had my two boys.  Knowing now how my life has turned out….living this adventure with my best friend, my partner and love of my life, and raising and loving my two boys…..I would not change a thing that led me to here.  Without ALL of those events I would never have known my husband, and my boys would not be here.  I cannot imagine my life without the three of them.  I cannot imagine a world without these two boys, now men, in it.  Yes, GREAT things come out of tragedy.

I have also learned through all of this that life is precious and short. That we never know how long we have someone here with us and we need to appreciate them while they are alive.  Saying good-bye without anger is so important to me….letting those I love know that I love them today because tomorrow is not guaranteed. 

The decision of that stranger to drive after drinking set a course for my life that I did not see coming. His decision and the loss of my mother is why I will not have even one drink when I am driving, something that I have been given a hard time about in the past.  Maybe now, others will understand why. 

I hope that by sharing my story, I can help someone. In the midst of our darkest days, it may seem as if we will never come out the other side.  Yet, here I am, on the other side, living a life filled with adventure, love, and joy….living the life my mother wanted me to have.  me and mom

I miss you, mom!

California Space Expedition 1

When presented with the opportunity to chaperone a 3 night/4 day high school field trip, I could have said “no”. I could have chosen to stay home, working and enjoying “me” time.  After all, I had chaperoned many field trips when my boys were in school.  Who knew that years after they both graduated and moved on in their lives, I would say “yes” to going on a high school field trip as the lone female chaperone so that female students could have the same experience as their male counterparts? 

This was a field trip like no other, for me, and for the students. But for me, the one who never excelled in science, this was my “Big Bang Theory” trip and I found myself absorbing all that the students were learning, discovering new worlds beyond our own and rediscovering my fascination with astronomy. 

As a teenager, I would have loved the opportunity to explore the world of science, engineering and space….all areas that were not considered a “girls” place. Had I had this kind of exposure to the world beyond us, I may have excelled at and followed a path into science, especially astronomy.  So I am very thankful, that now, in the world we live in, females have these opportunities, that nothing is out of their reach.

I enjoyed time spent with the students, seeing the many places we visited through their enthusiastic eyes. They were like sponges, absorbing all they were shown, all that is currently happening and all that is being dreamt about and planned for the future. These students are normal teenagers, with the normal thoughts and attention spans that come with those ages.  And after this time with them I am hopeful about the future of this generation and the generations to come.  The universe that is opening to them is unfathomable to my mind yet very reachable for them and those that will follow.

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We set out on Wednesday morning….three minivans, four adults and sixteen teenagers. Off on our adventure.  Yes, it was a long drive from Chandler, AZ to Pasadena, CA. 

 

We arrived mid-afternoon and after checking into the hotel, we headed to our first stop—Griffith Observatory. It was rainy and cold, a very much welcome site for Californians, and despite the rain and the misty views, we enjoyed our time. 

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002The excitement erupted as the students spotted the “Hollywood” sign on the hillside opposite where we stood at the observatory.  It was awesome to see the learning going on as the students wandered through the exhibits and enjoyed the planetarium show.  We eventually left to go back to the hotel, exhausted but full of excitement for what was to come next.

Our first full day in California was full of scheduled tours.  The first–the Caltech Campus.  We did a walking tour of the campus and while the students were entertained by the turtles they found in a pond, the adults were discovering inside info from a friendly Caltech student.  One unexpected opportunity was the exhibit of Albert Einstein’s manuscripts and writings…Score! 

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Next was lunch at the student cafeteria and then after a pit stop at the Pasadena City Hall to see the historic building and admire the architecture, we were off to northern Pasadena and the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).

 

The tour of JPL had been scheduled since last September. Tours are limited and my husband was lucky enough to schedule a tour for the cadets.  The tour guide showed us how JPL is exploring our solar system. 

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We saw the massive clean room where they build the rovers, satellites and other space vehicles NASA launches to explore the planets of our solar system.  We learned that it can take a long time to communicate with those far away vehicles, and the farther away the longer it takes.  Voyager, which is now outside our solar system, takes the longest to communicate with–18 hours traveling at the speed of light for a message to reach Voyager and another 18 hours to receive a message back.  Wow!  Makes me really appreciate how quickly we can communicate with each other. 

The students were all happy to see a full-size replica of Curiosity, the newest rover on Mars.  Curiosity is the size of a small car—quite a bit bigger than Spirit and Opportunity (each about the size of a golf cart) and bigger than Sojourner and Pathfinder, the first Mars rovers.  We also visited the control room where all communications are sent and received.  JPL was fascinating, even for this girl.  Watching the students and hearing their questions proved that this tour was well worth traveling for.

Then it was time for dinner and the last tour of the day–a late evening tour of SpaceX, where tours are difficult to get unless you know an employee. This was an exciting opportunity and what we found there was quite unexpected for many of us, adults and students alike.  My husband has an old friend from his Air Force days who works for SpaceX and that is how we were able to tour this facility–a private business building rockets and space vehicles for humans to travel into space.  Their vision for the future and for exploring the vast solar system and even beyond inspired many of the students on this trip.  We were all delighted to find that not only was this the place where the visions were designed in cubicles, but this was also where those visions became reality in the factory right there in the building.  We saw rocket engines being built as we toured the factory floor and we watched as the Dragon was being assembled.  We were also surprised by the relaxed work environment.  Most of the students left the SpaceX tour wanting to go to work for them. 

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Our last day in California was full, but not quite as full as the first.  We started at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.  Each individual had something different that intrigued them at this Library—from the Air Force One and Marine One exhibits, to the Oval Office, to the Berlin Wall, to the beam from the North Tower on display from 9/11, and to the death of President Reagan.  There was much to absorb here. 

Then it was off to the California Science Center and the shuttle Endeavour.  We spent some time in the Endeavour Exhibit, visited the SR-71 static display and stood outside the LA Coliseum, site of 2 Olympics and now home to the LA Rams while their stadium is being built.  And then watched we the IMAX 3D movie Journey to Space. 

A long day and a long trip filled with many exiting experiences. We returned to the school on day four, full of stories and questions and dreams for the future.

I am so glad I said “yes”. This was an amazing opportunity for all of us, but especially for the male and female cadets that my husband teaches in the AFJROTC classes at the high school.  These students are our futures and the future of our country is in great hands.

I am already looking forward to next year’s field trip: California Space Expedition 2!

 

Lifetime Anniversary

Today, Valentines Day, I celebrate with my husband our love and I celebrate the greatest love I have found, the love of self. It took a really long time for me to get to a point of really believing I was worth it and worth loving.  When I finally got there, a world of endless possibilities opened up for me.

 February 14, 2008, was a day to celebrate….Valentines day celebration with my best friend and love of my life and a day to celebrate reaching Lifetime at Weight Watchers.

I joined Weight Watchers for the 5th time, in March 2006.  I had tried many different diets over the years.  I lost weight and regained the same weight plus more many times through the years.  And this time, when I went back to Weight Watchers I knew I HAD to go.  I had found myself in the kitchen, standing in front of the sink, an open bag of Oreo cookies in one hand and tears flowing down my cheeks.  I ate those cookies, not even tasting them, while talking to myself. 

And then I said the words, out loud, that made me stop—“Terri, you are killing yourself……and I DON”T care, no one does and no one will care when I am gone”.

Saying those words out loud, while shoveling the cookies and my emotions down my throat, was like a slap in the face. I didn’t care.  And that scared me.  I had to do something to change what was happening, to change the way I was feeling.

And I did. The next morning, for the 5th time, I walked into a Weight Watchers meeting.  I was scared, nervous and ashamed.  I had been to that meeting before and I didn’t want to see anyone I had seen before.  I was so embarrassed to be back at the meeting and this time I was at the highest weight I had ever been.  Something had to change. 

I sat through the meetings that first year, which was the longest I had stuck with Weight Watchers. I learned to track my food, to eat the right portions and to make healthier choices.  I loved my leader…..she inspired me each week and she cared about me and the other members.  And that made a huge difference for me. 

That first year I lost 20 lbs. 20 lbs!  The most I had ever lost on my attempts with Weight Watchers.  But I was struggling.  I couldn’t seem to push past that 20 lbs and I still had over 50 lbs to go. 

It was at that point that my leader gave me a popsicle stick…..she said it was to remind me to stick to it. I took that popsicle stick home and taped it to my pantry door, where my comfort foods waited for me to eat them.  Later that same day, I got a call from a family member.  The phone call upset me and when I hung up the phone the first thing I did was walk straight to the pantry.  I wanted the peanut butter, chips, cookies…..anything that I could eat that would stuff it all back inside. 

And then I saw it…..the popsicle stick.

I stopped without opening the pantry door and I turned around, sat down on the couch and then it hit me……I am a food addict.  Food was my answer to anything in my life and food was the answer to how I felt about myself and how I dealt with the pain of the abuse in my childhood. 

That A-HA moment changed everything for me. I realized in that moment that I did not think I was worth the effort it would take to lose the weight and get healthy.  I was not worth it……I spent my young years and teen years being told just how worthless I was, and I realized, in that moment that I believed I was worthless.

I needed to change something. I sat there and cried, allowing myself to feel the anger, sadness and frustration.  Then I grabbed my laptop and I began to write what was to become my weight loss journal—and I titled it “Stop Eating Your Emotions”.  It was while I was writing that I decided I needed to start each morning looking in the mirror and saying 4 words.  Those 4 words are the most empowering words I have EVER said to myself:

I AM WORTH IT.

I started the next morning. And I did not believe it.  But I kept saying those 4 words, every morning.  I did not believe them that first week, or the next.  It was a couple of months of saying those 4 words before I started to believe it.

I am worth it!

I am worth more than that jar of peanut butter. I am worth more than the chips and cookies.  I am worth it to go to my meeting every week and I am worth taking care of. 

Those 4 words changed everything for me.

It took me another 10 months to lose my last 52 lbs. I lost 72 lbs to reach my goal weight.  I felt amazing!  I liked myself and I believed I was worth it. 

The weight I had struggled to get rid of represented all of the excess baggage I carried from the abuse and abandonment of my younger years and my teen years. That a-ha moment allowed me to realize that I needed to sort through the baggage….one bag at a time….before I could get rid of the weight.  And that is what I did those last 10 months.  Each pound I lost was another piece of garbage I threw out of those bags…..each pound was another memory to get rid of, another person to forgive.  And as I sorted through it all, I gained my self-worth.  I gained confidence and I learned to forgive.  The little girl in me was finally healing and it was amazing.

January 10, 2008 I reached my goal weight and 6 weeks later, February 14, 2008 I achieved lifetime status with Weight Watchers.  I DID IT!  I found “me” under all that weight and I found a way to love myself.  I could not have done any of it without the support of my family, without my meeting and without the other members and my leader….all of the support was invaluable to me. 

But reaching goal and lifetime was not the end of the journey. I am human and I still fall back on old habits.  I still have some “bags” to finish sorting through.  There are days when the old doubts find their way into my thoughts and I have to remind myself that I AM worth it.  And yes, there have been times when the weight starts to creep back up and I find myself struggling to get back down to my goal.  The difference now, today, in this moment in my life, is that I have the tools and the support to get myself back on track, to keep from going to far back down that hole. 

I now work for Weight Watchers as a meeting leader. I am inspired everyday by those who attend my meetings.  They remind me every single day that this journey is worth it……difficult, but worth it. 

I still go to meetings as a member because I am a member first and an employee second.  I still have that popsicle stick.  I still start my mornings looking in the mirror and saying those 4 empowering words.

I AM WORTH IT.

 

 

Chiricahua National Monument

One of my bucket list items is to visit EVERY National Park and National Monument in our country and thanks to my wandering spirited husband, who enjoys traveling and exploring as much as I do, I have been to a lot of the parks and monuments…..there are still many more to visit and some I want to go back to and explore more of.   This past weekend we crossed off another of those bucket list monuments.

This year is about saying ‘yes’ to those things that scare me or are outside my box and it is about living life to it’s fullest, silencing that voice that tells me “no, you can’t do that….you have so much you need to do and you can’t afford to take time for you”.   And I remind myself of this daily.  So when our friends asked us if we wanted to join them for a weekend get-away to do some hiking and celebrate our friend’s birthday, we said yes.  My mind and that voice said that I had a lot to do for work that weekend and I really needed to catch up on some things at home…..but my heart and my choice to celebrate life had me saying yes, let’s go! 

We visited Chiricahua National Monument, located in southeastern Arizona.  What an unexpected delight I found in this part of Arizona.  When we imagine this state, we picture the Grand Canyon, the desert, brown, dry and full of cacti and rattlesnakes.  But this state is so much more.  And here in this out of the way part of Arizona we found the unexpected and that made my soul sing. 

Chiricahua was called the land of the “Standing Up Rocks” by the Chiricahua Apache Indians and after my visit there, I can understand why. The road through the park was closed beyond the Visitor Center so we knew we would not get to see everything, but we could hike and see some of this beautiful monument.

Now when it comes to hiking my husband and I attack it very differently, much like other things in life, yet we find a way to balance it so that we both enjoy what we are experiencing. For my husband it is about the hike, the exercise, the exertion and the time spent in the outdoors, free of all of the distractions of the fast paced world we live in, communing with the nature.  And the hike is done at a pace that keeps him moving, quickly along the trail, getting in the distance he wants to accomplish while pushing his limits.  And the outdoors are his spiritual place, just as it is for me.

Hiking for me is about the feeling of accomplishment when I finish, the photography possibilities, the spiritual feeling I get from being in the outdoors, and the views.  My pace on these hikes is often slower than my husbands, partly because I stop to take pictures or to take in the view or smell a flower and partly because I am just slower, and that is okay. 

I love to take my time on a hike and really “see” what is around me. The ocean is the place I feel the closest to God and to my mom, it is where I find peace.  And time in the outdoors is the next best thing for me.  I feel rejuvenated, refreshed, and peaceful.  I see the greatness of this earth that God created and I marvel at all that is around me.  The diversity in the landscapes leaves me in awe.  The outdoors is my spiritual place. 

 

This hike was amazing. And the diversity of the landscape we hiked through was inspiring, leaving me so grateful that I live in this great nation, full of diverse people and land.  We left the visitor center with no real decision on how far we would hike and usually for me that is scary.  I like to know how far I am going and how long it will take.  And I like to know ahead of time, how much elevation change there will be so that I can be prepared.  Often I look at maps and back out of the long hikes…..4 miles is okay but more than that would be too much…what if I get out there and then I don’t have anything left in my legs to carry me back?  I knew this would be long, but I wanted to just take the leap and go.  And I am so glad I did! 

We went from the pine forest surrounding the visitor center to high points with views that took my breath away.  We traipsed over dirt paths, and snow packed, icy paths. And then we traveled down to the creek bed, crossing the snow covered creek, mostly empty of water, a number of times before hiking up the other side, toward the standing up rocks.  We went from winter to spring and back again.  We happened upon an animal none of us had seen before, the Coatimundi, a relative of the raccoon.  There were four of them and I was thrilled.  We walked through tall rocks, grottos and finished at the top of Echo Canyon……and then we had to turn around and go back. 

The hike, the time outdoors among the trees, rocks and animals and the time spent with friends made my heart and soul come alive and sing. I am happiest when I can be disconnected from the world for a little while, when I can find peace, the time to converse with my spiritual side and can renew my spirit. 

I did this hike and I finished.  We hiked over 9 miles that afternoon, for 5 1/2 hours.  And I did it!  One more time that I accomplished something I didn’t think I could do, I went farther than I thought I could……oh, I was SORE after the hike, but the feeling of accomplishment, the sights I saw, the time spent with friends were all worth the pain in my legs.   

I am really living when I take the leap and just see where it takes me.

And the icing on the cake is when I can cross off another item on my bucket list.