Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Day My Words Fell Silent

"You'll be preparing for a funeral and a wedding at the same time." 

The memory of the morning I heard those words is still vivid in my mind. It was Monday morning, April 25, 2016, and I just hung up the phone after a brief conversation with my mom. My dad was in bad shape and she called 911. Not again, I thought. 

After sending a few texts to my boss, my coworker, and my sister, I was in the bathroom when I heard that still small voice inside me, "You'll be preparing for a funeral and a wedding at the same time." 

I blew it off. Even when my sister asked me if I thought this was it, I told her I didn't think so. My heart was in my stomach. 

Later that morning, while I was sitting on a chair in the emergency room facing my parents, I was alarmed at the gray pallor of my dad's face. My stomach churned. I heard the words again but this time with more conviction, "You'll be preparing for a funeral and a wedding at the same time." I looked at my parents who were both sleeping in that small, cramped emergency room. A wave of inexplicable comfort enveloped me and that's when I knew. 

This was it. Our lives were going to change. We were going to face my dad's death and it wasn't going to be an easy road. But I had faith that the inexplicable comfort was going to sustain me through the coming months. 

In a span of two months my dad passed away, my son got married, I quit my old job, and started a new job which I've been praying a long time for. From my vantage point today I look back and thank God for the strength he provided. From April 25th to June 18th when my dad passed away I was an internal mess. 

I tried to write on this blog many times but I suffered from a severe case of emotional constipation. My journals hold abstract thoughts during those months with no coherent sentences. If I didn't have my paid photography sessions I wouldn't have picked my camera up. 

I gave myself permission to let my words fall silent. At work I pretended to be okay because I don't believe in bringing personal issues to the workplace. Besides, there were few people there who understood. 

While my sister, my kids, my grandkid and my mom were falling apart around me I chose to be strong for them. We truly were preparing for a funeral and a wedding at the same time. I remembered the voice I heard twice that morning of April 25th and used it to ground me. 

I worried and watched while my son internalized his grief months before his wedding. I tried to tell he and his fiancé to talk his grief out before it manifested in other negative ways. I should know as I'm the master of suppressing emotion. 

Several times I've pulled up Blogger to start a new blog post and my fingers wouldn't move over the keyboard. The communication line between my brain and fingers were severed. Instead of forcing it I let myself be. 

If Ray didn't understand what I was going through I believe I would have broken up with him for I had no tolerance for anyone or anything. People would open their well-meaning mouth and I fought the urge to shove my fist down their throat. I am eternally grateful for Ray who knew the immense grief and mental breakdown I was experiencing. You see, I didn't expect it as I wasn't close to my dad. But Ray reminded me that it didn't matter. Losing a parent is traumatic no matter the circumstances. 

It's true when people say you can never prepare yourself for losing a parent despite the severity of their sickness, knowing the inevitable is near. From April to May my dad was hospitalized twice then placed on hospice and from May to June we watched my dad's body decline rapidly. During that time the friends who were present, the ones I least expected, provided the surge of supernatural strength I needed one day at a time. 

I knew I could go down one of two paths: the self-destructive one where I turned to alcohol and acts of aggression to numb myself or the one where I connect to the Holy Spirit daily choosing love over fear. I, of course, chose the latter, because the rage brewing inside me needed a release. It's not an easy path by any means but one of growth and enlightenment instead of my rapid self-destruction. 

The greatest lesson I've learned this year is: the most important gift I can give someone during their darkest times is my presence. Not false promises. My presence. 

A good friend who couldn't be near sent a Trader Joe's gift card. Who knew a simple gift card would open the floodgates of tears that day? 

Or, another friend who just had her rainbow baby sent me a freakin' e-mail in the midst of trying to learn how to breastfeed her baby ASKING how my dad was doing. 

Or, the time when I was taking pictures during the viewing when a beautiful arrangement of flowers placed near the sign-in album caught my eye. When I read the card I was floored because my best friend in Seattle sent them. 

Or, the parade of families from my brother's church who came and dropped off food every night for three weeks after my dad passed. One family breezed in with stacks of food saying they had to hurry because their house was flooding at the moment but wanted to make sure we received the food. I stood there with my mouth  gaped open barely mustering a thank-you as they rushed out the door. 

Or, the single mom of two young kids  who drove all the way from Fontana to drop food off one Sunday night. 

Or, my high school friend whom I haven't seen in years but somehow found my home address to send me a card and let me know she, too, knew the pain my family was experiencing. 

Or, my close friend/family pastor/hospice chaplain who showed up one Sunday with his wife to pray with my dad and mom. He just came from service he said and wanted to pray with my dad while he was still coherent. I also knew he just flew in from out of town to get home in time for service. 

Or, the people who surprised me and showed up at my dad's funeral on that warm Friday morning in June. Their faces materialized through my fog of grief bringing a sense of comfort to my heart. 

The list goes on and I know I'm missing more people whose actions embodied the meaning of being intentional and being present in someone's life. Since then I've tried to be an example of that with my own family and friends. 

Today is September 1st and I'm grateful for the life events that have contributed to my growth this year. Below are pictures of my kids as pallbearers at my dad's funeral and one of my son and his new wife on their wedding day. 

I wrote this to unblock my clogged emotional channels hoping it would jumpstart my writing again. May my words find their voice again and may you be encouraged to be present. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Memories Are Born From Gestures

I've written a tribute to my mom on my second installment of my personal photography project: Hands of a Caregiver. Instead of rewriting another blog post here for you to read please head over to my photography blog: 

Hands of a Caregiver | Mother's Day installment | Personal Project

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Walk The Talk

The daily log of steps. March 12 was NOT a
day as I was suffering from a bug that
weekend. I spent the next day making
up for it, though.
"Do you want to join the walking challenge with us?"

February marked the beginning of the cube farm's annual walking challenge. I remember gritting my teeth after my coworker asked me to join. Oblivious to the internal struggle churning inside me she patiently waited for my answer. 

She didn't know about the promise I made to myself the day before. I solemnly swear I will not participate in any company challenges. Like ever again. I always regretted saying yes for reasons I won't get into right now. 

But I had a choice---bitch about not having enough money for airfare to visit my oldest spawn in New York or join the walking challenge for a chance to win the grand prize $150 gift card to Southwest Airlines. 

I acquiesced in begrudging silence choosing to walk the talk. 

The Mission

Each four-person team was required to log in from 7,500 to 10,000 steps a day for six weeks beginning February 10, 2016. 

The Incentives

Each team could aim for either the Sidekick goal or Super Hero goal or both. Once we surpassed the goals our team was entered into a raffle. 

Super Hero goal : 1,680, 000 steps average 10,000 per day/per team member wins a grand prize of $150 Southwest Airline gift card

Sidekick goal : 1,260, 000 steps average 7,500 steps per day/per team member wins 
Medieval Times and movie tickets

All challenge participants received a pedometer to track our steps. As soon as I clipped mine on that was it. I turned into a walking beast. It didn't take a full day for me to realize walking 10,000 steps a day was---dare I say---hard. I was active, yes, or so I thought. The little pedometer clipped to my waist seemed less inclined on tracking my steps and more on mocking my fitness delusion. 

I've read the articles and studies that touted the benefits of walking. I've heard the catchphrase---Sitting is the new smoking! 

The Guardian published an article last November promoting walking benefits and how it lengthened our life span. 

A sedentary person who increased his or her steps from 1,000 to 10,000 a day, seven days a week, was found to have a 46% lower mortality risk. If increased to 3,000 a day five days a week, the person had a 12% lower risk.

My tribe knows I'm a competitive person...with myself. It's an irrational and crazy character attribute but my competitive nature is directed solely at myself. Who needs enemies, right? 
Some would call it a strength but most would call me crazy. 

If my day was winding down and my pedometer didn't show I was close to the 10,000 steps I wasn't deterred. I walked (sometimes jogged) around the house, up and down the hallway, into the living room, back into the kitchen then started over again. My boyfriend Ray would sing she's a maniac, maniac on the floor by Hall & Oates when I did this in the house. 

My granddaughter was over one weekend and asked why I didn't just lie and log in the steps. Well, number one, it's not right to lie about that and number two, it's cheating but I would be cheating myself out of healthy benefits. She pursed her lips in deep thought for a few seconds, shrugged, and went back to playing on my iPad.

Every night I wrote down my total number of steps for the day into my Passion Planner and logged them in every morning as soon as I stumbled into the cube farm. (You can see the daily log in the image above.) 

My company is big on health and wellness providing us with all the tools, as well as resources, to pursue a healthy lifestyle. I have a sit/stand desk, a walking station in the corner of our suite, a free state-of-the-art gym accessible to employees, and a cafe that only serves nutritious meals. (No sodas and candy bars allowed.) It would take more time creating excuses for NOT exercising than to jump on the walking station for ten, twenty, thirty minutes. 

A few weeks into the challenge we had a team member go on medical leave. Aghast at the news after my boss announced it at our team meeting I blurted out, "You mean she can't walk her steps?!" 
"Oh my god, Nannette, that's what you care about?" 
Okay, I'm kidding. 

Missing a team member meant we either replace her or walk her steps in addition to ours. 

You can bet that I aimed for twenty-thousand steps a day to make up for my missing team member. Walking 10,000 steps a day became second nature. It wasn't long before I discovered my walking groove at the cube farm: 1.5 hours in the morning on the walking station, 20 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical at the company gym, or 15 minutes of walking outdoors, and 1 hour on the walking station before I left work. 

Excessive much, you ask? Maybe. But my crazy way of operating guaranteed 20,000 steps every day during the work week! (The log above showed where I succeeded and where I failed) 

Weekends provided an opportunity for creative ways to get those steps in since I had no access to a walking station or treadmill. Surprise, surprise, I got to know my city within a two-mile radius from my home. On the weekends, I hoofed it to the bank, the grocery store, Paris Baguette, Dollar Tree, the park, the library, and the post office. 

Within three weeks of this challenge my clothes fit better and the pile of pants I contemplated donating went back in my closet. 

If you're reading this and think "Oh gawd, she's so extreme, I couldn't do all that crazy walking! Ain't nobody got time for dat!" WAIT! Just hold on. YOU CAN! You totally can! 

Walking Benfits
Find your own groove but I encourage you to walk every day even if it's for ten minutes in the beginning eventually building up to twenty minutes a day. Studies have shown walking 20 minutes daily can prevent an early death

My Way Isn't The Only Way

  • On the walking station at the cube farm, I'd blast my headphones with my pre-selected Pandora stations. The maximum speed of 2.0 was not a hindrance! I jogged and danced, not caring about how insane I looked. The 1.5 hours I walked in the morning were easy when I was transported to a music festival in my head. You don't have to imagine dancing at a music festival but find your own way to get your body moving. 
  • Walking outdoors either at the cube farm or in my neighborhood gave me an excuse to practice mindfulness. I walked in the present moment feeling the way my body moved, how I breathed with the movements of my legs and the way each step impacted the sidewalk; savoring the wind softly lifting my hair; noticing the yellow butterflies flying over a bush as I walked past. 
  • Find out if there's a Farmer's Market you can walk to. My city holds an awesome one every Saturday morning that's half a mile from my house. Just make sure you bring your own bags and buy items that aren't too heavy to carry home. 
  • My city houses a spectacular library that's also my second home. Walking to the Cerritos Library gave me 1.4 miles of relishing the aesthetic landscape of Cerritos. Knowing I had to walk back home prevented me from checking out a heavy stack of books I didn't need or couldn't carry. My gluttonous self always checks more books than I can read in the allotted three week period. 
Safety First
Of course, safety is key when you start any fitness routine. Always check with your doctor first to get the green light for starting one. Of course, drink plenty of water! I aim to drink at least 3 liters a day. Eating clean also helps. 

When walking outdoors always stay alert for distracted and reckless drivers. There have been a few times I've almost been hit by drivers texting on their cell phones, running red lights, or not paying attention. 

New Habits
I've heard it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. In my case it took six weeks to get into the habit of walking 2-3 times a day. Now, my body craves it---physically, mentally, and spiritually. When I walk outdoors I listen to positive affirmations, repeating them out loud, clearing my head of negative detritus. 

My team never did win the prizes even though we reached both goals. What I did win was a mental shift on exercise (walking is just as good, if not better, than running) and a healthy long-term habit that promises to put the brakes on premature death. 

My Challenge
May I challenge you? 
Get up. 
Put one foot forward. 
Put the other foot forward. 
Have fun! 
This is me on the walking station right
before I'm transported to the
Coachella raging in my head. 
The pedometer that never left my
waist for six weeks. Well, give
or take a few days when I forgot it
at home. But we all have smartphones
to track our steps, too! 
Excuse the chaos (and Captain
America paraphernalia) but this 
is my stand-up desk at 
the cube farm. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day Motivation

Leap years were never a big deal to me. Last week, my eight-year-old granddaughter was fascinated by it and asked me why we had leap years. 

Because they just happen. 

Not the most intellectual answer but in my defense she asked me while we were walking into the grocery store. 

A smart grandma would have pulled out her handy dandy smartphone and used the internet to find the answer. I could have told her about how the calendar we follow is called a Gregorian calendar which uses 365 days to comprise one year and it needs to compensate for the Earth's complete orbit around the sun which is approximately 365.24 days. So every four years we get an extra day in February to make up for that .24 days. 

Yeah, she would have looked at me cross-eyed, too.

This year, my company made a big deal about leap year with all day events that my inner work scrooge sneered at. My perfect day at work is when I can get through eight hours at the cube farm blissfully cocooned within my headphones listening to meditations, positive affirmations, and music. I work better this way maintaining a semblance of sanity while hoarding the only solitary hours I have in my day. I try to avoid as much interaction as possible. 

But my mind was blown this morning when I heard a four-second ad blasting my eardrums before my meditation video started. 



For someone who covets time I never placed value in the extra 24 hours I gained during a leap year. I never cared. 

Until now. 

I asked myself: how can I make a difference today? 

I started by participating in the events my company planned for us, smiled at the walking dead fellow employees who never reciprocate, genuinely complimented people, switched my irritation to gratitude, turned my seething anger toward colleagues into prayers of blessings. In other words, I consciously engaged without being fake. 

I know making a difference begins with small gestures. 

Yesterday, my granddaughter Rylee, ran her first race and received her first race medal. I remembered a time last year when she sat for a while staring at my race medals hanging on the wall. When I asked what she was doing she wanted to know if she could have them. 

No, baby girl, you win your own medals. It's the best feeling ever! 

I could have easily given them to her but I hoped to instill a hunger for challenging her mind and body to achieve a goal she never thought possible. I HATED running at her age. I tried out for track but was told I was too slow because of my asthma. That translated to "you suck at running." 

At the time she asked for my medals my intention was more on planting a seed than making a difference. But what I realized today was you make a difference when you plant seeds of inspiration, motivation, and determination. 

Once the medal was placed around her neck after crossing the finish line she ran to me with eyes shining brighter than her medal and said, "I want to run another one!" 

And right there a bloom sprouted from the seed I planted a year ago. 

Leap day is coming to an end but making a difference every day for the rest of the year should not. Let us all be kind to one another and not waste any second on negative thoughts and emotions. 

I found the ad on Youtube that reminded this work scrooge that kindness goes a long way. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Love The Body You're With

I taped the tab from the Yogi tea bag
in my Passion Planner to remind me of
my affirmations.
I am beautiful.
I am bountiful.
I am blissful.

My January affirmation is brought to you courtesy of my Yogi Green Tea bag. Every day at 2 p.m. I give myself "tea time" in the cube farm. It's the oomph I need to get me through the last three hours of my work day. 

One afternoon my eyes were drawn to the paper tab attached to the string of the tea bag. Three simple sentences. Three simple reminders. Three simple affirmations that have changed the way I speak to myself. 

Earlier this month, Purpose Fairy wrote about liking yourself and shared the video below created by the Jubilee Project. By the time I reached the end of the video tears were streaming down my face. 

They took 50 people ranging from all ages---kids to the elderly---and asked them one question: If you could change one thing about your body what would it be? 

My answer silently popped in my head as I heard the adults say they would change their stretch marks, wrinkles, big forehead, big ears, puffiness of face, blemished skin, small eyes, etc. 

The tears poured in earnest when I listened to the kids' answers: a mermaid tail, a shark mouth to eat a lot of food, teleportation in the body, wings so "I could fly", legs like a cheetah so "I could run faster", and the best answer: I don't think there's anything to change. 

What is my answer? I'd change my inner thighs from rubbing against each other. My degenerative disc disease halted my love for running. Hence, the skin on skin action. Like my good friend joked I could start a fire from all the rubbing. HA! 

I was irritated that I cared about something so trivial, admonishing myself, "Really Nannette? There are young girls being trafficked and you're worried about your damn thighs?" Oh, the vanity! 

But on the walking station, in the grocery store, down the hallway, there it was rub-rub-rub-a-dee-dub. Sure I've lost weight and I do all kinds of crazy squats every day. To no avail. They still rub. 

After I watched this video I told myself to shut up already about my damn thighs. I didn't share my secret with too many people but the internal dialogue about my thighs was beyond annoying. Like static over the radio when you're favorite song comes on. 

I was curious to see what my eight-year-old granddaughter's response would be. Over the phone I asked her to please answer my question honestly. 

Me: So Rylee, if you could change one thing about your body what would it be? 
Rylee: HUH?! 
Me: I said, if you could change one thing about your body what would it be? 
Rylee: body...ummm...Nothing! (I expected a DUH thrown in there.) 
Me: Nothing? 
Rylee: Yes, nothing. Now tell me why you asked me that. 

I explained the premise of the video I watched, explained how the adults wanted to change their bodies but the kids had better answers. In a disdainful tone she let me know that it didn't even make sense. Why would adults change their bodies? she asked. 

Of course, I later asked her mom the same question and my daughter promptly answered, "My big feet! It's hard to walk sometimes." 

So there you go. Somewhere in between the threshold from childhood to adulthood, we lose our sense of worth and confidence. Not to mention our ability to imagine the impossible, to dream bigger and better. Somewhere along the way to maturity something or more often than not, someone kills the security of knowing we are more than enough. 

Now when the insidious thoughts about my thighs creep into my brain I pause, take a deep breath, slowly exhale, tap my chest and say: I am beautiful. I am bountiful. I am blissful.