Brady Bunch Wisdom. Sort of.

An older couple came into the bar that I own last night, settled in, and ordered a couple of drinks. They said that they had been told to come here by another couple, and that we came highly recommended. They complimented the decor, the ambiance, asked a few questions and then the older gentleman stopped and looked at me and said," You have a beautiful place here, but tell me the tired are you?"

Everyone is blurry because time moves so fast...or something.

I am so very tired. And it was strange to be asked that question on the very day that I had decided that I was simply too tired to keep following this path.

Earlier that day, my husband (James) and I had made the decision to sell our business. We had been talking about it on and off all year, more seriously in the last couple of months, pretty seriously in the last month, and yesterday...I was just too tired.

James and I were talking on the phone and it was one more day where I wasn't going to see him because of our conflicting schedules and I was just done.

"I can't do this anymore."

"Can't do what?"

"I don't want the bar anymore. I'm tired. I never see you. I never see our dogs. They need a bath. We need clean laundry. I want to do the dishes. I want you to come home from work, and I want to be here with dinner, and I want us to eat it together. I want to wake up together and have coffee. Like normal people. I want to have friends that I actually see. This isn't a life. I don't even know what this is, but this isn't a life. I hate it. I miss you. I miss you so much!"

"Jessica...I've been waiting for you to say that for years. Let's sell the bar."

And so we're selling this amazing place that I have called home for 6 years. I will cry, for sure. I feel a little bit guilty about selling it. We created this space that feels safe for people to come out and be grown-ups and be social and be themselves, and on a regular basis, people share how grateful they are that they have a place that they can go. That's one of the reasons I've been so reluctant to make this decision. I feel like I'm taking something away from them. I can't guarantee that whoever we sell it to will keep it the same. I hope so, but it will be out of my control. That's a weird thing. I'm kind of uncomfortable about that.

The bar is also a central point where my neighbors who are down on their luck can count on finding a friend. I don't want to lose that connection, so I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to make that work.  I told James a while ago that I believe God wants me to be in this neighborhood. I still believe that, but I also believe that I'm supposed to take care of myself. So I have some things to figure out.

Just today I came across author Elizabeth Gilbert's post on Quitting vs. Surrendering. There is definitely a part of me that feels like I'm quitting. That I should try harder, that I owe this neighborhood and our customers more, that I shouldn't give up...

But I'm not giving up. I had so much passion for this bar - my Blue - for so long. I put everything I had into it and the surrounding community. I absolutely still have a great love for it. But I no longer have the passion. The very best thing that I can do now is pass it on - hopefully - to someone with a passion of their own.

I am not quitting. I am surrendering. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, Surrender is what happens when you have searched to the bottom of your soul and found out this truth — which is that you really can't do this thing anymore....You exhale, and let go."

QUITTING vs. SURRENDERINGDear Ones -Somebody asked me the other day, on my book tour, whether she should continue...

People have asked me what I will do now. I do have a plan. In 2009, my tiny little Hey Lola jewelry company got national press and I sold a lot. And then we bought the bar, so my tiny little Hey Lola jewelry company took a back seat. A few years ago, I re-opened the Hey Lola store and was seeing success. However, at the end of the day, it was too hard to juggle the bar and the store, so Hey Lola took a back seat. This summer, I had the most successful Riverfront Market ever. But I also took on more hours and responsibilities at the bar, so Hey Lola once again took a back seat.

A very neglected studio space.

So I'm going to stay home. I'm going to do my laundry. I'm going to cook. I'm going to work in my studio, and hang out with my dogs. When my husband gets home from work, I'm going to greet him and then we're going to actually hang out! For the first time ever, I'm going to give my full attention to this blog and my oh so tiny little jewelry company. I'm going to sell things online and in some stores and hopefully make enough money to help support my family. I'm going to walk down to the community garden across the street from my bar, and hang out with all of those people that I don't want to stop connecting with. I'm going to nurture my friendships. And if that plan doesn't work, I'll be ok. I can always make a new plan.

Surrender. Exhale...and let go.

PS - Does anyone remember this Brady Bunch episode? Because this was in my head the whole time I was writing this...and I laughed the whole time.


When we opened our bar 6 years ago, I was a very different person than I am today. I was different 5 years ago, 2 years ago, 1 week ago. The neighborhood that my husband and I opened a business in has changed the person that I was. It changes who I am every single day.

Recently, I started writing a lot. Sharing stories. And in return, people sometimes say really nice things about me and to me...and it totally freaks me out. Because I'm only able to do great things and share beautiful stories because of the people that I meet every day, that allow me to share those stories. That teach me how to be a better person than I was. There is nothing that I do, that I do alone. Not one thing. There isn't anything that I share, that wasn't taught to me through interactions with someone else. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by people who are amazing, who love each other and lift each other and support and encourage and are honest and vulnerable. I can be the best version of myself because I am surrounded by people who are nothing short of amazing.

When I write about my friends and neighbors, it's because I am in awe of what I learned from them. I am so surprised when I am confronted with things that I never thought of. And I want to share every bit of what people teach me, because I think that what they teach me is valuable, and that it should be passed on. I get weird when people say nice things about what I write because I wish everyone that inspired me was there with me to receive the compliment and to know how much people appreciated what they have passed on to me, that I then pass on here.

Does that make sense?

I guess what I'm saying is....I type the words, but these stories are written by many, many people.

I recently met a guy named Matt, who had come to Peoria from Florida, and was homeless, but on a very serious mission to not be homeless. He refused to stay in the shelter, because the shelter had a rigid structure that required him to be in and out at certain times. Matt was in the process of visiting a lot of social service agencies and getting identification together so that he could get proper housing. However, everywhere that Matt needed to go was pretty far away from the shelter and Matt was walking. He didn't have any money to take the bus. There was no way he could get to every place on his list and make it in time for the curfew shelter.  So Matt took up temporary shelter in a dumpster enclosure, so that he could keep a schedule that would allow him to get everything done that he needed so that he could find housing. Matt would come see me every few days and take all of his paperwork out of his bag and explain to me everything that he had gotten done since the last time that I saw him. He talked a mile a minute and would not be deterred from his task of showing me everything in his bag, and occasionally, through his mile a minute speech, he would mention that he hadn't eaten. He never asked for food, and sometimes I almost missed the part where he mentioned that he hadn't had a meal.  The first time he mentioned it, we were by a gas station, and I took him over to grab a sandwich. I pointed at a few things, and he said no, eventually saying there wasn't anything there that he wanted.

Here's what was going through my head: "Wow. He's awfully picky. Why can't he just pick something? It's not like he has to pay for it. He's lucky he's eating. I don't really have time to follow this dude around while he decides what free meal he's willing to eat."

We went to the liquor store, and there wasn't anything there for him either. Eventually, we came back to my bar and I made him some food, the whole time grumbling to myself about how picky he was. I gave him some chips to go with his sandwich, which he declined. I started complaining in my head again and then Matt opened his mouth and showed me his teeth. He said that there wasn't a whole lot that he could eat, because he only had a few teeth, and certain things really hurt his mouth. And he thanked me for the sandwich, because he could eat it, and it didn't hurt.

Well, shit.

Because you know, Americans in general are SUPER picky about their food. I've worked in food service my whole life. I could recite the habits of picky eaters for days. I'm picky. I don't want mushrooms or peppers or red meat and if my tomatoes are too ripe they're going to make me puke and eggs have to be just so and I CAN'T EAT THAT IF IT HAS MUSHROOMS! Because I'm picky. Because we have the luxury of being picky.

But it's irritating when we give food to the homeless and they just don't fall over themselves with gratitude. When we give them whatever meal we chose for them, and walk away, leaving them to eat on their own. We don't ask them their name, we don't ask them what they want, if they have ulcers that make acidic foods difficult to eat, lactose intolerance, celiac disease, food allergies, or things that are just really gross to them. We just give them food, expect them to be grateful, and we walk away.

So Matt taught me a couple of things. Matt taught me that the shelter system, as great as it is, can sometimes hold people back, and that sometimes you have a better chance of getting ahead by sleeping in a dumpster. Matt knew exactly what options were available to him, and he knew what he had to do to make things ok for himself. If he had to sleep in garbage to do it, then he was going to sleep in garbage.

He also taught me that actually sharing a meal with someone, instead of just giving food and walking away, is an amazing and necessary way to connect. It's really easy to get wrapped up in your own world view, until you sit down and share a meal with someone whose world bears absolutely no resemblance to your own.

I am not working with an organization. This is not volunteer work. I am spending more and more time with the homeless, because every time I do, I walk away changed for the better. This community is transforming my life, and I am so very grateful to them and for them. I am thankful that they are willing to spend time with me. I am thankful that we can call each other friends.

This holiday season, I would encourage you to sit down and share a meal with someone who is nothing like you, who may not have as much as you do, who could benefit from a helping hand. My hope is that you can connect in a way that will transform your life, in the same way that these connections have transformed mine.

Mercy Over Judgement

I wrote a facebook post yesterday and in it I mentioned that I just want to do what I feel is right and what God wants me to do, and one of my friends was like, "What God wants you to do???????????????????"


A zillion question marks, because it's weird, me and this God thing. People are totally cool with the unicorn thing (unicorns are the coolest, you guys, and totally real), but the God thing kind of freaks them out.

And to be honest, as I was going through the beginning stages of this no-good-terrible-very-bad-year, and people would be all, "I'm praying for you," and "God has a plan," and all of that crap, I was like, "you can seriously take your prayers and your God and shove it, because people suck and God isn't a thing and if God IS a thing, then God is an asshole and his plan is bullshit."

And then I had the summer of healing. I went to therapy. I went hiking. I slowed way down. I went to church (SO WEIRD). I narrowed my circle. I painted. I started the summer smashed flat, and as I picked myself up, I looked around. And I saw what God wanted me to see.

Let me just say...this is still total bullshit. I already told God that this is bullshit. Like - I have to be completely destroyed so I can see where I'm actually supposed to be, instead of where I thought I was supposed to be? And yeah, I'm so happy right now and better than ever but why the hell couldn't you just TELL ME? And God was all, "I tried, but you kept chasing after people who didn't need you. You wouldn't listen. So I knocked you down, because I knew you would see on the way back up." And I was like, "Fuck you, God. For real. This is bullshit."

Anyway, God and I are fighting, but he still showed me his face, and he did it through my friend Eugene.

I asked Eugene if it was ok if I could take his picture and write about him, and he said that would be great, and to make sure that I got a picture of him working.

I've seen Eugene around for years, and he was always super annoying. He always wants to do odd jobs, bum a cigarette, bum a quarter. He doesn't smell very good, he drinks too much, he doesn't make a lot of sense. Sometimes I'd give Eugene a dollar and then be like, "ok dude, now go away." (I didn't know his name because why would I?) Or sometimes I wouldn't give him a dollar because he's probably just going to buy booze with it, anyway. Eventually, Eugene quit coming around.

Until this summer.

Eugene came to my bar while I was working and asked if he could do some odd jobs. And I said yes. I don't know why. I never said yes before. And I felt an incredibly strong push to not just let this homeless guy do some work, hand him $10, and then feel really good about myself, because look at how nice I am, you guys! I gave a homeless guy money! That's not love. That's just...I mean...that's the minimum, really. Which is exactly what I always used to do.

So Eugene and I became friends. And Eugene shows up on a regular basis to do odd jobs, and on a regular basis somebody warns me about the "crazy homeless guy" hanging around by my back door.

Here's what I thought I knew about Eugene: He's homeless and he's super annoying. He always wants to do odd jobs, bum a cigarette, bum a quarter. He doesn't smell very good, he drinks too much, he doesn't make a lot of sense.

Here's what I know about my friend Eugene: He works really hard. If you ask him to be here at noon, he's here at noon. If you pay him in advance because he's having a bad week, he shows up the next week and works for what you gave him. He's proud of the work he does. He has a mental disability which causes him to talk in a manner that doesn't always make a lot of sense. He was on medication for it, but the medicine made his legs really restless at night - painful restlessness, so he couldn't sleep. It also wiped him out during the day, so he couldn't work. Eugene wants to work, so he quit taking the medicine, and as a result, he doesn't always make a lot of sense. Eugene walks with a limp and only has one good eye. He was shot in his other eye with some buckshot and he never sought treatment for it, and as a result, he lost the use of the eye. His leg is painful and his eye is painful, and drinking helps ease some of that pain. Because Eugene doesn't always make a lot of sense and he's often intoxicated, he gets in trouble with the law. And he's scared of going to jail because he only has one good eye, and that makes him an easy target. Jail also takes him away from his work, which upsets him, because he's really proud of his work. Eugene can be annoying sometimes, and we make jokes about it, because friends can make fun of each other when they get annoying. Sometimes Eugene makes fun of me, and I totally deserve it.Eugene doesn't smell very good and he knows it. He's homeless. He can find somewhere to sleep, but there's no where to take a shower. No where to do laundry.

Today, when Eugene was breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling, he stopped and said he was going to leave the boxes out on the street, because people always need boxes for moving.

Eugene and I are the same guy, you guys! I just want to help people, Eugene just wants to help people, neither of us really knows what we're doing, so we just do what we think is best.

When I talk about finding God, I'm not talking about the big scary, mystical bearded spirit in the sky , that everyone goes to church on Sundays to visit.

I'm talking about Eugene. And when God showed himself to me through Eugene, I was able to see everything and everyone else that he wanted me to see. I cannot save Eugene. I cannot save anyone. But I can love Eugene, and I can be his friend, and I can help him navigate through some things that might be easier for me to figure out than they are for him.

I love this band 'Flyleaf'. Specifically, I love their ex lead singer, Lacey Sturm. I listen to her music ALL of the time and I'm completely in love with it. There is a passage from one of her songs that resonates with me when I think about Eugene and some of the friends that I've made this summer.

Life floods in with a conquest
Life floods in with a new quest
Here's a voice for the voiceless 
and a song for the soulless
Life floods in.

People pass right by Eugene all of the time. I used to pass by Eugene - like he was invisible. But for some reason, people don't pass by me. I didn't want this year to play out the way that it did, but life flooded in and here's my new quest. I will use my voice for Eugene, and everyone like him that God puts on my path. He's not invisible. I won't let him be invisible.

And in return, Eugene will keep reminding me about judgement and about mercy. It is not my job to judge. It is my job to love and to have mercy. And let me be really honest with you - it's super easy for me to love Eugene and to be compassionate and to care for him. Like - I don't have any problem with that at all. I really like him.

It's really, REALLY difficult for me to love some of my neighbors and ex-friends and family members, to not judge them, to have mercy, to show compassion. There are still days that I wake up and I see something and I am just fucking PISSED off and bitter and I make a mental list of all of the things that are wrong with the people who treated me poorly and I get into "I'm better than them, anyway" mode...

...and here comes Eugene, reminding me about love and mercy and judgement and compassion, and I come back down.

Judgement is not my job. My job is to love and to show mercy, and to receive love and to receive mercy.

And that's what's going on with me and God.

Are you there, God? It's me, whatsherface.

I've been having a wonderful month. I've embraced my faith, I'm embracing my beautiful life, I'm learning to let go, I'm learning to move on, I'm...

I'm a total mess. I mean, all of that stuff I said up there is true and I have had some amazingly beautiful days this past month but...I'm still a bit of a disaster.

Ok...I'm a lot of a disaster.

In the middle of one of my very good days, I decided it was time to jump back into community activism! Yay! Go team neighborhood!

This was pretty much just the stupidest idea, ever. My husband actually tried to warn me that it was a bad idea, but I was so sure that I was well enough to handle anything and everything, that I just ...I just ran full steam ahead.

Full steam ahead into a solid brick wall.

I reached out with what I thought was a carefully worded e-mail, offering advice and extending my help to an organization that I was so sure would be happy to have me back.

I thought they'd accept. Like - it never even occurred to me that they wouldn't immediately say yes.

They did not immediately say yes. They didn't say anything, actually. A week passed, and anxiety and depression reared their ugly heads. Anxiety let me know in no uncertain terms that no one needed me or my help. Depression promised me that I had no friends and that there wasn't a reason in the world that anyone would bother responding to me, because really....I don't matter.

Fun group, those two.

They swallowed me whole today, leaving me making up reasons in my head and lashing out and sulking and stomping my feet...and ...

...I should have listened to my husband (don't tell him I said that.). My heart can't quite handle even the slightest hint of rejection and I am apparently still healing from the wounds of the beginning of the year. Feeling better doesn't necessarily mean I am healed. I am still healing. When a broken leg starts feeling better, it doesn't mean you take the cast off. You leave the cast on, because you're still healing. You don't whip it off and go charging around trying to fix "all the things."

The funny thing is, in the midst of this setback, I'm also working on a beautiful project, that has generated a lot of positive attention, and gifted me with amazing and authentic interactions with my neighbors . But anxiety doesn't focus on this beautiful project...anxiety focuses on un-answered e-mails, while depression tries its hardest to convince me that none of this beauty matters, because at the heart of it, I am hated and despised.

This mural is this beautiful project that I have been blessed with. Photo courtesy Ron Johnson, Peoria Journal Star.

So I am wrestling with my head today, and I am learning that feeling better is not healed, and if I try to run around on metaphorical un-healed broken legs, I'm just going to fall down...and cry. A lot.

And as I wrestle with my own head, I am also trying to be fair and honest with myself. I have a tendency to assume the worst, and fall into a vicious cycle of "what if." What if I had been more polite? What if I had just said what people wanted to hear? What if I had just shut up? What if I had just been anyone but me?

Being true to myself, means being honest with others, and that has always come at a price. Sometimes honesty can be uncomfortable, but I made the choice a long time ago that the discomfort of honesty felt far better than being anyone except for myself, just so I could fit in.

I am right in the middle of a community of people with whom I will never fit in. Sometimes, even though I know better, I get obsessed with that. The lack of fitting in. The trying to figure out why. The moments where I try to shape myself into a new and improved version that everyone will love! Everyone except me, that is. Then I exchange that for beating of my head against the wall, as I try to get people to accept me for who I am.

But eventually this obsession wanes, and I am reminded that I fit where I am supposed to fit. Not with the award winners, and the important people, and the people who dress right, and look right, and have the right jobs and the right friends.

In this community, I fit with the broken, who wear their brokenness out in the open, where it's visible to anyone who would bother to look, and where it is so often overlooked because the eyes of the very important people pass right over the broken. I am broken, but healing, and I belong with the broken who will continue to help me heal, so that I can help heal them, so that we can heal each other. Our brokenness will somehow come together to make us whole again. I believe that. Not always. Not even for most of today. But at this moment, and in most of the moments of the past month, I believe that. I believe that God shows himself to us in the people we encounter, and that the way that we become closer to God, is to become closer to each other. God is in all of us, and most certainly in the broken people.  I have never felt closer to God than I have when I have stopped trying to fit in, and instead opened my heart to those who would accept me as I am, just as I have learned to accept them.

My prayer for today is that I will learn not to let rejection mold me into something I am not. To remember where I fit, and to rejoice in that, instead of sliding back into "not good enough" territory. To practice empathy and gratitude and kindness, not only to others, but also to myself. And to know that walking away from something that doesn't serve me is not defeat. That standing up for myself and for what I believe and being honest is not "being difficult." That loving myself first makes it easier for me to love others, and that people who can love each other honestly will always fit.

On suicide and Jesus and not wanting to be a Christian

The first time I tried to kill myself, I was 13. I came home from school and opened a brand new bottle of extra strength Tylenol, and swallowed every pill. I don't even know exactly why I did it. Home was awful and I think kids at school had been teasing me that day and I came home and I...

...I just don't think I wanted to feel anything anymore.

After taking the pills, I sat at the kitchen table and I waited. And when I felt myself starting to die, I got really, really scared. I wanted to die...but I didn't want to die.  I called my mother and told her what I had done. She raced home and picked me up and then she raced me to the hospital.

They gave me whatever it is that they give you to make you throw up. They stuck a tube down my throat. They kept telling me to stay awake. And then they finally let me sleep.

They kept me in the hospital for 3 weeks after that, and then sent me right back home, where everything was awful.  I left shortly after, and spent the next 4 years homeless.

Any thoughts of suicide since then have been sporadic, peppered by half hearted razor slashes on my feet (no one ever looks at my feet), and just a couple of shallow attempts on my wrist. And about 11 years ago, that all stopped completely. I tattooed my wrist with hope so that I would see something besides death when I looked at it.

And shortly after, I met my husband, and my husband helped me find my way past all of that. It's been a beautiful journey, this marriage. It's changed my life.

And then 2015...

2015 is one of the hardest years I have ever experienced. My faith in humanity was completely destroyed. The friendships that I thought were real, were nothing more than casual acquaintances, and gone as soon as everything got ugly. The lies that were being told about me were constant and I had no defense against them. There was so much ugly, and it brought so much of the ugliness of my past back to the surface.

I wanted to die. I really and truly wanted to die.

I thought about suicide every single day this summer, and every single day I fought to talk myself out of it, even if it meant sleeping all day just to protect myself from my own thoughts.

I slept with a razorblade carefully hidden next to my bed.

I imagined how I could do it so that James wouldn't have to find me.

I never stopped thinking about killing myself over the summer...and I never stopped talking myself out of it. I kept going to my therapist. I kept taking supplements to elevate my mood. I kept hiking and staring at the sun. I kept putting up walls to keep those who had hurt me as far away as possible.

I reached out to my friend Mandy and asked if she would take me to church. She asked why, and I told her that I was tired. Tired of having to fight for good things. I wanted to be around people who wanted good things for their neighbors and their community, and who wanted to take care of each other and lift each other up.

I wanted to be around love, and I felt very little love at that time. Church was kind of like a last resort.

So Mandy took me to church. And she made sure that I felt safe while I was there, and when the service was over, I sat there, surrounded by people who I had known outside of church, but never been close to. People who told me that they loved me and that I mattered, and they held my hand and rubbed my back and I cried for an hour and... I felt loved. I felt like I was in the right place.
So I keep going back, and I still feel like it's the right place for me. I've found comfort in the Bible and in reading about the life of Jesus. I've found comfort in the sermons and in the arms and words of the people I see there every Sunday.
But...I don't know if I can comfortably call myself a Christian. I know so many really wonderful people who proudly declare their Christianity and live it every single day. And then I see others who also proudly declare their Christianity and use it to pass hurt and judgement onto those that don't subscribe to their version of faith.

I also have a fear that declaring myself a Christian would possibly lead to people believing that I am someone who would use my faith to hurt them. It's not an unreasonable fear. It happens every day. I grew up in a household with such toxic Christianity that I spent most of my life as an atheist. I thought ...there can be no God if he has made life this painful, and people so horrible and willing to hurt each other in his name. Christians are awful.

And we are.
I don't want to die anymore. And while I will always be bewildered...and the actions of those who came after me this year, I'm not angry. I want to live by the example that Jesus set - I want to feed those who are hungry and I want to replace judgement with mercy and I want people to feel loved in my presence and I want to use my life and whatever gifts that I have been given to shine a light and lend comfort and joy to anyone I might meet. I want to always strive to be better. Not to get to heaven, but because when I try to be better, it betters the lives of people around me, and I believe that that is what I'm here for.
My friend Seth and I were talking about the phrase " He/she thinks she's God's gift" online one day, and he made the point that we should think that we are God's gift to the world, and we should act in accordance. And he's absolutely right.
I strive to live my life as though I am a gift, so that your life might be better for having me in it. I strive to show love, and refrain from actions that would hurt those around me. I strive to forgive those whose actions I don't understand. I strive to love myself enough to know when to put distance between myself and those who might want to hurt me, even if their actions are unintentional.
I strive to be God's gift, both to the world and to myself. I don't know if that makes me a Christian...I don't know if I should care? Christianity feels a little bit like a club. I don't want to be in a club. I just want to follow my heart.
I think I should have a point here...and I'm really not sure what that point is. I guess I feel transformed. And writing here has been so cathartic and you have been so accepting of these really vulnerable moments that I keep tossing out here. And this is another one.
I feel God. I feel loved. And I feel joy. And I cry ALL.OF.THE.TIME.NOW.
But it's because I'm happy. And I get really emotional about the fact that I feel safe loving people again, and not being scared that someone else is going to try and hurt me.

Let them come. Let them say what they will.
I am loved. I have a purpose here. I have this beautiful faith that is strange and unusual and new and right for me. I have come through the fire of this year even stronger, and I will be a gift to those around me. I will continue to love people. I will continue to be grateful.
As always, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for being supportive, and thank you for sharing your life with me. I am grateful and I appreciate you so very much.