A Peach… in Italy? Yup.

2016 sucked.

Sorry there is no light and happy way to put that. It sucked. Bad. When it left, I felt torn to shreds. Uprooted. Lost. Unsteady. I was so happy to see it go.

As I sat in a coffee shop with one of my friends, trying to smile through the leftover pain of 2016, my friend asked:

“Alexis, what is one thing you’ve always wanted to do? One thing that you’ve always put off because you felt too scared to do it?”

“Italy.” A small bit of the joy and excitement that I’d lost waved over me.

Friend: “Then you’re going to Italy.”

My friend and decided to be accountability partners for big things we were supposed to do this year. She’d check on my Italy process (passport, flight, etc) and I’d check on her prayers for the cities process.

Now, when I promised to do this, in the back of my mind I thought: “There’s no way I’m going to Italy this year. It’s expensive, it’s not practical, it’s extravagant. I don’t NEED to go to Italy. I WANT to go to Italy, but I don’t really need to. It’s not going anywhere.”

venice-italy
Isn’t it beautiful…

In the middle of my talking myself out of going, God spoke up.

God: You should go to Italy.

Me: Um, why? Shouldn’t I be saving money for practical things?

God: I want you to do something for you that you love. You love Italy. You’ve wanted to go since you were 12 years old; you even pretended to be Italian just to feel connected to the country. You were supposed to go after your mother died but didn’t. You’ve put it off for years. You’ve put yourself last for even longer than that, especially last year. I want you to do something for you, just special for you. Get your passport and go to Italy.

Me: Speechless

So I turned one of the large open walls in my kitchen into a giant vision board. I covered it in verses to map out my promises of the year. In the middle of that, I placed a big map of Europe, and highlighted  Italy. I bought a giant calendar of Italian cities. I sat down and worked out a budget for a two week trip. I did my taxes super early and received a NICE tax return; which God made me promise to use for my trip.

payday

Once I knew I had the funds and was 100 % sure I could go, I filled out my passport application and got my passport photos…

Then life happened.

I was thrown back into health issues that I thought were resolved. Weeks earlier I was preparing for going to the passport office and purchasing my plane tickets. Now I was meeting with surgeons to have a section of my lung removed. Possible cancer they said. I’d miss two to three weeks of work as I recovered from the surgery.

God: You’re still going to Italy.

roma
I can’t believe I get to see this.

While I am relaxing at a friends place on medical leave, I finally work up the courage to purchase my tickets. Despite not knowing how long it will take my disability insurance to kick in so that I have income, I select my dates in September. Feeling a bit nauseous and excited at the same time, I click “purchase”. God congratulates me on trusting him and then states:

God: “Now that you’ve purchased your tickets, things are going to happen that are going to make you question what you just did. You’ll feel afraid but I want you to trust me.”

Me: “Not liking that statement, but okay. I trust you.”

I was diagnosed with cancer the next day.

God: You’re still going to Italy.

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Naples. So beautiful.

So here I am, with Stage 4 thyroid papillary cancer (very treatable and not terminal) planning a trip to Italy. And totally at peace with the cancer diagnosis, the extra surgeries and treatment. It makes no sense and I can only attribute that to God.  I have asked questions about affording the medical bills this treatment will bring, and God says, “You’re still going to Italy. Trust me.” And I am. And it’s weird. Because usually I am super anxious about this kinda stuff and right now…I’m simply not. I’m just trusting and taking things one day at a time.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been moments of sadness and some anger. At one point, when the darts of the enemy kept coming, I reminded God of the word he had for me: restore.

Me: “God, I don’t feel restored. Honestly, I feel like things are being ripped apart.”

God reminded me that sometimes before something is made new, the old has to be destroyed and yes, it will hurt. He then showed me an image of a forest, trees cut down, ground and stumps blackened by the fire. It looked as if all was lost. Then, He showed me a vibrant green shoot coming out of the ground. Despite the wasteland around it, that shoot was growing vibrantly.

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“That’s you.” God said.

So I don’t know how much more of the forest God plans on clearing in my life. I know there will be more painful things, but I all I can do is lay down and trust God. I can’t fix it. I can’t control it. I just have to trust that God will take care of me. He’s done amazing so far; the love I’ve received from my church family has been amazing. It’s actually made this whole mess fun because I get to see and experience His love for me through others, and who doesn’t love that? Nothing has been required of me; I just get to receive love. It’s a pretty sweet deal. The only things He’s asked me to do is to love myself, trust and obey Him and plan this trip to Italy.

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Pisa. I can’t wait to see Pisa.

So finally, after years of putting it off, this blog will finally be used as it was intended…telling about the solo adventures of this peach in Italy. I’m going September 9th through the 23rd. I start in Rome.

Here are the cities on my “must see” list: Rome (obviously), Pisa, Venice, Naples and Pompeii.  I’ll be there for two weeks, and if I get a little bit of time in each of these cities, I’ll be a happy peach. I’m still working out where to start,whether to go hostel, hotel or Airbnb and how long to stay in each city. Pisa, Pompeii and Venice can be done in a day. Rome is downright overwhelming. But I have time to figure it all out and am tapping into my Type A personality to get some planning done. It’s exciting and exhausting but can’t wait to see what I come up with.

I’ll try to update my travel plans as they get more solid. If you have any tips for cities that I should see feel free to comment. Thanks for reading and even bigger thanks if you decide to keep me in your prayers. This year may be rough, but I am hopeful and looking forward to what’s ahead.

 

This sucks, and that’s okay.

There have been a lot of negative things going on lately: friends losing loved ones, families being torn apart, friends being hurt. I’d been feeling down about all of it and tried to stuff those feelings away until I found out that a patient of mine passed away last week. It was very sudden and unexpected. I remember smiling at him, telling him how great he looked and how awesome it was to see him up and moving around.  I waved goodbye and went on with the rest of my day.

He passed away the next night.

I kept thinking in my head, “He was just here. He was fine. How does this happen?”

It takes me a while to process feelings. When something unpleasant happens, I freeze. Or maybe I detach? Physically my body reacts, but it can take awhile (hours, days…) to express it outwardly.

For example, as I was saying good bye to my sister during my last trip to Atlanta, she starts sobbing. We hadn’t seen each other in about 4 years and hadn’t spoke for about a year. It was a great trip, with lots of healing and restoring of relationships.  She’s sobbing, telling me how much she loves me, doesn’t want me to go and I am in the front seat like:

blank stare

Now internally, this is the conversation I am having:

” This is really sad. I don’t want to leave either. I’ve really missed my family. Oh, she’s really crying. Hard. Why the heck aren’t you crying? Why won’t you just cry? Are you a robot? Don’t you feel sad? Didn’t you miss her, too? What’s wrong with you? CRY YOU ROBOT!!!”

Despite my inner “coach”, the tears don’t come. We say our goodbyes, our I love yous, and I head back to CA the next day.

As I am sitting on the tram back to my car, the tears decide to make their appearance. In front of complete strangers.  A day later.

“Ma’am are you okay?”

“Yep, something in my eye.”

index

When the kiddo died, same thing happened. Same freeze up. But when I got home, I felt pretty crappy. There were a mix of emotions: anger, shock, confusion, sadness. These were all things that I did not want to feel and I wanted these feelings gone immediately.

So I prayed.

Me: “God give me something, anything so I don’t feel like this.”

God: “Read Lamentations.”

Me: “What? Why? Isn’t that entire book about a guy lamenting over the destruction of Jerusalem? Wheres the happy in that?”

God: “Read Lamentations.”

Me: “It’s going to be depressing. I already feel sad. I want to feel un-sad.”

God: “Trust me. Read it. Take a look at Jeremiah 52 first, then read Lamentations.”

So I finally stop being hardheaded and start reading. So for those of you who don’t know the story, the last chapter in Jeremiah details the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. Lamentations is basically the authors response to seeing his city destroyed. It’s pretty bad.  Mothers eating their children, people dying from disease and starvation, homes being burned to the ground, everything being reduced to rubble, nasty stuff.

if you want some perspective of what they went through, think 9/11.

As I was going over the history of Lamentations in my commentary, God leads me to one simple sentence:

“The best way to survive grief is to express it.”

Ah.

That is exactly what the author of Lamentations does throughout the book. He doesn’t hold back. He lets God know about his pain, the horror he’s experienced, the suffering, the sadness, the anger, all of it. He’s not afraid to put it all out there. He’s being so real and raw about how much it sucks to see his city, his people, his home experience so much death and destruction. I mean, how could you not say anything? How could you hold all of that in? It’s not healthy. It would kill you.

Yet I hold stuff in it all the time.

Now I do have to mention that this book isn’t all anger and despair, there’s hope. Midway through Chapter 3, the writers lamenting switches to hope:

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because of His compassion fail not. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, Therefore I hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:22-24

I love Hope. It’s listed as one of the three great things to have in 1 Corinthians 13.  Hope keeps you moving forward when you want to give up. Hope brings peace when your world is filled with turmoil. Hope is expecting something good to come out of the darkness.  Hope is knowing that everything will be okay in the end. That’s why I cling to it.

In the same token, I tend to try to shove out anger, sadness, despair, confusion and skip right to the Hope. That’s the happy place. That’s where the light is. There’s pretty flowers there, butterflies, unicorns, (in my world anyway).

Lisa Frank is not reality, no matter how much I wish it to be.

I bury the bad, pretending it’s not there and just jump right to the happy. That’s not realistic. Or healthy. I don’t give myself the chance to grieve the loss, or address the anger. Some part of me feels like I am not trusting God when I let him how much I think it sucks that this kid died, or my friend lost her husband, or that my friend was injured.  That people are being terrorized and murdered. That I don’t understand why there has to be so much loss, sickness and pain along with the joy. That I hate suffering and sometimes feel so powerless in this fallen world. That sometimes, it just plain sucks.

I have to see that God can handle all of mine, all of  our emotions good or bad. That He can take our honest feelings, in fact, that’s exactly what He wants. He isn’t offended by our questions, our anger and He doesn’t see it as a judgement of Him or who He is. He’ll still love us. He’ll still be faithful. He’s still God and in control.

It’s okay to say, “this sucks.” God will listen, open His arms, and ultimately it will be okay.

Day 2: Trust

This daily gratitude journal is tough, but I committed to doing this…

So, for Day 2 I am grateful that I am trusted, that I can trust God and that I am starting to trust myself. I got a lot thrown at me today work wise, and my boss wasn’t worried at all. He totally trusted me to handle everything. Once everything was ironed out, our event ran successfully and everyone had a great time. It felt good knowing he had that much faith in me.

With this event, I learned to trust myself. I really wasn’t sure that I could pull this off, but I did. I really sell myself short sometimes. But, when I stop listening to that voice of doubt in my head and just go for it, I end up doing just fine.

The coolest thing about all of this is that everything that is happening with my job is totally setting me up with awesome experience with the military guys. This will help me a ton as I am hoping to transfer back to Fresno for a position with the Veterans Home. The more I do with our military group, the more I can add to my resume. Sweet!  I think God knew I needed more experience in this area, which would explain the sudden increase in job duties.

God had a plan all along…whew! I can stop trying to be a control freak and just trust Him. And that feels good.

 

So, there you have it…Day 2. Off to enjoy a mug of eggnog…yum!

Just Because…

Life has been really, really good so far. I don’t know about you guys, but for me 2012 has rocked. So many good things have been going on and I am getting blessed in so many ways; it is just amazing. Life still has its up and downs, but the good far outweighs the bad.  I  noticed that I am the kind of person who when good things happen, I start looking for the bad. It’s a dumb mindset to have really, and it honestly keeps you from enjoying the good in your life. So, I’ve decided to squash that type of thinking and just enjoy all the good that is going on in my life. Life is good, I am happy, and I am going to focus on that.

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So glad I started living like this...

I figured it’s time for an update. There’s a lot I want to write here, but I am tired and I need to attempt to get more than 5 hours of sleep this weekend:

1. I spent last weekend visiting with my California family. I had a blast catching up with my friends. I didn’t sleep, I got to eat tri tip (I MISS TRI TIP!!!!), and I learned more about roller coasters than I thought was humanly possible.

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Did you know there's a site that tells you when a roller coaster has been modified? No? Neither did I.

I also got an answer to something I have been praying for (I’ll save that for another blog post), I got see two of my favorite people wonderfully happy (YAY) and I got to see my church family. It was a great trip. It was hard to return to Arizona because I had so much fun with my friends, but I am glad to know that when I need them, I always have them.

2) I ran 10 miles this week. Go me! I did six miles on Wednesday and four miles on Friday. I planned on running 4 to 6 miles today, but mother nature intervened and said I needed a break.

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Thank you Mother Nature!!

I was really sore, I cried, and for a few days I really questioned my sanity when it comes to training for this half marathon. But, to know that I ran 10 miles within three days was awesome! To think that when I started this year, I could barely get through 1 mile a week without wanting to die…and I just knocked out 10 miles. It’s amazing the things you can accomplish when you set your mind to it.

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I can't wait 🙂

3) I finally bonded with my active military group. This is something I have been struggling with at work for the past three weeks. It’s been rough. No matter what we tried to do, we could not get these guys to engage. We could not get them to come to group. It was very frustrating. My coworkers and I were at a loss as to what to do, and of course, when something isn’t working, you just start to blame the group. That thinking did not sit well with me at all and I wanted this group to see the benefit of recreation therapy.

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And parachutes are awesome...

Finally, I decided to go down to their unit and just hold a group there. I am so glad that I did and wish I would have done so sooner. I learned more about these guys just sitting and talking with them in their comfort zone than I did when they showed up to our group room. We had pegged this group as unwilling and unmotivated when all we needed to do was to meet them where they felt safe. Duh! When I return to work on Wednesday, I am going to tell my boss what happened and discuss holding groups down there.

4. I finally got my letter stating that I am elligible to take my recreation therapy certification exam! I have been secretly freaking out about this for the past three months. I never mentioned this, but my job is contingent on taking and passing this exam. I had several scenarios playing through my head; most of them ending with me failing the test, losing everything and taking up residence on Van Buren to survive.

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I may be a bit overdramatic...just a little bit.

The application process was very long, expensive and if anything was done incorrectly I would have to wait til October to take the test. Now that the application process is complete, I can now focus on studying for my exam. I am scheduled to take the test May 7th so I have plenty of time to study.

5. I learned that I have amazingly supportive friends here in Arizona. Often I talk about how awesome and wonderful my California friends are, but I forget what great people I have here.  I don’t say this enough, but I am super grateful for them.

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Love you guys...seriously 🙂

I’ve known these guys for over ten years, and I can still be myself around them. I was going through something difficult this weekend and they were there to back me up, offer support and talk me through my issue. It’s humbling to see how much you are cared for and loved.

Well, that’s all for me. Later y’all.

Off the Path…

I apologize in advance, but probably for the next few weeks, most of my posts will probably be me geeking out about psychiatry, recreation therapy and how much I love my job.

True Story.

So, I just completed my first week at my new job. I absolutely love it.  It’s amazing the path you take to return to what you are meant to do.

Because scribbling through life is way more fun!

I do appreciate all the things I learned from my time in grad school…even my time with the state. Eventually, this wound will close; I promise. My knowledge from my past experiences helps a lot without me having to sit behind a desk on a computer hating life.

Not a healthy way to live...

During my orientation, I met a nurse who has a brother around my age who has MS. She said he’s had a hard time adjusting with the illness because he went from being a successful IT engineer to someone who has MS. MS is basically a disease that causes lesions on the brain and spinal cord. Depending on the location of these lesions, that part of the body shuts down. It’s a progressive  illness that causes permanent disability that usually leads to death. That’s hard to hear at 27 years old so he’s been pretty depressed.

She talked about him quite a bit during training and that he missed working. I told her about vocational rehab helping people get back to work who had disabilities and gave her a few resources. Even though I hated the job, and it didn’t work for me at all, the upside from it is that I now know a ton of resources for how to help people with disabilities go back to work if that’s what they choose. She was pretty grateful and I hope things work out for her brother.

After two days of orientation, we were put in assault training in case things ever go wrong. Honestly, assault training is probably one of my favorite things about orientation at hospitals because not only do you learn how to protect yourself at work, it also applies outside the office. Although I am glad I know it, I really hope I never have to use it. But, as of now, I can:

Immobilize a person by myself…well, until help comes quickly. Very quickly.

Get out of a choke hold from behind as well as the front.

Dodge being grabbed, punched and kicked.

Remove objects from someones hand, get out of a bite and  get out of a headlock.

Take notice everyone. I’m kind of a ninja now, so you may want to think twice about coming after me. Just saying…

You've been warned.

Overall, the week was really great. I got to meet my coworkers who are…SANE!!! I work with another recreation therapist who is my supervisor and a music therapist. (By the way, music therapy is awesome and to see it in action was a real treat.)I didn’t really get to lead any groups because they wanted me to get a feel for the schedule and how things run. Next week I get to lead groups alone and do whatever I want. I love that we have free reign to design our own groups and programs and show my clients that having fun can also be very therapeutic.

For example, there’s a cool activity that involves blowing up a balloon, and writing every negative thought you have ever had about yourself on that balloon. You can do this alone or with a friend, friends, spouse, parents…whomever. Anyway, when you are done, take a look at the balloon and reflect on everything you put down. The cool part comes when you get to pop it. For people who have a hard time asking for help, you have to ask someone to pop your balloon. For others who always ask for help, you pop your own balloon. The point of the activity is to show that although the problems are still there you have the power to take ahold of them by yourself or through others. It’s pretty neat and something I recommend trying.

UP!!

The best part of this week was meeting the people I would be serving and getting to know them all. I can’t share their stories here of course, but lets just say I will try to think twice about whining about my life from now on. Nothing makes me more thankful than having somewhat decent mental health. Mental illness has got to be worse than anything I’ve seen; although I am fascinated by it and geek out over it on a daily basis, never would I want to go through life dealing with a mind gone totally wrong.

Pretty disturbing.

A lot of my clients have schizophrenia and let me tell you, I would never wish that disease on my worst enemy. It’s terrible. When I see some of the histories of the people I work with, where they used to be, and where schizophrenia has taken them, it’s horrifying. We already know so little about the mind; to know that it is capable of turning your life completely upside down is frightening. There’s a few simulators out there if you ever want to get a glimpse of what it is like. Jensen Pharmaceuticals makes a great one. Although it is different for everyone I’ve encountered, this simulator does give you a taste of what it is like. Warning it’s kinda disturbing:

So, that’s a little about my week and what I will be doing and who I will be working with. I’m actually really excited for work on Tuesday, which is something I haven’t felt in a long time. Although my time at the state was unpleasant, if it weren’t for that experience, I would have never realized how much I missed being a recreational therapist and I wouldn’t have this awesome job.

Just in case you forgot...

Sometimes it’s necessary to step off the path. With enough faith and perseverance, you’ll eventually end up where you are supposed to be.

Starting over…

Italian Word of the Day (or week ) : Ricominciare

It means “starting over”

Today, after six years in action, I deleted my Xanga Blog.  That blog has cataloged the past six years of my life: my conquests, my joys, my struggles and my pain. It was time to say goodbye.

It’s time to start over.

In a few months, I graduate with my Masters. After that, I hope to be in Italy (hence the Italian word of the week/day).

My background is cherry blossoms in bloom in Milan. That’s where I am headed: Milan, Italy.

I plan to live up my summer in Italy.

Learn the language,

gorge on pasta,

and see the country all before I have to return to the real world.

That’s if I decide to return.

I’ve always wanted to go to Italy and am really excited. I’ve been dreaming about this for years. I love the culture, the strong sense of family, the food, the culture…the men :).

Ahem….

Anyway, the best part: I’m going alone. I feel like I can fully immerse myself and get into the culture if I stake out things on my own. Not that I don’t love my friends, but an adventure feels like more of an adventure when you venture out solo.

I am hoping this trip will help quench my desire to stop moving. I always get an itch to go. After a few years it seems, I get restless and I want something more. Something new. So I leave. I settle in a new place, make friends, work, make a life and then that itch comes. I can’t ignore it. So I move on.

I figure it I travel outside of North America and visit a place that I always wanted to see, maybe just maybe I’ll kill that itch. I know, it sounds like my idea will just awaken my urge to stay on the move. It just may. All I know is, I hope that by the end of this trip, I’ll will have figured out a place to settle down and just stay. I haven’t done that since I was kid. Once I left Georgia…I just kept moving.

I don’t want to move anymore.

I’m currently in Fresno right now, and as much as I love the people in Fresno…I don’t love Fresno.

It’s not a place I want to drop anchor. I don’t want to wake up in Fresno for the rest of my life. There’s hardly any jobs, not too many safe places to live, and the guys well…so far I’ve found two types.

Guy# 1- Wants to get married…like tomorrow. I am a bit of a commitment phobe, and I am starting to get over that, SLOWLY.  But it would be nice to have someone who would like go slow with me and not want to marry me… tomorrow.

Guy #2- Is a dog. They want to sleep with everyone and everything in site. And they want you to be okay with that.  Instead of, “I want to share my life with you”, it’s “I wanna share my STD’s”. Um…no thanks.

 

Besides…I think I am in love. In fact I know it.

Huh…it’s the first time I’ve admitted it to myself. Wow.

And I need to get over it…

The being in love thing is a LOOOONNNNGGGG story. It’s been such a long time, and these feelings should have been gone, but they are not, and I am kinda done with them. Basically, its one of those things that I know will not likely happen. I mean, its been a while. I’m too scared to say anything….and, ugh

Okay, like I said it’s a long story and the other purpose of my trip. I also know this is silly, but I am also hoping this trip away will help me see things in a new light and kinda help me forget things. It’s been an interesting couple of years and I need a break. I need a time to cool down, relax and have fun. I really can’t remember the last time I did that.

So I am doing it in May after my friends wedding.

Well, time for bed. I’ll update this thing as I get closer and closer to getting to Milan.

That’s all for now.

Ciao!