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!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Life Lesson #88 ~ In the Middle of it All

“Strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on but you keep going anyway.” ~Anonymous

In this last post for October, I just want to say how humbled I am to share my thoughts, my stories and my life with you. This blog started out as a means to cope, to deal with cancer and to fight back. Little did I know back then not only would I survive breast cancer but I’d also develop a voice of my own along the way. In finding my voice and in battling the big C, I’ve come to understand the deeper meaning in Marianne Williamson’s words, “Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor.” My knees did indeed hit the floor but today, October 31, 2016, some 10 years since cancer came for me I have emerged stronger. I sit here in awe, blessed and grateful to be able to call myself a SURVIVOR.

Ten years ago this past December I found a lump in my breast that ultimately changed my life forever. What did I know at the age of 32 about breast cancer? I can tell you, absolutely nothing. Honestly I thought it was a disease only older women faced. I had no clue this new, mutated ( again proof I'm a  mutant) misunderstood and aggressive form of breast cancer called triple negative was just beginning to scratch the surface.  I learned quickly enough it was not only aggressive, affecting mostly women under 40 and accounting for just 15 % of breast cancers at the time but it was also more likely to spread beyond the breast and to come back again.  Like wow, (I can hear that song echoing in my ears now) and yes I can even say that backwards too, wow.  In my case it certainly spread past my breast and made it into my lymp-nodes. Hence the whole chemo regimen began and my body started to fail me. I had to dig deep, fighting with everything I had. TNBC was a beast, she came, she saw and she lost. In the days, the weeks, the months and in the years since cancer made her mark on my life I’ve discovered J.R.R.R Tolkien’s words of wisdom hold true. “It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”

As cancer made a B line and grappled for my life, I fought back. Not for Queen and Country, but for my children and husband, for my mama, for my daddy and for myself. Something I learned in the middle of this thing we call breast cancer is simply this : I had more fight in me than I ever knew. I found this strong warrior hiding inside myself. Courage was not something I just found lying around, no courage claimed me, planted itself and then grew bravery inside my heart.  Living, making memories was something I no longer took for granted anymore. I not only wanted to survive I wanted to live fully. And that’s exactly what I did. We didn’t waste a moment. It wasn’t about bucket lists; it was simply about living, experiencing life with my family. And boy did we live. I don’t think we have ever really stopped actually. See it’s not about climbing actual mountains or traveling around the world and back again. No, living life fully and abundantly is about being able to say as you take your last breath, “You chose your life. You didn’t settle for it.” Maybe we all need to live like we’re dying, and stop dying to live.

The truth is this, up to my 32nd birthday I hadn’t known what life was all about really. Honestly, I thought I understood what having fight in you meant but I had no idea. Being faced with breast cancer changed all of that for me. My perspective flipped, doing a complete 180. Listening to the lyrics from Rachel Platten’s Fight Song now, 10 years after cancer, I’m reminded why we continue to persevere and endure in spite of cancer’s overwhelming obstacles.  Every time the opportunity presents itself , I sing these words as loud as I can, “This is my fight song, take back my life song, prove I'm alright song. My power's turned on; starting right now I'll be strong…'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me.” I am alright, I have taken back my life and yes I DO still have a lot of fight left in me. And by God’s grace I will continue to. I guess you could say through it all I’ve found James 1:3 to be constantly true in my life, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.”

Life Lesson #88 ~ in the middle of it all, life is to be spent well. We love, we laugh, we grieve, we hope, we forgive and we chase the extraordinary. And in doing so we find joy in life’s simple and beautiful moments. Do you want to know the biggest life lesson I have learned in these last 10 years? Well, it comes from Hunter S. Thompson. He couldn’t explain life during and after breast cancer any better than he does. “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow! What a ride!”.” This is how I aspire to live, to spend my life and to be remembered by.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Life Lesson #87 ~ When Friends Gather

“No one looks back and remembers the nights they had plenty of sleep” ~anonymous

“Saturday, 6 pm, our house” is usually how the conversation begins. I grew up with a home full of people gathering in my parents’ house. The kitchen was always full, and by southern standards that was a good thing. Here in ‘twang’ country, the kitchen is “a gathering place for friends and family, a place where memories are homemade and seasoned with love.” Yep, that about sums it up nicely if I do declare myself. So it should come as no real surprise I enjoy opening our home to our friends and family as often as possible. It can be anything from the holidays, birthdays, planned game nights and dinners or simply unplanned, random, impromptu, and spontaneous evenings with friends around our table. The one thing I have always wanted for my children was the same gift my parents gave me and that is extended family.  When I look back on my life as a whole I am thankfully aware of the many various, diverse, distinct and even unconventional folks I’ve had the privilege of knowing and loving. I’d like to think my children have had the same opportunities.

When friends and family gather at our home, it’s not about who’s wearing what, or has the bigger house, better job, whose taking the grandest vacation, driving the most recent model car or even who’s making the most money. No when friends gather, it’s exactly about that, friends and family. All those material things and egos are left at the door.  Of course we do talk about those things together, but all in perspective. Mostly, we are there to share each other’s company, to laugh and yes to share one other’s burdens together. As friends, as family and as friends who are family, we share in one other’s happiness, talents, defeats, failures and achievements. As a parent I pray these very friends and family influence my children. I love the fact many of those close to us are not looked on as anything but family by our children. My heart skips a beat, feeling the depth of the closeness we share with our extended family.  When I hear our now grown boys refer to many we know as Aunt and Uncles, I’m reminded, “It’s not what we have in life but who we have in our life that matters.”

We really do love to open our home up. October has always been the month traditionally kicking off gatherings in the Olachia home. This past Saturday night was no exception. Our family jumped started the season by opening our doors for a costume party. It was planned, then unplanned and then decided upon again. Getting the word out proved a little harder than usual this year because of our back and forth method but in the scheme of things everything came together perfectly. For days we worked hard getting the house together, setting the scene and making many of our own decorations. No surprise here, it was a Disney inspired theme… you didn’t see that coming now did ya? The Haunted Mansion with a Nightmare Before Christmas mash up was up to bat.  Ok so by now you have to know I’m not your average southern bell. Sure I’m outspoken, a tad bit crazy at times (after all here in the south we don’t hide our crazy, we parade it out on the front porch.) and yes I’m a sassy mess most of the time. I’m not proud, I’ll admit to all of it. But that put aside in my heart I’m a clearly defined, very awkward and without shame self-proclaimed nerd. And it’s never more obvious than when I’m throwing a party. I go a little overboard, it’s true. I love to plan (probably my OCD), create menus and a theme, and of course make decorations till the cows come home. It’s me, who I am. It’s not about the ooh and ah or the better than yours kind of thing. No, it’s simply about being me, my whole nerdy self and all. I love welcoming those I love into my crazy little world. And even better yet I am blessed to be accepted, loved and embraced completely as I am by those same folks.

So how was our Saturday night? It was amazing, interesting, random, impromptu and hilarious. And I hope Life Lesson #87 ~ when friends gather, memories are made, reflects this. Life is not meant to be tidy, predictable or even presented perfectly. Life, alongside those we love is meant to be lived fully, messy and spontaneous. It’s about being you, different, the silly parts and all. Looking at our friends and family who gathered at our home this past weekend, I am blown away by the diversity of who we are as a collective. Old and new friends alike, ex-military, teachers, business owners, administrators, salesmen, coaches, higher educated, younger, older, in college, Disney enthusiasts, nerds, geeks, techies,  gamers, jocks, beauty queens, sportsmen and women, athletes, crossfitters, church goers and non-church goers, drinkers, non-drinkers, recently engaged, couples married decades and everything else in between. And you know what? That’s exactly how it should be. Our diversity is what draws us together but it is our respect for those differences that keeps us together.

What I know is this: our home will always be a place for friends and family to gather where laughter, tears and diversity are welcome. Our differences, they may be big for sure, but if love is part of the equation, they can never separate us. See when friends who are family gather, they grow stronger, closer together. My parents have been the greatest example when it comes to this. I learned early on a full kitchen is a place of extraordinary learning where moments together are fondly remembered. Because of this life lesson, my children have a remarkable and unique tribe to call their own. Ecclesiastes 4: 9 is never clearer about this than now, “Though one person may be overpowered by another, two people can resist one opponent. A triple-braided rope is not easily broken.” Growing up the way I did, in the home I had and in knowing the kind of unconditional love I’ve experienced has been immensely noteworthy. Truly I am not only content in my differences but our home is always open to those who differ from us.

True we may not get a whole lot of sleep when we gather with our friends but I can tell you we sure do remember those nights. Because of our friends, those we call family, our hearts are untroubled, our kitchen is full, and if our walls could talk, boy the stories they could tell! So my wish for you is something Mary Anne Radeacher-Hershey says better than I ever could, “May your walls know joy; may each room hold laugher, and may every window open to great possibility,”


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Life Lesson #86 ~ The Scars We Bare

“Behind every scar there is an untold story of survival.” ~anonymous

My scars, each one of them though they may be old, purple, fading and spread out are still very present across my chest. I have scars most people could not imagine living with, more or less living through what caused them. I have been cut open and stitched up in ways unimaginable, put back together again and sent on my merry way. My scars are a living testament, a reminder I have faced death, battled the Beast and lived to tell the tale. I am not ashamed of my scars, no, they tell my story. I wake up each and every morning and face the mirror without as much as sigh. I see the mark of the Beast on my body. I am vividly aware of her handiwork, the art of breast cancer’s imprint and the impact on my life. I feel the phantom pains, the crazy reminders of a breast that once was but no longer exists. In those moments each and every morning staring into the looking glass I thank my Father for His unyielding strength. I am alive today, a bit worn and tattered but I am here some 10 years later. I may certainly be driving with one head light on but I’m definitely still driving. The Goo Goo Dolls spell it out so vibrantly in their lyrics ‘So Alive’, “Feeling like a hero, but I can't fly. No, you never crash if you don't try. Took it to the edge, now I know why, never gonna live if you're too scared to die. Breaking down the walls in my own mind, keeping my faith for the bad times, get up, get up, stand like a champion. Take it to the world, gonna sing it like an anthem. I'm so alive, I'm so alive, I'm so alive.” And I certainly am alive aren't I?.

Sure, I’ve faced fear and uncertainty. I’ve had no choice but to accept my body is a canvas of scars and imperfections. I have given up, been fed up and taken up the cause of hope more times than I can count. Life as a survivor, as a marked woman is a daily dance of hope, regret, determination and faith. Cancer is not for the weak of heart let me assure you of that. But then I do not believe the Beast ever picks her battles with anyone but the strong. Long after the battle has been won, the fight still goes on. Every day, each morning, and as the night ends our battle scars come to light as we undress. The mirror does not lie or candy coat the ordeal our bodies have been through, both the physical and emotional pain of cancer’s bite. But I will say this, and I will shout it from the roof top too; I am not breast cancer’s victim. Yes, every single day I feel it, I know I am living on borrowed time. This is the real deal, the truth, the reality of cancer and her consorts; they are never too far away, always camped outside your door. The Beast, she’s relentless, horrific and a pain in the butt to be honest. But I’ve made peace with her, and after almost a decade of warfare with the Pink Boobie Terminator there is nothing she can take from me I don’t sacrifice myself first.

I no longer live in the shadow of breast cancer. No, I live in spite of her. I dance in the light of hope, victory and persistence. My life is a beacon but only because of my faith, of His belief in me and the determination I have found in the warrior I’ve become over the course of  10 years.  I firmly believe those of us torn open and ripped apart by the Beast’s talons know, “Strong souls aren’t just born. They are built by forging through the craziest perils in life and still have the ability to shine.” What I know personalty is this, long after the Beast collects on this borrowed time my light will continue to shine. Why, because cancer can’t take what I don’t allow her to take. And I simply refuse to give her my spirit. I’m also aware while I am TNBC positive; I am not a carrier of the BRCA1 /2 genes.  I am the end game, the disease ends with me. The Beast in this form cannot claim my mom, my children, or grandchildren. She cannot take anyone else in my family through me. This is my victory, and absolutely her defeat. Almost ten years after cancer’s debut in our lives, she’s been put out to the pasture. There she’s most certainly set up her camp of what ifs but her whispers fall on deaf ears. As a family we keep a watch on our perimeters but we in no way live in fear of her reach. We’ve come to terms with her demands. We live with the knowledge cancer may still kick in our front door or slip through the back gate eventually but it is not today. 

All these years later I most certainly know if not for the love and strength of my family I would still be lost down the rabbit’s hole. For nine years now I have been writing, exploring, and expressing my peculiar, if not awkward but very personal viewpoint living as a breast cancer survivor. And yes I pray I have many more years to continue doing so. But right here and now I want to stop and acknowledge you’re part in my story. You, my friends and family have been with me through each and every entry on this crazy blog of mine. You have encouraged me to push forward, to take rests and to completely speak my mind and from my heart. You have made me the writer I am today. I am forever grateful and thankful for the opportunity I’ve been given to share my voice with all of you. Thank you. I am humbled and touched by your endearing support. My legacy is the tale of a decade of survival, an extended life of hope and a story continued in each day I’ve been given since February 14, 2006.

And now, Life Lesson #86 ~ The scars we bare are not to be hidden away, forgotten or considered collateral damage. Our scars are our part of who we are as survivors, our battle armor.  In the decade following my meet and greet with breast cancer what I know is this: Fear no longer has a place at my table. I have truly lived like never before. I wear my scars without regret. I have faith without doubt knowing my Father hasn’t and will never forsake me.  Even if I lose my battle with the Beast one day, I believe Deuteronomy 20:4 to be true, “The Lord your God is going with you, and He will give you victory.” You see, I am a survivor and my scars are living proof of this. To my fellow sisters and brothers in arms remember as October comes to an end, this is our month to shout, dance and reflect. We are warriors, our scars are the stories yet to be told and paraphrasing Daniel Saint, I say this, “We wear our scars as our best attire. A stunning dress made of hell-fire.”


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Life Lesson #85 ~ Making Time for Family

Making family time, what does it mean to you?  Why is it so difficult to get everyone under the same roof, to sit around the table and simply share a meal together anymore? Do we make time to breathe or to sleep? We just do it right? It’s natural, the way things are. So why do we have to actually make or schedule time for family? Shouldn’t it be just as important? I know we’re as guilty of this as anybody at times. Through the years we’ve had our share of grab dinner and go, let’s schedule a night next week and let me just finish this or that kind of moments. It happens, especially in the digital, go, go, go, always connected but not connecting society we all live in. Life is just busy, constantly moving and asking more and more of us. We sleep less, but we sleep, right? However many times family just gets pushed to the back burner and left there. No flame, no simmering, just left and forgotten. But what does that say to those we love? How do our children feel when we say I HAVE to make time for you? Why can’t it simply be I have time for you?

Honestly, it’s not intentional, life is just moving at such a fast pace we can’t keep up. We get in too deep, our priorities get scrambled. Suddenly we’re scheduling a family night marking it on the calendar and setting reminders so we don’t forget. What does that tell us? It says we’re way too busy, too caught up in in trying to live. Truthfully, we’re really not living at all are we? We’ve all been there; none of us can claim perfection unless we're claiming to be Jesus that is. I think the question comes down to how we break free from the chains of pre-occupation. How we choose to spend our time, and with whom we spend it with. The truth is, “Time is more valuable than money. You can always get more money but you cannot always get more time.” I’d say Jim Rohn is a very wise man indeed. Yes, the ways we spend time together are very different and should be. Each family has their own way of communicating, sharing and simply connecting with each other. For us, it’s a few big things, like dinner around the family table every night, and trips to Disney World together. And then there are the many, many smaller moments such as a game night, watching TV as a family, fishing after dinner, hockey games, and anything else we can spontaneously come up with in the moment. Is it always easy with our schedules? Oh no, and double no. We all have our own schedules, things like work, school, fitness, sports and friends. But we also have each other, our family. While everything else in life needs to be penciled in on the calendar, family is not one of them. This is the thing, and Dave Willis says it perfectly, “If you are too busy to enjoy your family, then you need to re-evaluate your priorities.”

For our little family, life is spent together in the moment’s in-between the chaos. We all have busy lives, there’s no doubt and we’re all exhausted by the end of the day. But every one of us knows when we walk through the door the dinner table is waiting, each and every night. We laugh, tell the stories about our day, sometimes we even fuss a bit but when we clear the table and join each other on the couches; we’re no longer connected to the chaos outside the door. Sure we plan our Disney trips together, everyone adding a personal piece to our adventures .We certainly love our Disney time, laughing, riding the rides, meeting characters, and experiencing silly, goofy moments while making memories together. But we also love our day trips to the beach and weekend road trips anywhere the map leads us just as much. Why, well because we’re together, making family time and leaving life’s demands behind us in those moments. We plan together again around the table. We save together and we play together. That’s the one thing Johnny and I learned early on as parents, you can’t just observe, you have to get down on the floor and play with your kids. We never just sat on the sidelines watching our boys live life. We intentionally lived life beside them, You’ve got to put the hats on, hold the pet snakes, ride the roller coasters, coach the sports teams, cheer and comfort and participate in everything with your children. Till this day, at almost 18 and 20 years old, we still do. Yep even the 11:45 pm midweek hockey games or the late night smash melee tournaments. Yes, family is everything, but it’s also a way of life, not just a cute hash tag.

My parents tell a story going back to when I was about 3, maybe 4 about learning this very lesson. We were living in Germany. My dad was stationed there at the time. They had a very large home ministry in our quarters. I’m talking sometimes over 50 G.I.’s every night. No matter what night it was in our home there was a Bible study, food with many of those same GI's staying over. It was nothing to have 15 of them on the floors, couches or anywhere they could find to sleep once the night was over. I loved having everyone there; in fact we are still in contact with many till this day. To say my parents were busy is an understatement. The reality is for a period of time I was lost in the hustle and bustle. Finally one night, I had had enough. I guess I was tired of trying to get my parents attention and I was feeling somewhat resentful. I had tried talking to them several times this particular evening but with all the goings on in the house, they were too absorbed and had lost track of me.  I was basically becoming background noise. So I grabbed their faces, pulled their heads toward mine and said, “Mommy, daddy I’m talking to you!” My parents being who they are saw their wrongdoing, even though it wasn’t on purpose and corrected it. From that point on family time was not optional, it was a priority. I love what Colossians 3:21 says about this.“Fathers, don't make your children resentful, or they will become discouraged.” My parents didn’t want me to resent them for ministry and they surely didn’t want me to become discouraged with them either. They found balance, both teaching me to give of myself, offering my time to others and to be unselfish in my wants. On the flip side they gave me their time; I never had to ask for it again. See life is a balancing act. It's not just being in the room but being actually present in the moment with your kids no matter how old they are. Till this day my parents say they learned one of the biggest lessons of their lives through their little girl that day. They understood in that moment to gain the world and forfeit their child was to lose everything. I had reached a point where I felt neglected, overlooked and not a priority. Why, well because family time had been forgotten and being a child I felt overlooked too. One of the worst things you can lose is your child because you’re too busy, occupied, engaged or distracted. 

Life Lesson #85 ~ making time for family is a priority. Making time to listen, to put yourself aside and just being there with your kids, for your kids is what makes family time so memorable. It doesn’t have to be big moments, and it doesn’t always have to be small things either. As vital as breathing and as valuable as sleeping is to our minds and bodies family time should simply be as essential to our hearts. What is family time? Well simply put it’s time spent loving your family, your children and leaving no room for regrets. The reality is, no matter how old your kids get, “To be in your children’s memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today.” It’s taking the time to have a conversation, not just sending a text message. Or sitting down as a family around the table to eat, even if it comes out of a bag or a microwave. See it’s not about the quality of the food, but the quality of the moments you share. It’s really not all that complicated, it’s just about slowing down, taking the time to focus on what matters most, your family. As a mom, even a working mom, I look forward to sitting around the table with my family. I have learned a great deal about who my children are at our family table. Family time should just be a natural part of our lives shouldn’t it? A wise person once said, “A mother discovers with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because they are one’s children but because of the friendship formed while raising them.”  I’d say Gabriel Garcia Marquez had it down pretty good. And we never truly stop raising them do we? So breathe, get some sleep, cherish the time you have and simply enjoy your family.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Life Lesson #84 ~ The Woman I Am Becoming

“The woman I was yesterday introduced me to the woman I am today; which makes me very excited about meeting the woman I will become tomorrow.” The woman I was once is gone.  Like a butterfly I've broken free from my cocoon. I'm braver than I was, much more independent and far more free thinking. No, I wasn't as strong or always as tough as I am now. However I have always been genuine though sometimes to a fault. I’ve lived a life that has resonated a fervent and spirituous nature. I’ve always been a passionate soul that’s for sure.  I'm feisty, full of laughter and eager for adventure. I was raised by two unbelievably loving, caring, affectionate and kindhearted  parents. They taught me the art of being silly, of being true to myself and having a strong mind of my own. My stubborn, head strong ideas, my hopes and dreams were never discouraged. My parents encouraged me to soar, to fly and spread my wings from the moment I was born.  Through the years I haven't always been accepted for the spirited and awkward soul I am but that has never dampened my spirit any. I was taught to simply be me, and not to go with the flow just to fit in. I was shown by example to always be my own kind of beautiful and to never doubt my potential. My parents were quite alright with their only child being a square peg.  After all a round peg is just another shape right? My parents never asked me to be anyone other than myself. Being different, was not an unwelcome trait in our home. Being different was a badge of honor. I learned early on it was quite fine for me to “spend life doing strange things with weird people.” And truthfully I've done just that my entire life without a second thought.

As the years have passed, and I’ve watched my life transform I’ve been reminded repeatedly just how blessed I am. As a little girl I knew only one thing, well make that three, I was loved unconditionally, no matter where I went or what I did Jesus always loved me and if I could dream it, I could do it.  Yes, in many ways I was sheltered, but I was also encouraged to explore, to find my own voice, my unique way and not to make apologies for the path I took to get there. Till this day I am aware what sets my life apart, heck what sets anyone’s life apart for that matter is the art of simply being yourself.  Sure you can call me all kinds of names, say it’s a lack of this or that, shoot you can even hate me for whatever reason you please but that doesn’t change who I am or who I’ve become. The only person hate truly changes is you. “I am not like everyone else. I don’t pretend to be. I don’t want to be. I am me.” (Wild Woman Sisterhood) This is the very lesson taught to me from the time I was little. See, I understand my superpower is not found in my battles, my scars or in my accomplishments. None of those things define me. “I am me, that is my superpower.”

What many fail to understand is being true to yourself individually, spiritually and independently is what truly sets you apart. Being yourself, not a counterfeit or a knock off gives you a stage for your own unique voice to be heard. What I have learned in the processes of growing up, even at the age of 43 is life is basically a continuing education. Personally I'm still learning who I am to this very day. The thing about gaining wisdom is in fact understanding you’re never fully enlightened, you’re always learning. Life is a constant process of giving and taking, pushing and pulling. Our days are a mix of victories and failures, lessons and tests, each one teaching us, inspiring us and motivating us to become the best version of ourselves as possible. 1 Corinthians 15:10, says it best in my book, “But God’s kindness made me what I am, and that kindness was not wasted on me.” He made me who I am; He made you who you are. There is no competition nor is there anything to prove. He taught us to dance and to sing by different drums, to speak with our hearts and to love from our souls. I am His, just as you are His. Our stories, they are all different. My story, your story, our tests and trials are not the same.  The story our lives tell about us, well they are honestly just beginning. Of course that is only if we'll learn to get out of our own way and simply be ourselves. The reality is, "Life is the most difficult exam. Many people fail because they try to copy others not realizing that everyone has a different question paper."

Truthfully my life is a work in process, a messy notebook complied with failures and successes. Each day this life of mine is continually being filled with additional stories compiling pages and notes about who I have become so far. So many more chapters have already been written, finished and closed. And still more are very definitely blank, unwritten and waiting to bepenned. I've certainly tripped and fallen flat on my face too many times to count and then jumped off a cliff and soared. The little girl I once was has grown up, become a wife, a mother, a breast cancer survivor, a teacher and a writer. I'm not there yet;  Believe me I still have so much to do and to learn in the process of transforming into the woman I want to become someday. So Life Lesson #84 ~ is simple: The woman I am becoming is fiercely herself. Bill Gates said perfectly,"Don't compare yourself with anyone in this world...if you do so, you are insulting yourself." And that's why the woman I have become is stuck on being completely 100%  naturally herself. And yes, the woman I hope to become well, she’s still being shaped, molded and constructed into a woman of originality and grace.

I can tell you this, I am not weak, but I’m not invincible. I bleed, I cry and I feel heartache. On the flip side of that coin I mend, I laugh and I hope. Sure some may not “get me” or see a glimpse into the woman I truly am. Some may make assumptions of who they think I am but those who genuinely know me, understand I’m a work in progress. And oh how blessed I am by those few. I certainly may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I am and will always be me, imperfect, flawed and different. And I’m absolutely fine with that. What I do know is this: I am continually changing, growing and developing into the woman I hope to fully become one day. I’m excited to grow, even if it means pruning. After all, this is my life, my story and my book. The only author is Jesus Christ, and I don’t have to apologize for His edits and revisions.  I am on my way to becoming the woman He created me to be. Yes, “I am the daughter of a King who is not moved by the world for my God is with me and goes before me. I do not fear for I am His.” And yes I will always be His even if I am an unusually strong-willed and passionate square peg. After all, "originality is rare"and I'm perfectly content with that.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Life Lesson #83 ~ Brave Hearts

“In this house we don’t give up.” It’s our motto, our hakuna matata you could say. Being a young mother diagnosed with TNBC in 2006 was shocking to say the least. But it was downright absolutely frightening for my children. They were babies really. Joshua was 9, in third grade and Micah was in first grade just turning 7 the week I started chemo. You can say this wasn't exactly  how I saw our story playing out myself. That in mind I can just imagine mommy having cancer wasn’t anything like Goodnight Moon for the boys either. Breast cancer, isn't a fairy tale of heroics and martyrs. It’s a battle to the death, for life. Either cancer is going down, or you are. It’s just that horrifically simply. When I look back on my life, on my kids and their battle with my disease I’m amazed by their bigger than life brave hearts. They are what we call co-survivors. Why, well because they too were fighting the beast right alongside me. Literally, “my kids were my heroes through it all.”

I clearly remember Joshua asking me, “Mommy are you going to die?” Oh how I can still feel my heart sink. I mean what do you say to your little boy, no? You don’t want to add to his fear or anxiety but you sure don’t want to lie to him either. Let me tell you trust is such an important piece of the puzzle.  Especially when you’re facing the biggest fight of your life. I mean by this time I had undergone multiple surgeries; chemo had already taken my hair, my health, my energy and my taste buds. Death looked like it had come and gone from my door step and eaten me whole many times over. In that moment I just sat there, my heart crumbling and breaking apart honestly as I held him. I took a deep breath,  looked him in the eyes, smiled and said, “Not if I can help it. We’re going to fight this beast together, and together we’re going to slay it.” The idea of knowing my child had to carry such a burden, my burden no less on his back at such a young age was agonizing and gut-wrenching. Joshua, he was my little man, full of hope and yes fear. “Let’s go here and we’ll do this together mommy.” Joshua, he was always planning, he always about living and making memories to hold on to. He also took such good care of me, holding my hand and walking slowly with me, never leaving me without a hug. Taking a quote directly from Joshua himself when he was about 12 years old gives some insight into how strong he really was. "I was sad when Mom had to have surgery. I hated the days I knew she had to go to the hospital. I cried a lot too. I didn't want to lose my mom. I loved to climb in bed with her and listen to her sing to me. Snuggling was what made me feel close to her. I never wanted that to end." (Joshua's Story) 

Joshua was my worrier whereas Micah on the other hand dealt with his fear through humor. Micah, he never failed to make me laugh. Didn’t matter what was going on Micah had a punch line.  It was Micah who rallied around me while I was at my worst.  Coming home, after chemo feeling miserable and sick and exhausted it was Micah who would crawl in bed next to me,  bringing  me Ginger Ale and crackers while  flashing me his sweet smile.  He'd watch TV on the bed, laughing, and rub my bald head. It was Micah again who wouldn’t dare accept anything less than the real me,  telling me I was beautiful.  I remember one afternoon in particular.  A friend had come over to check up on us. I had a wig on, something I had just started exploring. Micah causally made his way over to  the couch where I was sitting. Suddenly he reached over and pulled the wig off my head.  Completely happy with himself he said to me, “That’s better Mommy.” He sat by me the rest of the visit, again rubbing my bald head.  We all had a good laugh; I mean after all what do you do after that? Needless to say I never put the wig on again.

Life Lesson #83 ~ Brave hearts are bold not fearless. The truth is "fear is a reaction, courage is a decision." That's honestly a quote worth it's weight in gold. Pretty much when life has pretty much handed you enough a brave heart simply stands up, shakes off whatever the devil‘s trying to sell and pushes back. Psalm 27: 3 says, “Even if a whole army surrounds me, I will not be afraid; even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God.” That’s exactly what my little warriors did; they trusted God even when they were surrounded by fear, grief and uncertainty. See having a brave heart doesn’t mean you aren’t scared, it just proves when fear reveals itself to you, your courage can and will roar even louder. My boys, they are my champions even till this day. They remember and yes they still know how it all felt. Together they have given so much of themselves not only to me, but to so many others. In the years after cancer left her mark, my boys began mentoring other kiddos going through the same hell fire. When I was at my lowest, Joshua and Micah stood beside me, prayed with me, and loved me even when I was barely able to get out of bed. They too knew the sting, the awkwardness and discomfort of stranger's stares. Heartbreakingly they also felt the pain of being bullied because their mom was “different”. My boys, my precious brave hearts, stepped up to the fight with such courage. They wore pink as if it was the new black and together they reminded me I was stronger than anything cancer could throw at me. Joshua and Micah were my two, precious reasons to fight. They were my inspiration, literally my motivation and purpose for pulling myself out of bed every morning. Joshua and Micah became warriors in their own right, slaying the beast at our door both to the left and the right of me. Together they conquered their fears and vanquished their demons all before the ages of ten and eight years old. Their brave hearts never gave up on me. What they taught me about being bold and brave I carry with me till this very day. As Rick Riordan (The Mark of Athena) so brilliantly says, “Being a hero doesn’t mean you’re invincible. It just means that you’re brave enough to stand up and do what’s needed.” Joshua and Micah, they are my heroes.

Now some ten years later I just want to say I'm so proud of how far we’ve come together, co-survivors and survivor alike. Turning the pages of our story, reminiscing, and realizing how many new chapters we’ve begun since 2006 is astounding. I look at our pictures from 2006 and I’m awe-struck by my boy’s strength and resilience. When I think back on our Disney World trip the summer of 2006 and now again in 2016 I realize the complete evolution and transformations in our journey. They were children, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders with such boldness, bravery and audacious, valiant courage it blows my mind. And despite their fears, alarm or trepidation they rose up with brave hearts to become the men they are today. As their mama, I’m thankful for the grace and courage my boys have developed. They have proved true character. Together they've shown me even in the midst of adversity you can absolutely be refined beautifully by the fire.

Today I just want to say this to my beloved, lionhearted, gallant, brave heart-ed boys: I love you. I am so proud of you both, of how far you’ve come and where you’re headed. Never forget that babies. You are incredible, genuine, authentic real men of character. You have more than proven yourselves in battle.  Remember this, no matter where life takes you both, “YOURS IS A STORY so BRAVE and so TRUE and Life is awaiting the HERO in YOU.”


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Life Lesson #82 – These Small Hours

When I look around me and see all I have, by whom I am surrounded and the love that encircles my life I am awe struck. I am not only a breast cancer survivor with a second lease on life; I am living a life of purpose. I know who I am and where I have come from. I am not ashamed of the circumstances that have molded me, created and made me who I am. My life, all I have and have not and everything else in between is more than sufficient. I may not have it all but I do have a life many dream of. And I don’t mean material riches, title or possessions. I’m talking about the real stuff dreams are made of like family, friends, love, faith and a life well spent. I'm loved unconditionally and accepted wholeheartedly by those closest to me. Do I deserve the love or life I have been given, not really but I am unbelievably thankful for all of it. I have been provided an education I am proud of, a job I love and a profession tailor made for me. I am married to the love of my life and together we have raised two amazing children.  I wake up every morning knowing I am alive with a second chance, that I am loved, cherished and valued for who I am, not for what I can do. How could I even begin to ask for anything more than what I have now?

My family, my loves, well they are my everything. I have faced a future without them, felt deaths cold breath on my neck and listened to the devil knock on my door. I am no longer death’s captive, uncertainties victim or the devil’s scapegoat. I have been set free, allowed to embrace the beauty of free falling without fear. I'm a daughter of the King am I not? A crown though a bit slanted  sits atop my head. I walk in the grace of His goodness, knowing “in the waves of change we find our direction.” And honestly I didn’t really understand the direction my life was going until long after I was in my mid 30’s. But now in my early 40’s I see exactly who I was born to be. Nothing that has happened to me was ever by chance. Every step, every moment has been carefully drawn out, calculated and navigated by the One who created me. Sure, He’s left many twists and turns to my own choosing. But in the bigger picture every obstacle was there to teach me something, to make me stronger, to encourage me to embrace uncertainty and to make me better than the person I was the day before. It took me years to understand that in the long run I was born to soar, not plummet. I was given wings to fly, not to stay perched in one place my entire life. The truth is the messy details of my life could fill up a black hole and then some. Nothing about my life has ever been typical, inside the lines or routine. I am here today not because of my own strength but because of the love and determination of a gracious Father who’s never given up on me.

My life, my family, my loves they are all dreams He’s made a reality. I have two precious, giving and selfless parents who raised me to be a strong and authentic woman. I have a husband I love with all my heart, a man who has stood by my side through hell and high water and two incredible boys who call me Mom. I have learned through heartache, disappointment and yes uncertainty “that to be with those I love is enough.” Something Walt Whitman shares so beautifully. I may not have a yacht, a big mansion, fame or fortune but I do have something no one can take from me…my family. You see they are my backbone, the pieces of my heart I can’t let go of, ever. I am truly blessed. I'm also aware just how fortunate I am. I could never in a million years give my family up or turn my back on those I love. I have been given a gift in each of them. I fully understand now I am a steward, accountable to my Father for each life I have been charged with. His unconditional love is now my own gift to cultivate in their lives.

Sure I could be angry, resentful for all I haven’t been given. I could have become bitter over the difficulties, despondent and cold due to the adversities and hardships that have touched my life. And by all human reasoning I would have a right to be that way. But, by His grace I have emerged a woman of strength, filled with generosity, thankfulness, authenticity and unconditional love. I lack for nothing; I have all I could ask for and more. The truth is this, “If we don’t feel grateful with what we already have what makes us think we will be happy with more?” This really is what life is all about is it not? We have to find contentment, gratitude and thankfulness for all we have before we can be trusted with more. Worrying, coveting, back stabbing or even playing the victim’s role in our own created circumstances only leads us down deeper, darker roads. Ever wonder why people with some of the most horrific pasts have the most beautiful souls? I can tell you, because they have embraced the struggle and found peace in it. You see they understand, "Your past is just a story, And once you realize this, it has no power over you." I love what Philippians 4:6 says about thankfulness and worry. “Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart.” You see a grateful heart is a beautiful heart and a beautiful heart is a life in full bloom.

Life Lesson# 82 ~ in these small hours, my life, my loves and my everything is found. At the end of each day, in those small hours I'm thankful for all I have. In these little wonders of fate I'm grateful for every twist and turn. Sure I realize I still have a long way to go. But I'm aware my life, who I am today is 100%, authentic and genuine because of each and every one of those struggles and triumphs. Now before I wrap this up  I just want to share this last part of my heart with you. One of my boy’s favorite songs is by Rob Thomas, from the movie, Meet the Robinsons. It goes like this, “Our lives are made in these small hours, these little wonders, these twists & turns of fate. Time falls away, but these small hours, these small hours still remain.” I am thankful they too understand this lesson. See the reality is we may not get everything we want or feel we deserve in life but we do have all we need. All we have, all we are remains with us but the question is simply how they remain.  I am convinced, “My heart is at ease knowing that, what was meant for me will never miss me and what misses me was never meant for me.” I pray this same peace for you my friends. May you find joy in the struggle and hope in the journey. Not that it makes it any easier when the devil comes knocking at the door but as a great country song says, “If you’re going through hell, keep going. Don’t slow down. ” You’ll get there, we all do. It just takes the ability as Bob Goff says to “embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.” Mine sure didn’t but now after all these years light is finally being shed on those unnamed, untitled chapters. Today is a perfect example as I sit here typing these words, for a blog I had no idea I would ever be the author of.

So yes, I'm  thankful for the difficulties that brought me here.  My crown may be a little bent, but it’s still hanging on. I'm the daughter of the King after all, and He’s blessed me beyond measure. I have been given a life filled with purpose. I simply cannot ask for any more.

~ Christina

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Life Lesson #81 ~ Me and You

Love, it’s almost indescribable. Love can hurt but then love can heal. Love can drive us bat crazy and then sooth our insane madness.  Some days we may be at our wits end and the next in blissful euphoria. It’s just how love is. Bonkers at times, yes but mostly we are one another’s happy place are we not? The truth is, we laugh a lot, maybe fuss a bit but when Johnny puts his fingers through mine I melt. As the day begins and ends, our love always leads us to each other. After over 20 years of marriage we’ve learned above all, we’re as human as it gets. We’ve seen each other’s worst, believe me.  The bottom of the barrel kind of bad and we’ve stayed.  Why? Well the storms of life, they will come there’s no doubt. The cracks of uncertainty will spread across your walls, maybe even throughout your foundation but “there is no challenge strong enough to destroy your marriage as long as you are both willing to stop fighting against each other and start fighting for each other.” in my opinion, Dave Willis is absolutely spot on in his quote.

Marriage is tricky sometimes; it’s a tango of trust and faith. Stepping on toes, moving too slowly or too quickly has different outcomes. The problem is we expect perfection many times when we aren’t anywhere close to it ourselves. Life isn’t easy so why in this great big world of chaos do we think love is? My own marriage has been a dance, a tango. Giving, receiving and many times just waiting. Perfect love, not a chance, but genuine, authentic love, you bet!  We don’t have to look for better days, we have them. We just have to appreciate them. All it takes is pushing through the world’s idea of perfect love and defining our own solutions for those crummy days. Setting boundaries, expressing our needs, and even admitting our failures will lead us to amazing, imperfect but one of a kind love. Simply by closing the door on Hollywood and their scripted pipe dreams, actual true love can be found. Really it can. How, well it’s built brick by brick. Is it easy? Heck no. Not in the slightest and if it is, check your foundation and quickly. What I’ve learned many times the hard way is this, “A strong relationship requires choosing to love each other even in those moments when you struggle to like each other.” (diaryofpsuchology.blogspot.com)

Each relationship is different, not one has the same footprint. And that’s what we need to remember when we are evaluating our own relationships, our marriages and visions of true love. Just because roses and chocolates work for Jack and Sally doesn’t mean they will for Ann and Andy. What we think looks like perfection may actually be corroding under the surface. This is what I’m really talking about. Comparing ourselves, our love lives and relationships can be devastating. We have to put the work into ourselves just as much as we do into our relationships or they can deteriorate and crumble under our feet. The Happy Wives Club book says it best I think, “No relationship is all sunshine, but once you’ve learned how to play in the rain, you’ve discovered the secret to surviving the passing storm.” Johnny and I have survived our share of storms, it’s true. From Breast Cancer, job loss and having our marriage fall apart, we’ve been there front and center. Has it been easy? Nope, not in a million years, but let me make this very clear it has ALL been worth it. Have we been broken, in pieces and had our foundation collapse? Yes we have, there’s no denying that. Have we spent time in an emotional straight jacket together, gone cuckoo, even buggy, oh yes we have, every last bit of it.  I’m not proud, it’s true. But if it’s true love, then the odds are 2 to 1 you’re definitely each other’s kryptonite. That being said, love isn’t a game, it’s a gift.  It isn’t something we opt out of because the going gets tough. Love is something we stand by, we grow and we become equal partners in. Love, in its truest form ultimately shows mercy even when pain and weariness seep in. Joel 2:25 says it as clearly as can be said, “God can restore what is broken and change it into something amazing. All you need is faith.”

Life Lesson #81 ~  me and you together is where we’re meant to be. In the good times and bad, we’re connected, to have and to hold for better or worse. “Home is where you will hear love within the stillness.” The author of this quote, Raquel Franco,  is really very wise.  This is something which took me years to fully understand. In our stillness God has made all things new, calmed every fear, proclaimed every triumph, healed every hurt and made known every joy. In the process of restoring what man tried to put asunder God completely joined together, never to be separated. And in doing this, Johnny and I have found genuine, real and true love. We’ve learned to laugh, to cry, to have fun, to argue without injury,  to compromise, to ask questions instead of accusing and to make peace before going to sleep. After all, “The best love is the one that makes you a better person, without changing you into someone other than yourself.”

So baby, kiss me, pull me closer, nestle up on the couch and sit a spell. Let’s make plans, let’s be quiet but mostly let’s simply just be me and you. You’re “my love, my life, my lover, my best friend, my laughter, my soul mate and my one and only.”


Friday, October 14, 2016

Life Lesson #80 ~ Soul Sisters

“She’s my confidant, my joy, my private dairy, my strength. She’s my soul sister.” That’s exactly what I have in my dearest and closest friend Shawna. We all have best friends; they are the people we can’t do life without. We share our families, our time and our joys with them. They are family through and through and no one can take their place in our lives. There’s that one friend though, maybe two if you're really blessed as I am. Not to the exclusion of your best friends,  this kindred is simply a soul friend, a sister, a brother, something almost beyond words, a relationship altogether different from any of the others. Now speaking as a woman, finding your soul sister is a pretty remarkable thing. It’s best described as looking into a perfect mirror image of our own soul. You are not in any way sisters by blood; instead it’s almost as God created your souls as a whole, then split it into two separate, distinct, beautiful and rare but connected pieces before sending each piece into the world.  I can just imagine Him holding our joined souls in His hands knowing two would stronger together than one. Pretty much He purposely split our souls and then rejoined them in His perfect timing. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 gives us this insight, “Two are better than one …for if they fall, one will lift up the other.” That’s exactly why she’s my soul sister. I seriously can’t remember a moment when she wasn’t there for me.

See Shawna is my other half. She was the missing piece of my soul. She’s absolutely the one person who totally gets me, never judging me.  Sure we've had our moments over the last 20 years but Shawna accepts who I am, hair brained ideas, kit, caboodle and all. I never have to explain myself to her. Shawna is selfless; she never gives expecting anything in return. I’m the feisty redhead and yes she’s most definitely the beautiful blond, together we are two peas in a pod. She’s my prayer warrior, my accountability buddy, my partner in crime and absolutely the best part of who I am. She shares in my craziness, silliness and goofiness.  Shawna has my back in good times and bad, completely taking part in my happiness and in my sadness too. When the load is too heavy Shawna carries the burden with me as well as for me sometimes. “We might not share the same blood but we share the same thoughts, the same tears, the same laughter and the same love for each other.” In fact there isn’t much of anything we don’t share I suppose. We know how to listen to one another, and not just by being quiet either. We can be tough and still be kind to each other at the same time.  I personally think scripture hints at these kinds of soul friends. “There are friends who are friends, and there is a friend that is closer than a brother.” That’s what Proverbs 18: 2 says. And this is exactly what a soul sister is, closer than a brother, closer than a sister.

Life Lesson #80 ~ Soul Sisters, aren’t the sisters God forgot to give us, instead they are the pieces of our own soul He’s rejoined together. I cannot see my life without her nor would I want to. I never want to take her for granted, stand in judgment or feel I am better than her. I know without Shawna’s presence in my life I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. I love that she calls my parents “mom and dad” and that my children call her “Aunt Shawna.” She is far too young to be a grandma in my book, but she is. Shawna is beautiful both in her features and in spirit. I could not ask for a closer friend, a sweeter sister or a kinder kindred soul mate. The connection we share as soul sisters has been forged by fire through the years, by the passing of time and the strength of our faith. Spending the day with her is a gift; hearing from her is always a blessing and knowing her is indescribable.  No one and I mean no one could ever replace her; no one else could even come close. I am reminded of the connection we share every time I hear the song You’ve Got a Friend in Me, these lyrics especially grab me. “Some other folks might be a little bit smarter than I am, bigger and stronger too maybe. But none of them will ever love you the way I do, it's me and you.” (Randy Newman)  And yes, I do love you my friend, to infinity and beyond.

So I say to you, take the time to appreciate those friends who are more than a brother or a sister. Take a moment to acknowledge those who love you. Value your best friends, your soul mates and let them know how important they truly are in your life. Personally, I’m thankful for this amazing friendship and for the connection my soul shares with Shawna. Yes, she’s my soul sister, “we are dreamers, doers and believers in girl power. We’re beauty mavericks, secret sharers, and the ultimate support system. We follow our hearts and give like there’s no tomorrow because we’re sisters. Bound by beliefs, inspired by dreams and whether we’re sharing stories or things we love, we make sure our lights shine.” Thank you my beautiful, sweet friend for being my soul sister. My light shines so much brighter because of you.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Life Lesson # 79 ~ The Original Uniboob Club

Taking a look back, it was ten years ago I crossed the finish line during our first breast cancer walk. I was fighting the beast at the age of 33. Hand in hand, arms up with my family and friends we stood united. Johnny was on my left and my sister Morgen was on my right when we stepped over that line together.  To say it was a surreal moment is an understatement. But I learned something  as we crossed the victory line, something I carry with me till this very day.  Michael Douglas says it best, “Cancer didn’t bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet.”

So let me introduce myself again. I’m a fighter, I’m a survivor and I’m the proud owner of one real breast, a uniboob if you like and yes, one fake boob. I certainly found my sense of humor early on in this battle. My sister Morgen wouldn’t have allowed me to be any other way quite honestly. Morgen she’s a fighter herself, a fellow spoonie battling lupus. She looked me right in the eyes and I knew we would kick butt together. It was just that simple. Morgen is a force to be reckoned with, and she made sure I was too. From the beginning Morgen rallied around me. The evening we faced my treatment plan, the loss of my breast, The Uniboob Club was born. With some kind of Cyclops vision and laughter it was Morgen who coined what would eventual become the tittle of my blog. The night before my first surgery, she was there with me starting our new tradition of gathering with family and friends at IHOP before each of my next 14 surgeries. We laughed cracking jokes, cried a little bit and gathered our courage to face what was next. It was also this night my dad and I began our own little tradition of whispering behind a menu together, head to head deciding what we would order. Deciding my last meal before reckoning day was a big decision after all. Till this day it’s just something we do before surgery.

When the big day came Morgen was right there beside my parents, my children, my husband and our friends in the waiting room as I underwent a modified radical mastectomy on my parent’s anniversary no less. Again she was there the evening I faced invasive cancer with a TNBC diagnosis. When chemo hit the table, again in battle gear she was ready to face the beast with me.  When I look back over the last 10 years, I see the same beautiful smiling face looking back at me, encouraging me to be me, to write as I do, and making no apologies for who I am. Morgen, she’s simply irreplaceable, a one of a kind. She has a quick wit, doesn’t hold back what she thinks often, she’s fiercely loyal with a heart as big as Texas. She’s my sister, my best friend and a blessing beyond compare. When I was crawling up the stairs, when I was in so much pain I couldn’t see straight or my drainage bags (yes as in plural) were showing, Morgen allowed me to have my tantrum. Then helped me to pull it all back together again. She showed me laughter was far better than being angry or resentful. And that’s why I couldn’t help but call this blog, The Uniboob Club. After all it was humor that kick started my journey and it is humor that  has continued to fuel every adventure since.

See Morgen, she never left my side. I was never alone because she was always there, day in and day out. When I hit my lowest, when death felt close to my door, Morgen sat with me in the dark, knowing I’d find the light again. I remember her passing me toilet paper under a stall door inside the oncologists building as I hugged the toilet even before chemo started for the day. Did she complain? Nope even though she knew it was winding up to be a very long day. Those days I could barely move, it was Morgen showing up at my doorstep proclaiming, “Well you’ve made it from the bed to the couch. There’s no stopping you now.” When my exspander was too full and pain was searing through my body, she stood there beside me and Johnny. We waited together on the doctor to meet us on an early Saturday morning. I had no shame standing there in my PJ’s, robe, slippers and holding my fake boob, looking through the glass doors…waiting and waiting. The best part  of it was Morgen had no shame either. She just kept me laughing as the words, “Open, open, open” were repeated out loud.

When I tell you Morgen is a part of me, part of my heart, my soul and my spirit it’s the truth. I can’t explain how she knows when something is wrong, but she does. It’s as if she is so in tune to my soul, she feels my pain and my happiness herself. It’s always been this way after all she’s my sister. I could not ask for a better friend, a closer consort or a more kindred spirit.  When I think of Morgen, I think of Beau Taplin’s quotes, “You’re loyal and I like that. Whatever the hour or occasion I can always trust you to be there 100%. Our friendship is made of sturdier stuff than a few superficial interests or a shared relationship status. No matter how many years pass between visits, I know you’ve got my back.”

Life Lesson # 79 ~ The Original Uniboob Club is still running strong. We’re fellow spoonies, sisters, friends and superheroes together. We have fought the good fight side by side, lifting each other up, facing the enemy and “conquering our demons and wearing our scars as wings” together. (atticus)  We are fierce, passionate and spirited. Like a phoenix we will rise up again and again from our ashes. We are constant, unwavering and steadfast because we are sisters.  Ruth 1:16 speaks to us about loyalty in the most beautiful way possible. It goes like this, “But Ruth answered, “Don't ask me to leave you! Let me go with you. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” This is the only way I can truly express my love and thankfulness for Morgen and her place in my life. So yes, every entry, every post I write on my blog is because of Morgen and her belief in me. Just the other day she texted me, encouraging me to continue writing, and how one day she knows I’ll have my book on the shelves. Truthfully, I was wiping tears from my eyes. She’s just selfless like that. Even while she’s battling her own beast, she’s giving of herself. Morgen, she’s the original Wonder Woman and yes sweet sister I still have my cape. One day we’ll cross that finish line again and together hand in hand, arms outstretched. Truly we’ve faced the devil together. You’ve been there for me through it all. From my 10 year battle with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, lymphedema, degenerative disease, type 1 diabetes, stroke, breast cancer, every ICU stay, emergency room visit and so on and so on you have been by my side, unwavering. Even if we take a punch from time to time, together we’re an unbeatable team. I want you to know when I remind myself  that I'm a force to be reckoned with I think of you first. You have to be the original inspiration behind one of my most favorite quotes, “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning the devil says, Oh crap she’s up!”

So happy birthday to my sweet, beautiful sister. May you be celebrated as you should my fellow Harry Potter head, my "Captain Obvious" quoting, amazing, witty, strong-willed, Halloweenish, October 13th baby. YOU are MY hero, part of the original Uniboob Club, and fellow Spoonie for life.  I love you forever and always.

~ Christina

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Life Lesson # 78 ~ Gone Too Soon

“You never know the last time you’ll see a place or a person.”  It’s such a sad but true statement. One we know all too well. Saturday we said goodbye to one of the greatest men I have had the joy of knowing and loving. Perfect, not a chance but legendary, you can bet the farm on it. He was a man of true grit, a transplanted Philadelphian who called Texas home in the last years of his life.  He loved his Phillies, Eagles and of course the Fliers. He supported Breast Cancer and Autism Awareness among so many other causes. Our dear friend was a man of real character, tender hearted though he could be tough at the same time. He was generous, loyal and simply real. A man who worked very hard to live the kind of life he was proud of. This man, our friend not only touched my life but was also a big part of it. He was family even if it wasn’t through blood. Sadly not even 60 years old yet Mike was here and gone way too soon.

Mike just had a way of putting you at ease and welcoming you into his home as if you were his family.  He was certainly rough around the edges but those edges were what made Mike who he was. Larger than life and yet as real and down to earth as anyone could be. Yes he had wealth but you would never know it unless he wanted you to. The way he lived his life was down to earth. He was a simple man with complex reasoning.  Mike was funny, very funny. He could tell you off and leave you in awe of him at the same time.  He was a very disarming kind of guy who loved his family, his parents, his wife, his girls, his son –in- laws and his grand-babies. Just as William Penn once said, I know it is true of Mike, “They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. Death cannot kill what never dies.” And Mike will never die, for he lives not only in our hearts but in the legacy he leaves behind in his children and their children.

Now if am going to be true to Mike and what I knew of him it would be this: Mike was a man who encouraged the underdog; he inspired those with raw talent to rise. He didn’t know the meaning of the word quit and he didn’t accept it from you either. I remember Mike sitting me down when life went sideways, looking me in the eyes with compassion and told me straight up to get myself together for my kids’ sake. He wasn’t scolding me, but challenging me, encouraging me to rise up in spite of what was happening around me.  He was good like that. Now I don’t remember exactly when I told Mike he was like a dad to me. And you have to understand, Mike was only about 14 years older than I am so you can imagine how this must have sounded. I remember we were sitting out on the back porch one afternoon when I told him this. He looked at me with those eyes only Mike could make, smiled, laughed and said, “Oh Christina I love you” and then told me he was in no way old enough to be my father. He was right, he was nowhere near old enough to be my dad but I loved him as a second father just the same. I respected him and appreciated the place he gave my family in his life. As Joshua said at Mike’s memorial service, he was fiercely loyal and protective. I can never forget how he made us feel at home. Mike, as he loved so many, loved my boys in a way that made them feel like one of his own.  But you see that’s what made Mike the man he was. When he opened his heart and arms to you, you were family, period.

“It’s crazy to think that someone who had such a huge part of your life can be gone in a second.” And that’s exactly how I feel about losing Mike. I can only convey the gravity of his loss through my own personal memories of his life as it interacted with my own. And so in this Life Lesson # 78 ~ gone too soon I want to take the time to say thank you Mike. Thank you for believing in us and for accepting us flaws and all. The reality is because of Mike’s encouragement and continual prodding my sons found their talents and soared. It was Mike who encouraged Joshua and his music. He prided himself in recognizing talent and he saw it in Joshua. Right away Mike put Joshua on the spot on a cajon, an instrument he’d never played before and had him playing in front of scores of people with some of Houston’s rising talent. Again it was Mike who both called and texted Joshua not only influencing but persuading him to pick up a hockey stick and play. It was Mike again and again who praised Micah, pulling him out of his shell and promptly hanging his drawings no matter what they were on his office walls. The truth is there are those people you fear influencing your children but Mike on the other hand was the kind of man you prayed would influence them.

Mike was simply a giant in my eyes, and a teddy bear in my heart. It’s hard to imagine not popping over to his home anymore and finding him sitting on his back porch out by the pool eager to visit. Mike could always make me laugh, especially when he told me to overcook my eggplant for him. Whatever his reasons were Mike really loved our family eggplant and asked for it often. It’s just a simple recipe my grandmother passed down but still he’d text me out of nowhere asking if I could slip one into the freezer for him. Mike always made Johnny and I smile asking us to mislabel it. Whether it was Mike’s liver and kidneys or some other not so appetizing kind of thing he was happy to think no one else would get a hold of it before he did. But what I most remember about Mike were his stories, the way he loved entertaining us with his tall tales. They were liquid gold and the reason we held on to every word waiting to hear how he managed through each caper. The thing about it is most of his wild tales were real. And that’s what made listening so grand. His stories gave us a small glimpse a little at a time into the man he was and what made him tick.

I really miss Mike. I miss knowing he’s sitting there waiting on us. I miss his random text messages but most of all I miss him. There’s a light gone from our world we can’t get back. But we can remember. We can keep his memory alive in our hearts. We can love his family, retell his whopper of all tales and honor him through continuing his legacy of encouraging the underdog. Mike’s life was indeed a life well spent. See he knew the secret just as Thomas Campbell did, “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” I could go on and on but I will simply leave you with this, “For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below—there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:38-39 

We love you Mike. We miss you. But our hope is in knowing we will see you again. And we will someday. 


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Life Lesson #77 ~ Being in Love with Life

I have a question for you. How’s life going right now? Is it working out for you? Are you happy with it? Better yet are you in love with your life?  Or are you possibly stumbling down the yellow brick road or maybe chasing the rainbows end? Most of life’s circumstances we don’t see coming that’s for sure. Those sweet and sour moments just kinda show up. We tend to forget our attitude changes everything. If we keep looking at life through a second rate, inadequate or deficient set of spectacles that’s exactly what we get, shabby and inept. But by choosing a different set of glasses (not the rose colored kind either) our perspective changes. See “Life is like a camera. Just focus on what’s important. Capture the good times. Develop from the negatives and if things don’t work out just take another shot.”

Now I can’t say I have been in love with every moment of my life. Sadness, pain and difficulties have certainly had their two cents and then some. I have absolutely hit rock bottom more times than I’d like to count. Still, I have never surrendered my love or my will to live a life I call my own. I’m not a jolly holiday everyday kind of girl. I don’t always feel like smiling. Many times I simply have no idea if I should laugh or cry. I’ve lived through category 5 hurricane kind of days on multiple occasions. Still I’m the sort of girl who knows life can be marvelous if not spectacular following the aftermath. Rebuilding can be painful but it can also make stronger foundations. In my own life I’ve found there’s always going to be another drama, another mountain to climb or even another storm to ride out. But that’s life. I guess you could say despite the ups and downs I am a girl in love with her life; every moment if you want the complete truth.  Sure I’ve had my share of tragedy, felt the unfair balance of the scales and lost arguments completely unjust. But that’s never a reason to give up on myself or those I love. Personally I choose to hold my head up and smile on a bad day. You know why? Because I’m fully aware the sun is definitely showing up tomorrow morning.

Think of life as an adventure, grabbing hold of a clump of balloons and letting them carry you away. Scary, you bet. But think of yourself as a child. In spite of feeling scared did you still get on that swing and say, “Higher?” You bet you did.  Sure being swept away by a gigantic bundle of balloons is scary but being stuck in the same place forever is just as terrifying.  Truthfully I am petrified of heights but why allow that fear to keep me off the steep roller coasters, from the cliffs or even the mountains of life? Imagine what I’d be missing? We get one life, one opportunity to live the life we imagine so yes you and I have to fight for it.  Reality is life isn’t meant to be lived in the shadows now is it? Personally I’m a happy, mostly carefree, content and lighthearted soul. However I have lived through hell, been bitten by deceit, betrayal and hit over the head by misfortune. But you know what? I’ve kept going. Life is such a beautiful mess, weaving brilliant and dark colors into our very fabric isn’t it? So then if that’s the truth how can our lives be anything but a piece de resistance, a masterpiece in the making?

I guess this is the part where we ask ourselves how do we live in spite of hardships while anchoring ourselves to hope? Romans 5:3-5 puts it in simple words, “… we triumph even in our troubles, knowing that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope—a hope which never disappoints us. ”  So to answer that question, I simply choose happiness. I absolutely choose to be in love with my crazy life. That’s the bottom line. People may come and go, status and money diminish and even looks fade but goodness and hope stay with us. And looking back, I see exactly how my life has developed out of the negatives. I see a beautiful, flawed but wonderful life all the same. I see happiness, sprinkled with sadness, celebrated by hope. I see a woman in love with her own life, excited with each breath she takes.  Atticus has said, “There is nothing prettier in the whole wide world as a girl in love with every breath she takes.” And I have to agree.  It’s not about being prettier or accomplishing the most. in life. I’ll tell you what it’s really all about and it's this very thing: love your own life, each moment of it, sweet and sour. The thing is I haven’t set out to be beautiful, to be prettier, to have the most friends or to rise above anyone else for that matter. I have simply been me, rising only above my own challenges. See being happy and in love with your own life is not about trying, it’s simply about doing.

Life Lesson #77 ~ being in love with your life means accepting all your shortcomings and glitches. Accepting your own insecurities, not blaming others for your missteps and loving your own story for all it is or isn’t is the key. Telling your unique tale, capturing the good times and yes even developing from the negative ones brings real peace into your life. So again why am I so in love with life? Well it’s not because it has been easy that’s for sure. No I am in love with my life because it is has and continues to be genuinely my own. No one else can be me nor can they live this life I have been given. And the same goes for you. Good, bad, difficult, spectacular or surprising life is a tale of imperfect, beautiful chaos. Just simply be you. Be authentic, genuine and true to who you are. Don’t allow yourself to become a copy or an altered version of someone else for any reason. Coco Chanel said it best, “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” Be different, be happy and most importantly love the life you have.

So yes the reality is our lives are exactly like a camera.  Each truth is revealed in the negative just as every picture captured tells your unique, distinct story. Never forget to “be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” and in love with your life. Why, well when all is said and done these very things will speak for you when you no longer can.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Life Lesson #76 ~ Big Adventures

Have you ever seen the movie Up by Disney/Pixar? It’s another one of our favorite movies around here. Of course maybe that's because our family has this sense of adventure deep in our souls. The line, “Adventure is out there” pretty much sums up my childhood. Heck it sums up my parents life together since the beginning. Pretty much as soon as my parents married they were off and running around the world. They have lived, visited, traveled and taken me along to so many amazing and exotic places I can’t keep count. Combined together our family has scene Vietnam, Panama, Germany, England, Scotland, Sweden, Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria, Korea and most recently Ecuador. Honestly our international itineraries are a lot bigger than just those named above and if you add in most of the continental U.S. you might just begin to get the picture of our lives.  As a child I was blessed to walk through castles, take cruises down famous rivers of the world, cross the English Channel on a hovercraft, step through the doors of museums most kids only dream about, hike up and repel down mountains, sled through the Black Forrest, ride the big roller coasters of the day and visit countless historical sites around the world and back again. I’ve lived a very full life indeed. Life has been an adventure without a doubt.

The reason for this, well that’s an easy answer. My dad is an adventurer by nature. He’s an old army paratrooper, adventure is just in his blood.  I am definitely my father’s daughter. Not only am I daddy’s little girl I have his love of adventure as well. As a child I can remember table discussions centered around our next big adventures. I was always ready, excited to make our plans a reality. Some ideas like living on a houseboat or moving to Australia to homestead never quite came to fruition.  I’m sure my mom had something to do with that. She’s our compass, keeping us on track. But other ideas like New Orleans and the New River Gorge in West Virginia became part of our memories reel. The truth is my mom wasn’t always as adventurous. She likes to play it a bit safer while my dad loves the call of the unknown. It’s why I think they are so good together. And after almost 48 years of marriage, life is never dull. Truthfully they still balance one another out.  My dad is curious, he loves to taste new foods and experience new things, spend time with people outside his own borders. My mom, is a people person, just like my grand pop, she has never known a stranger. Looking back on their life together, I realize how blessed I am truly am. Because my parent’s life has been anything but boring, my life has been anything but ordinary.  Charting my parent’s adventures, the quote, “Live the life that people write novels about” rings true.

Even now, my dad is seeking adventure and my mom is right there by his side. Just recently they went on one of the biggest adventures of their lives to Quio and Cuenca Ecuador some 9350 feet above sea level.  How amazing is that? At 68 and 72 years old they set out on their own to explore, make new friends, experience a new culture and try foods far from the ordinary. From the markets to the mountains, the day trips and excursions, learning about the local lifestyle and the beautiful people of the area my parents set out on a very incredible adventure. Twelve days together, in an exotic new place, making memories and experiencing a new expedition in their golden years. Kinda reminds you of Up doesn’t it? Who knows where their next adventure will take them. Maybe Costa Rica, Belize, possibly back to Panama, or even Japan or Shanghai. The possibilities are endless. After all if my parents have taught me anything about living it’s “Life is about moments. Don’t wait for them, create them.” And through their example I have learned Paradise Falls is never too far out of reach.

Life Lesson #76 ~ big adventures in life are important. “We must have ADVENTURES in order to know where we truly belong.” If I had not lived and visited the many places I have since my childhood began I wouldn’t have any idea why I love calling Texas home.  If not for my parents daring spirits and appetite for the extraordinary I wouldn’t have experienced the remarkable, unforgettable, incredible and yes wondrous life I have. So while I really have no idea where my parent’s next adventure will take them I’m beyond enthusiastic to find out. It’s time for my dad to retire, for my parents to enjoy a slower paced kind of living while still appreciating and savoring some fairly stupendous big adventures. When I think about my parents I’m reminded of Psalm 16:11 as it says this, “You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever.” Truly my parent’s big adventures have brought them so much joy even if heartache was the catalyst at certain points behind the adventures. Those memories, they are our stories, our history and yes they will forever bring pleasure to our hearts.

Mom, dad thank you so much for the unbelievable, unforgettable and fantastic adventures you’ve given me. Certainly I’m a complex and genuine person because of them. But I’ve also grown into the deep-rooted, heartfelt and enthusiastic woman I am today because of you. From the moment I first opened my eyes way back in 1973 you knew we’d share a life of great adventures together. I’m truly thankful for all our unusual and exciting, while not always hazardous, but certainly grand and amazing adventures we’ve mastered as a family.  From my childhood through the present you’ve provided me and my children with an astonishing backdrop to life.  As David Bowie once said, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” That about sums it up doesn’t it?

So here’s to Paradise Falls, our mutual weirdness, adventure books and remembering the boring stuff together. Mom and dad, you just might find me hiding under your house, like Dug, from time to time simply because I love you. Truthfully speaking, “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have a new one.” I love you both.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Life Lesson #75 ~ Changing Our Fate

“If you could change you fate, would you?” It’s a fascinating question asked in one of my favorite movies, Brave. I love Merida, she’s a spitfire, strong, sassy, opinionated and of course a redhead too. Merida’s also very determined to write her own story. As the tale of Merida plays out she is given a choice to make, she can change her fate or not.  She is warned by the Wise Woman but she fails to understand, “Fate be changed, look inside. Mend the bond torn by pride.”  In the process by working to “fix” her life, the fate she’s been dealt, everything in Merida’s life falls apart.  The fact is it’s not what she wants that ultimately sets her off course, it’s in the way she attempts to get it. This is the thing we fail to realize many times, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” C.S. Lewis nailed it right on the head didn’t he?  

I have thought about what life would have been like without breast cancer many times. Believe me it’s not a fate anyone wishes for. October being breast cancer awareness month brings this home to me quite loudly actually.  I was not prepared for a cancer diagnosis nor was I ready for the battle that followed. What I was is scared, frightened and petrified. I certainly wasn’t ready to face losing my breast, to live without a nipple for all these years. Chemo, having my hair fall out and being shaved off because of it or the countless surgeries and lifelong scars across my chest wasn’t supposed to be part of my story. But it was and it is. What I learned in my own journey, was something Ericadomusic says brilliantly, “My scars tell a story…They are reminders of when life tried to break me, but failed.”

Many times through the years folks have admired my strength, praising me for how strong I was. The truth is, I didn’t have a choice. It was fight or die, pull myself up by my own bootstraps or surrender. The old saying, “She needed a hero, so that’s what she became” is truer than you know.  I survived breast cancer first because I was blessed and second, I had a fire inside me burning.  The “C” word is simply not a word anyone ever wants to hear, ever! But in looking back, reflecting on C.S. Lewis’ quote above, I know without a doubt I wouldn’t change my fate. The life I have lived following that fateful days’ diagnosis has completely changed my life but it has also prepared me for it as well. Certainly I could spend my days over thinking, wishing for a different fate. Wondering what it would have been like to have been given a life without cancer, to still have my breast and nipple too. How would life have been better if I had lived free of the pain, the suffering, the discomfort or even the agony, grief and heartache of cancer’s hand? I could be bitter, angry even hostile but why? How does that change what I have lived through and would I even want to be that women? The thing about changing our fate, gaining what we feel is freedom, is we lose our true selves in the process. Queen Elinor asks the question best of Merida “But are you willing to pay the price your freedom will cost?” Are you willing to lose everything for the chance to change your fate? Would you chase the wisp, letting it lead you to your idea of fate? And if you did, what would you change?

Looking back now, having the experience of breast cancer, being a survivor I would probably chase the wisp. I would be tempted to see my fate.  But in the end just like Merida I would fight to restore my destiny. I am a better woman because of my fight, because of my personal battle with the beast. I am stronger; I am free because of my battle. I know exactly who I am and why. I am confident in my faith, fully believing, “She does not fear bad news; she confidently trusts the Lord to take care of her.” (Psalms 112:7) When all is said and done I wouldn’t change my story or my destiny. And that leads us to Life Lesson #75 ~  changing our fate. If you could change it, would you? This is a question I have asked myself many times.  And the answer is no, I wouldn’t. It takes courage to stay the course, not to chase your desired destiny over the cliff or attempt to change your fate.  My advice, wear your courage as a crown. Remember when you’re tempted, overcome by life’s unfair twists and turns, “Crowns aren’t made of rhinestones, they are made of discipline, determination and a hard to find alloy called courage.” You see courage is the key to living a life well spent. No, we can’t control everything that walks into our lives. We definitely can’t keep the beast from setting up camp, attempting to dampen our fire or even what happens to us in the process. But we CAN be bold and courageous just as Joshua 1:9 says, “Remember that I have commanded you to be determined and confident! Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go.”

Breast cancer, she’s a savage, a barbarian, a monster, a demon and a devil. She has tried to plague me but she has not taken me. I am not her target at will. Nor am I an arrow inside her quiver or at her fingertips. No she is my prey and I am her worst nightmare. And while she may have been my fate, shaping my destiny, I am not her story to tell, she is mine. For as Merida so beautifully conveys, “There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it.”