Be Loud

I have a jumbled list of notes, of things I want to say, apologies I want to make for not speaking up and not speaking out. I’ve been watching and reading the news all weekend, horrified. I just watched Jimmy Fallon speak about the atrocities in Charlottesville and the shamefully inappropriate response (or lack thereof) from our president, and something in me finally broke.

I don’t usually speak out because I don’t like controversy or confrontation or discord. I don’t write about things that might offend or make people feel uncomfortable. I like a sad story with a good ending and I want there to be peace. This isn’t peace. And quiet doesn’t change anything. We need change. What happened this weekend was horrible. I’m devastated that people are so hateful. I worry about raising my daughter, my children, in such turbulent times. Times that should have ended 50+ years ago. I pray change happens quickly. I know a few words on a silly blog don’t really make much difference, but I’ve been quiet for too long and it’s time for me – and you, and all of us – to speak up and speak out, to show love, to stand up for what’s right, and to stand against hatred.

It’s easy for people to forget I’m not white, hell – it’s easy for ME to forget it – because I don’t “look” Hispanic and, culturally speaking, I grew up in a pretty “white” world. And when people forget, they say things that aren’t funny or make hateful remarks about other minorities. If I admonish them, they tell me to relax, they say it’s a joke. And I’m expected to laugh or bite my tongue and let it go. Too long I’ve let things go. Too long many of us have. And here we are. Here. We. Are.

But it’s not too late to change things.

I’m hopeful that if enough of us use our words, something big, something good will happen eventually. Hopefully soon. Because I truly believe more of us are kind and tolerant and virtuous than are evil or unkind or hateful. We just have to learn to be louder than the few. So, please. Let’s all be loud.

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Choosing Joy

A few months ago, I miscarried. It was early, but I’d known somehow that I was pregnant. When we got the positive result, Casey and I were ecstatic. Thanks to cancer, we weren’t sure we’d even be able to have another baby, so the fact that we got pregnant on the first shot was kind of a miracle. Naturally, we were unable to contain our excitement – we went a little crazy and told our families and a few friends.

I lost the baby a few days later.

I was devastated. We were devastated. I kept trying to think positively, reminding myself that at least we could get pregnant. But it was hard. I blamed myself. If I hadn’t had that cup of coffee… If I hadn’t gotten that wax… If… If… If… The anxiety that I’d managed to keep under control for the past few months returned in full force.

I stopped writing. I couldn’t stomach it; the thought of writing anything that was circulating in my over-anxious, slightly depressed head made me feel physically ill. Instead, I hyper-focused on the next time we could try. I couldn’t think about anything except getting that stupid smiley face that meant it was go time.

We went a few rounds with negative results, forced smiles, and reassurances that it would happen eventually. And then somehow – magically, blissfully – it did. About 8 weeks ago we found out I was pregnant. I was determined not to waste this pregnancy whining, like I did during my first pregnancy.

But fear took over. For the first two weeks, I couldn’t stop worrying that I was going to miscarry. I Googled miscarriage constantly, looking for odds and statistics, for symptoms, for anything to reassure myself. I worried because I wasn’t sick. Maybe I’d made it all up – a hysterical pregnancy, all in my head because I wanted it so badly.

Then the morning sickness kicked in and I was happy, really happy, because it meant the baby was growing and things were progressing as they should. That lasted approximately three days before the constant nausea began to interfere with living. I was miserable. I would have to stop myself in the middle of a downward spiral of woe is me to remind myself that the baby was growing and things were progressing as they should. I’d do this in between bouts of dry heaving. I’d remind myself that things would be better in the second trimester if I could only ever get there. 

On top of the sickness and fatigue and general pregnancy woes, my doctor put me on progesterone because the cyst that feeds the baby in the first trimester was shrinking too quickly, so then I worried that I’d lose this baby too. I’ve spent the last four weeks trying not to think about it. I take the pill in a hurry, careful not to dwell on its use, and when the nausea rolls through and my body expands, I remind myself that the baby is growing and things are progressing as they should.

And I feel guilty all of the time because I haven’t enjoyed any of this. The initial excitement was almost immediately lost in a mess of anxiety, fear, and illness. I try to remember back a few months, when we thought Zoey would be our first, our last, our only baby, and how devastating that news was. I try to think of the women I love who are having trouble conceiving. I try to feel grateful, but all I feel is guilt as I pray to move past this moment.

Everyday I struggle to remember the good, to fight the urge to cry because I’m so sick and so tired and so nervous. Then, last night my sister made me a second dinner when I couldn’t stomach the first. Casey quietly left the house with Zoey when I fell asleep on the couch and then took her out for ice cream when I didn’t feel better. Zoey took my hand, led me to the toilet, and held my hair when I got sick. And this morning, I got to see the little beast who’s causing me so much distress.

Suddenly, the fear and pain? It was all worthwhile. And I realized I have a choice – I can choose to let fear cripple and debilitate me. I can let it ruin precious moments. Or I can choose to laugh through tears. I can be happy in the pain. I can choose joy.

So I will.

Even when I’m sick and tired and nervous. Because right now, the baby is growing and everything is progressing as it should.

How to Get a Toddler Ready For School in 25 Easy Steps

Step 1: Open toddler’s door. Softly and sweetly say, “Good morning, [insert personal term of endearment here]!” Get yelled at. Hope that when they say “I’m still sleeping!” or “Close the door!” they really mean, “Good morning, mommy! I missed you all night!” Know they actually mean, “Close the door, peasant. I’m sleeping!”

Step 2: Walk away. Give them five more minutes to wake up on their own. Make coffee, let the dogs out, brush your teeth, and prepare.

Step 3: Open the door a second time. Sit on toddler’s bed and stroke their hair. Steel yourself against tears and pleas for more sleep. Consider the fact that they will always be tired on school nights and up by 6 on Saturdays. Say nothing. Just wait for the tears to stop.

Step 4: Pick an outfit.

Step 5: Put it back. They hate it.

Step 6: Pick another outfit.

Step 7: Put it back. It’s not the right color.

Step 8: Give up on clothes.

Step 9: Attempt to remove wet diaper while dodging kicks. Ignore the headache that’s begun from piercing screams. Make a mental note to wear ear plugs tomorrow.

Step 10: Ask toddler to get dressed. Plead, cajole, threaten, punish – do what you have to do to ensure clothes of any kind go on their bodies.

Step 11: Look at the clock – realize you’re now running 10 minutes late, even though you got up 10 minutes earlier than yesterday. Bribe toddler with juice and nursery rhymes (kids YouTube).

Step 12: Panic because there’s no juice and SHE WANTS JUUUUUIIIIICE!

Step 13: Panic when there’s no milk either. (When was the last time you went to the grocery store?)

Step 14: Attempt to put shoes on toddler. Watch helplessly as a melt-down ensues.

Step 15: Consider giving up and going back to bed. Realize you’re out of sick days, grit your teeth, and wrestle ease toddler into car seat.

Step 16: Turn on DVD player to Judy and the Beast.

Step 17: Press forward because it’s the wrong scene.

Step 18: Repeat process three more times. Threaten to turn movie off.

Step 19: Sing along with movie. Stop singing when toddler insists that “mommy, you don’t sing.”

Step 20: Drop off toddler at school. Struggle to release yourself from toddler’s death grip. Watch helplessly as melt-down ensues.

Step 21: Get back in car and breathe a sigh of relief.

Step 22: Seriously consider going back inside because you miss toddler.

Step 23: Scroll through photos of toddler on your phone and cry because you love them so much.

Step 24: Ask yourself if it might be time to have another baby.

Step 25: Contemplate your sanity.

the state of our nation

I mowed the lawn today. I played outside with my daughter and watched a movie with my husband. I saw some friends. I wrote. I laughed. I enjoyed a truly delicious cookie. I read a book in my feather-soft bed. And I thought about the state of our nation.

The problem is: I don’t know what to think about the state of our nation.

With an abundance of information and misinformation spreading faster than it can possibly be absorbed, I feel bogged down by opinions. So bogged down, in fact, that I don’t always know what my own opinion is. Someone is always telling me what to think and everyone disagrees. I’m overwhelmed by constant political posts on social media, each disagreeing with the last, many claiming to be inclusive and willing to engage in friendly political discourse, and then quickly falling into political battle. (And do we really expect someone will emerge the victor?)

Every time I get online or turn on the TV, I have to suit up, to put on my metaphorical armor and prepare myself for the onslaught. Which friend will say something inflammatory today? Which will be cruel? Which will mock another for their beliefs? Which will shame their peers?

It’s a world I don’t want to be part of.

I don’t have all of the facts. I have pieces of information: the reactionary information carefully (or not) doled out by the media, the (unclassified) bread crumbs allotted by the government, (seriously) biased articles placed on Facebook acting as canon, but in truth, I have almost nothing at all. I try to remember this when I read this post from the left or that article from the right. I don’t know it all. I probably don’t know anything at all. So I do what I shouldn’t and I try (unsuccessfully) not to think about it at all.

Because I’m afraid to.

Because what if I’m wrong? What if my real thoughts ruin our friendship? What if I don’t know what I’m talking about? What if you don’t know what you’re talking? And, worst of all, what if I just wind up contributing to the problem?

So I don’t talk about it. Not much. Not unless I’m in the mood to be crucified. Instead, I make dinner. I dance in the kitchen with my family. I cuddle with my daughter. I work on my novel. I talk to my husband. I laugh with my sister. I sing “Mermaid” as a little one’s eyes close. I fold my hands as I lay in my feather-soft bed and I pray about the state of our nation.

I Gotcha

I’ve always known I believed in God, but there were plenty of times when that meant little more than an occasional fervently whispered prayer when I needed something. I’d engage in religious debates with other Christians – Christians much more learnèd and devout – and non-believers alike, but I didn’t know much beyond what I’d learned through years of religious classes. I didn’t really seek to know God.

My faith hasn’t grown deep and true in churches or on prayer kneelers. It’s grown slowly, over the course of the past couple of years, in hospitals and on winding mountain roads.

When cancer struck, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t understand how or WHY something so terrible could happen to Casey – to us. I was angry and confused and hurt. So I prayed, but I didn’t hear anything. For a long time after that, I was indifferent. I didn’t hate God. I didn’t turn away from Him. He just wasn’t a priority.

Then things got bad – really, really bad.

Visit after visit we received terrible news. The cancer had spread to his brain. The cancer had grown in his lung. The cancer had spread to the other lung. Shingles covered his right leg and the pain was excruciating; he could barely walk. We were defeated. We were lost. We were broken.

We went on vacation – just the two of us – in an attempt to forget, to heal, and to rest. While we were there, we stumbled on a beautiful little chapel. We drove past, in a hurry to play, and forgot about it. We passed it again on our way back. Compelled to enter, even as a vicious storm brewed, we stopped and walked and prayed. Then we called my dad and shared the photos and mostly forgot about it.

The next week, on our way to an appointment, I asked Casey what cancer had done to his faith. He said, “nothing good.” I asked him if he was angry with God and he nodded, nearly in tears. I wanted to comfort him, to whisper, “I gotcha.” But I didn’t think words would help. Anxious and afraid and desolate, neither of us spoke for the rest of the drive.

That day we got our first bit of good news. The radiation had begun to shrink the brain tumors.

Some of the tightness in my chest eased and I felt a glow of warmth I could barely begin to understand. Though of course I knew this meant the medicine was finally working, I didn’t think it was a coincidence that it was this particular medicine or this particular time.

A few weeks later, a friend from my dad’s church, moved by dad’s prayers during rosary, shared his own experiences with cancer. He gave my dad a bottle of holy water and a container of holy dirt and asked him to give them to us. We could sprinkle it on Casey, blend it as a smoothie, leave it on our mantle, pray over it. It was ours to use as we pleased, but he gave it to us to use in good faith. We accepted gratefully.

Both sat on our mantle for over a week as we thought about it. We finally made the decision to use them. Zoey and I rubbed the water and dirt on Casey’s chest, leg, and head – everywhere the cancer and pain was worst. Then we bowed our heads and prayed together.

A few weeks later, we got more good news. The tumor in his right lung was gone. The tumors in his left were shrinking.

We were overjoyed. Casey danced. I laughed. We both cried.

God was everywhere in this. It was like He’d reached out, wrapped His giant, celestial arms around us, and held us. We basked in His warmth and more of the tightness eased. We were finally able to breathe again.

We started talking about going back to church, something we’d done off an on since we’d been together. Church was tricky for us – I was raised Catholic and he’d been raised Lutheran, but what we wanted was a church we felt comfortable attending together. It was a struggle. I felt comfortable in the Catholic Church, but didn’t agree with or believe in all of its teachings. He didn’t feel at home or at peace there. We argued about it, prayed about it, struggled with it. We knew we needed to find a church, needed to raise our daughter knowing God, but we didn’t know how.

On a whim, one Saturday (after yet another church-related argument), we decided to try our friends’ church. I was convinced I wouldn’t like it, wouldn’t feel comfortable, wouldn’t want to return.

I was wrong.

God was everywhere. He was in the people, in the music, in the sermon. He spoke to me.

I thought it was a fluke, but had nothing to lose so we went back the next week.

I was wrong again.

God’s presence was even stronger this time and I knew, I just knew He was speaking to us. I could feel Him pressing on my heart. I felt safe. Loved. Comforted. Peaceful. Joyful.

I felt like I was home.

We went back to the doctor yesterday and heard more good news. The tumors continue to shrink. The medicine continues to work. The cancer is under control.

God is with us.

All this time, He’s been with us. Even when we didn’t listen, didn’t see, didn’t care, He’s been there. He’s just been waiting for us to hear Him saying, “I gotcha.”