S5 Episode 6:

When we wake we have one choice to make, do we spend the day living or merely existing?

Some of us will spend our entire lives seeking the approval of others. If we are not seeking approvals we are constantly comparing ourselves to everyone else on this planet. We do it without a thought, it’s mechanical. But…. But what if we could change that? What if we could reprogram the machine and remind ourselves that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Remind ourselves that we are unique and every inch of our being was created by his hand. That God looked at this earth and said “yup this world needs one of you too.” So he made you, he made you in his image.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”

Proverbs 31:25 NLT

He clothed you with strength and dignity. He dropped the seeds of boldness, empathy, and compassion into your beating heart. For he built you for strength because he knew the battles you would face. He gave you all of the gifts you would ever need. And those gifts are unique to you and no one else can use those gifts like you can.

When I look in the mirror where others see flaws I see strength. Where society sees flaws, God sees a beautifully crafted testimony. For he knows each scar and he knows the battles I’ve faced. He knows that this body of mine has seen some shit and that she has carried me on my darkest days. A body that I am proud of. Each scar is more than a healed over wound, it is a story of a life well fought for. Each laugh line and newly formed wrinkle is a reminder that I have been granted the gift of growing older. Each laugh line and wrinkle is a reminder that God found me worthy of a second chance at life. This life I have been living is on borrowed time and I do not take a second of it for granted for I know what could have been.

You see if you read the text books and look at the statistics I should be dead. Only one out of five people will survive a pulmonary embolism. The odds they were stacked high against me, but my body she held on to the tiniest shred of strength and stayed in the fight. For she knew a miracle was coming and that I would be the one out of five who walked away to live another day. For she laughs without fear of the future because she knows the battle has just begun. And now our life that we are living is a testimony to the four who had to die so that I could be the one who stayed. That notion sits heavy on my heart for I know they would gladly take my seat. I’ve asked God multiple times “why he saw me as worthy and what made me different from the rest. Why did you save me and not them.” He has yet to answer those questions and I doubt he ever will. He’s good at keeping secrets.

Now I believe in honesty and I will tell you that I have fallen into the trap of just existing. I was going through the motions and pretending to be happy. Work became my escape from my non-existent life and Cullen, my sweet little dog was my saving grace. That little beast gave me a reason to leave the office at 9PM, yes I left at 7AM and didn’t return till 9PM, like I said I was existing. Cullen didn’t care how late I worked, he always greeted me with zoomies and grunts. We’d go for a long walk through our neighborhood and then we’d come home, I cut up his fresh pet and put his plate on the floor. I’d sit next to him watching the news while eating whatever leftovers I had. Rinse and Repeat, I lived this same day over and over…..

All of my friends were in relationships, they were having babies and career moves all while I was letting the fear of failure paralyze me. I rarely dated, I thought “what’s the point you either divorce or they die on you?” I became comfortable in my career, the routine became my solace. After weekend brunch I’d head into the office to work just a couple hours. Those two hours turned into me walking out at 8PM on a Saturday. I was existing and this all worked until it didn’t.

On my 32nd birthday I found myself 3 bottles in and crying uncontrollably in the shower. I sat there for hours, the ice cold water barely phased me as I watched it swirl down the drain. I thought, maybe I could go down the drain too? I was tired of pretending to be all right, I was tired of pretending to be happy and I wanted a life and not an existence.

The next morning I called a therapist. I called the therapy center that Cullen and I walked by multiple times a day. The receptionist listened to me and sweetly replied “it’s going to be ok babe, we will get you someone ok.” I was nervous, mainly I was nervous because I had admitted to myself that I needed help and I felt like a failure. I didn’t want the therapist to think I was nuts. I almost didn’t go to that first appointment, the paperwork was daunting and the questions felt like an invasion.

Yet there was Ms. Emily, the moment I met her I felt a connection. It was like she could see straight into my soul. I started crying and asked “am I crazy?” And she said “crazy people don’t know to ask if they are crazy. You my dear are not crazy, you’ve been through more trauma than most people will ever experience in their lifetime. We will teach you work/life balance. We will teach you how to have a life ok?” I said ok and I proceeded to see her once a week for the next four and a half years. Ms. Emily was the voice that I needed, she was my safe place, and she was the first person to tell me “you can have bad days too.”

In her tiny office I unpacked my baggage and bared my soul. I talked about the hurt and the anger. It was in this space I realized that my ex-husband had abused me and this is where she diagnosed me with PTSD due to medical trauma. I learned to identify my triggers and she gave me the tools to calm myself down. No one should live in flight mode, flight mode means you are not living, you are only existing. Ms. Emily gave me the tools that allowed me to live a life again. Just not a plain Jane life, but the vibrant life that I was always meant to live.

God doesn’t want you to exist, he didn’t make you to just exist. He made you to live. Yes, he made you to live a vibrant life. So if you were like me and you are just going through the motions, stop and ask yourself “am I living a life that I will remember?”

If your answer to the fore mentioned question was, “no.” You my friend are not alone, millions of people around you are also just going through the motions too. Existing is a trauma response, it is something we learn to do in order to protect ourselves. Existing is our armor and as long as we are living in that state nothing can hurt us. Existing allows us to put our thoughts and feelings in our back pockets. If we keep ourselves busy then we do not have time to remember the bad things. I call this being purposefully busy. As long as I kept myself busy and wore the armor of existence the memories, they stayed away. We are not meant to live this way. Take it from someone whose been there, that response it can be unlearned. In therapy I learned that it’s ok to ask for help. Asking for help does not mean we are weak or that we are failing. Asking for help is a sign of strength.

None of us are meant to do this alone. All of us deserve to have a space where we can put our burdens down and bare our soul without being judged or shamed. No one is perfect we all have our own baggage in one form or another. And comparison has no place here, just like our gifts, our baggage is unique to us. No one else can experience what you have experienced, they may be able to relate but they will never understand what it was like to live through that trial. And that’s ok, sometimes all we need is a hug and to be told “this is a safe space, I’m here for you. I will not pry and only share what you are comfortable sharing.” Those very words are what shifted me from the state of existing to living the life that was always meant tor me.

S5 Episode 5:

“[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” ‬‬‬‬2 Corinthians‬ 1:4‬ (NIV)‬‬‬‬‬‬

2009 – mid 2013 was the hardest season I have ever had to walk through. It was a season that no one should ever have to experience. Yet in that season I learned exactly who I was meant to be.

Let’s start in October 2009, I was just your average newly married 26 year old woman working the daily grind not giving my birth control a second thought. I mean hey it was doing it’s job, I no longer had periods from hell nor did we fall pregnant. So yes the Nuva Ring by all means did its job. Little did I know that this simple plastic ring would almost take my life. No need to check your hearing, you heard that right, the Nuva Ring almost killed me.

I’ll spare you all the details and take you to the end result. I almost died five days before my 27th birthday due to a massive pulmonary embolism with infarction and a stroke caused by the 3rd generation progesterone contained in the Nuva Ring. My left lung and heart are permanently damaged my friends would tell you “her laugh is bigger than her lung capacity.”

This moment was a double edged sword, on one hand I was grateful that God spared me, he worked a miracle, all of the odds were stacked against me, yet I survived. And the “how” is something only God can explain, in which he has yet to tell me. On the other hand I was bitter and angry, my life had changed within the blink of an eye. My days became filled with INR checks, blood thinners and more medications I cared to count. Running, something that I did to relieve the stress of every day life was no longer an option. I was lucky if I could get through the grocery store without needing a rest. That moment was definitive, it clearly marked a period of before, a period of once was and now a period of after.

The after is where it gets messy. I was angry, so angry I could feel it in my bones. I turned away from God. How could he let this happen to me, what did I do to deserve this trial? Little did I know he was preparing me, preparing me for what was to come. In April 2010 I found out I was pregnant, this for sure was our calm after the storm. A silver lining against the darkness. Yet God, he said “I am going to make you even stronger…….”

I heard the words no woman wants to hear, “I’m sorry but there is no heart beat.” I screamed, I cried and asked God “why!?” He has yet to answer that question. To make matters worse my husband refused to fly home from Las Vegas, I had to go through the process of loss with my best friend by my side. God he sent her because he know my own husband wasn’t man enough to stand by his grieving wife’s side. He wasn’t strong enough to face the loss of his son.

On top of the grief and anger, the years of mental, emotional, and sexual abuse started to take its toll on me. I no longer recognized the woman in the mirror. The woman I saw looking back at me was a fraction of her former self. Again I asked God “why,” and again he did not answer. The day I started to think thoughts I never thought myself capable of thinking, was the day I realized I needed to get out.

Leaving was the first step. At 27 I become a divorcee with a mountain of baggage. Bags that I myself didn’t want to unpack. I thought who is going to love a woman who is broken beyond repair, who’s bags take up the room and who’s heart is void of all joy? Why did God put me through this? Why did he bring me to a place of darkness? I felt abandoned by God? My anger threw up a wall and I pushed anyone who tried to help me away. I didn’t need advice, I needed answers. Answers as to why I had to go through so much in such a short time.

Those answers have yet to come. The years to follow were not smooth sailing. When I thought I found safe harbor, God he took my boat and smashed it against the rocks. The moment I found the person I was meant to be with, God decided it wasn’t time. My fiancé Charlie died of his injuries sustained in a car crash on February 16, 2012. At 29 I had to pick up the pieces of my shattered heart and once again try to live. I was bitter, anger seeped in and I lost hope. Even though my world stopped, life it kept on moving forward. Moving forward at a pace that I could barely grasp on to.

Outside of my apartment walls I was this vibrant put together woman. Within the walls I was a different story. I was a broken tear filled woman who was angry at God. Even though I prayed, I felt God ignored my voice. I lost faith and darkness took hold. I felt stuck, my life wasn’t anything like I imagined it would be. I spent so much time living on the straight and narrow I forgot to ask “was this path meant for me?”

In 2013 I was let go from a job I hated, budget cuts they said. I thought seriously? God seriously, haven’t you given me enough, now this. What I didn’t realize was God had given me an out and I didn’t stay Unemployed long. I remember this moment like it was yesterday. I was invited to attend a lobbying event in DC, my room at the Omni hotel cost more per night than my rent. Thankfully I wasn’t paying for the room. As I sat out on my balcony eating noodles and company taking in the cherry blossoms and my view of the Washington monument I felt a boldness stir within me. A boldness like I’ve never felt before. Somewhere between the view and the pasta I let go of everything I was holding in. I sobbed into my Perrie sparkling water as I soaked in the sun. A warmth that I hadn’t felt in a long time and in that moment I looked up and said “ok God, you win! Why not me, what do you have for me? What is next?”

What is next? In the weeks that followed that boldness that I felt continued to grow in me. Instead of waking up with tear stained eyes and fear in my heart, I woke up overflowing with faith. A faith that I could not explain, a faith that knows no bounds and limits. A faith that took over every step I made. Things in my life started falling into place.

My heart softened when I found joy in the mundane. When I stopped making mountains out of ant hills, I found peace. When I started coming from a place of gratitude, I found humility. I stood in front of the mirror and no longer saw myself as just broken, I was beautifully broken in a way that only God could craft. God he knows exactly how my life is going to go. You see every little detail is planned by his hand. Every moment I get to walk through is part of his plan. God, he broke me, because he knew I needed to grow. God put me through it because he knew I would get through it.

That’s right, God brought me to it because he made me for that exact trial. In the moment I didn’t realize what God was doing in me. I didn’t realize that he was planting the seeds of empathy, compassion, and wisdom. He instilled the annoying gift of “always finding the bright side” within me. No matter the situation or challenge, I can always find a tiny shred of good. And that good is what carries me on the hard days. The reminder that the light will find a way in and that the darkness will always be greeted by the sunrise. Those certainties are something I hang my hat on, it is the foundation for the gift he instilled in me.

The gift of faith. God knew that this world needed a soul with the overflowing gift of faith. He knew the world needed a woman who against all odds stood strong against the darkness and held on to the tiniest shred of hope. When the world says “it’s not possible.” She looks up with a faithful heart and says “watch me.” To her impossible means one thing, “I’m possible.” In the darkest of hours she always keeps the faith for she knows the sunrise is just around the corner. She is the one you lean on, the one you seek out in desperation, she is the one who takes your hand and weeps right along side you. For she has seen the battlefield and she will not let you tread alone. She says “take my faith until your tank is full and when you no longer need it pass it on.”

Somewhere between standing tall and finding the life that was always meant for me, I realized something. Something so deep that I fell to my knees. God he wasn’t keeping a secret from me, the answer was right in front of me all along…. God needed to break me because I needed the cracks in order for the gift of faith to shine through. Each crack is a line in my story, a story that God had planned out for me before my feet even hit this earth. Our lives are beautifully designed in his image. We cannot have the flowers without the storms. We cannot have the crops without the rain. We cannot have the victory without the battle. Storms only last a little while and once those clouds fade the light shines through and warms the coldest of hearts and peaks through the cracks of the beautifully broken.

Healthy Looks Good On You

Oh the difference 7 months can make. In January 2022 I was at my heaviest, chalk it up to IVF, stress, and everything in between. February I met some ice and ended up needing knee surgery. I knew something had to change, but recovery was slow going, yet I kept at it.

I became reacquainted with my Fitbit, cut out milk and as much gluten as I could from my diet. Once you get past the brown hue of oat milk, you’ll find out it’s not to shabby. Takeout has been replaced with meal prepping and wouldn’t you know the weight started coming off.

I now look forward to a 3 to 5 mile walk in the morning/evening. Once you got your miles in for the day, add in some paddle boarding for good measure, ya know cause you gotta work on those tan lines friends. Or maybe it’s just me who needs to work on the tan lines, lol

I am back down to my pre-IVF weight and unless I end up magically pregnant I do not want to see those 30 extra pounds again. Clothes that once were to tight are now in the donation bin because they are too big. Bras? Don’t get me started on my bras, lol. The girls shrank right along with the back fat and my rear, lol.

40 is just around the corner and I want to enter the next decade of my life as healthy as I possibly can be.

S5 Episode 4:

The pages of history

They tell me it’s true

That it’s never the perfect

It’s always the ones with the scars that You use

It’s the rebels and the prodigals

It’s the humble and the weak

All the misfit heroes You chose

Tell me there’s hope for sinners like me

-Matthew West

So many of us get stuck on the idea of perfection that we miss the little things. The little things that make us who we are. None of us are perfect and perfection is something we will never attain in this life. For if we are perfect and we have no room to grow, then God has no room to grow in us. As long as we have pieces out of place we will have a space for God to work in our lives.

You may be thinking “whoa AJ, I didn’t come here for this….” My friend you did, you need someone to tell you that it’s ok to not be perfect. You my friend have bought into the lie that is social media. No one’s home or children or they themselves are instagram ready 24/7 365. What you view on the daily isn’t real. What you view on the daily was created to sell you a lie that you need to be perfect in order to live your best life.

Life happens outside of social media. Life happens when we least expected. And yes there will be bad days, but one day you will see those days, those moments as blessings. For the bad days they make the good days worth it. Keep in mind friend God knows you, yes he knows you inside and out. He knows that he can bring you to it because you are going to get through it. It may not seem like that in the moment, but once you are on the other side you’ll look back in awe.

History tells me that God does not choose the perfect. He seeks out the misfits, the prodigals and the weak. He seeks out the ones who have room for him to grow in them. He looks for the ones with the scars, the ones with the broken crown, and the ones who have a story to tell. That story is powerful, that story is your journey and no one can tell it like you.

I am broken. I have scars a plenty. Bruises they fade but the memories they stay. I have been broken more times than I can count. I know what it’s like to carry life. I have heard the most sorrow of words, “I’m sorry but there is no heart beat.” To have my womb carry life while it silently turned into a tomb. I carried my sons, my sons who were to beautiful for this earth. For some reason God placed that on my path not once, but three times. God, he chooses the strongest women to be the mother to angels. For they know what it’s like to live fully with a broken heart. For they know what awaits them on the other side.

I used to ask God “why me? Haven’t you given me enough trials?” Now I instead ask “why NOT me? What’s next?” When my perspective shifted my life, it began to fall in place. When I started to look at things through the lens of humility my heart softened. When I stopped sweating the small stuff and making mountains out of mole hills, I found peace. When I stopped comparing myself to others, I found joy. This is my journey and my faith and there isn’t another journey like it. God created this time line for me and me only.

He can break me at his will, bring me to my knees all while rearranging me for what’s next. I no longer strive to be perfect, perfection means I have no room to grown and if I have no room to grow how is God going to grow me. Perfection means you are six feet under ground and kneeling at the throne. Perfection means you are ready for your seat in heaven. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to stay a little longer, I’d like to keep on living and growing just as God intended for me.

S5 Episode 3:

Twenty years ago my dad and I had the hard end of life conversation as I signed the forms making me his power of attorney. In the years that followed we’d checkin to make sure we were still on the same page. If the time ever came Pete didn’t want to be on life support, he wanted me to say “you lived a good fight, it’s now time to rest.” I stored this information in the deepest corner of my mind in hopes that I’d never need to use it. I always thought he’d die peacefully by the camp fire at our cabin. I never in a million years imaged that I’d have to make the call, let alone on his 70th birthday.

The hardest part was having the desire to pickup the phone and call Pete to discuss the options. I can’t count the times I picked up my phone to call him. I could call, but he wasn’t going to answer, he was on a vent fighting for his life. I had to make this decision alone. He had prepared me to make this decision alone. At 39 I had to make the choice of quality over quantity.

Sleep was hard to come by in the early days. Food? Yeah that was the last thing on my mind and Jay did his best to make sure I showered. Work became a distraction and in the hours that followed I just aimlessly drove around. I did whatever I could to fill the space. I alternated between ugly crying and well I’m not going to lie more ugly crying. Friends checked in often and prayers were prayed.

When my faith thinned God sent me warriors who stood in the gap and continued to pray when my heart could not. I was angry at God. We did everything right, we kept Pete in a bubble, wore our masks, got vaccinated, yet Covid it still came home. I was angry that my best friend was dying, he didn’t deserve to go out like this. I was so angry at God. God he saw my anger and he pulled me in a little closer. God he saw my tears and he dried them. When I could no longer utter a prayer God sent warriors to stand in the gap. To stand in the gap so that I could focus on one thing and one thing only, fighting for Pete.

On those solo drives through the countryside I cranked up the worship music. Even though I didn’t feel like talking to God, I could let the music do it for me. On those drives I often ended up at the cabin. I’d sit in the snow all bundled up in my winter gear and talked to Pete until my face was froze. The cabin you see is his heaven on earth, it’s his happy place. It was at this place that I realized something. This cabin just wasn’t a cabin, it was a “father’s love letter to his daughter.” Pete bought the cabin so that I’d have a place where I could roam free and let my imagination run wild. A place where I could run through fields of wildflowers while I chased down frogs for hours. A place that would quiet my mind and wash the worries of the world away. This land and these old logs are his legacy, a legacy of one man’s love for his daughter.

When my dad came off the vent and he was able to mouth words, the first thing he asked for was me. He would ask the doctor & nurses over and over “AJ.” At times because of the Covid fog he thought I was in the room with him. And when his nurse told him I wasn’t, it would break his heart. So his doctor made the call to let me come visit early, because the real thing is the best thing. On December 22, I got to hold my best friends hand and he didn’t let go. He kept looking at me and touching my arm to make sure I was real. His nurse Sarah said to me “I can tell you two are bonded, you are the reason he’s fighting to live. There’s nothing stronger than a father/daughter bond, that’s real love.” She was right. I was going to keep on fighting right along side of him so long as he still had fight in him.

On Christmas Day when he was in dialysis I went to the chapel and wept on my knees. For I got something that could never be put in a box. I got something that could never be wrapped. I got something that cannot be bought, I got the best gift ever, I got to witness a miracle. I got my father back.

And in that moment as I wept I thought about Teresa who in the early days said to me “let me stand in the gap. I will continue to pray while your heart is breaking. Lean on me and I will be your strength.” So many people stood in the gap and continued to pray when my heart could not. So many people got to witness this miracle. We got to witness a man go from his death bed to his resurrection bed. We got to witness the power of a daughter’s love for her father. We got to witness the power of prayer. For when we believe, for when we truly believe the seeds are planted and the miracles bloom.

Carpe

Hey friends do you sweat? Ya know sweat so much that your boobs surely show it through your tank top sweat? Hate dresses because of chub rub? Or for the guys, hate shorts because of the inescapable chub rub? Do your feet drench your shoes? Does your face surely show it too?

Have no fear friends!! I’ve got a solution for you! Yes I said a solution. I hands down love Carpe. Carpe understands that people sweat and that sweating can make us a little uncomfortable and vulnerable. So Carpe crated a product line that kicks sweat right in it’s sweaty little butt. Have you ever seen sweat quiver in fear? I have, every time I open the top of a Carpe product it starts running for the hills!

Now I know what you are thinking, “AJ what are your favorite Carpe Products?” Friends always tell friends about their favorite sweat fighting products. Click the link below to find out!

AJs Favorite Carpe Products

Remember, you are beautiful just as you are, wear that damn swimsuit, and have the best fucking summer of your life!!!

S5 Episode 2:

I am nestled into a bed that isn’t mine tonight. If you would have told me two years ago, I’d be taking weekends to write and record podcast episodes that motivate and encourage those around me, I would have called your bluff. Yet here I am, sitting in a hotel room with my laptop open letting the words flow while eating sour gummy candy and enjoying a glass of wine.

It’s amazing where our lives take us and how much our words matter. I have always been a firm believer in speaking the truth and using that truth to empower others. The truth and speaking it is part of who I am. Sharing my story and encouraging women has become a part of my journey. I realize now that a lot of newly divorced women come here looking for support and to learn of my blunders. I hope that hearing my blunders helps you realize that you are not alone and that many women have walked this road before you. I am just glad that I get to be a part of your journey. The journey of finding yourself again.

Some may say I am a failure married at 25 and divorced at 28. I am not a failure. One knows when there is nothing left to fight for and when to walk away. Some say I didn’t give the marriage enough time to work out the kinks. Some kinks cannot be worked out, they only get knotted further with time. I knew in my heart that it was over and no matter how hard I tried, he wasn’t going to change. In the end it wasn’t my job to change him, that was on him, and I bowed out before I lost sight of who I was meant to be.

What got me through the hard times was faith. People tell me “I wish I had your faith. You just never seem concerned. How can you leave it up to chance?” Growing up my father always told me this “if all else fails…. pray.” I figure God has kept me on this planet for a reason. Lord knows he’s tried to knock me of it more than once. I think I am working on my 3rd life or something and along those lines. For me bouncing back is the best part. I’ve done a lot of looking back over the last twelve years. My thirteenth stroke anniversary is just around the corner and so is unfortunately my 40th birthday.

Looking back has allowed me to examine my failed marriage. To really look at it from a different perspective. Twelve years ago, I was so hurt and bitter that I couldn’t look with clear eyes. However, time does heal all wounds and allows you to remember. Remembering that the signs were written on the wall the entire time. Realizing that my ex-husband is just damaged and that there was nothing I did wrong. I harbored anger that didn’t allow me to move forward. Anger not because he cheated on me with every woman on craigs list. Anger because he abandoned me when our son died. No one should have to walk through the death of a child alone. Anger because he beat me down until I didn’t recognize the woman in the mirror. Her light was gone. Laughter was replaced with silence. Confidence gave way to self-doubt. Thoughts she never thought herself capable of thinking crossed her mind. That was the day she knew she had to leave. She had to leave in order to save herself.

Scott was never going to be the man I needed him to be. He was never going to admit his wrongs and to right the course. He would always place the blame on me. “You gained weight. You are not pretty or smart enough. If you love me, then you will understand that I need to sleep with multiple women in order to be happy. You do not satisfy me.” He would try to make up for the harm he caused, yet money doesn’t buy trust or restore self-worth. While the $5,000.00 bracelets, trips, and shopping sprees were nice, they didn’t erase the pain. The pain that I felt when I found his email wide open, and that the driver’s seat was moved in the Prius each morning. Here I thought he was playing world of warcraft all night long. Turns out Scott was warming someone else’s bed and leaving me at home alone.

I still remember laying in the hospital bed after my PE and stroke, I looked over to see him on his laptop. He thought I was asleep; I was wide awake and there he was on craigslist looking for his next casual encounter. He didn’t care that I was fighting for my life, the only thing he cared about was how much the hospital bill was going to cost. His needs and concerns always came before mine. People say “You had everything. You were such a great couple.” Never take something at face value. Peal the layers back and you would have seen a marriage that was broken before it even started.

I remember our wedding day like it was yesterday, my dress was perfect, and everyone was so happy. I was very good at putting on a front at this point in the relationship. I was happy on the outside but on the inside, I was dying. A week before our wedding I went in for an annual checkup and they of course ran the STD panel. Two days before the wedding the nurse called apologizing that they had not called me sooner. My STD panel had come back, and it was the reason for why I was feeling all sorts of horrible. The ex-husband had contracted and lovingly passed chlamydia and gonorrhea on to me. The fact that he did not get sick still escapes me to this day. No one plans for an STD on their wedding day. That was a giant red flag that I ignored while walking down the aisle to the “love of my life.”

A few years after our divorce I found the strength within myself to let go and to forgive him for everything that he had done to me. I no longer wanted to be a part of him and in order to break away I had to forgive him. Forgiving someone is easier said than done. But I had to do it in order to cut the tie that bound us, I decided email form was best. That email took me a few days to write, however I wanted to make sure I listed everything that I was holding on to. I honestly didn’t care if he ever read it, the email was my closure not his. It was my realization that I could not undo the damage he caused, that the wounds though they are healed, the scars will remain. That I could not go back and change the timeline, the outcome would have still been the same or even worse. With each stroke of the keys, I let go, I let go of everything I was holding on to. Forgiving him allowed me to be at peace with everything. I do not regret that my marriage happened and wouldn’t trade the years with Nylan. Just it wasn’t meant to be. We live, we learn a little, and then we get even on Tuesdays. 

Forgiveness was step one of getting myself back. The moment I made the decision to let fucking go my perspective shifted. I felt like the weight of 10,000 boulders was lifted from my shoulders and I was actually HAPPY for the first time in years. I no longer had this dark cloud following me. In making peace with Scott, I also made peace with the fact that God choses the strongest women to be the mother of angels. In that peace I realized God knows exactly what is going to happen to us in our lives. He knows every success, every love, every laugh, and mostly he knows every trial. If he did not think we could get through it, he would not bring us to it. The later has brought me more comfort than I could ever begin to describe. God brought me to it, because he knew I could get through it.

And if he can bring me to it and through it, he can do the same for you. There may be times where you feel like the cards are stacked against you. Where you feel like everyone else is getting their miracle and yours is stuck. Or maybe you feel like everyone else is finding the love of their life and you are sitting home alone watching Netflix. All of those feelings are valid. I see you; I hear you, and I know what it’s like to sit in those shoes.

However, one thing I’ve learned is that God… he loves the broken. It’s the broken that he uses. It’s the broken ones that get the crown. If you feel broken, it just means God… he is not done working in you. It means that he is bringing you through it, because he knows you will stand tall on the other side. This process is long I know. It’s a hard process to trust, but in the end it is worth it. Because in the end you will flip your perspective and you will look up with a peaceful heart and say, “wow I survived that! so what’s else do you have instore for me.”

And I know what you are thinking “AJ that’s all fine and dandy, but I’m in the thick of it right now! What about me!?” I got you, don’t worry. I know what it’s like to be so deep in the pit that you cannot see the sun. I know what it’s like to wake up with fear in your heart and tears in your eyes. I too had trouble trusting the process. I too had doubts. I too wondered, “how could God bring me to such a terrible place?” A place that I rather only exist in fiction but my wounds tell me we belong in the biography section. Everything good and bad happens for a reason. We may not realize this in the right here and now, but someday it will make sense. Some day you will look back and think “I am one badass bitch who is not to be messed with.” But until that time comes, just know that I struggled too and little by little I came out on the other side and so will you.

S5 Episode 1:

It’s taken me a while to sit down and put the past six months into words. Words that are not only my own, but my father’s words. Words that I thought for a brief moment I would never hear him speak again. Words of wisdom, love, and humor that only a father can whisper to his daughter.

My father, Pete is what I call him, is my best friend. I am his mini me, he made me into the woman I am today and he doesn’t ever let me forget that. I get my zest for life and grit directly from him. My can do attitude and strength is a direct result of his parenting. He’s been at my side with comforting hugs during the bad days and cheering for me as loud as he possibly can on the good days too.

After my son Emmett died I needed to go for a drive, Pete suggested we just keep on driving up the north shore until we reach Grand Marias. In which we did and during this drive Pete knew I was angry at God. He knew I was deep in my grief licking my wounds that God had just freshly laid on me. I asked him “do you think God really works?” He paused for a moment “ya know I’ve seen God work every day since October 1982. It doesn’t matter what happens to you or who hurts you, you Mannie you dust your self off and you rise up with a smile. You should have died twice, but here you are. All be it you are walking this earth with a broken heart, yet you do it with faith. I get to see God work every day, you are a testament.”

I looked over and realized he had tears in his eyes and that his faith was deeper than I could ever begin to imagine. My father has more faith in God than any human I know. He always tells me “keep the faith.”

On December 11, 2021 my world broke. I got the call no daughter wants to receive, a call that I’ve received twice before. My mom had found my dad unconscious and he was being taken to the hospital by ambulance. Covid came home that day. He was very sick and his chance of survival was slim. Because he tested positive I was not allowed to see him before they put him on the vent. I was able to video chat and Pete said a word he never says, he said Goodbye. Goodbye doesn’t exist in our language, it’s always see you later. When I heard that word my soul knew what he was preparing me for, he wasn’t coming home.

I stood in an empty ER room watching the flight nurses load him into the helicopter with tears running down my face all I could do was pray. Jay and I held hands and prayed that God was going to give us a miracle. A miracle that seemed impossible in the days that followed. I was loosing my best friend and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The ICU doctor called to tell me that Pete had Covid + Covid Pneumonia + bacterial pneumonia and that he was in septic shock. Plus he was in acute respiratory distress and in acute kidney failure. The doc said I need to focus on quality over quantity of life and that Pete’s chances of coming off the vent were very slim.

That Monday December 13, 2021 was his birthday. He turned 70 while on the vent and that was also the day I made the choice to end life support based on the Doctor’s advice. I knew in my heart that my Dad wouldn’t want to be connected to these machines and what would his life look like if he did come off. That doctor had me speak to two others plus a social worker to ensure I was of sound mind to make such a decision. The third doctor I spoke to told me to sleep on it, because this is a decision we cannot come back from.

I decided to go for a drive that night. I ended up at our cabin well after dark. That night was so unusually still the only sound was the crunch of the snow under my boots. The moonlight lit up the valley so I turned off my lantern to soak in the stillness. I had never experienced a stillness like that before. In that moment I knew, I knew Pete was in his body fighting to get back to me. I asked him for a sign, a sign to let me know that he’s still fighting. If I didn’t get a sign, I was going to pull the plug. I also knew that he would be very mad that I was out at the cabin alone after dark, he’d doesn’t like it when I drive at night.

I heard rustling in the woods and decided that was my queue to head home. I stopped off in Durand to get gas and a sandwich. As I drove through the country side, I looked up at the night sky. As I came to a stop sign mid sip of my now watered down iced coffee I noticed not one, not two, but three stars shoot across the sky. A peace came over me and the tears began to fall, Pete was fighting and I was going to keep on fighting right along side of him.

The next day the doctor had told me that Pete had improved a little bit over night, he wasn’t out of the woods and I should still think about quality over quantity. I nicknamed that doctor “doctor gloom.” He never had a positive tone to his voice and he could ruin my day with just a “Hey AJ do you have time to talk?” Wednesday came and his nurse said that the vent settings had improved and that his heart was maintaining his blood pressure without medications. Which to me was a good sign.

We had a weird weather day that day. Temps were in the 70s in December. I went for a walk and while out on my walk I asked my dad to send me a sign. Something told me to walk out on the fishing dock. I took a seat, soaking in the December warmth when I spotted a girl walking with what looked like her dad. This in turn made me ugly cry, thank God no one saw me, otherwise they’d think I was crazy. I collected myself and as I got up something told me to walk over to the right side. I almost didn’t, but I turned back and went to the right side of the dock. I looked out at the frozen lake and then down at the ice.

I saw cracks in the ice, but the more I looked at it the more I realized this wasn’t just any old crack. I’ve seen this before….. it’s a doodle. You see Pete doodles on anything and everything he can get his hands on, including my mother’s table cloths. He doodles, trees, flowers, animals, and people. I wasn’t looking at a crack, I was looking at a doodle. A doodle of a tree with a snake wrapping up the trunk and flowers on the branches, my Dad sent me a doodle, a sign to let me know it was going to be alright. I took a bunch of photos as darkness crept across the lake and started back for my car.

As I was walking back my phone range, it was the dreaded 507 area code, I answered. It was Pete’s second doctor letting me know that Pete had turned a corner. He passed the lasix test, his kidneys were making urine and and he was initiating the breaths from the vent. That’s right he was making the vent work! I dropped to my knees in the middle of the trail and began to cry. She realized I was crying “oh AJ sweetie you’ve been through a lot. My advice to you is continue to give your dad more time ok? Call back if you need anything.” I was getting the miracle that I so desperately sought.

The next day doctor gloom called and I heard something for the first time in his voice…. I heard HOPE!!!! He explained that Pete improved so much that he no longer needed the surgical ICU floor, he was being transferred down to the Covid ICU floor. this doc said to me “you know every time I walked by or into his room I thought about what you told me. You said Pete has died twice and he came back twice, if anyone can survive this, it’s him. He will be the one who walks away. AJ, if I didn’t see this with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe the outcome we are seeing. You are getting your dad back, it’s going to be a long road, but he’s coming back to you.” I said a tearful thank you and we hung up.

My Spotify kicked back in and the song “Rattle” began playing these words made me ugly cry so hard that I had to pull over, the words were:

So I prophesied as I was commanded

And as I was prophesying, there was a noise

A rattling sound and the bones came together

Bone to bone

I look, and tendons and flesh appeared on them

And skin covered them but there was no breath in them

Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath

Prophesy son of man and sing to it”

This is what the sovereign Lord says

“Come breath from the four winds and breathe

Into this land, today live!”

Come breath from the four winds and breathe….. Pete would be on the vent until December 20th, his vent stay was shorter than they initially thought. They had prepared me for a 45+ day stay and here it was only 10 days. He was once again downgraded from the Covid ICU to the regular Covid care floor. On December 22, I got to hold my best friends hand again. I got to physically touch the man who I had so desperately prayed for. I got to sit by the side of a miracle. His death bed became his resurrection bed and I never left his side.

Each day was a struggle, yet each day he got stronger and stronger. Seeing what he went through will always weight on my heart. His muscles were so atrophied from the vent that he had to learn how to use his hands again and how to walk again. Which he did like a champ. Not to mention the thickened liquids and puréed food, it was three weeks before he could have a beloved Diet Coke. I spent pretty much every day from December 22 through January 10th at his side. He came into the Mayo Clinic alone by helicopter and I vowed to him that we were walking out together and we did just that.

I got a miracle, a miracle that so many other daughters have so desperately prayed for. It weighs heavy on my heart knowing that Covid has taken so many fathers from their daughters. That so many daughters have had to say goodbye to their fathers while I got to sit at my fathers side. I think of all of the fathers who last the battle while I soak in every sweet drop of time with mine.

S4 Episode 9:

According to the Oxford dictionary an addict is “a person who is addicted to a particular substance, typically an illegal drug.”

Help guide.org states “Addiction involves craving for something intensely, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences. Addiction changes the brain, first by subverting the way it registers pleasure and then by corrupting other normal drives such as learning and motivation.”

But what if someone is addicted to something that they cannot see? Something that knows no bounds and cannot be easily obtained? What if someone is addicted to HOPE?

Hope; that feeling of expectation and a desire for a certain thing to happen. That feeling of trust.

I am an addict, I am addicted to Hope.

The word “hope” is mentioned in the Bible over 130 times. One simple word, a word that can bring life to the weary and heal the broken. A four letter word…. A four letter word that I myself have clung to in times of darkness.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD.” — Jeremiah 17:7

“As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more.” — Psalm 71:14

“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” — Romans 15:4

The Bible is filled with stories about Hope. My favorite of all these stories is about my girl Sarah. Sarah and I have a lot in common. We have both prayed on our knees until they were bloody. We’ve sat back and watched other women get the very miracle we prayed for. Her prayer, the prayer she prayed thousands of years before I was even thought of is now my prayer. A prayer for motherhood.

“And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered Him faithful who had made the promise.” — Hebrews 11:11

You see our girl Sarah was childless until she was 90 years old. Like so many of us who have faced infertility Sarah did not believe in the promise that she to was going to be a mother. Can you blame the girl? Year after year passed with no pregnancy. Yet her husband Abraham believed in God’s promise that Sarah would be “a mother of nations” (Genesis 17:16) and that she would conceive and bear a son. At 90 Sarah gave birth to a son, a son named Isaac, God fulfilled his promise to them.

With respect to the fulfillment of the promise, Sarah embodies the themes of fear and doubt, Abraham those of faith and hope. Her doubt drives Sarah to devise her own way of realizing the promise—she gives Abraham her maidservant, Hagar, so that Hagar might bear a child for them. When the promise is repeated, Sarah expresses her doubt in sarcastic laughter (Genesis 18:12). And when the promise is kept, Sarah, overcome by joy, still implies her doubt had been reasonable (Genesis 21:6–7).

I feel Sarah on so many levels. The journey of infertility isn’t an easy one. There are times where my heart is filled with doubt. There are moments where I let the fear creep in and it’s words chase away the hope. When you are waiting on a promise it’s hard to stay the course. It’s hard to believe that your turn is coming. Four fertility clinics and multiple failed cycles later, I am still waiting on God’s promise. Just like Sarah did thousands of years ago.

In an attempt to fulfill the promise herself Sarah gave Hagar her maidservant to her husband so that she may bear a child for them. Modern day Hagars exist, somewhere right now in this country there are women going through retrieval cycles to give their eggs to a barren woman like myself.

I am barren, life and time have done me no favors. The cards they are stacked against me. The Endometriosis was diagnosed to late and the diminished ovarian reserve make for unfavorable odds. Add in the fact that I am 39 and that age puts me at the top of the geriatric maternal age. Yet despite the odds, I cling on to hope. I cling to the promise that my turn is coming. I have fears and doubts just as Sarah did and there are times where I to have laughed sarcastically at the possibilities of “what if.”

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