The Longest Night (This post is all over the place)

Last night I went to my church's "Longest Night" service. Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, so last night was the longest night. I wasn't really sure what it was about, except that it was going to be dark, and something about being for people who are sad, during a time where everything is screaming "Joy!"




You guys... I hate Christmas.  And I try not to talk about hating Christmas too much, because it's clearly a time of year that makes a lot of people really happy, and I don't want to stomp all over everyone's happy.  But I can't stand it, for about a million and one reasons. Some have to do with consumerism, most have to do with really bad memories, some have to do with the agony of yet another year of trying to fake smile my way through (what is for me) an awful, awful holiday.

Before I met my husband, I would rent a hotel room in Chicago for Christmas. I would spend the time by myself, writing, walking, being lazy. I didn't even acknowledge Christmas, I was at peace and I really loved it.

My husband comes from a big Greek family, and Christmas is a big thing. So for the last 10+ years, I've gone through the motions of celebrating Christmas. Because it's what people do, right?  And every year I would hate Christmas and my husband would make fun of me for being a grinch, and I would just. get. through. it.

This year, I asked James to please respect that as much as I absolutely LOVE spending time with his family, I just don't want to do Christmas. Not this year. This year has been so hard, and I can't fake my way through this. He understood (because he's amazing) and I was all, "Holy Shit!! I don't have to do Christmas!!"

I was so happy. It's the happiest I've been about Christmas in years.

And then I heard about this "Longest Night" service at church, and ...well, now this holiday season has become a bit of a gift. I don't have to celebrate Christmas, and I have a space to just grieve for a bit and be sad, with other people who are sad. We don't have to wear Christmas sweaters and wrap things in bows and make sure our hair looks great for pictures...we can just cry for a while.

In the saddest way possible, it was really nice.  Even with the weight of everyone else's grief, it felt really good to just sit there in the dark and have permission to just be sad.

It was also a  moment of stillness, and in those quiet moments, I learned what I am grieving.  What I am afraid of.

The thing is...I'm holding on to hope with everything I've got, but sometimes hope feels like razor blades and I just want to let go.

I lost myself this year, and my brain has been re-wired, and every day I'm scared I'm going crazy, and that I will lose this battle with myself.

I'm so tired.

And as people spoke of their loss and others gathered round to offer comfort, I bowed my head and prayed that no one would come near me. I didn't expect that to be my prayer, and I was surprised by it, but I prayed really hard just to keep everyone away from me.

And it came to me what's really hurting me the most right now.

I'm trying really hard to love people again...but I don't believe that anyone loves me.

I hear people say they love me ...but I don't really believe it. I didn't want anyone to come near me, because I knew I wouldn't believe in any comfort that they were offering.

When I was younger, I learned that my father didn't love me. My mother didn't love me. My grandparents didn't love me. My church didn't love me. Kids in school didn't love me.

No one loved me.

I learned that no matter how much I loved, that I wasn't loved in return, and I built up some armor.

And through the years, the armor has weakened a little bit. These past few years, I loved fully, and I believed that I was loved.

And then I learned that I was foolish. And unloved. And hated.

I believe my husband loves me. But not really anyone else. That was my thought in church tonight. Like a giant punch in the chest.

You are unloved. Any comfort offered here tonight will be false, it will not last, your hope is razor blades...
...let go.

And then my friend Chris was beside me and asked if I wanted him to walk with me to light a candle. He held my hand, and as we walked towards the front of the church, his wife Trudy walked on my other side, held my other hand. And even bearing their own grief, they walked with me in mine.

I feel so selfish these days. My problems seem so small in the face of others, and all I do these days is try to figure my own shit out, when everyone around me suffers just as much, if not more...

...but I can't really be any good to anyone else if I don't have my own shit worked out, so I keep untangling and stitching the unraveled bits back where they're supposed to be and just trying to be ok. Some days it works. Other days, not so much.  (I try to write about all of the days, because I'm not hiding anything anymore.)


Anyway, the point is...I think...is that right when I was feeling selfish and was so sure that I was unloved and could not authentically and honestly receive love, Chris and Trudy walked beside me and showed me that I was wrong. I mean...they didn't just walk beside me...they came and got me...

My brain is a tricky thing. It lies to me quite a bit these days. But it also reveals some truths that I need to work on.

I have been faking receiving affection. I feel that people do not love me. I believe their friendship is false, their words of comfort are not true, that they will disappear as quickly as they have shown up. They will disappoint me, they will hurt me, they will leave me on the ground, gasping for breath, with no idea what just happened...

But I know that that isn't true. The actions of a few don't define everyone. The world is gigantic. There are billions of people out there. In the grand scheme of things, it's just a handful who've hurt me. There are also a handful who have shown me great love. I have a choice what I can believe. I just have to recognize these feelings and talk myself through them. I have to remember that my brain got re-wired this year, and I'm going to have to keep messing with it to get it back in order.

I think I have another point...

I write pretty honestly here, and in return, people have shared some pretty personal things with me. So this is for you guys...

(I volunteer for an animal shelter, so stay with me ...)

...some people are scared chihuahuas. They are in the shelter, confused and scared and shaking and some of us just want to get in there and love them and show them that it's going to be ok. And in return, the chihuahuas are almost always going to snarl and try to bite you. Because they're freaked out. And they don't know you, and they don't believe that you just want to love them, and they're just trying to protect themselves. So you give the chihuahuas some space, and you go hang out with the other dogs for a while and you love them and they love you back, no questions asked.

So....First - just because a chihuahua bites you, doesn't mean the other dogs will. Go love the other dogs for a while and see what happens.

Second - Scared chihuahuas aren't bad dogs.  They don't mean to hurt you. They're just scared. Forgive them. Be patient with them. Maybe stay away from them for a little while, so that everyone can have some space to be ok.

Third - Don't let life turn you into a mean chihuahua. If you stay in that cage, backed into the corner, snarling at everyone who comes near, you're never going to get the opportunity for a new life. But if you just trust a little bit, there's probably going to be bacon and tennis balls in your future, along with a shit load of cuddles, kisses and love.


This is the only dog in the shelter who ever drew blood from me (he was holding on very tightly to his tennis ball). He's lived with us for 4 years now, and we love the crap out of each other.



Do you know what I mean? People are super fucked up, and they do mean and terrible things and we do mean and terrible things but most of us are just hurting and scared and sometimes....we just have to love and we have to believe that people love us. It comes with some risk, but don't all great things come with risk?

We deserve to be loved. We deserve to believe we are loved, and we deserve to allow ourselves to be loved. That's it. That's the point. We take the risk and just love and just receive love.

And in a few days, if I'm mired in feeling unloved, remind me that I wrote this. And if you're having a bad day, let me know, and I'll remind you that you can love, and that you are loved.

Happy Holidays and a whole lot of love,

Jessica

A Letter to my Enemies

This weekend I had to factory reset my phone. When I used it to log back into my facebook account, I accidentally logged into my old facebook account. The one that I deactivated when this year went horribly wrong. On my new account, I have a lot of people blocked (it's easier to ignore what people are saying about you when you can't actually see what they're saying about you), but on the old one...well...there they all are. And one of them "liked" my Hey Lola page.

I don't know why. 

I don't know if it's a way of reaching out or just another form of passive aggressive bullying. 

But...you know...since you're here, old friend...


Dear Enemy,

I'm not sure if you've heard, but this year was really hard. A lot of untruths were spoken about me, a lot of rumors, gossip, unkind things. Some of those things were said by you.  Some of those rumors were started by you. All of those rumors built into one of the ugliest things that I've ever experienced. And it ripped scabs off of some old ugly things. I fell into a deep depression. I wanted to kill myself. My business suffered horribly. I now deal with some pretty hardcore social anxiety. I cry a lot. You know...just a hard year.

But I want you to know this - I'm ok. And what was the ugliest year has turned into a year of a lot of growth.  A really nice year, actually.

I know that I've probably spent a lot more time thinking about you than you have about me. There have been times that I've sat with my therapist (because I'm in therapy now) and just cried because I was trying so hard not to hate you.  Trying so hard to not to want to get even. Not to wish for you to fail at everything you try. I've spent months trying to figure out how to keep loving my neighbors, when my neighbors have hurt me so deeply. And in the process of healing from all of the hurt that the beginning of the year brought...

I found the truest of my friends.

I found out that talking about how hard everything can be, was healing to other people who are having a hard time.

I discovered that I don't have to try so hard or work all of the time. Sometimes I can just be.

I discovered hiking and bird watching with my husband!


I see these in real life! With my husband! (photo by James Mcghee)


I discovered the peace and healing of water.





I found my church.

I started painting again.



Painting by Jessica Mcghee




I let go of a lot of fear.

I found out that helping people is still ok, I just do it a little differently now.

I found people who really love me, and who let me love them.



I'm still struggling. This week I'm tackling resentment...I don't want to be resentful, but there it is, so I'm fighting it. I still get sad. I still freak out in public.  But these little battles are ok, because overall, I'm pretty content with how everything turned out this year.  That list up there...those are a lot of gifts that I wouldn't have if it weren't for the part of the year that sucked.

And I'm not mad at you. Like - I wish you were sorry, because I thought we were friends. I thought you knew the person that I was. I thought you wouldn't believe that I would do something like that to you. And I feel like, with so much time passing, that you have to know now. I feel like surely you must know that those were lies, and how much damage those lies did.

But maybe you don't. Or maybe you do, and you're just not sorry. But I'm not mad. I think people do things out of fear and in the interest of protecting what's theirs and sometimes when things go south, people need an enemy. And for some reason, this year I made a good enemy for a lot of people. 

It's not like I've never done the same thing. I definitely get fear. I definitely get fear based actions. And maybe your actions weren't born of fear. I guess I'll never really know.

But I want you to know this. I don't hate you. I'm not mad at you. I think that you were really careless with your words and I hope that you don't do that to anyone else, because your actions were devastating, but ...you know...I guess we all do what we think we need to do to get by.  Maybe I did something to you that was hurtful that I'm not even aware of.  If I did, I'm truly sorry. I only ever wanted to be your friend....and I have enough self awareness to know that sometimes I fall drastically short of being a good friend.

Anyway, I thought I'd throw this all out there, since you showed up. I could give this a Hallmark ending and be all, "Because of you, life is gumdrops!" and  "I love you!" and all of the sappy crap that happens in Hallmark movies that pretty much never happens in real life...

Life isn't gumdrops. But I'm a better person for making it through the worst parts of this year.  And if loving my neighbor means I don't hate you, I don't wish bad things for you, I hope you and your family are ok but I'm going to go ahead and keep you at a safe distance...then I guess I love you, neighbor. I guess I'm thankful for your actions, because at the end of the day, I like this version of me better than the version from the beginning of the year. 

Happy holidays and all the best,

Jessica


It looks like rain...

What does anxiety look like? What does depression look like? Supposedly they're "invisible illnesses."

I guess that's true.

I am in the middle of a full blown spiral downward. You probably can't tell. I'm sitting in this coffee shop, people all around me, typing...working, headphones on, just like everyone else...

We're all ok, right?

I come here to practice for work. When I get to work, I'll have to actually talk to people. Smile. Laugh. Certainly not cry. So I come here to practice just being around people for a little bit, so that when I get to work, I can be normal. Or at least look normal.

We're all ok...

It's 2:59 pm.

I am trying not to cry. I keep having to remember to sit up straight. My body tries to fold into itself and my back will hurt for days if I don't catch it.

Sit up straight.

Fix your face. You're wearing this look of devastation. It's weird. Half smile or something.

Stop biting your nails. They're bleeding.

Are you mad? Stop being mad. Stop freaking out. The past is over. No one is going to hurt you.

Who cares what they think?

Why can't I stop caring?

You hate her, don't you? This is why we never had children...

Don't hate. Hate is bad.

What does forgiveness look like?

Why are you thinking about this again?

Think about something else. Think about anything else.

I can't breathe.

Stop obsessing over that e-mail. No one cares.

Don't cry. DO NOT CRY.

I miss my husband.

DO NOT CRY.

I want to go home. I want to go to sleep. I want to go to sleep and never get up...
But no...we don't give up that easily...

I should take more vitamin D. My therapist mentioned the change in seasons...

But I love winter...I just hate me.

I don't hate me. I hate my brain.

Why is this happening? Why won't it stop? Why won't it just shut up?

I can't.

I can't be here anymore.

I want to scream. Screaming is weird. Do not scream.

My chest. My chest hurts.

Don't cry. Keep typing.

Fix your face. Look around. Smile at strangers.

Someone walked in that I know. Head down. Don't look up. Pretend that you don't see them. They might want to talk to you. Head down, keep typing.

Don't cry.

3:08 pm.

This goes on forever.

It never turns off.

In my head, it looks like rain. It feels like drowning.

But it's invisible.

3:08 pm in a coffeeshop, typing, headphones on, and we're all ok...


...it looks like we're all ok.

If you say "Anxiety" three times in a mirror...

...then anxiety will show up and kill you. Or something.

Although I've apparently always had anxiety, this year I developed a really lovely case of social anxiety. From hell. It makes me weird, and then I feel like I have to explain why I'm weird, which makes me want to cry, which makes me just abruptly end sentences and run away.

This is so far away from the person I have been all of my life. Anxiety, yes. I am a lifelong nail biter, worrier, over-thinking over-explainer. But I've also always been pretty good with people.

I mean...I used to be a stripper (that's a story for another day). Standing naked in a room full of strangers doesn't really go with social anxiety. And now I own a bar, so being social is a requirement of my life.

But...

Oh my god. This week has been so hard. And it's kind of funny, because I'm pretty sure that a lot of people think that I really have my shit together.

For the record...I definitely do NOT have my shit together. Just in case you also don't have your shit together... we're in this boat together, trying our hardest to keep it afloat.


I think we're taking in a little bit of water...?


My anxiety is raging and I feel exposed and naked and weird and I wish people would stop looking at me and even if they're not looking at me it feels like they're looking at me and I just want to crawl inside of myself and hide from everything. And because I can't hide from anything because life requires that you be present, I feel weighed down and freaked out and sad, and here comes depression...

And here's what's really triggering everything - my writing about Eugene and the decision to sell our bar.

I write about Eugene because I think it's really important to share these stories, and to share them from the viewpoint of someone that you know. It hits a little closer to home when it's not something you saw on the news or a facebook post that's been shared a gazillion times. Most people who read my blog know me, so through me, you can know Eugene, and see what he's up against. And maybe it will change your way of thinking a little bit because now it's real...because you know me, and you know that I care about Eugene. That's my hope. BUT - as a result of trying to write honestly about myself and my struggles and hopes and friendships, now you see me.

You can see Eugene, which is good.

You can see me, which is bad.

I also wrote about selling my bar and some of our customers are kind of freaking out. I get it. I'm kind of freaking out, too. I know - I KNOW - that this is the right decision. But I also know that my husband and I built Blue together. We saw friendships and marriages start here. We started a community movement. There are gardens and murals and volunteer days and a community association solely dedicated to this neighborhood and all of that was born in our bar.

I will cry for days when we let it go. For sure. Building Blue is one of the coolest things that I have ever been a part of. But it's time to let it go.

But people are sad and they want to talk about it and so we talk about it and then there are all of these feelings and I'm a person who cries, so I want to cry, but I'm working and I can't cry because absolutely NO ONE wants to be waited on by the over-emotional bartender who is just crying all over the place so I try to control my emotions but I can't so I go hide for a minute and now I'm weird and...

anxiety. anxiety. anxiety.

There she is. My old friend.

Such a bitch.

And she usually doesn't travel alone...depression and anxiety are pretty much BFFs - where one goes, the other one can't be far behind.




And so, anxiety has me completely twisted up in knots, feeling exposed and feeling like a weirdo. And since my writing about Eugene has triggered some of it, I start thinking about the relationship that I have with Eugene and some of our similarities...

My husband often says that one of my biggest weaknesses is that I think everyone is my friend, and that's why I get my heart broken so much. That I see friendship in everyone, I love everyone and I think they all love me back. But people don't see me the way that I see them, and when I realize that, my heart breaks a little bit. Sometimes a lotta bit.

Eugene also thinks that everyone is his friend and there is pretty much nothing you could ever say that would make him think any differently. So this week, as we work through the system and try to get him back on medication to organize his thinking a little bit, I have been struck with the horrible thought that by working to make Eugene "well"...will we break his heart over and over again?

Will he realize that people he called friends are taking advantage of him, or are people that he doesn't even know, or are people that just want him to go away?

Will he feel this heavy weight of un-reciprocated love? Will this steal some of his joy? All of his joy?

I think that I'm helping, but am I actually doing something terrible?

And I am suffocating. I feel crushed. I can never do enough. I don't know what I am doing. I'm really screwing this up. There is too much suffering. People are cruel and the world is dark and I am sinking, sinking, sinking...

Anxiety. Depression. The meanest girls in school.

But I'm a fighter, you know? I don't like to be scared of things. I don't want to be a person who doesn't do things because I'm scared. When I write, I am exposed and you see me and I hatehatehate that. But people like me, who also struggle with anxiety and depression, read my blog and feel not so alone and that means the world. That is more important than my fear. You see me, but you also see Eugene and the millions of others who are like him, and that is more important than my fear. More important than my discomfort.

I cried the whole time I wrote this. I am slumped into the tiniest version of myself that I can possibly make. My fingernails are shredded. But I am not dead. This will not kill me. Anxiety and depression are the meanest girls in school, but if you stand up to bullies, eventually they go away.

Or at least to the opposite side of the cafeteria.










Why Don't You Just Get a Job?

A few weeks ago I wrote about my friend Eugene.  Eugene is homeless and mentally ill and we've become friends over the past few months. It feels a little bit weird prefacing every story about Eugene with "he's homeless and mentally ill," as though that somehow defines him. Those things do not define Eugene. But they do make life difficult for him and those difficulties are relevant in sharing the story of my friendship with Eugene.

I always ask Eugene for permission to write about him. I don't write what he doesn't want me to write. I don't share these stories or pictures without his consent, which I ask for before I write each post. I believe his mental capacity is enough that he understands what I'm asking.




About a month ago, Eugene told me that he had to go to court. I asked if I could go with him, and he said yes. I knew that Eugene had no real home, and I could tell from our conversations that he was living with some sort of mental disability. I thought that maybe if I went to court with him, I could see exactly where he was in the system, and maybe I could somehow help him have a life that was maybe...a little...easier?

I don't know.

I get these ideas and I don't know what I'm doing and I don't know what I hope the outcome will be, but I live with this constant voice in my head that's telling me that I can help. I've had to quiet it down occasionally because sometimes, the truth is - I can't help. And if I try to help, I'm going to screw everything up. OR, people don't want my help and my trying to help just pisses them off. OR, I try to help people so much that I forget my own needs and I end up completely screwed. It's a little bit like an illness that I've had to learn to manage - this "chronic helping."

So, with all of the hope and ignorance and desire to help that I could gather, I went to court with Eugene for the first time. My friend Dannette owns a bar across the street from me. She also considers Eugene a friend, so we all went to court together. Strength in numbers, or something.

The thing is, even though I went  with Eugene to try and help...court freaks me out. I'm pretty much the least qualified person to go help someone out in a court date. I had to go once regarding a car that I had let sit in my driveway for two years. I was in school for biology and somehow, I thought that the judge had decided that I was an environmental terrorist. I just sat there hysterically sobbing the whole time, while everyone in the courtroom looked at me as though I were completely insane.

Another time I had to testify against someone who had brought a gun into a club I worked at. I basically just quivered and mumbled and pointed and tried not to cry.

I don't know what to do in court. If I'm not in trouble, I feel like I'm in trouble. If I am in trouble, I make the trouble a thousand times bigger than it actually is. Judges are super intimidating.

But I went to court with Eugene...even though I don't even know if I'm allowed to be in court with Eugene. We were lucky enough to run into a friend who gave us some advice, and when Eugene was called to the bench, I went with him. The judge asked who I was and I stammered my name and said that I was a friend and an advocate for Eugene. My face turned bright red. I was shaking. I almost cried. What the hell is an advocate, anyway? I just threw that out there because I felt like it made me sound like I was legitimately supposed to be there.

I do not know what I am doing, and I am totally freaked out.

This was apparently a second appearance for Eugene. At his first appearance he had asked for time to hire an attorney. Eugene doesn't have a real understanding of what an attorney costs. He believes the state's attorney is his best friend, and that he can represent Eugene in court. Before we went in front of the judge, Eugene and I talked about the importance of asking for a public defender. Eugene cannot afford a lawyer. He has no real income.

The judge looked at me, rolled his eyes and said something about Eugene being here with "his assistant." He then asked Eugene if he had a lawyer. Eugene did not. Eugene started saying something about the state's attorney being his lawyer. He pointed at another lawyer and said, "that's my lawyer," at which point the lawyer stated that Eugene hadn't hired him. Eugene wasn't making a lot of sense and the judge leaned back in his chair, said that he had asked a yes or no question, and that he was now starting to get mad.

Look...I get it. Eugene is really well known in the courts. They're all probably sick of seeing him. But the thing is...his mental disability is obvious, even if you talk to him for just a couple of minutes. It's clear he's homeless. How does this process, where we pretend that Eugene completely understands what's going on, benefit anyone? The judge? The court? The city? The people? Eugene? Who benefits from this? What problem are we solving?

At the end of the day, Eugene denied a public defender and got an extension to come back to court on another date, with a private lawyer - a private lawyer that he still won't have the money to pay for, and so he'll show up without an attorney - again.

I wonder how much that experience cost the courts? What was the point?

Dannette and I went back to court with Eugene the next day, and I again went before the judge with him. A different judge. A remarkable difference in how we were treated. This judge also obviously knew Eugene, was compassionate and caring, and we were assigned a public defender.

There were two charges of  "pedestrian soliciting contributions on a highway" and one charge of "improper pedestrian crossing of road." The state's attorney offered 150 days in jail, with one day credited for each one day served - so 75 days.

To clarify some points I made in a previous blog post - Eugene is homeless. He does not have access to a shower. He has a mental disability. He does not smell very good, he does not make a lot of sense. His chances of getting hired by anyone for a legitimate job are pretty much zero. His options are to basically go away and quietly die, so that society doesn't have to deal with him anymore, or to do what he needs to do to survive. So he does what he needs to do to survive. As he should.

Since 2010, Eugene has been ticketed and/or arrested 106 times.This is what it's like to be a homeless person who can't access resources and can't get a job. These are the things he has been ticketed/arrested for: Obstructing a driver on the highway. Soliciting a ride on the roadway. Soliciting employment on a highway. Walking on the highway. Trespassing. Improper crossing of the road. Panhandling. Yelling in the street. Using the wrong crosswalk.

There are other charges. Disorderly conduct. Public Intoxication. A paraphernalia charge. But most of them...I believe over 90 of them...are for the initial reasons listed above.

(Some people might say, "oh, but look - a paraphernalia charge! Drugs, so, he's a bad guy." Well, first, drugs don't make somebody a bad guy, and second, Eugene picked a pipe up off of the ground, got arrested for trespassing, got in trouble for the pipe. I believe that Eugene doesn't lie to me, and I've never seen him high. I also believe that if you've already been arrested 100 times, no one in the world is going to believe that you "just found" a pipe on the ground. Except for me. Because I know Eugene and I know he picks up everything he sees on the ground.)

I also want to point out that I am well aware that Eugene has a police record that spans 30+ years. I'm only able to access records starting when he was 17. I know some of Eugene's history. My own family history mirrors some of his. I know when all of the odds are against you, and your support system is non-existent, how very easy it is to veer the wrong way at a young age, and never be able to find your way back on track.

So, I don't really care about anyone else's version of Eugene or about the mistakes he made in his past. I care about the person I know.

And the person I know is basically being repeatedly arrested for being homeless and mentally disabled. He is repeatedly being pushed through the courts, and this is what he will do for eternity until someone addresses the root of these problems.

The courts don't seem to have any interest in doing this. I don't believe that Eugene has ever gone to court with an advocate. Together, Eugene and I rejected the States Attorney's offer of 150 days. Eugene had an appointment at the Human Services Center, we were going to do an assessment, we were going to see if we could get new medication, explore job programs, housing programs, anything we could find. And for the first time, Eugene had a support system willing to navigate this process with him.

The State's Attorney came back with an offer of 60 days. We reiterated that we were making attempts to travel a different path, and declined the offer. After all, 2 months in jail isn't going to teach Eugene how NOT to be disadvantaged. So we're going back to court.

Yesterday another solicitation for employment charge came through, so we now have 3 court dates in January.

Today we had our assessment with Human Services. I was going to meet Eugene at 9 am this morning, so we could go together. Last night, at 1:30 am, as I was driving home from work, I saw Eugene walking down the sidewalk. It was snowing. Kind of raining. Mostly cold. I pulled over and asked him where he was going. He said he wanted to make sure that he was going to make his appointment in the morning, so he was just going to sleep under the stairs behind my bar.

Again - snowy, rainy, mostly cold. Everything is wet. The stairs behind my bar sit on top of mud. Eugene has no hat, no gloves, no winter coat.

So that's not going to work. But I don't know what I'm doing and also, boundaries. Boundaries are really important. Eugene can't come home with me.

As luck would have it...or God...or whatever...my patrons at the bar had been extraordinarily generous with me that evening. Like, not just a little bit generous. Really generous. Like - generous to the point that I was like, "this is too much. I have to give this back or something."

And here comes Eugene. I thought about using the money to get him a hotel room for the night, but Eugene will need help for more than one night. So we went to Walmart and bought a coat, some gloves, a hat, a yellow safety vest and a cold weather sleeping bag. We went to McDonald's and bought some food. Then we drove around for a while trying to find a place where he could sleep - where he might find some dry shelter, and hopefully not get arrested.

You might be thinking, "Why not go to a shelter?"

Because apparently it's just not that simple.  But the shelter system discussion is for another day...

I picked Eugene up this morning and we went to the assessment. I think it went well, but we won't really know anything until next week. We also have to be on a weird schedule because Eugene doesn't have a phone or a home, so the only way that I have of being sure to get information to him is our weekly meeting on Wednesdays. So everything always has to wait a week.

After the assessment, we called Social Security to try and find out what was going on with his disability. After nearly an hour on hold, we gave up. We're going to try going in person to the local office next week. I'm going to call some local agencies and see what options are available. And in the meantime, the weather will get colder, and I don't know where Eugene will sleep.

I have a car and a phone and I can drive and I'm usually able to speak coherently. I can do all of these things and I am already exhausted with this process. I already have a running mantra in my head of "This is fucked. This is SO fucked."

In the meantime, Eugene keeps telling me how blessed he is.  And he wanted me to make sure I shared another picture of  him working, in his safety vest, which he has turned into his "work uniform."




The Church Mouse gave Eugene that suitcase in the background. The owners at Tasty's got him some new clothes and wrote on his vest to create his"uniform." Dannette from the Basket Case provided those socks on his feet. My customers made it possible for him to have that hat and that vest. This neighborhood has embraced Eugene.

That is a look of pride on Eugene's face, because he is working, which is all he wants to do...

These connections and these experiences are humbling, you guys. Overwhelming. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Life changing.

And I still don't know what I'm doing. Eugene kind of knows what he's doing. We're figuring this shit out. I just wanted to share this journey with you...to let you to know that this is really hard, and "why don't you just get a job?" sounds so easy...but sometimes life just doesn't work like that.

I didn't know it was like this. I've been homeless, but I didn't know ...really know...it was like this.

Sometimes life is so much harder than it looks.

And still, Eugene will tell you that he is blessed.



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 truth...how 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.




Thankful

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 then...here we are.
I don't want to die anymore. And while I will always be bewildered...and hurt...by 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.





When life hands you lemons, paint a mural.

It's 3:00 in the morning and I started to tell the story of how this mural came to be, but I got tired, so I'm just going to show you a bunch of pictures of how great the process of creating it was, and tell you who made it happen. Because a lot of people worked to make this happen, and it's way up there on the list of things that I'm the most proud to have been part of.



                         

Basically, there was this ugly wall behind my bar...





...and Jasmin Garcia had this great idea...




...and a bunch of us really liked the idea ...



...including my therapist, who said that she and her partner would buy some paint for us, because none of us really have any money...



...and a bunch of us had had kind of a challenging year, so throwing paint at a wall for a few hours sounded like the best thing ever...



...and it looked really cool when it was done...




...except it wasn't done...



...we had to wait until dark to outline the letters...



...and we had to leave it like this for a while. People were really polite...like,"oh...yeah...that's...um...nice?"



...and it was nice, even if they didn't really get what was going on and thought Jasmin was just DJing in the alley...



It was so hot on this day. Gross hot.



...but it started to come together...





...and we had to work in the dark again...






...and we painted until 2 am and Shiho climbed all of the ladders and would still be painting right now if we wouldn't have stopped her...



We ended up having to sleep, but we wanted to have the majority of it finished by August First Friday. We are incredibly excited about what we've done so far, and we hope that you'll come by and see our work in progress, because we're completely in love with it! 

These are all of the awesome people who made this happen:

Jasmin Garcia - concept, design and direction
Main Street Liquors gave us the use of their wall
Officer Ryan Winkle facilitated the "can we please paint your wall" conversation
Lisa Schwab and her business partner bought the paint for us
The City of Peoria, Illinois gave us the permits we needed
Shannon Techie helped us figure out what we needed to get those permits
Schuyler Monet gave us great advice and direction
Maris Mednis and Marcus Fogliano took photos while we crawled around on rooftops
Nick Viera gave us desperately needed technical support
Shiho Amano, Laura Cordell, ChelseaAnna Gilmer, Jessica McGhee, Jasmin Garcia, Morgan Mullen, and various neighbors who stopped by while we worked all contributed to painting the mural

And I probably forgot someone because it's 4 am and I'm a forgetful person. Please know it's not a slight. I'm just sleepy. And I'm coated in paint.