Like Fine Wine

Tried my hand at writing a piece on aging with humor. 🖤 I hope this does not offend.

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When I stand in front of the mirror lately, this strange woman with a creased forehead glares back at me. In a panic, it occurs to me I may have just woken up from a 20-year nap. Lately, I don’t recognize the mysterious face that appears in the glass. Every morning, we jump at the sight of each other, similar to girls in a catfight. Now that would be good for some of this pent-up energy. Who’s going to clean up the glass after I take this bitch down?   

Many of us are familiar with the process of therapy. Well, I’ve been doing a lot of work learning how to love myself and all that. It’s finally beginning to make sense that I’ve always been good enough, that the people surrounding me were just downright disappointments. The more I heal, the more important it’s been for me to be honest with myself about the feelings that make me me and to give myself tons of grace over things I couldn’t do better. These are my daily practices, and I’m worried I might be relapsing.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the–Oh crap, I mean Alexa–am I pretty? (She thinks I’m perfect, inside and out, by the way). What happened to my perfect jawline and defined cheekbones? They surely didn’t inject my face instead of my gluteus maximus. I know I circled the butt on the diagram!

Deep-set, hazel eyes now permanently paired with bulging dark circles below them. Holding a straight face makes no difference. Under the mass of my long, wavy brown mane-covered head, my neck creases to form something all too similar to a wrinkle-ring around it. Fried by a popcorn kernel as a tiny tot, midway down is a diamond-shaped mark about an inch squared, slightly pink around the edges. The scar sags a little these days, making it the first sign that time is ruthless and stops for no one. Living in California, we’ve all seen a person who looks as though they spent one-hundred-too-many summers in the sun. Well, under bad lighting, my neck resembles that—like developing leather. I silently question if anyone else notices. 

Decade-old pictures display snapshots of a girl that didn’t trust she was lovely. What a disservice I did to myself. I must have annoyed the crap out of my friends with such nonsense. Oh my god, I was beautiful. Folks gawked all the time like it was the most obvious thing about me. Men watched me as I took my place in every room. Yours truly, oblivious to the attention until it was pointed out to me. It had taken years to block the people out and now years longer to let them back in. Beauty was just a trait in the same way that being a woman meant you shouldn’t walk a dark alley alone. Sometimes, I resented it and couldn’t appreciate it because, for the longest season, it was all I had. Don’t feel sorry for me, pay attention people–after all, I was beautiful. At least I could have used it to my advantage. 

I sound ridiculous; I realize that. Embarrassed, I sit here writing this as my mouth curves into an ugly disfigurement and my shoulders shudder. Basic intelligence says I have more going for me than fading beauty. The trick is in getting my sense of identity to cooperate. My ego (Oh, don’t judge me. You have one too.) doesn’t like this aging version of me. 

You hardly know me at all yet this is your first impression. I promise I’m not shallow or vain like I sound. Although, I am contemplating Botox–but not to hide the wrinkles. I simply want to keep my moods to myself instead of my facial expressions giving me away all the dang time. 

My body has changed too. Not how it changes after you have kids. I was lucky because I looked great as a young mom. The stretch marks I saw on my swollen 6-month pregnant belly while standing in the public restroom of that janky telemarketing job, disappeared. Maybe it was the cocoa butter. One of my dreams came true when my boobs grew two cup sizes bigger. Forgive me for my great luck. I’ve always said, I would have taken a million stretch marks over postpartum psychosis any day. Anyway, my midsection is bigger than I’m used to so I struggle to find the right style of clothes for millennials. Competition is rough out there. (In my best Chandler impression) Have you SEEN these women?

Still stuck in my 25-year-old self, I haven’t matured out of Forever 21 clothing yet. But, really I should shop at Macy’s. Please don’t ask me to try on clothes, I prefer to eyeball the correct size. Dressing rooms make me sweat and cry–a truly unpleasant combination. The floor-to-ceiling mirrors they place around those stores are problematic. It’s because of them that my inner world becomes increasingly depressed the longer I’m there, while simultaneously, trying to fake it til I make it. Waning positivity within minutes drops below self-loathing to utter humiliation. How many of those triggering mirrors must one store have? I should write the CEO a letter to ask if they can quit making me cry.

I sweat because it’s a thing middle-aged women do in small, enclosed spaces. Yes, removing a shirt from a hanger has become a strenuous activity. So I steer clear of dressing rooms. On an especially courageous day, I might break through all the obstacles sent to destroy me, now on my way to the finish line. Literally standing in one place when the recollection of all the hard activity I just did was equivalent to running a mile in California in August, causes sweat to drip from my face again.  Glasses slide down my slimy nose and fog up. I’m a hot mess. The poor young thing at the counter pretends not to notice. Sometimes, awkward embarrassment makes me blurt out I don’t know why I’m sweating so much!–in hopes that pointing out the obvious will lighten the humiliation. No, it does not. 

Eventually, I’ll stop risking sanity as though this time will bring a newfound glory to self-sabotaging behavior. If you ever see me heading toward Forever 21, will you give me a good slap in the other direction? Express is across the way and there I can feel like a whole, elegant woman.

I finally get out of there, fat and ugly with a wrinkled neck. Maybe Forever 21 has trick mirrors. They don’t. They have mean mirrors and mean lighting. Back to safety inside my car, I remind myself, No, Emily don’t look in the visor mirror–it will not get better for you.

When I run errands now, nobody pays attention to me. I’m clearly not ready for this new life. In an effort of self-love, sometimes photo filters are fun to play with. “No Filter Effect” is a big fat lie, and manipulative enough to remain my go-to. 5-4-3-2-1-snap, oh yeah, I still got it. Nobody will notice the difference. Can we all agree indubitably, it’s quite a silly culture we’ve latched on to? After all we give to this ungrateful world! 

Last stop,  behind the barista counter,  Angelee waves at me and skips over.  You look so cute,  Miss Emily! 

Thank you, honey,  I sigh in relief to absorb the compliment, a welcome distraction to a traumatic day. 

Triple vanilla latte?  

Yes, thank you, hun. My bank account can’t handle it, but this is exactly why I spend all my money on coffeeI may not be roasted to perfection, but at least my coffee always is.

Coffee owns a large part of me and I’m good with that. You’re brew-tiful, I chuckle to myself. Why thank you. At least I’m still funny.

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The GOD-Father

When I heard you went to be with the Lord, regret fell upon my heart instead of words. We’re good, Em. Always, you’d say. But with the utmost respect, I’m sorry it took me this long to find them–the words–to honor you. Can you hear me from that magnificent castle in the sky? A dear friend once told me, You are important to me. The Lord made it so. And you were an angel on earth with a humongous heart of extraordinary integrity. 

The year was 2011, an age of social media. Decorated with prayer requests and personal musings, my timeline cast a mood of deep sorrow and pain. Only a careful observer could find glimmers of chosen hope through faith, woven together by a knack for comic relief. Anyone could say my heart was wide open, crying out to be healed–by someone–anyone–preferably by the God I spoke of. 

You were my first friend in life who actually had walked a mile in my shoes. Legends of John Robert Stevens and his minions had bound us when accusations of “a cult” were still unrecognized. The same man-worshiping church that left me reeling for most of my life had burned you as well. Years of hanging in the balance, then God sent you. From San Diego to Simi Valley, what was dubbed as the daily detox from cult crap began.

What would a 61-year-old man want with a 31-year-old traumatized girl? There I went, alarms igniting an elusive side of me that hadn’t yet learned how to separate the monsters from the good guys. It was easier to distrust them all. BEWARE, DANGER APPROACHING. And I’m so sorry that I ever doubted you.

I’m committed to observing, praying, and sharing (gladly) in your suffering–not based on extensive knowledge of you. That’s what you said, then lived out for the rest of your life doing just that. Here I sit, re-reading twelve years of messages to soak up every truth you spoke. A gracious father figure who knew me as more than a container of a daughter? Sounds like an answer to the repeated prayers of a trapped little girl, faking the motions of adulthood. The most beautiful thing about your new profile photo is seeing how much He’s healed you, I read. You saw me when I felt unseen. 

This week has been tough. Death has been playing on my heart. Visually, the world seems a bit darker without you here and I think of Mrs. Grover often. And guess what? Finally, I’m writing again. One of these days, I’m going to publish that memoir I only started as a gift for you all those years ago. Just start writing, I wish I could hear you say one more time. Ms. Eva picked up the baton to further what you started. As it turns out, writing mentors are great for that too!

I miss you. We shared profound suffering in this life and an irrevocable faith in the next. Well done, my beloved friend.

So much love until we meet again, 

Your GOD-Daughter

This I Believe

 A less traveled path of humble conditions involuntarily chose me. By mistake, I longed to be anywhere else, rejecting all that I am. Not until I learned to embrace my journey, would turmoil release me as its slave. 

     Years of preparation helped mold my tender heart. Now the fierce capacity for empathy flows through my veins. This one conviction remains steadfast. With unyielding insight, I know to give up life would be to abandon every effort I’ve resolved to endure.

     Immeasurable are the days of wrestling my mind under a weighted blanket, threatening to squeeze out hope, the very essence I seek for stability. The body count rises of mortals lost before their time, dragging my grieving heart with them. Yet, I will stand before the week is done.             

     This fight I refuse to surrender. No hour is darker than the value of my purpose here is light. Isn’t this thorn in my flesh the precise thing that keeps me inspired, and draws the broken to me? Like the moon, I shine to illuminate the dark. 

     Compelled in self-awareness of the children I labored, this call to nurture remains apparent. I will not forsake them, for they are my heart. They are deeply rooted here as the mightiest of pillars. 

     Something larger still pulsates through me, the broken hearts, the bleeding in hidden corners, the minority of neglected souls. Who will advocate for them? Again, I remember I am significant.

     I ask myself, what do I need for this hour–this day? My fingers glide over the words on a page, soaking in power through stories of survival and redemption. Darkness is not a permanent fixture. Nothing stays the same.

     To a society of cliched misrepresentations, God made no such promise to limit the troubles I face. When did He vow to measure my tolerance prior to an assignment? Yes, He carries my burdens so the weight no longer exceeds me. I must only believe that I’m not alone here.

     Flawed translations of scripture haunt me. Ask my therapist. Circumstances have broken me but I am still here. Strength comes in the mourning. Tears do fall. Poured-out vessels may look empty, but the darkest night ends to welcome the day. 

     God’s face, I seek to find the greater meaning for difficult things. Days come to question my faith, that sacred space I rely on. Intrusive thoughts indeed come, and to them, I ride the wave, remembering if there is a God–then every mountain-top view is worthy of committed pursuit. 

     So, I dig my bare feet into the awe-inspiring earth to be grounded in my senses. The foundation underneath does not waiver or quiver in fear. My eyes lift their gaze against a baby blue sky of majestic proportions, calling out the names of my God. My ears hear the inquisitive child digging for worms, his mother giggling joyously over in delight. Cars cruise by in the near distance. 

     Light fragrances of California Spring on the horizon mix with the faint scent of lavender body scrub. Warmth against my lips, I savor the first sips of deliciousness as my morning coffee dances on my tongue before it comforts my grateful belly. 

     It’s not without reason that I choose every day to stand my ground. My namesake, the brave Joan of Arc once said, I am not afraid… I was born to do this, not as some feeble attempt. Courage comes by faith, so I reach down to my deepest parts for strength. With a purpose far beyond my human capacity of understanding, I continue to press on.

Good News in the World

In my Creativity Training for Writers group, my mentor assigned us to write a fictional short story or a nonfiction article based on inspiration from a news publication.

For mine, I used a story about a 70-year-old retiree on the verge of eviction, who was able to buy the house she had rented for two decades after a quarter-million dollars were raised by the community on her behalf. The woman was known for having a heart of gold and a pair of green thumbs. She was a beloved neighbor in her community for years, a volunteer who helped the homeless and needy as a “bright star” (excerpt from http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org).


Shady streets lined with magnolia trees were packed with familiar faces, protesting. Everywhere the bold words, Take a Stand. Stop Evictions across fluorescent posters poked out from the crowd. Cars were beeping, passengers waved as they drove by. More posters said Here to Stay. The support that flooded in from her community was a kindness Mary couldn’t have imagined.

Two days ago, up the wooden steps to the house she had made almost four decades of memories in, was an envelope taped to the door with her name scribbled in red ink. She pondered before opening it. Sandra called yesterday. Marjorie is leaving town for a funeral. Could you organize dinners next week? Marjorie supervised kitchen duties, and hot meals at the shelter.

Maybe Sandra brought next week’s meal calendar. What a lovely lady, she whispered, smiling. The shelter had been her saving grace and home away from home. Strangers’ faces lit up the moment they stepped into her presence. Sincerity radiated through her, gentleness exuded from her. Her eyes gave away that she had been through hell and back again. Because she had. Now, serving the women and children was a full circle from those days, 40 years ago, a terrified momma juggling her 2-year-old son and newborn daughter.

Under the porch light, her eyes shot over the underlined words in all caps: EVICTION NOTICE. Her heart sank to flashing memories from a lifetime ago. Her children grew up here–played on this street–these people were her family. The phone disrupted her thoughts. It was Angie, next door. Angie, girl, my landlord is selling my home. She sobbed to her dearest friend. That was only 36 hours ago. The sight she saw now was overwhelmed by crowded sidewalks, families that she knew well, and even four ladies she recognized from the shelter showed up with handmade signs. 

That evening, the neighborhood became quiet again, as Mary sat in her favorite chair to finish the blanket for her new grandbaby. With every weave of the crochet needle, she sunk further into the chair until she was interrupted by giggling outside the partly-open window by the front door. The voices of Angie’s kids brought relief because she couldn’t move. From her cozy place in the living room, she hollered, Come on in, Dears. 

Angie stood behind the twins with the same mischievous expression. We have a gift for you–from everybody, she nearly sang. 

Within seconds, Mary held a $250,000 check with the message Our Bright Star is Here to Stay. W–w-what? She stammered.

For you. To buy this house, the siblings chimed in unison.

False Clichés

God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. If you sat in one of my therapy sessions, you’d know this cliche has a way of clawing under my skin. Every time someone says this to me, I want to crawl into my shell to never come out again. I want to share war stories as my ego gets ignited by the need to over-explain. It drives me crazy. If you ask my therapist, its one of those things he listens to me rant about, nodding and half-smiling at me as though he has a secret he’s waiting for me to discover. What could be more annoying than that? 😂 He graciously manages to annoy me and endear himself to me at the same time. 

He is so patient with me. I am no further along than Episode 2 of the running list of arduous events that God has omnipotently overseen [insert sarcasm here], probably explaining how I felt being painfully aware of the  worsening symptoms that afflicted me, ultimately leading to the moment I felt my brain break. Before I get completely carried away, he says his famous line, Let’s break that down into its simplest form. Did I mention he makes me laugh?

1 Corinthians 10:13, No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. Does this sound familiar? What I’m coming to accept is the crucial difference between the words handle and endure or bear. God doesn’t give me more than I can bear means something different to me.

When I think of endurance, the power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way, perseverance comes to mind. The scripture doesn’t clarify whether it’s explicitly referring to worldly temptations, or if trials are included. It doesn’t explain whether beyond what you can bear means something different from merely staying alive. But then again, people die every day from things that their bodies cannot endure. Just ask the young man, newly married to the love of his life who, in one short year, is now a widower and single father. I realize this is morbid, but please bear with me because it gets better.

God didn’t say that life is going to be without troubles. He didn’t tell us, for reasons bigger than ourselves, that some of us would face hardships others only see in movies or read in books. The way I’m seeing it now is that God says He’s with me and He’s faithful no matter what I’m facing. [I] can rejoice, too, when [I] run into problems and trials, for [I] know that they help [me] develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens [my] confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For [I] know how dearly God loves [me], because He has given [me] the Holy Spirit to fill [my] heart with His love. (Romans 5:3-5)

Life has been full of traumatic events that have forever changed me. I have a slew of PTSD symptoms I face daily. My brain has changed. My nervous system is deeply dysregulated. [In enters faith.] I can’t possibly have all the answers. Perhaps, the greatest thing my mom taught me as a child is that our human brains can’t ever thoroughly comprehend God. Not even close. I imagine we’d explode into a million particles of dust if we somehow had that knowledge. Our brains aren’t made to hold it all, so He gives us bite-size pieces, a little at a time. I like the quote “He gives me just enough light for the step I’m on.”

Sometimes, in a bittersweet, emotionally polar-opposite way that only happens after the trial is over [insert laughter here], I’m thankful for who I’ve become. It means everything for me to be someone people feel safe with. I won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s alright. I’m learning to be okay with that because the ones who need me to exist are the same ones that my heart is drawn to anyway, the often overlooked ones. We understand each other and I hope by this common thread, that my faith might inspire a tiny seed to grow.

On the days when I wake up to a world that seems to have lost all of its color, or the sky could fall at any moment, or a crisis lurks behind the door I need to open, I hope I’ll remember that God is right there with me, loving me dearly. He is faithfully giving me the tools to heal. In the quiet moments, He shows me what He sees in me. Its in these spaces that the noise of the world doesn’t sound so loud and I rejoice in these gifts of sweet, sweet clarity.

The Unrecognized Diagnosis

This morning, in my Healing from CPTSD group, someone posted this question. This is probably the #1 hardest thing for me to accept and it comes in waves. It is a decision that I have to keep on making. This was my response:

YES BIG TIME!! Thank you for opening the conversation about this. When I had my daughter 20 years ago, through a torturous postpartum when all of my trauma made it’s grand entrance all at once, I was desperate to find healing. It was the thing I obsessed over the most in my life, to heal all my stuff so my kids would grow up with “the amazing healed version of me.” That healing never even started until about 2 years ago, but by then I was 18 years more traumatized, and add the trauma of spinning around in circles between therapists for 20 years with this CPTSD (the diagnosis with no name that caused people to look at me like a deer in headlights). I had beaten myself up incessantly and had zero confidence in my own motherly abilities and intuitions. I became mentally/ emotionally paralyzed and physically disabled from the stress.
I am just now, like 1 week ago, having healing revelations that I literally did the best I can with the crap tools I had. It wasn’t fair that I didn’t find the help I needed, but I can make the intentional choice to finally accept that this happened rather than spend the next 20 years sabotaging my healing. I apologize to my kids for the ways that I wasn’t better and I am here for them to work through things anytime they need me. We are making history and writing the books on CPTSD that will change the course of lives to come. It sucks that we (and our kids) didn’t get all of the benefits of that; we were/are the foragers. Basically, I’m having to choose every day whether I will stay stuck in how unfair life is, or I will embrace my path here and let the healing come.
♥️ It’s really freaking hard.

Language Barriers

Three days ago, I had a talk with someone I love that caused me to recognize our tendency to get distracted from the intentional purpose of the conversation. We go off on tangents and hard emotions. When did everything become so complicated? I value good intentions and loving effort. I value listening and validating. When did freedom of speech, acceptance and a general foundation of respect become so elusive? Labels have a place, but we also overuse them to shut people down when we don’t like the words that they speak. As far back as 25 years ago, I remember a huge wave of confusion coming over me anytime I was in a difficult conversation with someone. I stumble over my words, trying to express myself but I’m so worried about the way my words will be perceived that I stutter, then trail off into a “nevermind.” Then the shame. The feeling of dissociation, confusion, then the not remembering what I was trying to say. I am judged for these things that happen to me as if I do them on purpose. How can I fix relationships when I’m feeling like I need to defend myself for PTSD symptoms anytime I build up the courage to voice a need i have? The words I DO say are treated as if they are less valid just because of my handicap. The gaslighting is impossible to maneuver when I am reminded of my honest mistakes of memory retention and the ” aha” moments of clarity and breakthrough that I vulnerably share. To have my awesome breakthroughs held negatively against me is manipulative and disarming of the positive hard work that I do. The way I see it is that the words I DO say are SUPER VALID because of how much effort i put into saying them! Being a human is freaking hard. The action of love can be heartbreaking when the I feel so hopelessly misunderstood by the enormous list of resentments against me, yet I chose forgiveness every day. There are currently 7,117 languages spoken in the world today. How many more “languages” are spoken within each of those languages? I could say “hello” to a group of 5 people and at least 3 of those people could perceive my good-naturedness as something completely different. How can this become less discouraging?

Moonshine 🌙

April 21, 2021 Someone dear to me has called me a sunshine person many times. But, come to think of it, I feel like I am definitely more of a moonshine person myself. I’m not a naturally bubbling over with sunshine and birds singing type, but more like a searching for rainbows and the promising glow of light at the end of the tunnel type.
I don’t see myself as the social 🦋, but I am the quiet nurturer of humans and animals. You won’t find me in large crowds or loud spaces, BUT YOU CAN always find me and my door is Always Open.

Multi-task or Hyper-Focus?

April 29, 2021 “You need to learn how to multi-task better.”
I heard this more times than I can count. At first, I would strive, strive, strive to do better, but I couldn’t ever fully measure up. The more I started to heal from my past, I realized that the concept of multi-tasking as we know it, was pushed by society and the culture of STAYING BUSY. It was not God who said that we need to be great at multi-tasking. I’m gonna ask Him when I see Him, but I’ve come to believe that It’s ok that I am not the best at multi-tasking. If you are like me, then you are probably great at the things that come with being someone who is able to hyperfocus. You give your whole attention to things that inspire you, your senses are heightened, you allow people to feel truly heard.
I’m not knocking all of the mult-taskers out there. I think your ability is a gift, just like the ability to hyperfocus is a gift. I think we need to allow each other to use our gifts, unashamed. Our differences are so beautiful.
-Emily’s Insights🌙

Little Girl with Big Dreams

May 13, 2021 Since I was 12, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to change the world. 😆 Big dreams for a kid. God could have said, “You sure about that, little girl?” I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, what I signed up for when I made that pact with Him that He could ” do with me as He pleased, IF….” All I knew was that my heart ached to be for someone else who I always needed for myself. The hands and feet of Jesus.
I can’t take credit for this person you see today. Seriously, not for any of it. I would have wallowed in my sadness and the darkness could have consumed me so so many times. The only thing I did was keep getting up. But even that seems insignificant, when He was the one who kept waking me up.
I am so glad He kept waking me up, especially when I didn’t care if He did or not.
If you reading this, are still in the dark place, please keep getting up.
If you reading this, are cringing at my mention of God, I feel you, I get this soo much. I hope that you will hear me when I say: God isn’t the One who fails us, people do. If you ever want to talk with someone from a place of empathy and not judgment, I’m here.
-Emily’s Insights 🌙