4 Things I’ve Learned This First Year of Working from Home

I cannot believe it has been one year since I packed up my classroom at a high school in Temecula and went home to work with my husband. Time has definitely flown by and I have learned so much.

1. Family Is More Important To Me Than Ever Before

Family vacations are so important

Our family at the Grand Canyon during Spring Break

I took the plunge and left my comfortable and safe job of teaching to risk the economical consequences of being home more with my kids. While I still work, being there with them in the morning for breakfast, taking them to school, doing homework with them, and even helping my oldest son with his independent studies once a week has given me a drive to want to step it up. To do more with them. Be more with them. Instead of reading teaching books to improve my teaching, I’m reading parenting books to improve my parenting. I’m reading one right now called Different Children, Different Needs that is just life changing for me. It is helping me see the different qualities in my children and how my words and behavior as a parent can nurture and hurt them based on those qualities. I’m not done with it yet. But it inspires me to love my kids and discipline them differently. We are also setting a two year goal to move all our kids to a hybrid homeschool. The lessons and practice I’m getting now will help me do well when that time comes, if God wills it.

2. Working Alongside My Husband Has Brought Us So Much Closer and More Aligned

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Owen and I in our live stream studio for our upcoming show, Power Your Passion.

We have had to spend A LOT of time together. Wow! And with that, we have had to annoy each other, love each other, and communicate with each other all. day. long. It actually has helped us uncover the fact that we both communicate differently. And so we have had to be students of each other in a whole new way than before. Learning our DISC profiles have been incredibly helpful and that is the same tool we have used to communicate better with our children. But let me tell you– having a common goal, sitting together at night both working on the same project, stressing together and rejoicing together over successes and failures in our business has been incredibly good for us. I don’t feel so disconnected, trying to understand why he felt a certain way about his work and trying to remember names of people and such while I feigned interest. He does not struggle anymore with resenting my piles of papers to grade or my long commute home because it is taking attention from him or the family…the list goes on. Through this all, we have also come along side each other in a marriage ministry and are helping other couples become more aligned. That common ministry has helped us become better spouses as well, forcing ourselves to practice what we preach.

3. I’mMore Complicated Than I Thought I Was

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I thought that if I came home from work that I wouldn’t be as busy, that I would workout more, that I would be more present, that I’d blog more, and all of that. But I’m learning that some of my issues are truly issues and are rooted in myself, not on my circumstances. I can only blog if I wake up earlier, and I’m still struggling in that department. Sleep wins the argument every morning! I also still go through long phases of not exercising like I should (and with not walking around my classroom all day, it has definitely affected my weight, so I need to fix this). I still struggle with being present and now have reminders set up on my phone, and am working to be more conscious of my tendency to be lost in my thoughts and overly task oriented. The books I’m reading are helping me see this as well. And I’m learning that I create business in my life. I do it to myself. So I’m looking forward to growing in these areas.

4. God is Moving and the Future is Grand

IMG_8285God is teaching Owen and I so much about the power of faith, and opening doors for us in areas I’d never dreamed. Who knows what the future holds but the silhouettes forming on the horizon of the future are nothing like would have expected had someone asked me to forecast the future a year or more ago. We have started a family vlog, are looking at investing into an idea of Owen’s with one of our friends, are getting more marriage ministry opportunities, and more. We are even now working on house projects together to improve our home and planning to hopefully move our family to the Austin area in Texas when Kanan graduates high school. We still have concerns about Owen’s health and with the risk of owning a business, and kids there are plenty of worries, but that is where God is teaching so much about faith and trust. We live by him each day. And no matter what happens, we are trusting in Him and his plans for us.

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Wheat and Dairy: my untitled saga with the foods I love and hate all at the same time.

file_000From the time I was a small child, I have fond memories of wheat and dairy.  My mom has a picture of me at the age of 2 digging into a white cannister of sour cream with my bare hands while wearing a sour cream filled grin. I have flashes of running into the kitchen at my grandma Barbara’s house at the age of 6 and eagerly jumping up down as she sliced a sliver of cheese from a ball of mozzarella she kept in the fridge. As I grew older I discovered the amazing dream of cream cheese smeared over toasted everything bagels, of American cheese melted and gooey in a grilled sourdough sandwich with tomato soup on the side, of mexican cheese melted in between flour tortillas on a flat-iron skillet, and the surprise leftover cheese on the paper that wrapped my animal style burgers at In and Out. For years, I’d come home in the evening from a long day at work or school, and pour myself a tall glass of ice-cold milk. When I was pregnant with my first and second sons, I’d down the entire glass in my left hand while still holding the gallon jug in my right and then pour one more before finally resting the jug back on the refrigerator shelf. And don’t forget Kraft Mac and Cheese. I was just excited about Mac and Cheese night as my own children, and enjoyed once a year making my own homemade version with nutmeg and exotic cheeses.

To me, dairy and wheat were the essential two main food groups. They were the center piece of every great soul food. They were what made food worth eating. Wheat and Dairy were worth singing and dancing for.

Dairy and I had a love affair that lasted 31 glorious years and then slowly crumbled into a final once-and for all break up around January of 2016 before I kicked wheat out as well.  So imagine my despair as I struggled through our slow 5 year break up before finally being ready to call it quits for good that cold, winter day.

At some point in my life, I started having stomach pains. I don’t even remember when they started. I could have had them my whole life, I don’t really know. The sort of pain I struggled with slowly just creeped up on me and annoyed with me with a constant dull aching in my belly. Always present. But never strong enough to bring to me to tears or send me rushing off to the doctor.

But I began to recognize that I did always have a belly ache. And I neither liked it nor understood what could be the cause. When I decided to switch doctors back in Fall of 2011, I started to find answers. My doctor was big into finding the sources of illness. So when I went in for an annual checkup and she had me fill out a questionnaire, my belly aches came up. From that and a few other red flags that sparked her interest, she sent me to a lab to get a large amount of blood work done. When it came back she sat me down and shared the good, the bad, and the ugly. And one of the ugliest findings was that I was allergic to cow dairy along with some minor allergies in wheat, shellfish, dust mites, cats, dogs, and cockroaches.  She suggested I cut down the dairy, at the very least milk, and see if my symptoms improved. That and get rid of our cat. But that’s another story.

41 weeks pregnant

I decided I would give up just the milk and see, but there was no way I’d give up cheese or sour cream. I mean that would be like food suicide. But even with that, sure enough, my stomach felt much better, especially in the evenings.  It took just a few months before I began enjoying my almond milk alternative. Now I crave it like I craved milk. And when I was pregnant with my third and fourth child, guzzled almond milk the same way I did cow’s.

But the pain didn’t go away, go away. It lurked. And over the next few years, the ever-present dull-ache seemed eventually to become just as strong as it had been in my milk days. My allergy was getting worse. I learned the hard way overtime, that I could not eat ice cream anymore or else I’d be hunched in a fetal position crying on the floor in pain. But even when I was good, I just couldn’t escape the pain completely.

And then one day in December, I imagined what my body would feel like if I didn’t ever feel the belly pain again, and the idea of it was so relieving that I actually cried. It was then that I realized, I’d have to make the decision to cut out dairy completely once and for all. No more quesadillas. No more Mac and Cheese. No more alfredo sauce over my spaghetti. I cried again. It’s funny to think about how emotionally attached we can be to certain foods, but it is true.

So I did it. In January of this year, I started a 30-day detox program and not only cut out dairy, but cut out wheat and soy and sugar among all sorts of processed chemicals. I never felt so good in my life. I was sold. Never would I go back to a life of dairy again. But an interesting thing happened to me after the detox. I tried wheat again, thinking I would just stick to a dairy free life. But then I noticed the anxiety I often felt in my chest returned and my belly swelled up. I remembered that blood test a couple of years back. This is what my wheat allergy was doing to me? All those years of anxiety? All those stressful tears? All those years of thinking sit ups were pointless? When I think of all the pain I could have escaped, all the chest pains I could have relieved….no amount of cheese or wheat seemed worth it anymore. I was over it.

But like any break up, there is a transition period. And there are weak points. There are times where you have to stare at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself why you broke up in the first place. I had to start thinking creatively about my foods and begin to find beauty in other flavors. Honestly, the first couple of months, I found little joy in eating. Food became merely something I had to eat to nourish my body.

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singing for celery

It has been 10 months since and it has gotten easier. I have stumbled a couple of times when I haven’t planned and had to resort to eating something with wheat or dairy in it, then reaping the consequence. And yet my belly has healed enough that from time to time, I can enjoy one meal with a small amount of it in it without suffering too much, but nothing more. And I’m okay with it now. I may even start singing for my food again.

Broken Idols and a Quest for Self-Worth: a love story

My senior year in high school, I made it my mission to get Bryan Parker (name changed) to fall in love with me. No I take that back. To fall BACK in love with me. Admitting that asks for a back story I’m not entirely willing to share or else write an entire novel instead of a 750 word blog and a mess of baggage that would make a psychotherapist squirm in his chair with delight, but its true.

But looking at the whole story almost 20 years later, I realize now that this mission was much more than just gaining Bryan’s heart back. This mission was about forgiving myself. About proving my stepfather wrong. And about making myself worthy of love. It was a selfish quest built on low self-esteem, a distorted self-image, and a lack of identity and self-worth.

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My senior photo–on a mission for self-worth

He was my first love my sophomore year. 5’11, quiet, with dark brown hair, blue eyes, a few freckles on his slightly turned up nose. He often wore blue-checkered, collared shirts and flannels with jeans. I still remember the way he looked walking through the halls—head down, a mop of thick dark hair hanging over his brows, his arms crossed, and his large black pack-pack filled with honors level coursework hung over his shoulder. He loved science, art, and cars. I gave him my heart, my soul, my everything.

And my stepdad did not approve. His anger simmered and boiled over and exploded the summer between my sophomore and junior year when all the truth about our relationship had been uncovered.

Fast forward to December of my junior year in high school—after a forced break up, a transfer to another school, no knowledge of my phone number, and no contact with my old friends or old life—my stepfather left our home forever and I came back to my old high school in Alta Loma, an affluent campus at the foothills of Cucamonga Peak, excited to be back and talk to him again.

That is until I found out that Bryan had hooked up with someone else while I was away. One of my sisters friends.  I felt so cheap. He couldn’t make it 6 months without having to find someone new? Didn’t he love me the way I had loved him? Didn’t what we have mean anything to him? And so in an impulsive anger, I got back at him by hooking up with his best friend.

And I regretted it immediately.

Of course, he was mad. He refused to talk to me. Ignored me the rest of my junior year. It was probably for the best. I had to really emotionally heal from all the anger inside of me. I was angry at my stepdad, myself, him, and the world. But alas, the details of my junior year in high school is for another story. This is about getting Bryan back.

So the summer after junior year, I woke up one sunny morning in a campground in Santa Maria and looked out at the big blue sky, listening to the lazy beats of Sublime playing from my best friend Lisa’s car stereo, and I decided I was no longer angry anymore. I could smile genuinely again. I had friends and fun life away from the strict rules of my stepfather and the misery of that angry junior year. But one thing was missing in my mind. I couldn’t truly have made it, until I got Bryan back.

I don’t really remember the details of the strategies or the sequence of events and how I did it. But I got pretty far. Smiles and notes. Flirtatious hello’s and invitations to come to this event or that event. I had the advantage my senior year of a very active weekend life. My group of girlfriends had developed a great connection with some college-aged friends who lived nearby and were always throwing parties, going to the river, concerts, and clubs. And they liked us. So eventually, Bryan accepted. And I always made sure I looked amazing when he would come. This was probably right after the new year of 1997.

Eventually we were walking to class together, and even kissing again. We in many ways my senior year, had the all the experiences I had only wished to have had with him when we were together under my stepdad’s reign. But this time I don’t think we used the term “boyfriend and girlfriend.” Still–I wasn’t going to push it. I just needed to hear those 3 special words.

I got close. I remember him telling me that he liked the way I dressed better than my friends. That he liked the way I danced better than others. I remember him saying sweet words like “you are so cute.” We even went to prom together. I think it was at prom that I felt that I had finally made it. I was at prom wearing a stunning silver sequenced floor length gown with a peak-a-boo halter and my hair up in curls with the love of my life who looked like Jake Guillinhall on the red carpet. My stepdad could bite it, I thought. Maybe I was still angry at him, at least.

But then something changed.

Within a couple of weeks, after I had given Bryan my book of poetry I had basically written all about him and other feelings from my life, he found pages in the book that had been torn out. I had torn them out because I messed up my handwriting, scribbled too much out and didn’t want it to mess up the beauty of my book. But he didn’t see it that way. He started getting paranoid, thinking that I must have been writing about other guys. He called me names: vindictive, liar, manipulative. I didn’t get it. I begged him to believe that he was my one and only. But he just couldn’t get passed it. In the end, I think it was all rooted in his inability to forgive me for my real transgression the year before.

One rainy day in May, he wrote me a note. It said, I hate you too much to be your boyfriend. But I love you too much to be just friends. All is lost. 

I wrote back, how can I have lost someone, I never truly had?

Still–I asked for one last date, in hopes that somehow it could be amazing enough to change his perspective. I wore my white crocheted sundress and matching white sandals, my hair down and curled, thankful the el Niño rains had dissipated long enough for a brief sensation of spring. In my mind I had played out an entire scene—laughter and joking, holding hands as we walked down the sidewalk.  One long last kiss under a big oak tree and him realizing that he didn’t want to miss any of this. That he was wrong and being silly and that he loved me.

That he would drop me off but then turn around half way, run out from his car and catch me just before I reached my door. The rain would start pouring down from the sky, his hair dripping wet, and his clothing soaked. But he didn’t care. He’d cry out, “Theresa! I love you! You are the only one I can see my life with!” And then I’d run to him and we’d kiss right there in the rain, its sheets wrapping us in our forgiveness, washing away all of the anger and tears forever. We’d then spend the bright summer frolicking on the sands of Huntington Beach, planning the rest of our lives together.

But he was emotionally gone by the time we had that last date—like someone literally turned off a switch in him. We went out, but he didn’t make eye contact. He didn’t ask questions. We sat awkwardly over our meal listening to the tinking of our spoons against our porcelain bowls and the slurping of our sodas through our straws. It culminated at the Koffee Klatch off of Foothill Blvd. where we talked about our futures. More like only him after I asked the questions, trying to keep the conversation going…to keep the night going. Anything but say goodbye. He talked about college, grad school, and becoming a doctor. He didn’t mention me in those dreams.

He dropped me off around 11 o’clock at my house and I sat in that passenger seat of his father’s white Camaro wanting so bad for him to recognize that this would be the last time he’d see me and that this would make him sad. So I said goodbye. No kiss. No long last hug. Just goodbye. I opened the door slowly, and then closed it–watched him turn the car around out of the parking lot of my apartment complex and drive away. I stared at those red tail lights until they became tiny pinpoints and then dissolved into the darkness of the night. He never did turn around. I stood there a very long time under the silent black sky. Then went inside and cried myself to sleep.

I wish I could say that it was good riddance. That I knew I had done nothing wrong and chalked his behavior up to a crazy, paranoid boy. But I didn’t. I was devastated. I sunk into a deep depression. Graduation came and went. I walked. But he was not there to give me flowers or a lei under the misty, twilight sky. After that June night, I spiraled through a series of self-destructive and self-hating actions that summer after senior year while the rest of my friends began preparing for college. My mission had failed. And he saw me the same way I felt  my stepdad saw me: worthless. The first three months were the hardest, darkest of my life.  I essentially became what I thought I was.

But in an upside down and twisted version of the summer revelation I had the prior year, the August after I graduated high school, I woke up around 4 P.M one late August afternoon with no job to go to and after a night of binge drinking. I looked in the mirror and knew I had to get out or I’d never get out of the pit I had put myself in. I wanted to be happy again. But I couldn’t if I stayed in that town where everything reminded me of them. Of Bryan. Of my stepdad—The men I both loved and hated. The ones I spent so much energy trying to get to love me for me– two opposing sides of the same coin I had hoped to use to redeem my self-worth.

In desperation, I called my real dad up—the dad I saw only during the summer from ages 8-12 and then one weekend a month from thereafter. He invited me to move to San Diego and move in with him. I could go to college out there and start a new life.

So I did. I packed up my stuff on my mom’s birthday, kissed my brother and sister goodbye and left. I don’t even think I said goodbye to my friends. No goodbye party. No goodbye call even. I think I finally told them I was gone after I had already been there for two weeks. I was over that life. Everything reminded me of him and of the awful person I had become.

That move was the best decision I ever made in my life. I essentially recreated myself, becoming the person who I always wanted to be. I got my driver’s license,  went to Palomar Community College, and graduated with honors and an A.A degree. During that time, I worked as a waitress for 5 years in the evenings and a jet ski resort in the summers in Carlsbad. I transferred to Cal State San Marcos and graduated again with honors and a B.A degree after cocktail waitressing at a local watering hole and trying my skills at editing jobs for a few large companies.  I then enrolled in the credential program and became a teacher, wanting to make a difference in the lives of teenagers who maybe struggled with their identity as much as I had when I was young. I made many friends along the way. Dated. Got a long-term boyfriend who I loved. Traveled through Mexico and Costa Rica, snowboarded on numerous mountains in the West. I lived a great life.

But one thing still haunted me all those years. I still dreamed about Bryan in my sleep. Always a similar story. We see each other after many years. Hearts race. We reunite. And I’d wake up wishing I could just get him out of my head and my heart. I didn’t want to dream about him. Finally at the age of 25, after I confessed to my mom my haunting dreams, she told me that sometimes, people can develop “soul ties” with their first loves they were intimate with. Makes sense when God says he will make the two become one. And that perhaps that was the issue. She prayed over me to cut the ties and release me. I know it sounds crazy, but the craziest part about it all is that it worked. I no longer dreamed of him. I was free to finally move forward with my life 100%. And that even meant forgiving my stepdad for all he had done to hurt me. And later on realize, I too had done much to hurt him. My eyes were opened.

It’s been 11 years since my mother cut that soul tie between Bryan and I, and just the other day, his profile picture showed up in my Facebook feed as a suggestion for a friend. My heart did not skip a beat. It was like looking at any old picture of a friend from long ago. Somebody I used to know, as the Gotye song goes. But I did actually laugh a little because there was a girl in the picture too. And she looked just like me.

Funny thing is, she looked Hispanic too. And this conjured up all sorts of memories of him in a light I hadn’t really seen before. I remember he hated that Hispanic part about me. He was so embarrassed that I was Colombian that he hid that from his own father, who had a confederate flag hanging in his garage. And he hated it when I spoke Spanish, always asking me to stop. I guess he changed too. Twenty years will do that to any of us, I suppose.

All those years in high school, I had built him up in my mind to be so wonderful, believing that if I had him, it meant I was worthy of love. But the truth be told, he was flawed too. He had been the entire time I worshiped him. But I don’t think I saw it because I had elevated him to a position that was meant to save me. And we don’t like our saviors to be tainted.

While this story in many ways is about a love story gone awry–it really is about a love story with myself. How and when do we begin to love ourselves? When should we give our selves away and what are the consequences  when do? Today, I don’t need him or my stepdad or anyone other than God to define my self-worth. To do so makes them idols and makes our self-worth only as strong as the person we build our self-worth upon. When they fall or fail, we do too. I did. And as I look at my own amazing husband now, and our four beautiful children, I thank God that somehow he gave me the strength to pick up the pieces of that shattered dream and reform it into something so much better than I ever could have had with Bryan. I just didn’t know it then. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. But thankfully, I’m not in the shadows, looking back at the light.

In Sickness and In Health– a reflection during Owen’s treatment last Fall

Owen and I right before he started treatment

Owen and I right after surgery but before he started chemotherapy.

No one ever writes Cancer on their life plans. At least in my circle of experience, we don’t. We plan for the good life. Not trials.  I planned for a teaching career, marriage, family, travel. And while I already have experienced so much, when I married my husband, Owen Hemsath in October of 2009, I had no idea that almost 6 years later, my 35 year old husband would be diagnosed with a Cancer so rare, doctors don’t know how one gets it, or how to cure it enough so it doesn’t come back.

If anything that is on the list of events not to experience during one’s life for many people, especially health conscious ones like our selves. This is why I have spent so many hours reading health articles and meticulously shopping at the grocery store for organic vegetables, alkaline water, GMO-free foods, no food dyes, and products with no high fructose corn syrup. I did it so we wouldn’t get cancer.

So even after multiple trips to the hospital for chest pains so bad it brought Owen to his knees on our living room floor, night sweats so strong it literally left the sheets soaking wet, weight loss and the loss of appetite—I still didn’t suspect Cancer.

I knew something was wrong, no doubt. I’m the one that urged him to go to the hospital each time. But I thought it was a lung infection. I thought it was that damn cat my husband refused to get rid of that had given him so many sneezes and coughs—it had finally done him in. That we’d go and get a big bottle of antibiotics and the problem would be solved.

But hospital visit after hospital visit with no answers came and went until April of last spring.

So at the 4th visit in two years, there Owen and I sat in the brightly lit emergency room at Scripps, Encinitas at 2 o’clock in the morning, hoping this time we’d get some answers as we watched the pretty doctor with the brown pony tail and mousy ears  come down from upstairs, studying his CT scan and EKG results and white blood cell count with her eyes brows drawn close together at the center—concerned. Perplexed. None of the doctors on any of the 3-4 other ER visits had that look on their faces.

“What’s wrong, doctor?” Owen said finally, pale- faced and looking so small under the hospital sheets. “Your face has cancer or something written all over it. Are we looking at something like that here? Or am I misreading you?”

And we watched her sit there silently, studying his face. Hesitantly. Like she was already regretting having to say the words. “Yes,” she said.

At this point, it is difficult to explain what it felt like. For me it was like I was not actually in the room. Like I was outside of my body watching this whole scene in front me on a television or movie screen. I watched myself put my hand on his knee as he stared stoically at the doctor—so strong—and then watched him crumble into millions of pieces like a sack of flour the following day after the oncologist came in with the unofficial diagnosis of lymphoma.

And even now, four months later, after the official diagnosis of thymoma, after the surgery that removed the 12 cm sized tumor in his chest that had spread into his heart, after the first 3 rounds of chemo that has stripped him of his hair, beard, eye lashes and color from his skin, I still feel like I’m watching it all. I make sure the heroine in the story acts heroine-like—supportive and loving, doing more around the house and maintaining her joy, seeking God for her strength. I pray just like the rest of the audience that the hero in the story beats the cancer and is able to achieve all of his life goals that cancer has sought to destroy—successful business, travel, speaking gigs, a home in Carlsbad, and giving to charity.

We now begin our fourth round of chemo today. I say we, because whatever affects him affects all of us. He is my love and I am with him through sickness and in health. And while I don’t look forward to the nausea this week or the fatigue or even the sadness that I know he will feel as he lays on the couch wondering how and why this happened to him—I do look forward to the increasing amount of closeness that he and I have developed through this. There is something that sickness does to a marriage when the couple loves each other. There is gentleness and a cherishing that increases significantly for both parties.

This chapter is not over—we’ve got at least 2 more chemo rounds and an entire month of radiation. In two weeks we get the next CT scan to see if any of the treatment has made a difference. Who knows when this chapter will end? I know that it is silly now to finalize life plans. Plot twists come our way and complications arise that the hero and heroin in the story do not anticipate.  I guess the point of life’s story is how we handle it when it comes. Will we allow it to change us like a good dynamic character? Will we resurrect in the end as the hero and be stronger than ever before?

Refiner’s Fire, My Hearts One Desire, Is to be Holy

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and that makes me sad. Blogging is very cathartic for me. But it seems that ever since I got out of summer school, where I was given two hours a day of writing time, I just haven’t had time to blog. And ever since Owen got diagnosed with Cancer, I haven’t had much time to do all the other “extra-curricular” activities I had been doing before either.

God is with me in this fireWhere I Was

Prior to Owen’s diagnosis, I was working daily on my marketing campaigns for my children’s book How to Love Like Jesus, developing the content and finding the programmers for an awesome marriage app with my business partner Nikki Marie at TheMomIWantToBe.Com, and continuing writing resumes and memoirs for clients. Then two days a week I was exercising in a fitness camp and had even lost my pregnancy weight–finally down to my pre-pregnancy weight right around the time we learned what Owen had. I was feeling really healthy. Really energetic. And generally joyful through Owen’s sickness, we had yet to understand.

Where I Am
  1. Now I’ve gained all that weight back–eating carbs again and haven’t found the time to exercise.
  2. I’m not blogging.
  3. As for the marriage app– haven’t touched that project at all. Of course this is also because Nikki just had a baby and therefore hasn’t pushed me on taking the next step.
  4. I’ve replaced that time with taking care of my sick husband, my kids, and both my husband’s and my duties with our house. (that alone will take up every second of time!)

And add what I’m not doing, I’ve struggling with a few other complications.

  1. My back has started to really hurt. I don’t know if it’s that I started doing more of the heavy lifting after Owen’s surgery or because my 4th C-section has led to some really rough scar tissue pulling on my back muscles, or a combination of both. But I’m in pain. A lot. And I pray it is just temporary. I can’t imagine living with this pain the rest of my life.
  2. Little Scotland has been struggling with constipation as she has taken in more formula and solid food (my milk supply crashed after Owen’s diagnosis) which it has led to a little tear in her rear-end that really hurts her and she no longer wants to eat solid food. She’s 9 months old. Just wants a bottle now. Doctor is not happy. Wants me getting her back into food. Says once her tear heals she should forget and eventually hunger will win. But I’ve got to let her deal with her hunger. Not just give her a bottle because that’s what she wants. So I’ve got a fussy baby right now.
  3. Owen’s 2nd round of chemo hit him much harder than the 1st round. So what we were expecting to last just 5 days, lasted 9 days and even now which is day 12 he still has to take a nap, gets nauseous, and feels generally irritable from the effects of the chemo, which then provokes me. We’ve had way more arguments and spats this time around than the previous one. It’s been emotionally exhausting.

So as you can see I’m just tapped. I’ve got no creative juices. I’m just trying to get through it all. I cry about once every day over something. I’ve blown it at times as a mother and a wife because at times I struggle with my own selfish desires.

It’s easy to be a giver and caretaker when things are good. But when times get tough, there’s a breaking point, and then selfishness kicks in–What about me? What about my pain? What about my needs? And I think that when Owen is feeling pretty well and even when he is feeling so sick there’s not logical reason to believe he could meet my needs at that time. But the thoughts still come. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with those feelings. And then when I get into that, I don’t serve as joyfully as I once did. Selfishness reveals the ickiness inside me that I’m desperate for God to purge me from. Maybe this is part of the plan, part of why I have to go through this. God uses all things for good in the lives of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. God disciplines whose he loves. God’s spirit sanctifies and convicts his Children.

So I’ve been praying a lot–thanking God for the blessings in my life and asking him for forgiveness for my selfishness and the strength and love to keep serving my husband and kids above myself. Right now as I write this, I feel His Spirit inside me telling me this truth:

This is only a season. And even in this season of back pain and a sick husband and an endless list of to-dos, there is still much I’m blessed by.

My Blessings in this Trial
  1. My raise which as afforded me the finances to hire a housekeeper twice a month to do the deep cleaning.
  2. Extra time with my kids during summer vacation.
  3. Owen is so honest with me. And his transparency about his struggles and thoughts have been rather humbling and inspiring
  4. Our friends and church family who have  blessed our family with donations, meals, prayers, and emotional support.
  5. My husband who has not allowed his Cancer to stop him from running his business and bringing in income.
  6. Owen’s family who have come out to help us with our house needs (landscaping, housecleaning, cooking, and babysitting).
  7. Owen’s friend and masseuse Evan has given me one massage and offered me one more hour for free to work specifically on my pained area due to my extra work and scar tissue.
  8. Benjamin, my third child has finally accepted potty-training and is cooperating now with going to the bathroom in the potty. Buying one set of diapers is right around the corner!
  9. Reading Proverbs this summer has really opened my eyes to recognizing my own foolishness and therefore, desire for wisdom and growth as a person and child of God.
  10. My wonderful time in the Writing Project, working with other teachers and reigniting a love for teaching that had waned over time.

Well I’m glad I wrote this. I know this blog was not craftily put-together. I wrote this one more for myself than for my readers. More because despite my lack of creativity or eloquence, I needed to get my thoughts down. I needed to analyze my situation and find meaning and purpose in it all. And it has worked.

silversmith sweats over his fireIt doesn’t mean that my back has stopped hurting, that my Scotty has started eating solids, that my husband feels well, that my house is in order, that my app will bet made any time soon, or that my husband and I will be free from arguments. But it does mean that despite all those struggles, God loves me. And he is using this all for good. I just have to be in this fire with him for a while. It’s the only way for silver and gold to be refined. And its the only way God can refine me. But just like a Goldsmith or a silversmith, who knows the metal is finally ready when he sees his own image in its reflection, God has to sweat over me and with me in this heat to form me into the image he has planned for me–His Image. That is love. And so while it may seem like I’m someone cursed at times, I’m really a blessed woman. My husband too.

This whole trial reminds me of a hymnal I remember singing in the back pews of CBC (Community Baptist Church) of Alta Loma when I was a girl:

Refiner’s Fire

My hearts one desire

is to be holy,

set apart by you my master

ready to do your will.

Coming to Terms with Cancer

In this together!!

In this together!!

Today Owen came home from the hospital. He had a strumectomy done to remove the 12 cm sized tumor growing in his chest–a malignant thymoma. When the CT scan was performed a month ago, the oncologist said it looked like it was in stage 2 and it was the size of like a tangerine. But this one was the size of a grapefruit, the largest the thoracic surgeon had ever seen in his career (and he has been a surgeon for like 40 years!) and it had grown into stage 3 cancer–invading his heart.

So they couldn’t remove all of it. Had to leave the part of the tumor on the heart alone. It has left an exclamation mark scar on his chest. I knew that meant either radiation or chemo or both. Deep down, I was holding out for just radiation. But sure enough, on Wednesday, the oncologist came in and explained to us the treatment plan in his thick Hebrew accent. We held hands hearing about all the chemical combinations and the side effects–  hair loss, fatigue, nausea, weight gain. He used words like “aggressive” and “kill everything” to explain the process but encouraged us with words like “you are strong, you will be able to handle it.” Supposedly the research suggests that with the chemo combination  often called PAC, performed every 21 days for 4-6 sessions and included with it a month of daily radiation at UCSD, Owen will have a 80-90% chance of being cured.

I don’t like those numbers. I want 100%. I can’t even imagine a world if that 10-20% chance comes crashing through our lives. That would mean more chemo. More radiation. More suffering.  And what if, it is never cured? Then what? I don’t even want to imagine. So I cling to what Owen says.

“You know the strongest man you’ve ever met going through Chemo, doctor?” He said, matter-of-factly.

“Yes,” the doctor replied, questioningly.

“That will be me, doctor.” I loved that.

Given we were already mentally preparing for this talk, however, it didn’t come nearly as emotionally shocking as it did when we were in the hospital a month ago, and the first doctor from upstairs came down and suggested the word Cancer with her concerned eyes. We were not expecting that. That was the moment that slowed down, where like in the movies, the sound quiets and all you see are the characters’ expressions as they hear the grim news. The doctor pulls out the documents and solemnly words the news. The wife stares blankly at the doctor and puts her hand on her husband’s knee. He leans down and rests his head in his hands. And you know. You as the audience know they just heard they’ve got cancer. But when you are the one in that scene, it feels like a dream. At least it did for me. Is this real? This wasn’t part of my life plan.

But still, I was emotionally jarred by the official news that chemo was next. It made everything all the more real. Even more real than the surgery. This is what I think of when I hear of cancer. I think of the chemo–the monster that kills cancer patients faster than the cancer can kill them–but somehow, doesn’t kill them, just leaving them bald, frail, weak, and in bed. So after the doctor left the room, I went into the bathroom and cried. Cried for my husband. Cried for me and for the kids. I don’t want to go down this road. I don’t want to have to see my husband in that state. There are many more tears ahead and I don’t want to cry anymore.

Today I had time to process it a bit more. In the quiet of the day as my husband recovered on the couch and I paid the medical bills we had already accumulated with the blessing of donations in our GoFundMe Campaign, an intense chest pain came over me–anxiety. Almost an attack. But I prayed and asked for prayer. I decided–no cleaning, no added stress. Instead, I spent an hour designing a banner for a buy, sell, trade group I’m co-administering on Facebook with a couple of close friends. It was medicinal. I need a creative outlet. In the end, I think today’s anxiety came today of all days and not earlier because my body is finally having time to just feel. I’ve been in survival mode for a while. I just hope my milk supply goes back up. The baby is now drinking mainly formula, because 2 weeks ago, once Owen started getting another flare up (chest pains, nausea, night sweats, fatigue, weakness, poor appetite) my supply plummeted. In my mind, I felt like I was so strong. But the body knows. Survival mode kicked in. And that means less milk for my baby.

wedding handsOwen went through it too–negative emotions I mean. Some friends of ours, the Pallottos, came over tonight and took care of the kids for a couple of hours, asking us to go out for a while and just be together. We did. It was good for us. We went to Red Lobster and picked at our crab legs between holding hands, talking, and sharing silence. We laughed. We even cried. My husband’s lips were ash and he didn’t have much of an appetite. He broke down a couple of times unexpectedly. We held hands and for the first time in our marriage, remembered that in the big scheme of this life–it is the two of us in our family who are one. Our kids will grow up one day and leave and they will not be with us. It will be us two. I will be with him through this cancer. And he, God willing, will be with me when I experience my big issue in the future, whatever that may be. It became so much more real tonight. So this is marriage. This is sickness and health. And strangely, it brought me comfort and an overflowing surge of love. I love him. I love this man. And he is mine and I am his till death do us part.

I drove us back home afterward, and felt a poem forming in my mind about my mixed emotions– sadness, anger, and yet love and joy still.

I told Owen–“I have a poem forming in my mind. It’s called the Paradox of Pain. You know–I want to laugh, I want to cry.”

Then Owen replied quickly, “…I want to stab you in the eye.”

“Yes!” I cried, “You know!”

psalm 56 3I write this blog because I believe in being translucent. I don’t think we can truly know each other and love each other unless we allow ourselves to see one another as we truly are. Listen, I know the truth. I know God loves us. I know he has a plan for us. I know he will use this for good. I know he will be there with us through it all. I know this. And knowing that certainly gives us a hope and a strength, I could no way have on my own. But it doesn’t mean that I want it. I don’t want it. I want a life of bliss and no suffering.

Ironically, I say that knowing that it’s silly and knowing that it is through our suffering that we become strong and better people, which I want too. I want to grow closer to Christ. I want to be stronger. I want to be more compassionate toward others. I want to grow closer to my husband. I want to appreciate life more and take less for granted. I want all of that too. But you can’t get all that growth, without some pruning. Pruning cuts and it pinches and it hurts. It hurts! But I do know that the Master Gardner has a beautiful plan for his garden. And we get to be a part of that plan. I do trust in that. And while today was a tough day and not the last of those tough days, I know that because of what I know, there will be many great days too.

Thanks for reading. If you have gone through cancer, how did you deal? How did you come to terms and move forward? Would love to know more of your stories.

Waiting for an Official Diagnosis for My Husband

Owen Hemsath may have cancerMany of my friends and family know that we have been going through a roller coaster ride of stress the last few months when it has come to my husband’s health. Over the last 2 months, he has had almost daily bouts of the following symptoms:

  • Chest Pains
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Fast Heart Rate
  • Fevers
  • Chills
  • Night Sweats
  • Nausea
  • Weak Stomach
  • Light-Headedness
  • Foggy Thinking
  • Fatigue
  • Poor ability to taste
  • Weight Loss

We went to Urgent Care a few weeks ago and they noticed a fever and took an X-ray to look at his lungs, only to find something funky looking around his heart. So we were sent to the ER.

The ER doctors gave him an EKG, which turned out abnormal. Then did a series of tests to see if he was having heart problems. The blood tests came back fine. We were sent home.

Then the next day, they called us and said, “We never saw that you had an X-ray of your chest. Your heart does look strange. Please see a cardiologist.”

Due to insurance issues and paperwork, we didn’t get a chance to even see his primary physician until it was a week and half after the ER visit. During that week, his stomach was really bothering him, so he mainly explained those symptoms, but did explain that the week prior it was his chest. He did not mention his fevers because he didn’t make the connection. The doctor then diagnosed him with acid reflux and said that he’d schedule him with a CT-scan the following week to just rule out the heart and lung issue, but he was not concerned. He wanted to see how Owen felt after being on Zantac a few days.

Well the Zantac wasn’t working. In fact, Owen’s symptoms persisted and even got worse. Now his chest pains were back again in addition to his stomach. After another night of drenching night sweats and watching him writhe in pain on the couch with another spiked fever, I called the doctor and desperately asked for advice. He said to go to the ER and get a CT-scan of his chest, stat.

And so we did.

X-Rays can identify initially if a lymphoma Mass is in your chestThe ER doctors were concerned. The CT scan showed a 10 centimeter sized mass near his heart and what looked like increased fluid around the sac of his heart from what they saw in the X-ray. They sent Owen upstairs to stay the weekend and get an ultrasound and biopsy on the mass. They also gave him numerous blood tests to see if he had some sort of infection.

We prayed. Everyone prayed. Facebook prayer chains were flowing quickly.

The next morning he got the ultrasound. That was Sunday. Then finally, on Monday, he got his biopsy. That same day, and Oncologist came to Owen’s room, and said with a matter-of-fact tone, “You have lymphoma. We are going to kill it. And then you will live a long, healthy life.”

Owen looked up the disease. Textbook. All his symptoms. All textbook lymphoma. Then add the CT scan to find the mass in his chest. It seemed certain. He had lymphoma.

Hearing this news, gave us both a very strange emotion. Given that it was a highly curable cancer, we felt sort of relieved. They had an answer to his pain and suffering. And not only was the answer something that wouldn’t kill him if treated, it would actually stop his misery. Yes, it is devastating to hear you have cancer. But when it is a curable cancer, it is almost better than not knowing what is wrong with you, writhing in pain, and wondering if you will suffer this way your whole life.

So that was this Monday. Since then all the blood tests show no infection, otherwise. So it makes absolute sense. There’s no other explanation.

It is now Thursday night as I write this.

This week, we have been processing cancer. And we have been waiting on the official results of the biopsy, expecting to learn from it, not that he had it, but whether or not it was Hodgkin’s, the highly curable lymphoma, or Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the still good, but not as highly curable lymphoma.

In the meantime, we have been flooded with love and encouragement from our family, friends, and extended friends on Facebook. I cannot believe how much support we have received. Truly a humbling experience. And since he was admitted into the hospital last Saturday, he has been covered in prayer by not only our family and close friends, but extended friends as well. We’ve heard that Owen’s name has been added to numerous prayer chains all over.

So today, while I was at work, Owen called and said the Oncologist called and wanted him to stop by his office in Temecula to go over the results. It couldn’t have been more perfect of timing because I was in Temecula and not in my classroom. I was able to step out of the meeting I was in and go meet him.

“Oh, you,” The Oncologist said to Owen with overwhelmed eyes and an exasperated voice, when he saw him in the waiting room. “I’ve been going over your case all weekend. Come in, Come in.”

Owen walked in now scared that its way worse than they thought.

“We don’t really know,” he said. “We need to do more tests.”

When I heard these words, I was filled with excitement and relief, and yet, strangely, disappointment. I know that sounds strange, but it goes back to seeing my husband suffering the last 2 months and knowing there is a mass in his chest. I want to know what my husband has, and I want it to be something that is curable.

tumors on the thymus could mean lymphoma or thymomaSo now Owen goes in for a PT-scan. Hopefully as soon as tomorrow. Maybe next Monday. It will see if there is malignancy in the mass outside of the area where the biopsy was taken. This will tell us if there is another type of cancer that is happening, or something benign. And what to do from there. Most likely take a larger biopsy from the area that lights up in the PT scan.

Whatever it is, we know he has been miserable with the symptoms we listed above. He has something in his chest and it is hurting him. This is something no one wants to live with. There are times the pain is so bad, it is debilitating. Whatever it is, I just want it to be cured. I want to see my husband live a long healthy life.

So we wait.

Again.

I hate waiting.

Do you know what I’m praying for now? I’m praying that mass is gone when they do the pet-scan. I’m praying God has cured my husband.

And if he chooses not to, that the doctors can figure out what he has, and help him get better.