…And I Could Not Ask For More (An Open Letter To My Child)

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My Dearest Erin,

Today, you graduated with high honors from middle school.  My heart was aflutter with emotion as I watched you and your friends share in this momentous millisecond in time, rich with the joys of your successes and the excitement for the new paths you will take.  Your father and I and your grandparents and extended family are beyond proud, both of your accomplishments, but, most importantly, of the beautiful young woman you have become.  Your kindness, generosity, spirit, and humor make you a sheer delight to know.  Clearly I am not alone in my belief, as your circle of affection, wide for as many years as I can remember, continues to grow and broaden each year as new people come to know and love you and share their lives and hearts with you as well.

Throughout your entire life, you have never known a challenge to be too great, nor have you ever walked away when the road ahead was uncertain or unstable.  With each new experience, I have marveled at your ability to see the opportunity in adversity and your willingness to take the first steps forward even when the path before you was long or rocky.  I’m so clearly remember a night many years ago when you, determined and focused, tried and tried and tried to get up and down the one big carpeted step leading in to your grandparents’ living room.  Each fall made you only more determined to succeed.  This same determination, courage, and strength typify your life, and it has been such a source of joy for your family to watch as you tackle, seemingly unafraid, every challenge you encounter.  Your road has not always been easy, and this past year presented particular challenges, both to you and to our family.  Yet, you never wavered when the winds grew strong.  You kept working, kept loving.  Your commitment to your studies continued unblemished and, yet again, you finished the academic year with honors bestowed.  Your dedication to performance art and love for the stage shone brightly, with three brilliant performances in three separate plays and numerous musical concerts and a beautiful solo in the school talent show.  You kept your eyes future-focused, your heart open, and your spirit illuminated.  You made new friends, deepened old friendships, stood up for what you believed in, defended those who needed a friend, and illuminated the paths of everyone whose lives you touched.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that you, a fifth grade girl, was starting middle school and leaving behind the familiar and comfortable walls and voices of the only school you had ever known.  And just like that, four years passed by in a heartbeat.  Just like that, my baby isn’t a baby anymore.  She’s a beautiful, courageous, strong, exceptionally kind, talented, beautiful person who has just begun to make her mark on the world.  I am so thrilled for you as you take these next steps in to your future, and can only imagine the joys and successes that await you in the years to come.

I am so honored and proud to be your mother, and sharing in the journey of your life has been the greatest honor and joy of my life.  This afternoon, I heard an old song, “I Could Not Ask For More,” the refrain of which simply and beautifully illustrated everything that I was feeling in my heart:

“And these are the moments,

I thank God that I’m alive.

And these are the moments,

I’ll remember all my life.

I’ve found all I’ve waited for…

…and I could not ask for more.”

My beautiful Erin, thank you so much for the gift of you.  You are the love of my life and I am so, so grateful for you.  God bless you each and every day of your life. 

I love you,

Momma

erindance


Je Suis Charlie

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I was horrified today to learn the news of the shooting at Charlie Hebdo, a French newspaper known for its satire and comedy. As a writer, I stand in solidarity with those who risk their lives in order to express their thoughts and feelings via the written word. I am heartbroken for the families, friends, and colleagues of the lost, and I hope that the suffering of those who perished was brief. I send my love and prayers to those who are grieving right now, and to a world in such desperate need of peace.

I am a writer. I write for a living. I write for pleasure. I write whenever life and circumstance bring me joy, bring me heartbreak. I wrote a book about someone very special. I feel so tremendously blessed to have been given the gift of the written word, and to have been born in a country where I am able to express myself freely in my writing and in a time where women and their thoughts, their musings, and their contributions are met with acceptance and appreciation. In nearly 43 years of life, the possibility that I might be murdered for expressing my views was never within my realm of possibility. That someone would be taken from us merely for expressing his or her views breaks my heart in every single way.

I will not use this space or my voice to argue politics or to bloviate about the Muslim faith or those who choose to practice it in a radical, violent fashion. I simply want to say that I am one person, one among many, who stand with those who are hurting today. I stand as well with those who do not have the blessings of the freedom of expression. Please do not let your circumstance silence you. Your courage is our learning. Your bravery, our growth.

Envoi de mon amour aux personnes touchées par le tir à Charlie Hebdo à Paris. Prières pour la paix.

#JeSuisCharlie


The Jennifer Stays In The Picture

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“I avoid photographic evidence of my existence these days.”

In 2012, Allison Slater Tate wrote a wonderful piece for the Huffington Post.  The Mom Stays in the Picture tells Allison’s story of feeling less than beautiful and recoiling in horror when her young son asked her to pose with him for a picture at a family event.  The story shows an evolution in her thought processes.  A woman who once cringed at the thought of being photographed because of her supposed imperfections came to realize that, “we really need to make an effort to get in the picture.”  She correctly asserted that our children had the right to have documented proof that we were once alive, and she recalled that in looking at pictures of her own mother, she saw nothing but love and light.  No flaws.  Only beauty.  She went on to say,

“Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were.  Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves — women, mamas, people living lives.  Avoiding the camera because we don’t like to see our own pictures? How can that be okay?”

This amazing article had a beautiful yet unintended consequence.  Women from all walks of life and of all shapes and sizes wrote in to confess feeling very similarly about their bodies, and not wanting there to be any tangible or visual documentation indicant of the fact that they had physical imperfections.  They started taking family pictures, and shared those with the Internet community.  What began as a tiny article ballooned into a beautiful notion.  The mom gets in the picture and she stays there.

I remember reading this article when it was first published and being in awe of both Allison and the other courageous women who set aside their own insecurities, even if only for a moment, and took and shared those family photographs and selfies.  I admired their courage, and wished that I too could abandon my own hesitancies about my appearance long enough to walk along their road of courage.  In this day of instant digital imagery and selfies abounding, I found myself absolutely hating any footprint, digital or otherwise, of my appearance.  The thought of anyone seeing proof of my size was just horrifying to me,  Sure, people knew I was heavy.  That’s not a fact that’s easily masked,  But what about the people of my long ago, I wondered.  What if they saw that I was still heavy now, even heavier than I was when I was younger?  What would they think?  What about the people who knew me just before my wedding…who knew that I had lost an extraordinary amount of weight only to put almost every pound back on?  Certainly, I thought, they’d look at me with either contempt or tremendous pity.  It was only recently, just this year actually, that I started feeling a little more comfortable posing for selfies and other funny and goofy photos, but those poses always came with careful planning and sometimes, multiple re-shots to hide a double chin or my large torso or other flaws that so glaringly stood out to me.  These re-shots were sometimes tedious to those sharing the camera lens with me, and they often did not understand why I was so consumed with worry about how the photo looked or how I looked in it.

A family friend is a wonderful photographer, and for the last year, I talked with her about taking family photos and triedtriedandtried to work up the courage to do it.  It’s strange.  I don’t know what I was afraid of, yet I know it distinctly.  What if my weight made me look bad and blemished these mementos?  What if I was an embarrassment to my family by being in them?  What if we posted them online and other people saw with photographic certainty just how heavy I am?  What if, what if, what if?  For many reasons, I swallowed hard and did it.  I committed to the date, I made sure my hair looked pretty(-ish?), and I showed up at the shoot.  I did so because my daughter and her daughters and their daughters deserve proof that I was once alive.  I did so because of the extreme hypocrisy I was demonstrating for my daughter and her friends by telling them how beautiful they were and how they should believe in their own beautiful worthiness when I myself couldn’t echo the same sentiment.  Because I envy the photographic Christmas cards my friends send every year and because I’ve secretly always wanted to do one.  Because my amazing husband and wonderful friends and family tell me that I am beautiful for no reason other than to do so, and surely these people wouldn’t lie to me.  Maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that they see something I don’t.  And maybe, just maybe, that chance weighs more than any fear, any double chin, any fat roll.  So I did it.  We took photos as a family and they are beautiful.  Yes, the photos show that I am heavy, but more than that, they show that I am alive.  My face is alit in joy and love and that joy and love are so clearly illustrated in these beautiful photos.  I posted them on Facebook today, and was thrilled and overwhelmed by the love and kind comments that followed.  Thank you to all of you who sent messages and posted such wonderful comments.  Those of you who know me know that this was a huge step for me, and I am so grateful for your outpouring of support and love.  You sure know how to make a girl feel ten feet tall.  You know, I might just make this family photo thing (and sharing the photos as well) an annual thing.

My right to feel beautiful and happy in my own skin weighs more than any self-doubt I may have.  It certainly weighs more than any ugly or hateful thoughts people have or comments that they may make.

My daughter’s right to have photos of me to share with her children and great-grandchildren weighs even more.

And so, the Jennifer got in the picture.  She’s gonna stay there, too.

(images courtesy Cheryl Singers from Cheryl’s Shutter Photography)

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If You Are Ignorant, Be Also Silent

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For the last few days, social media has been abuzz with chatter about the loss of Robin Williams.  I’ve seen so many beautiful tributes.  Fans all around the world have written lovely posts and have edited and uploaded photos of a happy, joyous Robin.  People have shared clips of Robin’s funny and tender television and silver screen moments on Facebook so that we could all remember the genius of this incredible talent.  I saw one drawing an incredibly gifted artist made of a beaming Robin with the names of his movies beside his joyously illuminated face.  Celebrities and those who knew and loved Robin have written lovely and emotional stories for us so that we too could see the man that they loved…the man behind the laughter.  I’ve seen him characterized as loving, kind, generous, warm, and humble.  I’ve also seen him labeled a coward, and someone so self-engrossed and so self-involved that he dared to make the horribly selfish choice to end his life with little to no thought about how his decision would impact those who loved him and his millions of fans all around the world.  As I continue to see judgmental, hateful posts like this, I become more and more enraged.  I have something to say, Internet, and you’re going to hear it.  Indulge me as I take this opportunity to set straight anyone ignorant about mental health and suicide.

If you are ignorant, be also silent.  Having an opinion does not an expert make you.  You are absolutely entitled to think and believe as you think and believe.  It is not my intention to rob you of your right to exercise independent thought.  I am saying, however, that just because you have a voice does not mean that you should use it.  We seem to have lost the desire to exercise conscious restraint.  The Internet has given everyone a voice, and sadly, many use it when they should not.  The posting of any accusatory or inflammatory rhetoric about someone who has suffered and died or about the feelings you believe that he may have felt is inappropriate, period.  To our collective shame, we have become a society of people so intent on increasing our own personal visibility that we often do so to the detriment of others.  Use your voice to uplift and love others.  To do anything other than support and love those who suffer is barbarous.  I read one person’s belief that we’re all to be shamed for publicly recognizing Robin and remembering him fondly in the way that we are.  And why is this person shaming us?  Because others who are sick and have suicidal ideologies will too commit suicide just so they can receive similar adoration.  This same person went to say that Robin Williams did not die of mental illness.  Rather, he died of an intentional and selfish choice.  No one who would take his or her own life is selfish.  Someone hurting and suffering so gravely that this choice seems the only viable option is ill.  Any choice made in that kind of illness and that kind of pain is not the choice a healthy person would make.  Suffering of that magnitude is, luckily, something most of us will never understand.  I’m absolutely certain, however, that in an illness of that depth, the harming of those left behind is the absolute last thing on someone’s mind.  Unless you have struggled with mental health issues personally or unless you love someone who has struggled, keep your mouth shut about it.  You bring nothing to the table except uninformed notions of what you believe to be true.  People that I dearly love have struggled with mental illness and with everything in me, I swear to you that their struggles were real.  In the same way that anyone struggles with an illness, be it cancer or heart disease or diabetes, a mentally ill person needs help.  Needs support.  Needs love.  Any balderdash that claims anything to the contrary is misinformed and ignorant. 

To anyone who is suffering with mental illness, I beg of you to reach out for help.  There are people out there who are willing to listen to you and who are willing to hold you up when you yourself lack the strength to do so.  If you are considering self-harm, I ask that you please remember that the world is not a better place without you in it.  I also beg that you call one of the many suicide hotlines and ask for help.  There are many out there, both here in America and all over the world.  Please give the you of tomorrow a chance to realize that healing and joy are out there waiting for you.  They’re wonderful, too. 

Love to all of you.


That’s Your Responsibility As A Human Being

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Hi everyone.  I write to you tonight with a heart full of tremendous sadness.  For the last few hours, the world has been suffering the loss of one of our most gifted actors and tremendous talents.  The news of the passing of Robin Williams absolutely broke my heart.  Mine among many.  I had aspirations of returning to blogging and intentions of waiting to do so until I had made some cosmetic changes here on my blog, but the message in my heart begs to be spoken and the cosmetic changes will have to wait for another day.

The news media and social media circles will discuss this tragic loss for many weeks to come.  Although the news isn’t official at this time, many are speculating that Robin took his own life.  Suicide has personally affected me three times.  Three people, all very special to me, made the heartbreaking and very final choice to end their suffering by permanently extinguishing their collective light among us.  The enormous reservoir of pain that these people, and Robin, must have felt just shatters my heart.  To think that there are people who walk beside us, who share buses and offices and grocery stores and churches and families and marriages with us, suffer so enormously that suicide is the only viable option just breaks my heart.  We are failing one another at a cataclysmic rate by not recognizing the pain that those around us experience.  We are responsible for one another in this life.  The exercise of human kindness and the extension of true attention and honest energy to those we encounter is so often overshadowed by the busy goings-on of our own lives.  So many of us drown in our own hectic, our own sagas, our own comings and goings that we do not make the intentional time to give of ourselves to one another.  We have to do a better job of being deliberately thoughtful of the people in our lives.  Don’t hear, listen.  Put your phone down.  Cancel your other appointment.  Be present for the people who love you.  Be kind.  That is your responsibility as a human being.  Live in love and treat those around you with dignity.  Watch for the less obvious signs of suffering.  Be.  Just be.  And know that in being, you make a difference in the lives of those you meet.

I certainly don’t ascribe blame for suicide to anyone.  Please do not misinterpret my message.  My heart, however, compels your heart to make a personal commitment to kindness, to intentional presence, and to love.  While you certainly are not responsible for the actions of others, you are indeed responsible for giving and loving and kindness….and making a difference.  The cliched notion of not knowing what someone else is going through is indeed very, very true.  We are largely ignorant of the profound difference and goodness that we can bring to one another.  Tonight, I remind you of your responsibility to exert that kindness and deliberate presence.  Be the person who makes the difference.  We can no longer afford the cost of failing one another.  One more family’s heartbreak is unacceptable.  One more life lost is unconscionable.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams.  Thank you for the laughter and the inspiration.  May your soul find now only the joy that you brought to so many of us.


Sometimes, The Heart Just Hurts

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“Accept what is.  Let go of what was.  Have faith in what will be.”

Sometimes, the enormity of the human condition is just too much for me to bear.  Certainly no one likes seeing the suffering of others.  It is unpleasant, unsettling, difficult.  It challenges our collective sense of safety and control and inevitably leads us to thoughts about the potential for our own discomfort and eventual mortality.  For me, though, it’s something different.  Something deeper.  I will admit that for a woman of 41, I have an almost childlike sense of innocence when it comes to the well-being of those I love.  I ache when others hurt.  I always have.  I remember my mother telling me when I was younger that, while admirable and beautiful to love and want good for everyone, I simply didn’t have the power to enact that lofty goal.  God has His plan for us, and it’s our responsibility to believe and trust in that plan.  She told me as well that, sadly, suffering is a very real part of life, and that I should focus on living and living well, loving those around me, and trusting and believing in God.  As a grown woman, wife, and mother, I today worry all the time about the safety and health of the people I love.  I see stories on the news about violence and I want more than anything to lock my loved ones away someplace safe, someplace where harm will never find them and where I can be assured of their continued well-being.  I read stories online about little ones with cancer and I want nothing more than to wrap my arms around my daughter and to hold her.  Certainly, with the loving arms of her mother about her, there is no way that illness could find my daughter.  See?  Childlike innocence.  I know conceptually that I can’t protect the people I love from life and its happenings, but for to pray for them and to be there for them.  But that feels wholly insufficient and so, I continue to worry.  And this?  This is all hypothetical.  This is all “what if?” and “maybe.”  This doesn’t begin to scratch the surface when pain and suffering actually find the people I love.

A very dear friend of mine learned last May that she has breast cancer.  This friend, this wonderful person, is quite possibly the most beautiful and kind person I have ever known.  With each adversity she has faced, and she has faced more than her share, she has walked in light and grace and with a dignity that makes me proud to be her friend.  Her double mastectomy has long been scheduled for this Thursday, but she learned just a few days ago that her cancer is now stage four.  It has metastasized to her lungs.  Some friends and I put together a gift basket for her to make her hospital stay more comfortable, and we stopped by to see her this evening to wish her well.  In her characteristically loving and wonderful fashion, she was all smiles and happy, genuinely so.  Her smile was beautiful, and I know she was grateful for our love and our visit.  I came home and promptly fell to pieces.  Why her?  Her only, and I do mean only, crime was having been born to a mother who would later die of breast cancer.  In all the years I have known her, she has been nothing but kind and warm and loving to everyone she has encountered.  It eludes my human understanding why this horrible disease would find acceptable its invasion into the body of someone so undeserving of suffering while others, selfish and cruel and hatred-filled others seemingly walk through life unscathed.  As I prepared a late dinner for my husband and I, the tears just fell from my eyes and continue to do so now.  It was hard to breathe there for a little while.  I ache that this beautiful, innocent person has been made to suffer and I pray and hope with all that I am that her surgery is successful and that the doctors, who are optimistic now (thank God!), will deliver good news after her surgery is over.  My friend’s name is Jill, and it would mean the world to me if you would keep her in your hearts and your prayers this Thursday and in the weeks after as she recovers and begins this new, hopefully much healthier, chapter of her life.  I am so proud to be her friend, and hope that if her situation or something similar should ever befall me, that I could walk through that fire with half the grace and dignity that she has.

I hopped on Facebook after dinner and saw several posts about today being National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  Ever have one of those moments where you’re upset and sad anyway, and then something you encounter just makes it worse?  Childlike innocence rears its ugly head again.  My heart broke as I thought of the five women I know who have lost children.  My mother miscarried a baby after I was born.  My mother-in-law lost her baby daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Three of my friends bore and buried their babies.  The pain that they suffered and continue to suffer breaks my heart wide open.  We bark platitudes all the time about how God is in control (and the Catholic in me believes that) and that everything happens for a reason, but my human heart finds it impossible to understand why the loss of a child is ever good, ever acceptable, ever just.  On top of thinking about my friend, I am thinking now about the little girl that my parents-in-law lost.  Tracy.  She was a year younger than I was, and I have these grand visions of she and I being great friends and having this wonderful sisterhood had she not left this world so early.  I was an only child, my only sisters being the women whose Greek letters I shared on a sweatshirt or bookbag.  Tracy wouldn’t have had sisters, either.  She would have had two brothers, my husband and brother-in-law.  I love the notion of her being my maid of honor and spending hours together talking and raising our families together.  I ache tonight for the sister and dear friend that time and circumstance took from me.

In the midst of my tears and sadness, a beautiful quote found its way to me – “Accept what is.  Let go of what was.  Have faith in what will be.”  That is the challenge God has given me this evening, but my human heart is having trouble measuring up.  Sometimes, I think I just have to accept the fact that the heart just hurts.

 


Thank You, Tiffany

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Hi Everyone,

I am overwhelmed by the incredible show of support and love that so, so many of you have shown me over the past few days following the events of last Friday evening.  This has become a wonderful habit, you coming out in droves with the “Team Jennifer” banners and the loud cheers!  It is a beautiful blessing to be the continual beneficiary of your friendship and support, and I so appreciate it that whenever my inclination is to look downward, there you are to encourage me to hold my head up highly.  Thank you.

I wanted to let you know that my voice was heard.  After posting a link to my blog post on the Tiffany and Co. Facebook page, I received a message from the company asking for the opportunity to speak with me about my experience.  This afternoon, the Store Director called me.  Her kindness and commitment to resolving my concerns and hearing my voice more than made up for the inconsiderate manner in which her employee treated me.  She immediately thanked me for the opportunity to discuss this situation, and apologized for the manner in which I was treated.  She explained her commitment to customer service, and expressed that her expectation is that everyone who enters her store is welcomed and acknowledged and treated with respect.  She emphatically stated that outward appearances should never be used to make a judgment about another human being’s worth, financial status, or intention, and said that regardless of whether or not someone in the store is “there to buy or to browse,” that person is to be greeted and given an offer of assistance.  I was thrilled when she asked for my blessing to utilize my experience as an opportunity to provide training to her staff on customer relations and sensitivity, and heartened when she said that she never again wanted anyone to feel in her store the way that I felt last Friday night.  She ended the phone call by thanking me again for speaking with her, and by asking me to personally request her assistance the next time I came into the store.

I couldn’t help but feel good inside after I hung up the phone.  In my heart, I know that there could have been no better outcome. All I wanted was for that salesman to recognize the impact of his actions on others so that no one else would ever be made to feel insignificant or small by his hand.  I am thrilled that Tiffany is allowing me to be the spark that illuminates change, and I am very grateful, both for their recognition and their desire to rectify a hurtful wrong.  I am so looking forward to returning to Tiffany and buying my next piece of sparkle and shine, and I will wear it proudly knowing that not only is it a reflection of my own beauty, but that it is a product sold by a company with an unblemished dedication to customer service and quality.

Thank you, Tiffany.

 


Discrimination Hurts: The High Price of the Little Blue Box

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Hi guys.  I know, it’s been 100(0000!) years since my last post. I really do love writing and blogging!  Please believe that!  I wish I was one of those daily blogger sorts with everything all organized and the ability to juggle a full-time job, two-hour commute, and endless (and awesome) Mommy tasks and still find the time and the oomph to blog.  If one of you amazing Blogger Mommies can give me any tips to help me accomplish this lofty goal, I’ll gladly listen and thank you with batches of the cookies of your choice.  Thanks to those of you who continue to read and post comments when I blog, especially over on Facebook.  I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas, and that 2013 is blessed and beautiful for you and those you love.

I had a disheartening experience last night, and, well, I handle disappointment best via the written word.  Writing is my catharsis, and it’s certainly healthier than drowning my sorrows in ice cream.  Something many of you may not know about me is that I generally tend to be conservative with money.  I don’t like to spend it on myself, and when I do, I almost never spend very much.  I’m a mother and a wife with a mortgage and financial responsibilities and a heart that feels much happier when buying for and spoiling others than when making selfish purchases.  That’s just who I am.  But with the benefit of some Christmas cash as a beautiful and generous gift from my parents, I decided to do something special for myself.  I wanted to treat myself and to make myself feel pretty, and I wanted to buy something that would be a lasting memory of an incredible year.  If it brought a little sparkle and shine into my life, all the better.  Where do women go when they want to add a little sparkle and shine into their lives?  Tiffany.  I spent a few days doing research about Tiffany’s products – everything from swooning over photos of their jewelry to talking to (many) of my girlfriends who own and love Tiffany’s pieces. I hadn’t made my mind up what I would purchase, but I knew that my new little piece of memorable sparkle and shine would be a gift to myself in the popular little blue box from the quintessential pretty place, Tiffany.  Before going into the store, I was a little nervous.  On two occasions in the past, I’d been a victim of size discrimination in retail facilities, both somewhat swanky.  I am not a thin person, as you know.  Nor do I adorn myself with expensive jewelry or designer label clothing.  I’m not frumpy.  I’m not ugly.  I’m just a regular, normal (but overweight) person.  In the two prior instances, I was made to feel inferior, and other, thinner and better-attired customers were helped while I was left to walk around the store in heartbroken amazement.  I worried so much that this would happen again at Tiffany, and hoped with my whole heart that I would have an incredible experience at this beautiful, generally out-of-my-reach store.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.

When Curtis and I walked into the Tiffany and Co. store on the Country Club Plaza in downtown Kansas City, we were both overwhelmed by the beauty of the jewelry.  Overwhelmed might be a bit of an understatement, actually!  Everything was breathtaking and gorgeous, and I felt like a queen in the midst of such incredible beauty.  Sadly, that feeling didn’t last for long.  Never having been in the store, I didn’t realize that there was an entire back portion filled with additional pieces.  I walked around (and around and around) the front of the store, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the gorgeous pieces and muttering aloud, but softly, how beautiful things were.  That was my way of hinting to the tall, African American salesman (who wasn’t thin either, let me add) that I wanted to be shown some jewelry.  When I said, “Wow, that’s beautiful,” what I was really saying was, “Please come show me some of these gorgeous pieces so that I can buy some!”  The salesman clearly saw me walk around the store multiple times, and yet made no effort to help me.  Instead, he talked and laughed with the store’s doorman.  It wasn’t long before I heard the door to the store open, and an older, seemingly more affluent couple entered.  In an instant, I knew what would happen.  And I was right.  The salesman walked right past me, nearly brushing against my coat as he did so, and approached the couple, saying something akin to, “How are we doing tonight, folks?”  I was heartbroken.  I walked toward the back of the store, where several salesladies were busy helping other customers, and browsed the incredible pieces on display, but my heart was broken and looking at these gorgeous necklaces and pendants had suddenly lost its luster.  A few moments later, a saleswoman approached me with a big and welcoming smile, and answered every question I had and showed me multiple pieces.  She took the time to get to know me, and tried to find things that she thought would be meaningful to me, but that also fell within my price range.  I ultimately decided on a pair of tiny, but beautiful earrings, but left the store feeling anything but beautiful and special.  Even though our amazing salesperson was kind and apologized for the behavior of her insensitive colleague, I still didn’t feel very good…about myself, about the experience, or, honestly, about the beautiful new earrings I had purchased.

To the salesman who refused to help me last night, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you.  Your discriminatory behavior bore heartbreaking results, and turned what should have been an incredible and memorable experience into a disheartening and sad one.  Even after purchasing those beautiful earrings and having a little blue box of my very own, I was still heartsick.  Even an hour later at dinner with my husband at our very favorite restaurant, I was still disheartened.  Even the following morning, when sleep evaded me and the compulsion to write you this letter took over, I was still sad.  Every woman deserves to feel beautiful.  The entire reason that your Tiffany store exists is to give women the opportunity to feel glamorous and beautiful.  As a woman who works hard and who doesn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to be surrounded by such exquisite and beautiful jewelry (let alone purchase any!), I was so looking forward to the experience of being mesmerized and, dare I say, pampered at your beautiful store.  Instead, I was the victim of unfettered discrimination undoubtedly fueled by ignorance.  We are each responsible in this life for helping others to learn and to grow and to become better people.  So this is my gift to you.  My message will be your growth, and, if your heart is open and you take this in the spirit that it is intended, your behavior and the motivations behind it will change for the better.  Remember that each person is worthy of your smile, your attention, your recognition.  That’s your responsibility as a human being.  It’s doubly true for you because you work in a retail capacity and the very existence of your position is to extend your kindness and assistance to others.  Don’t judge people by the way that they look.  You don’t know anything about me.  Yes, I am overweight.  No, I don’t wear designer clothes.  Yes, my sweater had a slight stain on it when I came into your store last night.  That’s because we had a potluck lunch at work for the few of us who were working over the holidays, and my plate broke.  I’m not a slob.  I am not dirty.  I was the victim of an unfortunate paper plate malfunction.  You might be surprised to know that (many!) others look (far, far) past my weight and see me.  And that “me” is a pretty amazing person.  I’m pretty funny, actually.  I make people laugh, and that makes me feel good.  I’m a writer, as you can probably surmise.  I have a huge heart, and am at my happiest when I am giving to and doing for others.  I’m an incredible wife and mom, just ask my husband and daughter.  They tell me so all the time, so I’m sure they’d tell you the same thing.  For nearly a year, cancer was in my everyday vernacular as my doctor and oncologist did everything they could to prevent me from getting uterine cancer.  While their efforts were incredible, a huge and amazing group of family and friends lifted me up in love and prayer, and although medical science might disagree with me, I know that they are the reason that I, in March of this year, was given a clean bill of health.  You were not my first experience with size discrimination.  Undoubtedly, you won’t be my last.  I experienced significant and terrible bullying as a child because I didn’t fit the mold that others thought I should.  The difference is that today, at 40, I can look at those who treat me differently with love and compassion, and see their behavior exactly for what it is – an outward demonstration of ill-informed misperceptions of how others should be.  Everyone, regardless of outward appearance, is worthy of love.  Don’t look down on people.  Use your energy to be a source of light and love for others.   Kindness and respect speak volumes for you.  So does bigoted and discriminatory behavior.  The beauty here is that the decision is yours.  You get to make the choice about how others will receive you, and, ultimately, how the world will remember you.  My name is Jennifer.  I’m a human being, and I deserve your respect.  And, quite frankly, I deserved much better from you last night.  Let me be your lesson.  Never again treat anyone with the blatant insensitivity which you showed me last night.  I am your mirror.  Look at me and see the impact of your actions and your attitude on others.  This is your learning opportunity.  I can’t wrap it up for you in a little blue box, but it does come from the heart.  Mine.  Which, by the way, beats just like yours does.  I bet it looks the same, too.

Thanks for reading, everyone.  Love to you and yours in the new year.


“They Live In Darkness. You Be The Light.”

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Sometimes, the enormity of the human condition is overwhelming to me.  It just hurts my spirit.  Stays inside me.  Affects me.

This weekend, the Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing at three churches in my tiny little town.  I was browsing through Facebook on my lunch hour and I came across a story published by the Gardner News about this horrible organization’s plans to come to our little town and spew their message of hatred.  Why they chose us, no one knows.  We aren’t burying a soldier this weekend.  There have been no high-profile crimes or deaths in our area (in, like, ages), and none of us can figure out why they have chosen these three particular churches in our peaceful community.  All day long, the sadness and enormity of this has weighed heavily inside me.  I made the immediate decision to react with love, and to encourage the same in those I care for here in Gardner.  These people simply thrive on any attention given to them, and they relish in any negativity shown to them or any efforts made by the well-intentioned to change their hearts and their souls.  Heartbroken for the leaders and parishoners at the churches targeted for picketing, I called two of them today and spoke with members of their staff.  I offered my love and support and prayers to them as a sister in Christ, and I told them that they were cared for here in our community.  One woman asked me how she would explain all of this to her children, and I told her to treat this as a teachable moment.  To use this opportunity to clearly explain the difference between love and hate.  I thought that the very best way that we could respond to their presence was to continue on with our lives as if they were not here.  Show them no consideration.  Give their voices no room within our spirits.  Refuse their efforts to engage us in dialogue or hateful discourse.  Walk with dignity and show them by example the way God wants us to treat one another.  As the day wore on, I had another thought.  Each and every Gardner resident should take a few hours Sunday to give back.  To volunteer.  To do something kind for someone in need.  To combat hatred with love and to bring peace and goodness to others.  Please consider talking with your family tonight and tomorrow and making a quick plan to show kindness to others on Sunday.  It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.  Sure, if you have the time and are able to schedule a session, go ahead and volunteer at the charitable organization of your choice.  Write letters and make cards for our men and women fighting for our freedom and the freedom of others halfway across the world.  Rally a few friends together and buy canned goods to donate to a local food pantry.  Just a few hours of your time can make a tremendous difference.  Your love and your good works triumph over any hatred shown by others.  As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing in this world greater than love.  Nothing.

I shared my sadness about this situation with a colleague today, and he said something so incredible to me.  “They live in darkness.  You be the light.”  Be the light, my friends.  We cannot do anything to impede this hateful organization’s right to picket and to say the horrible and heartbreaking things that they say.  We can, however, give of ourselves to others and lead with love.


Am I Taking This Too Far?

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Hey guys.  Sorry I’ve not been very vocal out here in the Blogosphere over these last few days.  I enjoyed a long holiday weekend with my family and kept it kinda low key.  My daughter and her soccer team (and my amazing husband, the coolest soccer coach ever!) won their game in the freezing cold on Saturday morning.  The hubby and I enjoyed a “date night” Saturday night (and watched the Nebraska Cornhuskers get mutilated…*le sigh*), and we spent Sunday with loved ones out of town celebrating my father-in-law’s 62nd birthday.  I treated myself Monday to a little pampering at the spa, followed by a morning of shopping and a delicious lunch date with my hubby.  It was a good and (very!) much-needed time of relaxation and love after a horrible, horrible week.  Sorry to have been so silent.  The bloviations are back.  You’re welcome.  :)

Something happened to me today that…I don’t even know how to describe it.  As you know, I spoke to my detective at the Kansas City Assault Squad last Friday.  (Need a refresher?  Click here.)  He told me that he had issued the summons to the woman who battered me on Friday morning.  I didn’t know what “issued the summons” meant, and should have asked.  Did he put it in the postal mail?  Did they drive out to Overland Park and give it to her at her office?  In my haste and impatience, I called my detective yesterday and asked what the status of my case was.  He explained that the summons was sent to her in the mail on Friday, and that there was really nothing for me to do now other than to wait for my summons to come in the mail.  I asked if he would be at court and he said that he’d only come if the judge instructed him to.  He said that if she were to walk in and accept responsibility for everything, there would be no need for him to be there.  I asked him about what Officer Hamlett had said…that most people plead these sorts of cases out to avoid a hearing and going to court.  Oddly enough, he said that his experience has been the polar opposite.  He said that most of the time, these cases do go to court.  He said that the defendant hopes that the plaintiff won’t show up, and that the judge will subsequently throw the case out.  I was stunned.  People really do that?!  People really come this far only to turn their backs and walk away?  He said that they do (and he doesn’t understand why, either).  Unbelievable.  I’ve come this far, and I will see it all the way through.  I don’t want to go to court, but I will do it.  I deserve it.  I deserve the unfettered opportunity to stand up for myself to the woman who bullied and battered me…to have my voice heard and to stand up for civility and what’s right.  With the love and support of the people who will be in the courtroom with me (and those of you who are cheering me on on the sidelines!), I know it will be just fine.  Anyway, back to the summons.  Doing the math, I figured that she probably got her summons in the mail today.  You figure, Friday and Saturday and Tuesday (today…remember, yesterday was a federal holiday) would be plenty of time for a summons to get from Jackson County, Missouri to Johnson County, Kansas.  All day long, I thought about it.  Did it come?  Did she see it?  Did her husband retrieve it and call her at the office to tell her?  Or would she see it when she got home?  What happens now?  All sorts of irrational (or are they?) worries flooded my mind.  Are my family and I safe?  On the bus ride home tonight, I noticed I had a new follower on Twitter.  Someone brand new to Twitter as of October 5th (the day after the incident)…someone with only two tweets and who also follows TheJO…was suddenly following me.  A female.  I immediately panicked.  I was afraid that it was my batterer.  I feared that somehow she had found me online and knew who I was and knew about my life.  As you know, I tend to be very open about my life here on my blog and online.  My Facebook page is completely private, but my Twitter page was w-i-d-e open for all the world to see, and it included information about my daughter and my family…oh, and links to this blog.  I was so afraid that she had found me.  My Twitter account is now set to private and no one can see it that I don’t allow to, but has the damage already been done?  And am I insane to worry like this?  Is it rational for me to be afraid that she may try to find out who I am and cause harm to me or to the people I love?  It’s on my mind a lot.  I truly, truly believe that she suffers from some sort of pathology.  Obviously!  Who else would behave in the manner that she has?  Is she sick enough to hurt me or to hurt the people I love?  I’m afraid, and I don’t know if I should be.

Am I crazy?  Am I taking this too far?