My favorite coffee mug

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I love outrageous language. I lean toward the dramatic. Make no mistake, I’m not a drama-mama, I just love dramatic language. I love breathtaking prose and heartwrenching poetry. I like to mix curse words in new and unexpected ways.  Gallows humor slays me.  I adore the juxtaposition of dirty words against a flowery background.

This is my favorite coffee mug. I use it just about every morning. I love the way it fits in my hand, the way I can wrap all four fingers around the cup through the big handle and cozy up to my morning coffee. I love that it was a gift from my dear friend for my 50th birthday. It absolutely delighted me when I opened the package. It’s so…ME!! Seeing the outrageous language in that slim, feminine font had me bursting out laughing and it still has me giggling every morning.

I’m not a bitch.

But I did spend the better part of my first 50 years trying to escape that label at home and at work. I am strong, independent, smart, resilient, tenacious and a natural born leader…you know…a bitch.

*sigh*

By my 50th birthday, in my efforts to escape the bitch label, I had become a human doormat. I was so driven to escape that label that I had let my backbone nearly disintegrate. I was so driven to be liked by everyone that I had completely lost the ability to stand up for myself. I was so driven to be loved by everyone else that I hated myself.

Ohmygosh – just seeing that sentence “that I hated myself” brings tears to my eyes. Truth response.

Now, with my 52nd birthday in sight, it’s been two years of rebuilding my relationship with myself, of BEING RENA, of growing a backbone, of learning to set boundaries and learning to stop making excuses for other people’s behavior.

It’s hard.

REALLY hard.

My default reaction is “oh, he/she didn’t mean it” and “well, it’s not *that* bad”. I’m slowly learning that sometimes people DO mean it and yes, sometimes it really is *that* bad.  I’m learning that sometimes I have to say “Bye Felicia” to people and situations that aren’t healthy for me and I’m learning to live with the discomfort that comes with that. I’m learning that I’m not a failure if I walk away from something/someone that doesn’t fit with me. That’s the hardest part, I think. It feels more like giving up than walking away. I’m programmed to soldier on, to motor through, to finish what I started. That stinking thinking kept me in some bad places during my first 50 years. So I’m doing the work to ensure the next 50 years are different.

*sigh*

Man, this growing up stuff is hard, AND I love it. Every day is a new beginning, a new chance to build the life I’ve always dreamed of.

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Love is a verb

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I’m stuck on this idea of just one thing.…it keeps coming back to me.  It’s about ACTION. I’m a huge fan of down time, it’s a necessary part of life.  AND I know the world moves by ACTION.

(No surprise that after a whole bunch of soul searching and a full out 2-year long mid-life crisis I came back to a career as a 100% commissioned sales person. I like knowing my actions have meaning.)

Mindlessly flipping through Facebook yesterday (taking some necessary down time) I got caught in this circuit of hateful political posts. This person is horrible because of this, that person is horrible because of that, this person is a criminal, that person is a hate-monger, the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, we’re all gonna die, Armageddon is near, conspiracy abounds, stockpile food and weapons because the shit’s about to hit the fan….

oh. my. God.

A whole lot of words and a whole lot of hate.

By the way, how the heck can someone’s entire political opinion be distilled down to a hashtag? #never(insert candidate here)  YIKES. Is this what we’ve come to??????

But I digress…

So I read all these political posts (hate rants) and I realize that just one thing is really important. There is so much ugliness out there. So much cruelty. I don’t want to be one of those people who hide behind a keyboard. I want to engage with the world. I want to change the world, and if I can’t change the whole world then I just want to change a moment in someone’s world. That’s enough! One thing, one moment, one person. Helping one person to feel hopeful or encouraged or seen is enough. Bonus points if its a stranger – because then there are absolutely no strings attached.

I’m getting ready to hatch a great idea. I can feel it brewing.

#BeingRena

just a day

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It’s early Sunday morning at the hospice. Clarence and I are sipping coffee in the kitchen (well, actually I’m sipping coffee and Clarence is snoozing on the floor next to me) waiting to meet our new resident . I flip through his chart to get to know him. He’s about my age (a few years younger), he’s fairly independent (although a bit unsteady on his feet), he’s coming from an extended hospital stay (nearly three months) and now he needs *us*. He’ll be with us for (maybe) a few weeks.

He shuffles into the kitchen with his laptop balanced across the top of his walker. We exchange hellos, pour a few cups of coffee, look at pics of his life on his laptop and spend an hour laughing like old friends. It’s just a day. The conversation turns to breakfast….

“I’d really like a diner breakfast”

“I can do that, no problem. What would you like?”

“No, I want to go to a diner”

He has a mischievous twinkle in his eye that I can’t resist.

I don’t know which one of us is more surprised when I blurt “Okay, let’s go!”

A handful of phone calls later and we’ve got everything we need to hit the road. My mom brings over a heavier coat for him and takes Clarence home with her. Our director talks me through everything I need to take with us. I’ve got his pain meds in my pocket and his DNR in my purse. What could go wrong?

He seems entertained by my dorky sense of humor and matches me joke for joke as we head to the diner. I’m determined to treat him normally – paying no attention to his physical limitations or his terminal illness. We’re just a couple of friends heading out to breakfast on a Sunday – it’s just a day. We’re genuinely having fun.

He takes what seems like f o r e v e r to decide what to order for breakfast. Our waitress is endlessly patient and appears oblivious to the growing line of people waiting for tables. The three of us discuss the fact that he’s at a point in his life where he really doesn’t have to choose between delights. Get the pancakes and the omelet and the hashbrowns and the waffle and the french toast. Live big. Enjoy the day. So we do. We cover the table in diner breakfast delights. He’s ecstatic. He eats about 4 bites and announces “I need to go to Wegmans”. 

ohmygod. I panic. There is no way his frail body can do a trip to Wegmans. No way. The trip to the diner is fun – but Wegmans? That’s just crazy. NO WAY. Absolutely NO WAY this is happening today. I’ll get a list from him, drop him back off at the hospice with the mid-day volunteer, then run the errand for him.

“I just want to go up and down every aisle and look at everything”

10 minutes later we’re in the car on our way to Wegmans.  So much for NO WAY this is happening today…

I’m passed panic well into terror. This is a really bad idea. He looks exhausted after the trip to the diner. I tell him I’d feel a lot better if he would agree to use a motorized cart instead of his walker. He says we both should get one so we can drag race. This dude is straight up mischief. His eyes twinkle with life.

He cruises up and down the aisles at Wegmans with me standing on the back of the cart hanging on to his shoulders. We’re on a motorcycle ride through life. We giggle and stop at every sample station. Today is delicious – totally and completely delicious. It’s just a day.

It’s life.

For both of us.

We get back to the car and he falls asleep as soon as he buckles his seatbelt. He’s smiling.

We pull up to the house and he’s too weak to walk back in. He tries to stand up to get out of the car and collapses back into the seat. He’s still smiling. Its been a good day.

We get him inside and settled into bed – he’s beyond exhausted after our 4 hour adventure. He whispers “thank you” and “will you come back tomorrow”.  I assure him I’ll swing by on Monday to check in.  

I leave smiling and thinking I’ve laughed more today than I’ve laughed in the last few months. It was just a day – just an ordinary, delicious, silly, life-filled day.

What a gift.

For both of us.

#BeingRena

 

 

I carry a shame umbrella

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Penny

I’ve been working on writing this blog for about 3 months. The words just weren’t finding their way out of my heart and onto the page. The last month has brought a lot of changes – and a lot of opportunity for my heart to find its way out. I’m still a little nervous about it, but I’m gonna push “publish” anyway…

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About a year ago my friend Brian confided in me that he had been struggling with his gender identity for quite some time. He and I have seen each other through some big stuff over the last 12 years.  Divorces, raising children, dating dilemmas, family stuff, and we’ve seen each other go through a lot of different phases as we’ve figured out who we are. I honestly believed this was another phase. So I listened and let him know that I love him and I’m his friend always. As the months went on and we talked more, he went further and further down this road of (what I thought was) experimenting. I loved him and I supported him *AND* I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure why I was uncomfortable, I just was. And I was ashamed of myself for being uncomfortable. My discomfort forced me to consider whether or not I’m as loving, open minded, inclusive, accepting and compassionate as I like to think I am. Could it be that this whole loving, inclusive and peaceful thing is just bullshit that I tell myself? Could it be that I’m not really willing to “walk the walk”?

No. That just isn’t true.

And still, every time we talked about this new part of his life I’d get more uncomfortable, and the more uncomfortable I was, the more I was ashamed of myself for being uncomfortable. Then I started to feel angry. As he got more comfortable with the changes he was making in his life, I was feeling more and more unsettled. I was thinking things like “you don’t just get to decide you’re a woman” and “I don’t really care if he’s got a new name in his new life. He’s Brian to me.”  I was actually starting to get really pissed off. I was refusing to acknowledge the fact that as he continued to be more honest about who he was, he looked more and more peaceful and happy. Holy mother of pearl. What the hell was going on with me?

Then one Saturday afternoon I was puttering around my house, and this little ditty from Girl Scouts nearly 40 years ago popped into my head:

Make new friends, and keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.

BTW  – how weird is it when a song from Girl Scouts from 40 years ago pops into your head for no reason? Pretty weird.

With that little song playing in my head, I realized why I was angry. Dammit. It was so simple. So simple. It was about loss. I was losing my friend. I was losing Brian. Yeah, I know I was getting a new friend – BUT I DON’T WAAAAAAAAANT A NEW FRIEND.  I wanted my old friend! I wanted Brian!  I trusted him. I felt safe and comfortable with him. And now he was almost gone. He disappeared a little more every day. And there was this woman in his place who was a stranger to me – and yet she knew all of my secrets. That’s not fair!! She wasn’t just him in a dress. She was a totally different person.  She said things that I’d never heard him say, and she was just NOT BRIAN. I didn’t like this stranger knowing my secrets. I just didn’t like her.

At the same time, Kaitlyn Jenner was honored on the Espy’s, and anyone who was confused, or didn’t understand, or even gently intimated anything other than complete celebration of her courage was labeled a bigot, a homophobe, a narrow minded Neanderthal, or just a hater. Please don’t misunderstand me – I know there is no shortage of true bigots, homophobes, narrow minded Neanderthals and haters. But someone struggling to accept a huge change is not the same thing. I wanted to scream at the television “No one is telling the whole story!!! I bet somebody somewhere misses Bruce!!!!!” But no one was telling that story. I wasn’t hearing the stories of devoted friends and family who unconditionally loved the transgender person, and yet grieved the loss of the person’s birth identity. Where were those stories? Why weren’t those stories being told? Why did it feel so wrong to simply have feelings that needed to be acknowledged and worked through? Why did I feel so ashamed of my feelings? Why was I so afraid to speak up?

So I did the only thing that made sense to me  – because Brian was really important to me. I reached out to him to talk about what was going on in my heart. We’re friends; that’s what we do.  We talk things through. Talking to him about my struggle with this loss was so healing for our friendship. Talking to him helped him to understand that I love him so much, and that I want to be a part of his life. And talking to him helped me to let go of him, and to begin to embrace Penny.

Let me tell you about my friend Penny. She’s happy. She is one of the happiest women I know. She is funny as hell. She’s got amazing taste. She’s a whiz with liquid eyeliner. She is an incredibly talented producer/director. She celebrates the little things in life like no one I’ve ever known. She’s kind and loving and caring and inclusive. A couple of weeks ago Penny took a big leap. She told her employer she was transgender. She started dressing like herself for work. She got a new work ID with her new name and picture on it. She’s living her life. I’ve never seen that face shine more brightly. She looks so joyous and so relaxed. As scary and as hard as it all must be every day, and she still looks happier than I’ve ever seen her look. She’s amazing.

I’m not ashamed of myself anymore for the time it took me to come to terms with this change. I’m just not. I needed some time to mourn the loss of my old friend. I needed time to process through my feelings. I’m not going to be ashamed of myself for having feelings and dealing with them. And I won’t let anyone else shame me, either.

I found myself in a conversation recently with someone who told me that they hadn’t even considered mourning Brian because to live as someone you’re not for a lifetime would be hell, and they were so glad that she finally broke free. Hmmm…It felt like a shame storm was brewing on the horizon. I pointed out that it was reasonable to mourn the loss of my old friend Brian as I celebrated the birth of Penny. Then it started raining shame. They said they understood what I was saying, but they just didn’t think of it as a loss since all that was lost was the isolation and handcuffs of an incongruent gender. Wow. Now it was raining shame, and there were random condescending lightning strikes. Luckily I had my shame umbrella, and none of that toxic shit got on me.

Just because I experienced some sense of loss over my friend Brian being gone didn’t mean that I wanted him to stay miserable! How is it that people draw a line between those two points so easily? How is it that people who are crusading for acceptance and tolerance are sometimes so intolerant of anyone who doesn’t immediately get on board with their ideas? That just doesn’t feel right to me. Sometimes people just need a little time, a little love, a little compassion, and it never hurts to carry a shame umbrella. 

This is love.

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He’s twenty-one when he’s admitted to the hospice. He’s younger than my son. He’s our youngest resident ever by many, many years. The circumstances are heartbreaking; twenty-one, living in poverty without any family support system, less than three months to live. He needs us. I don’t doubt for a moment he’s in the right place with the right group of loving and nurturing volunteers to care for him. This is love.

One of our rooms is magically transformed into an NBA themed guy’s bedroom for him. That’s one of the things I love about hospice. Plenty of things like that just “magically” happen (usually it involves a group of committed volunteers who will move heaven and earth to fulfill a wish).  Hospice is about life. We’re giving this kid a home. This is love.

My first shift with him is working solo early Sunday morning. As she heads out the door, the overnight nurse tells me there are three kids sleeping in the guest room. “Three of his cousins visited last night and he didn’t want them to leave, so they stayed. They had a late night pizza delivery and stayed up playing video games. They’ll probably sleep in this morning.” Four boys savoring a normal night. This is love.

I quietly enter his room, carefully stepping over a pizza box, several soda cans and some candy wrappers. It looks a lot like the carnage after one of my son’s sleepover parties so many years ago. He’s sleeping under his cool new NBA blanket. A quick check of his tubes and wires, a soft whisper “Hi, I’m Rena – its okay – I’m just checking in on you – go back to sleep”, and I’m sure he’s okay. Good God – he looks so young, so innocent. The neck tattoos against his dark skin seem out of place on this child. I want to kiss his forehead. I want him to feel loved. I want to cry. But I don’t. I smile and pull the door shut. This is love.

I peek into the guest room where what can only be described as a “pile of boys” is sound asleep. That sight wrecks me. It drives home that this is just a kid. These are kids. Now I really want to cry. I tiptoe to the kitchen, lay my head on the counter and very quietly sob. I just need to get it OUT of me. This is just a kid. Those boys in the guest room are just kids. How the F#*% does this happen??? I stop crying. Yes, he is a kid. Yes, the boys in the guest room are kids. I have a choice at this point. I can stand there and cry about it, or I can thank God that I know how to make breakfast for a small crowd of boys -– and I can get on with the morning. I choose “thank God and make breakfast”. This is love.

They all start to stir at about eight o’clock. I make a big breakfast and carry it into his room. The five of us get to know each other a little better over a meal. He looks a lot different awake. He looks like someone who I’d probably avoid on the street. It’s not about the color of his skin. It’s definitely about the street tattoos. I guess the look can best be described as “gang banger”. He’s had an unbelievably difficult life; he’s never really had a stable home, he’s been shuttled from place to place most of his life, the only consistency is poverty. It makes sense to me that he’s developed a tough exterior. Even so, I speak to him the way I speak to my son – like the loving mother of a young adult. It’s so natural for me – and so unnatural for him. He can’t understand why I’m being so nice to him. Life is just a motherf#*%er for some people. It’s so damn unfair. The kid has no idea what it is to have a mom who takes care of his needs. I know we can make a difference in his life. This is love.

The next weeks are filled with life and life lessons for all of us. Volunteers and our amazing director coordinate a trip to the movies with his cousins and siblings, a trip to an amusement park, visits to his old neighborhood, a 4th of July picnic on a beautiful lake, and we give him something he’s never had before – a birthday party. The house rocks with a real birthday party with food, decorations, music, cake and lots of family and friends. His twenty-second birthday is an epic celebration. This is love.

We provide the structure this young life needs to be able to live his last weeks on his terms – connecting with his family and his community. These weeks are so filled with LOVE. It’s amazing. He quickly comes to understand that we love him simply because he is him. He doesn’t need to do anything special or be anyone different. We love him because he is him. This is love.

The volunteers who provide his day to day care are some of the most spectacularly loving human beings I’ve ever met. The love we show him overflows onto each other more than ever during these weeks. We support each other with extra hugs and extra words of encouragement. Caring for this young man is a blessing, and it’s really, really hard. He is so young, his life has been so difficult, and his family circumstances are sometimes so complicated. We’re navigating difficult waters, made even more difficult by cultural differences born of generational poverty and despair. It’s both heartbreaking and so full of gifts. It’s hearts breaking OPEN. This is love.

Somehow nearly everyone who is in any way touched by his story is moved to do something to help. I call my mom from the house with a special request for his dinner – and the ingredients “magically” appear within an hour. A dear friend cheerfully answers the call to help out with some of the younger kids who are visiting, and shows up with books, crayons, games and endless patience. I duck out the back door at work saying “I’m gonna run over and say hi to my guy, I’ll be right back” and my boss’s supportive reply is “do what you have to do” every time. It seems like everyone in my life is praying for this kid, for the house, and for the volunteers. This is love.

His journey comes to an end in August. He dies surrounded by some of the women who love him most fiercely through this journey. I’m in my car on my way there. We are all exactly where God means for us to be, every step of the way. This is love.

#BeingRena

on encouragement…

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I’ve been thinking about encouragement a lot over the past few months. That little voice whispering “you can do this” has always been so important to me.  Sometimes I’ve heard it from someone else, and sometimes I’ve whispered it to myself.  Maybe encouragement is one of my love languages?

A simple “You got this” or “I believe in you” or “I knew you could do it” can make all the difference in the world to someone. Encouragement is so healing and restoring. One kind and honest word can mean everything to another person. How awesome is it that encouragement is free and readily available for us to give to each other????

So………um……..then…..why don’t we?

Why don’t we encourage each other more? Is it really that hard to be a healer and a restorer? Is it really that hard to offer an uplifting word to friends and even to strangers?

Why will people shout criticism and condemnation from the rooftops, but won’t put that same effort into encouraging each other? I don’t get it.

Not long ago I heard someone say that God doesn’t have a voice on earth, He has us.

BOOM! Mind blown.

That’s it. He’s counting on US to be the voice of love and blessing to each other.  I love this! It’s not just about family and friends – it’s about co-workers, the mailman, the guy who stands at the 490 exit at Goodman Street holding a sign that says please help; it’s about the cashier at Wegman’s, the guy behind the counter at 7-11 where I get my coffee every morning, the lady at the bank, and it’s about so much more. It’s about everyone.

It’s about love. Encouragement = love

BOOM! Mind blown again.

So, today, right now, whatever is going on in your life, I want you to know that I love you and I believe in you. You got this.

#beingrena #encourageeachother