Friday, March 24, 2017

A Lesson in Joy



I was at The Salvation Army recently to pick up something for a client. As I was walking in the doors, there was a young man walking out with his grocery box. in his small box of groceries, they had placed a single, small bottle of soda in the box(which I've never seen before). 

This man, who appeared to have intellectual disabilities, was as happy as anyone that I've ever seen in my life. He showed me his bottle of soda and delightedly told me that he hadn't had a soda in years and that he was going to drink this one today. He was grinning ear-to-ear, his glee contagious to all around him. 

After a moment, he paused in his giddy dance of joy and noticed my empty hands. He asked, somewhat somberly, if I was getting a box of food, as well. I explained to this sweet young man that I was a nurse getting a car seat for a client and was not picking up food for myself. 

He looked confused and asked me if that meant I wouldn't get a bottle of soda. I replied that no, I wouldn't. His face, moments before filled with absolute joy, fell and he began waving back on forth on his feet as if in absolute misery. I tried to explain to him that I didn't need any soda and was not upset in the least. 

His face then lit up again with an idea. He asked me with excitement if I wanted to share his Coke. He told me that we could sit in the sun and share his soda and was so excited at the prospect that he was shaking with joy. 

I didn't, of course, share this young man's soda. He deserved to enjoy every bit himself. His soda didn't fill my stomach but his kindness fed my soul.



That afternoon, on a day in which I'd been incredibly stressed before, I sat on park bench in the sunshine and had shared some conversation with a kind, young man. This complete stranger sipped on his small bottle of soda and grinned as we talked. He was drawing every ounce of happiness out of that simple moment that he could.

After he drank the last drop of the carmel colored soda, we parted ways. I have never again had the privilege of meeting that young man again but this memory will forever be a reminder to me: that gratitude and joy are both choices that we make on a moment-to-moment basis. 

I will never be the same. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Journey Back to Baker Street



"In memory everything seems to happen to music."
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, The Glass Menagerie

It's amazing the power of a song to strip the years away in a single moment. A song from my childhood came on the radio this morning and the world folded in on itself and thirty years disappeared in a breath.

I was driving my daughter to school  and, just as I put my car into park at the elementary entrance, the song Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty came on the radio. I hugged my daughter goodbye and then sat in my car and let the waves of memory wash over me as I listened to the distinctive notes of the saxophone playing around me.

When I was little, maybe 6 or 7, I was given a tiny portable 45 record player. It was my treasured possession, even though the pink pleather box was cracked and weathered. It came with a single record, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head by BJ Thomas and I played that solitary song over and over and over again until my parents begged for relief. I tucked the record player back into the bottom of my closet and forgot about it for some months.

One day, some months later,  I was commissioned to help a friend of my mom's pack up her apartment to move. While there, I noticed her tossing some records into the trash. I asked if I could have them and she responded that many were scratched but I could have them if I wanted. I remember her shrugging and frowning as though perplexed at my elation over scratched 45s.  The only one of the handful of records that I recognized was Uptown Girl by Billy Joel as it was still being widely played on the radio. I grabbed all of them, recognizable or not, and finished the day of cleaning and packing with a spring in my step.

When I made it home, I pulled out my pink turntable, scooted up onto the bed that I shared with my sister and put record after record on. The woman who had gifted them to me had been right-- many were so scratched that they were unplayable. Two of them, the aforementioned Uptown Girl and Harvest Moon by Neil Young would play all of the way through. Most, however, ended up in my trash can.



I remember sitting there on that bed with my back up against the cold wall of the rickety trailer that we lived in in rural Iowa and placing the last record on the turntable. It too, was very scratched but I was persistently moving the needle around trying to find a spot that would still play. I'm not sure why I was so persistent with this final record, but I was. After a few minutes, I found the sweet spot and the sound of a saxophone solo burst into that tiny, dark bedroom. That sax solo was the only playable part of the record and, only a few seconds of it at that. But, there was something about the energy of those notes that stole my breath away.

I had always been an odd kid-- prone to crying jags, feeling the weight of the world perpetually on my shoulders, struggling with depression as early as kindergarten and with my nose perpetually in a book. It seemed that no one else on earth was like me. I felt lonely every, single day. However, those few notes that played out of my cheap, cracked pink pleather turntable were a revolation  for me. 

Those notes seemed to call out to me and tell me that I wasn't alone, that someone else out there felt the world as deeply as I did. I felt immediately less alone in the world. For the next weeks, until the record would become completely unusable, I would place the needle onto the record's single, sacred, unscratched section and cry with relief as the sounds of melancholy saxophone whispered into my lonely life and filled a hole that had never before been filled.

That broken record began a love affair with music that has since rivaled my voracious need for books. I had found the escapism and human connection of art. A tiny piece of my heart was healed that day and, if judging by my emotional reaction at hearing those same notes again today, the healing continues to this day. I am thankful for that single, broken record that was gifted to me at the time that I most needed it. I am grateful for the magic of music.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Cartography for Moms: Making a Map to Leave Behind



In the still, small moments of the dark of the night, I often catch myself wondering and worrying what would happen to my children if I were to die?

I'm not a stay-at-home mother but you might guess that I were by the amount of work that I do around my home. I am married but am the sole person responsible for cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, bill-paying and nearly every other chore around our home. I also meet 90% of the needs of our three children. I carry the weight of this family on my back every single day, like many mothers do. I'm not saying that my husbands contributions are not worthy-- he is the primary breadwinner and a good father. However, the scales for the entirety of our marriage have been tipped, no matter how I fight it, so that I do the vast majority of the household work and childcare, even when we've both worked all day.  While this is something that causes me stress on a daily basis, this article isn't about the unfairness of the situation. No, the stress of the work is minor compared to the constant worry that I carry about what would happen to my family in the instance that I would die.

Now, I'm not planning to leave this Earth anytime soon. There is nothing more that I want in the world than to care for my children until they are grown and to see what they become as adults. I am a nurse by trade, however, and I am painfully aware everyday that we are never promised tomorrow. This fact, the fact of my very impermanence, leads me to wake suddenly in the night, heart pounding in worry about how this house will run if I were leave my Earthly body.

There is nothing in my life that I love more than being a mother. It is the greatest honor of my life. It is also, particularly as a working mother in a high-stress career, the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life. My mind is a running to-do list that is never complete. I juggle so many damn balls every day that I have forgotten what it is like to have a peaceful mind. The chores, the worry, the duties-- they are never-ending. I feel, many days, that no matter how hard I try, I am failing. This is not an easy life but I never stop learning and have become somewhat of a juggle master- able to juggle it all and only rarely letting a ball drop. I often wonder if I were to pass on, if my husband could step in and juggle the same life so that my children would continue to thrive. I worry about it every, single day.

I'll often sit in bed and wonder if my husband can remember how to balance a checkbook and form a budget. He probably doesn't even know our bank password. Shall I leave it to him in a hidden document in the computer just in case? Should I write a cheat sheet for how I create our monthly budgets? I have a running mental list of where I can find our common household items and food for the best price so that I can feed our family and provide toiletries on a tight budget. Shall I make a list- won't the prices continually change? Would a list matter? Can I teach him about coupons and planning meals around grocery sales?

I'll be sitting in traffic and wonder what my children would eat every night if I were to pass on. Would my husband remember that he has to check each and every label for our youngest daughter's allergen? Could he learn to cook more than chicken nuggets and frozen pizza? What about cleaning up after dinner? I don't think he's loaded or unloaded the dishwasher more than a handful of times in our 16 years of marriage. Will he just leave the dirty dishes out on the table like he does now? Who will clean them? Will my children eat junk food and live in filth?

In the witching hour of early evening, when I am simultaneously and frantically cooking dinner, helping the kids with homework, making sure dance/tumbling/scout costumes are cleaned for their activities and cleaning the house...I wonder if he would be able to transition from an existence in which he gets to walk in from work and go straight to the couch into an existence of having nearly every minute of every day be in service to other humans.

When I am comforting my children after they had a hard day, I wonder about writing a document about all of the tiny nuances that I know about each of them so that my knowledge of them would never leave with me. Each of my three children could have their own, massive book. I know them better than anyone else in the world. Of course, as soon as I finished the books, they would need to be rewritten. My amazing children are growing and changing each day. I make sure to sit and listen to them each and every day because, somehow, each new day they are different than the last. I am willing to forgo time with my friends, a perfectly clean house and 10,000 other things to be sure that I get this time with my kids each day. I carry these moments with me in my heart. I cannot imagine how I transfer this knowledge of the metamorphosis of my children onto paper.

There are so many daily duties, large and small, that encompass my day as a working mother. How do I transmit this information to someone else so that they can care for my children in the best way if I was to leave?




And, so I wonder- is there such a thing as cartography for Moms?  Is there a way for me to make a map to show others the way of my family's life?  How can I leave a map behind in the case that I am no longer able to lead the way for my family?

Some items on the map seem much easier to navigate. I can much more easily leave a detailed budget than I teach the subtle nuances in our teenage son's voice that let me know that he had a bad day and might need to talk. I can leave recipes for healthy dinners and lists of what each child likes to eat but how do I explain how to navigate our middle daughter's mood swings when puberty rears its ugly head? I can teach him how to manage a calendar that is carefully color-coded so that he never misses an important activity for one of the kids but how do I explain the way our youngest daughter's eyes change ever so slightly before she has a flare up of her medical condition?

I do not know how to create this magical map, one which keeps my family afloat and moving forward even if their mother, the captain of the boat for the entirety of my children's lives, had moved on.

I think that maybe the maps that we, as mothers, so carefully craft to keep our children's life journeys running smoothly always have roads that lead our children back their mothers so that we can love and care for them at every step in the journey. I fear that if the mother is removed, that this magical map would not work at all. All of this worry has led me no closer to the cartography of the mythical mother map, and maybe the reason is that if you remove the mother, the map becomes useless.

I simply must trust that, should I leave this world, even as hard as I try to tether myself to it, everything will be okay. The map would not stay the same, their lives would not remain the same but my family would carry on their journey without me. Instead of spending my hours worrying about what my children would do without me, I must focus my time on making the most of the hours that we have today. Tomorrow isn't promised but this moment is and I must use it in a better way. I cannot leave my husband or my children a map that will magically light their paths but I can leave them a legacy of love.




Friday, March 3, 2017

The Bittersweet Beauty of Our Children's Growing Independence




I’m not sure when it started, this fixation of taking photos of my children while walking or standing behind them. It must seem strange to some, I’m sure, this view of the back of my children’s heads and bodies.



It has always seemed natural for me, however. What no one tells you before you have children is that parenting is just a long series of letting go, of allowing freedom. In many ways, both literally and figuratively, our children spend much of their lives walking away from us. The events are too many to list here and they begin the very moment of birth:

-The first time that you hold them outside of your own body, your stomach mourning the loss of the movement and life within.

-The first time your baby eats table food, instead of the nourishment from your own body.

-The first tentative steps taken, which quickly turns into running and, for the first time, you are chasing after your child-- the same child that spent the last year safely in the confines of your body and then your arms.



-The first day of preschool, when they run excitedly to play with other children and away from the safety of you.

-The first time that you realize that they would rather spend an evening with their friends, instead of with you.

-The first time that they keep a secret from you and you realize that they have parts of their life that you aren’t a part of.


There are many of these moments. They often come suddenly, these flashes of your child’s independence. It’s enough to take your breath away. It is the way of parenthood, a natural happening and, yet, it can be so painful for the parents who want so desperately to be able to keep their children safe and loved forever. The days often pass so slowly, but the years pass so breathtakingly quickly as a parent. 

So, these pictures of my children walking away from me seem incredibly natural to me. It is natural for children to grow up and learn to live a life separate from their parents, even as painful as it can be for me as their mother.






It is our job, however, to raise our children as independent souls who will thrive on their own in the world. So, while it often hurts my heart to think of how my children are growing up and will be someday off on their own in this big old world, I am proud to see them becoming amazing young adults.

I am trying terribly hard to not view these photos as walking away from their mother, but to see them for what they really are-- my children walking towards an extraordinarily beautiful life for them out in the world.

My children will have their own journey in this life. They will have a life completely separate from mine. That is such a lovely and wonderful part of life. It is my job to prepare them to explore the world, and themselves, at their own pace as they step into themselves and their purpose in the world. I admit that it pains me that they will someday leave the safety of my nest, but I am embracing the beauty of my own journey of motherhood and the journey of what will come for my own life after my loves leave my home to make a place of their own.



These pictures of my children walking away from me are a beautiful reminder to me of the impermanence of the time that my children will spend in my home and in my arms. However, motherhood is not impermanent-- I will love and support them forever and always. 

 Keep walking, wandering and discovering the big world outside of the safety of my arms,  my littlest loves. It is okay to leave your Mama behind- I will always be waiting for you to fly back into my arms when you can. I can’t wait to see the mark that you leave on this world and you cannot do that if you live your entire life sheltered by me, as much as my mother’s heart longs to keep you safe. There is a great, big world out there and it is yours for the taking.




Friday, February 17, 2017

Leaving the Church to Find God Again



I recently left my church. It was a church that my family had not only attended for years, but a church that we were very involved in. I was a church that was, for many years, our second family.

It was painful to leave, absolutely painful. I felt the fissure with all of my being. It left a hole in my life in so many ways.

I left because our pastor made it clear that he discriminates against and does not welcome the LGBTQ community. I left because I own my priviledge. As a heterosexual white woman, I own that I could continue to go there. I easily could. My privilege means that I could attend nearly any church in my country and be welcomed. I know that not every person has this same privilege, that many would not feel comfortable or welcomed sitting in the pew that my family sat in every sunday.

However, doing what is easy is not what I have learned from the teachings of Jesus. Standing up for the oppressed is what I have learned from those teaching, teachings that I fear my recently former church has forgotten.

If I continued to attend, I feel strongly that my silence and continued attendance would make me a party to the discrimination and hate. Likely, no one will notice my empty seat at that church. I will, however. And, I will continue to use my Sunday mornings to grow my mind and use my dollars to assist organizations that help the oppressed instead of funneling them into a church that discriminates. I know that Jesus would approve. He, after all, is who first taught me all about standing up for and helping the oppressed

I should have left that church many years ago when, after I made a Facebook post condemning the direction of our youth programs, I was called and chastised by the pastor and told that I have no right to condemn "his church". He then called my husband into a meeting without me and told him to "get his wife under control" as if I was a subservient 1940's housewife.  I should have left when my refugee clients who live down the street from the church told me that they were rudely turned away when they asked for help. I should have left when others that spoke against the actions of our pastor were told to leave. There were many times that I should have owned that this church wasn't the place for me.

Nothing is black and white, however. That church is full of so many truly good people, people who have been very good friends to my family. That church does do good in the community(selectively). It is where my children attended preschool and sunday school, where they were baptized and given their first bibles. It is a church full of memories for me.

However, being a Christian isn't about making the easy decisions. Many others were horrified about much that has happened and they made the easy decision to stay. I chose to make the harder decision and leave a church that I loved in order to stand up to what I believe is directly against the teachings of Jesus Christ, who stood up for the oppressed and asked that we join Him in doing so, who asked that we not throw stones and love them instead.

Now months later, I can tell you that I still mourn being able to attend that church on sundays. I mourn the days when I believed that the members of that church, my second family, would stand against wrongs against humanity. It may seem trite to mourn a church, but I do.



However, I can tell you without a doubt that it was the right decision. My faith has grown by leaps and bounds. I feel closer to God then ever before. 

I left my church and, in leaving, found the strong faith that had been shrouded underneath the rote motions of attending a church and hearing the same sermons over and over again. I was reminded that my faith has called me to action, not passivity. 

Sometimes I wonder who now sits in that pew now, the pew that held my family most Sunday mornings for years. The pew two rows from the back. The pew where I sang with my family, tried to keep my children quiet so that they didn't disrupt the service(a futile process, as any parent knows), the pew from which we interacted with people that we weren't related to by blood, but considered family.

Today we teach our children about Jesus from our own pew- our living room couch. We remind them that true Chistianity isn't about showing up to church on Sunday, although that can be a valuable tool for many. True Christianity is about the good we do in the world everyday, about loving those around us and standing up against oppression of our brothers and sisters. I admit that there were times in my past when I believed that putting my body in a pew each week was enough. It never was. I know better now. When we know better, we do better.

I left my church and have found God again. 



Sunday, February 5, 2017

Cold Hands, Warm Heart



My entire life I have been plagued with having cold hands and feet. Most of the women in my family seem to have the same trouble. As a child, it was something that I gave little thought to. However, after becoming a nurse-- a very hands-on profession, to say the least-- it became something that I thought about and worried about daily. After all, I care for my patients in times of distress and touching their bare skin with my ice cold hands didn't seem soothing at all.

I've learned some tricks since those early days, just out of nursing school. I take Niacin at my doctor's recommendation and this seems to boost my circulation and ease my Raynaud's Syndrome(a condition that causes my hands and feet to become blanched and painfully cold). I have hand warmers that I heat in the microwave and keep in my scrub pockets when my hand are painfully cold. I also have learned to rub my hands together before touching a patient(except in an emergency situation, of course). Still, even with the tricks to keep my hands warmer, it's not uncommon for my patient's to occasionally wince when I first touch them. It makes me feel terrible.

When I was a hospice nurse years ago, I found that the older generation seemed to love me more for my chilly hands. There is an old adage, "cold hands, warm heart", and many seemed to think my cold hands signaled a compassionate heart. There were several older women that even went as far to tell me that they don't trust nurses with warm hands. Now, I'm not one to shrug off anyone's beliefs(especially when they benefit me- ha!) but I don't truly believe that someone's poor circulation likely is connected to their compassion. However, I've learned over my nursing career not to disregard anyone's beliefs. Nursing is a calling that leads us into a world where we live with one foot in this world and the other foot in the next world. I've seen so many things that could never be explained by science. Nursing has opened my mind to so many things that my pre-nurse self would have shrugged off. I learned during those years as a hospice nurse to accept that sometimes, something like having cold hands, can turn out to be a strange blessing.

 Yes, I said that it is a blessing(although I admit to moaning and groaning in the midst of the cold, Iowa winter when my fingertips turn a nearly permanent white). It forces me to be conscious of how my touch can impact others, both good and bad. At the beginning of each of my patient visits, I take a moment to warm my hands and my stethoscope with speaking with my patient. It forces me to slow down and remember my patient is a person, not simply a body to be assessed. These extra moments of humanity have been such a gift, to both my patients and I. My patients are my heroes and hearing their life stories have been one of the greatest blessings of my career. Those moments of simply listening, not always allowed with today's overwhelming nurse/patient ratios, are crucial to our patient's health.

These chilly hands have also been a reminder to me that human touch can be a burden or a blessing. Now, as a sexual assault survivor myself, this should be ingrained in me. However, many of my jobs in my career have been in positions with unsafe nurse/patient ratios with shifts that were a blur of nursing assessments and treatments. There have been many times in my career that time was a gift that we were never given. The patients were a haze, the memory of one blending into the next, and there were few, if any, deep connections made. I often wonder if my rushed assessments, as necessary as they were, were toxic to the patients who could have used an ear to listen, some human touch not contingent on care  and care from a nurse who wasn't breathlessly ticking down an impossible to-do list for the shift and praying for no crisis as she simply didn't have the time. 

These wintry digits have also been a reminder to me that, in nursing and life, there will be many things that I will have no control over. I was born with these perpetually blanched hands and they will likely be chilly until my death(and, I suppose, after my death. Too morbid?). It's a small thing, really, these hands and there temperature. It may seem like a silly thing to spend so much of my time thinking about. But, these hands- they touch so many in my day and I want that touch to be therapeutic. So, I take that which I have little control over and do what I can to ensure that my touch, which comes out of a deep desire to heal others, reflects the warmth of my heart.

I've always tried to do the very best for my patients. I truly have. There have been many times that it did not feel like enough. Too many times.  I keep learning and growing and allowing my heart to continue to expand. The lessons of nursing are many and can be found most anywhere- even in the blessing of these perpetually cold hands. 

~Nurse Mandi

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Thank You Letter to VP Biden From a Rape Survivor



Dear Vice President Biden,

You don't know me, sir.  I am a wife, mother, nurse and writer from rural Iowa who has never had the pleasure of meeting you. I also happen to be a rape survivor and this is why I am writing you this letter tonight, as my children play in the other room and I sit at my computer crying silent tears as to not alarm them.

I've meant to sit down and write these words for many months but the words have seemed to stick in my throat. Talking about one's rape, after all, is not something that often comes easily and I've dreaded the flash of memories that would come with my words.  Tonight, however, I told myself that I would push past the tears and write you the thank you letter that you deserve so very much.

My story is not so different from the millions of other stories that are told, often to deaf ears. Twenty one years ago, one day after my seventeenth birthday, I was brutally raped. I have carried the horror of that night in relative silence for twenty years, shrouded in shame. I would like to tell you that the nurses, doctors and police officers that I turned to at that time supported me, but that would be a lie. I was, instead, badgered about the fact that I had been drinking as an underage minor, asked over and over again about what I had been wearing and discouraged from filing charges simply because of the two beers that I had consumed illegally. My underage drinking, it seemed, was a far bigger sin than the violent rape that had followed the consumption of those two cheap, tepid beers.  I was shamed tremendously by those who should've supported me in the aftermath of the worst night of my life(The silver lining is that this was what inspired me to become a nurse, a calling that I love desperately).

In the months after my rape, I struggled with PTSD, anxiety and severe depression. I would try to take my own life seven times and was nearly successful. I thank God every morning that I am still here. I could not have known then that the rape would make me a stronger person and would lead me on the path that my life was meant to take.  The events of that bitterly cold Iowa night changed who I was and it would take me years to find my footing and begin to move forward again. Rape has a way of doing that, after all.  The violence and the sickening intimacy of sexual assault seems to change our very DNA and suddenly we are thrust into a club that we never wished entry to-- the circle, sickeningly large and diverse, of those that have been sexually assaulted. For many years, that club was my only support. I wish that I could tell you that friends and family offered their support, but that would also be a lie. Sexual assault has a funny way of chasing people away, as all such things with such stigmas will.

My senior picture, taken a few months after the rape. I looked normal from the outside, but inside was still suffering every minute of the day. 


You may wonder why I am telling you these things, Mr. Biden, although I am sure that you are no stranger to these stories thanks to the work that you have done. I feel compelled to tell you these things because your work to prevent further rapes has been one of the most healing events of my life. 

I have watched in awe as you talked passionately about consent. I wept as I read your beautifully compassionate letter to the Stanford rape victim. I stood in my living room and clapped and wooped at the screen as I watched you make strides to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.

I felt validated and healed by your work. It made me feel emboldened and for the first time, I decided to come out publicly as a survivor. In April of 2016, I wrote a post for the Huffington Post entitled A Thank You Letter to My Rapist.  In response to that piece, I received hundreds of letters, messages and e-mails-- many from people talking about their own sexual assault for the first time in their lives. I realized then how much more there is to be done, how many more survivors there are out there than any of us can imagine. The dozens upon dozens of sexual assault survivors that I have worked with as a nurse suddenly felt small in this ocean of survivors that I was now thrust into. I felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people that, like me, had been silent for so many years. Unfortunately, it also meant that I was bombard by messages of men sending me pictures of their genatalia, of men telling me that I was "too ugly to have every been raped" or that I should've "relaxed and enjoyed it." I was so overwhelmed that I crawled back into bed for a day to hide from the world, which seemed again like a terrifying place for a woman to exist.

The next day, however, I crawled back out. Why? Because, after scrolling through my Facebook feed from the safety of my bed-- I saw you,Vice President Biden, passionately fighting the fight for all of us. It made me remember myself, as a seventeen year-old girl, scared and with no one to fight for her. I was determined to fight along side you, for that girl and all of the survivors that came before and after her. I am still determined, Sir, and that is in no small part thanks to you.

I want to thank you from the deepest part of my being, Mr. Biden. I know that I am not alone in my gratitude. You have championed our cause and have given us a voice that many of us haven't had before. You have helped me to strip away my shame and helped me to remember that I have nothing to be ashamed of, regardless of the societal stigma of rape and sexual assault. You have helped to prevent future sexual assaults, although statistics will never be able to show how many. You have started a verbiage around consent-- something that we've never seen before in my lifetime or in my mother's or grandmother's lifetimes. You've made the world safer for myself, and more importantly-- for my son and my daughters. Parents who sent their children off to college can now sleep a bit sounder in the knowledge that your work has reduced sexual assault on college campuses(although our work there may never be done). There are so many reasons that I, and many others, are thankful, Mr. Biden.

I watched tearfully as President Obama gave you the Presidential Medal of Freedom recently. I cried as I watched and then rewinded it to watch again with my children, thrilled as they cheered beside me in the safety of our living room. I cried because I wished that I had something so extraordinary to gift you with. I have no medal for you, Mr. Biden. What I do have is my fervent thanks and a promise that my own work to prevent sexual assault and help the survivors in the aftermath will never be done. 

I thank you,Vice President Biden, from the very bottom of my grateful soul. I promise to carry the torch in the best way that I can. May you be blessed for the rest of your life and may I get the great honor of meeting you someday in order to thank you in person.

All my love to you and yours,

Mandi




Friday, January 20, 2017

Let it Be

This post may contain affiliate links, you can find out more information here

When I was seventeen, I was raped. In the months and years that followed, I was enveloped in a blackness that cannot be described to anyone who has not suffered in the same way. Lost in the symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety, I was so desperate that I attempted to take my own life. I am so grateful that I survived and lived on. 

In the months following my suicide attempt, I found many ways to heal and keep my mind focused on the good of life, instead of falling back down the black spiral. One of those ways was by finding music that fed my soul and I found The Beatles during that time. Their song, 'Let it Be' has been a touchstone of mine for many years and is, in fact, my current ringtone on my phone. 


Battling with mental illness and the impact of trauma takes much more than just listening to upbeat music, of course. It has taken years of therapy, medication and many other means of healing. However, when I find myself feeling anxious, scared and unsure of the world at large and can feel myself slipping slowly into the darkness again, I take heart in the words- 

Let it be.
Let it be. 
Yeah, there will be an answer. 
Let it be. 

I am here more than twenty years following my rape and suicide attempts to tell you that there is no place so dark that you cannot find the light again. 

Seek help. 
Seek hope. 
There will be an answer. 
Let it be. 

You can get your own inspirational t-shirt at Cents of Style here
Be sure to use the code INSPIRE17 to get 50% off and get free shipping. (January 20th through January 22nd, 2017 only)

And, please remember-- if you are suffering, seek out help. There are people available 24 hours per day that would love to talk to you if you are struggling. There is no shame in needing help.  I will link up some helpful sites below. The world needs YOU. I am here to tell you that there is joy and love on the other side of your pain. All of my love to you. 

Mandi

RAINN's National Sexual Assault hotline- available for chat online or phone calls 24 hours per day. Go here

The Suicide Prevention Hotline- available for chat online or phone calls 24 hours per day. 
Go here.

Both of the above sites are completely confidential. Someone out there is sitting by their phone or computer just waiting to get the honor of talking to you today if you need help. If you are struggling, I send you so much love.  



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Life, Death & Compassion



They talk about nurses eating their young(older nurses giving new nurses a baptism by fire of sorts and making their early nursing careers hell) and I experienced a bit of that but much more so have experienced having nurses that want to teach me absolutely everything they know. 

In nursing school during my intensive care rotation I was assigned to what was then called the CT-SICU- the Cardiac Trauma Surgical Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Des Moines, IA. It opened my eyes forever. As a rural Iowa girl, I had never seen a gunshot wound close-up and here I was caring for multiple victims. I felt like I was inside a television drama, it was so surreal. 

The nurses took me under their wing when they realized that I wanted to learn everything I could and I found myself called into rooms here and there to experience all kinds of amazing things like the bandage change with a wound nurse where I gently placed my hand inside a patient's back to change his dressings and could feel his lungs inflate against my hands. I was in awe of the human body and spirit at the same time that I was horrified by the terror that we humans cause other humans. 

The nurses on this unit were often jaded and weary and tired. They seemed oddly buoyed by my naïveté and would listen kindly as I asked fervent questions. 

I often would stay after the other students in my class had left. The other nurses wanted me to follow the wound care nurse and see a unique case...so many reasons that they wanted me to stay. My instructor didn't want me to stay after she left, but I just wanted to learn and I would stay and follow one particular nurse, with chronically smeared glasses and a big heart, around. I am ashamed to say that I cannot remember her name.

One evening we were holding vigil at the side of a young man that was dying from gunshot wounds. They had not yet found his family or friends and he was going to die whether alone or with them. We were not his blood or kin nor had we ever met him before, but this nurse said that we would hold vigil. 

He was on full life support and had been unconscious when someone drove to the ER entrance and dumped his body out of the car and onto the sidewalk and had never opened his eyes since. We didn't know his identity. He looked like a young teenage boy, maybe 15. 

We huddled around his bed, doing all of the things required to keep him alive-- managing the machines that kept him breathing, his fluids, his BP- while also talking to him and singing to him and reassuring this young man/boy whose identity we knew that we may not find while he was living. I became tearful many times and scooted quietly out of the room to calm myself. The doctor had told us that he had mere hours left to live and our actions were as much to soothe his soul as to care for his body. 

While in the hallway, I heard many of the other staff. They were making fun of the nurse and I that were taking care of this young man. I heard snippets from the doctors and nurses talking about how this young man was surely a gang-banger and didn't deserve this compassion. I was horrified. In my naiveté, I had imagined healthcare workers to have had boundless compassion. I was witnesses for the first time, the other side of healthcare, the jaded and exhausted side. 

But, that nurse, the lovely nurse who had taken me under her wing and was consoling a child who may never really hear her, told me a truth that I have carried with me for always. She told me that all humans have compassion. Some more and some less. We all carry the compassion that we are comfortable with and if we were to judge those in the hallway damning our actions, we were also judging them without compassion. 

And, so- we forgot those men in the hallway and we sang and calmed and loved on the boy we'd never met who in lay in the hospital bed before us until he took his final breath. 

I will never forget that moment, as long as I live. I was honored to hold that young man, a complete stranger, in his final moments. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, Same Old Me



So many people make resolutions on New Year's Day. I have in the past but always crashed and burned when reality set in(often in the cold, dark days of February) and my failed resolution never failed to make me feel like absolute shit.

This year, there will be no resolutions for me. This year, I'm committing to be more of myself, not committing to change every damn thing that isn't perfect. Resolutions don't serve me, they simply make me feel worse and that isn't the spirit of a fresh start to me.

I am, however choosing a feeling to guide myself. I use Danielle LaPorte's Desire Map to refine my core desired feelings and then chose one of those guide all my decisions in the coming months. I chose the word ascension.

Why ascension? When I think of that word, the feeling of ascension, I think of my soul rising in joy, in creativity, in love. Of becoming the higher being that I've been striving towards my entire life. I feel free and unencumbered when the word crosses my lips.

So, this new year I am determined to ascend, to rise into myself. There will be no "new me" this year because, dammit, I don't need to aspire to fit more into the box that society tries to fit me into. This year I will be more ME, which likely means I'll fit less into that box than ever before.

Many will resolve to become smaller this year. I resolve to ascend to higher heights than ever before.

Here's to 2017, Loves. May you ascend alongside me. Give me a wave as you float on past.