I posted a vlog on my Instagram recently trying to capture everything that I have been feeling lately. I can't remember the last time I felt led to write or post anything on my blog, but I feel inspired. I want to continue to spread Brittany's message.
I recently lost a friend. I feel fortunate enough to have been able to call Brittany Crosby my friend, even though we only knew each other from Instagram. I came across her account in early 2017, and it took just a few seconds of being on her Instagram to see that she was an inspiration. Brittany had been in the early stages of fighting of Stage 3c ovarian cancer. Since I had just lost my dad to cancer, I was looking for all that Brittany had to offer: inspiration and hope. To my surprise, she started following me back. We connected due to our shared love of faith, fitness and dogs. Brittany was honestly a rock-star and bad-ass. Even while fighting cancer, she rarely missed a workout. Always took every opportunity to travel and climb mountains, all while running a successful Beach Body business. No matter how hard things got, she always gave God the glory and pushed her followers to live out of their comfort zone not just by saying but DOING. I was hearing and reading her messages daily for years. They seemed to almost be daily devotionals in and of themselves.
This last season of life for me has been hard. Fortunately, not due to any trauma, but a lot of small to medium (and maybe some large) sized things that have kept adding...one thing on top of the other on top of the other. It almost felt like life was burying me deeper and deeper into a hole, and I honestly started to struggle to see the light through all the dirt. I kept waiting and hoping and praying for some sort of breakthrough in my circumstances to happen to help me change my mindset about all that I was trying to deal with and process. If x, y or z happen, then I will be able to feel some relief.
Well, a breakthrough happened. But it was not at all the one I had been envisioning and praying for.
The crazy thing? NOTHING about the circumstances that had been weighing me down changed. What did change then? My mindset. But it wasn't by choice.
It was Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. I had just gotten home from an overwhelming doctors appointment. One that triggered my anxiety and left me driving home with a racing heart. Nothing bad or scary...just a lot of information to process.
I got home, told my husband I needed a beer and made lunch. So we sat at our kitchen island together, drank a beer, talked about my appointment...and ate our lunches.
Jared went outside later that afternoon to rake leaves, and I stayed in to finish cleaning up the house from the large Thanksgiving gathering we had just hosted for both of our families.
I got on Instagram like I do so many times throughout the day without really thinking about it. As I scrolled through my news-feed, I came across a photo of Brittany hiking in the snowy mountains smiling at the camera. My first thought was, "that's a really nice photo of her." And then as I read further, I read the words that she had passed away that very morning. I had to read it again...and again...and again. I didn't believe it. It couldn't be true. She was just in Breckenridge, Colorado that week zip-lining and crossing items off her bucket-list. How could this be? Brittany was larger than life and a beautiful soul that God never ceased to use to bring people closer to Him. I thought for sure she had many many years left ahead of her no matter how much the cancer spread. Surely they would keep finding more treatments. Surely one would work.
I felt sick to my stomach, and then I just sobbed. I sobbed on and off the entire weekend following Thanksgiving. I felt lost. How could Brittany be gone from this world?
Then, Sunday night, all these thoughts began to flood my mind of all the earthly things that I have been clinging to, hoping and trying desperately to control. I had been focusing so much energy on carrying with me all these things that discouraged me and left me feeling defeated, daily. But instead of releasing these things, I kept letting this pile get heavier and heavier and heavier. Until I broke. Brittany's passing literally broke me. God used it to break the dam and there I was, on my knees in my bedroom sobbing and praying and asking God to come into my heart again. I cried harder than I had in so long. I kept apologizing for being so self-focused and not trusting God with my heart. With my life...with my circumstances. It felt so good to cry.
I was so hopeful that this would be a turning point for me.
Then the next day, I felt defeated all over again. My anxiety got the best of me. I continued on with the week, doing my best to actually start practicing more self-care...and surprisingly, things actually started to feel better. Things felt better at work all of a sudden. It was also encouraging getting a positive call from my doctor to tell me about the results of a test I just had done. I was like...ok...I think maybe I got this after all.
That Friday, one week after Brittany left this world, was the day of her celebration of life ceremony in Texas. I was at a holiday work party that evening. Luckily they had a live feed on Facebook, so I was able to catch the very end of it on my drive home. Just in time to hear Brittany's amazingly strong husband speak, who did all he could to help her live a full life, on purpose, and check things of their bucket list together one by one. I didn't start crying until I heard them play a Lauren Daigle song to a slideshow of photos of Brittany's amazing and awe inspiring life.
When I got home, I started listening to a Lauren Daigle album and read my daily advent reading and just sobbed. The song "Everything" came on, and I fell to my knees, again. It was like God had taken the wind out of me, and I was just in awe at how my heart was transforming. For the first time in a long time I felt genuine JOY. I was no longer sitting in my frustration and pain. I was no longer letting my circumstances define me. I thanked God for helping me to feel Him and experience his Grace again; I felt like He was revealing within me this deep desire to live out Brittany's message of hope. She never let cancer steal her joy.
Our circumstances may not change. A breakthrough may not come. But we can still find joy in the journey. We can still show up. Now let's all live life on purpose.
A year ago I wrote my last blog post. Since then, I graduated with my masters degree. I got engaged a couple months after that, and married a few months later. I mostly feel nothing but gratitude and want to share with you some moments of mine and Jared's very special day.
It’s safe to say, like all little girls, I spent a lot of time dreaming about my wedding from a young age. As someone who grew up with divorced parents, I knew that day would look a little different for me. I accepted it though, and was excited to see what the future might hold.
For most of my life, while my dad was alive, I always imagined having both him and my stepdad (Todd) walk me down the aisle. I envisioned this moment so many times in my mind over the years. What it would be like to finally experience my wedding day. With both my dads giving me away, who were both so special to me.
When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I would be lying if I wasn't hoping I would meet and marry the man of my dreams while my dad was alive. Somehow. But eventually I accepted the reality of what was. That my dad would likely pass away before every even knowing who would be my husband someday. This made me so sad. I spent a lot of time grieving things that would never happen while my dad was alive. I felt sad that I had "wasted" time with other men and that I had not yet found the "one" before it was "too late". Or what I perceived in those moments as what too late meant.
But as I've written many times, Jared came back into my life less than 2 months before my dad passed away. Not too late, but rather perfectly on time.
At the time of my dad's passing, during the visitation, my godfather, uncle Keith offered to walk me down the aisle when the time came for me to get married. That was the very day that Jared met my whole family after just 3 dates. Even though my life felt so daunting in those moments, I knew Jared would be the way forward. And he was.
A year and a half later, on July 6th, Jared proposed while we were out on his parents' boat on Long Lake in Alpena. We were watching the sunset and drinking wine. The moment was perfect, even though the ring was not ready. Jared asked if I wanted to get married, and I said yes.
At the time he proposed, Jared was in the process of having a ring designed and made for me using the diamond from my grandma Grace's original engagement ring. My grandma Grace gave me her original engagement ring and wedding band set following my grandpa Bill's passing in 2010 for me to hopefully use someday. I didn't truly consider using this set until it came up in conversation during my birthday weekend when Jared took me on a surprise trip to Leland. I told him about it, and he contacted my grandma's jeweler as soon as we got home.
This diamond would then be my "something old", that I would wear on my wedding day. My "something new" was a pair of earrings my mom bought me. My "something borrowed" was a pearl necklace that my dad bought my mom when I was a baby. My "something blue" was the sapphire that Jared and I had put in to my grandma's original engagement ring band.
Jared and I decided to have our wedding at our church, Holy Redeemer. The very place my dad was laid to rest a little over 2 years ago. It was important to me to have my church be a place of celebration and redemption for my family, not just a place of grief and loss. I wanted to celebrate all that God had done in my life since my dad's passing. So we did.
On October 20th, I walked down the aisle to the beautiful music of a string quartet with my uncle Keith and my dad Todd. A moment that was different than I had imagined, but equally special having my uncle step in for my dad.
The ceremony was of course led by Father Kenneth Tanner. Jared and I gave each other communion, said our vows and exchanged rings.
Jared completely changed my life. There are so many times I wish I could go back to the night that we met back in 2012, to remember what I was feeling as a broken young woman trying to figure her life out, but somehow knowing everything I do now. I guess there is beauty in the mysteries of this life. I could never put into words the immeasurable blessings God has brought me through Jared each and every day. Every day I tell him how lucky I am to have him and how much I love him. I wish there were more words than that sometimes. An endless "I love you" will have to do.
The day of the wedding, it hailed and rained. I walked into the church under a blanket of clouds. But as the wedding ended and we walked out of the church, the sun came out. I'd like to believe it was my dad.
Our reception that evening was held at Jared's parents' barn in Metamora.
Another moment I had always envisioned, especially the final weeks leading up to the wedding, is what the daddy daughter dances would be like. What would it be like without my dad?
But sometime last year, before Jared and I were engaged even, my mom had a dream that I did a dance with all of my uncles, my dad's brothers. I believe this was from God, and that's exactly what I would I do.
I always knew what I wanted the song to be though. When I was a little girl my dad would listen to the song "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith and tell me that song was how he felt when we weren't together. So I took turns dancing with each of my three uncles to this song. It was beautiful and sad all at once, but it was one of the most special moments of the evening for me.
I danced my second daddy daughter dance with my dad Todd to a Kenny Rogers song, "Through the Years". Another happy and proud moment.
My sister, Marissa, sang mine and Jared's first dance song, a classical version of "Stand by Me". Something about that song has always resonated with me throughout the years. But even more since Jared and I started dating at one of the most vulnerable moments of my life. "If the sky that we look upon should crumble and fall, or the mountains should crumble to the sea. I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear, just as long as you stand, stand by me..."
At the end of the night, but especially the weeks following, I couldn't help but remember and feel grateful for each and every detail, big and small, that made mine and Jared's wedding day so incredibly beautiful and special. Because of the many trials I have faced in my life, that day felt like more than just a wedding; it was the culmination of every life experience I have ever had being turned into something beautiful and redemptive. All of my families were brought together to celebrate all of God's grace and healing in my life. In the words of Hillsong Worship song, "If the stars were made to worship, so will I..."
My heart has never been so full.
Huge thank you to Rachel Ann Photography for all of the gorgeous photos.
I was overcome with emotion this past Sunday.
For a year my Canon t5i sat on my dresser at my grandparents' house collecting dust. I brought it to Jared's last year where it then sat for another year in it's camera bag collecting dust. I just didn't have the will to use it...actually, I lacked the freedom.
When I was in elementary school, I am guessing around 9 years old, I remember walking out to my dad's car from my grandparents' house. He must have been picking me up for something. As I got into the car, I remember thanking my dad for something. My stepmom then replied with, "you only love your dad when he buys you things."
These words stung. My 9 year old self knew this wasn't true. But if someone else thought it, then maybe it was. I was too young to decipher what was truth and untruth. So there these words sat in the back of my mind for the next 18 years.
Truthfully, I was never able to let myself truly appreciate anything my dad bought me from that point on. Those words stuck to my heart and mind like glue. In my mind, if I enjoyed what my dad bought me, then that would reflect how I only loved him when he bought me things. I believed this to be the truth. The amount of guilt I felt when he bought me anything actually caused me anxiety. In fact, I feel anxiety right now as I write this about how I felt when he would buy me things.
My dad's main love language was without a doubt gifts. My dad struggled to be emotionally vulnerable, but he was always so good at making sure his family physically had everything they/we needed to be taken care of. Even though he would spend his Christmas Eve running around doing last minute shopping, he always made sure we all got that one big gift. And any little accessory that we could ever need or use to go with it. He was so thoughtful in that way. More than.
I do realize now how much I let guilt, or really fear, get in the way of truly appreciating the things he spent so much time and money on for me.
The list of things he bought me that I let sit for months, years, or still to this day goes on and on...an iPad that he bought me for my college graduation, a new cell phone that I held off activating as long as I could, a video camera, a blender for smoothies...
One year for Christmas of 2013 he bought me a 32 inch television for my bedroom. I specifically asked for one after he had asked me what I wanted for Christmas. But still, I let it sit in a box in my closet for over a year. I didn't feel safe enough to take it out and set it up until the very night in winter 2015 that he and my mom forgave each other. My parents' new sense of freedom had also given me freedom. I put on Silver Linings Playbook and sent my dad a photo.
And of course, the most special gift I got from him that I always wanted - a nice camera. He bought it for me for our last Christmas together - 2015.
It had been a few months after his cancer diagnosis, so it was a very sad Christmas. I would say it was bittersweet, but it was more bitter than sweet. I made sure to spend the night on Christmas Eve, knowing it would be the last. It wouldn't be til months later that I would find out that he didn't even remember me staying the night and waking up with him, my siblings and stepmom.
I opened this beautiful camera Christmas morning and all of the accessories. It filled my heart with deep sorrow knowing this was the last thing he would probably ever get me. Not because I only loved him when he bought me things. But because I knew he loved buying me things.
Time passed after Christmas. My dad would periodically ask me how I liked my camera, if I was learning how to use it...or if I was using it at all... He wanted for me to enjoy it. I just couldn't let myself.
Once he passed away I couldn't even look at it. And it broke my heart that he left this earth before I could ever tell him how much I loved using it. Truthfully, I am still learning to.
In the end, I guess it is ironic that my dad's main love language was gifts. He is gone. But he left behind for me all these things he wanted so deeply for me to enjoy. And as time passes, I realize it more and more.
It wasn't until last week that I felt vulnerable enough to take my camera out of its bag and start reading the instruction manual. I posted a photo of this on Facebook and how the words "you only love your dad when he buys you things" really affected me. Someone commented and said, "don't let evil win".
After reading these words, I decided from that point on that I would not let fear or guilt rule my mindset when it comes to enjoying the gifts my dad bought me. These gifts are all I physically have left of him.
It has taken me almost 20 years to break this mindset, but I am being deliberate in breaking it. It is a process, and I am still learning.
My dad loved me. And I loved him. And he provided for me in the best way he knew how because he loved me. Because he delighted in me. It is okay to allow my heart to appreciate and enjoy every little thing he ever bought me.
And so I will.
There was a time not too long ago when I prayed for all the things I have now. It finally sunk in this week that I am not living a dream...all the beautiful things in my life are mine. They're real.
It's also crazy to think that if I hadn't surrendered to God the desires of my heart, then I wouldn't be where I am today. I would be stuck in a place of longing, but chasing the wrong things to fulfill certain needs.
It was sometime in the winter or spring of 2012, I want to say, when I was in a place (one of many) of being on and off with this guy, a long time friend, who had recently moved across the country. My naive self thought things were going well, when one night I found out he was planning on dating someone back at home...who wasn't me. As a 21 year old trying to figure herself out, this devastated me. I had already had plans to go out that night though, so that was at least something to look forward to.
A friend of mine picked me up from my house shortly after and drove me to his friend's apartment in Royal Oak where everyone was meeting before going out dancing. The friend whose apartment we all met at...was Jared.
I remember meeting him and feeling a connection, if you will. I thought he was attractive and funny and nice. He had a girlfriend though. I wished for a brief moment that he was single, but I accepted that he wasn't and went on with my night. And my life...for the next 4-5 years...
I had so much to learn. So so much to learn. And I want to believe that nothing happens by accident. The people God puts in our lives. And when. The situations that we go through, and how we choose to grow through them.
In meeting Jared that night, something I had not really given much thought to until recently, it was like God was giving a sign without me realizing it. In hindsight, it was as if He was assuring me, "you're sad now, but wait til you see what I have planned." A very special plan that only an all-knowing God could see.
But I was too consumed in my own confusion that night. And the summer immediately following. And the failed relationships and other heartache in the years following. All the stumbling blocks building me up for a time when I would be ready and my heart would be open.
The heartache I felt that night with the guy who was out of state, and subsequent continued heartaches from that situation, as well as another long term relationship that would help me in the beginning, but then would go on much much longer than it should have...were because I was searching for a love that I was waiting for my dad to give.
I wouldn't realize until therapy in 2013/2014 that I was drawn to men who were a lot like my dad, so I could fix them...so I could redeem a love that was lost in my childhood relationship with my dad. I knew in my head and heart that I could not change my dad. My heart was tired and burnt out. But maybe I could help men who were reflections of my dad in ways and fill the hole, the longing and sadness, in my heart that way.
The interesting thing though, is that my dad always seemed to be discouraged by the men I chose to date and/or pursue. He knew those relationships left me feeling consistently disappointed and empty. He would always express his desire for me to be happy. "As long as you are happy", he would say. Like any parent's wish for their child. I kept assuring him that I was happy in my own way, and that it was unrealistic to expect me to be in a relationship that was easy. Because relationships were hard. I knew from experiences that this was true. I expected relationships to be hard. So in a way, I was setting myself up for failure.
But these broken relationships that I would pursue over the years excited me. The hope in waiting for these men to change and finally accept and see me kept me holding on. It was like a game that I was consistently losing, but I kept playing for the off chance that I would succeed.
I would never succeed.
And in time, after years and a lot of tears, I learned that that was okay. It would be okay, anyway.
After a failed short term relationship (with someone who wasn't a reflection of my dad) in the summer of 2015, I had a heart to heart with God. I sat with Him for a while at Stony Creek Park. I enjoyed a cake pop. And prayed. I told God that I didn't want a relationship anymore for the sake of fulfilling any desires or needs. I just wanted a healthy relationship with someone normal. I wanted to be with someone where the relationship itself would mean more to me than my own agenda. I told God that if I was going to date someone just to fulfill a need or agenda, then I didn't want it. I would rather be single forever than be with someone for the wrong reasons. I meant what I said too.
Then my dad was diagnosed with cancer shortly after this realization. Which took my life and heart in a whole different direction for a while.
The summer before my dad passed away, I had another heart to heart with God. I was so discouraged that all these people in my many different circles were either married, engaged, in a good relationship, having children...and I was just single. And waiting for my dad to die. I felt hopeless. And sad. Oh so sad.
I prayed that if I was never going to meet anyone, or if I was supposed to be alone, that God would take away the desire to find and be with someone. I just wanted that desire out of my heart so I wouldn't feel discouraged when I saw other people moving forward in that area of their lives. I know the sadness and grief of going through my dad's battle with terminal cancer only intensified my feelings of loneliness.
And then pretty much out of nowhere Jared showed up. The person I felt almost an instant connection to over 4 years earlier the night we officially met at his apartment. The night my confused 21 year old self finally allowed herself to get out of the house and try something new.
Jared added me on Facebook that very summer I prayed to God to help me through my grief and to take the desire to be in an intimate relationship with someone out of my heart. Funny, right?
I've blogged about this before, but it wasn't until spending 3 solid days with my dad at his bedside at the hospital leading up to his passing that I finally experienced the most amount of healing in my relationship with him up until that point. My heart was finally ready for something good.
I firmly believe that through all of my confusion and internal struggles all those years, that only God knew when I would be ready. And once my heart was ready, He showed up on time by bringing Jared back into my life at just the right time. The perfect time.
God always shows up on time. Never too early. And never too late.
Even when it seems hopeless, God is there. And He makes Himself known in all sorts of ways. Bringing unlikely people into your path that you don't even give another thought. Until years later when you look back on God's very orchestrated and specific planning.
My life now is the absolute best it's ever been. All the time, therapy, heartbreaks and heart to hearts with God were worth with it if that's what it took to bring me here.
If you are struggling right now, I encourage you to take heart and keep pushing forward. You never know how God is working and providing for you behind the scenes.
Thank you, Jesus, for the ways You have provided for me...and the ways You were without me even knowing it.
My life changed completely one year ago. But it has only been by God's Love and Grace that I can honestly say that I am in the best place I have ever been - mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
As the 1 year anniversary of my dad's death is fast approaching, it is also coming up on the 1 year anniversary since my old self, the Christina that I was for over 26 years, also left. And in her place was born a woman with an incredible amount of courage, strength, dignity, perseverance, and love. A woman I never knew existed. A woman that I had always hoped was inside me, but I guess it took a very specific set of circumstances to raise her up.
They say that everything happens for a reason. I have always tried to believe this, but the way everything worked itself out this year, I know that it must be true. My dad's dreams, hopes, and prayers for my life started coming to fruition just before and after his death. So in a lot of ways, I feel like I have him to thank. I know life's circumstances are ever-changing and consistently inconsistent, but the security and wholeness that I have felt makes me feel consistently strong and capable.
68 love notes.
The most humbling, yet surprising thing that happened this year. Tucked away in a large yellow envelope in a box of my old belongings from my dad's house were 68+ love notes handwritten from my elementary school age self to my dad. Notes from a little girl to the first love of her life. He had saved every one. These notes saved me.
Throughout my life, my relationship with my dad was unstable. I felt insecure a lot. I always wanted for him to be happy. He was in pain, and I could never change that. Something I know in my heart was never my responsibility, but something I still struggle with to this day...wishing my dad had lived a happier life. I felt that he had experienced a lot of residual pain from the divorce with my mom and not being able to live with me growing up. Because of these thoughts, I partly felt responsible for his happiness, I guess you could say. My emotions towards my dad were conflicted. I felt so much love for him, yet at the same time, I felt like something was wrong and could never really put my finger on it...
But I tried. I tried to be patient and loving. I tried to set boundaries where I felt they were needed. I saw different therapists over the years to try to make sense of my own personal struggles...I tried. Even though many days I wondered if I could have or should have done more.
When someone you love dies, you wonder if you loved them enough. If you told them that you loved them enough. If you really did all you could to nurture the best with relationship with them.
Each note contained an immense amount of unconditional love. Each one read bringing me more and more peace that I had done all I could. That I really did love my dad to the best of my ability. I had no idea that writing so many notes would actually bring me the comfort and peace I would ultimately need to get through the loss without questioning. I didn't know at the time what I was doing. But God did. And I thank my dad for saving them. They mean more to me knowing that they meant so much to him. Enough for him to keep them all. Enough to save them for me.
On my dad's deathbed, 1 year ago today, I had that overwhelming peace that I had done all I could. The last meaningful conversation he had with someone after receiving the news from his doctor that he only had a few days left was an apology to me for everything he had put me through.
With my head in his tired lap and his arm around me he said, "I'm sorry for all the bullshit I put you through. My only regret is not spending more time with you."
I told him that I forgave him.
And shortly after these words, his mind began to drift off to a place far away from here. His soul being held and carried by the Creator of the universe, leading him to a place of infinite peace and love. A place that could offer him so much more than this earthly world ever could.
And less than 12 hours later he was gone. A lifetime of struggles. 13 months of fighting cancer. A life lost. But some peace was found in knowing the pain was gone and the fight was over.
To be honest, I still can't wrap my head around it.
A thought that gives me peace though is that my dad was like the genie from Aladdin...in leaving this world, he was finally set free...free from all the burdens, heartache, and stress from this life. Free to just be. And to be with God.
Despite the intermittent grief that still comes, my life is good. God has blessed me abundantly. So much so that I feel almost no worry at all about anything.
In the spring of 2015, I started taking anxiety medication a few months prior to my dad's cancer diagnosis for a sleep disorder. Something that helped me so much going through all the trials and loss these past couple years. However, I am so pleased to be off medication as of this month. An accomplishment I was complacent to never reach. But it feels good.
Now, to take my mind off the grief, I am beginning to prepare for Christmas and the holiday season. It's actually the first year in almost a decade that I am looking forward to celebrating instead of grieving over the loss of something.
It feels so good to feel so free myself.
It's something a lot of people struggle with, but feel too ashamed to talk about. People who struggle with anxiety tend to get anxious just thinking about how they have anxiety.
Anxiety is something I have struggled with my whole life, but didn't become truly evident to me until about 4 years ago when I started having panic attacks. It was October of 2013. I knew the extreme anxiety I was experiencing was not normal, so I did two things (apprehensively): I made an appointment with my family doctor. And then scheduled an appointment with a therapist. I got to the point where I realized if my doctor had to write me a prescription for Xanax then I probably needed a little more help that I wanted to fully admit.
At this point in my life, therapy was not a new thing for me. I saw a therapist for about 6 months in 2004 (I was only in 9th grade), and then for about 2 years from 2009-2011. But to need to see a therapist again? I honestly dreaded it. And I hated feeling like something was "wrong" with me.
But this therapist came highly recommended from my mentor. They were in a biweekly women's Bible study together. In fact, their Bible study met in a room at the clinic in Lake Orion. Her name, my soon to be therapist, was Renee. And the clinic was called Treeside.
Treeside is a beautiful historic home located on a corner in downtown Lake Orion. As I've said before, I had spent years in therapy prior to this point in my life. But I guess I didn't realize how crucial this very step was for me.
Renee's office was very homey with a comfy armchair and elegant decor in shades of gold and plum. My favorite part about her office though was a beautiful bay window to my left that overlooked downtown Lake Orion. And in this very office I ended up spending one hour a week for two years. Watching the seasons change out that bay window. Through falls, winters, springs and summers. I later would grow to especially love the way the snow sat on the branches on the tree just outside that window.
Renee asked me lot of questions about my childhood. I explained the back and forth that took place as a little girl, starting at the age of 2, from my mom's house to my dad's and vice versa. My earliest childhood memories.
As time went on we began to focus more and more time on my relationship with my dad. At the time, I didn't really see this as relevant since it wasn't a present concern. My main concern was my anxiety attacks. But I knew Renee's prompting served an important purpose. I trusted that even when I couldn't exactly see how.
I took Renee's lead and opened up to her more about this area of my life. My dad. An area that I specifically wanted to keep closed in a box on the top shelf of a closet. I knew there were issues. But it just made more sense to not open up a can of worms and keep things as status quo. I eventually opened up about his drinking. Memories that stuck with me from the time I started to form them.
*I plan to do another post going more in depth about my therapy with Renee at a later date.* But what I want to stress in this post is that our anxiety stems from SOMEWHERE. If we are feeling anxious or experience panic attacks, chances are it is being triggered from a deeply rooted traumatic experience. Some we may remember. Some we may not have any recollection of. Some anxiety may even stem from the anxiety or stress of our primary caregivers during some of our early, formative years.
I don't believe we are born as anxious people. But we are born into a fallen world, surrounded by broken people. The brokenness in humanity is what leads to pain, which leads to anxiety. But it is NOTHING to be ashamed of. And you should never feel ashamed about asking or reaching out for help from a professional.
Even if the therapy proves to be difficult at first, and even if some topics don't make sense initially, I urge you to KEEP GOING. There is a reason to dive deeper into every facet of our lives in order to understand and heal from the very onset of our pain.
Eventually, I learned to have more control over my thoughts just by being aware of what my triggers were. Once I became more in control of my thoughts and how to identify triggers, the triggers seemed to lessen. Through God's grace and the wisdom of Renee, I experienced more healing than I thought was possible.
I allowed God to lead me down an unknown and what seemed like a scary path. But God held my hand through it all, knowing the significance that this therapy would have on my life in my current and future relationships.
You may struggle with anxiety, but it doesn't own you and doesn't make up the very essence of who you are. You are uniquely, wonderfully and fearfully made by a loving God who wants you to heal from your hurts.
I will continue with a few more parts - learning the triggers, medication, and moving forward.
This post is going to take a lot of vulnerability for me to write about and share. But I feel led to do so because of the first part of the message that Fr. Kenneth gave at church yesterday. The topic was inheritance.
Simply put, I did not receive a dime of my dad's assets after he passed away. What I did receive were the things he had already given to me or I to him. This shocked me only because I knew he really wanted me to be taken care of. It was something he had expressed a desire in doing my whole life, before he got sick with cancer. Even if he couldn't at the time, there was always an expressed desire of the ways he would have liked to or planned to in the future. He worked so hard to provide for his family, that I thought I would receive a little something after his passing that I could put towards a wedding or my own children someday.
Months followed my dad's passing, and I never received any sort of letter or phone call from anyone. I would be lying if I said there wasn't a part of me that waited to hear from somebody. It wasn't even so much the desire to obtain a sum of money, but I felt forgotten. The money, or the receiving of an inheritance, to me represented one final way of being thought of and taken care of by my dad. It was the idea of being and feeling forgotten that upset me the most.
I struggled with this. I even found myself angry with my dad for a short time. I worked so hard on myself for years to have a healthy relationship with him. Lying to him about why I was in therapy so he wouldn't feel badly about his shortcomings that hurt me. I put my heart and soul into making all the visitation, funeral and burial arrangements for my dad that would honor him the most and bring forth a message that he had been saved and had indeed gone Home. Why was it that I did all this work and in the end he forgot about me?
I have always been very aware of my grief process, so I knew this was part of the grieving. But I also found myself struggling with lies. Lies that I was not taken care of. Lies that I was not loved. Lies that I had been rejected and that my dad did not love me. I was angry with myself for feeling anger in my heart towards him being that he was gone. But I let myself feel the anger so I could let it go. I knew this was part of the process of me going to new levels of forgiveness and healing towards my dad, even though it was hard.
I prayed that God would speak His truth into the situation. Doing this very grieving and praying at Jared's house it hit me. I distinctly remember feeling God saying to me, "But look what I have given you."
My dad may not have left me an inheritance, but the blessings that were brought into my life following his death have beyond exceeded any money I could have received from him.
God brought me love: a man who has done nothing but selflessly love, support, and take care of me since we began dating.
God brought me a home.
God brought me my dream job.
I have been constantly surrounded by loved ones.
And I have always had my faith.
Once I sat back and reflected on this truth, I realized that I wouldn't have traded any of this for any sort of earthly inheritance. Because I am loved. I am taken care of. And I am worthy.
This continued healing helped me to reach even more depths of healing and forgiveness towards my dad. The forgiveness allowing me to grow an even deeper love for him.
The inheritance that we, all of humanity, are called to is one that far outweighs anything this earth can bring us--even greater than our greatest blessings that keep us going and holding on. We just need to keep trusting in the hope of the inheritance of a greater Kingdom and clinging to the truth that such an inheritance is available to us now if we believe.
God...God is everything. His love is everything. And his blessings remind us that there are greater things ahead if we keep holding on.
Hearing Fr. Kenneth preach yesterday morning on inheritance was so affirming to the healing that has taken place in my heart. I could listen to a sermon on it and instead of feeling bitterness, feel praise and wrapped in God's love.
He is calling us to so much more, so don't get caught up in petty earthly things that might drag you or your heart down. And don't base your self worth on earthly things.
You are loved beyond measure.
You are taken care of and have all you need in Christ.
You are worthy.
I thought about my dad a lot this weekend.
My boyfriend and I spent the weekend up north at his family’s cabin in Alpena. It was so beautiful and peaceful. I felt very blessed for such a relaxing opportunity.
My dad always loved the woods and camping. He had always hoped to retire up north in a secluded cabin in the woods.
I went camping with him a lot as a child. Sometimes I would even request to have my dad set up the tent in my grandparents’ backyard so we could go “camping”. I would bring all my Barbies with me and make sure they were comfortable. 😊 And snacks. I always brought snacks.
My dad also had a strong love for astronomy. He had so many astronomy books. I thought it was the coolest thing ever to bring some to school with me when I was in 5th grade to show my class. I think this is what sparked my own interest at such a young age.
Because of my dad's love for astronomy, he always had some sort of neat telescope in his possession. The first time I ever really looked into one was on his balcony at his apartment in Grand Blanc when I was 9 or 10. I saw the moon and all its little craters. I had never seen the moon so close in person.
My dad later got a much bigger telescope with a lens that was about 10 inches in diameter. I always wanted to use it. But for some reason we never really set it up to use it together. Maybe once. That is one thing I wish we had done together before he passed away. We talked about it a lot. And then life keeps happening and things get pushed aside.
The other morning as I was scrolling through Facebook from my bed in Alpena, I saw an article about how the Northern Lights would be visible in Norther Michigan Sunday evening around 11pm. Jared just this weekend set up his own new telescope which we had used at the cabin. I did some research on nearby parks that would be good for stargazing, so around 11:30pm Sunday night we drove out to Rockport State Park. We had hoped to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
As soon as I got out of the car I noticed a hazy trail that stretched across the entire sky from east to west. I thought it was clouds, but Jared informed me that it was the Milky Way. I had never seen the Milky Way so clear before. I couldn't stop staring at it.
Jared set up his telescope on the dusty and rocky land along the coast of Lake Huron as I laid out a blanket. Jared also brought his nice camera to take some photos.
Once the telescope was set up, I looked at the "fog" and saw the millions and millions of tiny little stars that make up the Milky Way. I was in awe.
We looked at more stars across the sky. Usually the brightest ones that twinkled and danced in the lens of our telescope. I remember seeing Saturn with my dad through a telescope at his house in Sterling Heights when I was young and how cool it was. I picked out from the sky what I thought could be a planet and ended up finding Saturn. There's nothing like seeing its rings for the first time in over a decade...I was so excited!
We took a break from the telescope and lied down on the blanket together to admire all that was around us, snuggling to keep warm from the cool summer air.
We saw so many shooting stars that night. So many that I stopped keeping track. The skies were totally clear in every direction. The moon had not yet risen, so there was no glare from that either. Although we stuck around to watch the moon rise around 2:00am. We saw that through the telescope too. Even though it was still behind some trees. 😊
I thought about my dad a lot Sunday night. How he would’ve loved being there with me to see what I was seeing. At the same time though, I felt grateful for this new life God has given me. That He has given me the opportunity to experience all that I have been able to with Jared. And the incredible healing that it has brought into my life.
We didn't end up seeing the Northern Lights that night. We left the park around 2:00am. Apparently they didn't start until 2:30.
Even though we didn't see what we had initially set out to, I ended up experiencing more healing than I set out to. Enjoying the things my dad enjoyed and enjoying them to the fullest. Carrying on his love of the universe and everything that exists outside of our own planet.
That night brought me hope and the reminder that there is more. There is always more. We just need to be deliberate in making time to look for and experience it.
Trauma. It's one of the main things that has led me to Christ over and over and over again in my life. Through the trauma, Christ was the only constant...the only thing that made sense. And the one thing that gave me hope that there were better days ahead. That Christ was with me and near, and close to the brokenhearted...close to the suffering and sick. Close to those who needed healing during and after the death of a loved one. Close to those who were going through a divorce and the children experiencing it. Close to those going through tough breakups and assuring them that their worth was not found in men but in Christ. That though we might be feeling rejected, we are extremely LOVED. Close to those trying to find that one job, through the rejections and hurt along the way.
But what happens when you are no longer experiencing trauma? What happens when all the hurt you've ever known has suddenly subsided and lessened, and you no longer feel like you're drowning and in desperate need of a Savior?
This leads me to where I am now...learning how to cling to Christ when I am beyond the storms. Beyond the trauma and the immediate pain. Beyond the divorces, break-ups, job rejections, cancer diagnoses, and traumatic death. I know I am not freed from these things for good, but at least and hopefully for a little while.
Since the 6 month mark of my dad's passing, I began to allow myself to really rest in the peace that God has brought me. For the first time in my life. But it wasn't until the peace finally came that I realized how my whole life I have never been given the opportunity to find Christ beyond the storm. Christ is in the storms with us, but where do we find Him when things are actually...good?
Since as far back as I can remember I have experienced some sort of repeated trauma, beginning from my earliest memories of having to go back and forth from my mom's to my dad's...the sadness of leaving and missing my mom when I was with my dad and the sadness of leaving and missing my dad when I was with my mom.
I found Christ at an early age. I don't remember exactly when, but if I had to guess I would say 7. I would pray every night when I went to bed. It just felt like the right thing to do.
That same God continued to come through in rough patches with my dad in early high school, the divorce between my mom and stepdad in early college, my first break up after a nearly 5 year relationship when I was 21...the list goes on and on.
When my dad got sick with cancer, I had the peace that God prepared me my whole life for that time. Almost 5 years of therapy on and off, being on anxiety medication for an insomnia battle the spring prior, and finally getting a steady job with benefits.
God came through as my dad was passing away in the hospital, giving me strength to get through and then coordinate all the arrangements. I didn't even get a chance to begin really grieving that week because I was so busy.
Then God came through in bringing me my dream job, my boyfriend, a home, and a sweet puppy to help me move forward in love, peace, and stability.
And now I sit. I sit with God not because I need to through the suffering, but because I want to, and it's the right thing to do. The traumas in my life have always launched me towards Christ full speed. But now things have slowed down, and I have slowed down. There is so much stillness right now. So much silence. And that may not necessarily be a bad thing. I am waiting to see what God is calling me to through this very specific and new time in my life.
God is there through the storms, but He is in the calm too.
He might sound like quiet mornings and a soft breeze. And feel like the hot sun on your back. Other times He might sound like laughter or feel like a hug from a friend or like soft grass beneath your feet.
Maybe we need only to be still. And in that stillness rest in the thought that He is God. The stillness might very well be the biggest blessing yet.
Maybe we don't need to find Him in the calm after all...maybe He IS the calm after the storm.
I haven't written in a while. I've mostly been taking time for myself and honestly just enjoying this season of peace I am in. This season of calm...for the first time in my life, and I don't want it to end. I'm used to always waiting for the next thing or being stuck in some kind of storm. In a lot of ways, I had grown used to my life being "out of control" for one reason or another. I am actually and truly enjoying the present. Not just surviving it. And for that, I am so thankful.
I was hit with a lot of grief a couple months ago around the 6 month mark of my dad's passing. It began to really sink in that he's gone. And not coming back. In my head, he was just at a very long extended shift at the hospital. But as my 27th birthday approached, it hit me.
My dad always loved celebrating my birthday. He would take June 1st off every year, even if I had other plans. He even would usually start asking me a month or 2 prior what I wanted for my birthday. He loved giving gifts.
I spent a lot of time grieving leading up to my birthday. In fact, I dreaded it. And the people close to me knew how much I was dreading it. I couldn't fathom a birthday without my dad's goofy birthday texts or calling/texting me at 10:08pm--my birth minute.
But as my birthday approached (as in the week of) I suddenly didn't dread it so much. I decided I was going to spend the day with some special people in my life. My dad would want me to be happy.
My birthday came. I woke up beside the man who loves me and went off to work.
My school had also planned a field trip for that afternoon. I can't tell you the immense joy it brought me to spend my day with my coworkers and students, and seeing my students so happy. They each have a special place in my heart.
When we got back to the school, one of my coworkers had surprised me with a birthday cake. So I got to celebrate with my kids and work family. I was so happy.
I went out to dinner that evening with my boyfriend, best friend, and sister (who is also my best friend). I guess my boyfriend is my best friend too, so I got to spend the day with all of my best friends haha.
After we went back to Jared's for presents and a cake that he baked me from scratch complete with a broccoli on it (I LOVE broccoli).
Then 10:08pm came. I cried many tears thinking about that minute coming and going without hearing from my dad. Well, I got so distracted watching a giant spider on Jared's front porch catching mosquitoes that before I knew it my birth minute had passed.
My therapy for that day? Living each moment. And not living in fear for what it might be like without my dad. But rather enjoying it for what it was, with some people who love me most.
Aside from getting through my birthday, things in my life really are calm, and over all, I am happy.
There are only 6 days of school left in the school year. I can't believe I am nearing the last week of my first year of my dream job.
I also started a pretty strict workout regimen again, and I am loving my results so far! It's called BBG (Bikini Body Guides by Kayla Itsines, later renamed "Sweat with Kayla"). I am currently nearing the end of week 7. The workouts consist of alternating every other day circuits and cardio. The circuits are high intensity and utilize weights and mostly anything you can find at home!
I love being able to put more focus on my health now that things are calm and stable.
My boyfriend and I have also spent many hours working on his yard. It's always fun to see the progress... :)
I spent a while talking to my dad in the car today...telling him about how I hope that he is so happy wherever he is. I told him how it broke my heart that he was always in pain. And expressed my sorrow that he never got to meet Jared. But I am moving forward with my life, and I know he would be so happy and proud. He was always proud of me no matter what I was going through.
It's interesting being able to have the courage to verbalize things to him now that I could only ever put in writing.
Be blessed everyone. <3