In Memory of Denise

It is hard to forget someone who gave you so much to remember.

Today the world lost a special person, my dear friend Denise. We’d been friends since the day we met, only two years ago at a planning meeting for Little Black Dress. I didn’t know then what kind of impression she would make on my life and it is with a very heavy heart that I grieve her loss.

Denise was the type of person who was adored by everyone she met. She had a contagious smile, a loving heart, a fighter’s strength, and a glorious soul. She was never more than a phone call away, even with her crazy schedule of juggling motherhood, work, and being a breast cancer awareness advocate. There is no way to fully express her impact in the community and in my own life.

This past Friday I was blessed to have spent time with Denise over one of our shared passions — wine. During those few hours we shared together, Denise offered me a compliment on how inspired she was with all my “running success”. Thinking back, I have a heavy heart that I was not able to verbally share with her how inspirational she has been in my life and thank her for the many moments of wisdom and advice she has offered me.

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This is something I will always regret, not telling her that she was more than just a good friend to me, but also a mentor. Every moment spent with her urged me to be a better person. As one of the numerous sentiments said on her Facebook profile, “This vibrant woman taught me so much about living life, caring for one’s self, and caring for others.” This says it simply and clearly; there are few people who made a better role model than Denise.

A breast cancer survivor and advocate, Denise was one of the strongest women I have ever met. She put her entire heart into every aspect of her life. From planning social events to kick cancer’s butt to sharing her infectious laugh on the local radio morning show to being an awesome mother to her three kids, Denise was a superstar. She was the very definition of “inspiration”.

Only yesterday I received an email from Denise that not only showed her energy and fun-loving spirit, but also demonstrated one of her passions: “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the fact I had breast cancer…not one single day. (even though I was diagnosed 8 years ago) That’s probably because despite the fact you can beat the disease, it leaves behind scars, not only on your body but your mind.  Thinking about my cancer journey daily isn’t bad, it’s just become part of the routine…like brushing your teeth, putting on perfume and picking out what bad-ass pair of shoes you want to wear that day to go take on the world!” The tragedy of her loss has sent shock waves throughout the entire Michiana community.

For someone who fought so hard to make sure she was present to watch her children grow up, and in turn fought for others to also have that same opportunity, her death is crushingly depressing. It is confusing. And it is unfair.

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As Denise’s family and friends begin their journeys of grief, its difficult to know how to move forward. It’s difficult to imagine a world without this warrior in it. There will always be a crater in our lives where Denise once stood, but perhaps with thoughts of her laughter and good works we may attempt to find understanding in this stunning event.

Even with the imminent sadness, it is heartwarming to know that the world is a better place having known Denise. So many lives were touched by this wonderful woman, and I hope her passionate work fighting against cancer is carried on by those she leaves behind. Many prayers to her friends, family, and especially her children during this hard time.

Toasting a sweet white in your name, my friend. You will truly be missed.

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Pity Party for One, Please

So today I threw myself a pity-party. I sat down on my bed, looked into the mirror, and sighed heavily. I sighed at the lifelessness of my hair, the tightness of my clothes, the lack of luster in my skin. I sighed at how mundane things seem to be right now. I sighed at the feeling of being under appreciated.

Then, when I was done noting all my faults, counting all the regrets, casting all the worthless wishes, I took a deep breath… and I realized I had just caught myself feeling like a victim.

Now you would think that after all my writing about responsibility and accountability, I would know when I was feeling victimized by someone or something, right? I would know that feeling victimized meant a lesson was right around the corner and I would willing embrace it, right? Well, let me level with you guys: about 99.9% of the time that I recognize the truth, I’m very unenthusiastic to find out what I’m meant to learn from the experience.

This is not one of the rare 0.01% situations. I am actually feeling very overloaded, overtired, and very resentful. Something is off and I know what it is…

Admittedly, it is natural for me to create a persona for myself that fully embodies a “good person.” I like to readily be available for anyone at anytime for whatever is needed. With this desire also comes a lot of baggage though; I tend to feel unappreciated more often than others around me. This is because I do not receive the sort of gratification from some people in my life who I openly give myself. I expect more, because I personally supply more. The giving and taking are unevenly balanced.

The problem is, if I keep trying to please everyone, I start to find myself becoming unhappy with myself. Rather than taking care of myself and doing things for me, I am only focusing on others. This creates those feelings of under appreciation because I am giving my all to everyone else while sometimes others aren’t doing the same for me.

I’m coming to find there is a name for my type of personality: an Over-Giver. And the issue with Over-Givers is that on top of eventually becoming overloaded, overtired, and resentful, we also go through stages of feeling burdened, irritable, grumpy, and vengeful.

Unfortunately, I have yet to master the awareness of when these “symptoms” of over-giving creep into my life. Also unfortunate, but when they show up, they tend to hijack my good mood.

So, instead of throwing myself a pity-party this evening, I am holding an intervention. I am making an active decision to recognize the cause and effect relationship between my self-deprecating feelings and the part I personally play in creating them. I want to connect the dots for future recognition (as I am sure I will feel this way again) and quicker recovery to my “normal” self.

My “normal” self tends to live in a set mood of gratitude. I am thankful for what God has given me in my life and I feel extremely blessed. This makes me a lot more pleasant for others to be around me, and for me to be around myself.

To reach that level of bliss, though, there seems to be a number of things I need in my life:

  • healthy dose of responsible self-care
  • distinguishing what is a priority in my life
  • asking for support when necessary
  • reevaluating stressful situations
  • forgiving myself
  • apologizing to those I hurt in my wake

Looking at my life these past few weeks, I can see where I’m lacking in these fundamental parts of my life:

  • I am not being healthy in my self-care. Yes, I workout every day. Yes, I focus on eating well. Yet I am still not happy with my results. I have been so incredibly hard on myself during the past six weeks of my fitness journey that it is no wonder my stress level has spiked. I need to take a step back, reevaluate my intentions, and regroup. Why am I working so hard? It’s not to increase my health, but rather to feel comfortable in my own skin. Or more vainly put, to look good. I do not enjoy my workouts or how hard I work because I am not seeing immediate results! It’s time to get my head back in the game (sorry for the HSM reference) and re-energize my fitness plans with tangible and reachable goals.
  • What is it that I want to prioritize in my life? Community involvement and volunteer work, making time for family and those friends I highly value, working on a better me, and spending time with God. Anything else can take a back seat for now.
  • Have I mentioned how hard I’ve been on myself lately? This is something I think I need help with overcoming, and it’s about time I reached out for assistance from some people in my life. This is not particularly easy for me because I hate to admit any type of weakness in myself. However, sometimes I get trapped in my own head and only the advice and direction from others can help me. It is time though.
  • I’m at war in my head over something I’ve fought before: letting go of a long-term friendship. It is a very one-sided friendship, and one that everyone in my life has advised me to give up, but it’s hard for me to do…
  • … but I know what truly is best for me and that is to let this friendship go. So I am mentally preparing myself for the stages of grief in an effort to forgive myself.
  • Yet, in all honesty, the most important and hardest necessity when I fall off the wagon of “blissful Ashley” is to apologize to anyone I may have offended or upset with my behavior or lack of communication. For those who know me well, they know I say “I’m sorry” a lot. This is because apologizing for me is more than just asking for forgiveness, it is my confirmation that I have taken responsibility for my actions. As an Over-Giver, this is my way of relieving others from believing they are at fault for my behavior towards them.

With these thoughts, I drive back the initial idea that every ebb in my personality is creating a deeper impression of the lesson I am to learn from each experience. My nature of being an Over-Giver is not one I can easily change, which means my falls cannot easily diminish either, but when I become more attuned to the “symptoms” I can attempt to neutralize myself more quickly.

I don’t think I’ll ever by free from defaulting to feelings of self-pity and irritability when I overload myself, but maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is to acknowledge those times when I start to throw myself a pity party and pop the balloons before they block my sight of the exit.

A Letter to the Girl with a Broken Heart

Two years ago, I lost my first love. To read my thoughts and feelings over the time that has passed, I am both humbled and shocked. Humbled that I was granted the blessing of maturing (a bit) through this time and given wisdom over the past two years. Shocked because I can still remember the emotions felt during what was one of the hardest decisions so far. There is so much I wish I could have known back then…


Hello dear,

Some time has passed for me, but for you it is still fresh. The hurt, the sorrow, the overwhelming grief. This boy who has been your best friend for nine years has left you stranded on the sidelines and there’s not much more for anyone to say except they’re sorry.

I guess I should say it too: I am sorry.

I am sorry because I know you’re hurting right now. I’m sorry that this sadness is paralyzing you, that the sadness is making you feel like you’re unable to go through the very basic motions of life. Eating and sleeping have become something of a distant memory and your cheeks hurt to even consider what a smile means. You don’t want to work, you don’t want to finish classes, you can’t stand being around anyone. I am so sorry you feel this way.

I remember what it felt like to lie in bed and cry myself into a state between wake and sleep. I couldn’t feel my heart anymore. That’s what you’re going through, right? You’re wondering if it is possible to live life without a pulse.

Please know that finding a way back to the surface takes time, and you are doing so well. You are ridiculously stronger than you ever realized.

I am so proud of you. 

In a few weeks you’re going to put on a brave face and rise above the surface. The tears will dry out and those around you will switch from “we’re sorry” to “you deserve so much more.”

Sometimes you’re going to nod approvingly like you get what they’re saying, other times you’re going to run from the truth and go back to the battered, beaten shadow you are today. It is during these hard times that I want you to know that love is beautiful.

Love is also scary, though. It is something to fear and be afraid of. Don’t go giving it away too freely.

Too soon you’ll realize that being alone is sometimes preferable over the deafening cry your heart will make when it finally sparks back to life. You’ll put on a brave face, attempt to pull yourself together, and stagger out the door into the disheartening World of Dating.

Unfortunately, hard times are ahead. You’re going to meet a league of boys who will not value what you have to offer. Be resilient in your search for the truth. Stay passionate of your morals, unrelenting in your beliefs, and constant in your prayer. And I promise you that you will move on to someone who values your love, your body, your mind, and especially your soul. You’ll soon be grateful that you found out early on instead of too late that this hurt was not worth a lifetime of sorrow.

I now look back on you and this situation with a sigh of relief. How blessed we are that you walked away from such a draining and toxic relationship! You are not being punished. Get that out of you head… this is a blessing in disguise that something better is out there waiting for us.

It has been two years and that sadness is now gone. So is the pain. Doubt resurfaces here and there, but overall life is good. We’re content. We’re satisfied with the outcome of the past two years. We are happy.

You will soon learn how to trust again. And then to love again. I can’t promise you won’t be hurt in the future (actually I know you will be at least a few more times), but I can promise you that it’ll be worth it.

You are about to grow so much during this upcoming summer.

You will get through this, and you are going to be amazing.

XO

Dear Future Spouse: Look This Way

It feels as if there are a lot of people out there that have not thought about their futures nearly as carefully or hopefully or simply fully as this young man. I came across this article during a late night Facebook scrolling-spree and couldn’t pass up the poetic truth it possesses. It was a pleasure to follow his path through marriage, children, and retirement in only a few short paragraphs and also to feel the faith that I hope I can one day share with a spouse as well.


Originally posted on the Odessey:

I’m writing to you at 19. I don’t know how many 19-year-old guys can truthfully say that they’ve been thinking about their future wife for 11 years, but I sure have. Imagining is sort of my thing, and I do it all the time. I’ve had a lot of time to think about what we’ll be like, and I’ve looked for you in some pretty strange places. I don’t know if I know you yet, but I guess that doesn’t matter. I’ve learned that when looking for something, the mindset one has affects what he finds. So, take a second to look this way.

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