“$h*!-hole!” The Day I Cussed at My Parents

The President said some bad words this week. I said some bad words once…

I was 11. I walked through our front door after school and there was no mistaking that something was about to go down. Both of my parents were sitting on the couch staring at me. They invited me to sit with them and I knew this was not a friendly offer, but rather the beginning of the end. I had no way of predicting that what was about to occur would change the way I spoke forever.

My parents explained that someone (who I will refer to as a tattle-tale) had shared with them the “choice” words I had learned and begun using at school. They claimed to know every obscene word I had spoken and their disappointment was palpable. Then, befell the most humiliating punishment I have ever received. They required that I say out loud every swear word I had ever uttered.

I thought I would throw up.

I had never heard anyone in my home swear. My dad was a pastor of a small home church with strict rules around taking the Lord’s name in vain and my mom is quite literally the most wholesome woman you’ve ever met. I think it’s possible that the only time my mother has used foul language is when she didn’t know it was foul language.  

I cried and cried.

They waited.

After what felt like an eternity I started with things like, “A-hole” and “the S-word.” My dad responded by asking me if I had only used the abbreviated versions or if I had said the whole word? He reminded me that the expectation was to say to them exactly what I had said outside our home. No cheating. They were not about to make this easy on me.

I don’t know how much time passed while I sobbed and choked on the ugly words I had so flippantly used on the 6th grade playground, but I know that in those moments I realized that the people I respected and admired most in my life deserved better than a daughter who resorted to 4-letter words just to fit in at school. I realized that to be true to myself I needed to speak in a way that represented my heart and who I was regardless of my surroundings. I realized there was a reason I could barely cough up these words in front of my parents…because this language was unlovely and they were the most loving people I knew….because this language was base and I held them in high regard…because this language was dishonorable and I wanted nothing more than to honor my parents…because this language brought no beauty, no peace, no joy and I wanted all of those things for my family, my friends, and myself.  

To this day I don’t know how, but I made it through the embarrassing list. My parents forgave me and then, my dad added a lesson that sticks with me today. He said, “If the only way you can describe something is by using profanity, then others might come to conclude that your vocabulary and intelligence are limited.” Such a big dose of truth for a pre-adolescent!

The lesson I learned that day changed the way I spoke.  An expletive didn’t escape my lips for years! At 11 years old I stopped using this language because it didn’t line up with my heart or my parent’s rules. Naturally, as I grew older I also began to see the importance of context and tone. It didn’t take long for me to realize that how I used my words was more important than the words themselves. The truth is that every now and then I break my parent’s rules (sorry mom and dad). In fact I burned my finger on a casserole dish this morning and was relieved that the kids were at school when the physical pain expressed itself through my mouth as an unfiltered exclamation point. However, that sour word I used to describe the pyrex dish is not a word I would use in a context that requires sensitivity and love. Because of that lesson 27 years ago, I strive to hold a standard of language that represents who I am, who I want to be, and what lives in my heart. I strive to use words that emphasize love and beauty. I strive to honor those around me and the Lord I serve. I strive to consider how my words affect those around me. I strive to use words that bring life and build relationship, give respect and bring value, lift up and include. And of course I strive to make my parents proud.    

If an 11 year-old was capable of learning this, certainly the President of the United States could as well?

Discovering Perspective

I’ve been obsessively listening to Pantsuit Politics, a thought-provoking podcast with two bright young female lawyers with different worldviews who respectfully (yes, respectfully) discuss politics. Their tagline is, “keep it nuanced y’all.” I love this because it reminds me to consider how many distinct ways a situation can be interpreted as we all witness the world around us with an individual set of lenses. I used to be someone who lived in a world with very little room for grey, but as I’ve grown both personally and professionally I’ve come to realize that there are different shades, different meanings, different degrees of understanding with every story told and every story heard. I feel a freedom when I’m able to disengage from the idea that everyone who doesn’t see the world as I see it has been misguided. Until today, I thought I had made great progress in my ability to step back from my firmly held beliefs and step into another’s shoes in an effort to cross the divides of dissimilarity.

This morning I was surprised to have a conversation about a news headline that I had no idea could even be nuanced. The story of the doctor dragged from the United Airlines flight came up in conversation and I honestly and ignorantly assumed everyone would be as disturbed by the images as I was. Maybe my naivete was based on the fact that it was a non-political story, but regardless of the reason, I mistakenly assumed everyone had been affected in the same way. As we began to discuss the incident I made it abundantly clear how disgusted I was with the policeman’s force and inability to de-escalate the situation. I asked incredulously, “what is wrong with people? Where is common decency?” It was at this point that my dear friend responded, “he was resisting.” It took me a moment to recover from this comment as I can honestly admit that I did not expect anyone to have a deviating perspective. I realize now how arrogant it was of me to assume everyone would see this situation (or any situation for that matter) as I did. As we travelled deeper into the conversation, it was additionally pointed out that the “fine print on airline tickets explicitly states that you may not actually get a seat on the flight,” and that the passenger “resisted and was belligerent with police” saying, “you will have to drag me off. I would rather be arrested,” AND that “he ran back onto the plane even after he was dragged off by security.” The longer these different angles were discussed, the more insistent I became that my view of the police officer’s short-sighted behavior was the correct view and that there was no other way of examining this situation than the way I already had. I dug my heels in. I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend how anyone could determine what had happened as fair or appropriate. The passenger was the victim and I couldn’t wrap my head around anyone arguing the contrary. Then my friend said something that hurled me over the empathy wall, where I could undoubtedly witness her landscape.

She said, “I guess I give the benefit of the doubt to law enforcement officers because my dad is a retired police detective and my husband was an air Marshall.”

Boom! Perspective bomb!

Once we said our goodbyes, I began internally berating myself and questioning my ability to see both sides. I had failed miserably at my devoted practice of denying the need to “be right!” I spent the rest of the day considering how many stories my friend must’ve heard about simple law enforcement situations escalating to dangerous, scary, life-threatening moments. I spent the rest of the day acknowledging how many times she must have worried about her father as he faced unknown scenarios and unknown personalities while putting his life at risk every day to keep people safe…people he didn’t even know. I spent the rest of the day imagining the times her father and her husband thought a moment was safer than it actually was and how everything can change in the blink of an eye. I spent the rest of the day admitting that I wasn’t as skilled as I had hoped at recognizing the delicate shadings in our individual interpretations of every piece of news we absorb…every narrative we discover.

Recognizing that there was an alternative way to hear and see this story didn’t change my mind about it being handled poorly, but it did help me conclude that our past experiences, our history, our environment, our culture, our family, and all that we’re acquainted with casts a filter on the lenses we wear every day to perceive our world. Having this open and honest conversation with my friend helped me grasp that we may never see the colorful world that lies beyond our familiarity until someone illuminated by a different world shares their vision, their tone, their saturation, their space their hue with us.

That night I texted my friend and apologized for the lack of understanding and for my insistence that I was right. I’ve always thought that I was open to seeing the “other side” but now I realize that there are times I don’t even realize there IS another side. I consider myself blessed to have friends in my life that will help me see the hill ahead and then guide me up and over to the other side for a fresh frame of reference. I am thankful for friends who aren’t afraid to disagree with what I’ve deemed “right.” Friends who love me enough and respect themselves enough to be vulnerable and authentic. Thank you to my friend (you know who you are) for being you even when we’re not aligned. You make my life increasingly more colorful and you make me a better person who continues to grow in shades and hues!

Packing Light

I had recently escaped a job that felt like a 1-year marathon. I crossed the finish line thirsty for a healthy environment, hungry for a boss with no relation to Satan, and pissing myself from relief that I was finally done! I was fortunate to be moving on to my first Supervisory position, and I was determined to make a good impression and lock in a positive reputation from the very beginning. With that being said, I was thrilled when the department’s VP gave me the chance to travel out-of-town (with my husband) to attend a formal dinner alongside senior leadership. This was a rare opportunity for exposure to a group of people I wouldn’t otherwise interact with, and I certainly wanted to make it count!

The day of the dinner, my husband and I did some sight-seeing, and then realizing he didn’t pack his tie, we swung by Target and bought him a new one. After a relaxing day, we returned to the hotel, and I started to primp and prep for the important night ahead. An hour before we had to leave I began encouraging (otherwise known as nagging) my husband to get ready. He was adamant that as a man he could be ready in a measly 15 minutes. Once the show he was watching (about surround-sound systems, or 4-wheeling, or Italian cars, or Grateful Dead, or sex, or all of the above) had ended, he finally made his way into the shower. As he shaved, I filled him in on the people who would be at the event and what positions they held. We were hard-core “first impression” prepping. Then, 5 minutes before we had to leave, my dear, intelligent, capable husband turned to me and said,

Where are my pants?”

I remember thinking…”please be referring to your underwear. We can do commando and have a great story to tell later. You’ll shake hands with important people while experiencing total floppy freedom…it will be liberating.” But, no…he meant the pants that you wear over your underwear. Pants are such a given requirement that even the signs about “No service” only mention shoes and shirts.

I will whole heartedly admit that I went into full crazy-wife freak out mode with thoughts of homicide and divorce in no particular order. I was halfway through painting my toenails, but didn’t have time to finish as we sprinted to the car and map-quested the nearest Target. (Side note: I am a social worker and my husband is a therapist, so we did not map-quest Nordstrom). We had 15 minutes to buy my husband a pair of pants and get to the resort for dinner. At Target, my husband bought a sturdy pair of black, stain-resistant, 100% cotton, Cherokee pants that paired with his silk Calvin Klein jacket and shiny Calvin Klein shoes in that classic beatnik (I don’t care what you think of me) way we were both hoping for. While he drove like a bat out of hell, I tried to keep my shaking hands from strangling him and attempted to finish embellishing my toes. While parked in the car, my husband threw his seat back and put on his brand new Cherokees that were a charming inch and a half too short. We half-walked, half ran into the resort’s lobby while I imagined how we might sneak in 20 minutes late without being noticed, and how we could sell our disheveled look as the new modern Zoolander “Derelict” fashion trend. As we hurried towards the conference room I heard someone yell out my name. We turned around to find my Vice President leisurely sipping a drink at the bar. When we joined him, he explained that the time on the invitation was incorrect and that the dinner didn’t actually start for another 40 minutes.

We were 40 minutes early!

We were 40 minutes early, yet my toes looked like a 2-year-old had caught me sock-less in my sleep and my husband was dressed like he stole pants from a 16-year-old Boston Market employee. Thank God I already HAD this job!

The next day, my husband (who spends $300-$500 on new speakers every 3 days) returned the tie and pants for a whopping $22 refund. He is now convinced that there is no need to pack for trips because he can buy what he needs once he gets there and return it when he’s done.

I can honestly say (and maybe you know someone like this too), that my husband is the luckiest person I know. He can make the biggest bonehead mistakes and it literally always works out for him. If the tables were turned and I had forgotten my dress, I can guarantee you that Target would’ve been out of all sizes except XS, my boss would’ve caught me changing in the car, one of my heels would’ve snapped off as we hurried through the parking lot, and when we arrived at the resort we would’ve been informed that the dinner was actually the night before. My husband’s good fortune in these circumstances is the reason I haven’t throttled him yet. However, everyone’s luck runs out eventually, so in the interim I’m working on increasing my hand strength…preparation is key.

Marriage has taught me that many of the moments we feel disappointed or frustrated with our significant other can instead be perceived as adventures….pant-less adventures. When I look back on that night I realize that it was always going to be a funny story…even if we had ended up being late. Maybe the hiccups in life are meant for us to hold our breath till they pass, and enjoy a good laugh afterwards!

One Year Ago

I found myself crying the whole time I wrote this. My intention was to make this post concise, but as I began to reminisce, it didn’t feel right to leave anything out…especially since so many of these memories are the most powerful and life-changing ones I have. I have done my fair share of venting about the chaos at work these last couple of months, including how bummed I was to have to travel on Super Bowl Sunday instead of being with my family and I have grown weary of listening to myself blather about not feeling well the last few weeks. With that being said, I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on where I was this time last year, and I’m shocked and disappointed at how easily I lost my perspective when life got busy! Today, I am choosing to reset how I respond to the stressors in my life, and to jumpstart that reset, all I have to do is take a few minutes to recall what life looked like for me this time last year. One year ago, I was completely debilitated and had been for over 4 months. I wasn’t just weak or weary…I was profoundly incapacitated. I was on approximately 10 different medications whose side effects made me so ill I lost 40lb in less than 2 months. I had seen multiple chiropractors, acupuncturists, reflexologists, massage therapists, dentists, endodontists, 6 different neurologists, visited the ER 3 times and was finally hospitalized for infusion therapy for 3 days with zero progress. I was unable to work, unable to drive, unable to run a simple errand or clean my house. I was unable to do most of the things we take for granted every day. The loss I experienced from no longer being able to participate in everyday tasks didn’t hold a candle to the grief I felt when I couldn’t care for my one and only newborn baby boy, Isaac. I had wanted to be a mother since I was able to push my dolls in a toy stroller and when I finally had the blessed opportunity, I couldn’t provide the basic things a mother gives her child. I couldn’t feed my son, I couldn’t bathe him or play with him or even laugh with him. I couldn’t comfort my son when he cried. My heart breaks as I recall a time I was holding Isaac and accidentally scratched his forehead with my fingernail. He cried so hard and so loud that my dad came running in from another room to hold him, soothe him, and quiet him because the pain I was living with had seized my ability to be my son’s comforter.

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One year ago I sent this email to my Primary Care Physician: I’m happy to tell you that I have a 4 week old beautiful and healthy son. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to enjoy him or take care of him on my own because of chronic migraines that I’ve been having since the beginning of my 3rd trimester. I’m sure that between the loss of my brother during my first trimester and the hormone changes in my body, I presented the perfect breeding ground for migraines. My MRI was normal and although we’ve tried lidocaine shots to my head, acupuncture, reflexology, chiropractic treatments, Imitrex, and a steroid, I’ve had no relief. At this point my neurologist has prescribed me Topomax (so I can no longer nurse my son), and he says it may or may not help, but even if it does help it would be at least 4 weeks before I get any relief. I can’t live in this pain and without the ability to care for my newborn son for another 4 weeks, but the neurologist (Dr. Marzulo) tells me that there are no other options. Even after I’ve researched things like Magnesium, B-12, all the triptans, Amitriptyline…he offers me nothing. Every night I fight the urge to go to the hospital for treatment as I deal with a level 10 migraine. I’ve contacted 3 other recommended neurologists (Dr. Win Toe, Dr. Fechtel, and Barrows Neurology) but it’s weeks before they have openings, and again I just can’t go on like this. I’m truly at my wit’s end and do not know what to do at this point. I was considering going to St Joe’s ER just so that I could get some relief and establish a relationship with a neurologist at Barrows. I’m reaching out to you because I don’t know what else to do and I know that you care about your patients. Do you have any insight or advice? I’m trying my best to advocate for myself and make wise decisions for my new family but I’m at a loss. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you Dr. Smith. I followed my doctor’s advice and went to St. Joe’s emergency room and several weeks after my ER visit, I was admitted to Barrow’s Neurological for infusion therapy. On January 5th, I was discharged from a 3-day stay at Barrows with no improvement. My husband and I decided to move in with my parents so they could help care for our son and their daughter. From the hospital, we stopped by the pharmacy to pick up $1200 worth of meds that, “could help me feel better in 4 weeks,” but in the meantime would make me feel like I was being poisoned. It was in the drive thru pharmacy where I lost all emotional control. I had never been so terrified in my entire life. I was watching my life, and the life of a son I couldn’t bond with, pass me by. It was by far the darkest, scariest, most hopeless time in my life. We arrived at my parent’s house and I was in so much pain emotionally and physically it’s all I could do to get inside and sit down in a chair without collapsing in the driveway first. My mother-in-law shared with me later that she was struck by the fact that I didn’t ask to see or hold Isaac as soon as I came inside (since I had been away from him for 3 days). When I look back on that day, the only thing I can remember is that I felt absent. I was already gone. I was no longer significant. My life was slowly slipping away and I was just watching from the sidelines. I don’t know that I even thought I could be or ever would be Isaac’s mommy. I didn’t think of myself as a source of life he needed or a source of life at all. I no longer mattered and soon would no longer exist. One year ago, I would wake up morning after morning, and with my eyes still closed I would pray, “let this be the day I feel better…let this be the day I get my life back…let this be the day I turn the corner…let this be the day I start living life again…please Lord, please God Damn-it, PLEASE!!!!!” I would slowly open my eyes, gently turn my head and feel that same pain that showed up day after day month after month, stealing my body’s ability to operate. I would instantly be reminded that I had to face another day of ice packs and heating pads, medications and dizziness, nausea and diarrhea, stabbing pain, throbbing pain, aching pain, and rubbing my face and head with so much intensity that my face would swell and become hot to the touch. Another day of trying to eat, another day of telling my family I was not feeling better, and another day of watching my son through a veil of fog that viciously divided me from him. Another day added to my list of convincing reasons that this would never end. I would spend each day participating in Isaac’s care in whatever way I could manage. Sometimes this meant laying on the floor next to him forcing a smile through the tears…stroking his beautiful face while telling him how very sorry I was that he didn’t have a mommy who could give him what he needed.  Other times it meant feeding him half a bottle until the pain was so intense my mom would lift him from my arms and my dad would help me get back to the room to lie down where I would cry from the pain and from the shame that accompanied the sad reality that I couldn’t be a proper mom. While Isaac took his naps, my parents and I would read every devotional in their house out loud, and I would use this time to search for the tiniest seed of strength, peace, hope, joy, wisdom, or solace to get me through the remainder of the day. Looking back now, I can see what precious moments these were with my parents and The Lord. As I felt myself falling apart, The Lord was using this time of struggle to build an even stronger bond with my family and with Him. The rest of my days were mostly spent lying on the couch or trying to eat something to keep up what little strength I had left. I would begrudgingly survive the day until I could take my cocktail of tranquilizers at 8pm and go to bed. The only thing I looked forward to were the hours I got to sleep under heavy sedation and be rescued from the pain that had tortured me for 12 waking hours. Most evenings my husband, dad, or brother would massage my head and shoulders long enough for a bath to be run. I would take my handful of pills, and then I would lie in the tub until the water was cold silently crying out with all my being, “PLEASE heal me or take me! I can’t endure any longer!” Writing this brings tears to my eyes as I remember sinking under the water to scream in anguish at the top of my lungs knowing that I would never be the mother I had always dreamed of being. Those baths, alone at night, I could so clearly see my future…laying in bed and slowly rotting till there was nothing left of me but breath. I would lay in the bath while the water drained, imagining all of the hurt and pain and disappointment going with it. By this time, the medications would begin to kick in, someone would help me get back to my bedroom and then my mom, or dad, or husband would sit on the side of the bed and stroke my head or lightly tickle my arm while I cried myself to sleep. I’ve often wondered if they ever intentionally took turns tending to me, as I can only imagine how draining it must have been to take care of someone so hopeless and scared. One year ago when I was left home alone, I would lie prostrate on the floor with my face in the ground and scream at God to take me, begging him to relieve me of my suffering and the suffering I was causing others, whether it was healing or death. IT DID NOT MATTER! I don’t write these things to be dramatic. This is how it was for me one year ago. It still frightens me to think back on those days and just how hopeless and alone and desperate I was. My stomach hurts when I think of the things I prayed for and when I remember that spirit of darkness that surrounded me with thoughts of letting go. With no light left, I would ask my parents and my husband dozens of times a day, “Am I ever going to get better?” I’ll never forget the terror I felt the day my husband asked me, “is this how our life is going to be from now on?” In a reaction of pure fear I screamed, “You can’t ask me that! I need you to believe that it won’t be like this forever and I need you to tell me over and over and over that it won’t be forever!!!” I required others to be confident that this was not the end, because I was no longer capable of believing in or even hoping for better days. It was during this time that countless friends and family held that hope in their hearts for me (for us) and there will never be words to adequately thank them for holding on when I no longer could. One year ago it was almost impossible for me to socialize, and if I did, there were painful consequences for days afterwards. I attempted to participate when I could, even though I knew there would be a price to pay. On Superbowl Sunday I took one of my dad’s Percocet’s just so I could be around family and friends for a few hours, and the next day was spent in bed recovering. I had missed all of my nephew’s basketball games, so I made up my mind I was going to go to the last game of the season no matter the cost! I attended the game and left during every time-out to avoid the music and loud announcements, but afterwards my pain escalated to an 8 for 3 straight days. Prior to my hospitalization, I attended my little brother’s 30th birthday and wasn’t able to move or converse at length due to the pain. I sunk into the couch attempting to protect others from the misery that surrounded me. I will never forget the sincerity in my nephew’s voice when he asked, “do you want me to sit with you so you’re not alone?” He sat with me and he made me a plate for dinner when the food was ready. Later in the evening, my oldest brother joined us and he held my hand while I rested my head on his shoulder. I don’t know if either of them will ever know the comfort they provided me that night while I tried to participate in a life that was always an arm’s length away. They were holding me together with love and I felt overwhelmed by their selflessness. Life was all around me and I was an outsider begging to get back in. Each gathering I attempted to be a part of only solidified that I wasn’t really living…I was painfully fading into the background. One year ago I told my husband that everyone would be better off without me. Isaac needed a mommy who could take care of him, take him to the playground, get him ready for school, help him with his homework, FEED HIM FOR GOD’S SAKE! I no longer saw value in my life. I said, “If this is living then I don’t want to live!!” This was the day my husband told me that I had to stop proclaiming that there was no hope. He made it clear that he would not accept my resignation as a mother or a wife and that one day we would reach the end of this terrible road together. This was the day he made me go outside and walk 1 short block while I cried in pain. He made me walk so that I would be reminded that the sun was still rising and I was still breathing. He made me walk to remind me that there’s beauty outside of what I was feeling…that there was beauty even amidst the ashes. He made me walk so that I would know that HE trusted there was light at the end of this dark journey and that I needed to hold on for him and for Isaac. He made me walk because I could! One year ago, many lovely friends visited to assure me that they had faith I would one day be well again. They brought me food I couldn’t eat and gave me love I desperately needed. Family and friends came by to hold me, cry with me, rock me in their arms, pray for me, and embrace and love on Isaac. So many people brought their light into my room of shadows and they will never know to what extent they gave me the comfort and hope I needed in the very moment they were present with me. I remember the dear friend who did my family’s grocery shopping each week and the friend who brought us a hot meal every Wednesday so that for one evening my incredibly benevolent parents wouldn’t have to worry about cooking or doing dishes. The love that was so graciously poured out on me and my family carried us through the bleakest of days and I cannot think of a way to appropriately express my gratitude to each and every person who gave of themselves with such compassion and generosity. One year ago, I knew that my maternity leave was coming to an end and I would be expected to return to work. Prior to having Isaac I had landed the job of my dreams and had been scheduled to start the first day I returned from FMLA. After my hospitalization in January, I sent my new boss (who I hadn’t worked a day for) this email:

“Dear Kelly,

I absolutely hate to be sending you this email and I pray that the next time you hear from me it will be nothing but good news. I have had debilitating migraines since having my son. My husband and I have had to move in with my parents and I was just recently hospitalized for 3 days with no relief from infusion therapy at Barrows Neurological. Most of the neurologists believe this is hormonal and will pass with time so I am hanging onto that hope. I am going to have to extend my leave to 16 weeks. I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am. I did not intend to start my new job by letting everyone down. I’ve always been a healthy person and this has just been the most horrible time of my life. I am so looking forward to the day that I can take care of my own son and step back into life and give 110%. I am so sorry.”

By February, my pain had retreated to a constant 5, but I was still unable to fully care for Isaac or myself, and the idea of trying to work seemed an impossible feat. I constantly worried that even if there was a day I was well enough to return, I would already have a reputation of someone who avoids work if she has the right excuse. I imagined the conversations my soon to be co-workers were having about me, and they went something like this: “She probably had her first kid and has decided she doesn’t want to work anymore.” or “How long can a person possibly have a migraine?” or “We shouldn’t have offered a position to someone right before she had her first baby.” or “Why doesn’t she just resign so that we can hire someone else versus dragging it out while we’re drowning in work?” What I desperately wanted them to know was that I couldn’t care for my firstborn let alone fathom the possibility of learning and working a brand new job. I couldn’t tell them that there was nothing I wouldn’t give to be able to do just one of those things. I couldn’t tell them that for me, it was just a pipe dream that I would one day be a functional mother to my son AND work a full-time job. I had begun to bitterly digest the idea that I would most likely lose my job, but even worse, that I would let down a group of women that I greatly respected and admired and who would never know how desperately I wanted to work alongside them. The following is a voicemail I left for my brother right around this time:

In mid-February, I did finally receive that dreaded call from my employer letting me know that if I didn’t return to work by 2/28, my job would no longer be protected. As I heard those words from HR, I had 2 thoughts: “This is it, the life I’ve known is over” and then, “Renee’, this is it, God has a plan for your life and you are not in control.” I don’t memorize Bible verses, but my massage therapist later quoted Jeremiah 29:11, “for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but that verse burst to life for me and was branded on my soul the split second I heard that I would probably lose my job. I finally embraced the realization that if I could will myself well it would’ve happened months ago. I acknowledged that I was not in control of what life doled out, but that I could choose how I reacted to the hand I was dealt. I had a choice…I could continue to crumble, lose all hope, and accept that the life I dreamed of was over, or I could let it all go, step away from the helm and TRUST that God had a plan for my life and that His plan is always good. This is when I finally felt that supernatural peace and strength I had been pleading for all those months. I realized during that phone call that I truly had no authority over how my life would proceed, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was surrounded by love, and that no matter what happened to my health or my job, The Lord had a plan and he would give me the strength and grace to see that plan through. I felt this truth (Jeremiah 29:11) in my inner core…a truth that gave me a peace so real that I can only describe it as being from God. I spent the rest of the day struggling with how I would tell my husband that I would most likely be unemployed soon, but when I finally gained the courage to say the words out lout, he also sensed that same inexplicable, “crazy” peace. We just KNEW that we KNEW that we would be okay. As Bob Marley so wisely sang, “everything’s gonna be alright.” My husband and I decided that I would attempt to go back to work on 2/28 and we remained prepared to accept that this may not be a successful endeavor. The day before my return was like every other day had been. I had the same level 5 pain and found it difficult to imagine that the next day of waking up early, getting ready, driving myself into work and starting a brand new job would be any degree of manageable. The night before, I took my regular handful of sedating drugs and my nightly bath, but then something different happened. I went to bed with more peace than I had felt in 5 months. As I fell asleep I remember saying a prayer of gratitude. I was thankful that I no longer felt the urge to control what happened to me and that I could unreservedly rest in The Lord and His plans for my life. I could see that He had used my brokenness for something good. He had used this chapter in my life to deliver me from the prison of worry. Releasing worry and anxiety from my daily routine was a freedom I had never had in my life. Roman 5:3-4 says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” I was nowhere near rejoicing, but I could finally see how He was using this time in my life to transform me, and I could finally lean into my faith with confidence, because He had made himself so real to me through this trial. The weight of worry had been lifted and I felt lighter. When I woke up the next morning I was pain free for the first time in 159 days! One year ago today, I arrived at my new job and although the familiar pain visited me throughout the day, it never came close to what I had endured day in and day out for the last 5 months. February 28th, 2014 was the day I was finally convinced that I would be well again and that God wasn’t just going to give me the strength to live through the pain…He was going to see me through to the other side, and all the while I would be made stronger through the journey. On my way home that day I called a precious friend (who had prayed with me all of those months) and I cried as soon as I heard her voice. I was so overwhelmed with disbelief that I could barely get the words out, “it’s a miracle! There’s no other way to explain it. It’s a miracle! My pain level is manageable! I’m going to be ok! I worked….I can’t believe it…I worked! God is so faithful!” It had been so long since I had been capable of functioning at this level, that I couldn’t stop repeating, “I can’t believe this!” When I walked through my parent’s front door I saw them standing in the foyer anxiously waiting for me to return. I don’t think I was able to get a word out before we were tightly holding onto each other. I realize now that they were there because they knew I would either be ready to celebrate or in desperate need of comforting and they are always there when their kids need them. I was finally able to tell my parents that I had turned a corner and that one day I would be myself again. The gratefulness, relief and joy we all felt stunned us into silence. The following 7-8 months, I continued to have significant daily pain, but NEVER resembling those previous hopeless months. I continued with medications that made me feel terrible and injections in my head to help control the pain, but none of that weighed me down because I was ecstatic to be living again. We moved back home and began to see our little family develop the way we had always envisioned. I felt nothing but gratitude on the days I would work long hours and then arrive home to take care of my son, because this was far more life that I thought I would ever be capable of living. Even with chronic pain, I was finally in a place where I could be a mother, I could spend time with my family and friends, I could work again! I never felt more blessed and as I reminisce how far I’ve come in 1 year I’m reminded that every day is a blessing and can never be taken for granted. One year ago my husband held me in his arms and promised me that, “a year from now, you will not be in this much pain. A year from now, life will not look like this or feel like this. Renee’, so much will change in a year!” I could not see the future he imagined, but today, right now, 1 year later, we have a life that is blessed beyond measure. Revisiting the past year has done exactly what I imagined it would. Writing out my story has helped reset my outlook on life. Before I begin to complain about anything I face, I must remember what I’ve survived. It is my desire to use these lessons in life to shift my perspective to what really matters and avoid complaining about the things that don’t. I also want to use these lessons to help me remain mindful of the many priceless yet mundane experiences that make up this crazy life. I want to BE PRESENT. When we take our son to the playground, I must remember to stop and be aware that walking outside used to be an impossibility. When I throw my son in the air and hear his adorable giggle, I must remember that there were days I wasn’t capable of holding him in my arms. When I feel the pressures of work, I must remember the day I realized I might never work again. When I don’t feel 100%, I must remember there was a time I wasn’t healthy enough to even become sick. I must always remember that right here, right now is precious and beautiful and should never be taken for granted. And, when dark times visit again (which they most certainly will in this damaged world), I must remember that no matter how torn I feel or how dark the clouds around me, The Lord has a plan for my life and it is always good. No matter the trials I am sure to face in the future, I will remember that a year from this trial I can once again say, “One year ago….”

 

What a difference one year makes!IMG_7336

 

Slip of the Tongue

A few years back I had some suspicious symptoms which lead to several cardiac tests that made me feel older than I am….or reminded me that I’m older than I act. First, I had to wear a heart monitor for 24 hours that would sound off a dramatic series of beeps each time it detected something irregular (like intercourse), then I had a stress test (which is as yoga-like as it sounds), and finally I was scheduled for an EKG.

The day I went in for my EKG a nice young nurse took me into the exam room and explained that I needed to undress from the waist up and put on a cozy hospital gown with the opening in the front. She also instructed me to lie on the exam table on my left side with my left arm straight above my head, and my right arm behind me and out of the way. When she left the room, I did as I was told, and being the prudish woman that I am, I fussed and fussed with the opening of my gown to make sure that both my nipples were covered…OMG, I’m such an old maid that even typing the word “nipple” makes me blush! Let me try that again…I fussed and fussed with the opening of my gown to ensure that all confidential areas were kept off the record. I was in just the right position to retain my dignity when a young, very handsome, MALE technician walked into the room. I was mortified at my vulnerability as he professionally proceeded to administer the EKG (in my chestal region OR what my best friend and I fondly refer to as the boobelarea, which sounds like a disease you can contract in Africa). With his hands so very near the “twins,” I felt out of sorts, sweaty, violated even…but in a 50 Shades of Grey way. As if he had done this a thousand times he asked, “What symptoms were you having that prompted the cardiologist to order this EKG?”

I smoothly responded, “I was having shortness of breasts.”

SOB!!! <Apparently there are many interpretations of this acronym!>

This slip of the tongue did NOT make things LESS awkward, but it sure did make for a good story once I got the heck out of that office! My advice to you: When you’re in an uncomfortable situation, use “private parts” puns (intentionally or unintentionally). If you don’t laugh then…you will most certainly laugh later! J

My Teenage Antithesis

I was a challenging child and a head-strong teenager. I’m the only girl of 4, so I argue that my uniqueness made me appear more difficult than I actually was. My poor dad did not know what to do with this ball of emotion who made every decision based on feelings versus critical thinking (or even plain old regular thinking). Aside from the natural trials that came with being the new and strange creature in a house full of testosterone, my dad and I spent many years figuring out how to navigate each other’s shared stubbornness. My adolescence was spent butting heads with my father like the bighorn sheep you see on the Discovery channel. He was constantly trying to protect me from myself and I was constantly insisting on being myself.

Then there is my little brother.

Thank the good Lord my parents had my younger brother to remind them that they had 1 more opportunity to raise a normal child. He jokes that he learned at a young age to sit back and observe me…and then do the exact opposite. My little brother is one of the kindest, supportive, thoughtful men you will ever meet, and I humbly like to think it’s because of me. He patiently listened to me cry over every boy who didn’t like me back, hugged me through each world-crushing A-, and perpetually encouraged me through years of bad hair and acne. It’s obvious that I was selflessly preparing him for marriage with a “How to Listen and Talk to Women” bootcamp of sorts….

This might be a good time to say “You’re welcome Ryan!”

I’m sure you all have had conversations in your lives that go something like this, “So and so is an incredible person, especially considering the environment they grew up in. It’s amazing how well they’ve done for themselves!” This is how I feel about my brother growing up with me. It could have gone 2 ways. 1. He could have avoided anything that resembled emotions or feelings or femaleness for that matter OR 2. He could have chosen to become strong and kind and believe in the existence of reasonable women. Thankfully he chose the latter, but he wasn’t always the angelic brother I’m painting him out to be.

One night I was having a particularly heated debate with my dad, with lots of eye-rolling and sounds like “pshhhh” (both coming from me of course). I’m sure the argument had something to do with my dad not understanding how much I liked the much older guy who wanted to take me to the drive-in movies and that my love life would forever be destroyed if he didn’t let me go. The volume of my crying and the shade of red filling my father’s face had reached epic proportions. It was at this moment of intense sound and color that my little brother (my teenage antithesis)…my sweet, yet shamelessly crafty brother walked in and said, “Dad, can I have your keys so I can wash your car?”

After talking myself down from the “strangle my brother” cliff, I decided it was time for me to sit back, observe, and learn from him. This might be a good time to say, “Thank you Ryan!”

The Most Important Resolution

Two years ago I unknowingly made the most important New Year’s resolution of my life. At the beginning of each year, a girlfriend and I convene at our favorite local restaurant and devour delicious food and wine while writing New Year’s goals, such as lose weight and drink less. In 2013 I made an unlikely goal that continues to bless me beyond measure.

My family is close. I wish I could still compare us to the Cosby Show, but that reference has sadly been contaminated, so let’s say we are Brady Bunch close minus the blended family and having a maid. My sister-in-law once shared that when she met my family she found it a bit uncomfortable that we all hugged each other hello, but then she really had second thoughts about dating my brother when we also hugged each other goodbye. “Are two hugs in one day really necessary!? It just seems unnatural!” she said. In total, a gathering with my family is valued at approximately 24 loving embraces. For the record, this same sister-in-law now initiates and even asks for hugs! Yet another victim of my family’s affection – Victory!

Everyone in my family has always lived in the same state and we spend time together on purpose even in between holidays. We genuinely love being together…it’s weird I know! In 2012, one of my older brothers and his family (a beautiful wife and twin girls) moved to Seattle for a wonderful job opportunity that could not be passed up. It was a very difficult goodbye, and although I tried to guilt him into staying, I was proud of him for making the decision to do what was best for his nuclear family. Thankfully, our entire clan was able to gather twice that year (once for a week in Durango to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary and then again in AZ for Christmas). It almost felt like they had never left. They had been living in Washington for a short 9 months and in those 9 months we had spent 3 weeks together, so it seemed odd that I felt such a strong urge to make a New Year’s resolution around communicating more often with my family.

I met with my friend at the first of the year and we set physical, spiritual, professional, and relationship goals. My relationship goal for 2013 was to call or text my family members at least once a week. That night I sent a text to my 3 brothers promising to do a better job staying in touch with them throughout the year. I’m positive the text also included something totally mushy and estrogen-sounding, but I can’t recall exactly. I remember feeling an enormous urgency to put more into my family relationships, especially my family in Seattle. I had no idea how important this goal was or how timely.

Unthinkably, my brother Burt died in a tragic accident 5 months later. Of course, no amount of communication could have replaced what we lost, but I will forever be grateful that I now have voice mails, texts, videos, and countless memories of our communication from those 5 months. I have voice mails of his laugh and videos of him saying “love you Ne’!” I have texts from him that make me giggle. What little comfort one can have after a loss like this, I am thankful for the comfort these messages offer me in my moments of intense grief. We loved each other and told each other often.

I didn’t meet with my friend in 2014 as I was still reeling from the loss of our precious Burt and very much in survival mode. After a 1-year hiatus we will meet again this Saturday and I can’t help but ask the Lord to help me set goals that truly matter. I pray that the intentions I set for 2015 will be bigger than myself and have broader and more positive impacts than I could possibly imagine.

What will be your most important resolution for 2015?

Love from Different Planets

Remember the book, Men are from Mars Women are from Venus? My husband and I could fill that book with real life examples that illustrate our ability to live on different planets and yet love each other deeply and with no regrets. Our differences were never noted in a larger public forum than during the unforgettable toasts at our wedding. One of our favorite examples came from my father-in-law who summed us up well when he said, “In thinking about this marriage I was at first struck by the apparent differences between Renee’ and Peter. While both were born in Arizona, Renee stayed and Peter left. She grew up in Arizona in a large family with three siblings; he grew up in New York in a small family as an only child. They grew up in different places and under different circumstances of religion and world views. She is from a mid-west conservative background; he is from an east coast liberal perspective. And yet, once past these obvious differences, there are many similarities….they share a love for…food (he loves to cook, she loves to eat), sports (she loves to play, he loves to watch)…with all of these shared values and characteristics, these two are certain to have a loving and happy marriage.” Truth be told, we do have a loving and happy marriage and I believe one of the many reasons is because we celebrate our differences (by pointing and laughing at one another).

One of our many “how in the world did we end up together” moments was wonderfully highlighted 2 years ago while I was pregnant with our first child. A dear friend had taken me to the hospital due to contractions and Pete met us there shortly after we arrived. To set the scene, I must say that with the exception of being pregnant with a beautiful and healthy little boy, the 9 month incubation period was less than ideal. To put it gently, Pregnancy made me its Bitch. I had ALL of the normal icky pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness, teenage acne, back pain, stomach cramps, constipation, insomnia-inducing heartburn, exhaustion, and tooth pain that certainly would have lead to an unnecessary root canal if I hadn’t stumbled out of the Endodontist’s chair, pushed past the doctor, ran frantically out of the office, and called my dad from the parking lot swearing that I would NOT go through one more unpleasant thing during this pregnancy. In addition to these lovely symptoms that most women are prepared for, I also became completely debilitated with migraines during my third trimester. I admit that when I have severe pain in any part of my body that lasts longer than 30 seconds you can be sure to find me on WebMD, Ask.com, Answers.yahoo.com, CDC, livestrong, everydayhealth.com, and any other website (credible or completely bogus) that caters to neurotic women who can’t help but diagnose themselves based on information they receive from everyone BUT a doctor. With that being said, by the time I made it to the hospital, I was full of worry and fear about my health and the health of our baby. The 3 of us began talking about my worries and fears, and in an effort to lighten the mood and lower my blood pressure, Pete suggested that we review each other’s search history on our phones. He thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the variety of topics that occupy our minds on any given day. I bravely (yet another dissimilarity) went first. My search history looked something like this:

Can a migraine cause a stroke?

How long before a migraine leads to a stroke?

What symptoms appear before a stroke?

Can Tylenol tension headache hurt a baby at 32 weeks?

How long can I take Tylenol before it damages my organs?

What are the symptoms of a brain tumor and do I have one?

Obviously, Pete’s point had been made and we laughed at my lengthy anxiety-provoking “keyword” searches. Then it was my husband’s turn. He resisted at first, but eventually I was able to wrestle his phone away with my super pregnant lady strength and here is what I read:

Off-road vehicles

best sound system

speakers for sale

fastest luxury vehicle

and the most telling of all….

Does sex help with migraines?

We laughed so hard I had my baby. Kidding, but for a small and relieving moment I forgot all about the pain that had stolen every one of my waking moments for 3 months straight. Laughing at ourselves and at each other has been exactly the gravitational pull that has brought our 2 crazy planets together, and no matter where we are in life I’m proud that my husband and I continue to celebrate each other’s diversity in ways that would get us into trouble with any HR department.

Mama Bear

This week’s writing challenge (Hindsight is 20/20) helped me realize how much thicker my skin is now, than it was even 5 years ago. The idea of going back in time to apply the perfect comeback to a situation that had previously stunned me into silence (that’s a lie…I was stunned into sniveling in the last stall of the women’s bathroom) isn’t as enticing as it might have been before my 30’s. However, what hasn’t changed is my intrinsic “mama bear” response when those I love are treated poorly, so I decided to use the challenge to reply to the email below as if it had been originally sent to a dear friend or family member. The email below was written by a co-worker, and sent to me at 9:42pm for no other reason (that I can think of) than he could NOT stop thinking about me. Ha!

From:  (Jim) 


Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 9:42 PM


To:  Renee


Subject: Perception is reality?

Renee,

I hate to be the one…but I really like you and I want you to know my perspective. I think your laughing is seen as distracting to others around us. I want you to realize that sometimes I think “perception is reality” to a certain extent…sometimes it’s not warranted…we must be mindful of those around us. Has anyone ever been honest enough with you to tell you what I’m telling you?

Jim

Below is the email I would’ve sent had I found my friend crying in the last stall of the bathroom due to this late night self-esteem crusher.

Jim,

I hate to be one of many…but I really feel sorry for you, and you need to hear my perspective. I think your curmudgeon-ness is rubbing off on others around us. You need to realize that my friends laugh and general happiness present a unique leadership opportunity for you. As Stephen R. Covey, writes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change: “To change ourselves effectively, we first (have) to change our perceptions.” You COULD choose to lead other trolls out from under the bridge, and begin perceiving laughter as a sound that brings joy and tolerance to the workplace. Sometimes we have to “face the facts” even when they are difficult to live with. You must be mindful of how your glum face and ogre-like presence tends to make others miserable. Has anyone ever been honest enough to tell you that you’re a sad little man?

Renee’

I also could’ve been less wordy, but still got my message across with a little hard-core Christian sarcasm:

Jim,

Everyone hates you but God. He loves you unconditionally! Isn’t that great news?!

Renee’

And of course there’s the response that could only have been sent with sincerity if I had spent a week praying for wisdom:

Jim,

God loves you!

Renee’

In 2015, I pray that the Lord gives me the grace to be a vessel of love and forgiveness even when my flesh has every reason to be angry and hold a grudge. I pray that I will be an example of His love regardless of the personalities I may bump up against. Until then, I have 10 days to behave however I want! 🙂

My (Almost) Mug Shot

8 years ago I was in the middle of a divorce (the“middle” is after the gut-wrenching, “this isn’t working” conversation, and before that moment you no longer recognize your life) and although it was civil, it was still a divorce and I’m still a woman with intense emotions. One night I was having a particularly difficult time living with the idea that I was going to be divorced before 30, so I left the house and called a close friend to vent while driving aimlessly around the city. My sobs had escalated to a point that my friend became concerned and asked me to pull over before I got a ticket for noise violation or ended up in an accident. I quickly complied and pulled into the first dark parking lot I could find so that no one would be able to witness the scene in my car, which was lots and lots of snot and loud undecipherable noises. I eventually took a breath and happened to look into my rearview mirror. To my surprise a police car was pulling in behind me with the lights blazing. I had no idea why I would be in trouble for parking and crying, but thought that maybe Sheriff Joe was cracking down on women about to cross the border into loco-ville. I remained on the phone with my friend when the officer tapped on my window with a night stick (a night stick!!) and told me to hang up the phone and turn my car off immediately. It wasn’t until I nervously obeyed his instructions that I realized I had parked in a car wash parking lot, and more importantly, that the security alarm at said car wash was BLARING! I am such a loud crier (or maybe my friend is such a loud consoler) that I didn’t hear a screaming security alarm obviously pointing to me as the only reasonable suspect. The cop directed me to get out of the car and sit on the curb. I’ve only seen officers ask people to sit on the curb in reality TV shows right before that person is arrested, so you can imagine my dread. All I could think was I’m failing at marriage and now I’m going to have a mug shot…this is my punishment for divorce. The officer proceeded to ask me what I was doing at the car wash and I blubbered on about getting a divorce and being sad and needing to get out of the house and pulling over so I wouldn’t crash. He interrupted my slobbery excuse and told me to sit and wait for him while he “checked the perimeter.” This is when I realized he thought I was the driver of the getaway car for a grand theft auto wash. After securing the perimeter (AKA tip-toeing around a building with a flashlight) the officer apologetically admitted that this was a terrible case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. At which I said, “No shit Sherlock!” Just kidding I didn’t curse at a cop…I was crying too hard (and I don’t curse mom!). He helped my soggy butt off the curb and asked me if I needed help getting home. As I drove home with swollen eyes and a broken heart, I thought, maybe just maybe this ridiculous turn of events was exactly what I needed to remind me that life is full of unexpected circumstances, and every moment will pass no matter how difficult or scary, or sad. I realize now that the lesson I can take away from this particularly unlucky night is to stop and quiet myself, (especially in trying times) so that I don’t miss the prounounced warnings that there’s trouble ahead OR the crystal clear solutions that could be glaring me right in the face.