Not Breathing, Not An Option

Yesterday was the culmination of nine months of our Bridge to Leadership program. Day one literally started one floor beneath Mark’s desk. His office was on the 28th floor and my company had our program orientation on the 27th floor that day. That was the sign that told me he would be there through it all.

Fast forward nine months and it was time to present our projects and “graduate” from the program. I remembered all the pointers Mark would give me for business from dressing to giving presentations. I didn’t want to practice too much so I just reviewed my slides and the main points I wanted to cover. As I started talking I could feel the nerves leave and I swear there was one moment when I looked to the back of the room and could him standing there beaming with pride. Babe, this one’s for you.

I took some of the flowers I received to Mark’s niche to thank him and share this milestone with him. I am grateful for all the support and encouragement during this time. Several people commented how they thought I was strong and resilient. It is still strange to be described like that but I guess it’s true.

During my run this evening it donned on me, “Not breathing, not an option.” The process of moving forward in life after a loss can be daunting. Especially when it was the person who was your partner in love and life and someone you planned to grow old with. Just as not breathing would kill us, staying stagnant is the death of living . There is no choice but to keep going. There were people depending on me, three very important ones in particular. So like not breathing isn’t an option, neither was giving up on living.

The idea of constantly challenging myself and doing things that terrified me because it was out of my comfort zone made me feel more alive. Challenging myself professionally and learning how to be a better leader was one of the greatest tributes I could give Mark. He was an amazing business man and leader, so completing this program honors his legacy and shows my children that there is still life to live and to live it well! So with every breath, I take another step into a future of possibilities with Mark always being a part of my heart as I go.

A Strand of Hair

It’s time to clean the house and make way for all the Christmas decorations. Last year I struggled to have the motivation to even put up our tree and stockings. I kept telling myself that next year would be better and to just just get through another first without Mark. Fast forward from them to now. Well here is the “next Christmas” and while there is motivation to get everything ready there are also still moments that catch me completely off guard. It goes back to grief being like waves, some are small and others come at you like a tsunami. Who knew one strand of hair could trigger that tsunami?

As I went through boxes I found a small bag with clothes in it. The bag held Mark’s cap and gown from his Master’s degree in Business Administration. I smiled as I remembered that day and how proud he was to have his wife and three children cheer him on as he walked across that stage. That degree was a family effort he would always say. Then there it was. A small white container. I opened it and was taken back to a different time, a time when Mark was still here. It was the smell of Lever 2000. His soap. As if it had a beam of light shining on it, my eyes were quickly drawn to a single strand of long black hair. His hair. Even among our children he had the darkest and straightest hair so I knew it was his. Cue the ugly tears.

I quickly closed the container and opened it up again. Maybe I thought it was magic and by closing the container it would make the pain go away. Shockingly it didn’t. Right?!? When I opened the container the hair was still there. I touched it as if it would bring me close to him once again. I closed my eyes and knew his spirit was there trying to comfort me. I couldn’t catch my breath or hold back the tears. The phrase, “It’s just not fair,” kept running through my mind. Something my children say often. I always agree with them, it really isn’t fair their dad was taken away from them. Now here I was looking at a strand of his hair. I closed the container again and placed it with his cap and gown. I took a moment to just be whatever emotion needed to happen.

The rest of the day went off without any more triggers. That night the song “This Christmas Day” sung by Jessie J started playing. The lyrics seemed like they were a message sent from heaven to bring comfort. “I see you, I call your name, no more crying on this Christmas day. I feel you, I hear you say, ‘It’s going to be okay. I know it’s not the same but you love me and that will never change and I love you on the Christmas day.'” Those words helped mend that broken heart a little more. A small tear rolled down my cheek, not the deluge from earlier. I looked down and saw a single strand of my hair. A peace came over me. I realized moments like that day would happen every so often. Those tears from earlier didn’t mean I wasn’t coping or moving through life. It was quite the opposite. Those tears were the love felt. I realized there were so many tears because there was so much love. A love we were blessed to share. A love that will always be there no matter what. A love that, God willing, will be found again.

Mark knew I am a huge fan of Hallmark Christmas movies. Over time, our daughters have become huge fans too. Our children joke that Daddy is going to give us our own Hallmark movie. Maybe that idea is a fairy tale in itself but we are already living our once upon a time so why not believe in the magic of Christmas, love, and the memories triggered by a strand of hair.

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Prayer Circuit

It is true that time heals. Like all wounds that form scars, there are moments that reveal the weaknesses in those scars. The holidays is that weakness for many that have lost someone close to them. This past week was especially hard for me. From the start of Thanksgiving week I could feel the emptiness of not having Mark around. He would always get so excited. I joked that he was my oldest kid.

I cried many tears throughout the week looking at things that would remind me of him. I’ve prayed for amnesia to forget certain moments thinking it would help me to cope. God answered my prayers, but not by giving me amnesia. He gave me peace. I sat on the couch tonight while the kids were finishing their homework. I was so restless. I tried to take deep breaths in and out. I’d tell myself to breath in calm and blow away all anxiety with every breath out. Then in a moment of peace the idea of prayer and exercise combined came into my head. A prayer circuit.

Exercising mixed with moments of prayers was a holistic approach to well being. I started by doing two 1-minute circuits of cardio and on the third minute I’d do a slow march or hold the plank position and pray. This would go on for a total of 7 cycles and before I knew it, I was dripping with sweat and 21 minutes passed by and a greater sense of calm came over me. The bonus, a short workout was also completed and I was able to have my conversation with God. Yes, time may heal and the holidays may weaken those scars but these prayer circuits reinforce the healing process. A quote by Soren Kierkegaard sums it up well, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”

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It All Started With Prayer

Life is created by the choices we make. My niece wanted me to go with her to a conference at the church she attends. I looked at my calendar and saw that there were things already going on. Then I took a moment to pray. In that moment I knew in my heart there was something calling me to that place, with whoever would be there, to receive a message I needed to hear. I found a way to arrange pick-ups, drop-offs, food if needed, for the three children to make sure I’d be there Friday night and Saturday. It turned out, I was exactly where I needed to be.

The energy in the room was filled with so much hope. It was the Devoted International Women’s Conference at Word of Life Hawai’i.  There were Pastors from around the world sharing their message. The Pastor from Hawai’i and her daughters definitely made the whole weekend feel like you were with extended family. Every woman in that room has a story. We were all facing different life choices and struggles we’ve had to overcome or are still working through.

Pastora Mora said, “The words you speak create the atmosphere you live in.” The atmosphere there was filled with so much contagious positivity. It was a time of reflection and prayer. Naturally, I thought back to this past year and even before in choices I’ve made in life. They have not always been the best but they have led me to this moment. Any bitterness from the past needed to be let go. It was true, when we are bitter, things around us become bitter. Bitter is not one taste that I like so get rid of it.

Pastora Castellanos gave amazing examples of women from the bible. She talked about about Sarah and how she represented faith and something we grow in. In that moment I heard a voice in my heart say there is no coincidence that I was named Sarah at birth.  Soon after, Pastora Ballano reminded us that before each if us was born, God already knew who we were. I thought if that was true, then why did many of the things, moments, and people happen in my life? Still no answer, or I thought.

Why things and people happened was never answered but how to keep moving forward was. I needed to take my past and leave it to God. There is nothing that could be done to change it but life moving forward was still to be lived. Any doubt I had in myself, my life, my decisions to be made needed to be erased. Doubt was negating faith. Faith is being able to put our trust in God and be assured that he does have a plan for our life and that when we trust him, he gives us the best. I cried thinking that because I felt Mark was the best, why would he take him? Still no answers. Then my heart felt that God has a higher purpose for him and he needed the best. Mark’s story is not over and those of us that knew him were the lucky ones. I felt a sense of peace knowing that and knowing that Mark is never really gone but he is still very much alive in our children and in the world around us. If anyone had told me that a year ago, I would’ve wanted to punch them. Time and faith was needed for this realization to occur.  The test of faith comes in believing that God still has great things in store for my life and that of my children. I needed to be a steadfast woman of faith.

In this week leading up to Thanksgiving. It’s time to celebrate the victories both big and small, starting with continuously moving forward despite whatever obstacles are encountered. God and the Holy Spirit are around us but they are not there to make things easy. They are there to help give us the bravery we need to withstand the storm. This is where our story is written and our character is built. This is where faith is tested. We cannot give up because your never know where or when that next victory will be. Do you really want to give up when it is just about to happen? Absolutely not!

Remind yourself that everything starts with a thought and there is so much power in the words that we say. Make them words to build ourselves up instead of tear ourselves down. Look at the people around you and encourage them to do the same. Who we allow into our lives speaks volumes as to who we are. It’s okay to be protective. Yes, God wants us to have faith but he also doesn’t want us to be dumb about it. Know what you want, pray, and have faith that God will provide. Not easy at all. I wrote down my prayers for life, love, and my family in my journal during that conference. The words written to paper made it real and gave it life. Now it will be about the choices I make. Those choices will be ones that start with prayer and are carried through with faith.

11-11-11

November 11, 2018 is said to be a day of manifestations. I believe so too. Yes, I am a firm believer in God and I feel he chooses to talk to each of us in a different way. I have always seen a series of numbers at various times in my life. This past week has been filled with 333, 444, and a few 777. During this time I have also come across talks and videos from people that continue to inspire positive change and help explain some of the other changes I am going through. Moments that I know are manifested by God.

Michael Frisina, PhD is one of the speakers I had the pleasure and honor of meeting on Friday. He is a very firm believer in 333. The morning I was driving to the hotel for the conference I saw a car with a license plate with that number on the off ramp right in front of me. I looked up to smile and saw another one of the heart shaped clouds that has been filling my skies. I knew something amazing would take place that day. Dr. Frisina’s talk resonated with me when he was explaining about how a caterpillar goes into a metamorphosis to become a butterfly and that even the same creature doesn’t have the same DNA once that process is over. Crazy!

That got me thinking to this journey. I started as one person and there is no way I was able to stay the same woman that I was a year ago. I look back and I see some similarities but more changes that anything else. Changes that allow me to spread my wings and fly. During a talk with him after the seminar he mentioned how you can’t help the butterfly come out of its chrysalis, it must do it on its own or it dies. Same for this journey again. The struggles and obstacles I faced and still face at times are ones that I must navigate alone to really grow. It’s not that people haven’t offered help, but there were things that told me I had to do it myself. Dr. Frisina also mentioned how we can’t change until our way of thinking changes. Yes, yes, and YES! As we sat in the Monarch Ballroom (yes, that was really the name of where this happened) I thought of the numbers and realized he was the third person to confirm much of what I was thinking and feeling as well.

Last night I was in the kitchen with my two oldest children and we were putting things away. We started laughing about a joke and out of no where flew in a little white moth. All three of us smiled and said, “Hi dad!” Mark, would never be left out of family time, especially when laughter and jokes were involved. That happened to be the third little white moth I had seen since Friday’s talk with Dr. Frisina. I went to bed knowing the next day would be November 11, 2018, also known as 11-11-11. What would happen?

This morning I woke up and checked my email before getting out of bed. I went on Facebook to watch hi-lights of friends who went to the Bruno Mars concert last night and then another video came across my screen. It was one from another motivational speaker named Trent Shelton and was titled, “Your Heart Will Heal.” Another video filled with messages that confirm this path I’m on is correct, full of healing, and making its way to a very positive future.

Life has definitely not been easy since Mark passed but I also know it could’ve been much harder. The biggest changes have been in my outlook on career and also diving back into the dating pool. Yes, it did take certain things in my life  to completely fall apart for better things to make their way into my life. I had to realize not to settle on anything.

I will never understand why we’ve had to go through Mark’s death, answering difficult questions from my children that don’t have real answers, continuing to feel heart ache and rejection on parts of this journey, and why certain moments turned out they way they did. That is until I sat there and realized I was no longer that caterpillar. Those moments, those people were the difficulties that were my chrysalis to have to come out of. That difficulty produced the most growth and strength inside to give me the power to choose what direction my life was going, all manifested through God. Trusting the process and struggles have been my biggest lesson. The hurt and broken me is turning out to be the best me. A “me” I wish Mark could see. He always saw in me more than I ever believed existed. I know without a doubt that he and God have worked to make these struggles and some of the hardest times become some some of the best days. This is in turn, creating a better mom for my children and showing them life happens and we roll with it. They are also experiencing major growth too!

The most uncomfortable paths take us to the most beautiful destinations, yes. Why? Those paths are not easy to travel and not everyone believes they can make it. If you’re reading this, believe you can and will do it. Believe that you have within you what you need to make it through this storm. When in doubt, look up. Ask God for his help because he is always listening. Everyday is a new beginning and it is up to us to make it a good one. Our outlook and how we respond to what it thrown at us helps determine that. So on this 11-11-11, what will it bring? I hope one of positive transformations and beginnings for us all.

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Authentically and Unapologetically Me

I looked in the mirror tonight and noticed my eyes were more hazel than they’ve been in a while. They do change color depending on my mood. Hazel is usually when I’m content and at peace. For this leg of the journey I really am at peace. The hardest part of this path is finding who I really am as a woman and letting myself become her. I was such a part of a duo for long and even as I navigate this single life I’m finding more changes. Changes I once tried to suppress because I had no idea where they would lead.

I’ve realized I was changing to become someone who was being shaped by the actions of others. Adapting at times and resisting the me that was trying to surface. That was where the problem lied. When you are on a journey of self realization in a life that was abruptly thrown at you, you need to let yourself be. Be kind to yourself. Eat the carbs and enjoy. Workout and let you mind challenge your body to new limits. Meditate and look into your soul and listen to whatever higher power you believe in. Always, always be authentic!

When you don’t have to question why you’re acting a certain way and you embrace it fully, you’re on the right path. When you don’t question your self worth, you’re on the right path. When you do things that make you smile and let your mind wander to all the possibilities life has, you are definitely on the right path.

Going through this journey is frustrating and empowering at the same time. I have to say that being a part of the Bridge to Leadership program at work has been amazing. I’ve been taking classes on leadership styles, self awareness, communication, and goal setting. This program has been a Godsend at this point in my life.

Through it I have been able to set my sights on career goals I would’ve previously shied away from. I’ve looked further into myself and who I am as a mother and a woman. I’ve learned I am not a career woman but a woman with a career. I can hold my own in some difficult situations. I take more risks now, calculated but ones I wouldn’t have taken before. The resiliency that is continuously being built is allowing me to challenge myself further. The amazing part is the trickle down effect it’s having on my children. They are challenging themselves too!

One of the best realizations has been learning to trust myself. That is one of the greatest rewards. Learning to be single at this point in my life was a big part of that. I used to think of it as a curse but now it too is a gift. Being abruptly single plays all kinds of jokes on you. Sorting them out and becoming your own comedian to get through it is another amazing reward. It’s also learning what you bring to a relationship. Yes, sometimes this new found empowerment is too much for some but having faith that God has someone in life who will be able to handle it and embrace it, me, and my children is another gift. Would I give this all back to have Mark again? Absolutely! That is not possible though so I have to make the best of what is before me. What is that? For starters, being authentically and unapologetically me while keeping my heart and mind open to the roads this journey continues to take me on. Let’s keep going…

A Simple Prayer

Many people I know are going through struggles right now. We all have our good and bad days and some seasons last longer than others. Always remember that it is a season and they do change. Even today someone came up to me (yes, I did know them) and simply asked, “Can I give you a hug?” Not that they thought that I needed one but simply to thank me for staying positive and encouraging under some crazy circumstances.

It is learning that when you don’t know where to look, always look up. Direct your eyes and your heart and mind will follow. When I look up I my heart goes to pray. I look to God because he knows what my heart feels but also what I can’t always put into words.

My prayer for each person going through something right now is that God knows what you need. May He work to hear what’s in your heart. May He take away your tears and shed your fears so that you can focus on living out His plans for your life. He knows us each by name and He knows how to comfort and guide us through the struggles to bring us to a place of happiness and love. May you be ready to open your mind and your heart to His blessings. In His name, Amen.