I Fell in Love Today

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I fell in love with a glimpse of you today…and you never even knew.

But there you were, sitting cross-legged, Indian-style on a gravel walkway winding through a field of scattered tombstones. You wore a grease-splattered McDonald’s uniform and were happily occupying your own world. Your head was down, but bobbing slightly to the rhythm of whatever music was streaming through your earphones.

Was it simply a short break or was the work day done? What was it like to leave the circus that is the home of Ronald McDonald, only to take shelter in the land of the dead a few hundred feet away? The image of you, of all that you represent washed over me and still remains in my mind’s eye – a jumbled collage of America, commercialism, youth, morbidity, and the ever-present hope of eternity.

Fighting Fear

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“Fighting Back from the Inside” drawing by Maranda Russell

Fighting Fear
Written by: Maranda Russell

I took fear by the hand
and shook him until I heard
the sound of his yellow bones
popping in and out of place.

I pushed him down the stairs,
his skull cracking
against the white, stone steps
on his way to the finale.

He hit the basement floor,
his form a worthless gray lump,
emitting the mocking voices
no muzzle can silence.

Still, I must close the door
at least one more time
and pretend not to hear.
So I do.

Repaint the Ceiling

“Repaint the Ceiling”
Written by: Maranda Russell

Waking up,
I lay there and wonder
how long it would take
to repaint the ceiling?
Maybe a subtle, powder blue,
or a rolling green sea?
A buttery yellow,
or a soft and gentle lilac?
Something to take the edge off
on the nights I’m cut open
and bleeding on the carpet.

Video: My Experiences with Emotional Pain or Abuse from a Church or Religion

Hi everyone! I wanted to share this video I made recently for my Spiritual Agnostic YouTube vlog channel, in the hopes that perhaps others who have experienced similar things or even much worse, might find some comfort and strength in knowing they aren’t alone and that it is possible to heal and move on from things like this. In no way did I make this video to be mean or vengeful, but just to express my own process of growth and learning through these experiences.

High-functioning autism and the struggle with feminine identity

John Collier's painting "Lady Godiva"

John Collier’s painting “Lady Godiva”

*Disclaimer – I want to make sure I state that this blog post was inspired by my own experiences. Not every person with Asperger’s Syndrome or high-functioning autism may feel the same way or experience the same issues, although from what I have read, these issues are not uncommon among females with autism.*

I have had a long, complex relationship with my own femininity. Growing up, I never noticed a huge difference between myself and other girls until I hit middle school. In elementary school I was just a “normal” little girl who was into books, Barbies and ponies. I did have some sensory and social issues, but they weren’t huge red flags back then and were easy to ignore. When I got to sixth grade it seemed like the whole world suddenly changed. Girls became obsessed with makeup, hair and clothing. They also read fashion and relationship magazines so they could learn to draw attention from the guys they liked. I was still into books, Nickelodeon, Disney movies and playing outside. I really couldn’t care less about my looks or guys. I didn’t care all that much about making friends either.

It was at this age I first experienced real bullying. I was made fun of because I didn’t start shaving as soon as the other girls did. I was picked on because I didn’t dress in style, wear makeup or have a “cool” hairstyle. I was picked on because I still liked many of the same things I liked as a little kid. I was called a lesbian or ‘butch” because I was a tomboy who was socially clueless in many ways and had no interest in guys yet. Middle school was hell for me in many ways. I was lucky to have a few friends who were outsiders in their own way, but I often felt very much alone. I was constantly told that I was unfeminine, so I started to believe it and wonder what was wrong with me.

Things got a bit better when I reached about 16 or 17. By then I had learned to “fake it” to fit in better. I still didn’t wear makeup or jewelry but I did try to look enough like everyone else to fly under the radar. I started wearing jeans and cute little t-shirts like everyone else (even though I really don’t like the feel of jeans). I adopted a hairstyle that was simple but not “weird”. However, flying under the radar didn’t always work and I started having different issues. As I matured, some guys started to find me attractive and hit on me. This made me want to run & hide. I was uncomfortable being an object of physical appreciation. I didn’t want to be called names like before, but I didn’t want to be seen as a sexual object either.

During this time I actually started to find it easier to relate to guys than girls…as long as the guys didn’t see me as more than a platonic friend. I did start to develop real feelings for certain guys around 17 but was still terribly shy and uncomfortable with the whole ‘dating’ thing. I never really dated until a couple years later when I met my husband, who I got to know online before we ever met in person. Even when we met in person we were friends for a while before we started anything romantic.

As an adult I have developed a better relationship with my femininity, but I still face judgment sometimes. When I got engaged I received real disdain from some women because I didn’t wear my engagement ring all the time (sensory issues). I often feel bored or left out when women talk endlessly about shopping, parties, clothes, weight, guys or gossip. I still don’t care that much about looks. My hairstyle is wash and dry, my clothes are simple and comfy and I haven’t worn makeup since my wedding day. Occasionally I still get a comment about how much I am “like a man” or something along those lines.

Because of these experiences, I somewhat look forward to growing older even though most women seem to dread it. I have hope that as we all age, looks and other superficial things will start to matter less and less to my peers. I don’t want to be invisible anymore like I once did, but I still don’t want to be judged by appearances. When others think of me I hope they think of intelligence and kindness. I hope they think of someone who is creative and passionate. To me, those qualities are what make someone a “real” woman anyway.

My New Year’s Intentions for 2015

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Happy soon-to-be New Year everyone! Around this time of year, I always like to pause and assess my life. I decide what is going good, what I need to leave behind and what I might want to work on. I don’t like to make “New Year’s resolutions” because that phrasing to me seems to have guilt built into it. When people make New Year’s resolutions, they tend to feel guilty if they fail or make a mistake and eventually just give up. I like the phrase “New Year’s intentions” better because it doesn’t have that stigma to it and to me, intentions are about trying to do the right thing. Sure, we all mess up and even epically fail sometimes, but as long as we keep getting up and trying, I don’t think we truly ever lose.

So here are my three New Year’s intentions for 2015 –

1. Focus on health. I have many health problems that I can’t do anything about, however, I do have control over some of my health and unfortunately, I often ignore the importance of taking care of myself. So for 2015 I plan to try to exercise at least 3-4 times a week (even if I can only do light exercise like walking and yoga). I will not push myself too hard or make myself do things that cause real pain, but I can try to work within my physical limitations. I will also try to eat better. I won’t force myself to give up things I love (like chocolate), but I will try to consciously pick out more fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy grains at the grocery store (because if I buy healthier foods, I will eat healthier foods).

2. Be more social. A few years ago I had to be more social. But now that I work at home, have taken a break from fostering kids and my husband resigned from being a youth pastor, I don’t have to be social. I can hole up at home and be a hermit. To some extent I have done that. We still go to church, but now that my husband isn’t working for a church we get to pick and choose what to be involved in instead of having it decided for us – which is great, except that I have to remember to actively look for things to do and ways to serve. It is far too easy to ignore social activities because I feel that I am not socially proficient. Sometimes I get kind of depressed seeing how easy it is for others to connect with people and make friends. I just don’t have that kind of personality.

Having Asperger’s Syndrome can make socializing uncomfortable and awkward, but I still want to make a difference in people’s lives. I want to care about others and have them care in return. The only way I can do that is to make myself reach out more. So this year I hope to reach out more to others, whether it be by saying a simple “hello” and learning someone’s name or by making myself go out a little more often, even when it is easier to stay home and veg out on the couch.

3. Stop letting people hurt me. In the past few years there have been a few people who hurt me deeply. They may not even realize they hurt me (in fact some of them think I deserve to be treated badly and have said so). In most cases, they were people who never really got to know me and then misinterpreted things I said or did. Instead of approaching me and clarifying what upset them, they either shut me out entirely or told other people a lot of bad stuff about me which isn’t actually true. By the time I knew there was really an issue, damage had already been done. I tried to work things out with some of them and find out what I did to upset them, but I was either ignored or told everything was my fault.

Maybe my lack of social skills in some areas caused the problems…or maybe they never really liked me to begin with. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve allowed these people to make me feel bad about myself and wonder if I am unlikable. It really dealt a blow to my self-esteem in some ways. At this point, I want to build my ability to trust others again. I want to not let a little meanness or misunderstanding hold me back anymore. I have already chosen to consciously forgive, now I want to let myself learn from any mistakes that were made and move on.

So there you have it, my list of intentions for the coming year. What would you like to change or work on this year?

Review of ‘Man Shoes, The Journey to Becoming a Better Man, Husband & Father’

Even though I normally only review books for children or young adults, I jumped at the chance to read and review Tom Watson’s new book, ‘Man Shoes, The Journey to Becoming a Better Man, Husband and Father’.  As a foster parent myself, I love to read inspiring true stories of former foster children who have beat the odds and went on to break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

As Tom Watson describes in his book, he definitely had a rough start to life.  By the time he was five years old, he had already been in 13 different foster homes and suffered severe neglect and abuse, both at the hands of his biological family and from some of the foster homes that were supposed to be helping him.  Mercifully, at the age of five, Tom finally found a real home, one that would eventually adopt him.  The Watson family showed Tom all of the love, acceptance, kindness and support that he had always lacked.

Of course, no child changes overnight, so over the remainder of his childhood, Tom struggled with many of the same issues many other children with traumatic backgrounds endure.  Even with the love and support of a stable home, it wasn’t until many years later that Tom Watson started to really change from the inside.  With the help of his wife and later his own children, Tom finally grew into the person that he was always meant to be, a great man, husband and father.

Of course, no life journey is without its tragedies and failures, but overall this story is an inspiring, beautiful story about healing and the search for a better way of life.  This book touched my heart in a way that is rarely achieved, and gave me hope that the children I am sharing my life with will have the opportunity to grow into the kind of adults I know they could be.  Tom Watson is a great example of what loving foster and adoptive parents hope to do for the life of a hurting child.

I would definitely recommend this book to any parent or spouse, regardless of whether they come from a background like Tom’s.  I truly believe that anyone could find encouragement and wisdom within the pages of this great memoir.

To find out more about Tom Watson and ‘Man Shoes’, please visit the book’s website, www.manshoes.net.  You can also visit the ‘Man Shoes’ Facebook fan page.