“Let’s Rename It.”

I clocked out of work on Monday, sat in my car, and checked my phone for voicemails and text messages. My art teacher has cancelled most of our planned meetings since her cancer diagnosis but today, I was notification free. My gut feeling wasn’t positive, but I drove over to her place anyway.

I was greeted at the door by my winded and pale friend. She grasped the door firmly and it took all her energy to just speak. “It changes from one moment to the next. I was doing better earlier,” she explained. From there I was beckoned into the kitchen where she placed a cracker-sized piece of sourdough topped with cheese, salami, and tomato in my hand. She leaned over the kitchen counter and tried to forcefully eat hers. “I’m trying. I’m really trying [to care for myself].” I watched her take a half-hearted bite while tears trickled down the corner of her eyes. She was exhausted. She felt defeated.

I forcefully swallowed the salami cheese lump in my throat and hugged her gingerly. I had tears too. “I’m sorry you are going through this,” I whispered. I walked back to my spot and finished my snack for her sake.

“I’m trying to pray fairly,” I told her. “I pray with faith for God to fully heal you if that’s His will, but I also pray that if it’s your time He gives you strength and lessens the pain.”

She nods and then apologizes for crying and I tell her it is perfectly fine to cry.

Her photoshop lessons are on pause indefinitely. Since she is now technically in hospice, we work on end-of-life planning. She helps me with painting and I help her gather pictures for her memorial montage. It’s just as heavy and grim as it sounds in theory, paired with her sharing sweet memories from certain snapshots.

We began with a new desktop folder. “What would you like to name it?” I dare not name it myself.

“Last.” She says firmly.

I type in her request with a heavy heart. We open up her pictures folder and go through each folder, one by one. I wouldn’t say this was a miracle, because I was CTRL+Z’ing some of the accidental shortcuts I made, but we had the folder name disappear twice when it shouldn’t have. Either her archaic laptop was freaking out, or I was subconsciously undo-ing more than once. The important part is that I wasn’t trying and truly didn’t understand why the folder name kept changing if I had so many images in there already and it wasn’t undo-ing THAT.

“Look. It disappeared again!” I searched her desktop for the Last folder and found it hiding out as “new folder 4”. “Perhaps last is not the right name for it. We need something more hopeful.”

She tightens her jaw. “Let’s rename it.” She takes a moment as her voice quivers: “Hope.” She apologizes again for crying. “Maybe it’s not my time yet.” We both remain quiet in the intensity of the moment. She pulls out a tissue and wipes her eyes. “You know, this is the first time I’m crying for me.”

Even though the buggy little four-letter folder may have been a glitch or oversight on my part, it truly was a miracle for her. It strengthened her and gave her hope for that day. And I know in that way, it was from God. It was a sign she isn’t defeated yet.

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As the Hourglass Gets Low the Sand Becomes More Precious

I went over to my painting instructor’s home with my painting in hand and a small bag of groceries she requested now that she can’t drive. It was mostly catholic candles and fruit.

She sat me down at her table and offered me a bowl of warm soup. Her kids may be grown but she extends her Italian Mom hospitality to me. As she speaks, she keeps telling me, “Eat, Eat!”

I know that with the cancer and her collapsed lung she tires more quickly so I obey her and ladle another spoonful into my mouth.

“I just know in my heart I’m not going to make it this time.”

A lump formed in my throat as I forcefully made myself swallow that mouthful of chicken noodle soup.

My spirit sunk as I searched for words and knew there were none to offer. Just this weekend, I ran across a powerful quote: “Learn to give support, not advice.” This time support was listening. I knew it wasn’t time to conjure up some false encouragement or tell her she could fight it. But I wanted to. So badly. She was entrusting me with her deepest feelings; ones she couldn’t even express to her children.

I wanted to remind her how strong she has been in life – how she raised three kids as a single parent and at one point juggled three jobs to make ends meet. I wanted to blurt out how she defied cancer last time with only a 5% chance of survival. But I also saw the tired in her eyes and knew this life and pain had caused her to grow weary and weak. She knows heaven is on the other side and isn’t scared to talk about death and dying.

She went on to explain that chemo was not an option right now because it is so potent and hard on the system and that at this point, she was only pursuing radiation to ease the horrible pain.

We moved into the painting room and I saw a little spark of energy as she helped me figure out how to blend my acrylic paints correctly with my cheapie brushes. I saw that smile and pride in her work and how happy art made her. I fought my sunken feelings and concentrated on what she instructed.

The phone rang a handful of times during our lesson. Her son, worried, asked her to spend the night. Her doctor, the one who helped her beat cancer four years ago, called to express his sincerest sadness in finding out she had cancer again.

When she came back from the calls, she helped me figure out the next part of my portrait and then went on to tell me this and that about what she would like me to help with if her time came to a close. She wanted me to help her children with the picture slideshow. She wanted me to make sure her paintings and her stories for each one were rightly recorded. I nodded and shook off the sadness best as I could but my face couldn’t hide it. When she noticed she asked me not to cry and of course those words opened the flood gates. I tried to compose myself as quickly as I could as I knew my sadness pained her.

Over the course of this year, her right arm has grown weaker. She had no idea what was causing the intense pain and her doctors didn’t figure out it was cancer until last month. Now she has cancer in multiple spots in her bones and is fighting a collapsed lung. I’ve never paid her a penny to take lessons. We had a special agreement that I’d give her Photoshop lessons in exchange for painting lessons. The last several months with that weakened arm, my “lessons” have mostly been visits where she tries to make me feel like I am instructing her even though she isn’t able to do much.

I know in my heart we’ve formed a sweet friendship and she mostly pretends to still trade lessons for my sake. She wants to see me further my painting abilities and at this point doesn’t really expect much of a trade. She isn’t even instructing at her two jobs anymore, yet she has invited me to continue our lesson time even though she is very weak.

I think of all the other things she could be doing with these two hours once a week, knowing she could possibly only have until the end of this year, and I realize how special this gift is. She is gifting me something very precious: some of her remaining time. I will always be grateful for these moments.

A Local Friend

One of my heart cries the last few years has been for a local friend.

I want to say that carefully…because I do have solid friends around me, but they are either a lengthy drive away, or are super close in proximity but more of an acquaintance. I don’t want to hurt anyone but the absolute truth is, I don’t have someone I’d consider a very close friend in town.

There is something special about having a local someone who will be there for you at the drop of a pin, who makes you a priority, and who is good for the soul. Someone you also want to invest in and love on and encourage. A person to grab coffee with. To wind down with. To remind you to reach for your dreams or be honest enough to say hard things to you when you’re wrong…

I can’t remember how many times I’ve asked for this kind of friend in my prayers. Someone who is fun and has big dreams so we can feed off each other’s inspirations and help each other out. Someone who loves the Lord too so I can get some much needed spiritual encouragement as well. A person who isn’t afraid of the good and bad sides and takes me as me.

And I think God has given me that friend.

We’ve only spent a little bit of time together but I see us really connecting. She is very different than me – loud, energetic, quickly ready to take anything on, and animated. I am gentle, relaxed, somewhat hesitant but headstrong, and quiet. I’m not used to having a buddy whose voice echoes throughout the whole restaurant when we’re chatting over lunch. I’m not sure how to handle her umpteenth offer for us to spar at the local martial arts studio. I don’t say this negatively, but I’m also not used to someone as dramatic. Conversely she must also be practicing patience with me as I open up very slowly and like to think before I do.

I love that she is always up for adventure and trying new things. That is something we both love. I also adore that while we might not agree on everything doctrinally, we both are believers. She has a big heart and is involved in missions and charity projects. We are also similar in wanting to help and spread kindness. So I think the parts where we are different are good for me. And I hope I can also be good for her.

Concert Vibes: The Dear Hunter & Eisley

It’s been a while since I’ve gone to a concert! I love living near a big music scene where I know most bands I love will hit on their tour.

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LACMA is practically my art home away from home, and I was surprised to find out  how close in proximity the El Rey Theater is to my art stomping grounds. I’ve been to the El Rey before, how did I not know this?!

My friend J is now a nurse at a children’s hospital and since she moved about 2 hours away, this was the first time I really got to hang out with her and catch up on life. She got to explore the La Brea Tar Pit area as she waited for me to navigate through the heavy traffic. We grabbed dinner at a fantastic burger place and chatted away until the concert was about to start. A four minute walk later, and voila!

This was first time seeing The Dear Hunter live and my second time enjoying Eisley. I tried to give J a rundown of the acts and the the story in TDH’s music, and it sounds like a crazy soap opera when you put it in a nutshell. Haha.

The Dear Hunter played a great set: everyone in the crowd cheered as they heard the first few seconds of instrumental and knew another favorite was about to play.

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My new Eisley gear! I was worried the t-shirt wouldn’t fit as they only carried small and large, but it fits like a glove since it’s a unisex slim fit. How gorgeous is that design? I sent my boyfriend this pic and he said, “It’s you!” 😉

Seeing Eisley this time was quite different now that Chauntelle and Stacy have moved on to pursue their own music, but it was magical all the same.

I’m not sure if there were issues with the audio. It seemed like the instruments were a little overpowering and Sherri’s mic wasn’t as loud as it needed to be, but they rocked it. I was ecstatic to hear Golly Sandra and Smarter in their set. Sherri is my band spirit animal. I love her sense of wonder and whimsy and that she also draws and doodles. She proudly brought up her hubby and two daughters and thanked the crowd for letting her be a touring mom who gets to do what she loves. ❤

They announced they’ll be releasing new music and touring LA around February. Guess what I’ll be adding to my birthday list?

Too Fat to Ride

Talk about an amazing extended weekend staycation, and I got to do it with one of my best friends. I got eight hours of sleep multiple nights in a row, several coffee and chit chat trips with H, and we got a theme park and beach day in. It was amazing!

Living near Universal Studios and Disneyland, it’s always fun planning a theme park day especially when new attractions come out. H and a group of mutual friends and I were highly anticipating the brand new Harry Potter World addition in Universal Studios. I had turned down several invites throughout the year because it meant a lot to me that I go with this group of awesome ladies. And I’m glad I waited, because we all experienced the magic together for the first time. Every detail was considered and it really looked like you were transplanted to Hogsmead. That’s why one detail bothered me even more…

I can’t do coasters. The most I can stomach and often lands me with a headache is Space Mountain. Anything beyond that caliber means trouble. That’s why I did my due diligence and looked up the new HP World ride reviews on Yelp and videos on YouTube. As I preview Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, I notice an interesting video in my recommended panel. It had to do with not fitting. The lady in the video sat in a test seat and tried several times to pull the chest holster over and get a green light. It never lit. And my stomach sank as she said she is a size 18/20.

I’m a size 18/20.

I asked about ride intensity on one of my social media accounts, and again, someone commented on the confining seats.

I may be too fat to fit.

Now, instead of worrying about speed and intensity of the ride, I was afraid my 5’5 size 18/20 body would disqualify me from the fun.

I confided with H before the trip my fears before we went. I needed to let her no that no matter the outcome, I didn’t want anyone to feel bad or not ride on my behalf. As we entered the line, a Universal Studios staff member pulled us aside. He didn’t address anyone’s weight. He didn’t single out the overweight people in my party. He merely asked if it was our group’s first time on the ride and if we knew we’d fit comfortably.

Person by person, we tested the ride and the green light lit for our party.

For everyone but me.

I was too fat.

So many thoughts raced through my head and I chased them away before they could fester. Gathering the confidence I had left, I tried to stay positive and offer to hold my friends’ bags and see that as a bright side. Avoiding ride lockers is always a plus. The staff member was kind enough to let me try again and have a friend push down to see. No green light.

In a way it was hard. I wasn’t the only overweight person in the group, but I’m most definitely the heaviest. My taller and more apple-shaped friend fit just fine, and my shorter curvy all over friend did too. I can’t tell if my really thick thighs or Size 40 E chest was the culprit behind the red light. But either way, I didn’t fit. The guy apologized and said for the inconvenience he would give us a password to the front of the line. Which was awesome! I’m so glad we skipped an hour-long line. In no way was I singled out and I was so thankful. And I was happy the test seat was discreetly placed, and available so I wasn’t shamed as I hopped in an actual ride seat. One of the gals offered to stay behind with me and I wouldn’t have it. I thought it was so sweet, but I knew it would make me feel guilty and frustrated to have someone else miss on the fun because of me.

I sat in the child-switch area with all the bags and time flew by. I kept my mind occupied on the movie clips they had a tv screen. I stayed positive. We searched out the other HP world attraction and there was another test seat. This would just had a little seat bar. I thought, pretty much knew, I’d fit. I’m fat, but my butt fit it fair and square, but as I pulled the bar to my belly, it was my knees that hit.

Everyone else fit but me.

This is where it got difficult. I was prepared to not fit the first ride, but both?! What gives?! I tried to stay positive but this time, it was a full on war in my head. I was going to miss both the rides I’ve anticipated for half a year because I was too fat. Not only was I fat, I was shaped in a way that didn’t help me for either ride.

I want to disclaim that I’ve never felt entitled to anything or any accommodations because of my weight. I’m over 250 pounds and I know 250 is kind of where places draw the line. But at the same time, I felt like Universal Studios Hollywood did not care about my worth. I was too fat, too small of a percentage, for them to give two shakes about. And that made me feel awful. I fit ALL THEIR OTHER RIDES, I don’t require a seat belt extender in an airplane seat, but I couldn’t fit their new rides. How come their larger riders weren’t considered in the grand scheme of things? Why did I fit all their other rides and not these? Obviously the test seats alluded that many other riders would be facing my reality too.

I also felt it personally. I felt like I finally hit that “fat” where I am truly handicapped from certain activities. I can bend, I can walk long distances, I can carry myself with dignity, I can run miles at the gym, but I couldn’t fit these damn rides. Lots of ultimatums raced in my head.

“I have a season pass, I’ll starve myself until I fit.”

“I’ll use this shameful moment to GUILT myself until I’m smaller.”

“Look at my random health issue and this now. It means I need to do something EXTREME before it’s too late.”

These are horrible thoughts, and I’m ashamed to admit them, but they did reside in my head for the first half of the day.

I’m that fat. The kind that now holds me back. And that hurt. And it made me upset that even if I dropped a ton of weight, my boyfriend and other overweight friends would have to go through what I felt. That made me really angry.

We went on the tram ride, I got to excitedly share my favorite ride, Transformers, with our group, and I happily walked ahead of the group many times without needing my inhaler or huffing and puffing. Even with my edema, I gliding down stairs and walking fast.

I wasn’t a handicap, I am able-bodied! I tried to remind myself of how well my body was carrying me throughout the day. We were there until nightfall and I never ran out of breath or asked to take a break because I was tired. I might of failed a couple rides, but as a whole I was doing okay.

In the end, I was grateful for the caring and considerate group of friends who supported me and that I got to spend the whole day with. The fat factor will always sting, but I have to remind myself I am still able-bodied and valued, even if a couple theme park attractions disagree.

One Last Hoorah

I paused for a moment last week and thought about how blessed I am this year. If everything works out, I will see three of my closest friends that live far away.

I got to see B and her family in Arkansas.
I got to see N and her family before their long distance relocating to Connecticut.
I get to see H and our mutual friend A and have fun with them this fall.

And, hopefully, fingers crossed and heart longing, I will get to see M and his family in Massachusetts next year, and maybe make a pit stop in Connecticut to see N again.

My friend, N, just had her second child this April and I was sad that I probably wouldn’t get to meet the newest member of her family before their move from the pacific northwest to east coast. As a military family, they have been stretched so much with this moving process, and I can only imagine the difficulty of traveling across the country with a car loaded to the max, a mischievous cat, a preschooler, and 3 month old baby. They rented out their home, were ready to hit the road, and then her hubby was extended a week at their current location. Her husband never even got time off to help pack up the house, and they had to live in a hotel another week, cutting into their travel time.

Needless to say, when I found out in their crazy move they managed to plan a few days in California, I was ecstatic. I’m grateful that N and her Mom and siblings so graciously shared their limited time and let me come over and hang out with them all.

I love being honorary auntie to N’s kids and it’s so fun watching them grow. Her daughter is counting and picking up simple addition all on her own, and she is a riot to watch imaginative play as she makes the best sound effects and scenarios for her little figures and dolls. I’ve seen her go from forming basic phrases to chattering away. She’s going to be so smart and make friends easily when she gets to be school aged. The little one is the easiest baby ever, and coos more than any baby I’ve ever met. He is all smiles and so alert. He intently stares at intricate things and I think he might be attracted to art later and have an attention to detail like his Momma.

Our last hoorah included many laughs and hugs. “I’m only a couple hours from Boston and New York!,” she teased, “and we have a lot of shopping and exploring to do when you visit!”

Moments as Souvenirs

The last few years, as the friends closest to me move states away, I realize that the object of my vacations are moments together rather than sightseeing. Since everyone’s so scattered it has been fun to see their new haunts and homes and see what their state is all about.

This past trip was a long time coming. It’s been three years since I’ve seen this best friend and family (I did see her briefly last year when she flew out alone for her grandfather’s memorial.) I pretty much have best friends and then acquaintances, so I don’t mean to have her sound like she’s the only one that matters, but sometimes in life, you are so close to someone you are practically sisters/family. That’s the case here. She pursued a friendship with me during a dark time in my teens where I lost hope in people. From there, I stuck by her side through some heavy stuff in her life. We’ve seen the worst and best of each other, and because of that, we have a bond that is unbreakable. And as her family grew, I was at each birth and am an honorary auntie to her three precious boys.

Her youngest wasn’t even one when they moved, and I was nervous about how long it would take to warm up to me. We skype and my friend mentions me often, but three years is a long time for young kids. When they picked me up, the younger 2 were there and staring/adoring me. I had to stifle a cheesy grin and pretend I didn’t notice it. They wanted to reacquaint with me and that was taking in every detail of what I looked like. The littlest one was talkative and chattered with me right away. The middle smiled but was soft spoken the first day. The eldest was in bed by the time I got to their place, but the next morning, he hugged me and it was like old times.

God has been working great things in this family and it was so neat to just be a part of their week. All of them are doing so well there, and I can’t even selfishly wish they’d move back. I know they are where they should be and they flourish here. I am so proud of the life my best friend and her husband have made for themselves here.

The sweetest parts of the trip were all of us in the car getting eldest brother to school and praying all together before they got to the school. And all of us gathered, mommy, daddy, the kids, and me – holding hands and praying together at bedtime. And of course, hearing three little voices tell me throughout the day, “I love you, Auntie Laura.”

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Making lego gummies and gummy bears with Auntie Laura.

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At the waterfall fifteen minutes from their home. Yeah, it’s crazy. There’s water everywhere here.

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Pedis with the bestie!

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Frozen custard – A local favorite!

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Another spot not even 15 minutes away with gorgeous waterfalls.

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The rock formations and lushness around it just makes it even more breathtaking.

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So much green! So much water!

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Turtle boy! One of the funniest moments! The youngest is such a goofball! He was playing in his carseat, collapsed in it all buckled in, and started walking around like a turtle.

It was hard to say goodbye the last day. I know I’ll be back, but I also know an annual trip isn’t going to happen, so it’s bittersweet. My best friend and I talk nearly everyday though. We stay close mostly through messaging each other and social media and skyping.

I came back feeling really rested, really loved, and full of love. ❤

 

Looking Ahead

It’s that time of year. You know, the one where Easter is around the corner and you scratch your head because it was just New Years Day.

This Saturday is my Uncle’s memorial service. It’s been rough on my aunt – she told me she is ready for the event to be over with. I think she’s wanting it to happen so she can have a final sense of closure. After all, he passed over a month ago. She’s very independent, strong, and a good kind of feisty, so it’s hard but also comforting to see her open up about her grieving. I was a blubbering mess on my Uncle’s last day, but she was as cheerful as one could be with a spouse on his deathbed. She kept things lighthearted and only paused to cry at the end. I can’t imagine how hard widowhood is. They would have celebrated 50 years in August.

The race and foster fair I am helping with is also getting very close – we’re 5 weeks away ! We’ve had a few setbacks but we’re hopeful that our 2016 event will be as strong as last year’s. Some of the little tasks I’ve taken on include calling local places for silent auction items. Talk about a stretcher. I am not a phone person. At all. I hope my awkwardness isn’t detected as strongly on the other side of the line.

In May, I’m going to visit one of my oldest friends and her family. I am so excited even though I have no idea what to expect (except humidity, ick!) How do you plan a trip to see one of the people you’re closest to and their family knowing it will probably be another three years until you see them again? Her youngest is four and I haven’t seen him since his first birthday. That breaks my heart a little since they all call me auntie and the only recollections he probably remembers of me are from Skyping. Her middle child just recently got baptized and start kindergarten this year. Her eldest was in kindergarten the last time I saw him in person! And I think the most exciting part is that her husband in the three years out there has recommitted himself to Christ. God is doing big things in their lives and I can’t wait to see it all in person.

I’ve decided to take another Bible study break after we finish 2 Thessalonians. We’re a little less than halfway through 1 Thessalonians are the moment and it has been such a rewarding inductive study. I like breaks because the studies are quite intensive and I’d feel burnt out if I went year round. I’d like to take the break to continue Bible art journaling and studying scripture on my own. I’d also like to use that time block in the evening to get more gym time in.

I feel like there are some big hills this half of the year, and who knows what the second half holds, but I’ll continue looking ahead with hope for the good things.

Rethinking Words of Comfort in Times of Distress

This entry by Tim Lawrence really got me thinking and I wanted to share it with you:

Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason

We’re often told that everything happens for a reason and we shake our heads in halfhearted agreement and take it as a battle wound that betters us. But does that really bring healing? Tim talks about how not all devastation nurtures or brings growth. Sometimes they’re just things we carry.

I truly recommend reading the article but in a nutshell Tim offers words that bring more comfort:

“Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words: 

I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.

Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That is not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to listen to them, to do everything butsomething is incredibly powerful.

There is no greater act than acknowledgment. And acknowledgment requires no training, no special skills, no expertise. It only requires the willingness to be present with a wounded soul, and to stay present, as long as is necessary.

Be there. Only be there. Do not leave when you feel uncomfortable or when you feel like you’re not doing anything. In fact, it is when you feel uncomfortable and like you’re not doing anything that you must stay.

Because it is in those places—in the shadows of horror we rarely allow ourselves to enter—where the beginnings of healing are found. This healing is found when we have others who are willing to enter that space alongside us. Every grieving person on earth needs these people.

Thus I beg you, I plead with you, to be one of these people.

You are more needed than you will ever know. “

What are your thoughts?

Life is Precious – Treat it as So

This has been an emotionally rough week. One family lost their precious girl to Leukemia. She won her first battle, but her second took her home to Jesus. She was pushing along but had difficulty understanding everything and lost her appetite. It seemed wrong to wake up and hear that she passed as she was such a fighter. The other heartbreaking factor being that this month is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

My best friend’s grandpa also passed. He was also beating the odds despite many problems but took a fall that sent him downhill fast. We all prayed he’d pass peacefully and God answered that by taking him in his sleep. My parents were able to visit before his decline but unfortunately I wasn’t. She had a terrible gut feeling that things would happen near her birthday. It just happens that the memorial will fall on her thirtieth. It will be awfully bittersweet to see her as three years have passed but I know how special it will be to stay by her side through the service for emotional support, and how nice it will be to take time to celebrate her birthday and this new decade of life.

It’s in fleeting moments like these that I’m reminded how my days are numbered and to never miss chances with anyone. My time and other people’s time is precious. And time with others is a gift.