Monday, December 16, 2013

What I've Learned From Tragic and Profound Loss

When Dude first died, I thought I'd be in relentless pain forever.  I couldn't imagine living again.  People told me time would not ever take away the pain, but would ease it.  That was hard to believe, but now a little over a year and a half later, I see what they meant.  Time does help.  Through doing my grief work I have learned some other things, too...

1.    God is there even when He seems absent.  Wrestle with Him.  He can take it and you will learn more about yourself and your faith from doing so.

2.    You cannot help yourself alone.  Ask for and accept help provided to you.  Some people will be there for you; some will walk away from you.  Both are okay.

3.    It is okay, and sometimes necessary, to say no

4.    Joy without guilt will eventually creep back into your life.  By moving forward, you are honoring your loved one, not forgetting about them.

5.    Deep grief makes you more thankful – for the little things, for every day, for what you still have

6.    People will encourage you to be happy.  That's mostly because they are uncomfortable with you being sad.  Feel however you need to feel whenever you need to feel it.  Experiencing a wide range of emotions is an important part of the "process".

7. A grieving process?!  That's baloney!

8.    Follow your dreams! Life is too short to wait for a better day.  A better day may not come, so just do it now.

“Grief goes with you every day, whatever you’re doing, when there’s great moments, when there’s hard moments…[but]There’s an empowerment that comes with grief.  At some point, you find it.  It’s very hard, but you will find it.  I think at a certain point you can choose to sort of fall from this or you can choose to rise.  And that’s what I am just trying to do…I know that’s what he would have wanted, to just do my best and hopefully make something positive from where I go in the rest of my life.”
– Lea Michelle (couldn’t have said it better) 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Zero to 60 in....2 years?

The months, if not the year, before Dude’s death were troublesome.  He was so sick and in and out of the hospital.  And he wanted all of it to be kept a secret.  I still feel bad that many of his close friends did not know what was going on, but I encouraged him over and over to share with them.  He refused, and I had to honor that for him. All of the effort put into making him feel like life was worth living ultimately ended in failure, but I hope that it kept him alive for a little while longer.  Towards the end, he took extremely good care of me despite his own pain.  I didn’t know what was about to happen, but he knew, and I am forever grateful to him for the love he showed me up until the last minute.        

April 4, 2012 – the day I was officially notified of Dude’s death is also the day I hit rock bottom.  Intuitively, I knew he was dead on April 3rd, but my fears weren’t confirmed until the next day.  When I hit rock bottom, I hit it HARD.  I felt like I had just been in ripped in two, like my heart looked like the Grand Canyon, and someone took what was left and was just simultaneously and repeatedly stabbing me with swords and punching me.  My prayers alternated between “Please God. Just keep my heart beating” to “Forget it.  I can’t live like this.  I would rather be with him.  I won’t take my own life, but heaven is where I want to be.  Make it happen. ”  My faith, my family and friends, and some grief counseling carried me, but I was in bad, bad shape.  My world as I’d known it was blown wide open.  Forever changed.  I had to start all over.

Law school has always been in the back of my mind.  My parents encouraged me to attend law school immediately after undergrad. I told them that I was not ready for that. It is a HUGE commitment and I feel you need a good reason to go to law school.  At the time, “my parents think I’d be a good attorney” did not qualify as a good reason, so I said no, and ventured into the workforce.  Dude and I discussed the possibility of my returning to school and a move to London seemed much more appealing.  This relocation never (or hasn’t yet) happened.  As I continue to advance in my career, law school kept popping up and seemed to make more and more sense.  After Dude’s death, the grief counselors encouraged me to get a goal to push me forward into this “new life”.  I told them I wanted to go to law school.  Without missing a beat, they said, “go for it!” So I did.

I told my friends and family of my plan and got some crazy looks.  Some questioned my ability to take on such a huge commitment of studying for the LSAT during a time of such deep grief.  A few encouraged me to go find a husband and have some children instead.  Some thought one masters was enough.  Many didn’t say anything discouraging, but I think they were thinking this was a crisis move.  I tossed around the idea with my bosses and other colleagues to ensure I wasn’t just overreacting to trauma.  The response was overwhelmingly positive, so I continued.

And then I ran into speed bumps…but God being as awesome as He is, gave me a mentor.  And not just any mentor, but one who is ridiculously respected in the legal community across the US.  And then I applied to law school and had nothing but a pile of rejection letters. My mentor believed in me when no one else did and backed me 100% when I told her I was not giving up.

I sued LSAC (the testing board) for violating the American Disabilities Act.  We settled three days before the October exam.  I was sick at the time, but was not going to miss an opportunity that I’d worked so hard for, and I took the exam. My score was much improved, which meant I’d reapply. 

I submitted my applications and said a prayer.  Within 4 days, I received my first admission decision.  It was an ACCEPTANCE to American University Washington College of Law.  At first, I thought it was just a second email acknowledging they’d received my application.  I was annoyed because they’d already notified me that they had my package and earlier that day declined to meet with me.  I opened it up and the first word I see is “CONGRATULATIONS!!” Not used to seeing those words, I keep re-reading it.  They just got my application on Monday and it was Friday.  It had to be a joke.  It had to be a mistake.  But it wasn’t.  I now have the paper letter and a magnet to prove it. It was God’s confirmation that despite all of the tragedy and trouble and crazy looks that have come my way over the last 1.5 -2 years, He has a plan for me.  Dude has left, but I have work left to do on earth.      
A firm believer in needing a reason to go to law school, I now have two interests – government procurement law and disability rights law.  I feel strongly about doing disability rights law pro bono because I can’t bear to have others pay the amount I did to simply get the accommodations they need and are lawfully entitled to have.  In addition to my new interests, I also gained the most amazing mentor who is overwhelmed with joy at the news of my acceptance. Best of all, this man,

the “Most Outstanding Student” of UR Law Class of 2007 watches over me.  

It’s been a slow climb up from rock bottom.  I am still working on it.  Law school brings with it loads of work, but a hope for the future – a new life.  I get sad that Dude is not physically here to be with me on this new adventure, but as two of his friends told me when I shared the news, “Mike knows.  He is very proud and is smiling down on you”  Yes, yes he is. And life is getting much better.

“If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.”
- Psalm 34:18, The Message
         "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you - plans to give you hope and a future"  - Jeremiah 29:11

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I am one of ten classmates on our tenth reunion committee and we are making calls and emailing our classmates to encourage attendance at Reunion and to ask them to make a donation in honor of our 4 years spent together at 28 Westhampton Way. I should be a pro at fundraising and encouraging attendance at reunion because I have been raising funds for Mike's scholarship since May and am proudest Spider you will ever meet, so without a doubt, I'll be back on campus and would love to see all of my classmates as well.

If I'm really honest, I went back for our 5 year reunion and didn't have the best time.  The University has completely revamped the way reunions are run, and I mean I know I am on the committee, but y'all, it is going to be FANTASTIC!  If you are a UR'04 Spider, you should be super excited to come!

As I set down the phone, I got to thinking about what it means to honor.  To me, it means a couple of things.
  • You are acknowledging what your time on campus meant to you.  Maybe you met your spouse, forged indelible friendships, acquired the skills and knowledge that have contributed to your success today or just had some epic parties at The Row (I hope The Row is not all UR meant to you, but whatever it takes!)
  • A donation, no matter the size, is a way to ensure future Spiders are able to have those same experiences that were so memorable to you.  Or, dare I say, your gift could be allowing them to have an even better experience.  Either way, past, present and future Spiders all share a common experience and that wouldn't be possible without the help of those that have gone before us. 
One of the reasons I wanted to establish the scholarship fund for Mike was to honor his life and the incredible impact he had on our campus.  He would want to help future Spiders share in the academic and extracurricular experiences and friendships he held so dear. With your help, we can do our part to impact the next generation of Spiders for years to come.  Right now, legally I am not allowed to give a lot of specific details about the scholarship, but I will say that it will not be a one-and-done type deal.  While the fundraising campaign will end on May 8, 2014, the funds will be given for years to come.  It will impact more than just one Spider.

So, as you think back on your time on campus, as you think back to your friendships/classmates that/who may have contributed to those fond memories, consider giving to University of Richmond and specifically, the Mike Clements Memorial Fund. Your donation will get you a ticket to the party in the Greek Theatre on May 30 (if you are Class of 2004). And you should know, the University makes me aware of your generosity, but does not divulge the amount of your contribution.  As far as I am concerned, every dollar counts and I am just so thankful you would be a part of something so special.

If you'd like to help, go to, select "Other" and type in Mike Clements Memorial Fund.  All of the donations are tax deductible. If you've already donated, THANK YOU doesn't seem like an adequate expression of my gratitude.  We currently have a little over $15,000 thanks to you. 

Honor your time.  Honor your classmate/friend, Mike.  And, of course, GO SPIDERS!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

The First Time

Yesterday was a difficult day.  My parents and I drove up to Washington, PA to attend Jim’s (Dude’s dad) funeral.  Jim passed away on Saturday, November 9, after a long but well fought battle with Alzheimer’s.  I remember the day I learned that Jim had Alzheimer’s.  I remember exactly where I was (and what Dude was wearing – strange).  He and I decided that we would go check out this new cupcake place that had just opened up by me.  We had just had a fun night with our friends in DC, but as we sat across from each other munching on our cupcakes, his face got long and the conversation turned very serious.  The fun that we’d just experienced was miles away.

“My dad has Alzheimer’s.  We have to close the practice. “
“What?!  Your dad is 55.  What the heck does that even mean?!”
“I don’t know, Jess, but it’s bad.  It’s going to be bad.”
In that moment, neither of us understood the impact Jim’s illness would have on the family, and on Dude, in particular. In the succeeding years as Jim’s illness progressed, I was excited when Jim still remembered who I was and was touched by the fact that Dude visited his dad in the nursing home as often as possible, lighting up as he would tell me about the moments he shared with him each time.  We both understood the importance of constant contact with Jim and I’d encourage Dude that, no matter the circumstances, that contact was essential.  He agreed.  The last email Dude ever sent to me contained a photo of his dad at Falling Water, an outing the two of them shared just shortly before Dude died.  I remember the excitement in Dude’s voice as he recalled the fun they had visiting that landmark and then he exclaimed, “I’ll email the picture I took!”  He was close to his dad.  And, as Jim’s illness claimed more and more of his mind -- but not his spirit, sense of humor or faith – Dude struggled, too.

I always knew I would attend Jim’s funeral.  I had never imagined attending it without Dude.

As I drove up yesterday, I anticipated things.  I looked forward to seeing all of the family.  I didn’t think the funeral would be as hard on me, but it was incredibly difficult.  Not only was it the first time I was attending a family function without Dude, Dude and his dad were so much alike that as I listened to the eulogies, I felt like they were talking about Dude.  Technically, Dude’s funeral was the first family function without Dude, but I was in such shock, I didn’t remember my name and can’t really recall one detail of that whole day.  This time, I was alert and it was painful.  Really painful.  I cried for his mom and brothers.  I cried because I always thought Jim would make the best grandfather and he didn’t get that opportunity.  I cried looking at photos of Dude when he was little and remembered the stories Jim would share.  I cried because as much as Jim was not my father, he was a part of my life for 12 years, I traveled this long road with Dude and now it was over.  I cried because the two of them were reunited in heaven.

 Dude’s family has always been welcoming to me, but they’ve been even more loving and supportive in the wake of his death.  It was wonderful to spend time with all of those with whom I was familiar and to meet a few I hadn’t met.  This time I ate my whole lunch – at Dude’s funeral, I didn’t touch it – and the reception was full of love and laughter and

Then it got hard again.  Ava asked if I wanted to go see Dude.  Of course I did!  I tell her at least once a month that I need to come up and see him.  Yesterday was the day.  The first time I would get to see Dude’s grave. I expected pain that would split me in two to creep into my heart.  I even asked if I needed to stop on the way to get a bottle of wine and a bucket of Sarris chocolate to make it through this experience.

As we drove up to the cemetery, we passed his high school.  At Trinity High School, they are named the “Hillers” because their school sits on a hill.  And, Dude was King of the Hill – class president, prom king, you name it.  Just past his school, we approached these beautiful gardens that held tombstone after tombstone.  We found the undertaker’s house and went in to find out exactly where Dude was.  He highlighted a map and off we went.  The mausoleums were right by a lake – just a beautiful spot.  As we were getting out of the car, we looked up, and this graceful deer ran right in front of us.  I reached for my phone to take a photo and the deer was gone.  The sun shone down, and despite what the thermometer said, it did not feel cold.

I walked up to the first mausoleum and opened the door.  There were walls of marble slots with names and birth and death dates.  My parents and I looked and looked and didn’t see Dude.  This was the one the undertaker said he was in, but we couldn’t find him.  We went inside the little room contained within the big building and looked.  No Dude.  We went in the building next door.  Again, we searched and searched to no avail.  There were a bunch of chairs in the middle of the room, so I sat down and pivoted to try to get a better look.  Frustrated, I called Ava, but she didn’t answer.  Back to the other building we went to look again.  This time in the little room, we find a note someone left and family photos of him and a candle with his name, but where on earth were his ashes?!  Now, I am getting really mad and Dad offers to go back to the undertaker’s house to ask again.  He does, and comes back and says Dude is up high.  We look and look.  No Dude.  At this point, I sink into the chair tucked in the corner leaning up against what look to be empty graves because there are no names on them. I yell “Dude, where ARE you?” and just relax my hand on one of them and continue to look.  About 30 seconds later, the door opens.  It is the undertaker.  He runs in saying that he had totally forgotten that he just moved Dude into a bigger grave last night and has yet to put his name back on the grave because he is about to put his dad in and will put both names on at the same time. 

“Where is he? I asked. 
“Right where your hand is”, said the undertaker.    
 It was a very difficult, but very special day. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Make that dash count!

I was once told that the dates on your tombstone are exactly that.  Two days.  It's the dash that counts.  The dash is when you were really living.  Lately, I've been reminded to make the best of that dash. After I returned home from London, I went to the DVR to catch up on the Cory Monteith/Finn tribute episode of "Glee".  It's a good thing I watched it alone because I pretty much sobbed through the entire episode.  From start to finish, tears didn't just stream down my face.  It was an all out ugly cry.  I kept watching even though at every turn, I was reminded of Dude's death.  I was brought back to those early days.  To the days when nobody hid their tears, and many spent hours trying to comfort me, his mom and brothers, and all of us most affected by the tragedy.  I don't remember much about the episode, but something "Kurt" said hit me hard.  I will paraphrase because I don't remember it exactly. 
"People want to know how Finn died.  I don't care how he died.  That's not what matters.  That was one day in his entire life.  I care about how he lived."

The quote struck me.  In the early days and months after Dude's death, I met with many of his friends.  Some were my friends too, and some I'd not met before or would only consider an acquaintance. All of them wanted to know one thing.  What happened.  How did a man full of such life and energy give up on what he would have once deemed a great adventure?! I understood why everyone asked this question yet I didn't want to answer it.  I was in the trenches for all of the ups and downs, so of course, I could have provided an answer.  Do I truly know the real answer?  Probably not, but I know enough to provide something that would suffice.  Yet I'd always redirect the question.  I'd shy away from answering not only because I wanted to protect Dude, but because to answer the question would be to tell them of a man they did not know.  See, Dude was not Dude when he died.  As one of his brothers said, "he got lost and forgot who he was."  I could recall those last few months.  I could discuss the transformation I saw in him.  The hopes.  The fears.  The good. The bad. The ugly.  But, it would not be an accurate description of the man they knew.  The man who had touched their lives.  So, in response to the question of "What happened?", I'd politely say focus on the man you called your friend.  Focus on what you loved most about him and how he made you feel.  Focus on what he did that touched you.  Focus on the lessons you learned from him.  Focus on how he lived.  Not how he died.  It is in this way that Dude's spirit is kept alive in our hearts.  It is in this way that we carry the best of him with us and "introduce" him to those who sadly did not have the opportunity to meet him.  I'm sure most of the people I met with may not have been satisfied with that answer.  They felt that knowing the details of his illness, his downward spiral that ultimately lead to this death would help them heal.  Maybe I did them a disservice by not going into all of the tragic details.  If so, I'm sorry.  But, his death was one day.  The last thing I want is for people to remember him for how he died.  Very few people want to be remembered for how they died.  It's how you live that matters.  It's the dash that counts!

Tonight, I was once again reminded to make life count.  University of Richmond, where I went to college, is a small school and everyone knows everyone.  Andrew Holter was a couple years younger than I, but he was an opinion editor of The Collegian, our newspaper, and I remember him and his columns well.  They were always funny yet thought-provoking.  Even when Andrew was studying abroad, he took the time to write his columns. Perhaps the most thought provoking thing Andrew wrote came shortly before his accidental death -- he drowned while visiting some friends in Italy. Before his death, Andrew (unknowingly)  wrote,  
"In life, the gains come on slowly, and the losses happen in an instant. Life is tragic. If you're reading this, that means you're alive. Do something with it. You don't want to die without any scars, do you? "

It's the dash that counts!  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dear Dude: 18 Months Later

Dear Dude,

It is hard to believe that it has been 18 months since you left this earth.  It is a struggle to believe that you are gone at all.  There are still days that it just seems like a horrible nightmare and I'll wake up from it all.  Still nights when I have to listen to your voicemail to fall asleep because I was so used to talking to you before I went to bed.  There are days when I just want to gchat you or call or wait for you to call and say, "Hurry up and get ready.  I'm coming!" 

I imagine it will always be like this to some degree. 

There are days when it seems like you've been gone for so long.  Days when I burst out laughing remembering something you said or did sometime.  Days when the pain is not so sharp; when the longing is not so desperate.  There are days when I feel like I am starting to adjust to all of this.  There are times when I "hear" you say, " I am here. I did not and will not leave you."  There are conversations that begin with "If Mike was here.....or Dude would totally dig that!"

I imagine it will always be like this to some degree, too. 

 So much is different yet so much is the same.  My/our friends continue to surround and support me unconditionally.  Memories of you come flooding in from others in the form of a story, old photos, a donation to your scholarship, or even just saying your name.  I love that they share these things with me.  And, DUDE!  Your scholarship!!  It's hard work, but you totally deserve it.  Everyone has been generous -- my family and friends who have never met you, people you touched on campus or people you knew in other ways.  Please echo my prayer to Jesus that that fund will soar and we will reach our goal by May 8th.  You deserve the best of the best, Dude, and I'll do everything I can to make that happen for you. 

You may be gone, but you are not forgotten.  Ever.  And you are so very loved.

I know it will always be that way.

Love, me

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Prayer for Relief

I've been rather absent from my blog for the last couple months.  That's mostly because I have been trying to stay away from the computer and enjoy the sunshine, time with family and friends, the pool, everything summer has to offer.  I've been trying to look at the lighter side of life even though I feel like life is heavy.

If you didn't know, I am currently in a law suit with LSAC.  That's all I'll say about that because my attorney would probably scold me for discussing the details.  I received the formal complaint that was filed in court the other day and began to read through it.  I got to one point and burst out laughing.  The section where my specific requests are listed is called "Prayer for Relief".

Prayer for Relief, I thought.  Yeah, that sounds about right.  I am in need of a prayer for relief.  

I don't like to whine, but I've had a heavy load lately  Just when I think I'm ahead, I get knocked back a little bit.  I'm not sure why I've had to experience any of the pain of the last year and a half.  Maybe one day I will know.  I might never know.  I have to be OK with it either way.  And, I am thankful for the little ways God shows me that despite all of this, He is still there...

I'm burning the candle at both ends these days.  Dealing with LSAC is a struggle, but if a blind student didn't get accommodations for the LSAT, why should I?!?!?!  Fundraising for Mike's scholarship is hard work.  It's rewarding and he deserves it.  But, it's hard work -- and at times, it just knocks me for a loop.  I can't believe I have a reason to actually do this.  But he deserves it, so I press on.  The weight of grief is not as heavy as it used to be, but it's there.  Moving forward from such a tragedy takes work, too.

God and I need to talk. Two things Dude's family and I have said even since his death are:  God is good - all.the.time & happiness is just around the corner.  I see glimpses, but.... 

 I need a prayer for relief in more than just the legal sense.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Goodness in Grief

Last week marked 15 months since Dude left the world.  Not a day goes by that I do not think about him, what happened, and how this has changed my life – and all of the lives of those who loved him – forever. I/we are different now.  One devastatingly tragic moment resulted in gradual change. 

It used to be that the physical and emotional pain was palpable and constant.  It wouldn’t let up. I thought it would never end.  I literally thought I would die.  I wanted to die.  I would never take my own life, but I didn’t think I’d have to do that.  In my mind, there was no possible way I could survive such a tragedy. The expression “Good grief!” would come to mind and all I could think was there is NOTHING good about grief! (I know that’s not what that expression intends but that’s what I would think.)  

 Now, it is not as bad.  There are certainly horrendous things about grief, especially deep grief.  There are more awful consequences in dealing with the death as a suicide.  It is incomprehensible that Dude would deliberately and intentionally chose to leave the world forever.  He definitely wanted to die, and that is just heartbreaking and tragic and all things horrible.  I’d be fooling myself if I said one day it would make sense.  It won’t, at least not on earth.  I’d be deceiving myself if I said the pain and the emptiness will go away.  It will always be present to some degree.  You can’t just “get over” or recover from the loss of someone you loved so deeply.  He will never meet my husband or my children.  That makes me sad.  But he wants me to be happy.  He wants me to move forward.  Amidst the pain, there is some goodness in grief.

Grief is an excellent teacher.  From the start of this journey, I’ve been advised to live one day at a time.  That is so hard for me.  I am impatient.  I was born 13.5 weeks early.  I like to GO!  But this attitude means I miss things.  It means I rush.  I don’t fully appreciate what is in front of me.  In grief, it is impossible to speed through life.  You.Just.Can’t.  Some days, especially early on, it seems like a huge accomplishment to get dressed. I’ve had to slow down.  I’ve had to spend time with myself. I’ve had to think about what is really important in life.  Who is really important in life.  I’ve learned who I can depend on and who I should probably let go. Those are important lessons.

You gain a new perspective on life.  I know life can change in an instant.  I realize the people who are important are really important.  I want to spend time with them, celebrate them, love them, appreciate them because even in the best of times, they could be gone so quickly.  I don’t take the days or people in my life for granted as much as I used to before this.  The simple things in life have much greater meaning – the beauty of the sunset, the warmth of a sunny day, the gentle breeze that blows through my hair, the snuggles from our dogs are taken in with much deeper gratitude.

There are days that are still hard.  Days when I look around and think I can’t believe this happened!!  I can’t believe he is gone.  He is not gone.  Oh, but he is gone.  There are days when his friends and family and I cry together.  Days when a slight smile is all I can muster.  Days when we nearly bust a gut laughing at a memory Dude left with us.  Days when a big ‘ole grin is plastered on my face after learning that someone else donated to his scholarship.  Someone else remembered him. That is comforting.  This is the “new normal” now. 

I wish that I could have learned these lessons another way.  I wish it wasn’t at the expense of losing Dude. But just as his smile, love and the memories we shared will remain in my heart, so too, will what I have learned from this horrific experience.  I guess there is some goodness in grief.

I love you, Dude, and I miss you every day.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dumping Diet Coke

Diet Coke and I had a serious relationship for many years.  I don't know how long, but it was a long time.  I loved that silver and red can.  I loved listening to the crack as I pulled back the tab to reveal the liquid goodness.  I loved the bubbles.  The taste.  The fact that I could enjoy that beverage without consuming any calories.  Zero.  It was glorious.

I could sometimes consume two (or three...) a day and not even feel one tinge of guilt....until my mother would witness me consume this beverage.  I must have had a bit of an addiction because I would often make a point not to drink Diet Coke when she was around me.  I'd keep it at my condo or drink it out with friends, but not in my mom's presence.  As I type this, I am thinking that I sound like an alcoholic, but I really was a Diet Coke-aholic.  I would wake up and have one first thing in the morning.  I claimed it was because I wanted the caffeine.  Some people drink coffee.  I drank Diet Coke.  I think the real reason was because I just really enjoyed the taste and needed my "fix" to start the day off right.

My family and I were on vacation in Aruba in April.  We ate every meal together.  Every meal I would get a Diet Coke.  We were at an all inclusive, which means you can have whatever you want food and drink wise whenever you want.  It is a fantastic concept except for the fact that you can gain a lot of weight if you're not careful!  To balance out my ridiculous calorie consumption, I drank Diet Coke.  But remember my mom was with me.  And she loves to get on me about drinking Diet Coke.

"Don't you know that that stuff is known to cause brain tumors?"
"Do you want to die early?"
"They say drinking diet soda makes you actually gain weight."
"No soda is healthy for you, but diet soda is really bad.
"There's something in that soda that makes you hungry" -- My friend from grad school and I used to try to test the "Diet Coke makes you hungrier theory" and sadly, our experiment produced positive results.

Anyway, I had to listen to this every day for a week.  My mom is an elementary school teacher.  That means she will say the same thing three or four different ways if you don't give her the response she wants!  It's annoying.  I got tired of it.  So, on the airplane ride home, I told her I would quit drinking Diet Coke!

I didn't intend to actually do it.  I intended to try to do it.

My boss used to drink at least 4 Diet Cokes a day.  I used to know she was in her office in the morning before I even saw her because I would hear the crack of that silver, red, and black can.  All of the sudden, when I returned from Aruba, I no longer heard the crack.  I asked her if she was still drinking Diet Coke.  Her response was "No, I heard something about how it can make you store fat.  I don't need any help storing fat, so I quit."

"It's only been two days, but I am trying to quit, too.  After what you just told me, true or not, I think I am going to try harder", I said.

Then I started to feel much better.  I hated to admit that I was feeling good thanks to no Diet Coke.  I wasn't as hungry.  And, as time went on, I didn't really miss it.  I was shocked at myself!!

This weekend, I went to the movies and split a drink with a friend.  She got a Diet Coke.  I took one sip and regretted the decision.  I was hoping to embrace the soda like a long lost friend.  But, I didn't want anything to do with it.  It tasted like a science experiment!!

It's been 90 days since I've cracked open a can of Diet Coke.  I quit cold turkey and don't miss it at all. We're done.  Forever.  And, I am not sad.  I feel better than ever.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Day 30: What I Love About Life Right Now

Whew!  We made it through the challenge.  I, unfortunately, did skip 3 days which was unintentional, but this is the most I've blogged consistently and I enjoyed it.  Thanks Katie for setting up everything - especially the link up.

Okay, on to the question.  Well, if you've been following this blog for awhile you probably know that I am not loving life right now.  Dude's death has been the most life altering and tragic event of my entire life.  Getting into law school (Not in yet.  I'll know in August) has been an unnecessary struggle that has brought out determination, persistence, and perseverance in me that I never knew I had.  My parents' health issues have forced me to take control of emergency situations and remain calm and stable.  All of these unfortunate situations have brought out a different part of me.  More strength.  More resilience.  More confidence.  More determination.  More boldness.  More persistence and perseverance.  More love.  More gratitude.  More prayer.  More support from my friends and my family -- even from my prospective law schools.

Life is not the brightest these days.  It's not all that smooth.  But... I am learning about myself.  I am pushing myself beyond my limits.  I am leaning on God.  I am determined not to give up on anything.  And all of those are good things.  Do I love that all of these scary and tragic situations have brought me to this place?  Nope.  But, I am making the most of them and becoming a better me.  That's something to love. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day 29: My Favorite Performance or Show

First of all, I apologize for skipping yesterday. We had terrible thunderstorms in DC and the power was knocked out until about an hour ago.  It turns out our neighborhood power outage was caused by a tree in my parents' front yard.  Ooops!  It's technically not our fault because the city is expected to maintain this tree, but anyway, we are real popular in the neighborhood right now.  Not!

Anyway, so my picking my favorite show or performance is very difficult.  I think the first concert I went to was Celine Dion in seventh grade.  But my parents also tell stories of taking me to see orchestras and my pretending to be the conductor throughout the performance.  I have always loved music from a very early age.

As a gift to my parents (and myself) I get them a subscription to the Kennedy Center, our main performing arts center in DC.  This means we get to see about 6 or 7 shows a year.  Just last week in fact, we went to see "Anything Goes".  It was really fantastic, but not my favorite show.  I think my favorite show might be "Memphis".  "Memphis" is based on the story of this white DJ, Dewey, who was one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s.  I grew up loving Motown and am the daughter of a white mother and black father, so that might be one reason why I love this show.  It did win a Tony for Best Musical in 2010, so obviously, I am not the only one who enjoys this show.  I have seen it on Broadway as well as in DC and I'd see it again.

If you get the opportunity, check this out.  You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Day 27: My Pets

Sorry to post so late.  I am sick and have a headache the size of Texas.  Being sick in the summer is really no fun, but I am at my parents' house.  That means our dogs are the best nurses. 

We have two dogs: a four year old Westie named Zoe and a 2 year old Wired Fox Terrier named Phoebe.  Zoe has shown me that I am going to be an overprotective mother.  I found Zoe online and had to do all of this research to make sure she was from a legitimate breeder and not a puppy mill.  I don't think I've ever done so much research in my life.  I felt like I was playing detective trying to find out all of the facts.  It turns out she was legit, so I made plans to bring her to DC from Kansas.  That was quite a trip in itself!

In order to bring Zoe to the East Coast, I had to purchase a ticket in Pet Class on Delta.  She had quite the trip.  She left her birth city and drove 3 hours to get to the airport.  Then she flew from Kansas City to Dallas.  Zoe had a two hour layover in Dallas (I was so nervous they'd forget to put her on the plane!), and then embarked on the last leg to DC.  When she got to DC, we met her in baggage claim.  One of the airline employees brought her out and she was perfect -- happy, healthy, and clean.  We weren't sure what to name her out of three names.  Upon presenting the names to the baggage handler, he said "She looks like a Zoe!"  He was right and that was her name.

Zoe is a beautiful dog with a laid back personality.  I think that's how she survived the plane ride so well.

Phoebe is a different story.  Phoebe originally lived across the street from my parents.  She was the "daughter" of a gay couple, Mike and Gerardo.  Mike flew to Chicago and back in one day to get Phoebe.  Mike and Gerardo worked everyday, so my mom would go and get Phoebe to play with Zoe during the day.  One day, they didn't call to come and get her and Phoebe stayed at our house for 5 days!!  Dad decided to walk her across the street (home) and told them that if they didn't have time to take care of her, we would take her!  They thought about it for a day or two and then she officially became ours.  This was huge news because my dad's motto was always "One wife.  One daughter.  One dog. " Now he has two dogs!  As far as I know, he doesn't have two wives or daughters. :)

Phoebe is wild and crazy and spunky.  She is the opposite of Zoe.  The drive each other crazy and are a joy to us.  We are so happy to have both of them as a part of our family.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 25: My Grief Playlist

Dealing with Dude's death has been hard -- unbearable, at times.  Music has helped a lot.  Oftentimes, songs have said the words that I can't even begin to speak. Here is a list of my favorites:
  • I Think Of You - Easton Corbin
  • Why - Rascal Flatts
  • One Sweet Day - Mariah Carey
  • Bye Bye - Mariah Carey
  • Never Forget You - Mariah Carey
  • I Look To You - Whitney Houston
  • I Will Always Love You - Whitney Houston
  • When I Look To The Sky - Train
  • Everything Falls Apart - Fee
  • Lovin' You Is Fun - Easton Corbin
  • The Hurt and the Healer - MercyMe
  • Save a Place for Me - Matthew West
  • Before the Morning - Josh Wilson
  • Over You - Miranda Lambert
  • Didn't We Almost Have It All - Whitney Houston
  • Long Way Home - Steven Curtis Chapman
  • My Heart Will Go On - Celine Dion (I used to hate this song. Not anymore.)
  • Bridge Over Troubled Waters - Various artists
  • See you Again - Carrie Underwood
  • Rainin' You - Brad Paisley
  • Can't Say Goodbye - Josh Gracin
Do you have any favorites?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 24: The Town I Live In

I'm not trying to brag, but I honestly feel so blessed to live in the town I live in.  I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia and still live here today.  Alexandria is about 15 minutes outside of Washington, DC.  I think it is one of the best places to raise a family.  Alexandria has a small town feel, but it is right outside of the Nation's capital with all of it's history, culture, political power and diversity.

Old Town Alexandria, where I live, is not without history of it's own.  It was founded in 1749 and was the home of George Washington and Robert E. Lee, Jim Morrison and Mama Cass.  Old Town is on the water and served as one of the ten busiest ports in America trading tobacco.  I learned this little fact when I googled interesting facts about Alexandria for this post.  But, my how times have changed, because now all of the restaurants in Alexandria are smoke free!  Thank goodness!

Old Town is full of restaurants and shops.  I can sometimes get in big trouble because I can walk to all of the stores I want to shop at.  There are a mix of boutiques and mainstream stores like Loft, Anthropologie, Francesca's, Banana Republic, and Gap.  We also have three ice cream shops and three cupcake places.  Let's just say I can come home a little heavier with a lighter wallet :) 

Being that Old Town is historic, the town is supposedly haunted.  We have two ghost tours that you can take while you are here.  Apparently, someone found a head in the alley right by my condo many years ago.  On Halloween, people go and look for the "ghost" of the head.  Weird.  Creepy.  I don't do it.  I've never seen anyone do it.  I don't want to know.

If ever in the DC area, you shop hop over the river to Old Town, Alexandria.  You'll have a great time.  Let me know you're here and I'll stop by to say hi!
I  need to take more photos of my town.  I don't have any really.  I tried to download off of the internet and it wasn't working.  But trust me, Old Town is beautiful.  DC is beautiful.  You should come visit!

Day 23: Videos I Love

I've realized one thing during this blog challenge.  I don't use the internet to its full capacity.  There's no way I can even think of naming a video I love on YouTube.  I don't use it.  At all really.  I'm missing out I'm sure.  I also wonder why I don't use it.  I'm a big pop culture fan, so you'd think it'd be right up my alley.  But, no.  I guess I'll learn from the other bloggers participating in this challenge.  I'll check out the videos they post.  But, man!  I'd better get with the program!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Day 22: Website I Enjoy or Care About

I am not a big internet surfer.  I check Facebook religiously.   I catch up on my favorite blogs on bloglovin'.  I don't have a website that I repeatedly go back to for a pick me up or something of substance.  Throughout the day, I'll check CNN, the weather, cruise travel websites for good deals on my next adventure.  But, I don't have any favorites.  I think it is because I have a love hate relationship with the internet.  I love that so much information is at my fingertips and that it is such an incredible communication device in itself.  What I hate is that it can be a time waster and  suck the life right out of you.  So, I don't have a favorite.  Is that lame?  I don't know, but I today I don't care.  It is beautiful outside, so I am going to step away from the computer and go sit at the pool. 

Enjoy the day!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Day 20: Nicknames

OK, I missed Day 19 "What I miss".  Apparently, I took that quite literally and just missed blogging the whole day!  HA! Sorry.

Today's prompt is nicknames.  Much to my mom's dismay, I have a ton of nicknames.  I think she is the only one who calls me Jessica.  More times than not, I will introduce myself as Jessica, but it never sticks these days.  You can almost tell when a person met me based on what they call me.  My pre-college friends usually refer to me as Jessica.  My friends from college and after call me Jess.

True story: A friend of mine from college called my parents land line when I was home on break.  Why they didn't call my cell phone, I don't know.  But, anyway.  They call my parents' house phone.  Mom picks up the phone.

"Hi, Is Jess there?"
"Hmmmm who?"
"Oh yeah, hold on"

My mom wasn't trying to be rude, Jess just doesn't compute in her mind.  She truly didn't know who Jess was!  She's not as bad now, but she says she can't call me Jess. She named me Jessica and that is what she will always call me.  She tries Jess and just gets tripped up and ends up adding the -ica at the end!

My dad most often calls me Jessica or JB.  He doesn't call me Jess either.  Can't do it.

One nickname I can't stand is Jessie.  I just do not like to be called Jessie.  I know plenty of Jessicas that embrace this nickname.  Not me.  No.  Never.

Other nicknames include Spark (my former boss and some of my colleagues call me this), Little B, Ethel (my best friend and I are both named Jessica, we loved "I Love Lucy" when we were young.  She is Lucy.  I am Ethel.), J-Bigs, Bigby, Blair, Crutchie, and I am sure there are a few more.

Bottom line: I rarely get called by my given name -- unless you are my mom!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day 18: The Professional Bridesmaid

I feel like a professional bridesmaid.  I have been a bridesmaid 10 times.  I consider this a compliment because the bride doesn't ask just anyone to be in her wedding.  She asks only those closest to her.  The number of colored dresses that hang in my closet are a testament to my ability to maintain friendships.  I actually "pride" myself on this.  My friends are as important to me as my family, so I put forth great effort in my friendships.  I am only child, so my friends truly are like my brothers and sisters.

I began my job as a bridesmaid at age 7.  I started out as flower girl, but the wedding took over a year to plan, so I was promoted from flower girl to junior bridesmaid.  I was only 7, but I can pretty much tell you every detail of this wedding, and to this day, it remains the best one I've ever attended.  I'm hoping my own wedding will dethrone it, but for now, hands down, the best!  I was a bridesmaid in my aunt's wedding when I was a tween, and then my career as a professional bridesmaid really took off in my 20s.  I've even been kicked out of a wedding!  That's a story for another day.

My duties as a professional bridesmaid have included selecting the engagement ring -- talk about nerve wracking, throwing the engagement party, the bridal shower, the bachelorette party, shielding the bride from drama between bridesmaids, supporting the bride when she asks one of her maids not to attend the wedding, calming the nerves of the bride, arguing with the wedding planner, holding up the dress so the bride could go to the bathroom, wiping away tears, signing the marriage license, spending hours cutting photos and stuffing them into photo coasters (never again!), putting together scrapbooks, decorating the rehearsal dinner space, wearing unattractive dresses, planning special surprises just for the bride, and all in all, doing whatever the bride wants.  The bride who kicked me out of her wedding would disagree with this statement, but I take my bridesmaid/maid of honor duties very seriously.  
I enjoy being a bridesmaid, but look forward to the day I am the one in the white dress!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Day 17: What I Am Looking Forward To

I am most looking forward to looking like this again.
I was this thin six years ago.  Then I went to Italy for 3 weeks and had more than one gelato a day.  Then I had two major surgeries with no weight bearing for eight weeks.  Then my best friend passed away and I turned to "grief eats" to get me through some of the toughest times.  And wine.  Wine would help me sleep when I couldn't even think about drifting into sweet dreams.  And then. And then. And then.  The excuses could go on and on, but excuses don't help you shed those pounds.

I only have 10 pounds to lose, but why does it always seem like it is so tough to lose the last 10 pounds?!  It doesn't help that I have a sweet tooth the size of Texas!!  
If only I could follow this advice, I'd be in great shape.  I am working on it, but if you have any tips, please share!  I can use all of the help I can get.  I'm going to work really hard to drop those 10 pounds and keep them off for good.  I look forward to feeling my best once again!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Day 16: Something I am OCD about

When people put something other than cups in car cup holders I go crazy.  I get so agitated over this.  Cup holders are for cups.  They are not for cell phones, spare keys, jewelry, sunglasses, gum, trash or anything else.  Cups and cups only. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Day 15: My Dream House

If I had to pick any house as my dream house, I would pick this one:
This is the house used in the movie Father of the Bride (my favorite) and I love the inside of it, assuming the inside of the house in the movie is, indeed, the inside of this house.  I also love the outside of it.  It just looks like a home to me.  One filled with warmth, love, and heartfelt memories.  If it is my dream home, though, there are a few things I would change.  To make it my dream home, I would
  • move it to the East Coast.  I am just not a California girl.
  • put it in or close to a big city (Washington, DC.  I'd probably place it in Alexandria, VA)
  • put it on the river.  I absolutely love the water, so my dream house would definitely be on the water.
If I could then fill this house with a loving and faithful husband, a playful puppy or two, and some healthy and happy children....oh what a dream that would be!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Day 14: A Photo I Love

When pondering this question, this photo immediately came to mind.  This is one of my favorite photos ever.  It’s a little blurry, but just ignore that.

I simultaneously love and am totally freaked out by this photo.

I am an only child.

He is not my brother.

He is not my cousin.

He is not my parents’ long lost son.

He is not, in the least bit, related to me.

Joseph is a friend of mine.

But, we undoubtedly look like we could be brother and sister.

It freaks us out.

It freaks our families out.

Joseph has a sister.  She doesn’t look anything like me.

I always wanted an older brother.

I love this photo.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Day 13: My Life Goals

I had trouble writing this post.  At first, I was just going to list my life goals.  The list includes, going to law school, having a happy and lifelong marriage, mothering children, making a difference in the world, being an inspiration to someone….
Then I realized some of these are completely out of my control. I want to make goals that I know are achievable.  Consequently, my life goals are to be content in my circumstances and to trust God.

I have learned over the last year that life can change in an instant.  I have learned that you can go from contentment to deep sorrow in a matter of seconds.  I have learned to appreciate the little things in life.  I have learned that sometimes you can do your best and still feel like you’ve failed. I have learned that I am not in control.

This past year has been full of sadness and struggle.  Not just with the death of my very best friend, but with my parents’ health issues, and my ongoing law school saga.  I’d think my life would make a pretty good soap opera these days.  Just when things start to look up, something else happens and I just can’t seem to get ahead.  It’s been rough.  It’s been devastating.  It’s been full of grief.  It’s been ever changing.  But, the one constant is that

God has been present amidst it all.

I never want to forget that.

I haven’t been happy.  I am ready to let this grief and happiness co-mingle.  I am ready for bright, sunny days – literally and figuratively.  I also haven’t trusted God the way I should.  I have been angry at Him.  Frustrated.  Sad.  Confused. Worried.  But He is still there.

So, my life goal is to be content and to trust in Him.  I have a lot of work to do in this area, but that’s OK.  I am not expected to be there right now.  That’s why it is called a goal and not an accomplishment.

Not THE Answer But It Helps

Dude's death will never make sense.  At times, I feel like I failed.  I know I shouldn't feel that way.  I know it wasn't my fault.  I don't blame myself.  But I do wonder.  I wonder why God did not stop it from happening.  I wonder what Dude was thinking that day.  I wonder at what exact moment he made the decision.  I wonder why none of us closest to him could get through to him and show him life is/was worth living.  I wonder how mental illness and depression can just suck the life out of one of University of Richmond's most eligible bachelors.  How such a bright light in the world can be completely enveloped in darkness - a darkness I hope to never understand. 

Those of us closest to Dude have sat around trying to understand.  We ask questions of each other hoping that someone has the million dollar answer.  We've poured over the reports from the doctors and the autopsy.  We go back and forth, but I liken it to being on a seesaw.  You keep moving up and down, but you never truly go anywhere.  Unfortunately, no matter how hard I/we try, we will never know the real answer.  I am not even sure if Dude would know the true reason he did what he did.  He might, but I won't find out til I get to heaven.  And, at that point, I won't even care!  I'll just be so excited to see him again.

I've done a lot of grief work over the last 14 months.  It's been absolutely essential to my grief journey.  No matter how hard I work, I can't bring him back.  I can't truly understand why this happened.  But, I do have to and want to move forward.  To honor him.  To honor God.  To live the life laid out before me. 

For the most part, I've accepted that this has happened.  I don't like it, but that doesn't change a thing.  I will always struggle with this to some degree.  But, every once and awhile, I find something that provides a little solace. 
“I had tried years earlier to kill myself, and nearly died in the attempt, but did not consider it either a selfish or a not-selfish thing to have done. It was simply the end of what I could bear, the last afternoon of having to imagine waking up the next morning only to start all over again with a thick mind and black imaginings. It was the final outcome of a bad disease, a disease it seemed to me I would never get the better of. No amount of love from or for other people-and there was a lot-could help. No advantage of a caring family and fabulous job was enough to overcome the pain and hopelessness I felt; no passionate or romantic love, however strong, could make a difference. Nothing alive and warm could make its way in through my carapace. I knew my life to be a shambles, and I believed-incontestably-that my family, friends, and patients would be better off without me. There wasn't much of me left anymore, anyway, and I thought my death would free up the wasted energies and well-meant efforts that were being wasted on my behalf." ― Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide

It's not THE answer, but it helps.

I love you and miss you, Dude.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Day 12: I believe

I believe....

  • Life is too short and fragile not to laugh and smile every day regardless of the circumstances.
  • You should always eat cake on your birthday.  Eat it for breakfast.  Make it a la mode.  However, whenever.  Just do it.
  • Using a water bottle or hairbrush as a microphone makes you sound better when singing.      
  • Dessert should be eaten at least once a week
  •  The beach calms the soul
  • Dogs are often the best medicine
  • God answers prayers
  • In miracles
  • Wine and cupcakes make almost anything better
  • In treating everyone the way you want to be treated regardless of whether or not they can do anything for you.
  • Drinking water while working makes you more effective (this is a little quirk of mine).
  • You can never say “I love you” too many times to those who love you back.
  • You can learn a great deal from those who are different than you.
  • Traveling is not only fun, it is necessary for growth.
  • Jesus is the son of God
  • In myself

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Day 11: A Recent Photo

I don’t take many photos.  That’s mostly because my hands are always occupied with my two canes.  I love photos.  Typically, you will find me bugging the people I am with to “take that. Get this!”  If I do take a photo, I have to be sitting down.  And, even then, the chances of it coming out straight are slim.  My right hand does not turn over all the way, so the camera is never quite balanced.  It is always a little crooked thanks to my disability.  The bottom line is if you want your photo taken, I am not your go to person!  I do, occasionally, get a good shot.  This is one of them.

I took this photo of my parents on the beach in Aruba.  I was laying on a lounge chair contemplating life and they walked up to me after a long walk on the beach.  Since I was laying down, I was able to get this at an angle.  I like it a lot.  I think it really captures my parents’ personalities, their differences, their  relationship, their love.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Day 10: My Biggest Fear

I always try to be as authentic as possible on this blog.  When you have a disability, you get lots of stares and assumptions from people, so I’ve sort of learned not to pay attention to what other people think about me.  With that said, though, I am human, and it does bother me to some degree.  I am, in no way, completely immune to being affected by what others think of me. I preface that because I am sure some people are going to think my biggest fear is silly, but I’m just keepin’ it real on here.

My biggest fear is never getting married.  I should clarify that to say not being in a happy marriage.  I get proposals from homeless men on the street all the time.  I am sure if I didn’t have high standards and wanted to settle, I could, but I don’t want to.  I don’t want to be married for the sake of being married.  I don’t want to be married because it is what I am supposed to do in life.  I want to be married because I want to share that deep love and bond with another person.  Life is meant to be lived and shared and we are meant to be with another.  I want to raise a family.  I want to be my husband’s biggest fan.  I want to love and support him and his family.  I want to experience all of the peaks and valleys with the love of my life, my teammate.   I know what it is like to have a deep connection and unbreakable bond with another person.  I want that again – and then some more.  Like a few kiddos and a dog, too.  It’s my biggest fear because it is somewhat out of my control.  If I’ve learned anything over the last year, it is that God is in control and I am not.  That sounds so simple, but it is easy to forget when times are good.  When deep sorrow and heartache enter the scene, the loss of control stares you dead in the face.  I can certainly do things to help myself find the person I am going to marry, but ultimately, God is the best one to pick out my husband.

I wholeheartedly believe I will be married one day.  But, what if I am wrong?  I don’t want to be wrong.  I don’t want to be alone, but I don’t want to settle for fear of being alone.  I hope and pray that God brings my husband – and soon. 

I look at my friends’ lives and feel so far behind sometimes.  I know it is not all a bowl of cherries for them.  In some cases, I see couples and think I do not want that.  But, what I do want is a loving, lifelong relationship with the one God created for me.

I pray that is what God wants for me, too. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Day 9: The Great Steak Dinner

Today, I am supposed to share a photo of my friends.  Given that I have a lot of different groups of friends, I didn’t feel like searching for a bunch of photos only to risk leaving someone important out.  Instead, I want to talk about just one of my friends, my college roommate, Meredith, also known by me as “Hoops” and our great steak dinner.

After being accepted to University of Richmond, I filled out my roommate questionnaire and prayed for a tall roommate.  I wanted a tall roommate because I am so short and can’t reach anything up high.  In the middle of the summer, I received my roommate assignment.  All that was listed on the sheet was her name and where she was from: Meredith from Mt. Laurel, New Jersey.  We talked on the phone to get to know each other a little bit and to divide up who would bring what for our dorm room.  She seemed really nice and I was excited to meet her.  Not once did either one of us ask what the other looked like.  I guess that just wasn’t important. 

On move-in day, this 6’3’’ beautiful woman with the longest legs walked through the threshold of my dorm room.  I prayed for a tall roommate, but tall to me was 5’7’’.  God came through big and gave me a woman taller than my father!!  Not only is she tall, but she loves sports just as much as I do.  She also really enjoyed listening to music and we had a morning ritual of jammin’ out to some tunes while getting ready every morning.  We didn’t have the same classes or the same group of friends, but the two of us became fast friends.  Our late night conversations before bed were often the best part of the day because we had so much to catch each other up on. Hoops was a wonderful roommate.

Sophomore year, we both decided to spread our wings and room with other people.  We quickly realized that we missed being together and decided to room together for the remainder of our years on campus.  We reunited and it felt so good.
At University of Richmond, all the roommates that lived together for four years received a steak dinner at the end of senior year.  Since Meredith and I skipped one year, we were not eligible for the free steak dinner.  We were always kind of bummed about this.  A couple weeks ago, when she was in town, we decided to pretend like it was 2004 and go for our steak dinner.

We each had steak and then walked up to the cupcake place to grab some dessert.
 Nothing tops off a wonderful day better than a cupcake.  Duh!
Before we feasted, we hung out in my condo chatting.  As we were about to walk out the door, I realized I should brush my hair to look a little more presentable.  Meredith kindly offered to brush it for me.  This is significant because Meredith would always do my hair for my big sorority functions.  I guarantee you anytime my hair looked nice in college it was thanks to my roommate.  The range of motion in my arm is somewhat limited, so consequently, so are my hairstyles.  Meredith always wanted to make sure I looked my best and did my hair on many occasions.

A day with Meredith in town would not be complete without a little shopping.  My condo is surrounded by shops, so we hopped into a few, purchased some goodies, and she headed on home.

I will always refer to Meredith as “my roommate”.  I haven’t had another one since and would like to keep it that way.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Day 8: One Happy Island

Today’s prompt is to share a place you have traveled to.  I realized I didn’t share much about my trip to Aruba, so this is the perfect opportunity to reflect back on my trip a little bit.  I travel a lot.  My family and I try to go on an annual vacation, and then I typically take some time to get away with friends or to visit friends.  This year, my family and I went to Aruba.  We just wanted to be completely lazy and soak up the sun.  That’s exactly what we did!
My parents and I have traveled to many islands and Aruba may be our favorite!  In fact, at the end of the trip, we discussed that we may not go to another island again!  That’s a bold statement, right?  Here’s why:

1.    NO RAIN: Aruba is a desert so it barely ever rains.
We have been on too many Caribbean vacations where we have encountered rain.  Let me tell you, nothing is worse than going on vacation expecting to sit in the sun and on the beach all day only to be stuck in your hotel room thanks to torrential downpours.  A little rain doesn’t keep us away from those beach chairs. We don our bathing suits and brave the droplets that fall from the sky.  But, sun is sooo much better.  Aruba promises sun for the majority of the year. There is wind.  The wind can get intense, so you should pack a headband to tame that mane, but the wind will not keep you from enjoying the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the island.

2.    You can drink the water.  So often, we have traveled to islands where you have to use bottled water to brush your teeth because you can’t drink the water or you will get sick.  That also means you can’t have salad or raw veggies so you feel like you are getting fatter by the minute.  People often assume that it is OK to do whatever you want because you are in the hotel and the hotel wouldn’t want to get anyone sick.  There is some truth to this, but still in the back of your mind, you hope that everything is filtered correctly and you won’t get sick.  In Aruba, you don’t have to worry.  The water is the cleanest and it tastes so good.

3.    They speak English and take American money.  In fact, Arubans speak four languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento.   All fluently.  I was quite impressed and felt dumb.  I can barely speak two languages fluently.

4.    It’s clean and beautiful. Just look at this!

We stayed at the RIU Palace Aruba, which I would highly recommend.  It was smaller than the other RIU Palaces we have stayed at with only four restaurants that require reservations, but everything was beautiful and clean.  The food was also very good.  The drinks were loaded and these lightweights (my family) was often dumping a little off the top.  And, the Aquazumba instructor was a sight to behold.   (Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of him.  He did jump on top of me in the pool one day.  I didn't mind.)

One day, we weren’t lazy beach bums and took a Jeep Safari tour of the island.  It was amazing!  We went off-roading in the desert, were flying all over the place, and I even had my teeth covered in dirt.  Yes, it sounds gross, but life’s too short not to get covered in dirt sometimes.

We had a blast.

 Aruba truly lives up to its slogan of "One Happy Island!"

Friday, June 7, 2013

Day 7: My Favorite Film

My all time favorite film is “Father of the Bride” with Steve Martin.  Let me tell you a little story about this movie.  My family started a tradition many years ago of going to see a movie together on Christmas Day.  It used to be that we were three of ten people in the theater (I assume the other 7 were Jewish), and now people are in on our secret and the movies are packed on Christmas Day.  Jammed packed. This tradition started when we all went to see “Father of the Bride” together.  All three of us laughed the entire movie.

Not only is the movie funny and endearing, we laughed extra hard because we felt like we could have been watching our lives played out on screen.  I am very much the hopeless romantic Daddy’s girl.  My dad is Steve Martin to a tee in this movie.  If you know my dad really well, you know he doesn’t necessarily worry about money all that much, but he sure does talk like he does.  He is always saying to Mom and I, “That cost HOW much! Do you see a money tree in the backyard?”  We jokingly call my Dad the “chipper chicken” and I pray that he doesn’t get up at my wedding and say “This cost X dollars a plate.  Be sure to eat up!” I know he would never, ever embarrass me or himself like that, but so many of the things “George Banks” does in this movie have us rolling because it is like watching my dad.  Even he sees the character resemblance.  Diane Keaton/”Nina Banks” also really resembles my mom.  Of course my mom would not bat an eyelash at having swans at the wedding or thawing out the tulips with a hair dryer.   

“Annie and Brian” even get married on my parents’ wedding anniversary, January 6.

We will only be so lucky if I end up with a wedding planner like Franc.  And let’s hope my dad doesn’t accidentally wear a navy blue tux-aaaa-doe.

I am not one that can recite lines from movies.  My best friend is queen of this, but really, I could care less.  But, this movie.  I have seen it so many times and it never gets old.  I could probably singlehandedly recite the entire movie.

Without a doubt, my wedding day will be a very special day for my entire family.  One of love and warmth and joy.  And, if I am honest, my dad will probably do whatever I want to make it as special as possible.  He will be the best Father of the Bride there ever was.  But, I know we will reflect on this movie during the planning and on the actual day.  His chipper chicken tendencies will undoubtedly emerge and he has even offered his vintage convertible to me – similar to the one “George” drives.

“Father of the Bride” started our family tradition of going to the movies on Christmas and it will always be special to us for more than that reason.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Day 6: My Favorite Things

Two things came to mind when I sat down to write this post: The Sound of Music and Oprah.  I won't be singing you a song, and unfortunately, I won't be announcing that all of these things will be going home with you!  Sorry, maybe one day if I win the lottery.  I do encourage you to check out or experience these things, though.  They are my favorites for a reason -- they're awesome!

1. Music - Oh my gosh. Music moves me.  It gives me words when I cannot speak.  It evokes emotions.  It recalls memories.  It motivates. I could not live without music. 

2. ITunes gift cards - to buy more music

3. The sand between my toes, staring at the ocean with a strawberry daiquiri in my hand

4. Sunsets

5. Cupcakes

6. Boom Chicka Pop: Aside from this being the coolest name for popcorn ever, it is amazingly addictive - and only 35 calories per cup!

7. Traveling the world

8. Vacations with friends that involve laughing til my sides hurt

9. Tight hugs

10. When two friends are together, don't say a word, but walk away feeling like you had the best conversation.

11. Summer thunderstorms during the week

12. The groom's face when he sees his bride for the first time

13. Snow cones from Texas

14. The Redskins

15. Dripping in sweat after a workout

16. Mint chocolate chip ice cream with rainbow sprinkles in a cake cone

17. The moment in church when you close your eyes and listen to everyone worshiping.  I imagine it is what heaven is like.

18. A sign from deceased loved one

19. Balloons

20. Boats - Anything by/surrounding the water

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day 5: Favorite Quote

Whatever you are, be a good one - Abraham Lincoln
I just recently came across this quote and it is a new favorite of mine.  I want to remember it forever.  It's words ring so true.

Whatever you are, be a good one - Abraham Lincoln
It proves that it is not about money, position or power.  It's about how you approach your life.  It is about the effort and enthusiasm and love that you put into all that you do -- whatever you do.

Whatever you are, be a good one - Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 4: My Favorite Book

I'm not much of a read for fun type of girl.  I would go to the bookstore as soon as I got my summer reading list from school and tell the clerk that I wanted the books that had the least number of pages and the biggest print.  I could care less about the subject.  I just wanted to get through the summer reading as quickly as I could.  People laugh at me when I tell them I want to go to law school and that my undergraduate major consisted of a ton of reading.  For some reason, I don't mind doing that, but picking up a book for fun is just not my cup of tea.

If I recommend a book, it must be good because I would have never made it through it, if I was bored for even a second while reading it.  My favorite book lately is A Good and Perfect Gift by Amy Julia Becker.  It might help that the author is a close friend of mine, but I honestly think I would recommend this book even if I had no connection to the amazing woman who wrote it. 

Cuddled up in my bed, I tore through this book cover to cover in just one day.

You may pick up this book, realize that it is a story of a family raising a child with Down Syndrome, think that is not relevant to you and your life and put it back down. Yes, it is indeed a memoir about the surprise and challenges a first time mother felt when she learned two hours after her daughter's birth that Penny had Down Syndrome. Amy Julia had always placed high value on education and intellectual ability so this news brought dark days filled with sadness, fear, disappointment and shock that Penny may not live up to the dreams imagined for her while she was in the womb. Not only did the Beckers have to adjust to life with a newborn baby, Penny's Down Syndrome diagnosis ushered in a storm of questions and (perhaps) a dramatic adjustment in the life they had envisioned for their eldest child. More importantly, Penny forced an adjustment in the definition of perfection. Amy Julia candidly recalls her initial disappointment in the diagnosis and takes readers on the emotional and intellectual journey associated with the first two years of Penny's life. She asks uncomfortable questions. "Will I be able to be proud of her? Will I be able to love her?" (page 25) At first, she is not so sure. But as the book goes on, Becker leads the reader to see that these questions are not just those a parent of a child with a disability asks. She examines her own assumptions of "perfection" and challenges the readers to do the same.

Now you say, "Well, Jess, that's great, but this book seems even more irrelevant to me because I am not a parent"

Neither am I, but as a person with a disability I loved this book and want everyone to read it. This book beautifully articulates the struggles many people with disabilities feel. Fully able people often think the biggest challenges a disabled person face are physical or intellectual, depending on the nature of the disability. The truth is the physical (or intellectual) challenges are not high on our worry list. If we don't know how to do something, we will either try to do it a different way or don't know what we are missing anyway so it doesn't really matter. I would argue the greatest obstacle a disabled person faces is getting the world to see them as they see themselves: as a person with a disability rather than a disabled person. 

In A Good and Perfect Gift, Becker takes the readers on her personal journey from seeing her daughter as a disabled person to a person with a disability.
“Can she live a full life without ever solving a quadratic equation?  Without reading Dostoevsky?  I’m pretty sure she can.  Can I live a full life without learning to cherish and welcome those in this world who are different from me?  I’m pretty sure I can’t.” (pg 123) 

If you are a book worm and enjoy well written books, this is for you. If you are looking for an engaging story, pick this up when you have time because you won't be able to put it down. But, if you are interested in growing as a person, do me a favor and read this book. You will be changed -- for the better.

Hopefully, now I have intrigued you and you want to know more about this read. If so, go here. You will find many reviews and may I point out that Becker's book was selected as one of the best of 2011 by Publisher's Weekly!  Now that you're sold, go get it here!    

It's a good and perfect book -- and my favorite!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 3: Favorite Television Program

Pretty much the only TV I watch these days is reality TV.  I guess I consider it quality programming.  I know it's not, but it's a guilty pleasure that I love to indulg.  It's mindless, it's fun, depending on what show I am watching, it makes me feel better about my own life.  I just get a kick out of it!

My favorite show is "The Voice".  This show is now in season 4.  How did I just discover this gem?  It is a million times better than American Idol and The X Factor.  The quality of talent on the show is extraordinary.  The blind auditions and the steals keep me on the edge of my seat.  I'm always rooting for the judges to turn around and probably (unnecessarily) get just as nervous as the contestants waiting to see if one is going to go in for the steal.  The judges are funny and get along with each other unlike American Idol.  Usher is a bit arrogant sometimes, but man, is he a good coach!!  I am so impressed with how he goes outside the box with the contestants on his team and does what he can to help them become better performers. 

A lot of contestants on American Idol have made it big.  I think it is time for that show to step aside and make room for fame on The Voice.  I'm captivated.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day 2: Meaning Behind My Blog Name

My friend, Ashley, and I purchased a brick to be placed on the walkway leading up Jill's House.  Jill's House is a ministry of McLean Bible Church in Vienna, VA that serves as a respite for children with disabilities.  They are able to come and stay overnight, be taken care of, and have a wonderful time.  The children participate in all sorts of activities and the parents greatly appreciate the fact that they can have a little break and their children are enjoying themselves away.  We decided to inscribe  Philippians 2:15, "....then you will shine among them like stars in the sky."  I thought it was perfect because I love stars, but I also hope to be a light in people's lives.  Most importantly, I hope the light of Christ radiates in my life.  As I learned all too well this year, life has many bright spots, but also can bring some deep sorrow and darkness.  Since this blog is a record of my life, I hope that regardless of how much light I see, the light of Christ shines always and I shine like a star to those around me.

That's how I came up with my blog name.

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