About Me...

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In a nut shell : I'm a wife, a full time working mom, a teacher, a Star Wars geek, comic book nerd, Disney enthusiast, hockey Mom, a decade long breast cancer survivor, and oh let's not forget such a happy, sassy, southern mess!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Life Lesson #15 ~ FAMILY IS EVERYTHING!



I’ve learned something really important over the last four months and that’s the importance of family. Many times we get overwhelmed in the process of planning family gatherings, especially over the holidays but the truth is family reunions are made for renewing bonds’. In 2014 I was blessed to have taken part in two family reunions and one rather large family gathering. Looking back on all three,  I realize how important these bonds truly are, not just in theory, but in real life experience and how they bring us together. Family is one of the greatest connections we have. We’re made and many times defined by how we see ourselves through our family’s eyes. Our families impact and sculpt us, sometimes through destructive and turbulent ways and other times with stillness, peace and harmony. Their very act of accepting or rejecting us can decide the direction we take in life. Webster’s Dictionary defines connections as this: The act of connecting, the state of being connected, one that connects; a link. This is Family. 

“My family is my strength and my weakness.” ~ Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, this quote could be my life's song track. Life Lesson #15, Family is everything. We come from one another, our lives, hearts and even blood are tied. We grow up together, move on in different directions and yet come back to one place, together…where our roots began.
 
Do we always get along or agree, nope, not in the least but when the cards fall family pulls together, we protect one another and we circle the wagons. We stand together or we fall. Sure we may disagree, heck we may even spend months if not years apart, but when the dust truly settles, our lives are always connected. Whether we realize it or not, life has a way of sitting us right back down at the same family table each and every time. 

Disagreements, misunderstandings never remove our place from the family table; we just have to decide when we’re thirsty or hungry enough to put our plate back down and pull up our chair. Pride is usually the culprit in most family squabbles when everything else is stripped away, an opinion vs someone else’s two cents, but do we really want to live our lives wasted, filled with un-forgiveness, jaded and for what, pride? We can’t always see eye to eye, it’s not humanly possible but we can forgive, genuinely let go and pass the potatoes!

At the end of the day, it’s not about who’s right or who’s wrong, who hurt who or what was said. It comes back to family, being part of something bigger than ourselves. The reality is family can be exhausting at times, the complete kind of head banging, driving you up a wall and out the door kind of madness. Sadly many times we fail to realize family is not always about us individually, and our own definitions of a perfect picked fence home life. Family is greater than our own wants, desires, aspirations and our personal needs. Family  truly is about how we put ourselves last, aside, for those we love. Family is not something we use as leverage; instead they are the ones we sacrifice everything for. Family is the very heartbeat, the core and the true essence of who we are. Family in its purest form is about unconditional love. When we finally say our last goodbyes, our memories will be defined by how we both gave and received this love. 

As for me, my family is a gift. I have been blessed to grow up surrounded by two sides of family, and inherit another who loves me. I could not and would not want to do life without any of them. Each family has molded me, made me and left footprints in my life. We laugh; we cry, reminisce, celebrate, argue, disagree and come together time and time again. Some bonds just can’t be broken, like Georgia Florida line says. “That’s how we do it around here.” 

~ Christina

Friday, December 5, 2014

Chapter #2, Life Lesson #14 ~ STRENGTH IN CONFLICT



Have you ever felt as if you have so much to say and yet nothing at all? I’ve been there for the last month. Countless thoughts rushing through my brain over and over again. Each time I'd attempt to catch them, the words floating from thought to thought inside my head would just fall short each and every time.  No matter how hard I'd try to utter and vocalize what was actually swimming around inside my head up there nothing came out making sense. Believe me I’ve had lots to say during the last month, topics ranging from Joshua’s 18th birthday to an amazing family reunion and Thanksgiving but nothing has emerged clearly. I promise, I will get to those subjects in the next few weeks, as all are equally important for me to share with you, but for now, in this moment I know without a shadow of a doubt where my words are leading me. The floodgates of my heart came down very quickly and that’s when it happened. Last night as I tried to sleep I knew what I needed to say and how I would say it. It was as if suddenly the fog cleared and my mind was set free. One solitary picture stood out in my mind, an image taken of my mama and I over the previous weekend by chance and yet it spoke volumes. Two hands, intertwined, locked together, displaying strength, unity and unconditional love without saying anything at all.  

Chapter 2, Life lesson # 14: Strength is found in conflict, without it peace and unity are not possible. 

I have always worn my heart on my sleeve, up until this last year anyway. The truth is the experiences in the previous 12 months have completely changed me, caused me to become guarded, and cautious with whom I share my life with. Some of you may feel certain of the events I’m speaking of, but I can assure you, you're probably wrong. The reality  is these emotions pouring out of me are overflowing from no man’s land. There have been three very distinctive events in my life since the beginning of 2014 which have turned not only my life inside out but also those of my family. The thing about being a part of family is no one is an island; we never go through anything alone, even if it feels that way at times. The truth is we are a team, so when one of us takes a hard blow to the gut, we all do. United we stand, divided we fall about sums it up. So when I say most of this last year has been spent in a full blown weed pulling, digging up the rot and prune sheering process with painstaking discoveries I am not joking. Gut wrenching is not even close to describing life for about 4 months straight which followed blood curling cries of how and why, what’s wrong with me and how do we get over these horror show short reels. At one point I felt as if all of me had died, and I even wondered what my existence was all about. Seriously I had no clue how our family would ever recover from the first blow 2014 brought us, not to mention the two after that. 

We all have active conflicts, some kind of drama in the background we try and tune out. Some of us are targets for drama because we feel too much, love so much, we forget what boundaries look like leaving us open to be hurt, manipulated and used. If I could sum up life in a nut shell I’d say personal boundaries and learning to say no, has been my biggest life lesson this year. Being brought to my lowest point not just once but three times in a year could have devastated me and completely destroyed our family. I came completely undone, our family was near torn apart but by God’s grace we were held together by those He chose to comfort and speak healing not only into my life but those of my entire family. Personally, I had to learn whom I could trust and give access to my wounds and who not too. Yes I had to break down and seek council from outside my normal circles, at first confiding in people who ultimately I shouldn't have, but in the bigger picture every confidence lost, every hurt; each betrayal was a blessing in disguise. We’ve all been there, chasing answers. Sadly sometimes there are simply none to be found, life is rather clever that way. But what I do know, from where I stand right now, is this: Perfect is not the objective, real, everyday love is. I am not nothing less nor am I unworthy of unconditional love. I am flawed, my imperfections are as worn out as a second hand jacket but they are mine to own not someone else's to collect back rent on. Of all the things we have been through, we have come out of ALL of them as a FAMILY. Looking back some 10 months following our first life altering event, it's clear what was meant to destroy us, to be a foundation splitting crack in the process has been repaired and rebuilt our foundation stronger. Though slowly, something beautiful and real has bloomed, stronger than ever before. The remaining  events of 2014 have left their mark and forever changed us, yet as a family we have gained strength, closeness and a determination not even we knew we existed

Now at the end of this year, together as a family, we have found what we are made of. Strength isn’t always in numbers, or from winning the battle, instead strength comes from being able to accept your circumstances, set boundaries and work together with humility. The absolute truth is this: We know each others flaws inside and out BUT instead of trying to change what makes each of us unique, we’re learning to be more in sync. Life begins to unfold once we understand boundaries are there for our good, and not to harm us. When it comes to my families love, I have it and they have mine. We have a beautiful if not colorful history together, full of laughter and tears. I will not apologize for where it has led us or where it will eventually  lead us. Our family history is ours, it can’t be changed, the past is the past, nor can it be retold but there is plenty of room for many, many more chapters. Underlying life lesson in #14, when you really, really love someone unconditionally, those bonds can never ever be broken!
 
The bottom line is this,  conflict, cannot be avoided; it’s part of the process. Change cannot be avoided either, because without conflict, change is not possible and change is essential for our growth. Becoming unified, while embracing difference in those you love is a byproduct of growth which in the sum of things ultimately offers us peace. This year my life even though very far from perfect and while painful and gut wrenching, has been changed for the better, all of our lives have. Yes as a family and individually, we continue to struggle with conflict, it’s simply a part of life, but there is an inner strength, so deep and rich and an underlying peace that’s settled deep inside each of our hearts following the raging storms of 2014 we can't be anything but thankful. We’re part of something special, wonderful, a collaboration of love, a team not defined by our conflicts but in our resolve. John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” I for one don’t plan to miss out on the future story my family has yet to tell!!!!

~Christina

Monday, November 10, 2014

Life Lessons #13 ~ FINDING JOY


We can’t always predict which turn’s life will take. Many times the journey life carry’s us on require detours down dark, sometimes even tragic, disastrous, calamitous, and yes catastrophic roads. Our paths may be obstructed; the roads uneven and gloomy. Finding joy in the midst of our fears can almost be overwhelming if we're really being honest. Life, on any given day can be overtaken by ominous dark clouds but that doesn’t mean our joy is gone. There are days when the happiness we expected to experience has gone MIA. For one reason or other happiness can be lost, misplaced, or simply buried under a mound of difficulties. The thing about joy is it’s never really lost. Sure we may think joy has disappeared but the truth is joy is always inside us, we just have to choose to unwrap it. The quality joy offers us is deeper than anything happiness can ever offer. The reality is happiness is an automatic emotion to something we think is good for us. The hard part about our emotions is they come and go but joy is a constant. 

Life Lesson #13 is about finding JOY in the Journey, learning to slow down and take one day at a time.

The pursuit of happiness without joy tends to lead us into rushing through life, expecting happiness in every moment, in every place and in everyone we attach ourselves to. But that’s not what joy is all about. Joy requires self-control, gratitude and the ability to accept both the good and bad life throws our way, to see the humanness of those who travel this dirt road with us. I may not always experience happiness, but I always have joy. Joy is part of who I am and who I have become. Our family of four hasn’t always found happiness in every path we’ve taken but in every direction we’ve gone, we have experienced joy. Some paths are harsh, and in the final goodbyes, we take away bits and pieces of truths, lessons learned. Our strength and ability to laugh in spite of hardships is not something we do, it’s apart of us, rooted deep inside the knowledge joy has ownership over all our other emotions. True we aren’t always happy, we struggle through bad days, we argue, disagree around here but at the end of the day laughter and love are the roots of our family’s existence. Happiness isn’t what brings us together, joy is. No matter what we have been through or will eventually go through the one constant our family has is the knowledge joy will always blow away a down right terrible, rotten, bad day.

What I find so sad about the world we live in these days is how we have lost sight of the things which really matter. We are so busy looking for happiness, trying to find ourselves; pushing to the front of the line we neglect the essence of contentment. We don’t have to fit in, to be like the rest of the world, we can let go of our insecurities and unhappiness if we’d just open up our eyes to joy as a real possibility. What our little family has learned from our journey is this: joy is not something we have to dig up or cash in on, instead joy is a gift, beautiful and free, offering us hope, faith, peace, love and yes happiness in its truest form. Joy sees our anxious hearts, and sustains us through every dark path life takes us down. With joy, even when sadness is banging on the door, we can smile. Joy helps us hang on, lighting up our souls when the night falls. Joy finds us at our weakest point and lifts us up, translating this crazy world for us. 

At the end of the day, joy breathes new life back into us. I am thankful for this precious family of mine. Joy reminds me daily how blessed I am in spite of the heartache of disease, the lost breast, lost family, and all the scars and broken promises of yesterday. By the grace of God I have been found and brought in from the cold, healed from the wounds of bitterness. I have been given a family, strong and forgiving, a life though not perfect is amazingly beautiful. With joy I know happiness, pure and unfiltered!

~Christina

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Life Lesson #12~ FRIENDSHIPS TIE US TOGETHER




I've truly been blessed by the grace of a  beautiful extended family here in Texas and abroad. Family, not by blood, but by bonds of deliberate choosing.  I love my spiritual and emotional family with all my heart and would sacrifice anything for them. My little band is a small, yet fierce group of women who aren't just friends on occasion but forever.  Over the years these women  have become sisters of the heart. Unfortunately only a small few are pictured above, but pictures or not, on any given day,  I know who my friends are. Without a doubt I know who I can always trust and  who I can  count on..Sometimes they come running over, we grab a coffee and other times I find a Facebook tag making me laugh or many times they call and other times an encouraging text message.These women are my best friends, part of our family. I’ve known some of my sisters for close to 2 decades or more, others over 10 years and a few for just under 3 years. We have shared many things together, and yes we have gone even months without seeing one another, yet when we talk or gather it’s as if time hasn’t passed at all. The closeness I share with these women is precious and worth more than anything the material world has to offer.

Through the years we've shared holidays together, the birth of our children, adoptions and graduations, marriages, some divorces, the loss of parents, breast cancer and many other illnesses. We come from different backgrounds, up bringings and totally different ways of looking at life yet these women are my family, sisters of the heart. When I’m at my lowest, during the most distraught moments of my life you  will find these beautiful women bringing  light back into my heart, pushing  me to go further, allowing  me to confide my pain without fear of betrayal. No turmoil I've  ever faced has run them away, and with each and every triumph I  look back on,  I  see my sisters there with me. Life with these ladies makes perfect sense and I wouldn't want it any other way!

Life Lesson #12, Friendships tie us together. Truth: Our friends are the family,(no matter how different)  we chose to walk though life’s complications with. 

Looking back and even forward, I am truly grateful for the days I can recall a memory, a moment when my craziness and their laughter came together and was imprinted on my heart. I can’t count how many times I’ve felt alone in a battle, only to look around me to see my sister’s flank my sides, lift up my arms and see me through to victory. I am forever thankful knowing deep in my heart that these amazing ladies never turn me away, instead they listen to my insecurities and frailties without judging my heart and intentions. I love knowing we can come together or separately and walk away better for the experience. My dear sisters know me better than I know myself sometimes. Each one of them can call me out on my self-pity, being honest with me no matter what. These women build me up, take note of my flaws and yet still love me. Yes at times we can disagree, but no one can take their place in my life. Each one of my sisters knows exactly how I tick. They know my ins and outs,  my hang ups, quirks and disappointments,  yet they love me.

I rejoice in their victories with them and I hurt when they hurt. I celebrate their accomplishments with joy and yep I even squeal in excitement when each one of them and their families find happiness. This gift of unconditional love and true friendship has shaped my experiences in life as I pray I have done the same in theirs. I know no matter where we go, wherever life takes each of us,  I will share my heart and they will share theirs with me. True friendships are gifts not to be taken lightly. I treasure each and every one of them. I thank God every day for these powerful,  beautiful and truly amazing women in my life. Their presence in my life has been one of the greatest blessings. I have experienced more support and love from these ladies in the last year than I can even begin to express. No matter the time of day, my sisters of the heart have stood by me, believed in who I am and in the woman I am yet to become. The truth is because I know them, I am a better person. Because they love me, I have learned not only to love generously, speak slowly, listen carefully and to give of myself selflessly to others as they have given to me.

My beautiful sisters I  will love each of you for as long as I live. I  pray that’s a long, long time ladies! I saw this quote from the Board of Wisdom, and I do believe it says it all, "Always together, never apart, best friends forever, SISTERS AT HEART". I'm thankful to each and every one of you for allowing my family and I to become part of your tribes and for making it possible for our friendships to become part of our children’s inheritance for generations to come.

~Christina

Monday, November 3, 2014

Life Lesson #11 ~ LIFE OUTSIDE THE BOX


I can’t tell you how many times Johnny and I have been asked how we've raised such chill kids. To be honest, I’m never quite sure how to answer this question. Our boys are good kids, with big hearts and a view on life which many times are very different from their peers. Growing up in the shadow of cancer’s grip has a way of keeping life in perspective. Our family story is not unique; it’s just full of random chapters, out of order, which have ultimately shaped our views and perspectives.

Johnny and I were both raised in small, close families. I was brought up as an only child, yet our home was full of people on any given day. My parents were in ministry so I learned early how to share, love unconditionally and to roll with the ups and downs. Johnny is simply a very easy going man with a big heart. From the time we were married we made the decision to bring our kids up in a way they would never fear us or doubt our love for them. To this day our dinner table is a place of laughter, sometimes tears, disagreements, open conversations and truths. Life in our house is very lively, and never boring to say the least. Johnny and I have always been the parents, in charge, but we have and do play with our kids, living life beside them, the good and the bad. We don’t hide a whole lot from them. We have always believed in being honest with our boys so they never have a reason to doubt us or our word. We tend to deal with issues that arise as a family, a unit, with honest discussions which may not always be fun or what we want to hear. We all have a voice in how we deal with things, though as parents we make the final decision, we have never made our kids feel insignificant in anything affecting their lives. We simply do life TOGETHER. We have failed many times as parents, screwed up, made bad decisions, and disappointed both our boys and each other. Life is not meant to be perfect, without bumps and bruises. Instead it’s really about living out loud and outside the box, together.

Looking back, I believe with all my heart we are where we’re supposed to be as a family. We could fixate on the past, the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s but then we’d lose the whole point of living life outside the box, wouldn't we? Our boys’ chill factor comes solely from two things: One, knowing God’s in control even when we aren't and two, believing and understanding their parents love them unconditionally, PERIOD. Are we perfect, do we have it all together, oh heck no! Our boys will be the first to express this fact to anyone who asks but at the end of the day we are a family. This last year has been the toughest we've ever lived through. Hurts, betrayals and yes ,even boundaries have been pushed, all combining and coming together, attempting to pull us apart, destroy who we are and rip our faith apart, but by God’s grace the complete opposite happened. Instead, we have come together, as a family, everything on the table and found our footing, not in perfection, or any other wild idea of what a nice normal family looks like. What we have found in the chaos is grace, forgiveness and a beautiful example of life outside the white picket fence.

Life lesson # 11: Don’t be afraid all to live your life outside the box; you never know what’s waiting for you!

Life for us, the Dowling and Olachia family, is typically nothing like a Norman Rockwell painting to say the least. But you know what? I’m OK with that. Depending on the day, Micah can leave us speechless without a filter, Joshua can leave us scrambling at the last minute, I can drop a full glass of tea all over the table or Johnny can forget to pay a bill. Anyone curious and willing enough to be a fly on the wall will find Johnny and I listening to the boys music in our SUV, at a concert of their choice, watching a Disney movie , football, hockey or the Walking Dead together. Basically it’s all pretty random stuff to be honest, but pretty typical around here. Is everything my taste, absolutely not! Do I believe in being involved in your kids’ lives, and making them apart of yours, YES! Boundaries are absolutely necessary and essential but so are open doors. Yes Johnny and I dress up in costumes with the boys for Halloween; we ride roller coasters right beside them, try crazy concoctions, and act like loons as much as taking part in both deep and ridiculous conversations with our children. As parents, we allow them to see our faults just as much as our accomplishments. Most importantly, we share our faith, our walk, or lack of it at times with God not just in front of our boys, but beside them. We’re real everyday people, and that’s exactly how we want our boys not only to see us but to know us this way.

I am humbled knowing our kids, at 15 and 17, can be themselves out in the world and with us, not ashamed of who they are . I am always amazed and grateful our boys welcome their parents and grandparents in their lives. True, they make a lot of decisions without us on their own these days as it should be, still it’s good to know they’re willing and do come to us for guidance without fretting the outcome. Do they roll their eyes when I kiss them in front of their friends, oh ya, they do! On the flip side of the coin though, every morning on the way out the door Joshua, Micah and Johnny stop for a kiss and a hug. We've learned never to be ashamed of our kids, even when they mess up, who of us hasn't? After almost 18 years of being a mom it’s a blessing to sit beside my teenage boys and have them rest their heads on my shoulder no matter who’s around. We can be goofy together, laugh out loud, share life experiences and be open and honest with one another. So we aren’t perfect, we’re awkward at times, we are most definitely far from having it all together, and nope we aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but we are our own unique kind of family, chilled and warm at the same time, just how it should be.


~Christina

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Life Lesson # 10 ~ ACCEPTANCE & THE BARE TRUTH






This month, always is a mixed bag of blessing and conflict for me. A solid month of Pink, celebrating survivors and remembering our loved ones lost to Breast Cancer. Truthfully, I have spent most of October in reflection.  I quietly wear a small pink ribbon year round because breast cancer is not a once a year, for one month disease. So what did I physically do for Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year? Well for starters I began each day as I always do, with thankfulness.  No, I didn’t walk; I didn’t put out any survivor ribbons in the yard, wear a pink T-shirt or purchase anything in honor of my own survival. To be honest, I haven’t actually done anything this year outside of supporting a particular amazing fundraiser whose goal is supporting those affected by this disease. What I have really done though is reflect.  Interestingly enough, I haven’t experienced all the fanfare usually associated with October which I found to be a relief honestly. Instead I found by focusing on my family, loving them and celebrating our small, beautiful moments together was the bigger blessing in my life rather than anything else! 

I really thought long and hard about where I wanted to plant myself during this particular month this year. It has absolutely been a personal choice, one I didn’t come to lightly. In many ways, my deliberate decision this time around to step back from the pink take over in October served as a real area of personal growth and an acceptance of my own battle with this beast beyond anything I could have imagined. So as this month comes to an end I want to talk openly about breast cancer because when November 1st comes around most folks will go on, put their pink away until next October and move forward with life as if this demon doesn’t exist any longer.

Life Lesson # 10: Acceptance, finding ourselves in the bare truth of who we are.

Breast Cancer seems like two little words yet together they hold such big impact. Most of you know my story; I was 32 years old, raising two little boys, no family history when I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. The coming year brought the loss of my breast, the discovery of lymph nodes infected, six months of chemo and countless surgeries which reached well into my 5 year mark. The loss of a breast is almost surreal, as it is life changing. Learning to dress, to look at yourself in the mirror and to cover your scars, all in an attempt to make life more bearable is a process. I remember watching the surgeon draw marks with a black sharpie around my diseased breast, knowing full well I wasn’t coming out of the OR with both my breasts attached like it was yesterday. Let me tell you, it is a feeling beyond description. Talk about a reality check. 

Chemo followed, though it was an unexpected gift after by chance lymph nodes were removed and tested because of something the doctor felt before closing me up. Suddenly I not only had the loss of a breast to deal with but the possibility of something worse, death. Chemo was downright despicable. TAC, (Taxotere ,Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide) was my doctors’ poison of choice. I lost all my hair within a week, and to this day I can’t begin to describe how unprepared I was for the physical pain of my hair falling out. Not long afterwards, I found the joys of no longer needing to shave. My eyebrows on the other hand waited around to fall out a few more months, along with my eyelashes. I was swollen, hairless, one boobed and sick continually despite the anti-nausea meds. What about the steroids, well they were simply the cherry on top! So there I was at 33, just 3 months into treatment and I looked and felt more like E.T. than actual E.T. did himself! The reality was I had no choice but to learn to accept and be comfortable with the new me I was becoming. Yes I could have been angry, I could have fallen apart, hide myself away but by God’s grace I didn’t. Instead I found peace, joy and humor in the midst of so much upheaval and uncertainty. I wasn’t brave on my own, courage came with getting up every day, looking for the blessings waiting for me and sharing those little moments with my family I have now come to cherish. 

So many of us tend to get excited, we rally for the cause, showcase triumphs during October, but what are we doing year round to honor those we call heroes during this month of breast cancer awareness? I guess this is my real cause for reflection. Sure, I could have worn my pink, showcased my own battle, and made a statement. I guess this year I just needed more than all the Pink ribbons in the world could offer me. True, no one stopped me this month acknowledging I was a survivor and yet I didn’t miss any of the hoopla this time around. Quite honestly, I was content in reflecting, allowing myself to fade away from this identity of being anchored in the color pink. I am still a warrior, I will always wear pink, year round, in memory of my fallen sisters, and I will always and forever be a survivor. I guess I have just stepped back, and taken a good long, hard look at where I am today. 

So yes while cancer tried to destroy my body and chemo tried to poison it, the scars they left behind did not ruin me. Instead they gave me life, a second chance, not only to discover who I could be but to embrace who I was underneath and beyond breast cancer. The truth, breast cancer is ugly, cruel and vicious, leaving those of us in her path misshapen and scared. Yet in the acceptance of these things we are beautiful and lovely, not bound by the world’s idea of such things, but by our own definition. My honest, bare truth is this: I've come a long way in my journey, from the chemo couch to where I stand presently. Today, I am a breast cancer survivor eight years strong! I am not physically whole but I am complete emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I have had this time afforded me, time many others have not, to watch my boys grow into men, to be loved and give love and embrace my imperfections. My body is a canvas of stories to be told, in no way perfect, though very much scared and sown back together again, a canvas of awkward and lifesaving workmanship. The life I have in the aftermath of breast cancer is beautiful, a mixed gift of conflict and blessings, and yes wrapped up in a big bright pink bow from time to time.

~Christina

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Life Lesson #9 ~ HAPPINESS & FAMILY TIES


Eight years ago I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. To say life handed me a curve ball is a gross understatement. I was devastated, in shock and lost for about a week. I spent my time replaying those four little words trying to figure out my next move. I looked around, wondering, what was the point of any of it, cancer at 32 years old, married less than a decade to the love of my life. I'm an only child, what was this going to do to my parents? And our boys, oh, and what this monster was going to steal from them. But in asking myself those questions, I realized I had much more to fight for than just my own life; I was fighting for my all of my family, for my children and their futures. Besides, who was this tipsy, drunken beast anyway, trying to tell me what to do and where to go? Huh, that wasn’t going to happen, not if I had any say in the matter! Anyone who knows me knows I’m a fighter, I don’t give up easily and cancer was not going to take me down without a fight.

I had a plan, whether that plan worked out or not, was not a problem, letting go of my joy, happiness, humor and laughter was. Facing cancer was not just solely about chemo, surgery, what my chances were or how other people saw me. Nope cancer for me, as with everything in life, was and is about how I chose to live day by day. I’ve been so blessed to have a small immediate family and yet such a big extended family at the same time. The worst times in my life have been filled with the best memories; despite the uncertainties as a family we have experienced more laughter than tears. If it wasn’t for those family ties, the bonds through blood and by extension, I wouldn’t be here today. Who laughs while singing "they’re going to whack my breast off " to the tune of following the leader, imagining her excommunicated breast being sliced up like a piece of cake and incinerated? This women right here, why, because laughter is the key to happiness and sanity. 

Life lesson #9: Laughter and humor, unlikely gifts we give ourselves.

Family, in my experience, has been the key to my happiness, and yes, at times misery too. Mostly, they have been my greatest sources of humor and laughter. The memories we’ve made together since cancer charged through the door are countless. We’ve gathered around the table, laughed, cried, shared stories of our day, letting life fall out unfiltered in the last 2,830 days. Our ties go deep, we share a bond to this day which may very well be shaken but can never be replaced or broken. Learning to laugh in the face of difficulties has been the greatest gift imaginable. I love knowing some 2,000 days later, our boys, who are honestly men now, feel free to dance with those radioactive monsters hiding under their beds instead of running away, screaming in haze-mat suites. Laughter, is a critical component if we plan on enjoying life, the truth is; sometimes we just have to be OK with making random crazy, funny and absurd faces into the crowd. Laughter, humor and the ability to amuse ourselves gives way to celebration, re-enforcing our ties with those we call family. The fuzzy monsters nowadays camping out in the guest room aren’t so scary anymore. They’re just part of our curiosity, the incredibly, outrageousness, and ridiculousness of the world around us. 

What I've learned in this upside down world we live in is we inherit or create family; it doesn’t matter by birth or invitation. The family we tie to ourselves can conceive and develop ties to happiness or to misery, the choice is ours. Being happy doesn’t require a life without difficulties, but on the other hand it does demand a good sense of humor and an acceptance of the absurd, craziness and eccentricity of our beautiful, yet baffling flaws. Once the smoke clears and the monsters have been tamed; we have an anchor in those ties binding us to one another. Humor and laughter absolutely ease the difficult times, that is, if you’re open to happiness instead of bitterness and blame. 

At this part of my story, I can say life has turned out fairly well, all in all. When I sit down, pull my chair up to the table and fill my plate each night I know happiness. Laughter, as it turns out has been our best friend. Happiness has fueled my life with a drive to live; my family has learned to thrive, not just survive in spite of whatever monster has shown up to play. Laughter and a sense of family has given us reason for celebrations, distractions, diversions, fun times, hilarity, whimsical moments, artfulness, brilliance, cleverness, comedy, irony, quickness, resourcefulness and yes true wit. Deposits like these are priceless gifts and so my advice to you: make sure not to overlook or omit happiness, whatever form presents in your family bank!

~ Christina

Monday, October 20, 2014

Life Lesson #8 ~ LIFE'S LITTLE MOMENTS



What comes to your mind when you think of an anniversary, possibly a birthday, graduation, cancer recovery, maybe a personal triumph, simply an accomplishment of any kind or the loss of a loved one? Life, in itself, is made up of small, beautiful, painstaking and mostly complicated moments. These moments are set in time, more than dreams and always wide open to interpretation. Our moments of celebration in life can be remembered as particularly breathtaking, brilliant, beautiful and pure or positively slanted in our perceptions, altered and crashed in the wreckage of our best laid plans. 

Life Lesson # 8: Life can be amazing, full of little moments worth celebrating!

That is, if we can keep from being caught up in our opinions, full of good intentions, so busy making plans for everyone else and ourselves, maps included, we forget to live in the little moments life offers us along the way. While we’re busy out planning, life is continuing, moving with meaningful points of intersection, and connecting each of us to memories, good or bad. All these moments, understated or grand events with unforgettable finales, stay with us, becoming flash points, periods in time in which we are moved in some degree or another. Whether our celebrations are full of humor, leaving us with laughter, or made up of tears, each moment, every memory we make is defining in the make-up of who we are and can ultimately become. We have all had those drop everything, let’s go, moments, book of life kind of entries. A rush of excitement, taking a breathe right before we step out, this is it… our moment has arrived and we can’t turn back kind of gravity lifting, lighting up the sky or crashing to earth in flames circumstance or occasion. 

This last year has been full of little wonders as Rob Thomas sings about, good, bad and many in-between but all leaving an impact not only on my life but those of my whole family. All our moments, touch us for a little while and yet stay with us forever, changing us one way or another. Once the moment is gone, a birthday past, a celebration only a memory, those things we never wanted so much as in those small moments become fleeting. Our hearts beat faster, our breath seems caught up inside of us and time stands still. Yet, when we remember certain moments from our past, we become afraid to be alone in those defining events of yesterday. When I look back at all those little moments in my life, there’s not a moment, not a minute I would change in exchange for another. Each one, amazing or trying, has been significant along the way, chiseling, shaping and molding life in the direction it has gone. Without these little moments, I’d be nothing but empty space. I don’t know about you but I am absolutely fine with venturing to the crossroads from time to time. Life is full of boiling points, breakthroughs, living on the brink, climax of events, coming of age, defining moments, more than enough edge, flash points, and landmark compromises. In our lifetimes we experience make-or-break decisions, milestones, and many points of no return, lots of red-letter days, moment of truth, turning point and U-turn defining moments wrapped up in memories we either celebrate or turn away from. Bottom line, I’d rather live with the outcome of life, rather than big, wide, empty, missing spaces in my memories!

 So for me, the truth lives here, we live by our memories; thoughts scatter to such things as maybe next time, words unsung, shadows of who we used to be, hoped we’d become and let go of. We get beat down by lost possibilities many times we can’t see, sharing the sweet company of family, friends, those we miss once they are gone and the light fighting it’s way into the darkness to overcome distant memories and moments we feel have disappeared. We hear the old whispers on our lips; see little glimpses of heaven in these brief moments of time imagining what was, holding onto those lasting, enduring, radiant moments for as long as we can. We are defined in these moments, and in retrospect we will continue to be for as long as we cling to and cherish or hold on bitterly to those memories as outside our control. What I know is this, all my life I have tried to make everyone else happy, been hurt, hid my feelings and gone along with the plans. But this year life changed in a big way, I stopped holding my head under water! I found I could let go of moments, seize others and take life fully by the horns without fear of the outcome. Not every moment has been perfect, nope in reality many of those small moments along the way have been pretty difficult, but oh so many more have been amazing, filled with some pretty awesome adventures. I can’t sort out all the ups and downs right now but I can shine a light on the good times, learn from the doubts cast and live life out loud in these very moments I have here and now. 

Life’s small, little moments, these memories we make become who we are, show us where we have been and add up to some pretty big moments down the road if we can just learn to slow down and actually enjoy ourselves!


~Christina

Friday, October 17, 2014

Life Lesson #7 ~ FORGIVENESS



Have you ever been so hurt, you had no clue where to begin to unravel the mess you’re in? In those moments our joy seems almost suffocated and choked out of us doesn’t it? We hesitate to step outside of the gray zone because it’s safe. We can see the right and wrong of our actions, we watch our joy crushed and fleeting and still we continue to use our words, our actions and brokenness as weapons of retaliation. Even worse, our tongues inflict hurt not only into the lives of those we love but deep into our own hearts in the process. When joy flees, and un-forgiveness moves in, all our hidden scars and hurts come to light, especially the ones festering just under the surface. We draw lines, wrong or right and worse we stop listening, our compassion flees and lives are shattered. 

Our insecurities in life tend to guide us more than we know, pushing our buttons, lashing out at our joy, stealing our ability to relate and love. We find ourselves overtaken by the hurts we have suffered, the wounds we have nurtured and we lose sight of everything precious to us. Our fears take over, consuming us, blinding our hearts, then our anger strikes and before we know what’s happened we’re devoid of joy, empty and wondering what the heck happened. Unwillingly or not, we become slaves to our resentment and bitterness when we sit down to a table of carnage, feasting, like cannibals on our own. From experience, we tend not to listen, we hear, but we don’t comprehend. Instead our response to what we perceive as a wrong, only allows anger to overtake our compassion and understanding, and our willingness to forgive is lost.

Life Lesson # 7: Forgiveness is a personal gift we give ourselves.

Not sure why we tend to exchange truth for the grape vine, or how we confuse good intentions with wicked ones but we get everything so entwined when we’re angry our view is obscured. By the time we reach this particular intersection, we’ve lost ourselves in anger, pride and our need to get even. Unbelievably, when our wrongs are ousted and uncovered, we desperately want forgiveness extended to us, yet we struggle with the ability to offer the same grace when the tables are turned. Gossip, mistrust and lack of empathy are like an infection, taking over, going viral and destroying our relationships. When the dust clears, our ability to forgive, to love and be loved is gravely damaged. How can we push those away we say we love without first looking inside, at ourselves? Why do we have this need as human beings to always be right, no matter whom or what it costs us? 

It never fails I can't help but find it rather amusing when I learn things about myself, seemingly only those “in the know” have privileged access to. Oh the places I’ve visited but know nothing of, how ‘bout those words I said without actually saying, or things I’ve apparently done without being there in person to do? It’s crazy how people in general, spend so much time listening in to the misinformed and still make judgment calls, drawing on assumptions without facts and ultimately deciding to draw guilty conclusions without a second thought. I’m totally guilty of this myself, we are all, but the outcome of our circumstances depends on our willingness to forgive and to let go. Uncovering our joy again isn’t a matter of rejecting the hurt, no; it truly comes in our response to dealing with the aftermath. This is typically a character defining moment, sink or swim, do we stop the bleeding, work to heal the differences, forgive or do we continue to push the knife in deeper?

When we reach the end of ourselves, at the end of the road when we see the executioner’s rope hanging, we have to decide, is the price of being right worth the cost? Are we truly ready to hand over our joy for the hurt we’re hanging onto in exchange for un-forgiveness?  Why should we hesitate when it comes to mercy and grace? My challenge to myself and to you today is this: Don’t let your joy burn out, don’t let anger consume you; give yourself the opportunity of grace and the chance to change things. Stop taking the easy road, bending with each strand of gray. Stop concealing hurts, slamming doors on those you don’t understand, instead take a deep breath and be bold enough to offer forgiveness in exchange for pure, real joy.

~Christina