Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Simple Ordinary Joy

Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments~ often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we are too busy chasing down extraordinary moments~ Brene Brown

We've traveled quite a bit this Summer. We make it a point to travel as often as we can. I believe wholeheartedly that you should pour your money into experiences and not "things".  Every year we try to provide some sort of adventure for our children to enjoy. We've done things like indoor skydiving, kayaking trips, parasailing, zip lining through the forest in Florida, air boat adventures, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, feeding alligators, surfing, fishing excursions, boat trips, hiking adventures, and more. As fun and extraordinary as these moments have been, it never ceases to amaze me how much joy I find in the simple ordinary moments (like the one above when Owen found a frog during our evening walk). Just walking with him brings me joy.
Joy is what makes life beautiful and fills our life with light, and if you can find joy in any situation you are in, you've got it made. There is an assumption that only extraordinary moments can fulfill us and bring us joy, but that's not true. Finding joy in the ordinary is the key to real happiness. You can choose to find happiness or you can choose not to. The choice is all yours. How do I find happiness? Through gratitude and being present. I choose to look for, be open to, and embrace joy~ not just while traveling, but I find joy by simply watching my children, listening to the birds (with my right ear), and feeling the sunshine on my face. Might sound corny to some, but it's true for me. Being present and mindful has opened doors of joy to me, and can do the same for anyone.
As Robert Brault once said, "Enjoy the little things, for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things." The choice is yours.




Image result for these are a few of my favorite things images

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dear Mom,

Dear Mom,

I can't believe it's been almost a year since you passed. Your birthday is quickly approaching. It's so weird that you're not "here". I think about you more than I ever thought I would and I grieve you more than I ever imagined. Last year on your birthday, we talked and talked, and you were fine. Seven days later you were gone. Forever. What a turning point that was in my life. I feel so lucky that I was alone with you when your spirit left your body. It was such a surreal experience.  I'm thankful I got to tell you everything I needed to before you left, and I'm forever grateful that I could be there for you, and with you, when you took your last breath. I've seen death before, but when you died, in that moment, I actually felt a piece of my soul, the piece that connected us, leave my body. It left me with a gaping empty hole in the middle of my soul. It was in that moment, I realized for the first time how truly connected we were.

It's so weird that life simply keeps going after someone dies. I walked around in a dense fog the weeks following your death, though I pushed through for Logan and Owen's sake, and very few noticed how much I struggled~ except for Owen that is. You know how in tune he is with me. Logan, on the other hand, was very matter of fact about your death. "Grandma's in heaven, and we'll be with her again soon. Remember, a thousand years is like one day in heaven mom, remember?"  Ah, the faith of a child. I often wonder what you're doing up there, over there, or wherever you are. Is Jean Rose there with you? What about Janet? I know how much you longed to see them both. Can you see us down here? Are you able to visit whenever you want or do you have to ask permission?  Did Peter meet you at the pearly gates? What's Jesus like? So.many.questions. Thank you for visiting me in my dreams by the way. I will forever cherish them and long to have more.

I sensed your presence the other day. It was so real. Owen was playing a song on his recorder and I was sitting where you usually sit in our living room. All of the sudden, out of no where, I could feel you. I could smell your perfume that you wore years ago. It was like you were sitting there right next to me, watching Owen and listening to him play. I actually asked Owen, "Do you feel that? I think Grandma's here. Do you smell perfume? I feel her!" That's how most of this year has been. I feel like you are closer to me now than you ever were on earth. I was really good at pushing you away when you were alive, and now that you are on the other side, I can't do that. You have the upper hand, and you show up when you want to, and I feel you when you do. I can't push you away, and I actually love that.

Facebook reminded Kate the other day that you have been friends for x number of years. I thought you would get a kick out of that. We still have your Facebook page opened and I still have your number on my speed dial on my phone. I sometimes still call it just to see what will happen. Nothing does of course, but that doesn't stop me. It's little pieces of your life that we hang on to. If you were here, we would probably talk about what's happening with my boys, school, the ups and downs of puberty, John's upcoming graduation, and how Barry Manilow is coming in concert to Warren. I will forever think about you whenever I hear Barry, Neil Diamond, or Air Supply. You would ask how I'm feeling and how I'm sleeping, and you would pray for me. Your faith was always stronger than mine. The kids are off school today. We most likely would have driven into Warren to see you and bring you lunch like we often did.  I would tell you all about Graduate School, and you would tell me how proud you are of me. I'm sure Owen would have brought his recorder to play for you, and you would have loved every minute of it. Logan would show you his new phone, and you two could learn to text each other. How cute would that be? I would tell you that I would see you on Easter at Michael's... only this year, I won't.

Well, that's it for now. I hope you read this and I hope in some way you know how much I love you. Do you get letters in heaven?

                                                                                         Until we meet again, Jen

Thursday, March 10, 2016

My Body is B.A.D.A.S.S.

"Step away from the mirror.Your body is a miracle and you're missing it"
I recently started a pretty intense exercise program. I thought it would be a good way to zap myself back into shape after enduring the last several months. After getting through the first week of workouts, I was sore. Really sore. I walked with a limp after the first day because we had worked our legs so much. At first, I thought it was a cruel reminder to how out of shape I was, but at the end of my first week, the pain had subsided and I that's when it hit me. I'm doing it. Four months ago I was having my head drilled into for my second brain surgery, and now I am doing burpees and squats. I'm so proud of my body. I.Am.Healed. My body rocks. Our bodies rock.
The human body's mystery, complexity, ability, and untapped potential should inspire awe. The body is and always has been a miracle. We naturally know when we need to eat and when we're full, when we need to rest and when we need to wake. Our eyes naturally dilate when it's dark, our hearts just beat on their own, and we can give birth. Seriously, we can grow humans inside of us! I mean, have you ever thought about how amazing it is that when we cut ourselves, a scab naturally forms? Our bodies know just what to do. How amazing we truly are. Our bodies are incredible but we often miss out on all the magic that takes place on our insides every day because we place so much value on our exteriors.
It's easy to see why.  Look around. We're surrounded by photoshopped images daily, on T.V., magazines, or on good old Facebook (with all the photoshopping people do to their own photos.) God forbid someone see a wrinkle or a blemish. Often we mentally berate ourselves for how we look or don't look. For some of us, being dissatisfied with our bodies is something we've just learned to live with. If it's one thing I've learned since my surgeries it's life is short~ too short to care what other people think about the way you look. If someone passes silent judgement on the way you look, it says more about them than it does about you. Gone are the days of exercising to simply fit into my bikini. I've learned to listen to, love, and appreciate my body. What others think about my body doesn't matter. Now I exercise because... I can! My body can exercise and that in itself is a miracle. My miracle.
This body that has had over eight surgeries and dozens of scars is my body~ my temple. My body is a walking miracle. My body is a badass. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

The B Team


You often hear how hard it is to be a girl in our society, but you rarely hear people talk about how hard it is to be a boy today. While I may not be a boy, I can tell you as the mother of TWO boys, it's no walk in the park. I have found that it's easier for those boys that are naturally physically gifted with speed, size, or agility in sports. You know the ones:  they have amazing hand eye coordination, awesome aim, and are blessed with strength. These boys are popular and most boys want to be just like them.

There's a lot of pressure to perform at sports. We've all read articles on youth sports and the coaches and parents that are ruining it with the amount of pressure they put the kids under to "win win win." I'm sure I'm guilty of doing it at some point as well. I also understand that being good at some sports can help your self confidence, but what happens to the kids who have a love and passion for sports, but aren't as good? What happens when your kid is just mediocre at sports? What happens when your tween really starts to understand that he's not as good as some of his best friends are at sports and because of that they start to grow apart? How do I explain to my son that ten years from now, whether he plays for the A team or the B team won't matter, when right now, this is all that matters to him? How do I stop him from putting so much pressure on himself?

You see, I have two boys: one with the passion for sports and a mediocre skill level, and one with the natural skills but very little passion. Yikes. That doesn't help matters. It's hard for the brother with the passion, to watch the brother that has the natural skill. My son was born with a love of playing sports. Baseball, kickball, dodgeball, basketball, football, golf. He loves them all. He's anxious though, and the pressure to perform at any sport stresses him out. So much so, that he has performance anxiety before every game regardless of what sport it is. Take basketball for example. He loves the game and loves to play, but he gets so nervous to be on the court, to have all eyes on him, and to perform, that he mentally freezes up and most often misses the shot. His mind gets the best of him every.single.time. It's frustrating as a parent to watch. No matter how much we yell and cheer from the sidelines, no matter what the coach tries telling him, he can't hear us because the thoughts of, "I have to make a shot or the coach won't play me", or "If I don't play good today, my friends will be mad at me", drown everything else out.

At games when my son misses the shot, or strikes out under the pressure, I take a breath knowing that while he may not be the best best athlete, he's certainly not the worst either. He's a good person who is smart, kind, and genuine and will someday make a great husband and father. I have no doubt that my son will turn out to be an amazing man, but for now, it's just hard for him to be a boy.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Being motherless is weird

This is the first Christmas I will be spending without my mom. I haven't really let myself think about it. At all. Whenever the thought of it crosses my mind, I immediately make myself think of something else. That's my way of outsmarting my grief. If I don't let my self think about it, the pain will somehow disappear. Thanksgiving came and went. That was her favorite holiday. I didn't let myself think about her then either. I didn't want that lump in my throat busting loose. It's so weird that life just goes on after someone dies. I know I know, it's supposed to, but it's....weird. They're here one minute, gone the next. And you're supposed to just keep on going. The circle of life, right? The past few months since I watched my mom struggle and take her last breath, I've learned that grief doesn't flow neatly from one stage to another; it has multiple layers , fluctuating cycles, and lots of ups and downs. My mom will cross my mind at the most unexpected times (like last week at a restaurant), and suddenly I feel that all to familiar lump in my throat start to swell and I can feel a "grief attack' coming on. The thing is, I can't allow myself to cry~ not in a public place anyway, so I swallow that lump in my throat thinking I'll save it for another day, another place, another time; only I don't. It's weird.

Part of the hypnotherapy I'm doing, is allowing myself to feel my feelings. That means, meditating and reliving the moment my mom took her last breath, and feeling my way through it, instead of stumbling my way through it in shock, which is what is did. So I'm trying to do that. Okay, that's a lie. I mean I will try to do that.....someday. After her death I tried to stay busy all the time, avoiding the painful and exhausting work that grief is, hoping that time would eventually heal me. That worked for awhile, until I started planning for Christmas. When we were little, my mom busted her ass (and her bank account and credit) making sure we had wonderful Christmas memories. And just like that, the lump in my throat is back. We may not have been the two closest people, but "Home is where the Heart Is", and even though my kids are my heart and home now, my mom was "my home" most of my life.  I would call her every Christmas morning just to make sure I was making her stuffing recipe just right. After all, when I was ten, she's the one who taught me how to stuff and cook a turkey. She would also make the gravy every year too~ and she would always season it just right. I'm not making stuffing or gravy this year. Don't get me wrong, I'm quite capable of making those things, but it was her thing~ it's what she always did. It's weird.

Life is weird. It's weird that my mom is dead. It's weird that my father and my in laws will be here for Christmas, and not my mom. It's weird being motherless. That lump is back. I'll get to it another day, another time, another place. I have Christmas cookies to bake, presents to wrap, errands to run...lumps to swallow.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

All You Need Is Love

"The most important thing in life it to learn to give our love...
and to let it come in" ~ Morrie Schwartz

I read somewhere that the most loving and well rounded people are likely those who have known misery, known defeat, known the heartbreak of losing someone they loved, and have found their way out of the depths of their own despair through the power of love. Truth be told, when hard times hit~ and they will~ you can let it destroy you or change you. When I look back over the past ten months, I see the hidden blessings that sustained me. Here's what I see, what I asked, and what I learned:

1) Being loved is the best~ No kidding--I am often consumed with emotion when I think about how much love and kindness I was surrounded by. I've never experienced anything like it. It was as if I was wrapped up and held in a blanket made purely of love. I know that sounds a little corny and over the top, but it's true.  Each thread of the blanket was made up of my husband, kids, friends, family (some of whom I've never met), and strangers. Not many couples can say they have endured what Chad and I have been through. He has walked me, fed me, held me, changed me, cleaned my wounds, held onto me when they removed the spinal tap, wiped my tears, and more. He even shaved his head to match mine. He's a keeper alright. This whole crazy journey has taken us to a whole new level of loving. A level most other couples will never have the pleasure of knowing. We are closer than two souls can possibly be. We are one. And to top it off, my children got to witness their dad tenderly caring for their mother~ a lesson and a memory I hope they carry with them always. If more people loved and allowed themselves to be loved, the world would surely be a better place.

2) The best friends are people who make your difficulties their difficulties, just so you don't have to endure it alone~ Wow. I have the most amazing loving women in my life. They have literally showered me with love (remember the blanket from #1?). They have cooked for me, provided meals for my family, cleaned for me, taken care of my kids, driven me to places, prayed for me, dropped everything and came for me, laughed with me, wiped my tears, and held onto my faith when I no longer thought I wanted it. They call, come over, and text constantly.  I don't just have friendships, I have intense, authentic, deep loving friendships. The love and light of these awesome women sustained me and will continue to sustain me. They have made my life whole and I love them eternally for it.

3) Being a parent means loving your children more than you've ever loved yourself~ The anxiety and fear I felt in and out of the hospital (both times) was never about me. It was about the two people I love most in the world~ my kids. I'm not sure if I fear death, but I know I fear the thought of my children having to live a life without a mother. All of my prayers, were for their sake. It was my love for them that kept me going, and keeps me going everyday. I'm more calm and gentle with them. I have a deeper appreciation for being a parent. Every moment counts (as cliché as it sounds) and I'm very mindful of that when I'm with them.

4) Letting go is lovely~ When I hear or read what other people complain about it makes me cringe. She wasn't nice to me; she didn't treat me they way I think I should have been treated; I need to lose weight (says the 110 lb woman); I had a terrible day because I sat in traffic for 2 hours...  What I have been able to do since this journey has started, is really let go of pettiness.  I was given an appreciation for my life that most people will never have.  I'm too excited to be alive, almost healed, feeling good, and headed for the light, to harbor any grudges, worry about petty things, or hold onto anger or sadness. I have so much to live for and to do; so many people I want to help, and so much love to give back.

5)  Is God real?~ The past few months had me questioning whether or not God was real, and if he was, who, what, or where was He? Lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV, and hearing that I would need a second operation, I seriously considered the possibility that I was trapped in a nightmare that I couldn't wake up from. I told myself that if there was a God, he clearly forgot about me and everyone else that was suffering. I prayed and prayed for a miracle. I didn't get what I wanted when I wanted it. Instead I got so much more: I got wrapped up in a lot of love, kindness, and compassion. There are hidden blessings that come with every hardship such as strength, wisdom, empathy, or openness to a deeper spiritual awareness. Perhaps I tried to fit God into a mold of what I thought He should be. I'm still not sure of what or where God is, but I don't think life is a cosmic accident that by chance implanted us in outer space. The fact that the seasons change, the sun continues to shine everyday, and things like kindness, love and compassion exist tells me there is something greater out there that set everything into motion. When I look back at when I was walking through the darkness of this year, there are sparkles of light everywhere. I was just too wrapped up in my own thoughts to see it then. Maybe those sparkles were in fact God. He was there all along; sustaining me. He worked through my awesome husband, and my loving and beautiful friends and my family. When I had insomnia, it had to have been Him who gave me strength to get out of bed and keep moving. How else could I have done it? Maybe He wanted to heal my broken soul (which He did with an abundance of love) before He healed my broken body. Who knows? All I do know is that I believe in something greater.

So am I thankful that I had to go through what I've been through? I don't know about that. But I am thankful with what I have~and that's lots, and lots, and lots of L.O.V.E.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Forever changed

"Some people standby you in your darkest hour while others walk away, or don't show up at all; only a select few march towards you and become even closer friends.”    

We’ve all experienced at least one of them. Those earth-shattering moments that turn your world upside down in less time than it takes to say, “hey, that was unexpected.” Sometimes, the changes that come from these moments are good... and at other times, they’re bad. The kind of bad that leaves you struggling to get out of bed in the morning, because you just don't know how you'll make it through another day. Sometimes those bad moments keep coming, and coming, and you have no time to recover from one moment before the next one comes and knocks you down....again.  I have had my share of  those "moments" this year. 2015 has And while I tried to stay composed and strong on the outside, it turns out that I was all kinds of broken, and sad on the inside.

Here's what my 2015 has looked like: In January, both of my children were diagnosed with a serious heart condition; in April, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor; 15 days after I was diagnosed I found myself in the middle of the night, sitting alone in a hospital room watching my very young mom, the woman who gave me life, suffer and struggle to take her last breath in this world... and then die right in front of me (holy shit, that was painful); in August, I underwent a 7 1/2 hour brain surgery to remove the brain tumor (which was benign thankfully~ but I was left permanently deaf on the left side), I then had occipital neuralgia pain/nerve damage from my head being screwed into a vice for so long during surgery (wow! that was excruciating, but is almost healed thankfully), and now I am dealing with terrible insomnia. Seriously. I can't get a fucking break. I can go days without any sleep. I healed physically from the surgery only to turn around and now deal with this shit. You know what happens when you don't sleep? Ugly things happen when you go days and days with zero sleep. A little thing called anxiety creeps in and begins to feed off the insomnia, and together they take you into the deepest, darkest depths of your soul. A place you've most likely never been to. A lonely place. And you know what you find when you're there inside your soul? You find yourself; your true self. The core of who you really are. Whether it's good, bad, happy, ugly, or sad, it's there. That's exactly what I found: a girl who was strong...yes, but also heartbroken, in shock, sad, exhausted, angry, scared, overwhelmed, and faithless.

I was neck deep in the shit, dirt, and grime and bruising of what 2015 had done to me so far and knew I needed help getting back up. But from who? God and I aren't exactly seeing eye to eye, and I can't call my mom.  I was completely broken wide open with all my crazy anxiety, sleeplessness, and hurt oozing out. It takes a special kind of person, a special kind of friend, whose not afraid to get dirty. Someone who won't judge you. Someone who "shows up". Someone who  recognizes when you’re up to your neck in that dark, tired, ugly, shitty place and they roll up their sleeves, and put on their mud slinging boots, bring a shovel, and walk right directly into the middle of that dirty dark place with you. They see you for who you really are, what you are going through, and choose to love you anyway. They are willing to walk with you through the muck and the mud, and to hold onto you so you don't drown in it.

You really find out who your tribe is...who your "people are"... and the definition of what "love" is, and what a "friend" is, in your darkest hour. Too often, we shy away from vulnerability in our darkest moments because, somehow, it has come to be regarded as the opposite of strength. But the truth is that if you can allow your pain, anguish or suffering to be fully revealed in a safe space, then your experience becomes so much more authentic. This in turn makes your personal insights deeper, your connections with others (and yourself) more truthful and your eventual healing more profound. In my vulnerability, I found my tribe. I have the relentless love of my husband, and on my doorstep this week I had some very special and beautiful women~ my pillars of light as I call them, who literally dropped what they were doing day or night, and showed up on my doorstep, shovel in hand, and walked directly into that dark shitty place and met me there. They aren't afraid to get dirty and to see me where I'm at. They chose to love me at my lowest~ my sleepiest and my messiest. They are going to help dig me out.

I have a whole new respect for people who suffer from insomnia, anxiety, grief, physical pain, sadness, and fear. 2015 has given them all to me. I, too, know what's it's like to walk through the darkness. I'm not the same person was ten months ago. I'm different. My soul is different. My being is different. I'm forever changed. 2015 broke me in half...and I have to accept that.  I have to be okay with not being the same person I was. If you're not okay with that or if my brokenness makes you uncomfortable, that's okay. We weren't meant to be in each others lives. Once I can admit that sometimes in life, everything is not "fine", only then, with the help of my tribe, can I set my intentions and begin to heal...and hopefully sleep, and again be made whole.