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Traditions

Traditions are a staple practice in nearly every culture across the globe; they are the one thing that connects even the most diverse people to one another. It’s beautiful how each tradition is unique to each family, nation, and culture. And although they are all very different, traditions are able to generate the same outcome for everyone: comfort and joy.

My family is very sentimental; so much so, that traditions are pinnacle to every holiday, birthday, and any other one of the various celebrations we practice annually. That is, until we lost my father last year. He passed away on October 11th. His passing not only affected every single celebration we cherished, but it created a new one… the first “anniversary” or annual event that evoked dread and sorrow. With that in mind,  we decided to abandon most of our traditions for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and especially Christmas last year. It was too painful to continue our traditions without the patriarch of our small family – so we went on a cruise instead. This in no way prevented us from mourning his absence during the most wonderful time of the year, but it did help distract us for the week. This year was going to be painful as well, but in a very different way. One of the most challenging obstacles for newlyweds, I’ve found, is splitting the holidays between two families. It is stressful and frustrating. Not only are you trying to create your own traditions, as you start your own family, but you have to try to balance and maintain the traditions of two very different families at the same time! I already had enough anxiety thinking about whether or not my family would continue the traditions we so cleverly avoided last year, but trying to juggle three sets of traditions nearly sent me into a mental breakdown! I tried to be understanding of the fact that no one was really prepared to face the music: our parents still saw us as their babies! It was immediately clear to me that neither of us wanted to let our families down and this created a great deal of tension between me and my husband.

Kaleb and I had to endure a few arguments before coming to a compromise. Not everyone was willing to accept that traditions were going to change, but I can understand why – I wanted to be selfish for my family many times! But, at the end of the day, it was a learning experience that not many newlyweds can avoid. We made it work and we all had a wonderful Christmas. We even managed to create our own quirky tradition! Last year, I bought Kaleb a Star Wars onesie for his birthday and he loved it! He loved it to so much that he wanted to wear it to his family’s annual Christmas celebration in the Smokies. Oddly enough, on our way to the cabin, we stopped at a Wal-Mart where Kaleb saw a Christmas onesie for women. His excitement at the idea of us BOTH showing up in onesies was contagious. He snagged the onesie, equipped with a “Sweet Cheeks” butt flap, and ran to checkout. Who was I to stop him? I had no idea this would become our first tradition. Everyone at the cabin loved our onesies so we wore them every night! I had no plans of expanding our onesie collection this year, but yet again, my hand was forced.

In early November of this year, I was out finishing up my Christmas shopping with my mother when I came across the most glorious onesies I had ever laid eyes on. Just inside the doors of Burlington Coat Factory was a wrack of Christmas onesies – that’s why I saw our two favorite Christmas characters right beside each other: Buddy the Elf and the Abominable snowman. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to trends, but I could not pass these up! I quickly grabbed our sizes and ran to the register before I could talk myself out of it. I surprised Kaleb with them that night and we were both giddy at the thought of showing up to our parents’ houses on Christmas day in these onesies! Something so simple made it a little less painful for me to face my family’s traditions; I finally had one of my own to cherish, and it became something too special for me to invite others to  join. I realize that this is selfish of me, but I’m slowly learning that I can’t always put others before myself (this is something I really struggle with).

IMG_5244My newest tradition got even more exciting when I found a onesie for our dog, Tully! That’s right – ALL THREE MEMBERS OF OUR WEIRD LITTLE FAMILY HAD CHRISTMAS ONESIES. Honestly, I can’t remember the last I experienced such beautiful bliss.

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So, our tradition is a littler strange, but I don’t care! I can only imagine what we’ll find next year! But as Christmas day came and past, we both realized something very important – the tradition that truly mattered was acknowledging the birth of Christ. As important as traditions are, we realized that Christmas isn’t just about family traditions or gifts. It’s so easy to be consumed by all the chaos in our lives and forget about what truly matters. So, as the holidays come to an end, I reflect on all the sadness, drama, excitement, and joy – I am so grateful for all that God has blessed me with. I turn my attention to his Word so that I may live each day for Him and be a witness and testament to His love and mercy.

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We Write…

“We write to taste life twice…” – Anais Nin

I’m here for my second helpings (or elevenses for all you LOTR fans)! Building up to October 11th, I knew it would be a difficult day for me one. I’m not sure if I’m numb or in denial, but I seem to  have survived it unscathed. Today, and every October 11th from here forward, will always been a difficult day. I full expected to be a blubbering mess from sun up to sun down, but I often forget that being happy is a choice – not a side effect of good luck and fortune. Even if my every materialistic desire were fulfilled and everything went my way in life, I would still never be completely happy. Happiness is a choice and today I chose to be happy. In moments where my heart aches for just one more minute with my dad I must choose to be happy. So rather than be a basket case all day because this marks one full years since he passed, I chose to be happy. In the book of James we are told all trials and tribulations as joy, “Dear brother and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4). Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t always have this much clarity while facing trials and tribulations, but it’s something that I’m working very had on. I’ve always been a Negative Nancy, a worry wart, or as my husband likes to call me… a Salty Sue. I know that this change in mindset won’t happen over night, but I know that it needs to happen. I need to be strong, uplifting, and encouraging so that I can accomplish all that God has set out for me to do. I was reminded of the importance of this when I got an unexpected email from an old student that had to change schools. He found an email I had sent him regarding a writing contest that I had shared with him last year, and seized the opportunity to reach out to me and let me know how he was doing. What followed was one of the most heartwarming conversations I had every had with a student. He went on to explain that he missed his old school, teachers, and friends. He also explained how thankful he was that I was there to help him through some very challenging tribulations (even though I was completely unaware that he was struggling)! It was that email that reminded me how important it is to be an example to those around me – especially my students. If I could just show them a glimmer of what God’s love and mercy could do to heal someone with a broken heart then that is what I need to do. I will falter. I will get upset. I will have bad days. But I will NOT let those moments take precedence over what I believe.

Cancer, Family, Growth

Father

Father – fa·ther \ˈfä-thər\ (n.) a man who exercises paternal care over other persons; paternal protector or provider

Sit down, grab your favorite drink, and get comfortable – this is going to be a long and emotional post. With Father’s Day behind us, I finally feel I can share my thoughts and emotions as well as some background about my relationship with my father.

My father and I weren’t very close for most of my life; he was a very busy man. He believed in working hard every day to provide for his family. It is because of his work ethic that I am the hard worker that I am today; I’m very grateful for that (my mom also has a great deal to do with that). He wanted to make sure that his family never went a day without food on the table and a roof over their heads. He was the paternal provider and protector, and he fulfilled that role to the best of his ability through working. However, this also caused a rift in our relationship because he often prioritized his work above all else. To an extent, I can understand that – I’m also extremely passionate about my job and want to give all of myself to it; the difference is that I see how this can affect my relationship with my husband, family, and friends. Unfortunately, my dad didn’t come to that realization until the last three years of his life.

Two years before my dad was diagnosed with cancer, he made several powerful changes in his life. These changes opened doors for me to build a true relationship with him – to get to know him more. Within those two years I truly identified as a daddy’s girl, even though he had always called me one. I learned that he was more than a hard working man. I learned that because of his upraising, he had a different understanding of how to show love; he rarely showed affection to me.  I didn’t understand that right away, and don’t fully understand it now, because I know he wanted to be a different protector and provider than that of what he was exposed to in his own childhood – executing it seemed to be difficult for him. His efforts, however, were redeeming and enlightening. And even after his passing, I continue to learn more about him.

In the fall of 2016 his right leg stopped working – it became paralytic. After a series of tests the doctors revealed that my dad had grade IV Glioblastoma Multiforme cancer – a very aggressive brain cancer. My parents had called all of our family to come to the hospital at one time, and I had no clue what was coming. I never would have guessed it. When my mom told everyone, all of us crammed into one small hospital room, I immediately started crying, and my daddy asked me sit with him in his bed. I remember being shocked because I was confused and angry; I kept repeatedly telling myself, this can’t be real. This can’t be happening – not to my family. But in that moment, my daddy was holding me, being strong for me, and coddling me. I wasn’t used to affection from my father, and in a raw moment of fear for himself, he was strong for me in a way that seldom experienced. That moment was beyond bittersweet, and I’ll never forget how it felt to be in his arms.

Based on current research, his doctors gave him a prognosis of about 14 months to live if he went through treatment. Going home that night I remember lying in bed beside Kaleb and crying before finally telling him that I knew daddy wouldn’t make it past 14 months. I understand how negative that sounds, but I was angry with God. He was taking away the daddy he had just given me. Kaleb and my entire family remained positive, but I knew that very night that he wouldn’t be one of the rare cases that lived on for five, ten, even a remarkable 15 years.

While he was sick, my dad was like Superman compared to the man I knew two years prior. It brings to mind the saying “you never know what you have until it’s gone.” I think he felt the loss of his children’s youth and needed to make up for it. And I quickly realized that I needed to embrace my father, through the good and the bad, before he was gone. Before the tumors consumed a majority of his brain, my dad made up for the 20 odd years of my life before that. It was beautiful and sad.

I remember so vividly what my dad said one night in his first few days in the hospital. There were only a few of us in the room, and between sobs he said, “God has let me do things my way all of my life, and now He’s telling me I need to do things His way.” My anger with God subsided. My daddy’s words helped me to realize that my emotions were so loud that I was drowning God out. While I still feel the pain and emptiness from the loss of my father, from the moment I wake up until I close my eyes at night, I realize that God is the only one that can relieve me of that pain and emptiness. I also realize that God granted me with three years that I didn’t expect to have. The thing I’m struggling with most for now is the last day of my daddy’s life. It’s difficult to shake the feeling inside the room with my siblings and mother. I was continually rubbing my daddy’s forehead while my siblings and I shared aloud our favorite memories with him because we truly hope he could hear us. The atmosphere in the room began to shift, and I knew it was coming. So I continued to stroke his forehead until he took his last pain filled breath. Ultimately, I’m grateful that my Heavenly Father nurtured me in the moments that my dad couldn’t, and even now in his absence. I’m also grateful that God blessed with an amazing mother, brother, best friend, and husband to support me in moments of weakness.

Moving forward, I cope with this loss in various ways. I first saw a therapist, before my dad even passed, and stopped my appointments because he insulted my dad when I was in a very vulnerable state. I then picked up on adult coloring books (yay!), but found that it wasn’t enough for me to channel my emotions into so much as it just distracted me for a brief period of time. I now rely on family, my husband, and two other very important hobbies: writing letters to my dad and playing loads and loads of Skyrim.

While I acknowledge this blog was long, emotional, and probably unorganized, it was very cathartic.

Thank you.

“Because someone we love is in Heaven, we have a little bit of Heaven in our home.” – Anonymous 

 

 

 

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Momentum

momentum \mō-ˈmen-təm, mə-\ (n.) strength or force gained by motion or a series of events

And what a series of unfortunate events. There’s a great deal of pressure on this first blog post. It’s new, it’s public, and it’s authentic. This all terrifies me. Vulnerability is one of my greatest fears, and yet I am opening myself up to the public to be judged. I don’t know what it will create, but I’m forcing myself to open up to whatever it may be.

For now, I feel the most appropriate place to begin is with the singular event that hurled my life into the direction that it has been heading for the last three years. (Hello there, Momentum!). It all started with a very expensive consultation with the only (and “best”) TMJ specialist in my region of Southeast Tennessee. My jaw had been giving me trouble for years, my headaches were building, and I found that it was difficult to distinguish whether the increasing headaches were from the stress of college or my jaw. My mom felt it was best to invest in the consultation fee of the aforementioned doctor because my headaches were accompanied with absurdly long naps. Several months and several thousands of dollars later we discovered that the small cushions that lie between the “hinges” of your jaw had slid into a pocket behind said “hinges.” Basically my bones had been grinding on one another for years (insert raunchy hip hop music video here). That’s right, years of popping, locking, and grinding had left my jaw brittle and arthritic (although the rest of me keep rocking until I’m 90). And can we talk about the fact that my damaged muscles, joints, and jaw aren’t covered by dental or medical insurance?! No, not for now – I’ll save that rant for later (for the sake of keeping up the momentum and whatnot). After phase one of treatment, the doctor determined the continuity of my headaches must be the result of something else and referred me to a sleep specialist.

Now enters the abhorrent sleep doctor. After a series of very annoying tests, I was diagnosed with Narcolepsy – the neurological disorder/autoimmune disease that most people don’t understand or deduce to laziness. I’ll get into all that lovely jazz in another post – I mustn’t sacrifice my momentum. After this event in my life, my health plummeted and continued to waver until about sixth months ago. Before my health stabilized (only as far as Narcolepsy is concerned – that’s right, there is much more fun ahead!) I lost three family members, began a career teaching, and got married. What a bittersweet three years it has been – and I’m still riding on the waves of the moment of that one very expensive consultation.

I have yet to decide how much I am willing to share on this blog, but I’m very adamant about being entirely authentic – it’s cheaper than a therapist. There are some people in my life that might disagree or dislike the choices I may or may not make in the posts to come, and that’s okay. I’ve learned that in this world you’re always going to offend someone regardless of how hard you try not to. Since writing is my passion, and also my therapy, I’m making the decision to continue with the momentum and invite others to experience it with me. As a teacher, I feel that the following are some of the most important life skills I can model for my students: embrace your authentic self, own the choices you make, and follow momentum past any resistance that tries to keep you stuck in the past. I may falter – I’m human – but with the love and support God has blessed me with, I’m pushing forward toward greater things.

“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis