I used to ponder the question as to why bad things happen to good people. I stopped pondering because the older I get and the more I go through, the more I realize that I can’t question how or why God tests us. The more I look to God for answers, the more I see that those of us that are tested in this life will not see harder tests in the afterlife. I am okay with that. Sometimes those tests don’t always seem fair but those are not a test of God but a test of humanity.
I once read a story about a religious scholar and his students. Four of his students approached with a bag of walnuts and asked if he would divide them evenly amongst them. The scholar asked the boys if they wanted the division to be in “God’s way” or “a mortal’s way.” The boys answered that they wanted the division in “God’s way.” The scholar then proceeded to divide the walnuts. He gave two handfuls to one child, one handful to the second child, two walnuts to the third and none to the fourth child. The boys became upset and said to the scholar, “This division is not in God’s way!” The scholar replied by telling the boys that God does give some people a lot, others a little, and others nothing at all. He explained that God will show how just he is on the Day of Judgment. He will show perfect justice on the Day of Resurrection but today the test is upon those who have been given more to share with those who have little or nothing. And those with nothing, do they show anger to God or do they accept God’s will? The moral of the story -the tests we are given in this life they are not tests of God but tests of humanity.
This morning I asked myself whether some people actually do change. I know that some people do. I have had to change because of the obstacles that life has thrown in my way so I do know that people do change but something has to force that change. I know that changes requires the ability to want to change but wanting change has to come from the person who needs to change not some other external force. I also think that a person has to feel enough pain to change. By that I mean – that person has to have had enough of whatever it is that they are doing wrong. The pain of staying the way you are has to be overwhelming in order for a person to move forward in a positive way. Some people don’t change because they are afraid to fail. When you are a kid, you learn to walk by falling down, bumping your head and getting up. The same goes when you are learning to ride your bike. When we get older, for some unknown reason, we are afraid to fail. It is probably because the stakes are much higher. Changing your perspective is the only way to move forward.
Some much about me has changed in the past year and even in the past few years. I have had to change. My father died with I was 19 – at time where I really him needed in my life. My first husband was abusive and took my daughters away from me. I didn’t raise them and I hardly know them. I have had to work for everything that I have gotten and all I have to show for it is a whole lot of debt. Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia came into my life and ruined my plans. My brother got cancer and died. So I have changed and every time I change, I wake up older. I have learned to be cautious and I have learned not to trust. I have had my heart stomped on more times than I care to remember. I change because life forces me to but even so, I am disappointed because others cannot change mostly because their inability to change has its effect on me. I understand why they won’t change but I can’t sit around waiting for them to change and allowing them to stump on my heart in the process. I just can’t. Believe me, I have tried. It is a battle I cannot win.
In the last few years, I wondered if God was testing me or testing people I chose to put in my life. Lately, I realize that it doesn’t matter who God is testing. What matters is that I keep going and I don’t ask why. God tests our humanity and our loyalty to him. I am loyal to God above everything. I seek his guidance when I am being testing and he is well aware of that. God expects me to endure the tests he gives me and he expects to seek his guidance but at the same time not continue to ask why. I no longer ask why – I just keep going because life isn’t as simple as asking why – at least not in my life.
The only thing I wonder is why some people don’t change. Why can’t they see that the reason that God tests us is so that we seek his guidance and keep moving forwarding in a positive way without asking why? In fact, these tests are the reason we change. God tests humanity so that they can understand, accept and endure. I am willing to understand, accept and endure but I am not willing to do nothing. And if others in my life aren’t willing to change, all I can do is move forward without them. Is there another choice?
The latest test is getting in a rear-end auto accident two weeks ago. I remember telling my rheumatologist at my last appointment that the only pain I had was in my hands and feet. I was close to remission before the accident and now I am back to step one waking up every morning as if I have been run over by a monster truck. What I need in my life and my kids’ lives right now is stability. The problem is that means I have to remove a particular person from my life if that person refuses to change. With that person in my life refusing to change, I cannot have stability.
This morning as I was driving into work, the song “19 Something” by Mark Wills came on. I was singing along the 1980 chorus which goes like this:
It was 1980-something
In the world that I grew up in
Skating rinks and Black Trans Ams
Big hair and parachute pants
Lookin’ back now I can see me
And oh, man did I look cheesy
But I wouldn’t trade those days for nothin’
It was 1980-something.
The second time the chorus came, I started singing again but when I got to the part that was supposed to be “big hair and parachute pants,” I instead said “and back when my brother was still alive.” I said it out loud without even thinking it. The next thing I know the tears came and I was bawling right then and there as I drove to work. I thought that the more time that went by, we could all heal from this loss but more time that goes by, the more that I miss him.
I have been faced with some tough choices in the past weeks and months. As I was bawling this morning, I asked my brother what I should do about a really big decision I had to make. I told him that I was happy with the ways things are but I wanted to do the right thing and I wondered what he would think the right thing was. I thought about what my dad would have told me was the right thing and I knew that the answer would come because of Dad’s beliefs and upbringing and I knew that wouldn’t help me with my decision. My brother would not have given me the same answer as Dad. In fact, he would tell me to do what makes me happy. I, then, found myself saying out loud, “I don’t know that means anymore.” Then I heard a voice inside of me say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Except I don’t what that reason is.
I don’t know what the answer is either. I have been contemplating the answer for many weeks and all I know is that I am scared either way. I have two choices and I am scared of both of them even though I know neither choice is bad. I am just scared because I don’t know the outcome of either choice. I am at a crossroads and I am not sure what to do.
I do believe that things happen for a reason and we don’t always know that reason right away. Things don’t make sense when they are happening to us; they become clearer once we have gotten a clear perspective. Since my brother passed away, I remind myself every day that everything does happen for a reason. Our lives and our destinies are set in stone from the day we are born and we really have no say in that. I also believe that people come into our lives for a reason.
My brother was so content with everything life handed him and I learned so much from him as battled cancer, when he passed away, and even after his death. A few days after he passed away, I found several poems and a story he had written. I also found his journal and as I read it, I saw his life unfold before me. I saw his moments of joy and his moments of sadness as I read countless pages of his magnificent writing. I remember asking, “Who is this man?” I didn’t remember us knowing about obstacles that he faced or if anything ever bothered him, because he was such a game player when it came to life and we never really saw him sweat. It always seemed like he had everything in his life under control. Reading his writings, I realized that I never really knew him.
As he was battling cancer and slowing dying, life just seemed so horrible, so painful and so unfair. As I watched him fight, I found out more and more about him, and I realized how special and unique he was. He taught me to embrace life to the fullest and to not take a moment for granted. As he fought his biggest and last battle, all he wanted was his family around him. He didn’t ask for anything more or anything less. He didn’t even say he didn’t want to die. He understood that he would succumb to the cancer and embraced God’s choice with acceptance and willingness. When he died, we were all around him and he went peacefully and was gone within a half hour after the doctors stopped his medications. Ironically, my mother says that when he came into the world, she was in labor for a very short time and he arrived within ten minutes after she arrived at the hospital. Everything about him was brief and without complexity – his entry into this world, his death, and how he lived his life. He didn’t ask for much from life or from any one. He always took the cards he was dealt and accepted the hand he was given. I envy that because I am the most complex person I know.
After his death, I started to piece together his life as we sorted through his personal effects. What I found was someone who enjoyed and appreciated all life had to offer. He was content with everything that was handed to him. He never complained about his obstacles and he always kept going. He was someone who really truly understood that everything happens for a reason. My younger sister said a few days after he passed away, “He was the only one who could bring us all into a room together.” She was right because he was the one that kept us all in check because as siblings, we all have our issues with each another. That is what siblings do but to him, everything can easily be forgotten with a joke or with a chuckle. He didn’t hold grudges and he didn’t believe in angry words. And sadly, we may never all be in the same room together – I am sure of that because without him here, we can’t easily forget our differences. However, I hope, in honor of his memory, that we can.
My brother’s illness and death were hard lessons for all us. However, they were obstacles that showed us how strong we were and what it really meant to be a family. We learned how short life really is and how important it was not to take those around for us for granted. What I know is that even if angry words are spoken; it really comes down to our true intentions and whether we are willing to forget and forgive. We can be angry with those in our lives but we have to take a step back and realize that we don’t always get the opportunity to forgive or take back those words. My siblings and I were given two opportunities: one to forgive and forget and the other to say goodbye and I know that were so very lucky to have had that. Not everyone gets that opportunity.
I do know without a doubt that everything happens for a reason. Chance has nothing to do with luck, illness, love, and/or stupidity. Everything happens so that we are tested and without those tests, life would be smooth sailing and no one would ever accomplish anything. Let’s face it – Life would pointless without tests. The people who come in our lives, our successes and our failures – all of these things help us become who we are. We learn from the good and the bad. The bad lessons are often the best ones that we learn the most from. If someone hurts us or betrays us, we learn how important trust is and how important it is to be cautious when it comes to opening our hearts. We also learn that if someone loves us, we love them back. That is what life is really about: love and making every day count because life can be shorter than we think.
I have learned so much about life in the past few months. I have learned how important appreciating every moment is. I have learned to talk to others and to get to know them better by actually listening to them. I have let myself love and set my sights high for the things I want of life. I have learned to hold my head up high and to be proud of my choices and stop letting the opinions of others dictate my choices. I remind myself daily that I am a good person and I believe in myself because I know that if do, others will as well. I don’t want to have regrets because I know that my brother didn’t. Most importantly, I have learned that if you love someone (whether it is a significant other, a parent, a sibling, a child or a friend); tell him today because you do not what tomorrow holds.
As I write, revise, and rewrite these words, I realize that I know the answer to the choice I have to make. The answer has been staring at me at all. See, we don’t know what our futures and our destinies really are. God did not create us to sit in our safe zones and not take risks. He created humanity to love, to take chances, and to make choices. Yes, I am comfortable with the way things are right now and they can stay the same if I want them to but I can also take a chance even though I don’t know where it will take me. I just know that my brother would me to make the effort to be happy even if it meant taking a risk. As I was writing that last sentence, I was thinking about Martina McBride’s song called, “Anyway.” Just because storms can blow away the things we build or our dreams may seem out of reach, or prayers aren’t always answered in the way we want them to be, or love ends up hurting us, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We should built, love, dream, and pray anyway.
“Control the things you can, don’t worry about the things you can’t; know and ACCEPT the difference. Tomorrow is NOT promised so appreciate TODAY as if it were your last.” -Anonymous.
There had to be a time in my life where life was simple because I can’t imagine that my life was always like a rollercoaster ride. I look at just what RA and Fibro have brought into my life: pain, weight gain, a lot more sick days, and even heartache. It isn’t all negative though. It has been an experience in empathy and it has given me the opportunity to give back through advocacy. I am not the same person I was prior to my diagnoses and heck, I don’t even look the same.
I have gained fifty pounds and my body is always swollen so that does not help on any given day. Because of RA and Fibro in my life, I have found that my old methods towards aren’t working. If they were, I wouldn’t keep gaining weight even though I am eating healthier than I did prior to my diagnoses. There has to be more to it. Actually, I stopped gaining weight but it was only in the past year that I stopped. I suppose that is a good thing but it does not help me with the weight I have gained and I am having a hard time taking off because I am in too much pain or I don’t have the energy. Chronic illness does that to you and so does life and life’s stressors.
I am looking at myself and I am wondering how much more I can take. I wish that I could find a way not to let life get me down. I wish that I could find a way to be content no matter what life hands me. I thought I was content with life but I was wrong. I learned what being content with life meant by watching my brother battle cancer. He never took a moment of his life for granted and even on his deathbed, he embraced God in the way that he embraced life. I want to embrace life the way he did and I don’t ever know where to start.
All my life, I wanted but I never got. Maybe, it was because I set my expectations too high or maybe because I am not realistic. I thought I was but I was wrong. Happiness comes from within us and not what is around us. I sometimes have to remind myself so that I can be happy. I am learning that every day. I am learning that happiness isn’t measured by success or by money. I know that I want to be a lot of things but the person I love being the most is my children’s mother. Sometimes, I take on more than I can handle and I don’t realize how much that is hurting me. I have no time that is just for me. My time is dedicated to everyone else or every other project. And that has got to stop. It has to because I am burning myself out.
I am working on trying to establish some permanent changes to my life including to my health, time management, to making more time for myself, and trying to repair my marriage if it’s possible. I have never been the type to easily give up so I am not giving up. Yeah, life can throw us down, but it doesn’t keep up from getting up. I recently was at my brother’s grave and I asked him to help me figure this out and as I am making these choices, I feel him nudging me along, reminding me to be patient, and to find a way to be content with my life again. I know what he would want for me if he was alive, he would want to be happy and to find my way back to the happiness I once had.
So, I am taking some time to figure out who I really am. We all need that once in a while. It is about time I realized that when life knocks me down, I have got to get up.
Today, May 12, 2011, is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. In honor of this day and its significance, I wanted to share 13 facts about the condition. I was diagnosed almost three years ago with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. What is unique about fibromyalgia and what forces it to be a standalone condition is that there are dozens of symptoms and many myths surrounding it. Is it a real disease? Do all sufferers have the same symptoms? Is it curable and/or treatable? I am going to share some facts and myths about the condition because I know there is a lot that most persons know about it.
1. Misconceptions are all around, including among doctors – starting with the belief that the condition is not necessarily real. For sufferers, this means delayed diagnoses, delayed treated and debilitating pain.
2. Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue. People with fibro have tender points in specific places of the neck, back, shoulders, hips, arms and legs. These pressure points hurt when pressure is put on them.
3. People with fibromyalgia have many symptoms. The most common are: Sleep disturbances, morning stiffness, headaches, painful menstrual periods, tingling and numbers in hands and feet, and cognitive problems that result in thinking and memory issues, often called fibro fog.
4. The causes of fibromyalgia are unknown. However, it has been linked to stressful and traumatic events such as auto accidents, illness, certain diseases and repetitive injury.
5. Fibromyalgia can also occur on its own with no known cause.
6. Some scientists believe that there is a gene or multiple genes associated with the condition. These genes react more sensitively to pain in people with the condition. This gene can also point to the reason why multiple family members are affected.
7. Scientists estimate that nearly 5 million American adults are affected by fibromyalgia. 80 to 90 percent are women. However, men and children can also be affected by the disorder. Most people are diagnosed in middle age.
8. People with certain conditions are more likely to have fibromyalgia including those with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus and Ankylosing spondylitis (spinal arthritis).
9. Women who have a family member with fibromyalgia may be more likely to have fibromyalgia themselves.
10. Fibromyalgia is a hard condition to treat. The doctor treating the patient must be familiar with the disorder and its treatment options. Family doctors, general internists and rheumatologists can treat the condition provided they are knowledgeable about it.
11. Fibromyalgia treatment requires a team approach method. This means that you medical team will not just include your doctor, but also other specialists such as physical therapists, chiropractors, pain specialists, and mental health specialists, depending a patient’s medical needs.
12. Patients need to focus on multiple methods to feeling better. These include: taking medications as prescribed, getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well and making work changes if necessary.
13. There is a lot of new research being done to help understand fibromyalgia and better ways of treating it, diagnosing it and even preventing it. Current research includes: finding out why some people are more sensitive to pain than others, improved and new medication and behavioral treatments, gene research on why some people get fibro and others don’t, imaging studies (i.e. MRIs) to better understand fibro, inflammation studies and how they relate to fibro, nondrug therapies, and methods to help people with fibro get improved sleep.
Few people are prepared when it comes to fibromyalgia and family members are generally taken aback by a new diagnosis. For fibromyalgia patients, living and dealing with a new and painful diagnosis can be lonely and frightening and with all the myths out there about fibro, patients can have a hard time getting people, including family members, to believe them. The best that family members can offer to a fibro patient is find out all they can about the condition and what their role in helping that family member get back a normal life and to learn to live with and manage a life with fibromyalgia. It is possible but it is not an easy process. It involves a lot of work and a lot of support.
Some of this information is from my own knowledge and some from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) page.
When the news came about the capture and killing of Bin Laden, I remembered that the day that the Twin Towers fell, my mother was visiting her sister in New York City. She was scheduled to come back home the following day but ended up spending another ten days in NYC. I remember my late brother wanting to get in his car to drive to NYC and pick her up just to make sure she was safe since we did not have contact with her until a couple days after the attacks. My sisters and I would not let him go because they were limiting travel in and out of NYC that first day and for several days thereafter. We told him that he just had to wait. I think about all the history that has happened in the past few months, the end of dictatorship in Egypt, the protesting for democracy in other Middle Eastern countries, the Japanese and New Zealand earthquakes, the wedding of Prince William, and this last big event – justice for the 9/11 victims, I realize how fast time flies and how much has happened in the past few months since my brother has been gone. Sadly, life goes on.
I know that none of these stories would have mattered to him if he were alive because he never paid no attention to politics, news of violent or tragic events, or even entertainment gossip, but the fact that life goes on after someone dies is so hard for me to grasp sometimes. Everything I do and everything that changes in my own life, I wish he was alive to know about it. It is getting close to five months since we lost him. They only put his gravestone down a week ago. Someone told me once that losing a loved one is pain that lasts a lifetime and I know all too well how true that statement is. I grieved for 15 years for my father and I only stopped grieving when we lost my brother. When I lost my dad, I was 19 and I really needed in my life. When my brother died, it was different.
I tried to convince myself that the cancer would not win even though we knew that he was terminal. I did everything I could to get him the help he needed so the cancer wouldn’t win and I did everything to ease his mind when it came to the hospital stay and medical billing, finding answers, trying to give him hope, and even dealing with his financial affairs. I did everything I could to ease his mind so that all he could focus on was getting better. The moment when it finally hit me that he wasn’t going to win his fight was the worst moment of my life. I hadn’t prepared myself for it because I really wanted to believe that the cancer wouldn’t win. When the doctors told us that his fight would be over in a matter of hours, I felt like I had failed him and sometimes, I still feel like I did. No matter how many times I remind myself that I did do everything I could, I still have moments where I doubt myself.
That is why my brother’s death hurts differently than my dad’s death. I needed my Dad whereas I felt that my brother needed me. I was his big sister and all I wanted to do was protect him. As for my grief, I had forgotten that death is a painful and sad experience for those of us left behind to mourn. I had forgotten that the pain would last for a lifetime. I had forgotten the grief that I felt after losing my dad when I lost my brother. I was too busy grieving my brother’s death to realize that I still missed my Dad and how I much I needed him as I was grieving my brother’s death. See, they may be gone from our lives, but they are never forgotten.
I think it is even harder when I remember how short life really is and how quickly it moves on once we have lost someone. The people that mourned and paid their respects eventually went home and it was those of us closest to him that continued to feel his loss. It is a process and every day, the emotions are still there. When I have one of those moments where I am reminded how life still goes on despite the death of a loved one, I count my blessings. I am reminded that despite my loss, I am still very blessed and I have and always will have the grace of God on my side.
I wrote this 13 things post a couple years ago and in anticipation of Mother’s Day, I thought I would share it again with all you. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers!
Mother’s Day 2011 – Happy Mother’s Day to my mother who has endured so much especially in the past year. Mom- I know that this mother’s day you are thousands of miles away but I am thinking of you. I know that I don’t always say this and I know our relationship has had its ups and downs, but you are the best mother anyone could ask for. This past year has been difficult for you, as it has been for all of us, but I learned so much from you as a result. You have taught me the importance of patience, strength, and faith and I learned this by watching you endure and prevail. I am so very proud to call you my mother and my dearest friend.
13 Things That Parenting Has Taught Me
1. The love of child is the purest kind of love out there.
2. Children know precisely the right moment when to put a smile on your face.
3. It is harder to watch a child fail, than to fail yourself.
4. The years go by faster than you think.
5. You can get more joy out of buying an expensive toy for your child than buying anything for yourself.
6. Money is worthless if you have no one to spend it on, and that children are priceless.
7. It is harder being a child than an adult.
8. It is okay to let them make their own decisions, even though you know they may fail.
9. You should always listen to your heart when it comes to raising your children and to trust their judgment over anyone else’s.
10. That even 9 year old boys can get their hearts broken by 9 year old girls who won’t give them the time of day, and that you have no control over that. (He is 11 now going on 18).
11. That children are full of unpredictable emotions, and you find you are happy when they are happy or unhappy when you see they are sad.
12. That you can be yourself or be silly anytime you want.
13. That a gross dirt, worm-based cake made by your child is far better than any cake made at the finest bakery in town.
What things have you learned from your children?
I have changed and I am the first person to admit it. I changed because life happened and it happened to me all at once. Lately and in the past few months, I feel like I am detached from the rest of the world and everything around me. I feel I am not really living my life but I am watching it happen in front of my eyes like a stranger looking in. Everything around me is moving and spinning and I am in a daze but standing still. I feel like I don’t have a grasp on life and I don’t know how reach for that grasp.
When I try to reach out, I feel all my emotions spinning me around and I am not able to contain myself. Sometimes, it is sadness, sometimes anger, sometimes fear, and sometimes happiness. But I still can’t get a grasp on what is happening. I also feel that I am invisible to everyone around me. They can see me but they cannot even begin to understand my emotions, my numbness and my emptiness.
Sometimes, I am not even sure where I am at. Is it a dream or is it real? I have been dealt some really tough blows in recent months and sometimes all I want to do is cry even though the tears won’t come. Other times, I just want to lash out and I don’t know who to lash out at. I am angry and sad about a lot of things including the things I wish didn’t happen, for things that can’t make me feel whole again, for the emotions that I know have, for the things I have tried to change but couldn’t, for all I have lost, for the things I can’t fix about myself, and for the areas in my life where I failed. It is like I can’t remember who I am and how I got lost.
The fact is I really know, without a doubt, who I am. I am a person who keeps going despite the hard times and the blows. I am stronger than most people I know and I endure. I thought that after my brother died I couldn’t be that person anymore. The truth is, I have been that person all along. The difference is that it has been awkward trying to find that person again and I have found myself stumbling more often than I would have in past. The thing is I can’t help who I am. I am always running 50 steps ahead of everyone in my life. I sometimes forget that not everyone is like me. I don’t stop to rest and by the time I have made it to the top, I am too tired to celebrate my victory. I wish that I could change that about me but it is who I am.
While people in my life look at that person with admiration, I don’t know whether I can admire myself or feel sorry for myself. All I know, I go forward because I have to, not because I want to. Half the time, I don’t know whether I am coming or going. That is what it has been like for the past few months. So much has happened and I am trying to be a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend to everybody in my life. I am sad for the things I have lost but can be happy for the things I have gained. I have learned to hold my own, I have a better relationship with my mother and siblings than I have ever did in the past, and I have learned to focus on the present and to let go of the past.
This past week has been pretty busy for me as well. Mom left overseas on Sunday and since Thursday, I have been dealing with a huge tree in her backyard that fell after the past storm. It is an interesting story to say the least. The most interesting part is trying to figure out whether it is her tree or not. She did not want to leave and I told her too promising I would take care of it because I know if my brother were alive, he would have told her the same thing. As a family, we also made a decision to move forward for a lawsuit related to my brother’s illness. It was not an easy choice but after many months of pondering, the answer finally came. That is another project for me to deal with. My master’s degree is will be complete in eight weeks. I don’t have any plans for further educational pursuits. I am happy where I am at in my job so I am just going to focus from this point forward. I am focusing on my kids, my family, my career and my advocacy work. As far as where I am at when it comes to marriage – that is up in the air. I don’t know what is going to happen. I just know that I walked away a changed person and the person I am now isn’t going to make the same mistakes I made before.
I am learning everyday how to find myself, to love myself, and to be truly happy and I don’t want to go backwards. After my brother passed away, I found myself in a dark place but I understood (and still do) that what happened was a part of life that finds us all. Sometimes, we need a little help getting up and I was fortunate to find that help and ironically, not in the people and places I had expected to find it. I am forever changed to the point from these experiences to a point where I sometimes don’t know who I am.