Let me start by making it clear that my house is in no way spotless or completely free of clutter. I am a writer and a teacher with a super strong creative side (which means I can look up from a month-long project and wondered why it looks like my house burped). Though I must say I have a teacher friend with a super spotless, clutter-free existence that I long to emulate. At the same time this is the friend that taught me that light-colored (white) carpets are simply carpets and will clean up just fine (so quit freaking out and chasing Benjamin around with a towel and a bottle of spot remover every time we came over for a visit). So now that you understand the dichotomy that is my relationship with dirt and clutter let me begin…
When my children were young I longed for beautiful, spotless, single-colored carpets. Five people living in a small apartment caused me to be inventive and vigilant, ever rotating toys and culling constantly. Yet, we were never completely free of “stuff”, because we were very blessed and if we gave it away more came back to us. Trips to a hotel were amazing for me, as everything was perfect when I walked in.
In the past ten years my children have been spending more time away from home, yet as happy boomerangs do, they always returned… with their stuff. My husband and sons like to tell me that the house isn’t messy rather it is “lived-in”. For years I would spring clean my house before the holidays, but I noticed that their suitcases exploded after a day or two and time with them seemed more important than a spotless home.
Yet after the holidays everyone has to get back to their lives and the exodus begins. If I am not careful they can all skip town without helping take down the Christmas decorations they insist must be as in their childhood days (or it is not really Christmas). But I am onto their scheme now and even left stuff up last year until February so I didn’t have to do it alone. After the tree is down, the packing (and theft of shampoos, washcloths, razors etc) commences and my last round of baking takes place so no one leaves hungry. And then the reality happens… they go.
We are far from empty-nesters, who sit around watching and waiting for their chicks to return. We love to travel and even have a cruise planned in January most years. Yet the house is different after the last one heads out. For one thing, it is usually a mess. Their rooms contain the vestiges of packing strewn to the side, because they will get it “the next time I’m home”. The dishes are piled high from the farewell meal and the house shows signs of more than being lived in, more like abandonment.
If there is one child that still lives at home we pitch in together and get every thing back into its cubbyhole. I take my car in to be washed and return the rental car. We call in the cleaners after a week or two in order to find the spotless carpets I always dreamed about and put our life back into place.
This year will be different. The last one is leaving and no one else will be living at home. Today I felt it, as my son headed out to his military base for a training exercise. He will return soon and then begin to close up his life here at home and head out for quite awhile. All of the kids are coming back in to see him off and the house will explode with laughter, suitcases, food and fun. Though my children all lead their own lives, even during their brief sabbaticals under our roof, we still saw each other in the hallways and caught up as their Dad and I walked by their rooms. Our stolen moments of heart-felt talks after a late night swing shift or an unexpected tag-a-long for dinner out are priceless and we made the most of each one. We do not have a single regret and accept their future with pride and joy.
Yet we know the day is coming and that it is almost here. The last one will leave and once again I will grab the vacuum cleaner. Putting everything back in place is my haven from the emotions that overcome me, because I never want them to see me sad as they go. They think mom is glad to have her home in place again, but I wouldn’t have traded one moment of their upbringing for spotless carpets…
You see, carpets clean up just fine but my lost moments of their childhood never would.
Almost two years ago I wrote the post below, never imagining the journey I was embarking upon mentally, physically and spiritually.
December 24, 2013
So the journey begins sooner than I expected. Was it just fourteen hours ago that I sat eating an In-n-Out burger with Paul talking about my idea for a blog and social experiment? I was planning on chronicling the journey of fitness. I had been seriously thinking about the trend of the body image war. I wondered if it was possible to become physically fit without the self-loathing of a person’s former body image.
As I talked about the idea of blogging privately with a reveal of my findings at a final date when I felt that I had reached a milestone, I never thought my first blog entry would be from a hospital bed at 4:45 in the morning.
Here I lie in tremendous pain due to chest pains and the doctor’s proactive plans to protect my heart while they run a battery of tests in the morning.
That night was not one I will ever forget. I am happy to say that my heart is doing great. The chest pains are related to GERD (acid reflux) and stress (which I have had way too much of lately). This didn’t keep me from all of the terrible shots in the stomach (blood thinners), the nitro paste with terrible side effects, or the misery that I had with the migraine that would not be solved with pain meds. An eye-opener indeed.
Fast forward five months to May 2014, I posted this on FB:
One should never presume to judge another person’s appearance. In this world where beauty is a constant source of arguments between the ones calling for media perfection and others yelling accusations of “body shamming”, we need to rise above it all.
While some may look at the picture of me on the right and see someone that is overweight and not caring about herself, I see a wonderful woman who was surviving the death of her father in 2012. The woman in that picture was choosing to smile on Christmas morning, she was strong and moving forward in the midst of pain. She is my hero… Not because she is overweight and loving who she is, but because she lasts in the midst of difficult challenges. She loves and cares for others while she works through her own serious emotions.
Most would cheer me for the picture on the left that was taken today. Interestingly enough, I love that woman for exactly the same reasons. She lasts. Though most would say, “Wow! You look terrific! Awesome job.” They would be surprised to find that though my body has went through changes that have caused me to lose weight, it is also in a pretty big health battle. I spent Mother’s Day in the ER tackling a reoccurring irritation, but I know that I am healed in Jesus’ name. You see, I love both of these women, because they smile and last and love.
Next time you see someone who has gained a bit of weight or maybe even lost some, remember what is truly important is who they are inside. Love them and appreciate them for their soul and spirit not their house. And most importantly, make sure you do it when you look in the mirror… because you judge that person all the time.
Learn to love yourself today, wherever you stand.
Now a year and a half later I sit here at my computer wondering about this woman, amazed at all she has overcome and how she has evolved. Never did I expect all that the next 18 months had in store for me. My oh my, God is faithful.
So begins the next chapter of my story.
Sometimes when you are the strong one the journey can become a bit difficult. After all the years in ministry of helps I have learned the value of one-on-one time with my Father. It can be the difference between victory and failure, an essential time to regroup and build oneself up to continue the path.
What I find difficult is when I have stood solo for so long and a well-meaning person arrives with the long-awaited question of “How are you?” As I have asked this question to many others time and time again I understand just how much people need that ear, that sounding board to validate the journey’s battles and to ask for encouragement and insight going forward. As a strong one, I have also found that the person who asks me this question is not really equipped or prepared timewise to provide this service for me. Sometimes the request spurs the listener to a quick answer of what I should do to “stand in the faith” or how they would handle my situation after only a few moments of information. At times the listener might even find something within my spoken word that will shift the focus to “someone they knew” that experienced the same thing or how “that happened” to them.
As a strong one I am cautious now. Not because I am “too private” or “not willing to share”. In reality, I would love to share with those that have the time when I have the time. I would love to sit and have coffee and find out how my other “strong” friends are doing and share my journey too. In fact, I am sure it would be a great time of refreshening for both of us. After all God talks to us about the body of Christ strengthening each other.
What I find difficult is when I am at a place where it seems like I could share with an individual, need I even possibly use the term “friend”, and as I begin to chat – the busyness of life interferes. I begin to hear the “hhhhmmm uhmmm” of the person on the other line multi-tasking or they begin to blank out on me in person waiting for the lull in the conversation to occur. When I stop talking they become quick to give me encouragement and tell me of their love and prayers. I thank them and the conversation switches topics or ends.
I wouldn’t describe these times as hurtful, they really aren’t any more. I actually even smile now when they occur because I can see them as they unfold. What I find them is time-consuming. You see, for a strong person it requires a lot for them to switch modes and bring out their innermost thoughts for review. When a strong person feels rushed or unheard they will thank you for your encouragement and send you on your way, blissfully unaware of their next steps. As you leave, the emotions of the strong person’s heart are still in front of them on the table. They reserve the viewing of those emotions usually to private times with God and they brought them out for you to see and to give you a glimpse into their soul; both victories and struggles. After you leave, the strong one has to pick them all up and pack them back into their “God Box”. Sometimes those emotions are messy and it is like leaving right in the middle of open heart surgery, leaving the patient to unhook themselves and shuffle back outside. It takes a lot of work to put your guts back inside yourself, especially if it is during a lunch hour phone call.
So if you have a friend who is the “strong one” or appears quite private, do not be surprised if they cannot sum up their journey in a text message or a five-minute phone call. They do love you and would love to share their thoughts at the same time as listening to yours. But if time is usually a constraint, they would much rather listen to you because it gives them a bit of peace by escaping theirs. They aren’t floundering though, they have a close God-Line that they use regularly. They unload their God-Box and hear from heaven on the things that matter the closest to them. The know the secret to their “strength” and when you call them the “strong one” they laugh a little inside… because they know they aren’t really strong at all.
This past week I had the privilege of being with my close friend and her daughters, 23 and 16, as they walked her through the difficult necessity of a bilateral (dual) mastectomy. There is something real and intense about situations like these that brings the reality of who a person is inside and the value of the love within one’s heart.
I saw this firsthand when after two days my friend took the dreaded leap and looked at her scar-ridden body for the first time. We prepared her for a shower and she slowly turned to the mirror. As the tears-filled her eyes and dismay her features I watched the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I watched as two young girls surrounded their mom with their arms.
They held her to them and whispered words of love. The oldest then took my friend’s face in her palms and looked her directly in the eye and told her, “You’re beautiful. I love you. I love you, Mom.” The whispered words continued from them both, as she stroked her face and they all fought the battle together.
The beauty in the strength portrayed in my friend’s quiet weeping and her daughters’ coming-of-age in the truth that “Moms are women, too” was overwhelming. Women strengthen women. My friend drew on that strength and I imagine her daughters will never be the same again.
With all that has happened in the past month many would consider it normal to be a bit emotional. Yet words fail to adequately describe the intensity of the emotion that rolls through Paul and I today as we watch our youngest, Benjamin don a graduation gown and accept his BA diploma. Last night during the candlelight service we stood in awe and after getting engulfed by Benj’s arms for a long hug I walked away in tears to the car.
We talked about where we have come from; two kids in-between freshman and sophomore year of college who found out their first child was on the way. We talked about where Benjamin had come from and all the struggles he had to prove himself along the way. We held hands and wondered how the time had gone by so fast and how God had made it all work in spite of our innocence and naivety.
No one truly know the journey that takes a person to where you see them today. When you see the pictures of our youngest son clad in his graduation gown, they will make you smile, but to Paul and I they are a trophy – a testament to a faithful God. Faithful – when 8-year-old Benj was sent to the PICU with a concussion and small bleed from a Little League accident, when we were struggling financially to the degree that we only had ice cream left to eat (the kids thought this was great, but not our shining moment), when Benj struggled with his grades for five years, when Benj stood by my Dad’s urn dressed in his BDUs and saluted him one last time (heartbroken that he wouldn’t see this day), when he and two other cadets rolled their SUV in the San Bernardino Mountains during a training exercise, and for all the times Paul and I had no clue how we all made it through victoriously.
Congratulations to Benjamin! And for Paul and I this is our shining moment. We breath a sigh of relief and hug each other in gratefulness. No matter how our life begun we made it here and each one of our babies became a wonderful adult – with a college diploma. You see, Paul stands proud watching as his second son graduates from his alma mater. Yes, Alex went to Princeton just like his dad, but no one realizes that Paul gave it all up and took classes for the next eighteen years and finally graduated from Azusa Pacific University in 2007 fulfilling his dream to be the first in our family to graduate from college.
God did superabundantly, above anything we could have asked or thought. Not one but two sons that honor him and walk through the path he trailblazed for them. They honor me as the glue that holds this family together during the journey. They honor each other and their sister as the best friends that held their hands along the way. We watch today as Benj joins 1,000 other students on that podium, a testament to a faithful God, who knew where we would be today.
Jeremiah 29:11 (MSG)
I work from home alone. Yes my job does take me out into the field with plenty of driving, but essentially I work alone. This schedule has so many perks; time to be there for my children, getting things done around the house during the week, and time to talk with friends throughout the day without upsetting a supervisor by “too many personal calls”. You know what else it gives me time for? It gives me time to be the greatest confidant and the biggest mean girl on my job… to myself.
I say this because I am getting ready to head back to California after three weeks of working through my son being hit by a car in NYC. During those three weeks I slept in waiting room chairs, ate sporadically and slept little. When things were touch and go none of this seemed to matter. All that mattered was that my son would get better. Well in the past few days, I have been noticing the weight gain, gray hair, and pale skin from living inside and sitting all day. As he became better, to ease the strain of the emotions I was suppressing nothing was better than eating. Not having access or time to grab healthy foods, I lived on snacks and water, not even noticing when I was eating.
In the past few days I have told myself to fast; to literally starve off the belly I have gained. Good thing I haven’t chosen to do this, because I know better. But I recognize the mean girl talking to me. She is the one when I open my eyes, who feels my stomach to see how bloated it has become, who chastises me when I pass by a mirror. She is the one who tells me that I could be ten pounds lighter, if only I was the type who handled stress by being unable to eat a bite. (As if that was a healthier way to be. HAH!)
You may have your own “mean girl” in your life. The one who asks you why you haven’t lost weight since your children were born or points out the places on your body that make you the most insecure. Who is this mean girl? How did we let her in our life? If she was a separate entity others would overhear her disparaging comments and tell us that she is toxic to our life. Our closest friends would seek to separate us from her influence and remind us of our value.
So this morning when my eyes began to open and I heard her voice, I made a decision. Remember how I mentioned that I am able to talk to friends throughout the day? One of the things I love to do is call them to encourage them. I let them know that they are important and can do this thing called, “Life” in an extraordinary way. I comfort them through battles and remind them of their courage under fire. I am their friend trying to speak louder than the mean girl in their minds. So I decided to be my own best friend this morning.
I told myself I was proud of me. I reminded myself that my body was beautiful because it sat by my son’s bedside. When he opened his eyes in the ICU he sighed and said, “You came. Thank you for coming.” He couldn’t have said that if I wasn’t living in this wonderful body. It was my face that he sees when he walks in the door, it is my hand that he holds as he shares his dreams of the future, it is my cheek that he kisses goodnight. I need this body and this body is beautiful. When people see me they smile, because I arrive in this spectacular body that takes me from here to there with ease.
As my own best friend I will still encourage myself to eat better and get to the gym more, but I won’t allow that mean girl to make me forget what I love about this body I am in. I love this body because like a car it takes me everywhere I need to be, but I hardly notice all the miles and memories it has given me unless it starts to give me trouble. You see, I have a beautiful convertible that I have become used to driving. I am surprised at times when other compliment me on my car though I waited years and years for her. Yet she is familiar now and my means to get from one appointment to another, and at times I forget how wonderful she is. My body is a bit like that, I forget how much she really does for me and the people in this world that I touch.
Love yourself and your body today. Be your own best friend and stifle the words of the mean girl that would dare to tell you lies about your value. You are amazing and so is this wonderful body that carries you from moment to moment of awesomeness!
Today at 6:00 pm marks two weeks since the accident. Wow! How can so much good have happened in such a short amount of time?
Paul and I have been asked about our lives and whether they are as “perfect as they look on FB”, just recently… right before the accident, in fact. For those that have been noticing, this year has included some great challenges and awesome victories. Our family has walked through a long and questioning physical challenge against Jen’s body, serious external family issues, and now our son being hit by a car… and surviving while thriving. Yet some feel that our lives are a facade, hiding the reality of the effects of these battles behind smiling couple photos at a beach and our family laughing at graduations and engagement parties. Hopefully after these past two weeks, people will see that this life is authentic and open. We do this so others know that you can go through things, get slapped pretty hard by situations, bind yourself together with each other and with God and overcome… again.
We aren’t saying that we don’t need some time to recuperate from this one. We definitely do. Yet isn’t it amazing that two weeks before the event, God took us away to Oceanside to sit by the water and spend time in His presence? We were only there for a total of 3 days, but we were refreshed when this took place the following weekend.
Now we are facing the next part of this battle, separation. Paul is returning to CA, while Jen stays with Alex as he returns to work and his busy lifestyle. This isn’t easy at all; Paul having to hug his son “goodbye” and Jen facing the future without his calm outlook in the midst of each new question. Yet, we made a decision that this will make us even closer. We have talked about how we will still be there for each other through the next phase of victory.
I guess that last sentence answers all the questions posed to us. It isn’t a facade, it’s an outlook. We choose to look at the victories, even as we cry our way through the challenges. God is good and as Alex keeps saying, “We are going to be OK.”
Everyone has seen the picture of Paul with his arm around his son, mirroring the days gone by when little 6-year-old Alex had a fever. Yet there was a moment yesterday that only I was witness to. It wasn’t a time for pictures, but for me this memory will be embossed on my very spirit for the rest of my life.
Alex had made it through the day very well. He had even eaten a full meal for the first time since the accident. It was 9:00 PM and he had planned to take a walk that evening, but found himself in his bed instead. Slowly Paul and I encouraged him to just get dressed and at least walk outside, leaving him with his clothes to make the final decision.
As we stepped out of the building we both took flank positions as Alex determined our route. Apparently in pain from lack of use, Alex pushed his muscles forward. One step became two and soon the apartment building was far behind us. When we came to a bench in a deserted park and he sank down upon it. Sitting close to him was his daily shadow, his Dad. After a few minutes, I watched my son close his eyes, lean his head over and rest it upon his Dad’s chest, not his shoulder. Encircling him with his arms, Paul placed his head softly on top of his, cradling a strong young man who was pushing through the biggest challenge of his life.
It took everything in me to not cry, but remain strong as my husband provided the strength Alex needed at that moment.
After a bit Alex lifted his head and after a few more minutes, rose to continue. Knowing the amount of pain he was in, I was shocked to see him turn right instead of left, which would have led us back home. Instead he encircled another two block radius before arriving at his door. I truly believe he draws strength from his father’s very presence.
There is so much waiting for Paul in California, with work responsibilities and deadlines. Paul was scheduled to leave Sunday and then again on Monday. Finally he stopped changing his flight and simply left the world to contend for itself for a bit longer. “Of course, he did.”, you may say. But though many fathers would stay with their wounded child, how many would truly be present in this way? To live every painful step and every difficult decision to get up and go one more block? How many men would be complete enough in themselves to be the very strength of physical and emotional love that Paul is providing for his son.
I believe that both of my sons will be wonderful fathers because of their Dad’s example of real manhood. A masculinity that isn’t stereotypical at all. Instead it is powerful and safe enough to allow his grown sons to lean their head upon his chest and let Dad make it all better by simply encircling them in his embrace.
No words were needed… because they both understood exactly what was being said in the silence.
****I count it a blessing to have watched Paul over these past nine days and call him my children’s father. Cheers to a wonderful man, Paul Christopher Pimentel.
Unfortunately, he had new pain that Paul and I found questionable after he returned. We insisted he go back to the ER and have it checked, which bought him another stay in the hospital due to some wonky test numbers. They wanted to keep him an extra night tonight, but he threatened to grab his shoes and make a run for it the first chance he found. So now we are back home again with new prescriptions and an adjusted plan. Paul cancelled his return trip home due to the setbacks.
We are happy to see Alex’s fighting spirit return and look forward to him being out in the big city on his own soon. We are seeing Alex’s desire for complete control of his medical future as a good sign of progress, such a turnaround from the young man we found in ICU a week ago. (Anything to stop Mom from getting him put in the hospital again is his plan!!!)
We have been given “six months to complete recovery” now and though he will have to adjust certain things, he will become stronger every day. The tough days can be daunting and emotional for those of us closest to him, but we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Here are pictures of the happier moment yesterday as he walked with his father in the city.
Now Paul prepares to return to California tomorrow, but not until he secures the police report on Monday morning.
You see, Alex cannot be seen by the follow up neurosurgeon until we have a police report to start a no-fault insurance claim. We told them that our insurance will handle the cost, but the law says that they cannot book with me until they have an adjuster. This would have been ok if we had our regular doctor in the city, but his insurance in NYC kicks in on November 1. So the bureaucracy has us going around in circles. As a mom, all I care about is who I can speak to in order to get advice on the pain management. No one ever returned my call. I finally had to call his doctor back in CA to walk us through it and they were wonderful!
Paul had a similar experience at the police station. Again and again he was told that there was no report on file. He couldn’t understand how a car can hit someone and the police aren’t called. It didn’t add up in his investigator’s mind. So he haunted the police station chasing ghosts. Finally the woman asked, “WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?” He didn’t let her off the hook and the Paul Pimentel people rarely get to see, unless they see him on the job came through. The easy-going, quiet fade-into-the-background man was gone. He was respectful, direct but uncompromising on his purpose; he was leaving with answers! Key words and sharing his next plan of action, along with all the prayers made a difference. Four hours later, Paul had a name of an officer and the fact that there were TWO VEHICLES not one. We still do not have the report but it will be finished on Monday morning. Paul refuses to leave until it is in his hand, because it is the link for the next step in Alex’s health care.
I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it is to have Paul right on top of things; running down leads all over town, interviewing firefighters, and walking through the scene of the accident. All this time, Alex has been unable to be burdened with the questions and knowing ‘Dad’s got it’ helps him rest. In a few hours we will be at exactly one week and my hero will be at that intersection reaching out to the community and checking out the cameras on the buses to piece together what happened.
We have been well-equipped by each and every person who has prayed and stood with us. Soon Alex will have the doctor’s appointment and a plan for tomorrow’s healing.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!