Just One Of Them Days

Today I had a meltdown. The kind of meltdown that includes tears that continue rolling despite all attempts to will them away.  The kind of meltdown that brings about those sobs where you just can’t quite catch your breath.  This meltdown happened at 8 in the morning in the dentist chair of all places! I have no fear of the dentist, in fact, I’ve had to work closely with my dentist since discovering the tumor and going through Radiation treatments.  One of the major side effects of Radiation has been a loss of saliva.  With that, I have to take extra special care of my teeth to protect them from cavities or serious infection.  Thus, I actually consider my dentist to be one more player on my team when it comes to ensuring my continued health.

Since moving to Las Vegas, I had yet to find a new dentist, so today was that day.  I was already feeling a bit off my game as I rolled up to the address which was in a not-so-nice neighborhood with graffiti tagged on the building and wondered if this was any indication of the service I was about to receive.  So, when they called my name, I attempted to make myself comfortable in that oh so wonderfully plastic covered chair. As the dental assistant began the process of x-raying my teeth, she asked me to open wide and proceeded to stuff a very uncomfortable piece into my mouth. When I was unable to bite down without experiencing pain, she impatiently told me to open wider. That’s when it all went downhill. You know the feeling ladies…when the tears reach the brim of your eyes and threaten to spill over. It always happens at the most inopportune moment, like when something makes you angry at work and you do everything not to cry in front of your boss, or you’re having a “discussion” with your significant other and despite your best efforts not to cry this time, you always do??…yep, it was just like that. I tried to focus on the lakefront scene painted on the wall in front of me, I tried to think about the day ahead, I tried everything to stop the impending doom, but there they fell. Slowly at first, and then they fell as if running towards their only chance at freedom. The assistant had no idea what to do and asked if I needed a minute to collect myself.

She left me there to deal with my sorrow, and right then and right there, I grieved another layer of the life that once was. I sat in that chair, nearly hyperventilating, and I kept thinking, “This is not my team. They would know what I’ve been through! They wouldn’t have to ask if that hurt! They would have known!!!” And then that thought morphed into a deeper reality…”That really did happen! I really did have Cancer, and I really did fight for my life, and there was so much pain, and I lost my hair, and my neck and face and mouth still hurt, and that makes me sad, and I still have to tell myself to swallow each and every bite in just that certain way so I won’t choke, and…and…and!”

It amazes me that three years have passed since my last Radiation treatment. I still have two more years to go before they give me the “In Remission” stamp of approval. While the effects of the treatment will linger with my physical body for the rest of my life, I’m so thankful that the emotional reminders are rarely present. Today, however; they were there, and they demanded my attention. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t just let it go. I was forced to face the sadness and another little piece of the pain that still remains deep inside, but as difficult as those moments can be, I’m thankful for them. They remind me of where I have been and how far God has brought me. They remind me that tears are only an indication that I’m still here, I have survived and every additional day I’m given is a huge blessing. Tonight, as I reflect on my day, I know that today was just one of them days, and tomorrow is a brand new one.

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Just A Lil Something From 2012

Bought a new car, got into a car accident. Made a move, got into another car accident. Met the man of my dreams, experienced another cancer scare (false but still took my breath away.) He asked will you?…I said yes! Celebrated a double birthday with my love, introduced him to the family at a small, minor family reunion! 🙂 Quit my job, then enjoyed every minute of our wedding. Made a second move and found a new job. Love our new church and absolutely adore my new husband!

Last year brought with it some of the most amazing moments of my life, and with those moments the beautiful realization that despite my greatest efforts to sabotage my own happiness during many points in my past, there is a God who loves me so much more than I even deserve, and even in my darkest times, He smiled upon me and carried me through the sludge. That same God knows me better than I have ever attempted to know myself and despite all of the wrong turns I’ve made, He still chooses to bless little ole me! I’m so thankful for a God who showers grace and mercy upon us everyday and for the chance to start fresh every morning. I’m so thankful that He never leaves us in the darkness if we continue to reach out to Him and ask Him to show us the light. I’m so thankful that in the midst of it all, He brought me an incredible mate to weather life’s beautiful ups and downs together! I’m so thankful for all of the friends I have had the privilege of making over the years, and for the ones who have continued to be by my side, no matter the distance that separates us! I’m so thankful for the unconditional love of my family and for the pure chaotic and hysterical fun we have when we are all present in one place! I’m thankful for my health, no matter how altered it has become, and I’m thankful for every day that I get to wake up and be thankful.

At Least I Know I’m Free…Right?

When I was a youngster, no older than eight or nine years old, I took piano lessons. I practiced (begrudgingly) on a daily basis and even threatened to run away if forced to continue learning the instrument. Eventually my mother agreed to let me stop and so I did…a decision that I have kicked myself for many times since becoming an adult, but that’s another story for another day. During my short time bonding with the keys; however, I learned a special song, one even to this day, I still catch myself humming on occasion. I woke up this morning with that song burning in my mind, and as I allowed the words to run through my mind…(“And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me. And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today. ‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the U.S.A.”)…I began to think about the last several months leading up to Tuesday’s monumental election and what has continued to transpire since the outcome.

Friday before the election, my husband and I went to our local polling place and stood in a long line of people in order to cast an early vote. Who we voted for is not the content of this blog nor is that information important. What I will say is that we came to our decision after a lengthy process which included a great deal of researching both candidates, prayer and much conversation. While I am not arrogant to believe everyone should have voted in my foot steps because I voted for the “right candidate,” I do believe I made the best choice for my particular situation and my particular set of beliefs, and I voted for the candidate who I believed was right for me.

While in line waiting to vote, I conversed with my husband about how different things would be if there were armed soldiers present or if we were in a country where there really is no freedom to vote as a person believes. I began to think about how those men and women who died for my right to vote and for my freedom to speak my mind would have felt about the way we as Americans have treated one another during this election time. Would they peruse our Facebook status updates and smile at the love being shown regardless of the person’s political viewpoint, or would they shake their heads in shame and wonder if the way we have treated one another was really worth the sacrific of their lives?

I personally have been so disappointed and sometimes even offended at the way people have chosen to use their freedom of speech. We have been throwing around the words “those dumb Republicans” or “Stupid Democrats” in such a flippant manner as if those terms aren’t connected to anyone we know. But the reality is, the person you sit next to at work everyday or the neighbor you smile and wave at in the morning, your best friend from childhood or the sweet couple you chat with on your way out of church…could actually fit into one of those categories. The cruel words have been endless and yet we just assume that now the election is over we can go back to business as usual and all just get along…one big, happy dysfunctional family.

I have been so disheartened over the behavior of my “Facebook Friends,” and I was hopeful that once the election was over we could begin to resume life as normal, but now, days later I’m still reading about how people can’t believe how stupid Americans are for voting for the president again or how others are gloating about their win despite the crazy Republicans who were brave enough to vote for the man they thought was their best choice to turn the country around. So the question on my mind tonight and the question I pose to you my friends is when is it all enough? When do we shake hands and agree to disagree and move on with our individual lives? At what point do we realize that in our own burst of passion we are bringing hurt to people we care about, intentionally or otherwise? I wasn’t 100% uplifting in my own thoughts and speech while watching the debates during the campaign…I got caught up in the “us and them” mentality at times, so this blog is as much about challenging myself as it is about encouraging those around me to be different than the norm. From this point on, we have a choice in how we speak to and about one another…we have a choice to unite as one and face the future as a kind and motivated nation…we have a choice to not only exercise our right to vote as an act of our gratitude to those who died for our freedom to vote, but we owe it to those men and women to conduct ourselves in a compassionate and loving manner, so that when the world looks to us they will see a people who truly understand what their sacrifice was for. Afterall, “At Least I know I’m Free…Right?”

Waking the Dead

Yesterday at church we talked about being a better person by being fully present in our lives. Our pastor discussed how so many of us are walking around like zombies, rushing from one activity to the next, rarely taking the time to just stop and enjoy the moment we are in…we’re afraid to put away technology for even a moment, because we don’t want to miss out on anything. We also may think we’re simply that important that we can’t be out of touch for very long, so we forget to take the time to really live and engage with the person who is directly in front of us. He even demonstrated this by stopping his sermon several times to check the news and game score alerts that popped up on his cell. Even though I knew this was just an illustration, as I sat watching this happen for the third and fourth time, I could feel myself disengaging and feeling frustrated that he continued to stop his talk to look at his phone. What a great picture it was for me and a reminder about how present I am when I’m face to face with others and choose to check my phone or divert my attention elsewhere rather than being 100% with them in the moment.

I remember watching a Dateline NBC episode once where children were filmed with their parents. The first part of the show was how children respond when a parent is fully engaged, and the second was how the children responded when their parent was on the telephone talking or texting. The change in behavior was drastic and immediate as they lost attention and their little faces were full of obvious frustration, irritation and disappointment. All the children wanted was for their parent to be present with them rather than shushing them away while they were on the phone. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about harping on parents to never be on the phone when their child is awake or in the room. I’ve done it myself…my nephews will want my attention and I’ll be texting someone…they’ll bring their tiny little fingers up to my face and pull it towards them until our eyes make contact…their eyes, which are full of expectation and a need to be acknowledged are focused on making sure my attention is on them alone! Those are the moments when I need to make a decision between them or putting the other person who is on the other side of those messages on hold while I discuss the latest enemy on Star Wars or observe their next move on Angry Birds. It’s obviously impossible to be at a child’s beck and call every moment of every day, and I firmly believe there are times a child needs to be patient and learn it’s not always about them. All I’m trying to communicate is that there is a time and a place for everything.

Which brings me to my next thought. Right now, I’m in a place of rest and quiet in my life, and I’m doing my best to learn to adapt. Last week as I painted my nails for the second night in a row, my husband started chuckling and said, “You went from taking care of children to painting your nails.” I had to laugh myself as I explained, “Well, when I did the dishes last night it messed up my nails, so I had to fix them!” His comment had me thinking though about my “former life”…the one I eagerly walked away from to begin the next chapter as a married lady and current stay-at-home wife. My life before was full of deadlines, reports, hours sitting in Court for a five-minute hearing, telephone calls and emails from law enforcement, attorneys, teachers, physicians and a lot of angry parents wanting their children home yesterday. I’ve gone from talking all day everyday, to hours upon hours of silence. I’ve gone from dressing in my Sunday best in order to follow Court requirements to spending most of the day lounging in comfy, get the housework done kinda clothes. Even as I sit here writing, I actually hear the lawn mower outside and the ticking of the clock inside and once in a while, I’ll hear the sound of the jet engines as the Thunderbirds fly around the Las Vegas sky. The difference now is the clock is no longer a source of anxiety for me…it no longer taunts me with the turning of its hands. What used to be a constant reminder of how much was left to complete on my “to do list” before the close of a business day, is now a gentle excitement of when my husband will be home or how many minutes left before my latest culinary creation will be done baking. One month ago, I turned in my CPS Investigator badge for an apron and cleaning solution, went from writing forty page reports on child abuse to writing thank you notes…I went from hoping for enough time in the week to cook even one meal at home to cooking all of our meals except on “Eat out Sunday.” I went from making case plans for families to making cookies for the soldiers in my husband’s unit. I went from “let’s see how long I can make the clean clothes last before doing laundry” to making sure the laundry is caught up every day.

I went from chaos to quiet in a very short amount of time, and while most of us say we’d give anything for just a few days of rest, the truth is, when we carve out that time to rest, we end up filling it up so that we don’t feel lazy or unproductive. The reality is most of us have created our lives so that there is no TIME to be still. In the quiet of today, I am learning to fight the thoughts that sometimes tell me I’m no good “just being at home” or “I’m lazy because my husband is our sole provider right now.” I have to combat thoughts of panic that the longer I am without work the more I’ll be looked down upon in society. But the truth is, this time of rest in my life is extremely important, and I’m ENJOYING IT! Taking care of the needs of my husband is one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. I love knowing he will be properly nourished throughout his work day, because I made him breakfast and lunch. I enjoy maintaining the house so that he can focus on the things he needs to get done during the day. I love creating an environment where he’s excited to come home and it is a refuge from the stressors of the outside world!

I am learning to embrace this new life I have, because I know all too well how life can change in just one moment, in one phone call from the doctor…in one treatment of radiation, and I’m determined to live each day to the fullest, no matter what that day holds. I’m determined to wake the dead, discontent part of me that is always looking ahead to the next stage of life…the one who thinks about what my next job will be or about how life will be when I become a mother, or the part that looks around our two-bedroom apartment and wonders what our house will be like once we move. I’m determined that today will be about the lessons and experiences vital to right now and not tomorrow. I’m determined to enjoy every moment of quiet as that time will one day come to an end. Our pastor ended the sermon with a point that really touched me. “A better life is when you are WHERE you are SUPPOSED to be…fully present and fully alive!” Stop living in the guilt and shame of the past and don’t worry about the future! What a challenge for all of us!

So Far, So Good

Saturday will mark three full weeks since I said “I Do” and became a married woman. Three weeks since I’ve had a massive checklist to complete or a calendar full of events to go to…three weeks of just me, my hubby, Netflix, dinners together at home and pure wedded bliss. The first week was still a little busy if I’m telling the truth. We spent a few days honeymooning in California before we drove back to our new home in Vegas. We were so excited and ready to be home and get settled after six months of a long distance relationship filled with whirlwind mini visits, letters and packages in the mail and nights filled with Skyping where we read books on marriage together, prayed together, dreamed together and prepared for our life together. Even though we didn’t get back into Vegas until way past dark (and my bedtime), I was too tired to sleep, so we had our first meal together in our home and opened presents from the wedding. We were so blessed by the generosity of our friends and family, I’m still trying to figure out where to put everything! The following day, we spent several hours on base while I got all the necessary paperwork completed to become an official military wife! What an experience to sign my new name! As I completed the signature on my new I.D. card, I realized I should have stopped long enough during the wedding planning process to write my new last name a few times (where’s a Trapper Keeper when you need one?)

The next few days were filled with unpacking, decorating and settling in as man and wife. Those first few days showed me a few things…one, I have an incredibly gorgeous husband who goes out of his way on a daily basis to show me through actions how much he adores me, and two, no matter how much you prepare for marriage, there are just some things you can’t learn until you live together. For example, he likes the dish drain in the sink, I like it on top of the counter…he likes the covers tucked in, I have to have the sheets free…he prefers an electric toothbrush, I’m oldschool and like to brush on my own…he folds his shirts one way, I fold mine the right way…just kidding babe!!! I also am developing an even greater appreciation for my husband, because despite those minor differences in preference, we have come to an agreement that those things are not cause for war and chaos in our home, and it’s just about compromising a little to make room for both of our personalities and behavioral patterns. We decided when he does the dishes, the drain will be placed inside the sink, and when I do them I will simply move it back to the counter. When it’s time for bed, I merely untuck my side of the bed and let him do his own thing. It also took him a total of thirty seconds to teach me how he likes his shirts folded, so now everyone has appropriately folded laundry! While I know marriage isn’t just about the little things, sometimes it is those little things that build up to cause the major blowouts that lead to a miserable home. We’re both trying to be intentional about communicating while the little is still just that. We’re also attending a marriage class at church to continue building our arsenal of tools to deal with the roadblocks that will eventually come, and we’re purposefully growing a support system with other like-minded couples who desire to have a healthy Christ-centered marriage.

Many people have asked me how married life is treating me, and to that I respond, “So Far, So Good!”

Going To The Chapel

Today, I spent ten hours in the car. Ten lovely hours driving from my soon-to-be new home in Las Vegas to my current hometown of Sacramento. While cruising down the road I did what every typical traveler does when stuck in one small space for an extended period of time…I scanned the radio for any sign of intelligible static and sang at the top of my lungs when I finally landed on a tune I could understand and something I actually recognized. Around hour five, I prayed for any sign of life, or rather I prayed for anything but the desert view that was lulling me into a deep hypnotic state as I passed through mile after mile of hills and dry land. Actually, I was praying for a Starbucks if you want to know the real truth. Why? Because I’m a Chai Tea addict, thanks to the quaint little chain that was located directly across the street from the job I had worked for the past five years until my recent departure.

Once I reached civilization, took a quick restroom break and was back in the car accompanied by my ice-cold Venti sized beverage, I popped in an upbeat CD and switched the AC to freezing cold in an effort to keep myself awake. I got back on the 99 Freeway that was laden with construction and once again headed north. That’s when it happened…my cell rang and my heart skipped a beat as I read the screen and recognized the identity of the caller…

Philip. My man. My boo baby. The love of my life. The man I will confidently walk towards in ten days and declare in front of 250 of our closest family and friends that I will choose to honor and cherish him for the rest of my days. The man who compliments me in a way I never thought possible. The man who knows the REAL me and loves me just the same. The man who in just seven months has shown me the true meaning of companionship, protection and pure love. The man who calls when he says he will, the man who keeps me laughing at myself so I don’t take me too seriously but holds himself to an extremely high level of integrity. The man who looked at my physical and emotional scars and through his actions demonstrated his willingness and ability to not only accept them but he found them to be part of what he says makes me beautiful.

The man who when faced with the possibility that my cancer had returned, called my parents after only two months of us dating and asked if he could propose to me sooner than originally planned so that I would not doubt his promise to be in this for the long haul…no matter what. The man who when we learned the biopsy was clear of cancer went ahead with his plan and got down on his knee, ring in hand in front of a packed church congregation on Easter Sunday, pledged his love and commitment to me and asked me to be his wife. The man who tells me the ravioli wasn’t “that bad” even when it was a pile of mush and something even I could barely stomach. The man who listens quietly while I cry and the man who jumps to my rescue when someone has done something to make his “boo” upset. The man who grabs for my hand no matter where we are or who we’re with, the man who shows my picture to the random clerk at the check out counter because he is so proud to claim me. The man who puts on a brave face for me even when I know he’s had a tough day too. The Man…My Man…He is the Lord’s greatest gift to me and the man to whom I cannot wait to say I DO and I WILL and I PROMISE…At the age of 33, after waiting for “my steak” I am finally going to the chapel, and at the end of that chapel aisle will be the most handsome man of my dreams!

Top Things Learned in 2011

Written word…oh how I have missed you!  And six days into 2012, I realize that I have yet to welcome in the new year with my review of 2011.  So here it goes, the top 4 things I learned in 2011 (in no particular order, and I’m sure there was a great deal more, but these were the things that stood out the most to me!)

1.  Chai Tea = Blessed Goodness in my mouth!   The biggest thing I have experienced this year in regards to my journey with Cancer is that no matter how much I had hoped for it, my mouth has reached a plateau on healing, and I am now dealing with the long term effects of the Radiation Therapy, including a lack of saliva and taste.   As was documented in my last blog, I chose to combat the physical side effects with a physical reminder of my journey through a permanent tattoo. (As a side note, I still love it, have no regrets, and it has actually opened the door to share my story of God’s love and hope in my life with many others!) With that lack of taste becomes a fun and exciting game of what is Kelli going to like today!? Thus led me to my new addiction of Chai Tea. Unfortunately or fortunately for me (however you prefer to look at it), there is a Starbucks Coffee Chain located directly across the street from work, and unfortunately or once again fortunately, however, you choose to look at it, I have learned that no matter what my taste buds are doing on any given day, Chai Tea appears to be the ONE item, beverage or otherwise, that remains the constant in my life. And so on workdays, I have indulged myself in a “Grande Nonfat Chai Tea Latte”…to the chagrin of my pocketbook, but the utter delight of my t-buds! My New Years Resolution was going to be to cut my Grande down to a Tall size and work on five days a week to no more than two, but my sister-in-law, Emily, bless her beautiful heart, graced my Christmas gift with a lovely liquid-filled box, a box that just so happens to be the dollar amount of one Grande drink at Starbucks but will last me through an entire week for half the calories! So this year in 2012, I resolve to make my own Tazo ORGANIC Chai Tea from home! Cheers to Emily!

2.  My mother taught me from an early age that the majority of friendships are only here for a season and there will be very few that remain for a lifetime. This year I learned when someone intentionally leaves your life, no matter what the reason, God has someone waiting in the wings to fill that empty space. During my illness, I watched several close friends walk away and to be honest, they never returned.  As I have shared previously, there have been up and down moments trying to mend those hurts but with each passing day, the questions become a little less and the wound closes a little more.  When I returned to work in March 2011, I started in a new department with co-workers I knew only from brief encounters through my other position. Who knew the treasure that was waiting for me? They welcomed me openly and have become the family that keeps me going in the tough times and brings me joy in the most mundane moments! Our work is crazy and chaotic and extremely fast-paced, but we always find the time to take a quick break in the day where we roll our chairs out from inside our cubicles and have a debrief in the middle of the aisle to check in on one another and share some laughs. Then there are the days where we all throw up our hands and say, “I’m done, I’ve gotta get outta here!” and we venture outside into the sun and breathe in the fresh air while mingling with the outside world. As cliche as it might sound, they have truly become the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and I’m so blessed and thankful to call them my friends!

2.   Remember the old adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar?” Well, this year, I have learned, “You reach more lives with grace than judgment.” In my former position with Child Protective Services, I held onto cases long term and worked with the families as long as the case was open, sometimes years at a time. My new position only allows me one interview with the parents and in that two hour period of time, I have to build enough of a rapport to find out what was going on in the home in order to figure out how to help them rebuild their family. Before, I found myself getting caught up in the anger and chaos of my cases, and to be honest, I’m not really sure how much good I did for some of the families I worked with. Since going through my own life altering experience, I have returned to work with a new perspective and a new belief that we ALL have the ability to change, sometimes we just need one person to look at us with fresh eyes, an open heart and a patience to introduce us to the things we may not have noticed or had any knowledge of before. The greatest blessing for me has been to watch the difference in how the parents respond to me and the process, but in the end, I am seeing my own life and the relationships in my personal life transform as I realize this is exactly how God views me and how He wants me to interact with others! Before, I would get caught up in the guilt of my mistakes and would feel hopeless, believing that change would never come. Now, I recognize that I WILL mess up, it’s just a matter of WHEN and HOW, but I serve a God who loves me unconditionally and desires to change me from the inside out…a God who when I ask for forgiveness is ready and willing to offer me a new perspective and a pair of fresh eyes, a clean slate. And it’s the same for those around me…we all have our shortcomings and we are all works in progress, but the greatest gift I can give to my neighbor, my family, my boss or the crazy driver on the freeway is the gift of forgiveness and grace, because without a doubt there will be a time or two when I exert my own selfish desires and will need to ask for that same courtesy back!  

4. There were several moments this past year, when I became so involved in the burdens and heartaches of others that I drove even myself crazy! In my desire to protect those closest to me from getting hurt or from making a mistake, I realized I was trying to control their lives. It wasn’t until my roommate, a truly wise and gracious woman, reminded me that I have to trust that she is listening to God too, and I have to let go of my protection over her (and others I love) that I started to snap out of it! I had to take a long hard look at my relationships, and I had to do some repair and ask forgiveness from those I had hurt. The bottom line of that lesson is that I wasn’t trusting God enough to do His job, and I thought I could do it better. But isn’t that always the way of it? Somehow, we doubt the God who single-handedly caused the entire earth to spin and float, the God who has ordained every breath that I take, and we believe we know how to do it better than Him? How painful and eye opening to see the audacity with which I approach a God who is responsible for my very existence! Thus, in 2011 and I’m sure again in 2012…and if I’m being honest, probably until my last breath, I will have to remind myself and learn it again and again that I am only in charge of me and my actions, and the rest I have to leave up to God! 

       

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