Finding the Missing Puzzle Pieces, part 1

5 years ago today, Saturday, May 7, 2011, I boarded a flight in Minot, ND….bound for Washington State and a weekend I will never forget.

I was adopted along with my younger sister. I was 3 years old and she was 18 months old when we went to live with our new mom and dad.  I always knew I was adopted and when the kids teased me in elementary school, as kids will, my mom held me and soothed my tears.  The kids said that my birth mom didn’t want me….I was unlovable.  My mom told me that she CHOSE me and my sister and the other kids parents got stuck with them.  She WANTED us from the first day she saw us.  That was my mom.  She always knew how to heal my hurt and make me feel loved. 

Before my mom’s death she had shared with me the information our caseworker had given her…..dates of when I walked, ate, slept all night…..information that was carefully tracked by my birthmother and given to the caseworker. And on the back page was a list of three names, titled “important people in Teresa’s past”.  On that piece of paper was written my birth mothers first name—Laura.  My mom loved me enough to let me know the information that would eventually help me to find the answers I sought. I am sorry that she was not around when I finally found those answers, many, many years later.

A person’s story starts the day they were born, but for an adoptee the story starts the day they are adopted. And my story began when I was 3 years old.  It was as if I had been dropped on this earth, at the age of 3…..out of nowhere.  I longed for the answers of where I came from and why I was given away.

I have often been asked why I searched for my birth parents, did I need to find my “real” parents? My “real” parents are the couple who adopted me.  My mom and dad arrived in my life when I was 3 years old, and they will always be my mom and dad.  My search was more about answers, putting the pieces of a puzzle together, trying to complete that puzzle when pieces were missing….I needed and longed for those missing pieces.  I wanted to know who I looked like, where I got my love of writing and reading, where I got my love of the outdoors…..and I wanted to know why my sister and I were given up for adoption.  Did something happen, a tragedy perhaps?  Or was it the way the kids at school said it was—that my parents did not want me or love me?  I had a hole in my heart, a part of my story missing and I needed to know the answers.

I searched for years….long before the internet. And I dreamed about what it would be like when I finally found them.  I knew I had a birth mom and dad and I knew I had an older sister and brother….where were they?  Why were we not all adopted together?  Were there more siblings?

During a trip home to Washington in the summer of 1990, I finally found a piece of the puzzle.  I found my birth announcement in the archived papers at the library in the city where I was born.  There in black and white was the name of my birth father, the address where he and my mother lived when I was born and the names of my older sister and older brother.  I had to be sure this was the right family….so I went to the city where my sister was born and at the library there, I found her birth announcement and the same couple had given birth to her.

I finally had a last name for our parents and names for our siblings. The emotions took over and I spent the next 20 years searching for them, posting on message boards for adoptees searching, posting on message boards for lost siblings, and searching the online databases.  The internet was a blessing, making it easier to search through databases from thousands of miles away.  But I kept hitting brick walls…..searching for the needle in the haystack and never finding it.

I began to feel as if I would never find my siblings, my parents or my answers.

And then one day, in January 2010, my sister called me. She had messaged every person she could find on facebook with the same name as the person who had been searching for our biological father….and she got a response.  I messaged the individual and she called me.  She was the younger half-sister of our older siblings and yes, she knew where they were.  Within minutes of hanging up the phone, my brother called me….my brother CALLED ME!  I was overwhelmed with emotion.  Finally, on the other end of the line was the brother I had longed for.  I don’t remember what we talked about, I just remember the tears, laughter and the love…immediately.

It was a few days before I heard from my older sister and when I heard her voice on the phone, I dropped to my knees….I knew her. The connection I felt was immediate…yes, this was my big sister….the one I had longed for.  We didn’t talk long….the emotions took over for both of us.

The four of us spent the next year connecting on facebook and talking on the phone. My sister and our newly found older brother managed to meet for a weekend shortly after we had all connected.  And after a year of getting to know each other we finally made plans to meet in person in Washington state, all four of us.  I was looking forward to this weekend and being able to see my siblings, to hug them, laugh with them and get to know them. 

A couple of months before we were to meet in Washington, I received a facebook message from someone who was looking for my older sister and had seen my posts on the adoption message boards….the posts where I was looking for my siblings and my birth parents. We messaged back and forth and then talked on the phone.  There were lots of emotions in that phone conversation.  Suddenly we had another younger sister, and a younger brother.  2 more siblings…..6 of us, sharing the same dad.  I cannot imagine the emotions she felt as she learned that she had not only the older sister she was looking for, but 2 other sisters and a brother she didn’t know about.    And then, one more call, to my younger brother, excitement and emotion ruled those calls.  I was thrilled to finally have some of the puzzle pieces and to have an expanding family….expanding faster than I had ever imagined.  We made plans for all 6 of us to meet on Mother’s day weekend. 

So, I boarded that plane on Saturday, May, 7th and flew to Washington.  I arrived at the airport, got my rental car and headed to the city where I would spend the night in a hotel with my two older siblings.  I was nervous and excited.  I arrived at the hotel and a little while later, heard a voice in the hall….I opened the door and there they were…..my older sister and brother.  We hugged, cried and laughed.  We spent the night in a flurry of conversation, tears and laughter and eventually sleep came.  I finally had more of those puzzle pieces and the puzzle was getting closer to completion. 

The next morning, Mother’s Day, we drove to my sister’s house where she was finally united with our older sister. And then we all drove to the cabin we had rented for the weekend….a great location on a little lake where we could meet and get to know all our siblings.  After arriving at the cabin we heard cars pull up and there they were, the youngest sister and brother.  Lots of hugs and tears as we met for the first time. 

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The night flew by….conversation, tears, laughter and connecting.  3 pairs of siblings came together that night….strangers to the other pairs and yet we knew each other…..we were connected by a shared father.  We spent that Mother’s day together, celebrating our expanding family. 

The next day was spent hanging out at the cabin, kayaking, talking and eating. We had dinner after our youngest siblings returned to the cabin and then sat around the fire that last night together, talking, sharing stories and laughing.  This was my family and I was almost complete. 

I will never forget that Mother’s day weekend or the pieces of my puzzle I found. I found the two older siblings I had been missing and found 2 younger siblings I never knew about.  And I am so blessed to have found them, to know them and to love them.

The first chapter of my life story was finally filling in…..and more answers would come, during that weekend and in the months that followed, as I would reunite with my biological father and find my biological mother’s family.

Those stories are for another day.

For today, I cherish the memories made that weekend, 5 years ago.

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Continuing to be a Success Story

Frustrated. Defeated.  Hopeless.  Why try?

All thoughts that popped into my head as I read the Biggest Loser study that was published yesterday and as I listened to an interview this morning with the season 8 winner and a doctor for Good Morning America. This study and the interview make it sound as if losing weight and getting healthy is an impossible goal, unreachable because of biology…..because our bodies want to keep us fat.

I have watched every season of the Biggest Loser, awed and inspired by the mental transformations in the contestants. Watching as they had their AHA moments, crying along with them and being inspired. Even though there are many contestants who have maintained a healthy weight after leaving the show, this study is disheartening.  And if I was still in the process of losing my 70+ pounds, this study and the interview this morning would have me crawling back into my hole, leaving me feeling that I would never be able to achieve lasting success.

This study looks at the Biggest Loser contestants of one season. Why only look at the weight loss and regain of contestants on a Weight Loss show, where weight loss is done in a strict environment, in a way that most of us cannot do it, yet alone maintain it?  Did they base the findings on these contestants because they could not find any other success stories, anywhere in America? 

And why only look at those who gained back their weight? Why only look for a cause and ultimately the excuses for regaining the weight?  Why not look at those who have maintained their success?  Why not look at how they are succeeding, at what is working? 

As I sat here and listened to the interview I thought, well, if I gain back all of my weight then I can blame it on my body….I am just meant to spend my life obese.

NO! That is defeatist thinking. 

Weight loss shows like the Biggest Loser create an artificial environment for those individuals. The weight loss that is achieved is done so in an unrealistic way…..a manner that is not sustainable for the long haul.  In the interview the former winner said that he had kept the weight off for two years, but realized he was exercising more than most people in order to do that.  Then he said that when he got a job, went back to work and wasn’t doing all of that exercise the weight started coming back.  There it was, the real reason for the weight gain…..going back to our normal life after “dieting”. 

I tell my members and myself that you HAVE to eat to lose weight and get healthy the way you are going to eat for the rest of your life.

It HAS to be a lifestyle and it HAS to be what fits into your life, instead of making your life fit the “diet”.

And exercise/activity HAS to be what you can do for the rest of your life.

Is it realistic to think that I can eat under 1000 calories everyday for the rest of my life? Is it realistic to think that I can eat “diet” food for the rest of my life?  Is it realistic to think that I can go to the gym 7 hours a day, for the rest of my life?  No.  What kind of life would I have if that is how I spent every single day for the remaining days I have on earth? 

I would not be living!

When I look at it this way, then I realize that this study and the findings do not reflect the reality for so myself or the many others  who have lost the weight and kept it off.

This study shows that when you “diet” in the extreme to get to a goal weight and then go back to your real life, back to a normal way of living, working and surviving, it does not work. Extreme “dieting” backfires on us.

So, I sat here listening and reading and realized that the way I have lost the weight worked. Slow and steady wins the race.  Slow and steady gives us the time to make habit and behavioral changes that will last.

Getting healthy and losing weight is not a sprint. It CAN be done. 

And it will last when we do it in a way that is livable and sustainable. When we stop “dieting” and we start living we can achieve our goals and stay there. 

And though there may be times that I go back to old habits….maybe gain back a few pounds…..it does not mean I am meant to be overweight forever. I know without a doubt, that I will NEVER again be my before self, I will NEVER gain back all of my weight because my lifestyle has changed and my mindset has changed.  I have learned new habits and changed my lifestyle in such a way that I CAN get back on track when I slip and I CAN get back to where I want to be…..where I am happy and healthy. 

Thank you to the Doctor who did this study for reminding me that extreme dieting does not last and that this lifestyle and the habits I have changed through my weight loss journey with Weight Watchers is what works….for me and for many others.

This IS a lifestyle!

 There IS hope!

I WILL beat the odds!

I CONTINUE to be a success story!

 

Choosing Me

My heart was racing. Anxiety was building.  Was I really going to do this?  Really?  But what if I can’t?  I know it is going to be really hard.

The fear was creeping into my brain, threatening to change my mind, to hold me back from doing something I had agreed to do.

How often in my life have I let my fear rule my choices? Far too many times. 

“may your CHOICES reflect your hopes, not your fears” –Nelson Mandela

This quote that I read last week in my new Fitness journal came back to me in the moments leading up to my hitting the “confirm” button. Was I going to let the fear stop me, or was I going to choose to follow my hope, the faith in my ability and the faith my husband had in me? 

Another quote I read recently stuck out in my mind:

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As I clicked on the confirm button, my excitement grew…..I am going to do this. I have made my choice.  I am going to let fear mean that I am facing everything and rising!  I am going to do this despite my fear of failure, fear of disappointment, and deep down my fear of succeeding, of being proud of me. 

I did it. I registered for my first half marathon.

I made my choice and I have chosen me.

Glowing

This week in meetings I am talking to my members about glowing…..Weight Watchers Glowments, those moments when you do something you are so proud of that you cannot help but glow. I love this!  And though I lead meetings now, I am still a member, continuing to learn and grow on this journey. 

This week has been another one of those moments when I go….ahhhh….YES….THAT is what I need to hear and do.

Taking care of me…..putting me first…….something that is hard to do in the best of times and even harder in the midst of chaos, heartbreak and fear.

The past couple of months have been difficult and the past few weeks found me falling back on old habits to comfort me….I even had a Peanut Butter day….just one day. What I learned is that the old habits don’t get rid of the fear or the pain.  Peanut butter does not heal what is hurting my heart and soul, instead it gives me heartburn.

I am finding my footing, finally, this week. I am beginning to find a way to take care of me, and find some happy moments, all while my heart cries.  I am finding that the new habits I formed while losing my weight and the lifestyle I have developed is now more comforting to me than the old ways. 

And this week I am finding some moments…those glowments that I encourage my members to find…the positives when negatives are all that can be seen and felt. And I am proud of me!

Slowly I am getting back to my life….. taking back my life. And that starts by taking care of me…..eating healthy, exercising (yes, I need to get to my training for that half-marathon) and doing things that I enjoy doing. 

A movie last weekend, a book to read, and dancing in the living room…all ways I have started to be kind to myself.

And Last night, an evening with my husband at the Bruce Munro Sonoran Light Exhibit was just that moment or glowment. The lights glowed, changing colors, drawing me in.  And I was glowing!

Taking care of me does not take away the pain and fear, but it does help me to grow and glow!

I Can Do All Things…..

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Phil 4:13

My favorite bible verse.

I have this verse, etched into a stone, sitting on my kitchen counter, a daily reminder that I CAN do anything with Christ beside me.

A reminder I find myself needing quite often lately.

The first time I read this verse and found that it really struck a chord in me was the summer of 1982. I had gone with two very close friends to a Christian camp for a week. That week, there in the mountains of Washington State, was a week of discovery and a week in which my faith and my relationship with God were solidified.  I had a wonderful, caring counselor and made new friends, ones who helped me find an even stronger relationship with God.

That week culminated in my baptism. I had been christened as a very young child, after my adoption and was told that baptism wasn’t necessary after that.  Yet, I made a choice to be baptized, there at the camp, by my counselor.  To me this was my way of letting go of all of the pain of the past, of forgiving and renewing my commitment to walk in faith with Christ.  It was an amazing, uplifting, life-confirming event for me.

From that week, through to my current situation, that verse carried me through the dark times and the wonderful times.

And now, I find myself repeating this verse daily as I tell myself to just breathe.

I am not alone.

I have Christ beside me, though at times I think He carries me.

And God made sure that I had my husband beside me. I have no doubt that God brought my husband and I together to help each other through the craziness that life brings—the upside down, cyclonic tornado that comes ripping through our lives.  I know that with my husband to hold on to, the winds of life will not carry me away, even when I am so weary that I feel I can no longer hold on.  God made sure of that!

And right now, in the midst of this current cyclonic tornado, the only way I can describe how I am feeling in this moment, I find this verse a source of comfort.

“I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me”

Yet, I am tired….exhausted from trying to find the good and trying to be strong. I am tired of learning, again, just how strong I can be.

As I tell myself to just breathe, I find myself dreaming of a life that is ordinary, boring and mundane……….

To Infinity and Beyond

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Looking up at the night sky, here at home, the stars seem so far away…..and so few of them can be seen with the city lights around us. Though, here we can see more than some of the other cities we have lived in. 

As a young girl I was fascinated by the night sky, imagining the “other” worlds out there, wondering if there was life somewhere else, and amazed by the twinkling stars in the sky, twinkling just for me. I used to love to lie in the grass at night and just watch the stars, letting them create images for me. 

And then I was told that science and math were “a boys world”, that girls weren’t smart in those areas….so I let go of my fascinations and my dreams of discovering what was beyond those bright stars.

Last night my curiosity was reawakened as I sat atop Kitt Peak and stared at the night sky.  It was dark there, really dark and I could see thousands of stars….all there to remind me of the dreams I once had and to spark my curiosity about the world I live in and the universe my world was in. 

This night was possible because my husband loves space and astronomy and he wanted to celebrate his milestone birthday at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  We arrived before sunset, had dinner and then we were taken by the guide to a viewpoint to observe the sun setting on the horizon.  Absolutely BEAUTIFUL!  The colors were vibrant, painting the sky in hues of red, orange and blue…..and even a green glow just as the sun disappeared.  Atop this mountain we could see forever.

Then it was time for the night viewing and boy was it dark. We were taken in smaller groups to view the stars through the telescopes.  We sat in an open air observatory watching as satellites, or maybe just some space junk, slid across the sky, sparkling as the sun glinted off of the metal and we were in awe of how many we could see while sitting there in the dark. 

 And then it was time to look through the telescope…..we saw star clusters, nebulas, and two different galaxies….all unable to be seen with the naked eye. I was amazed and somewhere deep inside me I could feel that excitement again….I wanted to see more, learn more, explore more. 

And when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did. We viewed Jupiter and four, yes four, of its moons.  It was one thing for me to see photos of Jupiter and to imagine what it must be like when I see that bright “star” in the night sky.  But standing there, seeing Jupiter with my own eye through the lens of the telescope, I was thrilled, ready to go into outer space and explore all that we know is there and all that is still to be discovered. 

And then we saw the moon through the telescope lens……every one of us, as we stepped up to the telescope and looked through the eye piece, gasped excitedly…..the moon that we see every night with our naked eyes was huge through this lens…..the shadows, the craters, the terrain, all felt within reach. It was spectacular.  This was why man wanted to walk on the moon, to see it in person.  I can only imagine how exhilarating that must have felt. 

The rest of the night tour was spent finding the constellations and stars with the help of one of the guides and viewing some of them through binoculars….aiding us in seeing that some of the “brightest” stars are really more than one star.

This night brought back my curiosity about the earth, our galaxy and the universe. I cannot wait to see what more is out there, what new discoveries we make and am looking forward to more nights spent atop a mountain, looking to infinity and beyond.

Someone’s Life is on the Line

As I had written last month, my mother had been killed by a drunk driver. Sadly, that was not the only time that drinking and driving has affected my family.  My husband’s brother, his only sibling, was killed by a drunk driver in 1995.  19 months later, while we were living on an Air Force Base in Turkey, my husband was asked by his boss to write an article for the base paper that would share his story of how drinking and driving had affected his life and the life of his family

It was 21 years ago today that we lost Rob….my husband lost his only sibling, his parents lost their first-born child and my boys lost their beloved uncle.

Today I share with you the words that my husband wrote for the base paper—

 

Someone’s Life is on the Line

Drunk Driving destroyed a part of my life.

March 11, 1995, started out as a day like any other. I had just wrapped up a few things at work and was preparing to spend a casual Saturday with my family.

Then the phone rang. My brother, my only sibling, had been killed in an automobile accident. 

As my family and I made the long trip to Washington State, we called to tell my folks where we were and consoled each other as best we could over the phone.  During these calls, they shared the details of the accident as they came from the state police.

By the time we arrived at my brother’s apartment, we had learned that he and his fiancée were returning from a friend’s house after catching a late movie at the local theater. It was a little after midnight, and a pickup truck traveling the opposite direction careened off a guard rail, crossed the center line, and hit my brother’s car almost head-on. 

My brother was killed almost instantly, and his fiancée was seriously injured.

The other driver suffered only minor cuts and bruises. He was legally intoxicated and had been arrested just a week prior for driving under the influence of alcohol.  This drunk driver had taken away all that my brother had and all that he was every going to have—a wife, children, a long life.

On March 13, 1995, I spent the morning writing my brother’s obituary. March 13 is also my birthday.

To drink and drive is to risk losing everything you have and to risk destroying the lives of those who may have just begun to live.

Is this a simple matter of being responsible for our actions? Yes, it definitely is. And what about our responsibility to others?  Do friends allow friends to drive drunk?  No, not real friends.  Responsible people do everything they can to prevent others, even strangers, from driving under the influence.  When it comes to preventing someone from drinking and driving, remember that someone’s life is on the line.

 We miss you, Rob.img991 copy