I haven’t had my license very long, in fact, it’ll be two years next month. Just the thought of driving would make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I came to find that it was the possibility of a car accident that triggered this level of anxiety.

Last Monday this fear stared me right in the face.

I had been sitting in my car for about 7 minutes, traffic had come to a complete stop (as it often does around 5 o’clock on i95), I had just received a text saying, “Ok drive safe” when the cars slowly started to inch forward. Finally! Some movement. I was eager to get where I was going, as I’m sure all the other drivers were. After about five miles of steady movement, I noticed two cars ahead was someone driving absolutely terrible. They were swerving left and right, speeding up then suddenly breaking and I remember saying, “God please get this person off the road before they hurt someone.
That’s when it happened.
They slammed on their breaks and the car in front of me crashed right into them. I swerved so quickly to the left I swear I just missed the barrier then BAM the car that was behind me was rear-ended.
Two collisions.
One directly in front of me.
One directly behind me.
Tears immediately filled my eyes and my entire body started to shake.

It was one of the scariest moments of my life.

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I am alive. I am safe. I am okay.
I must’ve repeated that to myself several times throughout the night.

I’m not sure what scary moments you’ve experienced lately (or if you’ve even experienced any) but this morning I’d like to remind you that you are alive, you are safe and you are okay. So many of us dread Monday’s but these are three small but significant reasons to be thankful today.

Mrs. Lopez, can you come in today to discuss your test results?
My heart started to sink as I braced myself against the wall. Time stood still. I could see my sons’ as men, my husband with a head full of grey hair, my sisters with multiple smile lines embedded in their faces. There they were. Altogether. Without me. I couldn’t picture my life past that moment.

But I was getting ahead of myself – as so many of us
do when we’re expecting bad news.

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Appointment after appointment, test after test, more and more unanswered questions. I spent weeks being poked and prodded, parts of my body being invaded and even removed. All while silently screaming, “Please God please! Let me be healthy!

Please God please, my son’s need me
Please God please, my husband needs me
Please God please, my work here isn’t complete

One night I laid in bed nestled in my husband’s arm and just stared at the ceiling with all my fears staring right back. In the dark of the night – the darkness found me. Every what if question you could imagine crossed my mind. Every worst case scenario played out like a back to back live performance. Each thought more torturous than the previous. I reached for my journal and jotted down, “Diagnosis you do NOT define me!”

Cancer, you do not define me
Anxiety, you do not define me
Fibromyalgia, you do not define me
Infertility, you do not define me
Autism, you do not define me
Hypothyroidism, you do not define me
Depression, you do not define me
Endometriosis, you do not define me
Eating Disorder, you do not define me
OCD, you do not define me
PTSD, you do not define me

I am not the wisest person in the world. I do not know the answer to every question.
But I do know…
No diagnosis, no name, no label – none of it defines me
No diagnosis, no name, no label – none of it defines YOU

While filling out an ambassador application earlier I was asked a personal question and this was my answer…

Words are incredibly important! The words we hear, the words we say, the internal words in our head and heart.

I grew up in an urban area – where people were expected to fail; to fall prey to things like gang violence, teen pregnancy, living off the state, etc. In fact, I was even told that I specifically would become one of those people who fell prey (by a teacher no less). Those words marked my life. Those words planted a seed in me. A plan. A plan to prosper despite what I was told, despite where I was from and to use HER hurtful words to remind me to always use MY words to heal, to empower and encourage, to bring love and light to everyone I encounter, especially other women.

I was too young, too naive to fully understand that she was trying to knock me down. But when I did, I came back up swinging. Now I’m always ready and willing to stand in the corner with the next woman to help her with her fight; to cheer her on, to coach her, to yell “tag me in” and beat the beast of destructive words before the sound of the bell.

Words are incredibly important and it’s my personal mission to change the world with mine.

I’d like to remind someone today that words matter – the words you hear, the words you believe, the words you say to others and the words you say to yourself, both out loud and silently. This reminder isn’t coming from a place of perfection (or a perfect person) because let me tell you, I struggle too! But that doesn’t define me. And it doesn’t define you.

What words are in your life? What words are you choosing? Do you need someone in your corner? If so, come find me! Let’s win this fight together!

I recently read an article that said people are prone to cabin fever during the colder seasons. Within the New England area, particularly during the months of December, January and February, women (and men) focus more on their misery – finding themselves discouraged, desolate, even depressed.

I easily could’ve been (and have been) one of those people.

If I started to list all the things that have been going ‘wrong’ during this colder season, I’d be writing for a while. But instead, I chose to shift my focus on all the things that are going right because if I’m being honest with myself that list is much longer.

Isn’t yours?

I cannot count the number of times I’ve taken the ‘little things’ in life for granted.
Are there little things in life that you find yourself taking for granted?

You know, things like…
waking up this morning. Your home. The food in your cabinets and refrigerator. The clothes on your back. The shoes on your feet. Your spouse. Your children. Your health. Your car. Chances are if you’re reading this you have at least one of these things. Most of us have almost all of them.
No, maybe they’re not exactly what you want.
But it’s still more than what others have.

Wouldn’t you agree?

I took a drive with my oldest son yesterday. As we drove down the same local road we’ve taken for months now, he still smiled and pointed out the trees, the stores, the different colored cars, the people walking, etc. It didn’t matter how many times we’ve taken this drive, he was still mesmerized. He was still soaking it all in, smiling, enjoying every second of it.

I don’t know about you but that’s how I want to live life – that’s how I’ve been trying to live life. Opening my eyes each morning, thanking God for another day to be here and using that day to be intentional.

Are you being intentional with your day?

I ask these questions, not because I have the answers, but because I hope that it calls attention to the (type of) cabin fever you may have experienced or are still experiencing. I mean, it’s March 20th, Spring is officially here. So yeah, that cabin fever (or whatever you want to call it) will soon fade away. But if we don’t start making changes now, it will start creeping back into our lives the second summer is over.
So I ask you…

What can you do to find joy in every day?

I think it’s safe to say that our definitions of trauma are all very similar BUT how we experience and recover from trauma – that is very different.

I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for myself and I say that trauma is a sneaky little bitch.

I’d much rather her rear end me, sending me flying head-on into a brick wall BOOM instant shatter. But no. No, that’s not her style. She waits. Patiently. Searching for an open space then swiftly but silently infiltrates and once she’s in – there’s no escape.

She starts chipping away. Not even every day. But little pieces here and there from specific places at strategic times. Fragments start falling from everywhere and once the unraveling starts, there’s no stopping it.

She wants to break me and she wants it in the most painful way.

If I had to give her a name it would be Valerie. Valerie was my middle school bully. Much like middle school Valerie, the blows of trauma started small. So small I can’t even really call them blows. Not a gust of wind but rather a gentle breeze. I guess you could call it the calm before the storm.

A simple eye roll
A point and a laugh
A bunch of books knocked off a desk
A trip in the cafeteria
A shove in the line
A piece of gum in the hair
A pin against the wall
A scream in the face
A punch in the gut

That is trauma. My trauma. That sneaky little bitch Valerie.

She makes moderate, measured movements – all generated to effortlessly penetrate barriers. Barriers I built to protect myself. Then she flanks me in a battle I’d yet to know I was facing. It wasn’t until I reached for my belt that I realized all of Valerie’s chipping away had left me defenseless. So there I stood, caught off guard and completely disarmed.

It wasn’t until the dust finally settled that I was able to see what trauma had left me.

Nothing.

They are lost souls
Reaching out for hope
Screaming, crying, slowly dying
But no one ever knows

Round and round they spin
A battle deep within
Feeling like they cannot win
Load the chamber
Watch it spin then lock it in
Glide their finger to the trigger
And pray to God for the answer
It’s the game they play
Because they know no other way

They are lost souls
Reaching out for hope
Screaming, crying, slowly dying
But no one ever knows

Dashing towards them
As quickly as I can
Reaching out my helping hand
The spring releases
Anticipate the sound
Anticipate finding them there, laying on the ground
But instead
Misfire
It’s a second chance
This is where I take my stance
And this is where you take yours

They are lost souls
Reaching out for hope
Screaming, crying, slowly dying
But now you all know

If you know me then you know that even if the rest of the house is a mess, my kitchen and my bathroom have to be clean before I go to bed.
BUT I didn’t wash my dishes last night.

Before I continue I think that’s important to note that I have OCD – obsessive CLEANING disorder. I am constantly cleaning something, rearranging something, organizing something – it’s almost as if I cannot stop moving. From a very early age, cleanliness was ingrained in me. I’ve come to the realization that I find comfort in it AND I’ve also come to the realization that my stress levels often spike when things aren’t clean.

Almost every weeknight around 7 o’clock you will find me in the kitchen meal prepping, washing dishes, scrubbing the counters and stove or sweeping the floor. I have to have a clean home. Or in the very least I have to have a clean kitchen (and bathroom). So when I say, I didn’t do my dishes last night, please know that this is a big deal for me.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to devote my days to being with my children until it’s time for Kindergarten. An average day includes morning routines, getting my oldest ready for school then rolling on the floor with my youngest, building block towers he will only knock down, helping him put puzzles together, reading books, watching my his favorite movie or show for the millionth time, running errands, going to appointments, attending playgroups and (when weather permits) exploring the great outdoors. Then it’s time for helping with homework, checking off a book from the school’s weekly reading list, extracurriculars, dinner then bedtime routines. Hopefully with enough time for a tv show or quiet time with my husband (although I prefer the latter).

Having a clean home is crucial to my days running as smooth as possible.
So, evenings are for cleaning.

BUT I didn’t wash my dishes last night.

Instead, they sat in the sink while I snuggled on the sofa with my husband and children as we watched a movie. We curled under cozy blankets. We ate snacks. We laughed. We even let them stay up past their bedtime.

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If you’re like me, I’d like to offer you this perspective…
Yes, it’s great to have a clean home. But what’s greater is the time spent with your family. Yes, we should wash our dishes (and clean our homes) but we should also make these moments a priority. Even if that means leaving that last thing on your list unchecked to read one more book, to snuggle for five more minutes, to sip wine slowly with your spouse while you talk and fill your love tanks.

 

Tonight, don’t wash your dishes.

There’s a box she once gave me. It’s beautiful. It’s creme colored with little angels all over. Totally her. I can see it now. It’s sitting on my closet shelf. Perfectly in sight – but up high. High enough so my little ones can’t reach it. Inside is every letter my husband wrote to me while he was away at basic training. It’s old. Decades-old. Worn. One of the corners is broken. Very broken. In fact, sometimes the letters stick out. I should probably replace it. But I won’t. You see, that beautiful box is one of the only things I have left. Aside from my memories. So many truly beautiful memories. Memories filled with delicious food, laughter, dancing and love. So much love. And while each and every one of those memories are great, it’s not the same.

This box was once hers. This box once stored treasures of her own inside (maybe love notes Tio had written to her during the early years of their marriage). This box was once held in her petite but powerful hands. This box was special to her. She told me herself. So this box will never come off the shelf.

At least not until I’m old and grey.
Maybe I can give it to my sons’ wife one day.

I don’t have many mementos from my childhood, let alone ones passed down from other family members. Truthfully, I never understood the importance of keeping these little trinkets.
Now I do.
Now I understand that they are very vital when it’s all we have left.

As my family finds themselves mourning again, all I can think about is her – how it still hurts, how it will always hurt. But I have this box. And this box, it means A LOT.

Back in December, I celebrated the launch of my first book, Unveiling Ellie. I shared the magnitude of that celebration previously. Seeing my book on display, hearing the laughter and chatter, looking around the room seeing unknown faces scattered between the faces of loved ones. It was wondrous. Little did I know, it was just the beginning.

Amongst those unknown faces was a young couple who approached me while I was signing books. We began to chat. After about four minutes the woman purchased a copy.
How great is that? A stranger buying my book!
No.
That’s not the part that’s great.
It’s what began to transpire after.

This same woman reached out to me online recently and shared this story with me…

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After reading Unveiling Ellie she immediately thought of her aunt Ann and wanted to share it with her. She mailed her copy from Connecticut to Florida. A few days later her aunt called her crying.

You see, Ann and her husband Adam were expecting their first daughter on April 26, 2016. Everything went well; the pregnancy, the labor, the delivery. But their time with their little Amy was brief. She died only hours after she had arrived.

“I knew that day would be the worst day of my life but now I know better, now I know that I was wrong. That day wasn’t the worst day. The days after became the worst days. Feeling my body recover from a pregnancy, walking by the pink nursery, holding the blanket she was wrapped in for just a few hours. That was worse. But when Alex asked for his baby sister that crushed whatever was left of me.”

Depression quickly became her companion. There was even a season she struggled to enjoy her son or connect with her husband. She sought help and she is gradually getting better. But her life was changed forever.

Two weeks before receiving the book from her niece, Ann found out she was expecting again. She said it was bittersweet. Ironically, the poem that moved her the most was the one titled Bittersweet. It gave Ann just a bit more hope.

Now that, that is great.

Honestly, there are days that I doubt my abilities as an author but then I remember that there is someone, somewhere waiting for my words, waiting for my stories to invade their innermost space and show them that they are not alone. So, what other choice do I have than to continue connecting with them?

*Photo captured by ZaiPhotography
**names and dates were changed to protect the privacy of the family

Originally, I had intended to share this on New Year’s Eve yet here we are eleven days into January and it was just sitting here, unfinished.

Does this happen to anyone else?

Our minds are everywhere all at once, ALL. THE. TIME.
We constantly find ourselves feeble, worn out, weary and ready to throw in the towel.
We literally watch time slip through our fingers and we still hadn’t gotten that thing done; the thing that actually brings us joy because it was lost amongst the chaos of our complicated lives, amongst our mundane, neverending checklist, amongst all the other things that require our attention before we give it to ourselves.
I believe that’s because our time and energy are on the wrong things.
Okay, maybe not wrong.
But definitely not on what should take precedence.

What do you aspire to accomplish?
Do your top priorities line up with that target?
If the answer is no, what can you do to change that?

I’ve been reading this book by Emily Ley and within the first few pages she says,

“When we pare down life to its simplest, most beautiful basic parts, we’re left with room to enjoy each other, to rest and to truly savor life with all our hearts, minds and spirits.”

 

This year my top priority is to live an intentional, simplified life; to choose less so I can have more, to eliminate the excess and enjoy the extra, to take every aspect of my life and analyze it.
Does this thing bring me joy?
Will this person or place bring me closer to a peaceful life?
Will saying yes to this task force me to say no to another that deserves my yes?
Does this take away from me?

I don’t have all the answers.
Not yet.
But I believe if I’m intentional with each and every step I take, the path I am paving will be fluid and full for years to come.