Friday, April 10, 2015

Turning Trials into Milestones

Today is the sixth anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with a tumor on my brainstem. Not only is this a I'll-never-forget-that-day day, but it is also the start of a series of what could be painful anniversaries, including the dates of my three brain surgeries and the haunting night I almost died. Those longs days, weeks and months are times my family doesn't want to remember; yet I cannot forget. 

Spring is a time of renewal, growth and blossoming. I don't want to dread this season, or fear dates on the calendar. Instead, I am trying to celebrate my second chance and appreciate the not-so-pretty, but beautiful life I live.

Laugh. Often. 

Today I went to lunch in honor of a friend's birthday. The girls and I shared fun stories, but we also cried a few tears, some even in honor of my anniversary. Afterwards, I walked back to my car and discovered a small gold necklace on the center console. At first, I wondered who the necklace could be from, but when I sat back in the seat to contemplate, I quickly realized the answer. "This is not my car!" I said out loud. Then I hopped out of the twin silver Honda Pilot, looked around me and ran the half a block more to my own car. I laughed about it all the way home, smiling to myself at the thought of what the experience must have looked like to an observer.

Not every day will have such incidents, but it was a small reminder that even the most painful moments will pass, and joy will return. Laughter makes it return faster.

Celebrate Life.

After some research, thought and more than a bit of inspiration, here are some ideas of positive ways anyone can commemorate the hard days in the past and celebrate the future.
  • Start a new tradition. (It can be something that helps you mark the day, or one that helps distract you from it.)
  • Be grateful for life. Make a gratitude list using a roll of receipt tape, then roll it throughout your home to see all the things you have to be thankful for.
  • Celebrate the strengths you have developed as a result of your trials.
  • Write thank you notes to the people who've helped you along the way.
  • Take the time to tell someone you love them and why.
  • Go to lunch with friend.
  • Hug your children (or spouse or other loved ones).
  •  Go to a park or on a walk to enjoy nature.
  • Visit a place you love and create new memories there.
  •  Play the song, "Eye of the Tiger", and run up some stairs in victory knowing you've made it another year.
  • Laugh out loud. Laugh at yourself.
  •  Have a party or celebration of life, for yourself or for the person you are remembering.
  •  Plant a healing garden.
  • Do service for a charity.
  • Start a project in honor of making it through another year.
  • Finish a project in honor of making it through another year.
  • Make a keepsake or box of things that remind you how far you've come.
  • Search for joy and bask in the little pleasures of life.
  •  Soak up the sun as a reminder that you are loved, most of all, by God.
  • Thank God for every day, even the painful ones.

Happy Spring and happy anniversary to me.
Life is good, even when it's not.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Text that Saved Me: The Story Behind the Heart-Text Idea

*Several weeks ago, I posted the "heart text" idea, a simple way we can show others we care by texting our love to family and friends. Of course, there is more to the story than the short post details. There are personal, painful moments, and even some science behind the theory. The following is the original post I wrote, but then decided not to publish. Call it a change of heart. Here it is.*

Depressed and Hopeless
More than down in the dumps, I was totally depressed. The long winter days had taken a toll on me mentally, and my only-sometimes-functional body had further sent me into a downward spiral. I felt alone, without purpose, overwhelmed—and too embarrassed to admit any of it. So, when the phone rang, I didn't answer, even though what I probably needed most was interaction with someone who cared.

I buried myself under my covers for a few hours, then I tucked myself in a corner chair with a book, anything to avoid the painful feelings I had about life. Several days turned into weeks. Each day after the kids left for school, a similar scenario played out and I was beginning to wonder if the seasonal blahs were something more.

My mind, it seemed, wouldn't allow me to be happy. I wondered if it was hormones, an early mid-life crisis, or even just a bad mood that had become a bad mode. At times, I perked up for hours here and there, especially when my family was around, but for the most part I just didn't know how to get out of the funk I was in.

One particularly bad day, I'd climbed back in bed as soon as the kids were off. Hours passed and I felt again like I was simply not enough. Then my phone beeped and buzzed on the dresser. I had a message. The text was short and sweet, but it represented salvation. In that moment, I knew someone was thinking about me. Someone cared. The sender was a friend who texted just to check in and say hi. That day, she saved me. Not from physical death, but from feelings of hopelessness that threatened to drown my soul.

Never Alone
Everyone wants to belong and to feel accepted. This need is so strong, some people will do just about anything to feel like they are part of something. They will join gangs or start unhealthy habits, such as drinking or smoking, just to have a group to join.

I believe that everyone has their hard, I-don't-want-to-be-in-this-place moments.  I also believe that even a little friendship and love can turn a day around, or even turn a life around.

Research indicates that social support reduces the impact of stress and fosters a sense of meaning and purpose in life. In addition, emotional support from social ties enhances the psychological well-being, which, in turn, may reduce the risk of unhealthy behaviors and poor physical health. (1) Another study showed that "Personal relationships form a safety net around individuals to protect them from too much isolation." (2)  

Often when you are alone, you feel alone, which isn't healthy for anyone. 

About a year ago, some weeks after the above-described incident, I embarked, not on an experiment, but a personal quest to help a friend. The Heart-Text campaign came to me in a moment of inspiration one night, but at first I was too afraid of being thought foolish to try it. When my friend was in need, love for my her trumped my fear and I told her my inspiration. The idea was simple, I thought about her all the time, I figured if I texted her, even a fraction of the times she was on my mind, she would feel my concern and know she was never alone.

Lessons Learned
What we learned together, over the course of the next months changed both of us.

* We all need to feel loved and remembered. Even the smallest indication that we were remembered, that someone cared, lifted our spirits and brightened our days.
* We all need a safe place to cry for help. A frown text or crying face emoji expressed a simple plea for help, the need for a shoulder to cry on, an encouraging friend, or just a listening ear. Knowing we always had someone to lean on made the hard days more manageable.
* Helping others provides a boost for yourself. Serving and loving others is a great way to deal with personal issues of sadness, depression, loss and pain. The more we threw ourselves into each other, the less we focused on our own problems.

Relationships and Networks
If you know someone well enough to have their contact info in your phone, you know them well enough to show them you care. (Okay, you don't have to text smiley faces to all your professional clients and vendors, but then again, maybe, on occasion, it wouldn't hurt.)

Showing support for a friend can strengthen your relationship and help ensure you will have your own support group, when you need it. Make sure it always goes both ways.

The Experiment
It's simple, just text a heart, smiley face, or "Just thinking about you" message to friends or family whenever they pop into your mind. If you know someone is having a particularly difficult time, increase the frequency of the texts or include offers to help. 

That's it! Let the Social Improvement Experiment begin and discover for yourself whether or not a text can change a life. Be sure to report back on your results.

(Disclaimer: Don't act like a stalker and bombard them with hundreds of messages a day, just let them know you care.)

Some of the Research:

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Just a Little Heart

I’d just returned home from a Friday-night date with my husband when my phone buzzed. I glanced and saw my friend's name and an emoji of a crying face. Immediately I sent a message back and asked what was wrong. I wanted her to know that no matter what she was facing, she was not alone.

That small interaction sparked a moment of inspiration that changed my daily routine forever. The concept was simple, I thought about my friend all the time. I figured if I texted her, even a fraction of the times she was on my mind, she would feel my concern and know she was loved.

Now whenever friends or family pop into my mind, I text a heart, smiley face, or "Just thinking about you" message to let them know they are in my thoughts.  There is no expectation or pressure for them to reply, it is just a simple way to say I care.
It has been almost a year since then and I don't know about anyone else, but I know that my life has been changed for the better, all because of a little heart.

So if you ever get a wordless text from me, know it is my way of saying I care and I am thinking about YOU.  

Wanna join in the fun? Send a little love and let me know if your heart changes! 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Information Overload and Brain Freeze: The Science of Agency and Decision Making, part II

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and been overwhelmed by the sheer number of menu options? How do you make a selection when perusing a 30-page menu? With decision-making, as well as with dining, more options and information do not necessarily make for better choices.

Today, the process of making choices is becoming ever more complicated. According to neurological research, when making decisions, not only does the brain "replay" our past personal experiences, but also attempts to process all the information we view in social media. If not kept in check, the brain can go into information overload from constant tweets, status updates, breaking news and live streaming content. 

A brain in information overload actually freezes up when trying to make trying to make decisions. It turns out that information is good, but too much information can actually keep a brain from making critical connections related to decision making. In fact, in research studies, the more information participants were flooded with, the less sense their final decisions made. When in information overload, study participants made stupid mistakes and increasingly poor decisions, because their brains stopped relaying properly, much like a blown fuse or overloaded circuit. [1]

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why the First Time is So Important: The Science of Agency and Decision-Making

Photo from:
As part of my personal recovery from my brain tumor, I've spent hours researching the brain, how it functions, regulates our processes and controls our bodies. The more I've learned, the more convinced I am that 

We Are More Powerful Than We Know. 

The brain is nothing short of miraculous. If it were a robot, we would say it has artificial intelligence, that it learns, changes and develops on its own. But even better than artificial intelligence, WE have control and can help determine the vast reaches of our learning and understanding. The brain can turn our daily actions into habits, help re-train paralyzed nerves to perform their tasks in the body, and it can change the body's heart-rate, just by the thoughts we think.

Part one in this series of posts on the brain is on the role of memory on the process of making decisions.

Final Answer

Accompanying every choice is a process of selecting between at least two options, with different potential outcomes. Long before any action is chosen, the brain has gone through a complex process of decision making in order to choose the Who Wants to be a Millionaire “final answer” from the available options. Though scientists and neurologists still have much to learn about the way our brains process information in the course of making a decision, there is enough research for us to understand some of how the brain works. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Intersecting Vines and Lives

Gardening is therapeutic. I love to dig in the dirt, plant, prune and eventually reap a bountiful harvest. This year the pumpkin vines grew long and took over much of the planting bed. I watched throughout the season as blossoms turned into green balls and then into colorful pumpkins.

The vines twisted, stretched and crisscrossed back and forth, wound around other plants, in bushes, down window wells and up small trees. If laid out end to end, the vines would have strewn for hundreds of feet, all contained in a little 20-foot garden.

These vines have a thousand different touch points, sometimes barely intersecting, other times intertwining and twisting together.

Life is like a pumpkin vine. Each touch point can be a meaningful interaction, a lesson learned, a life touched. At times we just brush past each other, while other times we branch out, twist or grow together. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Five Years Later: A Beautiful Messy Life and a First Draft

From living the brain tumor story...
This week marks five years since my first brain surgery and the beginning of my 35-day hospitalization. For years, when I thought about this day, I pictured a day of remembering and celebrating life. The five-year anniversary seemed BIG and noteworthy.

So what did we do when the big day came? Nothing.  
Living life took the place of recalling my brush with death. 
Now that is a wonderful celebration!

We went to the kids' baseball games, end-of-year programs at school, celebrated birthdays and cleaned out the garage. It was a perfectly normal, wonderful week. In a way, it was the perfect celebration of my "new" life. I am not the same person I used to be, nor is my life the same, but even after all the surgeries, side effects, pain and hard days, I wouldn't change a thing.
To sharing it, 5 years later!

This week is special for another reason: I finished the first draft of my book manuscript!! Five years later and I am telling the story instead of living it! I still have much work to do, but I sent it off to the first group of beta readers to begin the next round of the project. Hooray!

Some days in the last five years felt unconquerable. I spent months in bed and added a half dozen more surgeries to the ever-growing list. It seemed if something could go wrong, with a procedure, medication, therapy or treatment—it did. Some hours I thought I could not possibly go on, that my body could take no more, but those moments passed, with the help of loving family, neighbors, friends and an all-knowing God.

Now five years have passed, and I Am Still Here!


If ever I need reminders to be grateful for my messy life, I go to my "brain tumor" blog, ( and remember just how far I've come.

Thank you, from me and my family, for helping us reach this milestone!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Make It Count!

Spring is almost here! The month of March has never been so welcome in our home as it is this year. The end of January and most of February were full of unexpected health challenges, including out-of-state emergency surgery, for complications from my brain tumor. 

I could tally a long list of all the things that went wrong, the things I didn’t plan for, the frustrations, the tears, the medical expenses and the missed opportunities.  However, I could never count all the amazing blessings and realizations that came from these experiences. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned:

The things that can't be counted count more than the things that can be counted. – Boyd Packer

Sunday, January 26, 2014

If at First You Don't Succeed, Join the Club: Wipeouts Required

It is fun to celebrate the successes  of life. But lets be honest, none of the celebrations could take place without the wipeouts that came first. Every basket scored, test passed and jump landed first required practice, hard work—and wipeouts. 


You can see video after video of Epic Fails that seem to indicate fails indicate failure, but the opposite is true. It is only those who have failed, crashed, fallen, wiped out or hit a wrong note that eventually succeed.

The difference between failure and success is simply when you stop trying. 

Here's to the wipeouts, not the failures, simply the "I think I can, I think I can" moments that precede the finish lines of life.  

If a first you don't succeed, join the club.

Enjoy this little Wipeout video that has become one of our family favorites. Thanks to Brandon for teaching us this valuable lesson, and making us laugh. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Connection Speeds & Tech Time Out

"Can you hear me now? What about now?" the man asks, as he moves from spot to spot, proving he has the best phone connections and speed.

Some time in the last few decades, many people stopped living life and started watching "life" on a screen. Screens come in every size now, from minuscule one inch phone screens, to giant 80+ inch TV screens, where you can play games, do business, bank, see videos and watch any one else's life—instead of living your own.

But real Connection Speed has nothing to do with smartphone or cell carriers, it has to do with the time we invest in others, not sitting in the same room playing on phones, but actually connecting with each other, you know, using words.

At our house, we have mandated TECH TIME OUTS every week. Each Sunday and Monday all phones, computers, electronics, and even TV time is out. Instead, we play games together, go for walks, and even talk—to EACH OTHER (in person, not on a phone). Yes, some of the kids complain about it. They think we are the craziest family in the neighborhood, and the meanest parents, no one else would do this to their kids. We even turned off the TV for 2 months, just to see what would happen...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

10 "In" Verbs: How to Get In and Out by Richie Norton

Do you know someone who seems to "produce" more than the average? Someone who is always on the go and doing amazing things? Why is it that certain people are "in" on everything good that is happening? Richie Norton is one of most "go" and "good" people I know. In addition to writing a best-selling book (The Power of Starting Something Stupid), traveling all over the world sharing his knowledge with others and being a wonderful father and husband, he is an entrepreneur extraordinaire. 

Recently he wrote a post on his blog about the Top 10 "In" Verbs: How to Get In and Out. I loved his IN-sights on how we can be IN-volved in all the good things. Check out his IN-credible advice below, or click here to read it on his blog. While you’re there, sign up to get notifications of all his amazing posts.  Read on and get IN on all the best things in life! (Text and design below (C) Richie Norton from .)

10 ways to get “in” on something new (read: improvement) and “out” of something old (read: limited potential)—relationships, habits, thought patterns, circumstance. . .

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fans Vs Friends

When it really counts, who can you count on?

A few years ago I "met" a reality TV personality via email. I was involved in organizing a charitable event for a friend and the celeb had gone to school with my friend, so he wanted to be involved as well. He sent me an email letting me know he wanted to help. I was rather shocked, but I thought it was great that he wanted to help. We exchanged a series of emails and I actually started to feel like I was getting to know him a little.

He made a small contribution to the cause and then offered to help with the fundraiser. It was hard for me not to "judge" his gift, because I imagine that he could have donated a substantial amount, but I realized that was not the point. He did contribute and he wanted to help. So, I thanked him for his effort and gladly listened to his idea. He started by sending out a message "tweet" to all of his online "fans", offering a personally autographed prize for the fan that sent in the biggest donation.