Happy Birthday, Mom

June 17, 2016  would have been my mom’s 81st birthday – 1 month and 1 day after she flew to heaven.  I miss her, but I am so glad my memories are with me and I carry her in my heart. I DO hear her voice sometimes say to me “I still think you’re the best” when I mess up or whatever. I also know she definitely loved me even when I hid the “true Gina” so many years ago, and continued to love me when I began my journey of authenticity.  I love you Mom, and I know someday I will see you again! Thanks for loving ME, all of me. Enjoy your day celebrating in Paradise.

Loyalty

I have been in my “reconstruction” place as I navigate so many emotions and changes and memories, and what nots.  As I’ve slowly come back to “the swing of things”, I have noticed that life and struggles and emotions of others have continued without me.  I don’t mean that in “they went on without me”, I mean it in the sense of “wow, some hard stuff has been going on with people I love.”  So today, I’d like to ruminate on one of those issues.

Everyone wants and perhaps even expects loyalty from those who are in their lives.  Family, friends, even co-workers; the expectation is that they will have your back.  I know in my own walk I try to be loyal, but I am sure there are times when my definition of loyalty has not aligned with the definition of someone else.  But, I think we can all agree that there is a tacit understanding that you should be able to trust, at a certain level, people that exist in your daily life.  That expectation is much bigger for those closest to us, especially the one we love and plan to spend the rest of our life with.  And, I guess that is the basis of this post.

Being LGBT, Deana and I often deal with people who do not accept our relationship – I’ve written about this topic a few times on this blog.  There are several classes of people in this area; those that support us to our faces, but cannot be “out” to allow others to see their support, those who are very direct with their opinions but still hang with us in group settings, those who were direct with their opinions and have chosen to not be our friends, and those who are direct with their opinions and refuse to accept or allow themselves to be around the one we love.  It is the last group I will address today – this group is especially tricky when it involves family.

I have a small but powerful number of older people in my family who do not accept my marriage to Deana.  To cut to the chase, they love me and have sort of accepted the fact I am a lesbian, but they refuse to accept Deana and in fact will not accept her in their homes.  If there is a family gathering and they can control the guest list, she would not be invited.  If there is a family gathering and they cannot control the guest list, they will either not attend if Deana is there or avoid her like the plague.  For my part, this is a tough situation, because I LOVE these family members and I want to be able to fellowship with them, I want to interact with them, and I want to be loved by them.  AND I want them to love Deana.  It is TOUGH and anyone in this sort of situation I have huge sympathy for because it isn’t pleasant.

But here is the deal – I have chosen Deana.  I love her with all my heart.  I have pledged my life to her, in sickness and in health, and we have married each other (aka “become one”). She is so important to me, I have been legally and spiritually linked to her.  I esteem her so much that I live with her, I dream with her, I plan with her, and I will grow old with her.  She is my WIFE.  The Bible says that we leave our parents and cleave to the one we marry.  And I will add, whether or not you agree with same-sex marriage or accept the spiritual or even the legal link involved, I have raised Deana to a level that in all acceptable circles (especially if this was a heterosexual relationship), she is the #1 person in my life.  NUMBER ONE!

So, if I am in a situation where I am invited to a family gathering and Deana is not invited, that is an affront not only to Deana, but to ME!  We have become ONE, and yet a piece of me has been relegated to not even be esteemed enough to be invited, no matter what pretense is offered as a reason for the exclusion.  Because of that, I do not entertain the idea of going without her, because doing so adds credence to the fact that our relationship is somehow shameful.  That are relationship is deficient.  That our relationship is inferior.  And that is not fair.  Further, I love Deana so much that I would NEVER, EVER choose ANYONE over Deana, because my loyalty is to her first.  I have been invited to Christmas gatherings that I have not attended because Deana was not invited.  And believe me, that was hard, it was painful, but it was right.  Because, Deana is my family, and to leave her behind would be leaving a piece of me behind and it would be a dagger to her heart.  I would be just as guilty as my family that have overtly rejected her if I went along and played in that game.  I would reject her as well by going.

That’s not to say that visiting said family is wrong.  I love my family and I also respect their choices.  Deana understands that too and gives me room to have them in my life, and understands the importance of their place in my life and the need to interact with them.  I absolutely enjoy spending time with them, loving on them, and being with them.  But, unfortunately, there is a true line that has been drawn that I will not cross, and clearly articulated to my family members that if they do not include my wife (a piece of me) to family gatherings, I will not attend.  I absolutely respect their stance, but there is cost to them if they keep it.  Because, as much as I want to be loyal to my family, being loyal to my wife trumps that.  And I believe it should be that way.

There is a piece of me that resents this is even an issue, because 100% of the exclusion stances are related to our sexuality.  I resent that other people can be jerks and treat said family horribly, but they are welcome because they are straight.  But even in admitting that, I will always stick to being loyal to my wife first.  I pray for others who find themselves in this situation, and I truly pray that they make the right decision when dealing with it.  I have seen too many relationships torn apart because loyalty gets sideways.  And I understand the pain and struggle when you’re caught in the middle.  But try to remember, LOVE should not make you choose.  But if you have to choose, choose the one you will grow old with.  At least, that’s the way I have chosen to lead my life.  And know this, I also believe that SOMEDAY, through the Grace of God, there will be restoration to this situation.  Maybe I will write more on that later!  🙂

Ode to my Mother

As you already know, my mother passes away on May 16th.  That transition brought her out of suffering and into the arms of Jesus – I believe that with all my heart.  And yet, I find that this process on MY side of the peace is a bit harder.  I am way more retrospective, I am sad, and of course very thankful that I was able to say what I needed to say before she went onto Glory.

Having said that, I must share without hesitation a truth about my mom, one that I have known for over 20 years, which something I didn’t hold in such regard until recently.  She was someone with tons of flaws (aren’t we all?), but in one area she was always consistent and that was in the area of unconditional love.  She never turned away a person from her home, she never added criteria to extend love to people, and she was someone who found good in everyone.  And, she saved my life.

In my mid-twenties I came to realize that no amount of prayer was going to change the fact I was attracted to women.  By this point I had been married around 5 years and Kirstie was about 3.  I had spent agonizing hours crying out to God to heal me, to change me, and nothing had happened.  I went to seminars at my church to “build my faith”, I attended women’s conferences to become more “A woman of God”, I constantly asked for prayer coverage and I certainly laid this before the Lord in all transparency and supplication.  I even saw a special “spiritual” person who was famous for their ministry of cleansing the “sins of the fathers” so that it would not carry forward into our own lives.  And yet, I felt as though I was so steeped in some sort of sin or lacked faith or was not important enough because of some failure in my life for God to heal me.

And I wanted to die.  I honestly thought being on the earth was damaging those around me the most, especially my daughter.  I felt I was doomed to hell anyway, so what would the final straw of suicide matter?

So I ran away from my life, not sure I could go through with suicide, but determined to rid the filth that my very existence from the presence of those I loved the most.  Because, at that time all I wanted was to be love by God, be whole for Him (aka, be straight), and I knew I was failing.  So I ran from my life and somehow ended up at my mom’s house.  Without saying much, other than some story about dealing with “marital issues”, my mom knew something was hugely wrong.  And she didn’t pry.  She didn’t corner me.  She just loved me.  She made me coffee.  She cooked for me.  She sat and talked to me as she smoked her Marlboro 100’s and showed me the stray cats that ended up staying with her and her roommate.  Even as I existed with these pieces of comfort, I was not peaceful – I still struggled and determined in my mind that I had to do something drastic, and all roads lacked any sort of hope.

Then one day, I remember sitting on the curb outside her house, contemplating just walking until I could not walk one step further………and she came out and sat next to me.  She didn’t say a word, she just sat there.  She smiled, I think she even touched me.  But she didn’t speak.  And before I could realize what I was doing, I said to her “Mom, I think I am gay.  No, I don’t think it, I know it.  I am gay.”

It felt good to get it out, to say the words, because at that moment what I was looking for was to have someone outside of myself validate the fact that I was this horrible, shameful thing that needed to disappear.  I needed that one push to get me from this stagnant uncertainty of despair and get me to action.

I remember Mom not reacting.  Her fact didn’t change.  She looked at me and said, “Okay.”  I waited, I am not sure how long, and then she said, “You are Gina.  When you were just a small baby, you hated dresses with ruffles and frills.  You would cry until I changed you.  You were so different from your sister in that way, you wanted plain and functional dresses to wear.  So I dressed you differently.  You always loves playing outside and were so athletic, you still are, and you even taught yourself to ride a bike without anyone’s help.  You have always stood up for the underdog, even if the bully was twice as big as you were – remember that time that boy punched you in the mouth when you were protecting your brother? –  and you always like to sit and talk to Grandma and other people who are older than you are.  Not many young people like that.  You are a wonderful mother and a wonderful daughter and I am so proud of you.  I can understand that you might think it is bad that you’re gay, that it changes you somehow.  But I don’t think that is the case.  You are Gina.  You are my daughter.  You are so many things that are wonderful.  Nothing you can say will change any of those things.  I love you.  I will always love you.”

I remember staring out to the street, replaying those words through my head for several minutes, trying to calibrate what had just happened.  I was a bit mad at first, thinking even in my expectation of her reaction, I was way off base.  But as the words replayed over and over, I understood what my mom was trying to say.  That it was okay.  That I was okay.  That maybe I was not an abomination.  That even if I was gay, I was still something that could be loved.  That should be loved.  That there were pieces of me that brought value to the world, that not everything was measured against my sexuality.  That she wasn’t going anywhere, even after I told her the horrible truth, and that in itself made me thunderstruck.

I honestly don’t remember what I said back to her.  The days after that moment are somewhat of a blur to me.  My life was still kind of a mess and it still took me almost 10 years to tell others I was gay and 15 for me to come out and accept it truly for myself.  But in that moment, for the first time since I was about 13, I stopped hating myself.  I stopped wanting to end or damage myself.  I stopped feeling as though God hated me.  I still prayed that He would heal me, but I didn’t picture His angry face and pointed fist directed at me.  And it all started with my mom, who I knew LOVED ME, period.  I am so thankful that she gave me life, twice, and taught me in not only word but in deed how to love unconditionally.  I am sorry that it took me so long to share this memory with others, though I am glad she knew what a huge impact it has had on my life.  I love you, Mom.

Jan

My mom.  She was many things.  She hated the name “Janice”.  She loved her kids and grandkids so much – we are her legacy.  She was an artist, and now I appreciate her paintings more than I can explain.  She used to blot her lipstick on envelopes, pieces of paper, junk mail……her lip imprints could be found anywhere.  She used to drive like Mario Andretti, though I was never scared.  She was an amazing dancer back in the day.  Some songs would make her cry even if she wasn’t sad.  She always had long fingernails, and they were super strong.  My Dad never called her by her name, at least where I could hear, but instead called her “babe”, “honey”, etc.  She had friends from all walks of life, from tons of different races, and made equality a way of life not a byword.  Okay, so she met my Dad in a bar when he was in the Navy, and may have been nine years older than he was, but hey she was smoking hot and had pull.  She was a real estate agent for over 20 years and her clients became family; most were repeat customers multiple times.  She was not afraid to stand up to anyone, especially when someone was being a bully to someone weaker/smaller.

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She had an amazing laugh.  One look would shut up 100% of her kids – no yelling needed.  She loved to play the slots in Las Vegas or Laughlin.  She was an amazing cook, and as an Italian always made way too much food.  She was generous to a fault.  She was 5′ 3 1/2″ most of her life – and yes she always said the “and a half” part.  She was pretty witty for most of her life.  She could be awfully scary too (remember, she was Italian)!  She was an imperfect soul that I loved immensly.

Janice “Jan” Lorraine Gates Fakelmann Minard.  You will be missed and will remain forever in our hearts.

Reflection of Life

Those who have known me for a while know I had some rough times relating to my mom over the course of my youth.  Her being bipolar has had a lot to do with that, and reality is – we all have some form of dysfunction in our lives.  None of us are perfect.  Yet, if you’ve known me more than a week, you also know I often tell people I’ve had a pretty amazing life, my childhood was pretty legit, and I am pretty proud of the person I have grown up to be.  (Okay, so I am still pretty immature, but that’s besides the point.)

I am currently in the ICU ward of a Southern California hospital, my mother having been moved back here a few hours ago.  Right now she’s resting well, is under wonderful care, though due to that care it is difficult for her to communicate with us.  She has a face mask on and it’s pretty much impossible to hear anything she has to say.  Add that her voice is still recovering from the breathing tube that was only removed a few days ago, and well……the only real thing we can understand is her nodding yes or no.  Yet her eyes are so expressive, I could sit hours just gazing into them, reassuring her of my love, that she’s been a wonderful mother, that she’s doing a great job, and the like.  But, as she rests I thought I’d write some thoughts, as that is my therapy as I fight to stay strong but would rather fall in a messy heap and sob my heart out.

So, whether or not I struggled with my mom, no matter if there were times when I was not sure I could deal with her…….every negative thing I might have easily conjured up in the past lays silent as my mind and heart are overwhelmed with love and appreciation for her.

When I was about 6, my mom and I went grocery shopping.  I am not sure but I think we had guests; maybe my Grandma Minard was visiting or maybe it was someone else.  But we were there and we were buying items.  At the checkout I asked for a candy bar, which I usually didn’t do and by the way…..we hardly EVER had candy on the regular.  That was for special occasions.  Anyway, my mom said yes and I was shocked, EXCITED even!  But then I remember her getting really upset (not at me) and things being moved around and my mom acting weird.  But I didn’t understand it at all though I sure did enjoy that Snickers!  Come to find out later, as my Dad pulled me aside, and asked me to not ask for candy again.  He explained that my mom didn’t have enough cash for all the things we had to buy and that it was hard when she had to put things back.  I didn’t appreciate that as much when I was six, but as an adult who once upon a time had similar situations occur, I have to give my mom props for saying YES to the candy, and then letting me keep it even though she had to put back groceries.  I am sure the candy bar was not the tipping point, but you get what I am saying.

I was in a musical in kindergarten – I played the triangle BOOM – and my mother told me she would not be able to attend.  I was sad, because even back then I was extroverted and wanted nothing more than for my mom to see me rock the triangle.  I will always, ALWAYS remember the moment I hit the side of the instrument, looked up, and there was my mom standing in the back row!!!!!!  That filled my heart with happiness..

I have more to share, and I expect to do so in the coming days, but the truth of the matter is this – my mom did the very best she could.  While she may have made mistakes or regretting doing (or not doing) some things, that doesn’t matter.  And when I sat with her yesterday, all she could do was struggle to get the words formed in her mind and tell me what was heavy on her heart.  She didn’t let her confusion or her recovering vocal cords or her health get in her way.

Mom:  you are well liked

Gina:  thanks mom

Mom:  no, no (pause as she thought of the words) you are well loved

Gina:  awwww mom, thank you I love you too

Mom:  that’s it.  I love you.  I love you.  I love you.

And that, my friends, is all that really matters.  Love, and knowing when to share it.  And really, it should be shared always.

 

 

 

 

The Circle of Life

I have been blessed in many ways in my life, abundantly so.  One area that is a huge blessing that often fills my heart with gratitude is being a mother.  This area runs the gamut of emotions; joy, uncertainty, frustration, fear, excitement, pride, love……and the list goes on.  Sometimes it seems like just yesterday I was holding my first born daughter for the very first time, amazed that I was actually a mother, freaking out that I was responsible for this precious little bundle of joy……..and then to be hit in the face with the reality that she will be 26 this year.  What the HECK?!?!!?!  How did this happen?????  To watch videos of my oldest son learning to ride a bike, showing a determination and tenacity that was amazing, as I plan what to do for his 21st birthday.  To receive a text of my 15 year old son’s haircut, realizing he STILL has a pretty darn big head and has become this young gentlemen that blends the best of his father and me.  To pump up bicycle tires for a family ride, and notice all the hair on your 14 year old son’s masculine legs, as his 12 year old sister impatiently rides around you, seamlessly using the best project manager’s tone with perfection.  To have these thoughts running through your brain as you fall asleep, and then to wake to this video by Nichole Nordeman that a friend posted to Facebook…….WOW!!!!  My friend warned that we’d need tissues, and she was right!

 

Time DOES need to slow down, and as a mother of five kids I can attest to that.  But an interesting dynamic also exists in my life, and the last few days I’ve been pondering it.  Recently, I’ve been dealing with my mother being ill; she has struggled with her health for many years, though at the age of nearly 81, it seems her struggles have become more……I don’t even know the right word to write.  She and we have realized there will come a day, and perhaps that day is not as far off as it felt before, when she will graduate to heaven.  And that realization has made me think of my own childhood, of all the memories I have shared with my mom, and with my dad, and with my siblings and friends and aunts and uncles and grandparents.  And, even when these memories have been the most heartwarming and fun to reminisce over……..looking at my mother in her diminished state, hearing her voice that suddenly sounds old, seeing her hands shake or her skin bruise so easily…….seeing her now even as the memories of her back in the day taking no crap from anyone…….I wonder with awe where the hell the years have gone.  Even with the years of illness she’s been through, I feel almost blindsided by the reality that my mother is nearly 81 years old and somehow became this person that needs gentle care, needs mothering and gentleness and words of comfort and compassion, and will not be on this earth forever.

And as I have emotionally and physically been trying to process this realization, not always holding it together….and in fact losing it occasionally as I regress to an 8 year old girl that needs her mommy while also fully existing in the role of the parent, coordinating updates with my siblings and talking to doctors and making sure she has money to pay for food…….I can’t help but acknowledge my support system.  Of course Deana has been there for me in thousands of ways for which I can’t express enough in words.  But to sit here and ponder……my own children have stepped up into a new role as well.  Kirstie flew with me to California to visit my mom, and neither of us realized how much she’d be a tower of strength for me as I would swing between 8 year old and 48 year old Gina.  She was there for me when I cried, she validated my anger when I raged, and she encouraged me when I felt hopeless.  She saw her own grandmother struggle, and the compassion and empathy she displayed, the love she extended to the woman that used to hold and care for her as an infant was a blessing to behold.  The maturity in which she balanced the fact that this could be the last time she saw her grandma, while ALSO comforting her own mother as I dealt with this same realization……made me realize the dynamic of family is so complex and robust and strong and……and…….beautiful.

I could go on and on about each of the kids.  How Kenny seems to have radar and calls or texts me at the perfect time, knowing if I need to laugh or to talk or to just hear his voice.  How Josh speaks to me, even as a teenager that has a full social life and sometimes moms aren’t as cool, but still enjoys interacting with me.  How Zack always, always asks if I’ve had a good day, but more importantly follows up if I admit my day has been rough.  Sophia, who is truly a mini me, gets when I am stressed or feeling inadequate because I really DON’T have the answers or the solution, even though she’s only 12.  Through it all, even when I sit here watching that video and ponder where the time has gone, I must also admit these children that rely on me are also a huge support system.  They feed my soul and care for me in ways I never planned.  And, really, I thank God so much that He provided them to ME, that the very people I’ve taken care of for so many years have turned the table and are taking care of me.  It is weird and majestic and awesome.  And I am thankful for this, even if I just realized it.

2015 In Review

I suppose it’s not that original to create a blog entry to recap a year.  However, I do think it is a great exercise to focus on the blessings that have occurred, especially when so much online and in the news seems to focus on what is wrong in society.  Perhaps I’ve buried my head in the sand, but there WERE many great blessings for me 2015.

  • After Deana received her new awesome job at the end of 2014, we put our house on the market in Texas.  Selling during the winter/holiday season can be stressful, and I often worried that we’d be waiting for months for any real offers.  However, a little over a month on the market and we got a WONDERFUL offer that was honestly perfect.  Even with me being in Australia, we were able to push it through.
  • Concurrently, we also had found a wonderful home in Georgia, thanks to Tiffany who gave us a heads up about it!  The selling of our Texas home was the missing piece, and since that went through we were able to move forward with our relocation.  Moving with two families that are changing states can be a logistical nightmare, but in our case it was VERY smooth!  The dates worked out perfectly!  I thank your buyers as well as the sellers as they were very accommodating across the board.
  • Moving is never fun, and there were quite a few hiccups throughout the process, but looking back from the advantage point of “today” made me realize – in the scheme of things – everything went really okay.  We are settled in our beautiful home, we have more than what we need, and we have friends and family to love.  What more do we need?  AND, I so love living in “the country”!
  • January 2015 another work milestone was accomplished – our Australia locations went live on our ERP system.  This was a pretty big endeavor, and with the distance it made it quite interesting.  SO MANY were on the team for sure, and we had our hands full for a few months after they started, but as I look back I am very proud not only of the Aussie Staff, but for the IT Project Team that made it happen.  Blake, Cary, Tiffany, and Scott THANK YOU.
  • June 2015 kicked of the UK portion on the ERP system rollout.  Many faces continued on this leg and I have to admit this is probably the biggest and best rollout to date!  Internal staff absorbed many of the tasks and it has totally rocked.  We go live there in a few days and I am very hopeful.
  • On that note, I was very glad to add Matt to the mix, which is totally awesome.  He came from our vendor and rocks, except for his love for the Green Bay Packers.
  • Speaking of football, 2015 has proven to be a great year for the Vikings!  We made the playoffs and are tied with the Packers going into the post season.  While I am still being encouraged to consider switching alliances by becoming a Cheese Head, for now I am waiting for next Sunday to see who wins the GB-MN match up.  Purple, after all, is still my favorite color!  (Marisa and Sarah……green is not bad, I just apparently need more time to consider this and maybe walk more win prep for running from Deana!).
  • This year also proved to continue with the kids growing and maturing, despite my demands that they stop.  I cannot believe the old pics of the kids in comparison to their pictures today!  I am ALWAYS blessed when I look at them and am grateful that the Lord has placed them in my life.  ❤
  • Of course, there’s my hot wife.  We have continued to work our marriage (and, HA!, marriage can sometimes be WORK!), and I am forever thankful that the Lord has blessed our marriage and has reminded both of us to look through love, especially when “life” can be the biggest distraction.
  • I was able to have ALL my kids in my house during the holidays, which blesses me beyond words!!!!!

Our prayer for you today, the last day of 2015, is that you feel peace and love!  And we also pray that you feel and receive tons of blessings in 2016.  Happy New Year!