Happy Thanksgiving: 10 Things I’m Most Grateful For

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! I hope all of you around the world are having a great day, regardless if you celebrate our American holiday or not.

It’s been a difficult year, but I’m blessed to have so much to give thanks for, anyway. I decided to take a quick break from helping with meal prep (a minor assistant role to my Master Chef mother!) to jot down a list of what I’m most grateful for.

Apple pie from scratch! I try to save most of my stomach space for this and the pumpkin pie. 😉

  1. My family.

    They’ve been there for me since day one. I’m so lucky we get along so well. With them, every day is amazing fun like a party, but every second nurtures and fills my soul. They’ve helped me become the woman I am. They’ve believed in me so strongly I’ve had no choice but to believe in myself, and they’ve built that confidence and drive in me since infancy. I love you, guys. ❤

  2. My friends.

    Like my family, they have helped me to become who I am today. I can’t believe I’ve had the same best friends for 20 years. How lucky am I? We’ve gone from children to adults together, sharing every important moment together and supporting each other when we needed extra strength. I love them more with each day. We have just as much fun now planning weddings and navigating transitions as we did building snowmen and playing Barbies as kids.

  3. Oreo & Chad

    Even though now, they are both our angel babies, I am grateful for their huge impact on my life (and the world at large, of course). Perhaps our babies belong with #1, but they are a different, more adorable species, so I think they can have their own category. Our babies are guinea pigs–see this poem to read just how much they mean to me. Our babies–both so different and wonderful–have awakened a new type of love in me. Though I can be, um, “motherly” to others I love, there’s nothing like loving a (guinea pig) baby. They have enriched my life on such a deep level; they are the embodiment of love. They have me wrapped around their little paws, if you couldn’t tell.

  4. My Faith & God

    This grows stronger for me each year, as I witness miracles and kindness, even in the midst of tragedy. He has always been there for me, even when I wasn’t paying as much attention to Him as I should have been. He saved me, in more ways than one, and I think He brought me back to do good–and I think that is through:

  5. My Writing & Speaking

    Communication is vital to all of our lives, and we often take it for granted until it’s taken away from us. I’m grateful mine has come back in such a way–I have so much to say, and I can’t wait to share it all. I always feel like I have more to do; it’s a never-ending quest to listen and speak, through voice or written words. Dear readers, you are an integral part of this! Thank you for listening to what I have to say and encouraging me to move onward in this journey.

  6. Books

    Books have been an integral part of my life, shaping the way I think and the person I want to be. They bridge continents and eras, connecting our human existence and making sense of this crazy thing called life.

  7. My Job & Coworkers

    I’m so blessed to have a job where I get to do what I love every day: writing, editing, public speaking, and events. I’m doing it all in a place I believe in passionately–Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital–and I get to apply my skills to fundraising and publicity purposes for this wonderful place. The icing on the cake that I did not expect (but should have!) is that I LOVE my coworkers. Several of them have become very dear friends.

  8. Nature

    I’m constantly inspired by nature. It’s as alive and changing as humanity itself, and its unpredictable beauty and nurturing are gifts to us. I’ve been lucky to have several adventures in forests, mountains, and oceans, over the last year, and I’ve truly learned that every leaf, rock, and sky is uniquely awe-inspiring.
    On a less poetic note–or perhaps, since it’s Greek mythology, it is poetic still–I was even a Dryad for Halloween this year, wrapping my limbs in vines and hair in flowers. I feel my full integration into nature is progressing well.

  9. Love

    Life is funny, and relationships don’t always work out how you plan them. Despite the pain of when they end, I’m still grateful to have had the experiences. They’ve taught me what I need and want out of life, and they’ve helped to shape me in important ways. As a writer and reader who adores love stories, I’ve learned to adore true love, even if I don’t know where it will lead. 🙂

  10. My Health

    Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory, especially with my recent reflective post about my TBI. Against all odds (<5%), I have survived a near-fatal injury, and against even greater odds, I am living a beautiful, healthy life. This is another one we take for granted, and every time I’m having a bad hair day (so many days), I remind myself that there was a time when I had no hair on one side of my head–boy, how it grew back with gusto. I’m looking forward to having it long enough soon to donate. I am blessed and very grateful.

 

Thanks for reading my list of gratitude, readers. What are YOU most grateful for? Have a wonderful holiday season; talk to you soon. I think I smell some pies that are ready for my sampling. ❤

 

 

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BIAIL Fashion Show + Top 10: Favorite Things About Having My Blog After One Year

Hello, dear readers! I hope you had a fabulous weekend! I had the honor and pleasure of modeling for the Brain Injury Association of Illinois’s Annual Fashion Show for the second year in a row. As a TBI survivor, disability awareness has become really important to me, and I was so happy to help with such a great cause. The organization is a special one to me, and this event–run so well by heads Philicia Deckard and Ginny Doran Lazarra–always brings together compassionate people and organizations, making it fun to network and socialize (not to mention dress up in pretty outfits). This year, I got to model three gorgeous dresses from Pink Slip Boutique.

Models on the runway

I loved getting to see and chat with Alicia Roman again this year. (I am unashamedly name-and-photo-dropping.) She is a meteorologist for NBC5, and she was the emcee again for the event. She does a great job of being warm to the crowd and models (even asking me over the mic if I was OK when my shoe got stuck in the runway–yes, graceful me) as well as being impassioned about the cause.

Alicia and me after the show

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This weekend was also important to me for another reason:

It marked the one-year anniversary of the creation of my blog! In some ways, I can’t believe it’s already been a year. However, when I look back at my entries over the past year, I realize I’ve put a lot of work and pride into my blog. I am so grateful to all of you, dear readers, for impelling me onward to continue posting. Every comment and view is a validation of my work–so thank you for making it worthwhile. ❤

As happy nostalgia washed over me, I realized this would make for a great Top 10 for this week (my last Top 10 till May!). Below, please enjoy my Top 10 favorite bloggy things. 🙂 Tomorrow marks the beginning of my double-challenge for April: NaPoWriMo + A-to-Z, which means a poem each day (except Sunday), focusing on consecutive alphabetic topics (or forms). I will do my best to complete all 26, but I’m also working on my novel plus my memoir plus, you know, life–but I look forward to the challenge. It was a productive blast for me last year. 🙂

Top 10: Favorite Things About Having My Blog After One Year

1. Making new friends

One of the most unexpected perks of having my blog has been meeting fellow bloggers (or commentators) who have become my friends. I’ve really enjoyed connecting with so many of you, whether it be through writing about similar topics, participating on blog tours together, comments, etc.

2. Keeps me writing

Having to keep up with my blog keeps my writing sharp, and it’s really helped me to develop my voice. My “blogging voice” has settled somewhere in the intersection of the tones of my critical essay, memoir, and conversational writing. My readers’ responses have helped me to nail that down–so again, thank you. ❤

3. Free writing workshops!

It is beyond awesome to receive feedback on my writing from readers who are actually interested in my work. Getting different viewpoints and constructive criticism helps me to tighten my work (often helping me to eliminate those flowery-sappy holes I can fall into and not notice on my own 😉 ). Similarly, I also enjoy offering feedback to other writers. It’s like an online version of a classroom workshop.

4. Opens up my perspective on memoir, etc.

I’ve discovered I often find news or literary items I have an emotional response to that I want to write about on my blog. In the past, I might have an emotional response and not explore the depths of it like I have here. That exploration has deepened my own understanding of how my life or societal events have shaped me, which is very helpful, indeed, for writing my memoir.

5. Online portfolio

I love having a collection of my work all housed on my URL, where I can point people who want to see my work. The site is all mine, and the work I show is how I wish to represent myself as a writer. If, a few years later, I look back and wonder how I could ever have been so SAPPY, for instance, I can simply take it down–it’s a comfort granted when you choose to bare yourself to the world (lending us bloggers a bit of courage). 🙂

6. Experience as a book blogger

When I began my blog, I thought I’d write a little about my opinions on books, but I didn’t imagine I’d be an official Book Blogger. I’ve had the wonderful experience of being an official book reviewer for Novel Publicity & Co., which has been terrific. In addition to being able to use my blog as an official reviewing platform, I’ve also been exposed to books I never would have picked up on my own, broadening my perspective and taste. Receiving free books and publicity have been great perks, too. 😉

7. Challenges

Blog challenges (like NaPoWriMo) have pushed me outside of my comfort zone as both a writer and a reader, which invariably leads to my growth. Having a network of people doing the same thing gives us inspiration and encouragement to persevere, even when it’s tough!

8. Organization of my life’s events and writings–and how they intertwine

In reviewing my last year of entries, I realized another unexpected benefit of having my blog was seeing how my life’s events, writings, and cultural responses (like reviews I wrote) all intertwined and influenced each other. It’s kind of like a personal version of that introduction section in book anthologies that explain what was going on in society when an author wrote a work–“No man is an island,” and it’s neat to see where my inspirations have come from.

9. Able to share (give and get!) advice as TBI survivor & writer

I’ve always hoped to be a disability advocate, especially since my own Traumatic Brain Injury. Happily, I get to do that at my job at Marianjoy when I write patient stories and other articles. However, I’ve also enjoyed doing it right here on my blog. It’s nice to be able to write about issues that are important to me–even more so when I get a response that my writing has touched someone in some way. I’ve learned in addition to teaching, too–I really appreciate when people respond with their own life experiences, lending their perspective. The community broadens me as a person.

10. Pushes my creativity

This blog constantly pushes my creativity, impelling me to expand the way I think about writing. The nature of blogging has caused me to think in a much more “multimedia” fashion, once I realized how graphics can enhance a blog’s message. Also, I’m always having to think about writing new things in new ways to maintain–hopefully, increase–reader interest (I hope I’m doing a good job!) 🙂

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I hope you enjoyed my list as much as I enjoyed everything on it, dear readers–and you’ve made it all possible. Thank you.

Please join me tomorrow–and throughout April–for my A-to-Z and NaPoWriMo writings!

Christmas Snow Globe: A Reflection on Christmas Blessings

Good morning, dear readers! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. I will share the details of my fabulous holiday soon (thank you loved ones for making it so), but today’s post is a reflection on my Christmas eight years ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Marianjoy held its annual Patient Christmas Party two weeks ago. It was lots of fun, including skits and carols. A coworker-friend of mine wrote a parody of the “Wassailing” song that we all performed; it was hilarious and went over really well. 🙂

We got to wear costumes if we wanted to, which of course means I did:

I dressed as an angel! My mom sewed the dress for me in high school, and my dad made the halo. I’ve worn the wings so many times they’re a little droopy. 😉

But the most special part of the event, for me, was the opening reflection. I asked our Spiritual Director if I could write a piece to share at the party, and she invited me to open the event.

As soon as we arranged it, I was intimidated. My mission was pure enough: I wanted to share some inspirational insights about hope at this time of year. No one *wants* to spend Christmas in a hospital–but if you look at it in a different way, it may be the most special Christmas you’ll ever have.

When I spent Christmas as an inpatient at Marianjoy eight years ago, it was such a unique experience. (I was discharged just a few days later.) I hadn’t planned it, of course, but it wasn’t cold or clinical–it was warm, friendly, encouraging, and full of love–all the things Christmas should be.

So I, the writer, the girl who is always talking, sat frozen at my keyboard for weeks, trying to think of how to put this into words. It was so important to me to get it right. Not only would my whole audience be experts on the subject, but the gift I wanted to give them was abstract and elusive, a long-shot: hope.

I must have gotten it at least a little right, because I had a lot of applause and people coming up to me afterwards thanking me for sharing it–patients, coworkers, the CEO, former therapists, nurses, and doctors. It was a terrific experience; better than I’d hoped for. 🙂

My writer’s block finally disappeared when I thought of the central image, which you can find in the title below. I hope you enjoy my speech. 🙂

“Christmas Snow Globe”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

Christmas in a hospital is kind of like a snow globe:

Frozen Snowglobe

(then I shook this snow globe, a Christmas present to Jennifer and me)

Your whole world is turned upside-down. You feel as if you’re suspended in a schedule of personal flurry, too busy with the rituals of therapy to notice that time is passing outside of your dome. And suddenly—it’s Christmas.

And—when you pause for a moment to catch your breath—you feel it. You’re not alone. You are surrounded by love and hope.

You might expect to hear something like this out of someone from the Marketing Department. But the way I really know this is I was a patient here myself eight years ago, due to a severe Traumatic Brain Injury that gave me only a 5% chance at survival.

When I came to Marianjoy, I was out of the danger zone, but I wasn’t back to myself, or back to my life. It was a transition, between nearly dying and nearly living. And I certainly hadn’t anticipated spending Christmas here.

For me, Christmas has always been about being home with family. But while I was here, I discovered a new family. I saw it in the compassionate faces of the therapists. I felt it in the healing touch of the doctors. I even tasted it, in the peppermint bark another patient had made for me, surprisingly—candy she guarded so closely that she gave my father strict instructions not to eat it before giving it to me. I guess she had a sixth sense about my father’s sweet tooth.

And I realized—I was spending Christmas here with my family, with this place that has become a home to me. It’s a family I have been blessed with, a gift I did not anticipate receiving that Christmas along with my life. Yes, Marianjoy is like a family to me—and, much like the in-laws who suggest staying after Christmas into New Year’s—they can’t get rid of me.

And so—I know this may not be how you planned to celebrate Christmas. But take it from someone who has been on this journey before: there is beauty all around you. In this snow globe—you are loved. There is hope here. We even asked for some fresh snow today. This transition is a special time in your life—and in a funny way, it is a gift. I will never forget the Christmas I spent here, and I hope yours is just as special. Merry Christmas.

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I hope you liked it, dear readers. Good luck on your New Year’s Eve preparations! If you’re not back here before then, I wish you a happy New Year full of peace, love, good health, and prosperity. ❤

Merry Christmas: Top Ten Holiday-Spirit Books

Merry Christmas, dear readers! I hope those of you who celebrate it are having a fun time. My family, friends, and coworkers have slowly been celebrating it all month long, and yet I miss it already, and it’s not even over yet! Last night, my family, a couple of coworkers, and I went to the Christmas Eve Mass at the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters’ chapel–the commute from work was fantastic (it’s in the same building…). It was a lovely event with candles, carols, and a nice sermon.

But who’s ready to be done with the Christmas spirit? Not I! The Huffington Post shared a list of their top 12 picks for books that will get you in the holiday spiritI thought that was a wonderful idea, so I also polled my friends as to their top picks. Below, I am posting a conglomeration of their picks. I will note where each is from.
(All pictures are from Amazon. Click to purchase and read summaries.)

The festivity won’t end today, not on this blog! I will continue to sprinkle holiday-related posts through the New Year, so don’t put away the holiday sweaters just yet.

Top Ten Holiday-Spirit Books

1. Winter Dreams, Christmas Love by Mary Francis Shura

Recommended by my coworker Erin

“It is a little-known, wonderful young adult love story,” says Erin. I’ve never heard of this one, but I’d like to check it out. (Used copies of this one may be more affordable than new.)

2. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Recommended by my friend Chris

This children’s book is a hit with all ages, and if you’ve only seen the movie, you owe it to yourself to read this book and experience the quiet majesty in the pages.

3. The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Recommended by many people–one our dad used to read to Jennifer and me each year on Christmas Eve ❤

This book captures the ageless excitement and anticipation of Christmas, making it more of a family book than a children’s book.

4. The Jesse Tree (by Catherine Fournier) & The Bible

Recommended by my fellow blogger friend Misty

“It is a daily activity starting on Dec 1 that you do with the kids that covers little Bible stories leading up to Jesus’s birth,” Misty explains. “So our main Christmas book would be the Bible. You make handmade ornaments that the kids hang on the tree to help them make a connection with each different story. It’s been really fun this year!” Sounds like a meaningful way to have fun this season. 🙂

5. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Recommended by my friend Amy L.

I couldn’t describe this better than Amazon’s own description: “The Velveteen Rabbit is a timeless tale of friendship, love, acceptance and honesty. When the world seems uncertain, Margery Williams’s classic story reminds all of us what really matters. The Velveteen Rabbit’s journey through love and loneliness to become who he was really meant to be is a story that inspires us all on our own journey to Real.” I cried at this story when I was little; I’m not sure I could even make it through at my age now, since I somehow broke “growing up” and am more sensitive now than when I was younger. 😉
The Christmas theme comes in here because the titular Rabbit is a Christmas present. ❤

6. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Recommended by my friend Amy L.

Amazon’s description is lovely: “No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better than The Snowy Day. Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever.” Misty says she reads this to her schoolchildren every year. 🙂
We certainly have been having a lot of snow in our region this year, and I will say I miss viewing it with childhood fondness vs. adult frustration. Although, we have been enjoying it this year a bit, with my coworkers throwing the occasional snowball at each other outside, as well as my sister and I having plans to build a real-life–snow version of this, our contest entry for her office’s Christmas party:

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Jennifer (right) and I love our Olaf (recreated from Disney’s Frozen)

7. The Mitten by Jan Brett

Recommended by my friend Amy L.

“Grandmother knits snow-white mittens that Nikki takes on an adventure. Readers will enjoy the charm and humor in the portrayal of the animals as they make room for each newcomer in the mitten and sprawl in the snow after the big sneeze.” -The Horn Book. Sounds adorable. 🙂

8. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

Recommended by me

I loved this even before it was a Disney movie. It’s one of my favorite fairy tales, and it holds cultural significance all around the world. It’s especially appropriate during the holiday season, not only for the snow, but also for its feel-good themes. As Amazon describes: “Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, the classic tale of friendship, love, and bravery, is full of magic and wonder.”

9. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Recommended by the Huffington Post

From my last post, you already know how integral this book has become to Christmastime world-round. This classic tale of greed and careful isolation turned to generosity and open love–and the love we get back–is an important reminder to people of all ages about the true meaning of Christmas.

10. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Recommended by the Huffington Post

This classic takes place in a land of eternal winter, frozen scenery and frozen hearts. Ironically, although “it’s always winter and never Christmas,” the themes and triumphs evoke Christmassy feelings.
This is sort of a children’s book, and sort of not. The language, scenery, and plot are accessible for children, and it’s an enjoyable adventure. The deeper symbolism, though, tells of sacrifice, courage, truth, and love–and it’s one of the truest “Christ stories” I’ve ever read.
(A “Christ story,” for lack of a better term, refers to a genre of literature that mirrors Christ’s journey of miraculous birth–or sometimes miraculous rebirth–spreading goodness and love throughout the land. I bet you’ve read many Christ stories without even knowing it–Frank Herbert’s Dune is another example.)
This story will always be special to me because it’s one of the first I read after my Traumatic Brain Injury, and it was inspirational and magical to me. 🙂

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I hope you enjoyed the list, dear readers, and maybe you will consider capping off your Christmas with one of these before bed. Check back on my blog over the next couple of weeks for some more holiday/winter-themed posts. Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at 170

Good evening, dear readers. I hope your weekend was lovely, and, if you’re lucky (like my sister, for instance), your break may continue through the holidays. Mine will not, but Marianjoy has been doing so full of festive celebrations the last couple of weeks, that work has been extra fun. 🙂

I wanted to share this wonderful history a fellow blogger (“Interesting Literature”) posted about the history of “A Christmas Carol,” which just celebrated its 170th birthday a few days ago. Not only is it timely, but it’s especially relevant to my family. This is a tale we have enjoyed ever since I was little, and it’s become as integral to our thoughts of Christmas as it has to worldwide culture. In fact, my dad has watched different versions of the movie three times in the last three days–I kid you not. I watched it with him today, while we drank holiday-blend coffee. 🙂

Please enjoy this fascinating account of the timeless tale and the history that surrounds it.

Interesting Literature

A short summary of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and some fascinating trivia about the book

Charles Dickens’s classic Christmas tale A Christmas Carol was published over 170 years ago, in 1843. Since then, there have been countless stage, screen, and radio adaptations of the classic story. The first film adaptation was a short silent movie version in 1901, titled Scrooge; or, Marley’s Ghost. There have been opera and ballet versions, an all-black musical called Comin’ Uptown (1979), and even a 1973 mime adaptation for the BBC starring Marcel Marceau. The Muppets, Mickey Mouse, and Mr Magoo have all featured in adaptations of the book.

It wasn’t the first Christmas story Dickens wrote. It wasn’t even the first Christmas ghost story Dickens wrote. He’d already written ‘The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’, featuring miserly Gabriel Grub, an inset tale in Dickens’s first ever published novel, The…

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Happy Thanksgiving: Ten Things I’m Most Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! The holiday is almost over–and by the time I finish typing this post, it may well be over–but I do hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Like most families, we have certain traditions in our house when it comes to Thanksgiving. Our staples are basic, but as health-nut–foodies, we’ve tweaked “traditional” dishes into our own creations (most of this credit goes to my mom! <3).

Since we were little, our mom invited Jennifer and me into the kitchen to punch down her from-scratch bread dough once it’s risen. And since we were little, Jennifer and I have found the squishy texture hard to resist before it’s ready. It’s become a tradition in and of itself.

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Every year, my sister & I try to squish the dough before it’s ready. Sometimes, our mom stops us in time.

The meal turned out wonderfully, despite Jennifer’s and my mischievous attempts. The menu: turkey, stuffing, white bread, cranberry sauce, pumpkin muffins, cranberry muffins, steamed green beans, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and apple pie–along with pear wine that I picked up in South Haven with Lindsey and Megan. Absolutely delicious, all of it!

Actually, I was lucky enough to enjoy not one, but two Thanksgivings this year.

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The “kids” at Jeremiah’s family’s Thanksgiving, left to right: Jeremiah, me, Sarah, Jessie, and Alex.

I had a lot to be grateful for this year. The Broke and the Bookish suggested a “Top Ten” this week that I think is very appropriate.

Top Ten: Things I’m Grateful For
(in no particular order)

1 & 2: Family and Friends

My former classmate and fellow blogger, Frank, put it best in his “grateful things” post: “friends who are like family and family who are like friends.” I really couldn’t have put it better myself. Both have shaped my life tremendously, in the ways they support and guide me–and I like to think I do the same for them. I’ve been blessed to have wonderful relationships with both family and friends that have evolved over the years, only getting better as our lives become more developed and more full. These categories overlap, too: eight years ago, my friends cooked and brought a full Thanksgiving dinner to the hospital for my family. Even if we don’t have as much room in our schedules to be together now, they take up more room than ever in my heart. ❤ I LOVE YOU ALL!!! ❤ ❤

3: Oreo & Chad

Perhaps our babies belong with #1, but they are a different, more adorable species, so I think they can have their own category. Our babies are guinea pigs–see this poem to read just how much they mean to me. Our babies–both so different and wonderful–have awakened a new type of love in me. Though I can be, um, “motherly” to others I love, there’s nothing like loving a (guinea pig) baby. They have enriched my life on such a deep level; they are the embodiment of love. They have me wrapped around their little paws, if you couldn’t tell.

4: Jeremiah & His Family

Similar to #1 & 2, I’ve known them a long time (eight years!) and my relationship with each of them gets better every day (or for the most part, as romances go! 😉 ). I’m lucky to have such a supportive boyfriend who doesn’t mind when I fall into my fantasy worlds I’m writing where there is no cell phone reception…or food…or blinking. Always supportive, always devoted, always loving. Not to get mushy, but I LOVE YOU Jeremiah. (OK, I’m always mushy…you know this by now, dear readers.) I’m so lucky that this package deal includes his family–I’m close with each one of them. His sisters are among my best friends!

Readers, I’ve RUN OUT OF TIME, so in an uncharacteristic move, the rest of the list will be brief!

5: My Faith & God

He has always been there for me, even when I wasn’t paying as much attention to Him as I should have been. He saved me, in more ways than one, and I think He brought me back to do good–and I think that is through:

6: My Writing & Speaking

Communication is vital to all of our lives, and we often take it for granted until it’s taken away from us. I’m grateful mine has come back in such a way–I have so much to say, and I can’t wait to share it all. Dear readers, you are an integral part of this! Thank you for listening to what I have to say and encouraging me to move onward in this journey. ❤

7: Books

Books have been an integral part of my life, shaping the way I think and the person I want to be. They bridge continents and eras, connecting our human existence and making sense of this crazy thing called life.

8: My Job & Coworkers

I’m so blessed to have a job where I get to do what I love every day: writing, editing, public speaking, and events. I’m doing it all in a place I believe in passionately–Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital–and I get to apply my skills to fundraising and publicity purposes for this wonderful place. The icing on the cake that I did not expect (but should have!) is that I LOVE my coworkers. Several of them have become some of my very best friends.

9: Nature

I’m constantly inspired by nature. It’s as alive and changing as humanity itself, and its unpredictable beauty and nurturing are gifts to us.

10: My Health

Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory, especially with my recent reflective post about my TBI. Against all odds (<5%), I have survived a near-fatal injury, and against even greater odds, I am living a beautiful, healthy life. This is another one we take for granted, and every time I’m having a bad hair day, I remind myself that there was a time when I had no hair on one side of my head–boy, how it grew back with gusto (see frizzy picture above). I am blessed and very grateful. ❤

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I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving too, readers. I am grateful for each and every one of you. ❤

Miracle Day: Eight Years After My Traumatic Brain Injury

I’ve put off writing this post until this moment, because I wanted to make sure I enjoyed every. Single. Second. of Miracle Day.

“Miracle Day” is what I’ve decided to call November 21, 2005. It was the day I almost died–but I didn’t. Last summer, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare asked me to tell my story for their annual report. Please watch this short video to learn about my journey (mobile users, click here):

I feel bad for the video editors, who had to cut down 2+ hours of my speaking about my experience into two minutes. 😉 I think they did a great job, though. There’s so much I have to say about all of this; as you may recall, I’m working on my memoir of this experience now.

Words are my gift, my tool, and I had to fight hard to get them back. Initially, I couldn’t speak, except through the American Sign Language alphabet that Jennifer and I had taught each other (half-correctly) at ages 5 and 7. Even after I was no longer intubated, my throat was damaged and my words were sludgy in my mind. With the help of some amazing therapists and the encouragement of my family and friends, along with a lot of hard (rewarding) work, I was able to make a tremendous recovery. It was this experience that taught me just how crucial communication is, and that my gift with words might be a gift indeed. It gave me the courage to be a writer, because I finally saw a way to make a difference through my writing. And I’ve never stopped.

I feel like God gave me back my life for a reason, and I have a huge sense of destiny and duty to give back and help other people. I never feel like I can do enough, and sometimes I worry I’m not working hard enough or being good enough. I know that my memoir is part of that destiny, and that’s part of what intimidates me–but also excites me–about it.

Although I only had <5% chance of surviving that injury, and even less chance of recovering to any great extent, I did. I am incredibly grateful to God and every person who helped me to come back. Each day since then has been a gift, even the bad ones, because they are days I almost didn’t have. I don’t feel like I’m living on borrowed time, but rather gifted time. My loved ones are a huge part of that gift, and I’m going to love them as hard as I can (and tell them so) to thank them for making my life so worthwhile and for all they do to keep me alive–not just when I was in the hospital bed, but also in the way they nourish my spirit and give my life purpose.

Today, Jennifer voted to wrap me in a comforter and hold me in a rocking chair by the fireplace. While I appreciated the loving thought, we deemed this too sweaty and bulky an option. Kidding aside, I feel overwhelmed by the love, congratulations, and protectiveness that surge forth on this day from loved ones. I was surprised I actually managed to convince my dad to go shopping with me today–not the shopping itself (he has always gone shopping with us and has personally found many of our best pieces), but the leaving the house on the day. But, we did have a miracle to celebrate, after all.

In retrospect, a day that might have seemed mundane was actually quite symbolic–almost eerily so. This morning, my dad picked up a collared shirt for me from Wal-Mart for my country-themed birthday celebration coming up. Eight years ago, he also picked up a couple of collared shirts for me from Wal-Mart to wear during therapy at Marianjoy. When he got back today, we left to buy a ball gown I’ve been pining over for two years, which I plan to wear (spoiler alert!) to the next Marianjoy gala. It was a far cry from the hospital gowns I was wearing as a Marianjoy patient eight years ago. To go with those hospital gowns, eight years ago, my dad had to buy me high-top gym shoes to wear in the hospital so my feet stayed upright while I slept/the muscles didn’t pronate. Today, we went shopping for shoes for my job at that hospital. We even took a picture today in our nearby downtown area, with all the Christmas lights in the background wrapped around trees and poles–pretty different than pole lights and X-rays in my hospital room. Then we ended the night with pizza, which was my #1 requested food item at Marianjoy, which they were so sweet to accommodate. So maybe I’m just reading too much YA literature, or maybe I’m just trying to justify making my dad go shopping with me, but I thought the day was awesomely symbolic.

I never feel more grateful, blessed, or awe-struck than this day, each year. It’s a nice feeling to have–it makes me feel simultaneously small in the universe and hugely impactful, predestined but powerful, loved and loving. Thank you to my family, friends, doctors, nurses, therapists, and firemen who rescued me not just from death, but from a darkness I might have entered, too. And thank you to you, my dear readers, for following my journey. ❤