Can I Borrow Your T-shirt?

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I am obsessed with graphic tees. I love how expressive they can be and, if you pay close attention, provide inside information about its wearer. And for someone like me who hates having to describe things, a meaningful artistic expression splashed across my chest conveys a thought or belief or feeling almost immediately. We’ve all heard the saying, “Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt.” This phrase got me to thinking about what would my ‘been there’ shirt say. What would yours say? More importantly, would we have the courage to wear them publicly, opening ourselves up to biting judgment and ridicule? I don’t know about you, but I have more that enough experiences filled with regret, heartache, and pain I would prefer to keep in the back of my closet next to that ugly Christmas sweater. I also have wonderful experiences I would gladly wear out like my favorite pair of sweats. 

When I think back on all of the experiences I’ve already had in life it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around them. Some are common experiences like the awkwardness of adolescence or the lasting ache that comes from losing your first love. Some experiences are unique like when I was a passenger in an auto accident involving a motorcycle where the driver ended up, head first, on the windshield/roof and I watched him die. I even remember the shoes he had on. Or when I got the highest standard 8 test score in the entire state of Texas when I was in kindergarten. They wanted to advance me two grades but my mother wouldn’t allow them to. 

Sometimes our experiences are exceptional and wonderful like when I had the opportunity to live in London, England for a year or when I went through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ temple for my endowment. Other times our experiences sucker punch us in the gut causing such excruciating agony even their scars have a bite like when I was raped when I was 14 or I was homeless and living on the streets. 

There are experiences I have had that if they were a shirt I wouldn’t keep it in the back of my closet but I’d burn that bitch to the ground and drown the ashes away with water. While I want nothing more than to forget certain parts of my life, myself, I have come to learn all of my experiences contribute to who I am and who I want to be. Accepting what has really happened to me in life, along what I have done, brings me to an honest place of strength where I am capable of  building a future instead of trying to fix the past. Instead of trying to make scars disappear I’m learning to use them to create beauty. I may not be able to erase the horrors torn through my shirts, I can use the shreds to stitch together new shirts saying what I want them to say with the power and freedom to wear them where and when I choose. 

I’m at a loss to adequately describe how simply having this knowledge is in itself incredibly healing. You can’t unbreak your leg but it doesn’t mean you’ll never walk again. I can almost guarantee those first steps will faulter and hurt so much you’ll be certain you’re doomed to crawling around for the rest of your life. But I’m going to share a secret with you I desperately wish someone would’ve let me in on years ago – there is no escaping the pain life abundantly gives us, especially pain acquired from trauma. Not only that, when we try to get out of or numb the pain through alcohol or drugs or even simple avoidance (my personal favorite) we’re ADDING to it like a festering infectious wound. 

Please, don’t allow your sorrows keep you from walking away from them. Have the courage to allow yourself to feel their burn, using their flames to ignite your steps. Because the pain will never subside until it is felt trying to rid yourself of it without experiencing it is only delaying the inevitable and keeping you face first in the ground. Knowing you’re using your pain to get you somewhere gives it purpose which makes it bearable. I’ll take that; if I can’t avoid hurting or make it go away, by all means, tell me how to get through it. 

I cry more now than I ever have before and at the most inopportune times; like when I’m on the bus on my way home from work or shopping in a crowded mall. Before I would stuff those drops back into their ducts and super glue the hatch. Now I wade straight into their salty waters and I rarely end up in the deep end. I slosh on through and then get back to my shopping. Here’s the positive side of my secret – by allowing yourself to feeling hurt and experiencing pain you create a greater capacity to feeling happiness and experiencing joy. JOY. What is more beautiful than light, love, and laughter? Since there is opposition on all things the greater your depths of suffering goes the greater your depths for love and joy goes. 

As it took time to create your battle wounds , give yourself the time needed to reach those chasms. Time, by the way, does not heal all wounds. In fact, time can make those wounds deeper and cause additional pain; however, it takes time to make each individual step. It is those steps, not time itself, providing the healing balm needed. 

Most days I’m limping along when I’d rather be running, especially when I see others who live in warm, happy homes or having deep, meaningful relationships. But then I remind myself comparison is the thief of joy, a huge stumbling block, and remember I was once covered in mud. I begin to wonder what their t-shirt would say and would I want to wear it. No matter how much I have or will experience it will never be the same as them, as you, because we’re all individuals wearing custom made t-shirts instead of a generic “one-size-fits-all”. Which is why I adore graphic tees and the stories they share. And I want to hear them all, even if I’ve been there and done that. 

So, can I borrow your t-shirt?

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I am Not Alone

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I am an only child. And I hate it. Growing up I would beg my mom for a little brother or sister (I DID want to be the oldest, although I still wish for that older brother protection) but to no avail. Then, I thought if I married into a big family it would satisfy this lifelong craving; however, I’ve come to learn this isn’t true the more honest I am with myself about how I feel. I wish for the ideals of being part of a large, close family but the reality, the truth is I like my space; I like being alone, and because of mental illness I will always feel some sort of disconnect. And I’m not the only one this applies to.

While I may not be able to give a detailed description of my tribe I can tell you our name is Legion, for we are many. Just stay back and keep your distance. We love you but we feel that love best and most securely at a distance. When others get too close dangerous things happen and someone will get hurt – either you, me, or most likely, both.

Loving others and especially ourselves in this manner, quite frankly, sucks. It’s a loving and communication style that’s extremely difficult to explain let alone understand. The lover, the speaker is confused and lost most of all. And if we don’t know what love is suppose to feel like or understand how it sounds and what it looks like so we can both accept and give it then how will we ever believe we are a lovable person – or even worth the effort?

I wish I had all the answers. I like answers because they bring knowledge and comfort. Answers, however, do not provide understanding. That only comes with applying those answers, testing them in the experiments life so readily offers us. They’re mostly by trial and error and there’s really no other way to ‘just get it’. You can be like me and be very smart and know a lot, but you won’t know what that information feels like until you start trying it on. Some will be too small, restricting and confining. Some will be too big, immediately falling off your shoulders giving you trunk-like arms. Some will be wet and heavy while others will be slippery and gooey. The more you’re willing to try on the more you’ll understand, the deeper your feelings will go, and the greater your capacity will be to experience, to live them.

It took me 36 years to figure all this out because I tend to learn and gain understanding the hard way. It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a reason this blog is titled “Don’t Follow My Plan”; I am an excellent example of what not to do. Enjoy the fruits of my labors and avoid the thorns and thistles that ripped through my flesh to get them. A wise mother-like figure once told me it’s better to learn from other’s mistakes than to make them ourselves. So true! I have a seemingly bottomless cup of my own mistakes splashing around. Please drink freely instead of choking and gurgling like have.

In the past year I have had a glass darkly held within inches of my face as I breathed windex. What has shone through has been beautiful and horrific, all of which I’ve have to accept because every bit has been my true, authentic self. I can cover up my hideousness, stand in front of it hoping you won’t see while turning on a spotlight trying to shimmer, and hope its brilliance will be blinding enough to cover the shadows echoing around. Sometimes it is, but all that glitters is not gold. The deafening echos still bounce around inside me resonating, shaking and breaking even my most precious beams of light. This darkness is fierce, cold, and heavy; its lies cause me to feel, even believe, sunshine will never warm my heart again.

To those reading this KNOW that is a LIE. A big, nasty sparkling lie. If the darkness has such a stronghold on your heart you can’t believe that, I completely understand. I’ve been encircled by those chains and their clamps are firm. I still wear their scars. Start with hoping its true. The spark hoping will make will be what you need to begin melting the steeliness surrounding your heart. I promise. Hope. It’s the first footsteps in many long journeys. And you’re not making those steps alone. Neither am I. Even when it really feels as if we are.

Another lesson from this year is most of life is playing the game ‘Fake It Till You Make It’. I hate this game. It goes directly against my wanting to know if a choice or a feeling or an idea is right, the truth, the very best one. I do not settle – ever – I know there are places and people and feelings which truly radiate and are exquisite. Those are what I desire in life, and they very rarely look like what I expect them to. Frustrating. Especially for us Legionites who live life at an arm’s length. Except the only way the sun’s warmth will tickle your skin is to step into its rays. But before you take that first step you have to believe those beams will work their magic. Otherwise, you’re left staring into the sun going blind. Don’t stay in the shadows. Find Ray-bans and fire yourself up. Become spellbinding.

Fear. Every. Time. we give into it destruction inevitably follows. From self worth to relationships to goals and dreams, fear rips them all apart. The only way to get past it, to conquer such a vicious demon is to play Fake It. Fear is not something that will ever pass and can only be overcome. I have only found one, literally just one, thing on this entire planet powerful enough to enable us to rise above fear; that is hope. This can be devastating to Legionites because hope is one of the most difficult emotions for us to feel. Even with Ray-bans it’s hard to remember, let alone believe, how the sun warms your soul when most of your days are overcast. It’s in these moments you superglue those damn shades to your face and put one foot in front of the other. Those first footfalls will hurt and require more effort than you think is within you – but you do! Keep stepping. Stumble. Fall. And the get back up. Every time you do flecks of fear will fall away while bits and pieces of hope take their place.

I have relentlessly tried countless ways to defeat fear with things like courage or sheer effort, but I only harmed myself or worse, much worse, caused pain and suffering to those I love and who love me. Whatever you are looking for in life must first be found within yourself. This is a bitter cup to drink from, my friends. But, more often than not, it’s burning liquid will be the balm your heart needs. As you gag it down remember medicine is needed to heal and healing brings life. Not surviving but actual living filled with belly laughs and joy and true love. It’s worth the acidic swallows to heal the carnage Legionites have endured.

As you begin to reconstruct your heart and mind there will still be fear but this comes from the unknown. Everything will look different but with spots of familiarity. Your friends will still look the same but now you’ll see them with a depth you didn’t understand before. This understanding unlocks exhilaration, joy, and beauty that will ignite your soul. That treacherous arm will begin to shrink and bend; those you love won’t seem so far away. You won’t feel so far away. And when those moments come when you find you’re by yourself and the sky has grown black and ominous and your flashlight’s batteries are dead and you’ve lost your umbrella you will still have those flickers of hope embedded into your heart; nothing and no one will be able to take them from you. Those embers will brighten your memories of those you love, the love you carry inside you, and that there are others who feel exactly the same way and understand where you are and where you want to go.

I have experienced this many times over the past year. I have spent much of the last 365 days alone because of consequences for hurting others and pushing them away, grappling with chronic depression and maddening manic episodes, traveling down the road of self-discovery which is always paved with loneliness, and bearing the burden of not having living family. That big brother sure would have come in handy. Those moments only glimmered when I first had them and would brush past my fingers like feathers floating through the air. But at least I knew they were there and I clung to that knowledge like a baby clutching their security blanket. Little by little those glimmers began glowing, and that fire is spreading. I have no doubt they’ll grow into a blazing inferno. And I’ve got my marshmallows ready.

I not only know I’m not alone but I understand I am never truly alone. Quite the contrary. I am one of many, legions. If I’m not alone then neither are you. I am with you and for those times I can’t be there someone will be, and, surprisingly, sometimes that person will be you. I promise. Take a step. Reach for my hand. Look up. I’ve got an extra pair of Ray-bans and some superglue.

Will You Hear Me If I Whisper?

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*This post was originally written on January 5, 2016*

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I’ve always been the ‘loud’ one of the group. Besides the fact my voice naturally carries (I’m pretty sure the telephone reps in India can hear me without a phone), I had major problems with my ears growing up resulting in my eardrums rupturing more times than I can count, having 14 sets of tubes placed in my ears – 4 of which were suppose to be permanent – and, finally, having surgery as an adult to correct a hole in my right eardrum. But after spending two EXTREMELY intensive weeks in a mental hospital, I discovered there were deeper psychological reasons for my fog horn level voice. First, my inner child, let’s call her ‘Little Rebecca’, has been crying out desperately to be heard ever since her time was cut short at the tender age of 7.5 when she began taking care of herself by getting herself up and off to school in the morning and getting herself home to doing the household grocery shopping at age ten to being responsible for all of the cooking, cleaning and laundry by the mere age of 13. Second, the survivor/fighter within me who took over when Little Rebecca was crushed has used my voice like a puffer fish uses its body. Being loud, even to the point of being obnoxious, can and has been a very effective defense mechanism. Only now I’m learning (unhealthy) ‘defense mechanisms’ don’t actually protect you from the pains of life, and instead inflict personal pain, even holding it in.

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I’m not 100% sure how I knew, but from the moment up arrived at Lakeview Hospital Behavioral Health Unit I knew they would be able to help me. And, in fact, they not only gave me my life back but set in motion the ability to live and thrive as I do so. I had daily visits with a psychiatrist and I asked her in our first visit how I could maximize my time there since I knew it would be short, and I wanted to be certain when the time came for me to leave two weeks later and walk into the magical, snow-filled night I had done my part. And believe me, there were plenty of days where I didn’t ‘feel’ like doing anything, even breathing, especially on Christmas day when I had never felt more alone. My primary goal I made in goal group that wretched Christmas morning was to just get through the day. My second goal, however, was one I made everyday for my last 6 days there. I would continue practicing being gentle and kind to myself and others by speaking softly, listening with real intent instead of waiting to respond, and beginning and ending each day with positive affirmations I had written down. I began to notice a theme the more I read them; the ones which touched and spoke to me focused on my being safe, lovable and not having to earn love, and forgiving others and myself. I am still surprised by how dramatically and instantly the energy in the room changes when the voices are soft and kind. It is definitely much more of a challenge maintaining a softer, kinder voice in this noisy, chaotic world, but I have never backed down from a challenge and I’m sure as hell not about to start now.

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I was blessed with incredible insight during my stay in the loony bin while trying to figure out my own personal ‘crazy’. A key insight was about Little Rebecca (by the way, talking about yourself in the third person is so weird) and she and I had some very long overdue conversations. They went a little something like this:

Little Rebecca,
     I am so sorry you’re childhood was cut far, far too short. I am sorry you had to start taking care of yourself alone when we moved away from Grandma, especially knowing how much we still love and miss her to this day. I am sorry for the almost non-stop abuse you had to endure from that time on; first, when we moved in with Mom’s friend and her teenage son and daughter tried to smother you with pillows, push you down the basement stairs, and even keeping food from you. All of which you suffered in silence because they convinced you they would kill you if you ever said anything. I am so sorry for the beatings that started when you were only ten years old because Mom was trying to ‘discipline’ you but they continued until we were 30. Again, suffering all the while in silence because you didn’t want people to see Mom like that because of how much you loved her. I am so sorry for the intense sexual abuse you endured from 14 to 16 years old, mostly by Mom’s co-workers. This you did not suffer through silently, but still nothing was ever done about it because the perpetrators were higher ranking military officers and Mom and her friend/co-worker thought no one would believe you and coming forward would jeopardize her job. And I am so, so sorry the prime of your teenage and high school years were stripped from you while being publicly humiliated and crying in a voice never heard.
     But, oh my sweet, tender-hearted, kind, giving, loving, gentle Little Rebecca, I did hear you and, more importantly, I hear you now. I would give and do anything, everything to give you that time back, to make right all of those heinous wrongs, and replace the nightmarish memories with nothing but giggles, friends, joy, and love. And, I am sorry how those horrific memories now flood our sleeping moments like never ending tidal wave after tidal wave crashing over us. I will tell you, Little One, what I can and will do – I will hold you close and wipe away your tears so you know from now on you will be forever safe and I am crying with you, sharing your sorrow and pain. I promise I will no longer run and hide from or pretend and deny those memory-filled nightmares but instead will face them head on – yes, they scare and frightening me, too, but we were strong enough to survive those moments and now we’re strong enough to clean them out to live. How I wish with all of my heart I could take back all the bad inflicted upon you and especially the pain and destruction we subsequently inflicted upon others, but I can’t. I do PROMISE you, from this day forward, to make each and every day we have left count, to have meaning and, most importantly, to accept, give, and share love – first, to ourselves and, then, to everyone else around us.
     Sweet Rebecca, you ARE lovable. You do not have to ever earn love. You are now and always have been “good enough”; your individual worth is great, regardless of your weight, hair color, the amount in your bank account, or anything else. It just is, if for no other reason than your infinite desire and capability to love and be loved. I am sorry to say there will still be days when those wounds and battle scars still feel fresh, especially when we see others in the same pain or when we see and feel the pain we’ve caused in others. But ALWAYS remember, love covers a multitude of sin.
     I love you, Little Child, I love ME; I always have. I just didn’t know it. I promise I am going to spend the rest of our life building a life worth LIVING, filled with our OWN family, both of blood and by choice, laughter, happy and joyful memories, friends, peace, stability, hope, faith, love, and charity. The greatest of these being charity, the pure love of Christ. In Sheri Dew’s book ‘If Life Were Easy It Wouldn’t Be Hard’ she takes charity a step further by talking about BEING charity – not being charitable or charity-minded, but being charity as a state of self. This is an endeavor we shall seek after all of our days and be gladly for it. I may not be able to blot out all of the atrocities done to you or heal the deep scars they left, but the healing balm of the Atonement provided by the infinite sacrifice Christ so lovingly provided for ALL of us we can and WILL be made whole. There’s a great deal I need to and will repent of, and since repentance means change I see no better time than now. So while I am working hard with my eternal Brother to make whole the hurts I’ve inflicted, I will be doing EVERYTHING within in by power to right EVERY wrong and sooth every gash I tore in my relationships. Time to put our walking shoes on, Little One, we have quite the journey ahead of us. As President Henry B. Eyring has counseled, every road the Lord puts us on leading to safety is uphill, and we’re committed with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland for ‘However Long and Hard the Road’. Because from now on the pain we will experience in this life will no longer be in vain (was it ever, really?), our life is no longer our own, and will finally be LIVING our life, and, sweetie, it’s a gloriously beautiful one. Just. Like. Us.

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Whew. That was long. And intense, incredibly intense – thanks for sticking with me through it. I’ve never thought of all the ‘Little Me vs Big Me’ all the way through like that before writing this. Many of my repressed memories come alive in my nightmares as a side effect from one of the medications I was placed on in the hospital, and they keep breathing during the day through flashbacks. I wish I could eloquently and effectively encompass my time on the fourth floor in a hospital in Bountiful, Utah but I am at a loss. While it only adds up to two weeks out of my whole life I am forever, irrevocably changed by what I learned, what I experienced, what I felt (much for the first time), and all because of those wonderful, extraordinary workers who help create beautiful, loving souls from broken, wreckage of hearts and minds, never asking for anything in return but for you to do your part. To just try, and while you’re stumbling around and drowning, feeling like Helen Keller living in a place so murky, so ominous it seems as if your blaze is forever extinguished and your symphony is silenced they provide new kindling and a rousing chorus until you rediscover your spark and write a new verse. I realize I may be glorifying these mere ‘hospital workers’ and I’m ok with that – because they saved me, in ways I never thought possible.

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My shrinks (yeah I had two) talked to me quite a bit about forgiveness, mostly forgiveness of self since that’s where it must begin, and one of them kept telling me, “Forgive yourself for being human!” I struggle with that so much because I immediately have thoughts like ‘I should’ve known better’ or ‘If I was good or good enough I would’ve made better choices’. Now I know thoughts like that are wrong, and I’ll go so far as to say they’re lies Satan is constantly yelling at me, you, at everyone trying to drown out the whisperings of truth because he knows the potency of truth is like a long, slow burn. It begins quietly off in an empty corner of a crowded space while hotter, quicker fires scream their flames all around them. Then, as their cries only seem to fade and grow hoarse, the glowing crevices begin to surround them growing brighter, feverishly and stealthily devouring the white heat violently screeching and howling in protest. So, my dear friends, if you, too, find yourself thinking thoughts such as these or, worse, believing them as I still struggle with some days let us take a lesson from Jack and Jill and fetch a pail of water or grab a fire extinguisher and drench those flames. And in those moments when you feel like you don’t have anything left to give, close your beautiful eyes, bring your erected index finger to your perfectly puckered lips, take in a slow deep breath through your nose, and with all your might go, “SHHHH!!” And then smile. By doing these things you will fuel your personal embers of certainty while suffocating the wildfires around you. Perhaps that’s the “bottom line” lesson I have learned through all of this: we will never alleviate and console the deafening grief and sorrow consuming us by snarling and wailing in return, even if it’s ‘justified’. The only restorative, sustaining cure is to tenderly, meekly whisper expressions of kindness and love. If I whispered them now would you hear me? Would you see me? Would you care? Or would you look away to the arms of tomorrow? Would you look at me and see to the other side of the mirror? Would you dare to see yourself and radiate millions of fractures of light and love? I hope so. I hope one day, on some level, we ALL will. Each and every day.

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As I write this I am heading to court where I hope to go to jail. Yeah, I know that sounds crazy, but I need and want to be accountable for my actions, regardless of the circumstances surrounding them. I will not be able to move forward in my life in any way until I get this taken care of – FIRST. And while my legal issues must be dealt with, they are not my priority. My top priorities are righting the wrongs I did to those who I love and love me, begin repairing the trust and relationships I have completely torched, and doing everything I can do now in my repentance process. This past Sunday (it was January 3) was my first time attending church since this all came to a head in November. I have never been shown so much love and have so many people tell me how happy they were to see me there while at the same time feeling like Alma the Younger in being ‘the vilest of sinners’. That was because of the paradox of repentance in never feeling closer to Christ and His love/support while acutely feeling the agony from sin. I’ve said before sin is just pain manifested into actions but sometimes, and certainly in my case, sin is also a direct result of poor choices, full of pride weighing you down into valleys of remorse. I am so incredibly grateful, especially in times like this, I not only have the Gospel of Jesus Christ in my life, but I also believe – I KNOW – my Savior is real, He is the living Son of God, and because He FIRST loved me enough to suffer beyond anything I could ever endure so He would be able to truly succor me as no one else ever could, my suffering in mortality is but a small, temporary moment. I will be saved and strengthened with and through His infinite, atoning Grace after I’ve done all I can do. And guess what, my dear friends – this glorious gift is available, RIGHT NOW, to you and all mankind. Now that’s something worth listening to. All my love.

I Hate Mike Huckabee: It’s Personal

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'Bout Sums it Up

Do you remember your Sweet 16 birthday? The party. The friends. The laughter. Were you one of the lucky ones who got a car? I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget my sixteenth year, let alone my actual birthday. Not with all of the newspaper articles, Arkansas Supreme Court transcripts, and the memories. I thought I had pushed that horrible time of my life out of my mind, even grown past it. But with Mr. Huckabee’s second presidential candidacy I have realized, in full force, I have not. Somehow, I am still that scared, invisible, ashamed, lonely child who already felt like an adult at 15. And Mike Huckabee owns the majority of that watermelon.

http://thecabin.net/stories/061298/loc_dhs.html#.VUrZWyFViko – Ruling Where DHS Worker Has to Go to Jail, Mike Huckabee Has No Comment but Then Picks Her Up On Release

In 1996 I was living in Greenbrier, Arkansas with my mom; I’m an only child and I have never met my dad. Right when we moved to town, four years earlier, my mom was diagnosed with type II diabetes and it progressed quickly. It wasn’t as manageable back then as it is now (and I had no idea what gluten was). She aged so quickly, slowed down, and ended up spending the majority of her time (when she wasn’t working and commuting 60 + hours/wk) in her room. Eventually, she couldn’t keep up and was terminated from her job, her physical problems compounded by mental illness.

http://thecabin.net/stories/080598/ope_window.html#.VUrYzSFViko – DHS Still in Trouble, Now for E-mails, Mike Huckabee Has History With Them

My sweet grandmother living in Texas had been our only source of family support, but she passed away on May 30, 1996. This was a tragic blow and things went from tough to catastrophic rapidly. It’s amazing how quickly life becomes a living nightmare from which it takes so long to wake.

As I reached my Sweet 16 birthday just a few months later, July 17, 1996, it brought gifts of misery. Our water was shut off exactly the week before, the week after our electricity. Happy Birthday to me. Somehow, my mom was still able to give me a cheery card. Looking back, living without electricity is extremely inconvenient but you can make it work; living without running water, however, is disgusting and unsanitary, especially in 90+ degree weather with 70% humidity. Probably the reason I don’t like to go camping….

http://thecabin.net/stories/072198/ope_window.html#.VUrYJyFViko – DHS Accused of Bullying for Not Complying

A friend suggested looking into government assistance (before this I’d never heard of food stamps) and my mom had already applied for disability. Before turning 16 I had gotten a job at a local restaurant washing dishes and was paid under the table. It wasn’t much but it did get us a little food and supplies. We bought an ice chest to keep some cold food in, and found some oil-burning lanterns at Wal-Mart pretty cheap. Luckily, the days were longer because it was summer so the oil and wicks lasted awhile. We would set out empty milk jugs and buckets to collect water to flush toilets; the pastor to the First Baptist Church we attended brought us some candles. We were finally approved for food stamps (they were actually paper then!) and a monthly stipend of $162 in August. But we were so behind on the mortgage and utilities at that point, it was just a tiny drop in the bucket.

Have you ever been in the South in the middle of summer? The humidity is so thick it wraps around your sticky skin the moment you step into the air, surrounded by mosquitoes the size of Texas. We’d keep all the windows and doors open but the house was still a sauna. It was during this time I learned how the breeze is gentler at night. I typically slept on a sheet on the floor because it was cooler than my bed. I had a few friends in the neighborhood who were kind enough to invite me over for dinner or to use the bathroom or, on special days, do some laundry. But summer dragged on and when it was time for school to start I was so happy and relieved. Until after the first week when struggling to be on time, lacking a properly working alarm and getting in trouble. The real problem was EVERYONE knew I was living in a house that stayed dark and the toilets didn’t flush regularly.

My vice principal called me into his office after the first week and told me if I missed any more school he would report me for truancy. I told him why I was missing so much and he said, “I know, but that’s still no excuse.” I ended up missing a day the next week and before the end of the next week  a letter from the Faulkner County Court with an order to appear sat in the mailbox. I was so terrified because what if they put me in jail or took me away from my mom? We may not have had much but we had each other. You take that away and we had nothing.

I’d never been in the courthouse before that day. Cold fear washed over me sitting there, waiting for my name to be called. Or maybe it was just sitting in air conditioning. My name was finally called and my mom and I went up to the defense table. After a few questions from the judge and prosecutor it was clear my case was very different. I don’t really remember much about what was said or everything that happened. I just remember sitting behind the defense attorney and my mom standing against the defense table while everyone was speaking about me. But it sounded hopeful. The prosecutor actually wanted to HELP me and the judge ordered DHS (Department of Human Services) to pay the utilities. I was shocked. And relieved. Most of all, I was so grateful.

Only it didn’t happen. Because DHS didn’t WANT (not couldn’t) to pay for anything. They thought it was too much. And it got really ugly, really fast. My mom and I went back and forth to court for MONTHS with no change in our dismal living situation. We had sold our car to pay the mortgage, so trips to the courthouse were an ordeal!

The days started getting shorter and it was (finally!) cooler with pleasant breezes wafting through the windows. Reading back over court documents, seeing what was actually being said in court, learning the reasons WHY DHS didn’t want to pay, I realize so much. My memory of this time is VERY clear when I’m at home with my mom, with my friends, walking/playing around my neighborhood, but my memories inside those icy courtrooms are vague and scary. I do remember the prosecutor and judge, Karen Baker, vehemently and persistently, fighting for me. There’s so much not in those documents of what I really went through, and all of those people involved may never know. So many facts are wrong. I wish I had known then. I wish I could go back and fight for myself.  Speak up. Help myself. But it’s done. We can’t go back.

DHS finally paid the utilities on November 25, 1996, the week of Thanksgiving. The court documents say we lived 53 days without electricity and water. It was 138. I counted each day. I remember them because I lived them, their memories still clutched around my heart. The shame with my story, my home flashed on every news channel, across every front page and still no help came; humiliation from whispers shouted as I walked down the school corridors. I guess when DHS’s area manager, Sandi Doherty, said on Sept 26, “…that there was no reason to pay this bill. So I’m not sure it is a matter of amount to her” in an email everyone else agreed with her. Everyone including Mike Huckabee.

What very few among the many voices in this convoluted conversation realize is my mom, and especially me, couldn’t have cared less about anyone GIVING us anything, even money. We needed support. We needed to know we had value, were of worth, regardless of our living circumstances. Keep in mind, we had already been living in a dry, dark home for months before countless strangers started breaking down our door because it was they’re job to ‘help’. And no help came. The $660 DHS paid two months later may have started the washing machine again and ran the dishwasher, but it cost my sick, single mother who started working at 14 her dignity, her self-worth, and shoved her so far into her major-depressive swamp she only saw glimpses of sunshine again. Until one day, on December 3, 2012, her swamp swallowed her completely.

http://thecabin.net/stories/071998/loc_dhs.html#.VUrXBSFViko – Cover Story Regarding DHS Thinking They’re King of Arkansas

It cost a bright, beautiful, highly intelligent, fun-loving, and tenacious girl the rest of her childhood, her confidence and self-esteem, and set her up to always doubt her true self-worth. Because if she were good enough, worthy enough, all of these people talking, especially those who were in positions of power and influence, standing on platforms built on Christian agendas and values, they would have helped her. Right? My mom and I were Christian, we went to church, before and after all the tragedy. In fact, when two LDS missionaries knocked on our door in the middle of the chaos on a cold, wet Halloween afternoon, I let them in to hear their message of Christ. My mom read their Book of Mormon in less than a month, even if she didn’t believe the missionaries when they promised to be back because no one came back. But they did come back, every week, even bringing other missionaries. We still prayed. We still read our scriptures. We still believed people in power, with resources, professing desires to help others would come. And they never came.

http://thecabin.net/stories/072898/ope_window.html#.VUrXoyFViko – Front Story Opinion DHS Didn’t Learn Because of Mike Huckabee

When a reporter called me on my 18th birthday to get my reaction to Sandi Doherty going to the Faulkner County Jail to serve two days instead of the 53 days (one day for each day she wouldn’t pay) she was originally sentenced for contempt I was confused. I didn’t know what to say. It was two years later, and I had pushed all of the court stuff far, far away. I had no idea who this woman was, why she was important in my life, or that she was going to jail. I felt horrible I sent someone to jail, but felt somewhat vindicated. I was valued and had worth. People of influence were helping others, standing tall on those platforms. What a great birthday. Until two days later, when my best friend came over after his shift at Cracker Barrel to tell me how he had waited on the governor, Mike Huckabee; my friend was so excited because of all the press there for some story they were covering about the DHS worker Mr. Huckabee picked up from jail. He had no idea what was going on. He didn’t know about what I went through because I never talked about it — and still don’t, until now.

http://thecabin.net/stories/071998/loc_juvenile.html#.VUl8JCFViko – Article on My 18th Birthday

This week, when I heard Mike Huckabee was seeking the presidential nomination for 2016 an invisible dam burst inside me with such force I didn’t understand it. A consuming burn began to flow throughout my chest as I went through my timeline reading “ Huckabee-for-President- this” and “Huckabee-for-President- that.” People were trusting him, believing he was an honest, God-fearing, philanthropic man – but I have learned first-hand his true priority is his personal bottom line, his own agenda – not serving others. I’ve learned what a REAL Christian is over the years. Christ’s final commandments were to love others as ourselves and love Him. As a previous Baptist pastor he should know that. So please tell me, Mr. Huckabee, how you showed my mom and I love believing it’s acceptable for ANYONE to live for MONTHS without basic living needs. You speak of how anyone can work hard, go to school, and earn they’re way out of poverty. How did you help me, as my Governor, believing I didn’t need lights or running water to go to school or do my homework to follow your ideology. How did you help, uplift, and guide a struggling mom who needed SUPPORT, not money, with your experience as a pastor?

1996 killed my childhood, my confidence, and belief I was worthy of anything good or of value; not because I spent four months pouring water into a toilet tank to flush it or lighting candles on cool fall evenings. It is because a group of government officials put policy over people, especially a child, used vulnerable, helpless human beings to fuel their own agendas, and used God to cover a multitude of their own sins instead of genuinely trying to serve others. Almost 20 years later, those wounds are fresh and deep, so watching you, Mr. Huckabee, still wearing your sheep costume ignites a fire within me I can not contain. I didn’t have a voice in Arkansas, but I have one now and I know what truth looks like. I know loving someone may not pay their bills but it will heal the pain preventing them from functioning and succeeding. I would’ve hoped Pastor Huckabee would already know the ‘sin’ you so much like to rant over is just pain. Eradicate the pain, you’ll eradicate sin. Love, kindness, and compassion instead of judging, condemnation, and shaming will cultivate and grow a more productive and peaceful nation. Now that I have found my voice, regardless of the immense fear and vulnerability that tries to take over when I think of sharing such personal experiences and feelings, I will stand up and have my say. I will help others see your fangs through your wool so you can’t hurt them.

Seek Truth

I want to hate you, Mike Huckabee, for all the hurt and pain you’ve caused, but I really AM a Christian, trying to walk in His ways, and I know hating you will only hurt me and spread more pain. Instead, I will choose to love you. I will forgive you. Not because you’re worth it but because I am, and I really do want a more loving, productive nation.

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ar-supreme-court/1131023.html – Arkansas Supreme Court Case, Entire

Mike-Huckabee

When ‘God’s plan’ hurts the most

Love. She ‘gets’ it. I hope this helps you as it did me.

all our lemmony things

Yesterday was a hard day. And so is today.

I didn’t want to write about it. I didn’t want to talk about it. I sat in the bath for over an hour watching the bubbles die and staring at a drippy faucet.

My eyes were puffy–like they are now–because just twenty minutes before that I had bawled into my pillow.

I was supposed to be pregnant this time.

It had been a week, and yesterday was the day I would take a test. It would OBVIOUSLY be a positive. I had all the signs and I was already prepping how I would tell my family.

I was supposed to be pregnant.

But, as if it were some kind of sick joke, the same thing happened. Within minutes, my answer came. No baby this month either.

You’d think that I’d get used to the (-) symbol. That I’d get used to piecing…

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Success is Often Scarier than Failure Because it Requires Change

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With a new year right around the corner, I find myself reflecting on the year almost passed (it’s certainly been eventful!), plotting strategy plans for the MANY opportunities I have in front of me and goal making, hoping and praying with all I am they’ll work, and finding myself terrified they will. Wait. What? I’m afraid everything I’m planning and all the hard work I’m going to put into my hopes and dreams will WORK OUT?! That doesn’t make any sense. Oh, but it does. It really does.

Believe Person Become

I wouldn’t say 2014 was a BAD year, but it definitely had its more than fare share of challenges, trials, and adversity. I don’t feel that I’m special in this as I’ve heard the same thing from most of my friends and the people I know. I’ve found in my life that when I go through the hardest times I learn and grow the most. So, for me, 2014 was a LEARNING year. Which means 2015 will be a DOING year. And I can’t wait! I’m ready to take everything I’ve learned this year and start putting it into practice. This scares the fire out of me for two reasons: the first is that DOING is always harder than LEARNING. The second I’ve already alluded to when you first started reading. I’m terrified I will succeed.

Goodbye 2014

I realized this while battling a deep depression which came over me this holiday season. I’ve always LOVED the holiday season, with all the extra love and compassion in the air, celebrating the birth of Christ, all the goodies, the warmth and joy. And I’ve always made the most of it, regardless of the situation I was in. I’ve spent Christmas in a homeless shelter. I’ve spent Christmas completely alone. One year, my mom and I were completely broke and couldn’t afford a tree (which has ALWAYS been a very big deal in my family) but we had all the decorations. So one night while she was out, I took some garland, wrapped it in lights and wrapped it along our entertainment center, hung our favorite, most sentimental ornaments and waited for her to come home. I made her close her eyes as she walked in the door, walked her right in front on my creation, told her to open her eyes and exclaimed, “Look what I made! Now we have a Tree-V!” She laughed and loved it. It was still a great Christmas. And I’ve always been like that. Until this year. This year, I couldn’t wait for it to be over and if I could have slept for 3 straight weeks, trust me. I would have.

God's Plan

The memories of Christmases past were just too strong, my financial struggles were just too great, my health battles just too steep, the silence of not having any family just too loud. Now I’ve faced great adversity before, many times, so you’d think I’d be an old pro at how to get through times such as these. And I do. As a Christian woman, a woman of faith, I believe it’s during these times you cling to those eternal truths and dig your heels deep into them. You read your scriptures, FEAST upon them even. You pray to Heavenly Father for support, comfort, guidance, peace, and understanding – CONSTANTLY. You seek out the wise and learned who will be able to guide and succor you while you walk the road of tribulation. And this is why I’ve always been able to get through the hard times, because I always do these things. ALWAYS. But not this time. I KNEW what I NEEDED to do, and part of me WANTED to do them, but I just couldn’t make myself actually DO them. Until one day, while mindlessly playing solitaire on my phone, watching Will & Grace, trying to block everything (and everyone) out it dawned on me what had changed me. I was scared out of my mind I would succeed, that I would be happy, have joy (REAL and LASTING joy), and my hopes and dreams really would come true. HUH? Come again? Who, in their right mind, is afraid of succeeding?! Come to find out, most of are, and is why we continue doing the same things we’ve been doing, stay content in our misery, and accept whatever scraps we’re able come up with. Because success means doing something even harder than enduring, even harder than feeling the pain life so abundantly gives us. Succeeding means we have to CHANGE. And change means doing things differently, becoming someone different, and is completely unknown. We have no idea what that success will look like, what it will be like, and means we have a whole lot more to lose once we’re there. And let’s be honest, CHANGE, any kind of change, is HARD. Really hard. But completely and totally worth it.

Intentions to Actions

Once I understood this I also realized I had been completely self-sabotaging myself by not doing the things I KNEW would HELP me. And not just the spiritual things, but also the practical things that would help my day-to-day problems. Now, once I understood all of this doesn’t mean I jumped up, grabbed my scriptures and started reading, got on my knees and started praying, or finally cleaned my bathroom. But I was able to start conquering that fear, rationalizing it, and putting it in its place. I’ve heard over and over that you can’t have fear with faith. Well, I don’t really agree with that. I think there’s kind of a flip side to that coin. Or, rather, deserves a much needed explanation. And don’t get me started on ‘You have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Blah, blah, blah. (does that really HELP anybody?!)

Fear is paralyzing. Fear makes you shut down. Fear is STRONG. On the flip side, faith means ACTION. Faith is WORK. Faith is STRONGER than fear. There’s a catch though. Fear’s effects are INSTANT. Faith’s effects take TIME. Which means if you want to feel your faith OVER your fear you’re gonna have to FAKE it until you MAKE it. It means while you’re WORKING your faith you’re still going to FEEL your fear. But keep GOING! That fear will start to diminish and you’ll begin to see GOOD in your life. A beautiful, ornate wedding cake doesn’t look like much while it’s baking, and even after that you’ve still got a lot of work ahead of you with frosting and assembly before it’s complete. (great, now I want cake! I will always be the fat kid nom nom nom)

Goal Doing Different Things

2015 holds MANY opportunities for me, has GREAT potential, and many wonderful things CAN happen – IF I’m willing to put in the WORK to make them happen, fire the HOPE to keep the dreams alive, and have the COURAGE to, are you ready for this – FAIL. Ok, hold on a second. Here I am, going on and on about conquering fear so I can succeed and I’m already anticipating failure?? Yeah, way to have HOPE. Clearly, I’ve completely lost my mind and have no idea what I’m talking about. But, wait! I do know what I’m talking about (although I may have lost my mind years ago). Stay with me. By doing so you’ll prove my next point – that in order to SUCCEED (in ANYTHING) we must first learn to ACCEPT and become FAMILIAR with FAILURE. You can’t have hot without cold. You can’t have sour without sweet. You can’t have joy without pain. You can’t have success without failure.

Long Term Success

Most of us, include me at the top of this list, think we’re afraid to fail. We think we can’t do/be/get whatever or whoever it is we want. And the second we try and it doesn’t work, we think we’re right. WRONG! One of my favorite stories is of Thomas Edison when he invented the light bulb. Did you know he tried five-THOUSAND times before he actually made one that worked?! If that had been me, I probably would’ve given up at try 157 and started rubbing two sticks together. When asked what it was like to FAIL 5,000 times to try to create the light bulb he said, “I didn’t FAIL 5,000 times. I found 5,000 ways NOT to create a light bulb.” What?!!? Now THAT’S one hell of a perspective! For realz. This is where one of those tired platitudes really does mean something – if at first you don’t succeed, try AGAIN. And again, and again, and AGAIN. Most of the ridiculously successful people in this life failed, and failed A LOT, before finally reaching their accomplishments (and even failed AGAIN afterwards!). Steve Jobs was FIRED from the company HE started. Einstein was 26 when wrote his paper on the theory of relativity but didn’t receive the Noble Prize until he was 42. And look at Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant, greatest minds in history and look at the failure and challenges he has to face – EVERY. DAY. So if you’re looking to achieve greatness easily, to succeed while walking the path of least resistant you’re looking the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Success

So 2014, while incredibly hard and filled with adversity, was a year of learning. And I have to say what I’ve learned about success, and what it’s taught me about WHO I am is the greatest lesson I learned. We also learn from our mistakes, and I made a plethora in 2014! Many of them I’ve made before, but I hope I won’t make again. I once had a dear friend and very wise woman tell me it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes, and, boy, was she right. Because I’ve also learned that when we make mistakes we hurt those around us, especially the ones closest to us who love and care about us. And I’m sure I’ve left quite a wake. I wish I could go back and correct the mistakes I’ve made, heal the hurts I’ve inflicted, mend the hearts I’ve cracked. But that can’t always be done. All you can do is be genuinely remorseful for your actions, apologize, and resolve to not do them again. I’ve found LOVING more also helps, even if it’s to a complete stranger. After all, love covers a multitude of sins (and mistakes). I think guilt can actually be a useful emotion, if used as a reminder of what NOT to do and what you SHOULD do. I don’t, however, think regret is useful. So feel guilty. Feel remorseful. Feel love. But DON’T feel regret. Live, learn, love, and then move on.

Better Things

2015 will be my year of DOING. I’m going to school and getting an education, which I love. I don’t feel we can ever be TOO educated. I live in a place surround by such wonderful people and great friends I certainly don’t deserve. So many amazing opportunities to LOVE, learn to BE loved (which is what I struggle with most), and learning to love BETTER. I also finally have the chance to focus on not just being HEALTHY but also being STRONG. I have a dear friend who’s been trying to get me to be a Beachbody coach for over a year and, quite frankly, I thought she had lost her freakin’ mind! Seriously. Does she not know who she was talking to? I’m the 350 pound teenager who’s first pair of jeans was a size 24 (at age TEN). I’m the girl who just spent a life dealing with serious back issues, that had to have her spine FUSED this past summer, and now has SIX screws and two TITANIUM RODS permanently in her vertebrae. I’m the girl who’s about to have ANOTHER surgery on her knee. And you not only think I can actually DO this stuff but also coach OTHERS to do it. See, she’s lost her mind! Right?

Who's She Was

Not really. I started setting personal goals for myself once I started HEALING from having my spine fused. Living in Provo, Utah I’ve always wanted to hike the Y. Which is a pretty intense hike; it’s a little under a mile in a little over a THOUSAND feet at over a 5,000 foot elevation. I was too fat and out of shape when I first moved to Utah to do it, and my back injury wouldn’t even let me consider it when I came back from London. After my surgery I eagerly sought my surgeon’s advice about when I’d be able to get my Y hike on. I barely got out ‘It’s been a dream of mine to hike the Y before it snows this year’ when he cut me off and verbatim said, ‘Yeah, let that dream go. You won’t be able to hike the Y until next year.’ Well, I don’t like being told I CAN’T do something. I’ve always liked a challenge. (this is both a good and bad thing) So I began looking for workouts I COULD do and would strengthen my core (which will help your back). I found a couple of workouts that really worked for me and, while I couldn’t do everything they did, I was able to do MOST of what they did. It also taught me something invaluable when it comes to physical fitness -MODIFICATION. Just because YOU can’t do what THEY’RE doing doesn’t mean what you ARE doing doesn’t MATTER. And come BYU’s homecoming game, when the Y was all lit up at night, I found myself sitting AT the Y, drinking hot chocolate. I’ve been back FOUR more times. YOU can do ANYTHING you want, so long as you find what works for YOU.

Can You, Will You

I’m looking forward to the coming year, with all the promise and opportunity it holds. I’m looking forward to mending friendships and the wrongs I’ve made. I’m looking forward to the new friendships I’m going to make and the new people I get to learn from. I’m looking forward to helping others lead a healthier, happier lifestyle while also helping myself.  I’m looking forward to new experiences I never dreamed of having. I’m looking forward to SOARING past the goals I’ve made for this year, not just meeting them. I’m looking forward to doing that by FAILING. I’m looking forward to living a life full of FAITH by feeling FEAR. I’m looking forward. And I hope you are, too.

Sometimes, the Iron Rod Isn’t Something We Hold on to, but is Something Within Us

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So tomorrow is the big day – I’m getting my spine fused from the L-4/L-5 disc to the L-5/S-1. I will have approximately 4 screws and two 4-inch titanium rods placed into my vertebrae, and then have bone grafts placed on top of them to ‘fuse’ together. This both terrifies and relieves me at the same time. I’m terrified because I will forever, that’s F O R E V E R, have metal in my body and that part of my back will never move again. The initial pain will be excruciating (and, honey, I know how to handle pain) and I don’t know how long that’s going to last. I’m going to have to re-learn how to sit, get up from laying down, walk – the whole bit. Most of all, I will be completely and totally unable to support myself for a minimum of six (that’s half of a YEAR) months. There’s even talk of worry about my not being able to even be alone. HELLO! I am an only child from a single parent household; I’ve been taking care of AT LEAST myself since the age 15. Heck, I started doing the household grocery shopping at the age of 10! So for medical professionals to tell me I may not even be able to cook myself a meal at the age of 33 sends me into complete and sheer panic. Total, incapacitating panic. And I hate it. Every. Single. Second.

But, then there’s the relief that I will no longer live a life of chronic pain. A life where I drop something on the floor and no longer look at it so forlornly you’d thought I was looking at photos of a long-lost love. A life where I am free to run and hike and jump and climb and not have to worry about pain, injury, or even ability. A life where (and this is the most important of them all) where I am able to bear and have children. Because right now, not even considering the medications I’m on, there is no way my back, in the condition that it’s in, would be able to bear a growing child sitting on top of it. I’ve had doctor after doctor tell me this and that makes me grieve more than if you’d have told me I had cancer. I love, I mean LOVE, children and live for the day when they’re a part of my world, my every day existence (of course I plan on getting married first and felt I should clarify that point). I’d be willing to go through and do anything – ANYTHING – for them and they’re not even here yet. So, no matter what you tell me about how much this surgery is going to hurt, how long the recovery is going to take, or how hard I’m going to have to work to come back from it I’d do it 100 times over if it means one day I’ll hear the cries and laughter of my sons and daughters.

Motherhood

I’d like to insert here a little information for you, my viewing friend, so you know exactly what’s going on. Because when I say I’m getting my spine fused, what does that REALLY mean? What does that look like? What exactly does that entail? So I went searching for some photos and videos I could share with you after being inspired while attending a Spine Academy that went over every. single. detail. of my surgery. While I don’t think you guys will really care about the oh-so-fun cream I got to shove up my nose and leave there for the past five days so I (hopefully) won’t get a staph infection (I’m a carrier) or the deliciously scented anti-bacterial wipes (insert sarcasm here) I got to use, too, for the same reason, I do want to actually SHOW you what’s happening and what will happen. After all, one of my favorite college professors taught me to ‘show it don’t say it’ in my writing. (That’s for you, Robin, and your wonderful zombified Golden Girls!) Please be forewarned: while the photos and video I am about to post will be somewhat graphic, they will not be ‘real’ photos. So no real blood or spinal cord nerves popping out at cha. I will show a couple of x-rays so you know what MY back will actually look like afterwards and some basic anatomy of the area. Again, nothing major but for those who are even the least bit squeamish I wanted to give you a heads up. (See, I was pre-med for a really long time, and still wish I could be, so I LOVE this kind of stuff and am weird like that.)

Let’s start with the most complex, confusing (but most informative) photo first. Below is a diagram of the lower back with disc degeneration (a fancy, medical way of saying the disc has shriveled up like a week old grape), where exactly they’re doing the fusion, the tools they’ll use to do it, and what the fusion is. Take a few minutes, blow it up even, and take a look around. I’ve been studying my own lower back (that’s the lumbar region) for almost 10 years, so this stuff looks pretty familiar to me. Even my orthopedic surgeon commented during our first visit that I had above average knowledge of this area of the body and procedures. There’s a lot going on and it can get quite confusing (and is exactly why I’m taking the time out to show you all of this) so nosy around! And, please, feel free to ask me any question(s) you may have! I’ll be happy to answer them. (but please be patient as I’m going to be higher than the Mad Hatter for the next couple of days from all the painkillers!)

I do want to make clear that I have ZERO copyrights to this photo.

I do want to make clear that I have ZERO copyrights to this photo.

The next couple of photos will be pretty self-explanatory; the first is one that shows what it will look like once they’ve inserted the fusion cage, which is basically like a fake disc, along with the rods and screws. The next show basically the same thing but explains WHY they put the cage in there. (It’s to add height that was once lost. Yes, I will wake up from this surgery taller than when I went in. Oh, didn’t I share that with you already? I use to be 5’8 but am now 5’6 due to the disc digeneration. Yes, I’ve shrunk.)

Fusion Cage

 

 

For those who may be wondering, those yellow parts are nerves from your spinal cord. And I can tell you first-hand, they don't like to be touched - EVER

For those who may be wondering, those yellow parts are nerves from your spinal cord. And I can tell you first-hand, they don’t like to be touched – EVER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last photo I want to show you is an actual x-ray of someone’s back who has had the fusion cage, along with the screws and rods placed into their back. The only thing I don’t like about these photos or the video I’m also going to post, is that it doesn’t show the bone graft that is placed on top of the screws and rods that will be the actual ‘fusion’. THAT is what takes six moths to heal. But I’ll get to more on that later.

This is almost exactly what my back will look like when it's all said and done. The only difference is I will have two cages instead of just one.

This is almost exactly what my back will look like when it’s all said and done. The only difference is I will have two cages instead of just one.

Finally, here’s a handy dandy short video (it’s only 2 minutes) that shows you what they’re going to be doing and gives a general overview of the anatomy of the spine. I really liked it and found it helpful when I was going over the procedure and I hope you do too!

So there you have it folks! The ins and outs of what will be going on with me. I hope this has given you more insight into what I am having done and a bit more understanding. Again, please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions, give any advice you have to offer, or just a word of good cheer! Now let’s start talking about POST OP, shall we? Cause, really, that’s gonna be the real kicker.

I will be in the hospital 3 to 5 days (and right into the 4th of July holiday, convenient, eh?) trying to get my pain under control and learning how to sit, walk, lay, and even go to the bathroom with my new back. Once all of that is in order I’ll be fit to go home. Now the word ‘home’ is a relative term for me right now. I have been, and will continue to do so until September, bouncing from friend’s house to friend’s house. While words can not even begin to describe the amount of gratitude I have for the friends of mine who have opened their homes and/or donated to my fundraiser, not having my own place or even a set place to stay has caused me an incredible amount of anxiety. My life is extremely unstable right now and all that makes me want to do is run out and get job. But guess what? I can’t. I literally can NOT go and work. I did apply and was hired for a job that was to be a work from home job, but unfortunately you have to work at their office for 30 days before you could work from home. So that opportunity went out the window with a crushing blow.

From what my doctor and nurses say I will most likely not be able to hold down even a part time job until around the 5 to 6 month mark of surgery. (that puts us at around November/December) For the interim, I will be going back to Arkansas to stay with a few friends out there from July 11 until August 28. From that point, I will be moving into my own apartment back in my old ward in Provo. While I am filled with joy and excitement to be back ‘home’ in September, not knowing if I will be able to sustain a living on MY OWN fills me with great fear and anxiety. I am doing all that I can to help myself, even going so far as to obtain food stamps and being approved for a monthly financial assistance. It’s only a couple hundred dollars a month but it’s better than nothing, right?! In fact, if I’m going to be completely honest and candid with you, I should tell you just how much not being able to care for myself and being sick for so long as begun to take its toll on me. I went to my family doctor this week because I have begun to notice I’m crying (or at least want to) every day (seriously) and am so on edge that when my phone goes off to alert me of a text message or begins to ring I jump as if someone just set off the fire alarm. This is not normal for me. At all. I am EXTREMELY good at recognizing, processing, and dealing with my emotions. The fact that I’m not able to right now upsets me even more. And since after surgery with the increased pain and decreased mobility, my doctor thought it best I begin an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication regime. While I’m grateful to have something to help me cope, the fact that I need this just gets to me even more. It’s just one more way I’m dependent when being INDEPENDENT is so fiercely important to me. But I remember my last post where I spoke about H.O.P.E. I know that to be true. I just need it to end NOW.

Hope

I also need to ask for your help. Some very dear friends of mine began a Give Forward fundraiser for me at the beginning of this journey when I had my first surgery. I have had a few generous donors so far and I wish I had the words to say how much it means to me to have their support and help. Because of the donations I’ve received so far I’ve been able to pay my doctor’s co-pays, pay for prescriptions, my phone bill, buy food, and other necessities that are needed. I wish I could say thank you, it’s been more than enough, and move on. But, to be honest, I’m not even half way done. I still have AT LEAST 4 months where I physically will not be able to work but will still have bills coming in, doctors to see, medicines to buy, and many other daily needs. So, please, will you help me? If you’re not able to donate I understand. Or even if your donation is $10 that’s a doctor’s co-pay or a prescription. I promise EVERY little bit helps. Even if all you do is share my story on your Facebook page or on Twitter. Help get the word out. The type of person I am is I want to walk across this desert all by myself without any water. Thank you. I can do this on my own. But, the truth is, I can’t. I wish more than anything I could, but I’m just not capable right now. So, please, will you help me? In any way you can? I promise no good deed goes unrewarded, I will pay it forward, and give service every chance I get. It’s times like these not having any family whatsoever makes things that much more difficult.

Who's She Was

 

But I also know I have a Father in heaven who loves me, cares for me, and will never leave me to suffer or endure alone. I have friends who are family, I have been blessed with so many wonderful people in my life for which my gratitude could never be fully expressed. I know that by enduring this experience well I will grow closer to my Savior, will be better able to serve Him and those around me, and, most of all, be a better wife and mother some day. While I would rather do ANYTHING else or in ANY other way to go through what I am and about to go through, I know I will be all the better for it, there is a purpose, and if I let it, will be used to create and bring much good into my life and the lives of others.

Well, since I have to be up in 3 hours to get ready to go to the hospital I suppose I should head to bed. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. Thank you caring about and praying for me, for putting my name on the prayer roll at the temple, for sending me encouragement and love. It means more to me than I could ever say. YOU are what makes this world a beautiful place, makes the sun shine a little brighter, and the stars sparkle like diamonds in the sky. I’m thinking of doing a video diary but I’m not sure I want to be video’d while on heavy narcotics. Who knows – it could make for a hoot one day! Until we meet again, my dear friends. All my love to you. xoxo

https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/cnk4/rally-for-rebecca-s-recovery —– Here’s the link for you to go to donate or share or just get more information. Please, anyway that you will help will be so very appreciated! Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart!

So I decided to back to my natural color since I won't be able to sit in the chair long enough to get it done post op. Plus, it just costs too much to keep up right now. Luckily I have a friend who blessed me with her talents!

So I decided to go back to my natural color since I won’t be able to sit in the chair long enough to get it done post op. Plus, it just costs too much to keep up right now. Luckily I have a friend who blessed me with her talents!

What to Do When You Feel Yourself Drowning

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So today I am officially three weeks post-op and, if I’m going to be completely honest, it sucks. Not completely. But my body is still adamantly determined NOT to play on the same team as I am and that makes recovery slow (at least slower than MY expectations would be). You see, I’m a doer. A shaker. I like to get things done. At a fast past. I like to keep going, moving forward, setting and reaching goal after goal in record time. My body, however, seems set on doing its best to become a sack of rocks, jumping into the first large body of water it can find, and happily float to the bottom to rest permanently. I will never let this happen.

Still, on days like today, when I’m nauseated even laying down, I feel as if I’ve done 5,000 crunches in my sleep (which would be ok if I could wake up to actually SEE those results on my abs), and no amount of pain killers, hot pads, resting, or meditation make the pain tolerable it’s easy to give in (or up) and just start putting those rocks in the bag yourself. But, oh no. Don’t do it! Don’t give in! The road back from that is worse than 10,000 crunches with bran muffin treats.

Hope

I’m a firm believer in not only staying hopeful but also to NEVER lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel, even if you have carry flint around in your pockets. When you live with chronic pain, it can (and often does) become overwhelming, and some days are better than others. But remember there will ALWAYS (God willing) be another day, one that holds promise, laughter, light, and love. Never lose sight of that perspective. Don’t get lost. Don’t get discouraged. It’s easy to, and why I believe so many of us fall by the wayside. I’m just at the beginning of my healing journey, and if I allow a few (albeit extremely) aches and pains get the best of me then I’m doomed. And homie ain’t goin’ out like that.

But I’ll be honest – I’m scared. And worried. And stressed. The next surgery I’m scheduled to have (in just 2.5 weeks mind you) is the one with a recovery time of MONTHS, almost (and quite possibly) up to a year. Yikes! You want me to ‘take it easy’ and watch Netflix for how long?! Come again? While the thought of ‘taking it easy’ sounds nice, that gets really boring really fast and then I’m ready to go out and DO something. Anything. Let’s go to a movie, do some shopping (wait, I’m broke), go to the zoo, hiking – again, anything! But that’s not how healing and recovery work – and so much of it is mental. I think of the Dr. Seuss poem/story ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’. I love that book. Love. EVERY child and teenager and young adult, ok everyone, should read this at least ONCE in their life. It’s so good! But there’s a section which starts off . . .

Dr Seuss

 

“All Alone! Whether you like it or not, alone will be something, you’ll be quite a lot. And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance, you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.” Haven’t we all felt like this at some point or another, regardless of what we’ve had to face? KNOWING it will pass, YOU are stronger than what your current situation suggests, and keeping your eye single to the glory (remember that light? strike your flint now) will help on days when you find yourself playing against you. We are our own worst enemy. I’ve never really understood that. Shouldn’t we be our own best cheerleader? Rah, rah, sis, boom, bah and all that? But, no, we criticize ourselves to the point of going BACKWARDS and talking ourselves out of our own success. STOP THAT. I know I’m guilty of this. All the time. But I also do my best to shut up the negative committee in my head and give my cheerleader a protein bar (perk up, babe!).

I love how the poem goes on to say that not only will you succeed it says in big, bold letters, “KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!”. And thanks for calling me kid; now that I’m over 30 anything you say referring to my youth will get you brownie points. Telling me I’ll move mountains makes me think of faith and how all I need is that of a mustard seed. Have you actually ever SEEN a mustard seed? They’re tiny. Microscopic even. And that’s all it takes to move mountains. But sometimes, to move mountains, it means walking over them and that means making that hike – which ain’t easy. But the view from the top is grand! I PROMISE, the trek will be long and hard, but it will always, ALWAYS be worth it. And every journey begins with a single step. Tip toe if you must, but just take the step.

Let me crawl off my little soap box now. I feel as if this post is to mainly convince me, not you, that there are better days ahead. That through our adversity comes our greatest joys and blessings. Enduring to the end isn’t just about getting to the finish line but HOW we get there. Do we complain and whine or do we count our blessings and take the opportunities to laugh and find joy when they come? I’ve never been one who thought being ‘happy’ meant slapping a Stepford smile on my face and faking my way through life. But I do believe happiness to be a state of mind, a choice. One that can’t be easily taken away. And no one is taking it away today.

Happiness

 

So while today may be a day where I’m PHYSICALLY not feeling my best (one out of many and more to come) I will make the CHOICE to keep my SPIRITS high, my hope strong, and keep striking that dang flint until I start a blaze. After all, why wait until you get to the end of the tunnel to have a little light? Until next time, homies, peace out, A-town down. *wink*

New Dress

A new dress a dear friend bought for me. Hey, if you’re gonna feel like crap ya might as well look good, right?!

https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/cnk4/rally-for-rebecca-s-recovery – Please feel free to check out the fundraiser page if you feel so inclined. Or share it. I promise you all the gratitude I have in me will be yours! No, really. I’d give you a kidney but they’re riddled with stones. . .

 

 

Aside

So Here’s What’s REALLY Been Going on Across the Pond and Currently

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Howdy, old friends! Long time, no see, er, read. It’s been almost six months since my last post and I’m sure you’re all wondering what I’ve been up to and why I haven’t kept you properly updated. I wish I could say I’ve been busy playing on the streets of London, busy taking care of two small children as a live-in nanny and a 6-bedroom house, or even that I just blew off my blog. But, while I have been very busy with work and trying not to get myself killed (or anyone else) while driving the streets of London, they’re not the reasons I haven’t been updating y’all. The truth is – I’ve been sick. Really sick. In fact, I’m still sick. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back a bit, shall we?

Last summer, right before I moved to London, I passed five kidney stones in about a month and half, one of them (the first one) was the size of a sugar cube and had to be busted up for me to push it on through. Now, for those of you who’ve never had a kidney stone, they tend to make you throw up – a lot (besides being excruciatingly painful). I was on a popsicle diet (not as yummy as you may think) for a couple of months, and it seems my poor ol’ stomach just never recovered. After the summer passed it became harder and harder for me to keep food down. Around the first of the year (and about 30 pounds lighter) it started to get worse, to the point NOTHING stayed down. Sometimes not even water; then, I began to feel my body bottoming out (listen to your body!). So, the first thing I did, being an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was get a blessing. Consecrated oil – it works! It’s what carried me through until I could get back to the States to receive proper care. (There’s a really long explanation about why I couldn’t get it in the UK but we’ll save that for another time) The next thing I did was get in contact with my primary care doctor and start setting up specialist doctor appointments for when I arrived home in the middle of April. My first appointment was the day I arrived back home, an hour and a half after my plane landed. Talk about praying for no delays and speeding down the interstate!

So, after two doctor appointments with my primary care doctor and a gastrointestinal specialist, and three EGD’s (that’s where they send a camera down to look around your belly to see what’s going on) they found the connection site where my tummy and intestine meet the intestine has kinked and twisted – kinda like a garden hose. There’s some medical term for it, and if I had my smarty pants on I’d probably remember it, but I have my comfy yoga pants on so I don’t. THIS is why I am not able to keep anything down, my iron was at critical levels, my potassium at fatal levels, and I’ve lost a total of 70 pounds in the past five months – all the while eating anything and everything I wanted (I gotta be honest, I’m gonna miss that). The only way to fix this is with surgery, especially since there are some additional ulcers causing problems in the bottom of my stomach (I already have two ulcers on my intestine where the kink is, which the docs believe are partly to blame for this little dilemma). I’m scheduled for surgery May 14; the surgeon is going to cut and remove the bottom third part of my stomach, along with the kinked and twisted intestine, and then put everything back together. I will be in the hospital for 3-5 days, and the recovery time is around 4-6 weeks. But I only have five and half weeks, at most, to recover. Why? Good question, darlin’! Well, you see, my tummy issue isn’t the ONLY thing wrong with my body. By the way, if anyone knows how to convince my body we’re on the same team I’ll give you a cookie. Or a kidney. Even a puppy. Whichever you prefer.

Before and After

This is a before and after of me so you can see the (unintentional) weight loss. On the left is me right before I left for London, about 8 months ago. On the right is me about 2 weeks ago, roughly 70-75 pounds lighter. While that’s great, not only did I NOT do anything to lose the weight, I’ve literally been eating anything and everything I wanted. Because I knew it’d come right back up. I have a lot of goals and aspirations for my life – bulimia has never been one of them.

Rewind to 2005 when I herniated my L4-L5 disc in my back; I had to have surgery because the nerve damage was so severe I couldn’t even skooch my feet into my shoes, and had to actually lift my legs into the car. It ended up being a huge ordeal because 4 weeks post op I woke up with 104 fever. Why? Because I had a staph infection, but not caused by the hospital stay. Nope. That’d be too easy. Come to find out I’m carrier and I gave it to myself. (See what I mean about being on the same team???) So then followed two months of nurses coming out to my house twice a day to administer antibiotics via two different portable IV’s and almost dying – literally. It wasn’t fun to say the least.

God's Plan

Now fast forward to the present. Well, wait. First, I gotta mention – when you hurt your back, if you’re looking for a pain-free existence you’re looking for something that doesn’t exist. You just have to learn to function with your injury – and that includes the pain. If you lost your leg in a car accident you wouldn’t sit around waiting for it to grow back before trying to walk again, would you? (I hope not) But around 3 years ago the pain in my back changed (remember what I said about listening to your body??); so I went to my primary care and he did an MRI, which found my L4-L5 disc was gone causing the vertebrae to be misaligned and bone on bone. Then, the L5-S-1 disc had herniated pushing on the spinal cord nerves causing them to efface (turn upwards). I had a really AMAZING primary care then (and I do now, thankfully) who sent me to the doc who did HIS back surgery for the same thing. The doc he sent me to was an orthopedic surgeon that was pretty phenomenal. If you’re in Arkansas and looking for an ortho who is good AND cares about your well-being, I can hook you up! (FYI, I tend to be pretty picky about doctors after being pre-med for so long)

Anyhoo, for my consultation the ortho looks over the images and gives me an exam, coming to the conclusion my spine needs to be fused. Now, I was told at the age of 26 I was going to have to have this done SOMEDAY, but this is typically done on patients age 50+, not 30. In fact, the doc even mentioned how young I was and wished there was an alternative, but there was just too much damage to my spine. I should interject here as to WHY my spine was/is so messed up. One word – genetics. My mom had to have back surgery at the age of 22 and dealt with back pain her entire life. My back just decided to go the extra mile with nerve damage and degenerating. Ok, back to the ortho 3 years ago. I didn’t have insurance at the time and a spine fusion surgery is ridiculously expensive. The rods they use are $5,000-10,000 a piece and I needed at least two.  But I gotta give it to this doc and just how incredible he was. You know what he said to me? I’m paraphrasing, of course, but something along the lines of, “Look, I make enough money, so I won’t charge you for the surgery since you really need this. I can check you in through the ER and we can get it done that way. BUT, you’re going to leave the hospital owing for a lot more than just my fee. Plus, the recovery time for this procedure is 3-6 months and you need to make sure you’re able to sustain yourself during that time and have a good support system.” How freakin’ awesome is that?! Have YOU ever had a doctor tell you he makes enough? Or help you work around the system to see you get the treatment you NEED? Amazing. Three years later and I’m still in awe.

Well, sadly, I didn’t have a job then offering short-term disability so I had no way to support myself for those 3-6 months, nor did I have any family or a good support system to care for me. It was always my mom and I growing up, and by this point in her life she was extremely ill with being on dialysis from her kidneys shutting down due to diabetes, along with a laundry list of other health issues including a pacemaker and neuropathy (which is what I’m currently in danger of getting with the nerve damage). So, I just got a TENS unit (it’s a machine that sends little electronic pulses to your muscles and helps with pain), did physical therapy, got some meds, and learned to deal with the pain. That worked for the last 3 years and, while I’ll admit the quality of my life could have been better, I still lived an active life. But, I gotta stop here and tell you why or I’m afraid I’ll give the wrong impression that I’m some super tough chick and not give credit where credit is due. If you’re not a spiritual like me, you may wanna skip this part, but I’d really love it if you’d let me share this with you.

Elder Bednar

Christ is ALWAYS with us. Always.

I learned long ago that pain – emotional, physical, mental, you name it – is a part of this mortal existence and, believe it or not, every painful experience we go through is specifically custom-made for each of us because who we are, what we need to learn, and who we need to become. For me, these are serious health issues, including physical pain. They’re what keep my testimony strong and converted unto the Lord, which means more to me than anything in this world. So if that means having to deal with health issues the rest of my life, I’ll do it. Gladly. Because there’s only so much a doctor can do, only so much pain a drug or exercise or procedure can take away, and only so much comfort a loving soul can give. At the end of the day, especially those days where I can’t bend over and even laying down brings shooting, burning pain down my legs, the only One who truly understands, who’s been there too, who can give the only comfort that will truly succor is Christ. Because of what He went through in Gethsemane He KNOWS what I’m going through, the emotional and mental toll it takes, and how sometimes you just have to endure. But these moments can also be a refining fire, if you let it, that will you bring closer to Him and to Heavenly Father, and help you to feel Their incredible, infinite love for you. A love that will always be there, no matter what happens or what you do. So, I learned to pray on those days where I thought the pain would break me for Heavenly Father to take away the pain that He could, but for the pain He couldn’t to help me bear it up with the help of His Son. Matthew 11:28-30 is a very dear and personal scripture for me as I KNOW His yoke is easy and his burden is light – much lighter than the ones we try to carry around. All we have to do is lay our burdens at His feet and He will trade with us. It’s pretty incredible when you really think about it.

Christ Edit

I love Carl Bloch so much, don’t you?

And that, my dear friends, is HOW I’ve been able to live a relatively ‘normal’ life the past 3 years with a debilitating spinal injury. Well, a few months ago, the pain changed AGAIN, but this time I noticed my feet and legs going numb for no reason. I knew this wasn’t a good sign. So, along with all the specialist appointments, I had my primary doc schedule a new MRI. Thankfully, now I have insurance because of Obamacare; I’m one of the ones it helps. A LOT.

When I went to see my doc to go over the results he AND his nurse practitioner came in to go over them. Why? Because I’m an ‘interesting’ case. Let me tell ya, you don’t want to be ‘interesting’ to a doctor. That means not only do you have something wrong with you but you also either have something RARE wrong with you and/or SEVERELY wrong with you.  Me? I have both. What can I say? I like to keep things…..interesting. The results showed my L4-L5 vertebrae have rubbed against each other for so long they’ve developed bone spurs which are pressing into my spinal cord nerves. But, wait. That’s not all! The L5-S1 disk has now completely ruptured on both sides (looking like an angry octopus, in the words of my roommate) causing severe nerve compression on both the left and right side. There’s also some height disensation (I’m shrinking), a lot of arthritis, and a few other technical terms I don’t remember.  For those of you who are visual, here are a few photos to help you see what I’m talking about.

Angry Octopus Edit

This view is from the top of the spine looking down ‘through’ the discs.

Spine Edit

This is a side view of the spine; the white part you see the L5-S1 disc pushing into (the L4-L5, too) are the spinal cord nerve endings.

After going over the results with my primary doc, I went straight downstairs and made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon he referred me to. Again, I’ve been blessed with another wonderful doctor! After reading the MRI report, he looks over at me wide-eyed and says, “This A LOT for someone as young as you.” I just smiled and replied, “Well, I try to keep it interesting. Go big or go home, right?” He smiles and continues with his examination and questions. He was very through, answering all my questions and concerns, showing me specific aspects of the MRI, and coming up with a treatment plan. I was really, REALLY hoping I could do a disc replacement instead of fusing my spine, as that’s less invasive and not so permanent. And doesn’t involve steel. Unfortunately, I’m not a candidate, because putting in artificial discs will increase movement in my spine (good) but on the other side of my vertebrae, where the joint is – mine is riddle with arthritis – increasing movement will increase the pain (bad). So fusing my spine it is! Since I have such severe nerve damage I really can’t wait any longer to have this done. The longer you wait to correct this the more permanent the damage is. That’s no bueno. If it were just pain, I’d deal with it, but I’d really like to be able to walk properly and skooch my feet into my shoes. You know, it’s the little things.

My back surgery has been scheduled for June 23; this will hopefully be enough time for my body to recover enough from my stomach/intestine surgery to be strong enough to go through another, more intensive surgery. Let me tell you, I’ve had to do a lot just to have the first surgery. My iron and potassium were so depleted from malnutrition I’ve had to have transfusions twice a week for the past month. Also, I’ve had to drink high protein drinks to try to get my protein levels up to be able to sustain surgery. I will have to continue this after the first surgery because all the protein I’ve built up will be used on the first surgery and I’ll need to build my levels back up in time for the second one. It’s crazy, I know. But, hey, that’s life and I’m wearin’ my seat belt – bring on the roller coaster rides!

Now, there are two reasons I’m blessed enough to even have these opportunities to get all of this taken care of (and, yes, all of this is a BLESSING – I’m finally getting proper care and treatment instead of just suffering); first, as I mentioned before, I have insurance. Second, and most importantly, I’ve been blessed with loving people willing and WANTING to help and care for me. There was a YSA (young single adult) missionary couple (the Ainsworth’s) who served in London while I was there; we became close during that time and, when I came for my visit, I brought them some personal items. While we were catching up I shared with them the details of my current health situation and the possible outcomes. Since my mom passed away about a year and half ago, that’s left me without ANY family. That’s hard for most of my friends and the people I know to wrap their minds around and I understand that. My church is so family oriented (which I LOVE) that when someone comes along with ZERO family to call on, it kinda takes them back. It kinda takes me back some days, too.

Friends

While I may not share DNA with these lovely ladies they’re my sisters. I don’t know what I’d do without them. They bring so much joy and love in my life and I’m eternally grateful for them.

So Sister Ainsworth asked what she could do and I honestly didn’t know. I don’t EVER want to be a burden to others, particularly those I care about, and asking for help is something I REALLY struggle with. I’m the type of person who tries to walk across the desert without any help. Alone. With no water. Yeah, I don’t get it either. It’s dumb. And so NOT in line with Heavenly Father’s plan for us. But, that’s the way I tend to try to get things done (Effective, said no one ever). But, this angelic couple just pushed right past that and Sister A said, “You’ll come here to recover from your surgeries.” I told them this could go until the end of summer. Ok, no problem. I could barely get the words ‘Thank You’ out and just sat in their kitchen, crying tears of gratitude while she hugged me (Don’t ever under estimate the power of a hug – they work magic). I’ve NEVER had that before – being cared for during/after surgery. I’ve always taken care of myself in that regard. Actually, I’ve been taking care of myself since I was 15, working full-time and everything. I still don’t know how to process what it will be like. I’m looking forward to it, though.

Ainsworth's

May I introduce the Ainsworth’s? This is the amazing and fabulous missionary couple I was so blessed to meet while I was in London, and who have so graciously welcomed me into their home. I love them so much!

I feel I should be honest with you about something else, too. While I am at a loss of words to describe the gratitude I feel to have this opportunity to heal, feel the love and encouragement from so many people, and have the chance to live a healthier, better quality of life I also struggle with other not-so-great feelings. Once everything set in the day I met with the ortho and the feeling of relief from final gaining some resolution subsided, I ended up in the Target bathroom crying to my roommate. I couldn’t help feeling resentful that I have to have such an invasive procedure done to fix such a serious problem at my age. I’m too young to be this sick. It’s not fair. It truly and genuinely isn’t fair. And, I’m scared. This back surgery is kind of a big deal, with a long recovery time where I won’t be able to work or support myself. I’ve been working since I was 15! Not working for that long is mind-blowing. It also means that I’ll need help. A lot of help. (Don’t forget about that trek across the desert I keep trying to go on) I don’t have an income during this time but still have things I need – prescriptions, food, medical bills (my coinsurance is 20% and my back surgery alone will be at least $75,000 – that’s $15,000 I have to come up with) toiletries – I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture. I know the Ainsworth’s will help, they’ve already started, and my roommates have done what they can, but I’m really big about doing MY part and what I can for MYSELF. Being self-sufficient is really important to me and a fundamental part of who I am. And I’ve already mentioned about not being a burden. So this whole experience is also turning into an excellent learning opportunity for me for not only learning how to ask for help, but also for accepting it. I always want to be the one helping, serving, giving. Being on the other side takes some adjusting. It also takes swallowing my pride (which I never realized was there before).

Pride

A classic Latter-Day Saint talk. I encourage everyone to go have a listen, or if it’s been awhile since you’ve heard it, now’s the time to revisit this ol’ gem. In fact, I do believe I’ll take my own advice and have listen right after I finish this post! Wanna compare notes with me?

I want to go back to something I said earlier – that what I’m going through isn’t fair. And it really isn’t. But, life isn’t about being fair. It’s about getting back home, using this time to learn and grow and become who we’re meant to be. To do that, to truly become our best selves, takes ‘unfair’ circumstances, adversity, pain, tears, and challenges. It’s during these times we learn, we grow, we become better. The other day I was taking my roommate to work and I saw a young woman walking across BYU campus with two prosthetic legs. She was amazing!! And I want to whine because I have to have my spine fused? Um, no. Just no. Yes, what I have to go through is tough and it’s hard and it’s painful. But, guess what. I’m not the only one. And I can promise you I can find someone in about 2 minutes going through something a lot harder than I am. “The Son of man hath descended below them all. Are thou greater than He?” Nope. So I’m going to beat back those feelings of resentment and anger. With what? Gratitude. And I’m going to continue to pray Heavenly Father turns my fear into faith. I know He will. If I let Him.

Adversity

Enduring to the end is about getting to the finish line – it’s about our attitude on our way there. And an Attitude of Gratitude is always a good thing to have!

Now, I counseled with my bishop, my relief society president, and a couple of friends about what I could do to help with my financial needs. First, we thought of doing a bake sale or a spaghetti dinner or even a yard sale. But those take a lot of time and I don’t know anyone right now who has the time to give. Instead, they thought the best way would be to do an online fundraiser. This is a really weird idea for me but I’m willing to do whatever I can to take care of myself and do my part. So my friends came together and created a fundraiser on Give Forward. There’s a MUCH shorter version of what’s going on and you can make a donation. It can be $5. It can be $20. It can be $100. Whatever you want! Or, if you’re not in a position to give a donation, you can share it on your Facebook page or on Twitter. Or send an email to your friends and family. Whichever way you choose, it will help me out so much. To say I’d be grateful would be like saying the ocean is wet but it’s true! Admittedly, this is a hard way for me to help myself, as I want to go to work, but since I’m physically unable to right now, I’ll listen to the counsel I’ve been given and do it this way. I’ll post a link at the bottom of this post.

I’d like to wrap up this novella of a post with my testimony because I feel so strongly the Lord’s hand in my life right now. I KNOW Christ lives, that’s He’s the savior of the world, and has atoned for each and every one us. I know that the love Heavenly Father has for us is infinite, unconditional, and real. I know He loves us more than we could possibly fathom and His dreams for us go far beyond the ones we have for ourselves. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is His true and living church upon the earth today; restored by Joseph Smith who is a true prophet of God, just like President Thomas S. Monson. I know through true repentance not only will we be completely forgiven for the mistakes and sins we make but will become a new person, from the inside out, through the miracle and precious gift of the Atonement. I know everything we go through in this life, the peaks and the valleys, is because Heavenly Father wants nothing more than for us to return to Him, to come home, and live in His kingdom forever. I know that through sacred ordinances families can be together forever and that having a family is a beautiful and precious gift – whether you’re family by blood or just love. I know the Book of Mormon to be the true word of God, along with the Bible, and that if you read them you will come to find God and have peace. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Nauvoo Temple

Nauvoo, Illinois Temple – It was in this holy house I was able to do the work for my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and my great-great-grandmother. It was such a wonderful day! Families truly can be together forever. If you’d like to know more I invite you to check out http://www.mormon.org or feel free to contact me – I’d love to share!

Thanks so much for reading this and being with me on this journey! I PROMISE to keep updates and will post as soon as I can post surgery. God be with you till we meet again!

Go here to donate or share the website! http://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/cnk4/rally-for-rebecca-s-recovery

So Who am I and WHAT Exactly am I Doing Across the Pond?!

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Prince Albert Noir

I took this photo during a walk in Hyde Park in between General Conference sessions. Pretty incredible, ay?

Howdy, y’all!

I thought it would be a good idea to kind of introduce myself, give a bit more about why/what exactly it is I’m doing over here in London, and answer some of the questions I’ve been getting. (By they way, I LOVE questions – both in asking and getting, so ALWAYS ask away!) So make yourself comfy and sit a spell with me.

Well, it all begins with a name and mine’s Rebecca, but almost everyone shortens it to Becca. I loathe Becky (it sounds too much like a chicken call – beck-beck-becky) and won’t answer to it. I’m an only child, which I also don’t like, never met my dad, and my mom passed away last December. She was very sick for a really long time and I’m thankful she’s no longer suffering, but there isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think of and miss her dearly. It’s because I have no (living) family I’m on this little journey; my great-grandmother immigrated from Austria  in 1906, leaving behind a very large family. I remember seeing a photo of them when I was little and there were quite a few people looking back at me. Family is a pretty big deal to me, and I’ve learned in life just because you don’t share DNA with someone doesn’t mean you can’t be family, and just because you do doesn’t mean you are (did that make sense??).

This is my great-great grandmother, Therese Arsenowitz (Hoffman), on her wedding day to my great-great grandfather, Lenard. circa 1910

This is my great-great grandmother, Therese Arsenowitz (Hoffman), on her wedding day to my great-great grandfather, Lenard. circa 1910

Another important part of my life and a part of who I am you should know about is that I am a full-fledged, totally committed, fully converted (although conversion is really a life-long endeavor) member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was baptized in 1997 thanks to two missionaries who knocked on my door on Halloween. (Those poor boys – it was cold and drizzly and I made them stand on the doorstep for 15 minutes before inviting them in, only to pass them off on my mom.) I wish I could say I’ve consistently lived what I know in my heart to be true these past 16 years, but I can say I do NOW and have been for over four years. I even went through the temple in March of 2012 – one of the very most blessed days of my life; temple work is a MAJOR factor for my being here.

This is my beloved grandmother, Kathryn, and exactly how I remember her when I think of her. I also realized tonight we both LOVE pink! I'm more like her than my mom - hands down.

This is my beloved grandmother, Kathryn, and exactly how I remember her when I think of her. I also realized tonight we both LOVE pink! I’m more like her than my mom – hands down.

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio but we moved when I was just a year old to Dallas, Texas so we would be closer to my grandmother. I ended up living with her for year when I was five and in kindergarten, which I believe is why I still feel incredibly close to her. She passed away in May of 1996. Well, I don’t remember a thing about Cleveland but I do tend to talk really fast like northern/mid-westerners; I also lived in Arkansas for about 20 years and have a southern drawl, and when you combine the two it makes it hard to understand me sometimes. Oh well. Part of my unique charm, right? Right. After Texas, we moved to the northeast and spent about two, two and a half years going from Maryland, Washington D.C, and Virginia. That’s when we ended up going to Arkansas because my mom loved road trips (I do too!) and took us to Hot Springs for a vacation while living in Texas, and thought it one of the most beautiful places on earth. It really is, along with some super neat attractions, and I highly suggest making a trip there sometime.

This is my mom, grandma, and myself when I was about 3 or 4. The dress I'm wearing had little bells underneath the skirt and I LOVED to tinkle everywhere where I walked! Wait...

This is my mom, grandma, and myself when I was about 5 years old. The dress I’m wearing had little bells underneath the skirt and I LOVED to tinkle everywhere where I walked! Wait…

In the summer of 2012 certain life events changed quite quickly, and instead of moving to Provo, Utah in the fall of 2013, I moved there in the fall of 2012! Life tends to work with me like that. Give me too much of the plan ahead of time and I’ll inherently screw something up. I’m good like that. I LOVED living in Utah, albeit a bubble, but it was a great bubble. I adored having so many LDS temples so close, being within an hour of Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and I actually got to attend the First Presidency Christmas broadcast 2012 AND the April 2012 General Conference Saturday morning session. It. Was. Ahhhh. Mazing.

My first winter in Provo, Utah. It was FREEZING but was worse was the snow. Until April. Bleh.

My first winter in Provo, Utah. It was FREEZING but what was worse was the snow. Until April. Bleh.

Now here I am in London, England. But WHY?!!? Well, one day while I was sitting at work I had the thought, “I need to get a passport.” Huh? Where did THAT come from?! Mind you, I didn’t even have my birth certificate at this point. After pondering and praying for a couple of months and getting a blessing from a member of my bishopric I learned I was to move to Europe to do genealogy work to find my ancestors who stayed in Austria. Since I can’t read a word of German and can only say ridiculously simple sentences, I decided moving straight to Austria wouldn’t be the best idea. Instead, I came to London! There are so many reasons I’m happy I came here first, but the biggies are even with EVERY. THING. being different at least I don’t have to learn a (completely) new language and the Church is huge here. That support is paramount to me.

I walked out of Westminster Station one night looking for my bus stop and BAM! Walked straight out into this. How amazing is this?! I really do love living in London.

I walked out of Westminster Station one night looking for my bus stop and BAM! Walked straight out into this. How amazing?! I really do love living in London.

I did my first family search last week and found the immigration records for my great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother, Katherine Hoffman. I found on Katherine’s record she didn’t come over here alone – she came with her OTHER daughter (whom I didn’t even know existed!), her husband, and their two daughters. So in my first ‘real’ search I’ve already found FOUR new family members! This is really getting exciting and I can’t wait to see what/who unfolds from this story. Especially since the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing is coming up in December. I will be going to the temple for her and it will be good to be with her again and to do something so wonderful for her. After all, it’s because of her I have such a deep, resounding love for my Savior. My mom really showed me how to love Christ and how He truly does love each of us and knows us personally. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m going back to Utah this weekend and I can’t wait! I’ll be there for Thanksgiving and I can promise you I will be stuffing my face from the moment I step off the plane. Until we meet again, y’all!!

My mom and I in front of my grandmother's apartment when I was around two years old. Wasn't I just the cutest thing? Yeah, I have no idea what happened.

My mom and I in front of my grandmother’s apartment when I was around two years old. Wasn’t I just the cutest thing? Yeah, I have no idea what happened.