As I pushed my cart out of the Walmart parking lot this morning, racing to avoid the heat, and humming to my sleeping four month old, I felt the need to share something with everyone. I am happy. That is it. I have been through hell and back, and I am happier now than I have ever been, at any point in my life. I’m so happy and blessed that I get choked up on a weekly basis. From the outside, you might say I’m kinda down on my luck. I lost my Dad almost four years ago, got diagnosed with MS, foreclosed on my house, had a child go through three surgeries in two years, and am in a family of four living on a trooper’s salary. However, I see it the other way. I see myself as someone who has been blessed beyond belief, and I am thankful for it every day.
You see, I used to “have it all”. And let’s just start with the first sentence of this story. “Pushed my cart out of Walmart…”. Back when I was 25 years old, I would not step foot into Walmart. I thought I was too good; too good for the clothes, the too good for the cheaper food and too good for the people. I was a young, pretty, single girl making over $100,000/year. I was skinny, tan, and got to work out at a gym two hours a day. I got to run outside in the fresh air. I got to sleep as much and as often as I wanted. Both my parents were alive and well, and I had a great relationship with my siblings. I bought a house, and could buy anything else I wanted without giving it a second thought. I could date, travel, work, and visit friends and family at my leisure. I loved the summer. I loved the beach, the pool, the sand, the ocean, the heat on my skin and the smell of suntan lotion. It all sounds perfect, but there was one flaw; one black cloud hanging over my “perfect’’ life. I was depressed. Seriously depressed. Like, visit the ER once a year wanting to kill myself depressed. But WHY? It didn’t make sense. What more could I possible want? What more could I possibly need? I will tell you what I needed, I needed some perspective. And, like a flash flood, I got it in droves.
You could say my family’s “bad luck” started a few months before my wedding, when my mom was diagnosed with melanoma and had half her nose chopped off. Or, you could say it started when I was 12, when my dad was diagnosed with cancer the first time. Pick a starting point, and I will give you a list of devastating events that happened to my family. However, after going through more in my 35 years than I ever thought was possible, I am now finally truly happy.
I’ll give you a quick summary of the last seven years. I was forced to quit my job where I made 100K, and started teaching; making 35K. My mom survived the melanoma, but had six painful surgeries on her face. In the first year of his life, my eldest son had constant medical issues, and all the while my father was dying of cancer. From the time we found out about the return of my dad’s brain tumor, to the time of his death, my family suffered greatly; watching him gradually lose control of his mind and body. He passed away four months after it came back, when my eldest son was 9 months old. Then, right after my son’s first birthday, I got diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I signed my bankruptcy papers while I was in the hospital. I foreclosed on my house, and moved in with family. My husband decided to give up on his business, and join the State Police, where we would have guaranteed medical benefits. That pretty much sums up the lowlights of the past few years. I can’t go outside unless it is cooler than 70 degrees. I have to wear tight clothes or I can’t even function because of my painful skin. I miss so much with my sons. We are a family of four living on a trooper’s salary because I can’t work as much as I need to because of my MS. However, I have never been happier and I will tell you why.
First, let’s start with the money. Because my dad passed away, my mom was able to give us a huge down payment on a brand new house. A house with high ceilings to keep the air flowing and keep my burning skin feeling tolerable. Still, we live on a tight budget and have credit card debt. But you know what? I love it! I love not being stressed about trying to save money. I love shopping sales. I love that my husband can’t afford to go to the gym, so he BUILT one in our garage. I love that my husband and I have very generous families, and my kids have more toys and clothes than they even need. I love that my husband doesn’t have a three hour commute and gets to spend more time with us. I love that I don’t feel like I need to keep up with the Jones’ on fashion or cars or anything else because I know that I simply cannot afford it. I love that my husband works hard, works overtime, and works on his days off to provide for us. Why? Because it gives him a sense of pride. He knows he is doing everything he can to take care of his family, and he knows we love and appreciate him for it. I am happy because I have perspective. I know that money does not buy happiness.
Secondly, the MS. Yes. Multiple Sclerosis sucks. It sucks big time. My fingers are getting weak now; making it difficult to type. My middle finger on my left hand isn’t working. I cannot go outside 8 months out of the year. I can’t go to visit people if I don’t know them well enough to ask them to turn their A/C down to 68. I’ve missed graduations and wedding receptions. I can’t go to the beach, or the pool. I can’t go for a run and I can’t do any cardio exercise because I get too hot and I get weak. So, I am pale, and I am 30 lbs heavier than my “perfect” 25 year old self. I miss so much with my older son because I can’t go outside with him. My skin hurts so bad sometimes that it literally feels like I am being burned all over with a hot iron. I am not exaggerating. That is a fact. I cannot wear my beautiful hair down sometimes because it hurts my back. I have to wear tight clothes, even with my extra weight from my babies, because if I don’t my skin hurts so bad that I cannot function. But still, I am happier than I was five years ago. I am happy because I have a wonderful husband, and amazing family and friends who take my son to do the things I can’t. So, not only is Jordon not really missing out, but he is gaining special relationships with all of these other important people in his life. Relationships he may not have built if I were able to do everything with him. I am happy because tight tank tops are cheap. I am happy because I can’t wear jewelry. I am happy that I have best friends who don’t care what I wear. I am happy that I don’t have to spend money on cute clothes because I can’t wear them. I am happy because I bought tight tank tops at Walmart last week for $1. I am happy that I have family and friends who will gladly freeze their butts off to ensure I can participate in gatherings. I am happy because I have perspective. I am thankful that I can still walk, see, and function on my own, because, it is a very real possibility that some day, I may not.
Lastly, my dad. I miss my dad so much it hurts. I can’t explain it, but if you have lost someone, you know. It hurts. However, my mom is still here and still cancer free. Also, I have an amazing husband who got to know my dad. I have a son who as a baby, cheered up my dad when he was in the nursing home. I have two sons, and I prayed for them both. My first son was a threatened miscarriage, and I had a miscarriage before I conceived my second son. Yes, I lost my father. However, God gave me two perfect baby boys to help fill the hole in my heart. My sons are happy and healthy. They have an amazing father. I have my own family now with my husband, step-daughter and two sons. I have my mom and my brother and his family, I have my sister, and I have my husband’s entire family. I have more best friends than I can count. I am lucky and blessed to have so many people in my life who care about me and my family. I know this is more than some people will even come close to having.
So, when I walked out of Walmart this early morning, trying to beat the heat, wearing my Walmart brand tight clothes, and looking down at my fat belly and cringing as the sun hit my skin, I got choked up. I got choked up because I had a perfect, sleeping 4 month old in my cart. I got choked up because when I pulled into the driveway my 4 year old greeted me with a huge smile and told me he loved and missed me. I got choked up because my husband was working out in our garage, and as I walked passed him with our baby he kissed me and told me he loved me. I got choked up because I walked into my cold house with high ceilings and felt instant relief from the pain in my skin, and felt grateful for my mom’s generosity. I felt grateful because my 4 year old got to play outside with his dad today. I felt grateful because I heard an Eagles song on the radio on the way home and thought of my dad in heaven. I felt grateful because I saw the donuts on the top of the refrigerator and thought of my best friend I’ve had for over 20 years, who I got to see yesterday. I felt grateful because I looked around the house, at the pictures of my extended family and felt love. Yes, I physically hurt. Yes, we stress about money. Yes, I fight with my husband. But, I love my life. I am finally, really, truly, purely happy.