Gratitude as Expressed by an "Ex-Parolee"

Probation Reflections

Three weeks ago, I stood in front of a judge with some paperwork in hand. This was the proof I needed to show the judge that I had paid my due to society and needed to be relieved of my six-month probation. In less than two minutes, I was granted just that – a reprieve. Or was it really a reprieve? I look back at the incident that brought me to this very point in my life – an about-to-be-ex-parolee :-D.

It was the last week in April and I was on my way back home just before midnight, after a long, protracted flight from Chicago. I had retrieved my car from the airport parking lot and was making my home slowly. About two miles from my house, I felt a conviction in my spirit to not take the route I was used to but I disobeyed. On getting to an intersection, I did not notice that the traffic light had been replaced by those permanent red flashing lights due to the ongoing construction. I relied on my programmed reptilian pre-frontal cortex and ran the flashing red light. It did not even occur to me what I had done until the flashing red and blue light behind me woke me from my reverie. I was stopped by a cop.

Once he made his way to my window side, he asked me the fundamental question: “do you know why I pulled you over?” To which I had no answer because as of then, I really did not know why. He then went on to provide me with the reason. In fairness to me, the lights were recently installed (a fact that was verified by the officer) but that was no reason for me to have not come to a complete stop. After cards were exchanged (mostly one-sided – my driving license and proof of insurance), I was let go with a traffic fine of $250. My crime was a flashing red light violation caused by a momentary lapse in judgment and disobedience to my spirit-man.

And then the nightmares began. First, I replayed the scene over and over again in my head and beat myself over it – which was certainly not fun. Then, I let fear slowly creep in which metamorphosed to full-blown road anxiety that had me almost going into paralysis every time I saw a cop pass by. In the grand scheme of things, getting a moving violation should not be a big deal but I made it one. Which was compounded by the fact that I had to go in front of a judge to get permission to take defensive driving if I wanted the offense to not show on my records and affect my car insurance rates. This law was unique to the county in which I was pulled over.

My first court date was in May and I wore my lecture-best attire and was ready to flail myself in front of the judge to get what I needed. Years of watching law shows should probably come in handy, or I so I thought. On that hot day in May, I pleaded ‘no contest’ to the judge and asked for my special request to be allowed to do the defensive driving. Because I had no other infarctions within the past three years, I was granted this but it came with a condition – I was going to be on probation for six months and to appear in front of the judge during then with proof of defensive driving course completion.

Probation meant I could not get into any other trouble with the law. Specifically, I could not get another ticket, get into an at-fault crash, or violate any traffic laws. These restrictions are indeed the norm for those who abide by the law, but if you are already high on anxiety-fueled regret for already receiving a ticket, these restrictions make for a stressful situation. When the anxiety almost crippled me, I reached out to my small group and had them pray over me. With prayers also came confession, I had to be honest with myself that I had allowed my mistake to become a monster that was affecting every area of my life – especially my work as I began to second-guess and doubt everything.

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And slowly, I came back to the place of strength. I put my experience in context, acknowledging that I should be lucky that all I got away with was a ticket and the probation. What I did by running that red light could have potentially led to the loss of human lives. And with that also came gratitude and contemplation, which eventually leads me to the crux of today’s story.

I think when we make mistakes, we ought to retrace our steps and make the needed retributions. What we should not do is let the shame of these mistakes hold us back and become the essence of our lives and work. If we focused less on ourselves and more on what is outside of us, we can definitely be grateful for what worse could have happened at the moment we erred.

So a week before Thanksgiving and a few words from the judge, I was let off my probation with my husband jokingly now referring to me as an ex-convict. And for this experience, I still remain grateful. While the judge pronounced me free, I still consider myself perpetually under probation because it is just the amount of “restriction” I need to remain grateful of what worse could have happened when I ran that red light.

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Endometriosis, Thyroid Cancer, and Sunny Days

Seeing the Positive in Pain

Exactly around this time ten years ago, my life changed forever. It was both the beginning of something as well as its end thereof. I woke up with excruciating pain in my pelvic region as well as nausea that landed me in the ER and a few hours later, the OR for invasive surgery (laparotomy) to remove the tumors that had torsioned themselves on my right and left ovaries. My life had been “idyllic” before then. Except for some childhood interruptions, I was fairly healthy and was on track to make something of my life. But this surgery changed everything. And I would not have known how much until years after.

woman facing backward

From that moment since the surgery, pain became a constant fixture in my life. As I am averse to taking medications (thank God my job doesn’t rely on convincing people to take their meds, haha), I have had to live with the pain and manage it conservatively. While the surgery saved my ovaries and reduced that excruciating pain, its invasive nature came with complications such as pelvic adhesions, scar tissues, and recurring fluid in my pelvic cavity that I have had to keep undergoing additional surgeries to correct (six in total between 2012 and 2016). Then came the diagnosis of Stage 4 endometriosis to top it all off – a disease that mimics an autoimmune condition that greatly impacts your quality of life as a woman in your childbearing years.

Image result for endometriosis

Endometriosis and recurring ovarian cysts have not only made it difficult for me to conceive naturally but have also caused multiple pregnancy losses that have now led my codified team of healthcare providers at a loss of what to do with me. Treating the endometriosis will mean shutting down the activity of my lady parts to produce the right environment for conception. And attempts to fortify my fertility plans make my endometriosis go rogue which makes me unbearable to have around. I think you get the picture already.

Image result for infertility

At the beginning of all this madness, I always asked God “why.” Why did it have to be this way and why did it have to be me? But later on, especially when I gained more clarity plus I got tired of asking why, I reframed my area of questioning to “how.” How can I find purpose in my pain and use it to help others like me? Not to sound too cheesy and all-enlightened but this change in attitude has probably been one of the things that have saved my life to date. Especially on days when my thoughts don’t reflect who I really truly am and I feel like the most unlucky person in the world. By sharing my story (see herehereherehere, and here), which took a lot of courage, I have been able rid myself of a significant amount of shame I internalized regarding my fecundity. I have also found others like me who have responded positively to my clarion call, who let me know that I am not alone. In sharing my story, I also found some purpose and set myself free. Plus my outlook on life has since considerably changed. Given my rugged personality, pain has been useful in helping me slow down, focus on the essentials, and be mindful of the good times. That’s one part.

green grasses

I have always been drawn to C.S. Lewis and his matter-of-fact depiction of our human struggles, especially pain. He encountered a litany of painful experiences from losing his mother at a tender age, suffering from respiratory illness as a teenager, and losing his beloved wife, Joy Davidman, to cancer. C.S. Lewis books, especially A Grief Observed and The Problem of Pain helped me considerably cope with the pregnancy losses and chronic pain, respectively. In his book, The Problem of Pain, he shared the following words that are forever etched in my mind:

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

Sad, Longing, Love, Danbo, Danboard

And I also think certain painful experiences can certainly have a much greater and positive impact on us than we give them credit for. Take, for example, my coworker who broke her leg and had to endure the concomitant pain from that as well as adjusting to crutches. During her scans and whatnots, the doctors found a cancerous growth in her thyroid that could have become virulent if they had not caught it in time. So she had to undergo surgery quickly to remove that. If her leg didn’t get broken, I probably will be sharing a different story. And it makes you really put pain in a different context if you think deeply about her experience.

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As this decade comes to an end and the new year rolls in, we might be tempted to make certain kinds of wishes, like: “I want only good things to happen to me in the new year.” But think about it, if we had sunny weather all the time, everywhere will be a dry patch of desert – totally uninhabitable! The downpour of rain and snow pelting on us provide nourishment to the soil and our own hearts too. Without these, we won’t have seasons of growth, rest, renewed strength, and fruit-bearing. So when next you are tempted to make such a wish, might I suggest a slight modification? Like to say instead: “In this new year, I want some good things to happen to me as well.” Because there’s a lot to be learned in the bad times as well as the good times.

Be well,

Mo!

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I Suck at...

I suck at making decisions, especially when giving a plethora of options. For me, it’s not usually about what I end up choosing but what was forgone during the process of that choice-making. A classic example is shopping for anything on Amazon or Target, I end up with several tabs opened, with the products being compared by price, features, and sorted reviews. By the time I am done with this expedition, which is a feat in itself, I am not only exhausted but now full of the carnal knowledge of all there is to know about not only the product itself but also about the company’s policies especially towards animals. While such expeditions can be quite money-saving, considering the amount of research I put into it, they can be quite enervating and anticlimactic. Offline, I am no different with deciding on what to have for dinner, especially at restaurants with a plethora of choices on their menu list.  I quiz the maître-d on end, go on Yelp and look at the reviews of the restaurants and pictures associated with the menu. By the time I am done, my dinner companion is already almost done with their dessert.

Penguin, Tux, Animal, Bird, Cute

After sitting with myself for a bit, I decided I needed to make some changes. While I had some bit of fun researching prospective purchases, it was getting exhausting and dining out invitations were no longer rolling in like before. And change did come. Or specifically, I found something that made decision-making a lot better and less bloody than rolling a die.

Roll The Dice, Craps, Board Game, Points

But first, a little bit of background. The book, The Dice Man, by Luke Rhinehart, tells of us a story of the protagonist who lets the rolling of the dice decide his fate. Like every decision he makes (and a lot are too horrid to be listed) here were determined by the dice. Now, while I don’t certainly recommend this book, one thing I got from it is how a little randomness can go a long way to help in making better decisions. And whatever random factor we introduce is only a placeholder for the decisions we were going to make by ourselves in the first place, anyways. And leaving the decision to a random factor also adds an extra layer of uncertainty to the whole process – which could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

Now, because I didn’t want to go down the treacherous way of The Dice Man, rather than using the dice, I use the wheel instead. Really, unlike having to lug the dice with me, I can just go online and input my option in the wheel and let it roll.  So convenience really is why I use this option. Also, to keep things clean and make my decision-making easier, I try to limit my options to two or three. Most days, I go with what the wheel suggests at the first roll and on other days, I go with the best of five rolls.

Image result for dice man

I do have another option which I use as the second line of defense when I need to call the big shots. The name of the app itself connotes the seriousness of the problem I have if you don’t mind the expletives. Between these two apps, I have been able to reduce the stress associated with making some decisions by a significant amount. Now, note that with very big decisions, I am a little better at working with, however, it’s the small decisions like what color of the dress to buy or which friend should I call first that leave me too tired and exhausted to make big decisions.

I began using these two apps this year and they have served me well and I think their utility will last a very long time. As a matter of fact, I consulted them before putting this essay together given the hiatus I have taken from writing for a few weeks. See the app works!

Achieve, Woman, Girl, Jumping, Running

In any event, I hope you find some utility in any of the apps. If you do, please let me know.

Happy rolling!

Dice, Luck, Hand, Chance, Gamble, Risk

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