“My Year”

“This is gonna be your year, I can feel it!” During the past month, I’ve heard this well known phrase on several occasions. Honestly, I’ve heard it many times over the years and probably even offered this guarantee myself…as if speaking it aloud would bring it into existence. As I truly contemplated the statement for the very first time, I wondered why we promise this to others? Perhaps as the New Year approaches, the pressure to provide a gift-wrapped basket of positive reinforcement to our friends and family members becomes greater than throughout the rest of the year, because if we can convince them, then quite possibly we can convince ourselves that we’re headed towards “the year.”

I started thinking about what elements need to be present in order to make this my year. Is it meeting “the one”…finding the perfect job, buying a home, filling my closet with designer clothes…or is it having a year without sorrow, without trials, without dealing every day with Cancer?

On Christmas Eve, as I was driving to church for service, I was listening to one of my favorite artists, India Arie and her song, “I Choose.” Although I’ve heard this song several dozen times in the past, part of the lyrics (posted below) touched my heart in a way they never have before.

*Because you never know where life is gonna take you
and you can’t change where you’ve been.
But today, I have the opportunity to choose.

And I choose to be the best that I can be.
I choose to be authentic in everything I do.
My past don’t dictate who I am. I choose.

I done been through some painful things I thought that I would never make it through.
Filled up with shame from the top of my head to the soles of my shoes.
I put myself in so many chaotic circumstances, but by the grace of God I’ve been given so many second chances.
But today I decided to let it all go. I’m dropping these bags, I’m making room for my joy.

Because you never know where life is gonna take you and you can’t change where you’ve been.
But today, I have the opportunity to choose.
I used to have guilt about why things happen they way they did cuz life is gone do what it do.
And everyday, I have the opportunity to choose.

And I choose to be the best that I can be.
I choose to be courageous in everything I do.
My past don’t dictate who I am. I choose.

And I choose to be the best that I can be.
I choose to be authentic in everything I do.
My past don’t dictate who I am. I choose.

During the 15 minute drive to my parent’s church, I re-played the song several times, singing at the top of my lungs, “I choose!” Memories of the past twelve months flooded my heart, and it dawned on me that 2010 WAS “my year”…It was the year I fought for my life, the year I realized my life was actually worth fighting for…the year I chose to see myself as worth more than what I was settling for…the year I received an overwhelming support of family and friends…the year I said goodbye to some relationships and had the opportunity to create some new friendships…the year I found peace within myself…The year I learned about “Dolce Far Niente” (the sweetness of doing nothing). The year I truly found the peace of the God that dwells within me and desires to bring blessing through the greatest of tragedies…The year I faced my greatest fears and came out on the other side stronger than before…and the year that I learned I CHOOSE!

I may not be able to predict or control what happens to me in the future…I continue to face the chronic side effects of the Cancer, but I get to choose how I handle that on a daily basis. I may not be able to stop how someone else’s actions will change my life, but I can choose how I respond to the situation. I GET to choose EVERYDAY my attitude…for better or worse. And I get to choose that every year is “My Year!”

Picture from my "I'm Alive and I Survived Cancer" photo shoot

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Ode to Joey

Dear Joey,

I can’t believe we’ve been together for 8 1/2 months. At first, I must admit that I found you to be quite the pain! You were aggressive and overly invasive on most occasions. You brought me nothing but discomfort, and it was extremely awkward every time we went out in public. You had me feeling so insecure that I always changed my clothes several times before leaving the house! Within a couple of weeks; however, you stole my heart, as you sought to meet my needs at the most basic of levels! Afterall, isn’t there some silly saying out there that the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach? Well, Joey…I must say that you captured all that and more! From the moment I came to understand that you were truly there for me, it changed my whole outlook on your presence in my life.

But Joey…dear Joey, as much as you have meant to me and as selfless as you have been, there comes a time in any partnership where you have to evaluate how things are going and make decisions about the future. As difficult as this is for me to express, sometimes it’s important to end on a high note, maintain the positive memories you have and realize that sometimes relationships are only meant to be for a season.

I should have waited to do this until after Christmas to lessen the blow, but 21 days have passed since I’ve been contemplating a separation, and I couldn’t drag it out any longer. To be quite honest, I would have ended things sooner, but I needed to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I could survive without you. I have great confidence that you will find someone else to serve, as that seems to be what you do best, but I know now that I am strong enough to do this on my own. I thank you for the times you were there for me…in the middle of the night…outings to the movies, family gatherings…you were always the life of the party and a great conversation piece! And one more thing, Joey, I ask that you honor my wishes and never contact me again. Harsh, I know…but necessary…so that we both can move on to the next stage of our lives.

Best Regards,
Me

*My feeding tube was placed on April 10, 2010. Today, I had it removed…finally! During his first visit since having my tube placed, my 7-year-old nephew, Moses, was extremely eager to learn about the strange apparatus that fed liquids to his Aunt Kelli. He asked what kinds of items could go into my tube and wanted to know if I could put Sprite and popcorn down there. After his curiosity was fulfilled, he looked at the print on the equipment and read, “Kangaroo Joey.” A day or two later, not watching where he was going, Moses ran into the legs of the IV pole and let out a big exclamation of “Jo-eeee.” Since that day, my family and I adopted the nickname and jokingly referred to my tube as “Joey”.

My parents accompanied me to the tube removal this morning and my mom came into the doctor’s office with me to take pictures. The doctor told me to take two deep breaths and pulled. Out popped this tube with a round bumper on the end. While there was brief pain, the excitement over what had just occurred seemed to wipe it all away. Driving home, we couldn’t help but feel the immense significance of the moment as we realized I have come full circle on this long journey. It was such a blessing to have them there as they have been there for me every step of the way! Below are some pictures of “Joey”.

Mom and me


Me and my Pops!


Feeding tube on the outside!


Saying Goodbye to "Joey"

Il dolce far niente

I’ve always thought of myself as pretty independent…not so independent that I wouldn’t love to have someone to share my life with, but independent enough not to fully give into the lie that life begins as soon as you meet the man of your dreams. I’ve done what was necessary to ensure I could take care of myself, I’ve tried desperately to be content in every situation and I’ve regularly attempted to pursue a peaceful heart regardless of life’s ups and downs. I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to receive a quality education, which gave me the ability to go to work and provide for myself, but in all reality, I wouldn’t mind having someone else to share in that task. I’ve chosen to live my life to the fullest, I’ve laughed and cried with abandon, I’ve traveled around the world and met all types of incredible people, and I’ve been blessed beyond measure. There have been those moments, though, especially during this past year, when I wished for nothing more than a steady place to call home…a place where the pain and fear of the unknown would have been quieted by the strength of a partner by my side.

On September 18th, nearly three months ago, I took an extensive inventory of my life, something I think is quite normal after having been faced with one’s susceptibility to death…I examined the dreams accomplished, the hopes yet to come to fruition, the milestones met, the losses over the years, the health battles fought and won, the relationships that never fully developed…I took a look at it all and made a huge discovery…I’m approaching “that age”…the one where the ticking becomes louder and more intense, the age where those who have already been married for ten years and have a house full of kids tell you “Oh, you’re just a baby, you still have plenty of time,”…the age where settling down and starting a family might not be such a bad idea but the older you become the more you wonder whether being single for the rest of your life might not be the worst thing…Well, I realized that I’m approaching that age and there’s something not quite right! Naturally, after such a revelation, I did what most women would do under the circumstances and I panicked! I reached for the nearest phone to call 1-800-find-me-a-man! No, I actually did the exact opposite! I made the intentional decision to clear my life of all distractions (the kind that comes in the form of the male gender), and I committed to six months of not dating in order to focus on healing…both physically and mentally.

While six months may seem like a very small amount of time, as is common with anything we tell ourselves we cannot have or do, the forbidden object then resides at the forefront of all our thoughts. I’ve tried to reason with myself…it’s been six months since my last radiation treatment, and looking back I have almost forgotten how bad I felt in the midst of all that, so not dating for that amount of time should be a piece of cake, right? Umm, wrong! It’s amazing how intimidating and daunting the quiet can be that follows such a decision…especially when the last year of my life has been full of life-changing transitions that would have been much less overwhelming had there been a significant other present to help me walk through it all.

In the 2 months and 27 days (but who’s counting?) that I’ve been on this quest, I’ve learned so much about my sense of identity as it is wrapped up in someone else. I’ve come to see that for someone like me who was used to dating on a fairly regular basis, whether it was a quick coffee outing, or a lengthier romantic relationship, despite my previously claimed independence, I came to rely on the idea that I was special because someone else told me so. I was also really great at convincing myself that staying with a man who wasn’t quite the most functional human being on the planet, had more to do with my belief that everyone deserves to be loved, rather than my overall fear of being completely alone.

Nevertheless, not one to shy away from personal growth, I spent several sessions delving into this topic with my therapist, and with her guidance I made a very specific list of the characteristics that I must have if there is going to be another relationship in my future. I acknowledged to myself and out loud that I had a tendency (as is common with us therapist types) to date men who needed me…who needed me to stick by them when the rest of the world had turned their back and who were really great at taking advantage of my loyalty. I’m loyal to a fault. I’ve come to see that my compassion is my greatest strength AND my greatest weakness, and most people who are emotionally and/or physically unsafe/unhealthy clue into that personality trait very quickly and use it to their benefit.

Since swearing off men, I’ve had to catch myself during those moments of panic, the moments of vulnerability when it was all I could do not to pick up the phone and dial the ex that I knew would jump back into communication with me without a second thought. I’ve had to become very purposeful with my actions towards others and recognize that it’s okay to be alone on Friday night…it’s okay to refuse an invitation to go out, and it’s okay to tell your well-intentioned friends that a blind date just isn’t the best idea right now…even as I approach “that age”…even as I contemplate another big move to obtain employment…and even as I continue to fight the greatest battle of my life.

Last week I rented Julia Roberts’ latest movie, “Eat, Pray, Love”…twice. I have to admit that I wasn’t really all that interested in seeing it, especially after hearing such mixed reviews, but I figured if it was a massive disappointment I had only spent $1.00 on it from the Redbox at the local grocery store. The first time I watched it was with my sister. We waited until the kids were in bed before bundling up in blankets for the theatrical journey ahead. Not long into the movie, I was sucked in. It’s not often that a film captivates the very interest of my soul, but this one had so many powerful phrases in it that I was constantly having “Ah-ha” moments…mostly because her life mirrored mine in the area of self-identity and men. The second time I watched it with my brother and his wife. I literally had a pen and piece of paper in hand to capture the words that caught my interest.

One of my favorite phrases, “Il dolce far niente!” Translation from Italian to English? “The sweetness of doing nothing”…As Liz (Julia Roberts’ character) traveled through Italy, India and Bali, she learned the brilliance of finding pleasure in even the smallest of things and she began to unveil the lies that we all believe at one time or another…the lie society tells us as women…the lie that we’re incomplete unless we have the Martha Stewart home, the doting husband and the adorable 2.5 children…which are all incredible blessings, but it’s also important for single individuals to understand that the absence of the spouse, home and kids do not speak to their worth as a person. She took the time to revel in the beauty of the creation around her and the joy that is found in the bonds of true friendship. She found an identity outside of a romantic relationship by embracing the gift that comes from learning to love and accept oneself…learning to identify, appreciate and work on it all…the good, the bad and the horrific…the parts of us that we want to hide from the rest of the world…the parts that ultimately keep us from having a complete, healthy relationship, and the parts that if we just surrendered to the process of cleaning them up, we would find a genuine appreciation for who we are and could then offer a more whole individual for someone else to love. She gained a profound insight as she realized she did not need to love a man, just for love’s sake, in order to prove the love she had for herself.

As I approach the beginning of month four, I am learning to sit quietly with myself. I am learning to give over to God the places that feel impossible for me to change, and I am learning to find my identity in a God that created me to love deeply, to serve others and to live passionately for Him. I am learning that the goal of finding approval from mankind will leave me feeling empty, because I was not created to find complete fulfillment in anyone but God. I am learning that I am worth more than a relationship that is based on the conditional love of an emotionally unhealthy individual. I am learning the true meaning of “Dolce Far Niente”…the pure sweetness of doing absolutely nothing! For in the stillness of doing nothing, of taking myself out of the game that has become dating, I am learning to find me again…I am learning to identify the sweetness within myself.