Becky Hartung

WRITER. CREATIVE. HUMOR RESEARCHER.

A Letter from a Recovering Imposter

I first heard the term, imposter syndrome, while I was reading Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. In the book, Sheryl wrote, 

"Many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can't seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are-impostors with limited skills or abilities.”

After reading that paragraph, I knew deep down that this was describing me. I refused to admit it to myself, because admitting that I failed to take ownership of my accomplishments felt like a failure itself. Instead I exchanged humility for self-doubt, and it cost me so many unnecessary sacrifices in my personal life, marriage, relationships, and career. 

So, here I am, just a girl, who is in full acceptance that I suffer from imposter syndrome.

I retweet a lot of powerful people on Twitter, I have very passionate conversations with friends at coffee shops, and I work as a writer for a women's lifestyle publication, but most the time I fail to listen to the advice I give others. I want to empower other women, but I forgot to believe the same things for myself. I allowed my shyness and feelings of adequacy to keep me from getting ahead, breaking down walls, and changing culture. 

The very thing I encourage women to never fall victim to.

Maybe you feel the same.

Allow me to assure you the power that honesty can have in moving you forward. You are powerful and strong, and it is okay to show it. Recovering will probably lend itself to a few failures along the way, but those are the parts that grow us-not hold us back from our seat at the table. 

 

"Was it Hard to Love Her?" & Other Weird Things People Have Asked My Mother About Adoption

I tend to frame my writings around my mother.

As I grow older, I am beginning to recognize her traits in myself.  Some traits very different, some very much the same.

She is a college-educated, well-read history buff, who leaned Republican most of her life because of her small business, rarely has an ill word to say about another person, carries coupons wherever she goes, can’t say the word Netflix right (She says, Net Flick) and is always inclined to help out people who are often seen as society’s outcasts.

My experience as an adopted child has been a central narrative in the way that I view and relate to my mother.  I rarely asked questions when I was young about my mother’s journey as an adoptive parent. She and my Dad were unable to have children biologically, and decided to use adoption to grow their family. My brother, Ricky, was adopted in 1986. I came along six years later after several years of radio silence from the adoption agency. That summed up how my family was created and my understanding of how families were built.

I called my Mom a few months ago to tell her about Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. I thought the humor was clever, but they had a storyline revolving around adoption that I thought my mother would find relatable. Grace (Jane Fonda) had two children biologically, and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) adopted two sons. Towards the end of one particular episode, Grace turns to Frankie and says:

“You know, I became a mother the first time I held my baby.”

Frankie responds,

“Me too.”

I told my Mom about the plot of the episode and repeated those lines to her over the phone. Her voice began to crack. She said, “That’s exactly right.”

No one had ever given my Mom the narrative of what it was like to be an adoptive mother.

I had never even asked. Until that moment.

“What another sort of experiences did you have when I was little?” I asked.

My Mom said she was frequently asked how much we cost, or if she had a hard time loving us right away. She knew these weren’t questions that were asked to mothers who gave birth to their children.

I believe my experience as an adopted child was shaped by the language used by others. The demonization that adopted meant different, and different was not okay was paralyzing as a child. Each time a person laughed at a “You’re adopted” joke on television, I felt like a mistake. I realized now the same language shaped my mother’s story. We have romanticized the experience of childbirth through our words, and have equated natal experiences to motherhood. Building a family through good genes and DNA has become an idol to many people. There is absolutely nothing wrong about building a family biologically, but there can be harmful affects when it is believed that it is the ideal way to build one. When adoption is viewed as a subsidiary way to grow your family, language like "After I have my own..." can promote negative sociological views of how healthy family units are determined.

I believe it is incredible that human life can grow inside of a woman, and I am cautious to write words that negate that experience. However, for millions of parents who choose or cannot grow life inside them, these singular descriptions of family building can be hurtful and negative to families that look different than your own. Motherhood is not growing a child; motherhood is showing up for your child.

Steven and I have no plans to biologically build a family. If we decide to grow our family, we will foster and we will adopt. It is rare to share this idea with someone who don’t respond by saying, “I don’t know, you might change your mind.” Unless it is my Mom, because she knows a secret that most people don’t…there is not one way to create a family. 

Why I Got Tatted: Two

Fall always seems to be a rough time for me. Growing out of friendships, finding out my Mom had cancer, to walking through my first heartbreak -- each year seems to take another swing at my soul. 

Heavy + Light. 

Those are the two words that describe my season in life. The heaviness of feeling lost doesn't kill you because the chance of newness and adventure sits around the corner. At the same time, the ability to jump face first into the next chapter is haunted by lingering thoughts of feeling alone and unwanted. 

Heavy + Light.

I was able to write a piece for To Write Love On Her Arms earlier this year, and the theme for the organization were these two very words pulled from this theme:

"Our hearts are heavy and light. We laugh and scream and sing."  

The words have resonated with me all year. Dealing with darkness is not something you just get through overnight. It is something that has its good and bad days and each one teaches you another part to your story. Life is a movement through heavy and light. It's trying anti-depressants for the first time, having your heart broken, getting good news about graduate programs, packing up apartments to move to a new place, meeting new people, rebuilding old friendships, it is all our story. Bad moments and good moments are not isolated instances, they only exist when the other has been experienced.  

In my heaviness, I want to scream, "This isn't fair!" But, then I remember words I read on a blog last year. "I hate how true the phrase 'life isn't fair' is for some people, and I want to do something to help them." Those were obviously the words of the guy I had the pleasure of dating for a year and why my heart is so heavy because he's a really cool dude. I hope that my realization that life isn't fair pushes me to not live selfishly, but desire for others a better world.

In my lightness, I want to follow this truth: 

"If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness, and fears." That's what this story is for the new illustration on my skin. It means to embrace the heavy and light. That one teaches you about yourself and the other pushes you to love other people. 

I want to see others in their heavy and light. I want to share with them my story in hopes they find safety to share their own. We are no strangers to pain or to joy, so sharing each with others is the key to unlocking glimpses of the next world.

One Last Thing

I am often asked in interviews, what is the book about? You may be able to answer that question: Oh, just some girl who cries too much at Lifetime movies! That is (sadly) 100% correct, but I also hope this story – in all its madness – reflects your story. My desire for you is to walk away from this book and know that your story is important. You are no mere coincidence or hiccup placed at random in the world. You were born in the right decade, at the right moment, for an extraordinary reason. As your life shifts and changes, you have the beauty of discovering the story of you. The story is wrapped up in humility and packaged to the community in order to inspire and offer hope to others who haven’t been able to find their own voice. That is why I wrote this book, and I hope that is why you share your story, too.

There is an important note to make about this idea of story. In order to keep the romance of it all at bay, I will say this: Your story will continue. For those who feel stuck and cannot imagine a day when it will be different – your story will continue. For those who believe you have arrived to the top of the mountain – your story will continue.

I remember sitting in the garage of Tommy’s house, a few weeks before we graduated from college. Tommy is a lover of knowledge. He is always in constant search of a good book and stimulating conversation. As we often shared our anxieties with each other, that night was no different when he began to question what post-grad life might look like for us.

“How do we learn after college?”

He raised a valid point. We had only known a world set up by an education system. We hadn’t experienced learning without homework or teachers since we sat on our living room floor with our parents coaching us on animal sounds. I didn’t answer in the moment and allowed space for the rhetorical comment to float around our heads for a bit. Throughout the last few days of school, I kept the question in the back of my mind. I thought about the first time I stepped onto my college campus as an eager transfer student with all the worldviews I had cultivated and a firm grip on everything I thought to be true. Then I walked across the stage, a completely different human being. What was the reason for the change? Sure, I took some great classes and found some great mentors. There were good books that I (sometimes) read for homework, and smart speakers who showed up for our weekly chapels. The real change, however, was listening to a world of stories saturated in hope.

To understand story is to understand a world beyond the four walls of an academic institution and embrace the adventure of other worlds, languages, and cultures. We must listen to the stories of others, and be brave to contribute our own. There is significance and power in the story of us. We learn to fight for those whose voices have gone numb from shouting so loud into an empty chasm. We’re humbled by those who are unlike us and have given so much to a world that never gives them anything in return. We embrace the ones that we do not understand, and we surrender to the love that has been built into the story of humanity.

One more thing I want to make sure you have sealed in the inner lining of your soul before you set this book on your shelf and it collects dust until your next garage sale: We are not alone. Slow down, take a deep breathe, and take a moment to think about the faces of those who have crossed your path over the course of your life. Remember the laughter, the tears, the late-night donut runs, the births, the deaths, the wedding receptions that you danced to “Come on Eileen,” the nights you forgot your medication, and the mornings that faith woke you up to, and remember – remember this forever – we are the story of humanity. We’re all just sort of running in the dark. (Did you see what I did there?)

Interviews with Steven Morrow

 

I have to start this with a little preface because context is everything and knowing the whole story might be better for everyone.

Preface to Interviews with Steven Morrow

Steven Morrow was the chapel intern at Biola University during the 2013-2014 semester. I spoke at After Dark in February of 2014 and met with him a few times before to the plan the two-week chapel event. Months after my chapel, I needed to pick up a few chapel credits before the end of the semester and saw Steven’s name on the roster for that evening. I thought, “Hey, he was pretty nice and really supportive of me. I’ll go see him speak.” I went alone to the chapel and slipped in the back section of the middle aisle. He used the words vulnerability and connection a lot through his twenty-minute session so I was pretty sure he had heard the name Brené Brown (Sociology researcher and author – real good you should look her up) at least once in his life. I e-mailed him that night and asked if he had watched Brené’s TED Talk. He said he had, and I recommended her book “Daring Greatly”. We never spoke again over the summer.

Flash forward to my final semester at Biola. Steven and I saw each other on campus and we caught up for a minutes. We talked about the book, TED Talks, and The Office finale. He began doing a small research study on the use of humor in healing with those who have suffered a brain injury, and I was in the middle of my pilot study on how humor impacts connection within interpersonal relationships.

I’m really not into all those couplely things, because they can be overwhelming on the Internet. My desire is to not invoke your gag reflex while you’re reading this essay. I’m biased in a lot of ways because I’m dating the guy, but really why I’m writing this is because he actually just has a lot of cool things to say. It might also be my backwards way of convincing him to write a book or continue teaching because other people will bother him as much as I do about it.

We are approaching this as recently graduated humans with degrees in humanities (sociology / communication), lovers of Brené Brown, researchers of humor, and dedicated Office viewers. To give the best perspective of Steven as a person I will quote probably the one traceable item on the Internet that he has ever said when interviewed by a Biola blogger: “It makes me sad that the phrase, ‘Life isn’t fair’ is accurate. I want to help that in the lives of the people I come across.”

So here are things that I sometimes ask Steven about various aspects of life. Everything from racial tensions in America, to why he doesn’t love going to Disney, experiencing hardships, what it is like to be IDed all the time at bars, and how he feels we could be better humans:

Interviews with Steven Morrow

Sidebar:This whole interview was soundtracked by Hall & Oats, ‘Rich Girl’.

Question 1: You recently read a different Brené Brown book (I Thought It Was Just Me), what has been your biggest take away from the book?

Steven: “The thing that stuck out, it was less a big picture, but more one small part of something she wrote. She wrote about the culture of disconnection and how it is easy to fall in gossip situations and it’s easy to pick people apart by creating shame. An example would be someone commenting, ‘Oh, she’s a terrible mother.’ She lays out these strategies for actively not engaging into shame culture by giving that person the benefit of the doubt and redirecting the conversation. Instead you could say, ‘ I wasn’t there so I can’t really speak into that situation, but from what I know about her she is a really nice woman.’”

Question 2: You are working and living in Denver, Colorado at an organization called City Year. What has been the coolest part of your transition?

Steven: “I was surprised when I learned more about City Year that there are two different standings: Ask a student if they would want to do City Year and they would probably say, hell no. Those are the same students who are the ones that love the program. They wouldn’t do it themselves, but they are thankful for it. I thought it was cool because you can have this attitude that this person is not anything like me, but they are still on my side. It was encouraging because you don’t always have to change yourself to fit a certain circumstance, but you can still be a benefit to them. You can be different and on their team – it’s not an un-crossable gap. I hope the image of City Year I can create is ‘Oh, that person is nothing like me, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that person is still on my side.”

Question 3: Why do you hold doors open for people?

Steven: “I think it’s an easy way to communicate to people that they are seen, because you literally saw them coming and held the door open. It is a very easy way to make someone else’s day a little easier. It shows a general mindfulness for other people.”

Question 4: In your research last year on humor, what was the major take away from the study/were there any interesting stories from your interviewees?

Steven: “The main story that comes to mind is the one that got the whole thing started. I was at the support group meeting and this guy Al stood up and shared his story. He was teaching in the Midwest and had a stroke and it was pretty severe. His wife was transferred to California near a center that was a leader in stroke recovery. They just had to move their family to California. He said in the meeting, ‘Obviously, the choice was a no brainer – which is great because I didn’t have much of a brain at the time.’ I laughed because one he killed the joke, but he also used the joke to effectively share his story. From there, the research and interviews I had with him and others confirmed what he demonstrated. We can use humor to share parts of ourselves, especially the hard parts, as a way to disarm the elephant in the room.”

Question 5: What could America/American Christians do better at right now?

Steven: “I think it’s a mistake to use laws and government to make people Christian. It’s impossible. That’s not the law’s job. Their job is to keep people safe, not to change hearts. They should stop pushing that responsibility off on the government and take it upon themselves.”

Question 6: What’s your biggest pet peeve? Big or small.

Steven: “I can never think of them when I am asked. I have so many pet peeves. I can never think of them.”

Becky: “Are you looking up pet peeves online?”

Steven: “Common pet peeves, just a quick search online to see if anything jogs my memory. Which ones have I listed already?”

Becky: “People who don’t hold open doors and people who chew loud.”

Steven: “Let’s go with people who chew loud for now. Or E-cigs.”

Question 7: Since I look like I am roughly in my late 30s and rarely experience it, what’s it like to have to pull your ID at the grocery store?

Steven: “It’s not too bad. But if they give me attitude like this one lady said, ‘Are you old enough to buy this?’ and I said, ‘Let’s find out.’ Then it’s fun. I usually thank them when they check because it’s keeping people safe.”

Question 8: If you were stuck in Disneyland or California Adventure for an entire day where would you choose to be?

Steven: “Toy Story Mania. It has a very high re-playability. It’s also nice because it is air-conditioned and you can sit down.” 

 

Oh Captain, My Captain

It is important to note the time in college when I was required to take 12 units of foreign language. I was unjustifiably at my worst and most anxious during the three-week summer course. I love the idea of learning a language, but I am terrible at the execution of learning a language. My teacher, probably the worst teacher of my academic career thus far, failed me. I had never called a teacher dumb until I met my Spanish 201 teacher. I emailed her just about every morning with arguably some of the least sensitive and unfiltered opinions I’ve ever written to another adult. It wasn’t my finest moments of maturity, but I wanted to graduate. That teacher cost me another semester of college.

In the fall of 2014, I returned for another semester of Spanish. My restless mind was carrying twenty-four units, a mother diagnosed with cancer, and the apprehension of speaking Spanish in front of other humans was crippling. On each syllabus passed out at the beginning of every semester, there is a bold printed note neatly tucked under a student services headline. It holds the e-mail and phone number to the school’s Learning Center for students suffering from any physical or psychological learning disabilities. It is a note often brushed over by professors and usually brushed over by me until this particular semester. I contacted the Learning Center to see what help they offered in the classroom for students with mental disorders, but before they could speak with me, they had to have a note from a doctor. They recommended our school’s counseling center or the health center for a note.

Imagine getting shot in the head three times, [somehow] walking into your campus health center to ask for assistance,  and then getting put on a waiting list for three weeks. This was the frustration I found when I attempted to receive help for my disorder. There was only one psychiatrist working on campus, so students had to make appointments in advance. I was directed to a woman in Student Care who scheduled a meeting with me the following week. After our hour-long conversation, she told me that her hands were tied in the messy system of power, and there wasn’t much she could do. She did, however, offer me this piece of encouragement, “I care more about your health than your Spanish grade.”

The following day I dropped my Spanish class – and the ability to graduate at the end of the semester. It was both freeing and sad, but I would rather keep an ounce of sanity than graduate from college. I continued to contact the Learning Center to see how they might help me finish my other classes, but was met with very little response. I met Karen from the Learning Center that semester, and there is a great chance that she would kick me in the shin if we were to ever meet in person. After endless e-mails with Karen that were leading nowhere, I called the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health and reported my learning disability. They promptly made me an appointment that afternoon at a clinic in Cerritos. Karen finally had her precious doctor’s note and sent me my options.

 

“You can get a tutor!” the e-mail explained.

 

Those unhelpful words will haunt me on my tombstone one day. I wrote Karen a few more distasteful e-mails and attached a few links on mental health disorders. I was so worn out by the time the middle of the semester approached that I threw in the towel and was ready to surrender the fight.

You know the part of the story when you can’t imagine anything possibly getting worse? This is that part of the story – and trust me, it gets worse. I received an e-mail with news that I had failed my writing competency exam. For those who don’t know what a writing competency is or why is important, allow me to explain. It is a department wide quota that requires students to submit academic papers for review to ensure that they can write at a college-educated level. I failed, not just once, but twice.

I was thoroughly convinced I would not graduate from this college. I called every staff member, e-mailed department heads, and once again found myself leaving my corner and heading back to the fight for my education. I was overwhelmed, hysterical, and very, very tired.

The battle against failure is one of the most dangerous wars to enter into alone. We feel we are not good enough and suffer in the misery of a self-conflict that turns our minds into our biggest enemy. This battle does not require solitude, but allies who are a part of the bigger story of redemption. I realize we can never defeat failure, but we can allow failure to defeat us. We have been given the authority over failure, and we have the power to choose how it will affect us. This could start sounding like liberated optimism, but I promise this could be much more accessible if we only allowed freedom in failure. We leave the past, and the people who failed us, and walk into a place of newness. Choosing new is the greatest gift we can do for ourselves and, more importantly, for the sake of others. We must choose to not live in failure alone. My ally wore a navy, fitted pantsuit and high heels to class every morning. Oh, and she had her Ph.D. before she was 35.

I met Dr. Arianna Molloy in the spring during my junior year. She had her doctorate in career and calling and was passionate about seeing students fall in love with their work. She was one of the first educators that pushed my friends and me in our Communication Studies degrees. In fact, it wasn’t until our junior year during her Organizational Communication class that we learned our major was Communication, not Communications with an “s.” She treated us like colleagues rather than squirrels at a playground that you could throw sticks at for fun. It was no wonder that her classes had long waitlists each semester.

            Molloy had long brown hair that framed her thin face. Her eyes were filled with determination and she had a confident power walk that would intimidate the entire defensive line of the Seattle Seahawks. Her weekends were packed with long hikes, kayaking, and running half marathons. She is the kind of woman that looked singleness in the eye and said, “You look fun.”

She was a total babe.

It is rare to meet a woman who is driven by education, her career, and her deeply rooted passions. Girls were itching for a cup of coffee after class, and guys wanted to graduate so they could marry her already. I’m not sure if I know of one person that didn’t have an academic crush on Molloy. Her well-deserved celebrity status on the small campus kept her schedule very busy, and she was hard to catch except for a glance in-between classes or a few minutes during a lecture break.

Tommy and I had our first class with Molloy our junior year. One of our first assignments was to identify a quote or motto that we chose to live by in the world of academia. I, like a pretentious fool who loved Robin Williams too much, scribbled down the infamous quote spoken by the legendary professor John Keating of Dead Poets Society.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion…that you are here – that life exists, and identity; and that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Bringing a Dead Poets Society quote to an Organizational Communication class taught me a lesson much greater than a few of the sessions on quantitative data. It became a running motto for my college experience that year. It is okay that parts of our verses are coated in failure. We contributed. Perhaps failure is the key to contributing greater parts to the story.

I was lucky enough to call Molloy a friend by the time I graduated. Tommy and I conducted research studies with her as our active supervisor. I spent many of those sessions in tears while I recounted my growing sense of failure and my struggle to graduate. As I would sit in her office, drenched in my own tears, she handed me a box of tissues and sat in silence as she listened to my blubbering mess of a life. She told me stories about her own experiences, which echoed most of my undergraduate work. Molloy encouraged me to let each failure make a better opportunity for the next person.

It was cool for a professor to see you. The best professors were the ones who threw the rulebook out the window and wrote their own as they went. I recognized the grace from other professors on campus that listened to the pain of an anxious heart and worked with me so I could complete my courses. The acts of grace and understanding from these professors made the abuse from others seem much easier to carry. I was no longer fighting alone. I believe I was watching the Harry Potter movies for the first time when some discussion came up about evil always being present in the world so that the good would fully be valued. To me, those professors taught me more about life in their grace than they did in their well-organized PowerPoint presentations.

That was Molloy – a caring professor who rocked a mean pantsuit. She was my own personal John Keating whispering the truths that ideas and madness can change the world. I was able to see her after I finished my last college class (spoiler: I graduated) and give her the good, and long awaited news, of finishing my last class. She responded, “When you walk across that stage, I’m taking you out for a drink.” Those, my friends, are the words that every college student hopes to hear from their mentor.

The One Where I Ran Out Of Money

I never expected the road to be easy by any means. There are plenty of things in my life that have proven to me that in no way does life get better -- it merely continues. I never, however, expected it to be so difficult to get a job, literally ANY job, after receiving my college degree. Now I must be fair and issue a clear benefit of the doubt to employers who took one look at a "Communication Studies" degree and thought - what does that mean? To be honest, I'm not sure if I could even answer that question. 

With each rejection, the whisper that has echoed through the walls of my head for years -- you're not enough -- once again sweeps through the corners of my mind. In this moment, life is not easy. I blame is on the rhetoric of poor Christian sub-cultures that often say that if we are faithful -- He will provide. I understand the Biblical accuracy of this type of thinking -- but it sets us up to believe that each hardship might have been a result of "not being faithful" at an earlier time. Not to carry my own banner, but I've been doing this Christian ministry stuff or whatever you want to call it for a few years and I'm still waiting on this "better end" that the church kept promising me if I didn't have sex before marriage and went to a Christian college and found a good man. 

I want to be careful of our language. We sometimes text un-prophetic claims of encouragement to others in hopes that it will make someone feel better. The intention is good, but the connection is lost. People want to be affirmed that life sucks. By cutting all the other shit out, we can get to the root of it all that says -- we are so homesick for heaven. As I face being ripped away from college friends as we await our pending graduation, entering into a long-distance relationship, and fight my way through Los Angeles to get any job busing tables -- I find myself aching for the togetherness that occurs in the next world. These moments always come to remind me that life will never get better -- there won't be a day were I will be faithful enough and be financial stable -- none of that is promised. In order to not end this on a melodramatic note: I am promised to be loved. To be seen in the sadness and embrace the mess that is life. From there we find the beauty of hardships and that each chapter of our story creates a better character. 

Dealing with Darkness: A College Kid's Story of Depression, Social Phobia, and Finding a Good Book Club

Featured on To Write Love on Her Arms

I’m not much of a “journal-er.” In fact, I own a handful of journals with the first page dedicated to how I will force myself into journaling, and the rest is filled with blank, white pages. Recently, I found a few pages written on painful nights that prompted me to write this post. 

This is an excerpt from one of those nights: 

“Why do I hate the very thought of myself? The thought that I’m gulping the air from someone else’s lungs, someone else who is much more worthy of this oxygen than I, pains me to believe. I know truth, but truth doesn’t seem to matter in this moment. Why am I unable to feel truth? Why am I unable to feel? Would this world really be a better world without me? 

These thoughts are usually followed by silence. It’s a painful silence, and it comes with an apathetic stillness that hinders rational thinking and universal truth and causes my body to ache. 

My struggle with depression and social anxiety began at an early age, stemming from the abandonment I faced after my adoption. I was painfully shy when I started school, and my difficulties adapting to peers left me, often times, socially stunted. I hit my lowest point at the age of 16 when I attempted suicide for the first time. 

Depression makes living hard. I lose interest in things I was once passionate about, have difficulties controlling my emotions, and feel completely unhappy sometimes. There is still a stigma in society surrounding the issue of mental illness. People often oversimplify or misunderstand these struggles, reducing it to statements like, “Oh, they are just sad sometimes. It’s not a big deal.” 

The truth is that it is a big deal. I believe it’s a part of being human for some of us. The things we face in life are, in the truest sense, a “big deal.” Thankfully, the art of vulnerability allows us to see one another and be there for each other in the greatest moments of life. 

Being vulnerable with my community has become my greatest encouragement today. I remember a night walking into my friend’s house after a really tough day. As I entered the doorway, you could still see the traces of tears on my face. My friend looked at me and motioned for me to sit down. I remember his comforting words after I tearfully told him of the struggle that was surrounding my heart. 

“It’s hard,” I said. 

“The door’s unlocked,” he replied. 

This was what it meant to see each other. This was community. 

I believe we can share in our experiences. I choose to not look at my depression as an impossible hurdle but as a rare door that opens my eyes to see and understand people. We are not broken, but fully alive when we do life together. 

There is no perfect mold that we should fit into to be human. We each play a special role in the world in communicating love to one another. Sometimes struggling allows us to see the world in a new way. I believe that the anxiety and depression I deal with can be used for good, and I want to use my hardships to understand those who are hurting and aid them through seasons of doubt. The greatest connections I’ve made with people begin with the words, “I’ve never told anyone this before…” 

If someone opens up to you about whatever is a big deal in their life, don’t worry about having the perfect answer. Just be part of their community. Don’t ignore it. Don’t dismiss those in life you don’t understand. Just commit to sitting down with someone, in the midst of their darkest moments, and love that person. This is where people are seen.

My Scratched Up Face: How My Scar Taught Me Vulnerability

My good friend, Laura Cook, is compiling a book of stories from a handful of people who used what once was their biggest insecurity as a reminder to understanding vulnerability. It was a cool project that I had the privilege of being apart of earlier this year. I shared with her the story of the scar across my face, the scar that has been with me since the day I was born, and my struggle to find the meaning of it. Not to give a spoiler to Laura's book, but it was once my biggest insecurities and is slowly working itself to becoming a physical form of my ability to be vulnerable. 

"The doctors did a really good job. I can hardly tell you ever had a cleft lip." 

This is the typical response from those who hear the beginning half of my story. To keep you up to speed: I was born with a cleft lip, repaired by an unknown doctor who left town shortly after my surgery, and have spent 22 years in various surgical procedures to try to normalize it as I age. 

It's heartening to know that people say they don't notice anything at first, but once you've been told, you'll always notice. The scar becomes just as much Becky as the sound of my laugh or the monotone delivery in my voice. No matter what surgery I have in the future I will always have a slightly crooked face and a noticeable scar under my nose. My face, the typical place that someone bases a first impression, is an open door to vulnerability. 

We all long for connectedness. For a long time, I blamed the scar across my face for the reason why I wasn't connected. I will never be pretty like the other girls, I will never know the feeling of real front teeth, or life without a lazy eye created by all the early skin graphs. I was an outsider and everyone knew it because I wore it on my face. (Literally.)

We're all outsiders. If you ever meet anyone who seems to be on the inside call me and let me know and I'll append this blog. We all have deep cuts in us - physical, internal, self-inflicted, born-with, created by others - we're all pretty banged up. Some of us have gotten really good at smothering the redness with concealer so we never have to allow ourselves to feel weak. We never want to appear weak. 

Try walking around with a scar across your face (how many more times do you think I can use that phrase in this blog?) and it'll teach you quickly that there is nothing you can do but surrender your weakness and allow for something beautiful to happen. 

My scar reminds me of the fragility of life. It reminds me that society will never look on me with a smile, but I'm still in precious hands. My scar showed me the real meaning of healing. Healing repairs the wound, but leaves a scar. The scar serves as a reminder of the story of victory. There is power in our scars. 

I was lucky enough to have a physical scar, a very obvious physical scar, to teach me how to open up to people. As much as my physical scar became apart of my character, so do my internal ones, the ones that no one sees. We lose the ability to connect with people the longer we hide our scars. By uncovering all of these hidden parts of us we finally experience redemption. Redemption is not starting over, but reclaiming what was already there for good. Vulnerability allows our scars to serve as stories and reclaim the shame they once served us. 

The only way for skin to scar is for a gentle cleansing and skilled surgeon to stitch closed the open wound. It's a process and it might take 22 years of surgeries, but each stitch is unique to the new creature. I think my scar helped me see the scars of others. There's a broken victory in all of us that can be purged and renewed if we only allowed healing to happen. If we start to talk about our scars people will feel seen in their wounds. There is power in connection.

Sometimes I can't drink out of water bottles correctly and water splashes down the side of my face; and my slurred speech will show up the longer you get to know me, but battle wounds are where the stories are -- and I'm all about a good story. 

Not the Bradys: A Memoir of Why My Mom Said We Couldn't Hire a Maid Named Alice

My Mom never intended to keep me sheltered from the 90s culture that surrounded my childhood. I believe she really enjoyed the culture she grew up in and her love of The Beatles, the Fifth Dimension, and The Lovin’ Spoonful flowed into our car radio every morning and the formation of my education on popular media. I knew much more about ABBA than Destiny’s Child and my first major celebrity crush was Davy Jones. Not the sea creature, the American/British popstar. He was the British import for NBC’s television show, The Monkees. He was also 47 years my senior.

I stayed up late to watch Nick-at-Night every evening. I truly believed, in my seven-year-old mind, that all of the shows were newly developed series. It wasn’t until my Mom informed me those shows were on when she was a kid that I first learned the inceptions of syndication. Out of every syndicated show they aired, The Brady Bunch always caught my attention 

I watched the Bradys faithful everyday on the VHS tapes I had my Mom record for me. I collected memorabilia, made my own Cindy Brady shirts, which I would later get made fun of at the playground about (In all defense of my bully, Cindy Brady shirts were a little much), and even took the time to memorize the birthdays of all the cast members. I was one dedicated little critter. If only I could be that dedicated to seemingly more important things now like schoolwork or finding a job. Due to my synthetic reality of perfect family modeled by the Bradys, I exchanged real life with the dream to live in the posh suburb style of the Brady’s house. I wanted 5 brothers and sisters who were all evenly paired with a member of the opposite sex. We would be each other’s best friends, our fights would never last longer than a 30-minute time slot, and our Dad would always give us short sound advice that would haunt our memories like sound fortune cookies for the rest of our existence.

Being adopted made my family different, but navigating those differences was a challenge each year. One of the hardest lessons to learn from a family you didn’t look like was finding a sense of belonging. The family are the first characters introduced in Act I, building the tone of our social identity, the frame in which we see ourselves in the world. 
            In elementary school, girls would bring in pictures of their mothers in 3rd grade to compare how much they looked like one another. I couldn’t do that. I had pictures of my mother, of course, but we did not share an ounce of DNA. There was a sense of connection my classmates were able to share with their families that did not need words, quality time, or any type of physical interaction. They were apart of a family, because they looked like one. My struggle to find my identity was something that would lead me into some of my darkest nights. Before we move forward in my identity, it is important that I give you the full context of my family. My own Bradys, so to speak.

My brother, Ricky, and I were six years apart, which meant he played the role of tough older brother, and I played the role of annoying kid sister who wanted to do everything he did. It wasn’t that I particularly looked up to my brother, but he was really funny, and I thought that was very cool. I wanted to be funny too, because I also wanted to be very cool. I was loud and obnoxious so everyone could enjoy my jokes (as much as I enjoyed them), but rarely did it work. Usually the moment ended with my brother telling me to go away. Time and time again after the rejection from my brother, I did just that.

I was always a quiet kid, I still am, because when I was quiet no one told me to go away. I retreated to the makeshift clubhouse of old paint cans and slabs of wood jammed into a storage shed in our basement that Ricky and I had made when we first moved into the house. There was a time, a very brief time, that we played in the clubhouse together. But as we got older, I played in the clubhouse and he just locked me inside of it. 

Ricky moved out of the house when he was about 19. He pushed away from the highly legalistic church we were attending (something my family and I would do a few years later), and stayed with a group of friends he had met through some of our former neighbors. By the time I was 13, I was as close as you could get to being an only child while still having a sibling. I blamed myself for my brother leaving. I thought if I had been a better sister, if my family would have been bigger, or if we looked more like each other then maybe he would have stayed. Childhood in the clubhouse was lonely.

My Dad was the kind of dad that would come down and sit in the clubhouse. He faithfully sat on an old beanbag chair, while a photo of Britney Spears (The pre-Toxic years) hung over his head, and waited for a reply from me about how my day was going. My Dad was also a quiet man. He was, still – is, a patient man. I wanted nothing to do with him.

He studied mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech in the late 70s. He barely reached his senior year because of his excessive drinking habits, but when he sat in a bar a few weeks into his last semester, he realized he needed to change some things. He jumped to different churches before settling on the faith he was raised in. He met my Mom at school through prayer, which he is hesitant to encourage due to means of romanticizing the situation. Now, allow me to explain because it is a good story and not as hokey as you might think it is heading (But warning, it’s still pretty kitschy.) He was finishing up a paper in the school library when he started his conversation with God. “You let me know where she is and I’ll do my best to get there.” Let’s go with this phrase for how he ended his prayer (I may have taken a few creative liberties on that one) before ducking out to his next class across campus. Now, context, context is everything. Northern Michigan is very cold in the winter. Students are strapped up in similar looking brown or grey wool coats and matching hats, and other parts of the face that were not covered by the previously mentioned items were wrapped up in plaid scarves. (Very stylish, very 70s, very cold.) My Dad pulled his hat over his brown hair and blended into the sea of grey coats, he looked up the sidewalk and noticed a bright orange hat in the mix of winter. We all know where this is going.

After officially meeting in their service fraternity, and a handful of rejections from my Mom later, they were married two years after my Dad graduated. My Mom said she stayed with my Dad because of his gentle nature. He never yelled. I would yell, my Mom would yell. My Dad never neglected to calmly explain his thoughts and feelings in reaction to each situation. A patience, that I hated as a kid, but now desire in my young adult life. That posture of humility would have probably gotten me out of a few life binds.

My Mom is a juxtaposition of my father. She was a bit of a worrier. I’m not sure if you have ever lived with, know of, or you yourself are a worrier – but if you can relate in any form you completely understand the situation. She shoved vitamins and herbs at us to protect us from unheard diseases that she would read in her health magazines or hear about from her therapist. Her first reaction to any situation was whatever the worst possible scenario could be for that particular event. Most of the time it was death. Here’s an example:

“Mom, a few of us are going out to get milkshakes after school. Do you mind if I go?”

“That’s fine. But only if you text me when you get to the restaurant. Then text me when you’re back in the car. Don’t text me when you’re driving the car, because you’ll crash and die, but do communicate with me at some point. On your way home watch the roads because there was a light mist today so the roads might be slippery and you could slide through a light and end up in a ditch. If you do end up in a ditch know that we don’t have AAA so you’ll just have to call the police. Now if you’re knocked unconscious make sure you’re wearing a coat so that you don’t suffer from hypothermia while you’re waiting for help to arrive. Your insurance card is in your wallet in case there is an emergency at the hospital after they cart you away in an ambulance. Other than that, have fun.”

All of her worrying pushed me away, which is becoming the familial norm for my childhood. Now, before we get really sad about this chapter, allow me to reassure you that an upside is coming. As you know by now, I’m fairly long winded and cutting to the chase is not necessarily my primary means of communication. Plus, a good story isn’t worth telling if it is missing the full picture. (We've already mentioned my love of context.)

Being so emotionally removed from my family it was hard to say, “I love you” for a very long time. The words terrified me because they held the weight of commitment, trust, and patience that I was unable to enter into because I didn’t love where I was yet. By digging into the things that hurt, the parts that were abandoned, the scenes that were broken, I could move forward with healing and the ability to accept the love of my family. The only way to speak in love is to embrace the painful parts of the story and allow the wounds to mend into scars.
            I often thought about the girls with the pictures of their moms. They defined family by pictures that fade by the time they reach their mid-life crises. My definition for family was defined by support rather than blood. It is the Dad that stays by the foot of your bed waiting for a response to how your school day was no matter how long it took for you to answer, or the Mom who claimed you the day she heard you were hers and never stopped caring about all the little things that make up who you are. It’s even the brother who bullies you as a kid until you grow up and would never allow anyone to break your heart. It’s the family that grows into three cool nephews and a new sister. They pick you up from countless airport visits, answer panicked phone calls, and let you tee off as many times as you need without counting them on your golf score. Whoever that looks like for you, whether you look like them or not, that is your family. Better than the Bradys. (A note to maybe revise the title of this chapter, I think I struck gold on that one.)

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