Perfectly us, four increases to five!

Today my family expands! ZachKarmen
Our son, Zachary is marrying Karmen!
The joy and love we feel is real…strong…and true.

As parents we have so many hopes, dreams, and desires for our children, yet ultimately the most important one is; we want them to be truly happy and live faith-filled lives. Both our children, Jaclyn and Zachary, have found joy in life with their careers and friends. Now to watch Zach and Karmen grow individually and as a couple these past two years, has been a true blessing for our family.

Our family of four is a typical close, in your business (sometimes), Italian family. We love passionately, care deeply and have been known to have arguments occasionally (infrequently now, but those teen years…Yikes!). We are far from perfect, but we are perfectly us.

I wonder if we our family was a shock to kind, calm, and quiet Karmen, who’s family life and culture is different. Which is true for each one of us comes from a unique and special family. Each of us bring with us a lot of family “stuff”, it makes us who we are. Melding their new lives together, I trust the Lord to  guide Zach and Karmen, to create their own ‘perfectly theirs’ family.

I knew Zachary’s heart was taken the first time I met Karmen. We met Zachary and Karmen at the Museum of Science and Industry the day after Thanksgiving 2013. Watching Zach talk with her, hold her hand, and treat her like the incredible woman she is…was it.

I love Zachary with her. He was comfortable, confident and loving…he was completely himself. I love who Zach is with Karmen, true to himself.

Then in June of 2014 in Venice, Italy on our family vacation Zach talked non-stop about why he loved her and how he missed seeing her. He was head over heels in love, I was no longer the most important woman in my baby’s heart and I was so happy to share his heart for this reason. Seeing how happy he was made this transition much less painful, because you see, he is my baby…the one I held when he was sick or hurting. Yet, now I see the man that the Lord created and am so grateful He allowed me to be part of Zach’s life.

So…
As they begin their marriage, I have to reflect on a life of marriage and the graces received (and lessons learned) through my 32 years and 2 children with my husband, Kevin. This will not be and cannot be a comprehensive guide to marriage, just my reflections as thoughts come to me.

Begin each day with a prayer of praise for all that you have been blessed with.
Put each other before yourself in life, honor and cherish every breath together.
Never lose yourself, be individuals who respect each other.
Always hold hands and snuggle all the time, especially during movies.
Share dinner together, even if it happens to be leftovers or cereal.
Take time to spend alone together.
Make birthdays and your anniversary special each year.
Listen more than you talk.
Forgive easily, especially when it is not easy.
Cheer each other in good times and cling to each other in storms.
Look for rainbows and stop to watch sunsets.
Make financial decisions together and never hide purchases from each other.
The mountains are calling you, spend time breathing in the clean, pure air of God’s beauty.
Stay close to family, they are your biggest supporters and loyal confidants.
Remember you are joined and entwined together as three cords, keeping God in the center will keep you strong.
Pray each night for each other and with each other.
Love always.

All good heart-felt advice from me is solid, I still giggle at my sister Toni’s great marriage advice of “always fight naked and no one will ever run out of the house.”

And know that all our family looking down upon us are smiling and guiding you…and know deep in your hearts that Kevin and I pray for you both and your union.

Welcome to this crazy, passionate, loving family Karmen…we love you!

#KarmenandZach
#ZachandKarmen
#marriage #love #happiness

Grace embraced through the young, pure love and happiness of this day as we welcome Karmen to our family through the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never fails   1 Cor 13:7

Conversations with the Almighty

Prayer is simply talking to God.
Prayer can take many shapes. It is just a conversation with God.
No small task here you say…speaking with the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.
I know many people think, why would he want to talk with me? I’m a sinner, I have done so many things wrong.
But God is merciful and is like your parents…no matter what you do or say, their arms are always open.

I was once at a presentation and the speaker has a beautiful image of the Prodigal Son. It was the reading at church and after service the mother asked her daughter what do you think about the story of the son that ran away from home and the father that welcomed him back. She beautifully said “that father waited every day at the end of the driveway so of course he was happy when the day came that he saw his son.” We often look at the story from one of the brother’s perspective. But the parent was unfailing in love for his child. He never lost hope and he always stood patiently waiting.

God knows our hearts, he hears our prayers. Each and everyone of us are precious to him, just as each of our children are precious to us. God is our Father, the ultimate parent. He yearns for each of His children to come home to him in prayer. He waits.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the Our Father. The structure of the prayer is adoration, forgiveness and humility to his will for us. We can use his words or our own, God does not care. He just wants to talk with us.

Find a quiet space, make a sacred ritual.

Each morning I drive to work and treasure the 50 minute drive (or longer in construction season). The time doesn’t bother me because it is sacred time. This is my sacred time. A time of reflection of the blessings in my life. I time to spontaneous talk with God and to pray my rosary and divine chaplet. My fingers naturally find their rhythm in a familiar pattern on a rosary my sister brought home from the Vatican in 1988. Those beads have heard alot of praise, sorrow and petitions. Prayers to the Holy Spirit for guidance and protection for my family and friends consume my thoughts. A few minutes is spent talking with my daughter as we both start our day with a commute. My time with God is sprinkled with reminders of who I am praying for…my daughter and son (and now my future daughter-in-law), the blessings of my life.

We can get easily distracted in the world around us, so turn off the radio, tv, music…wherever you are; start with silence. Developing a ritual prayer life takes patience and trust. God is with us, listening, watching and guiding, even when we don’t feel His presence.

Prayer is talking with God. It’s a conversation. prayer
Effective conversations are two ways.
Make sure your prayer time includs listening.
We need to be aware of His presence in our every day.
Listen, watch and you will see Him.
He is present in the pauses throughout the day.
Thank him for all the things that pass your way.
Say a prayer of thanksgiving for the close parking spot or for safe travel.
Say a prayer of gratitude for the ability to speak to loved ones and for the job you have (even if it’s not your dream job).
Say a prayer of petition and bring forth the needs for others and yourself.
God is omnipotent, He can take it all in. He love you so much and is waiting for your return to prayer.

Prayer

prayer-on-my-kneesPope Francis this past week told the pilgrims at World Youth Day in Rio, “learn to pray everyday: this is the way to know Jesus and invite him into your lives“.

If you did not know how to pray before, everyone learns how to when the hear the words “You have cancer.”

No matter where you are or what you are doing, you lift up your prayers to the Lord.

Some may call God by other names, but just as I have many names (Janet, Mom, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, friend, coworker), God has many names. The incredible thing about God is He loves each one of us completely and hears each one of our cries with a merciful heart, through our calling out to him.

Prayer has been a foundation in my life since childhood. I always knew I had a guardian angel watching over me and felt the presence of God with me. I had a sister that passed away at the age of two, just 16 months before I was born and I always pictured she was my guardian angel. Jesus loves the little children, so having her at the feet of Jesus enabled me to focus on goodness and truth as I grew. I was just an ordinary child, the third of six children growing up. Of course we had our share of fights, but we stuck together. My three sisters and two brothers were more important to me than anyone. We were a big gang when we vacationed (usually camping) or spent the summers at the pool, but we were placed on this earth together…to take care and watch out for each other. And we did.

But it was not until I became a mother that my prayer life kicked into the forefront of everyday life. When I discovered I was expecting I began praying daily…and have not stopped every 26 years later. I learned that the Lord guides my marriage, my children and my life. I can communicate with him, I can disagree with him, I can praise him and I can rejoice with him…but I can not control the path he has in store for me. No matter how hard I have tried in the past – and I have tried!

I enjoy experiencing all types of prayers; alone and with others. Bible studies, meditation, spontaneous, retreats, songs, poems, prayers of the church, memorized, adoration, praying with my husband and so many other forms. This foundation that was built over my the course of my life was essential to living through the past year and a half. I prayed for the medical personnel and my family and friends. I prayed that I would be healed so that I am able to show the Lord’s power and glory. I prayed that I would be able to know the grandchildren that He has planned for me (then I switched to praying that my grandchildren will know me too!) I prayed for other cancer patients and those facing life changing illnesses and in a special way for those facing these challenges without the support of family and friends.

Prayer changes everything…because it first changes you.

May you find time today to pray and be changed.

Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer. Romans 12:12

Grace embraced through the growth that I have experienced in times of tribulations and in times of prayer.

Anniversary thoughts

Today begins the Anniversary march. You know when you experience the “firsts” of everything.1anni

One year ago today I found my lump. Although I say “my”, I never took ownership of it. It was a foreigner in my body and as soon as I felt it I wanted it out. I remember telling my husband and he said lovely “it’s probably nothing”. I know he was trying to calm my fears and comfort me. But the one thing I was not was fearful.

I was with my father on November 24, 2006 when the doctor drained the fluid from his lungs and told him the tests were stage 4 lymphoma. He looked at my mother and lovely said “we’ve had a great life”. He would fight with everything he had, but he was not fearful but calm in those first few moments.

I remember thinking immediately of my dad and how strong he was and how faith-filled he was. And I felt the same way. I was not fearful, but I was concerned. Yet, I felt a peace over me. As if the Lord was saying to me “I’ve got this”. And I believed…

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” Acts 1:7

And I have always trusted in my Lord…and He has never failed me.

I trusted His plan is so much better than any plan I could imagine.
I trusted His timing is perfect and that I will not be disappointed.
I trusted His healing power to guide those ministering to me.
I trusted His joy in seeing His glory in all that I would undergo.

And He exceed any expectations I could have imagined.

I would not wish this journey on anyone and I would not choose to go through it again. But I was so blessed with each step of this journey. You have read before all those that have helped me. But spiritually nothing compares to the depth of the relationship between Jesus and me.

He hears from me daily and many times throughout the day.

And I hear from Him more than ever…
I hear his voice in the friends that have reached out to me.
I hear his voice in the family that have cared for me.
I hear his voice in the doctors as they treat me.
I hear his voice in all the support techs and nurses that have shown amazing kindness.

His grace surrounds me.

When I began this blog I named it Grace Embraced, because I knew I felt grace filled moments as I walked those first few weeks alone with my husband and children. Now I know God named this Grace Embraced because He planned on filling every moment of my life with grace, as He has always done…but my eyes are now wide open and I can clearly see the grace as it flows around me.

Grace is Love.
And
Love is God.

To all the wonderful women in my life…for me, do a self-exam this evening…be aware of your own body…don’t put off until tomorrow…I love you all too much to not remind you…

So even on this anniversary that no one wants to remember, and as I approach the first anniversary of surgery and first anniversary of chemo, etc. I remember my dad’s words “we’ve had a good life” and I’m still enjoying it! Thanks Dad for looking down on me and Praise to the Lord for his goodness endures forever and flows over me we grace! According to my medical oncologist, my chances are statistically 50/50 that I will be here for more than 5 years. But my God knows statistics don’t hold any value with Him and I will continue to embrace and follow Him!

Grace embraced through you all; and you all are embraced with all the graces I have received, because I cannot receive them without sharing them with you.

“the day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36

A simple prayer

I received a card the other day that had a beautiful prayer. I would like to share it and offer this prayer up for all the amazing women that are fighting for their lives, their families and their strength. May you continue to be filled with radiant joy! Thanks Aunt Evie for the card xoxo

Faithful God
whose life flows through all the season
bless this woman.

Breathe new life in her to renew
and refresh her spirit

Warm her with cherished memories
and delight her in the wisdom she shares

Be with her now as she opens her hands
in a spirit of letting go

Let her heart hear the whispers
of new voices and new learnings

May she know that she is loved
as she has loved

Gift her with peace and
fill her with your radiant joy

My prayer for all the brave survivors as we near the Christmas season is new breath, warm memories, an open spirit and may you truly know with each moment of the day that you are loved!

May God bless your journey!

Aches and pains

HEnglish: Aches and Painsalf way through Radiation! Looking forward to the new year…without the daily routine of radiation every morning!

I had a wonderful visit with my sister, Diane, who was able to come in for five days to help…and it was much appreciated! She also insisted, with my husband, that I talk to my Radiation Oncologist about the back and rib pain I have been experiencing for the past four weeks. The pain has been excruciating in my lower back, especially so when I try to stand up from sitting too long. There have been many times that I have not been able to stand straight up without help or grabbing on to something for support. It has been progressively getting more painful and debilitating.

I wrote it off to side effects of treatments, early onset menopause side effects, reactions from using my right side while no lifting from my left arm, or caused by the 20 pounds steroids have added to my hips and waist. And I was content thinking of the best case scenerio. Or was I blind?

I meet with Dr. Anne McCall every Monday during my radiation treatments. I agreed to talk to her about it. Then a few days before the appointment, a fellow breast cancer survivor reminded me that breast cancer most commonly metastasize first in the brain or bone. The light went off, the blind was removed and I began to breathe faster. My mind started to spin. I left our meeting with nothing on my mind but…”Is this a tumor? Will the new year bring more chemo? Is it back? Will it be treatable?” I remembered that Dr. Hoffman, my oncologist said if my type of aggressive breast cancer returns, it is not curable only treatable.

My drive home consisted of tears streaming down my face. I was so sure I have been moving forward. I trusted that the Lord heard my prayers. How could I bring this up to Kevin without worrying him? Was the light at the end of the tunnel dimming? What is the next step for my life?

I kept going back to my strength, my faith. I am surrounded by angels guarding my path. I had to trust that His plan was perfect. I had to.

I trust in His plan in my heart, but my head aches of the horrible possibility that these pains are more than nothing.

So on Monday, the 3rd, with my sister in tow, I spoke with Dr. McCall. I could see the concern in her eyes and knew her first thought was the last thing I thought of…bone cancer. Her kindness and compassion filled the exam room. “It could be lots of other reasons, but let’s be prudent and get it checked out.” So a bone scan was ordered for Friday.

Thank goodness my sister-in-law was able to go with me, she helped calm my worst fears. Friday morning began with an injection of tracers that will find their way to my bones over the course of three hours so that the imagining will show the bones more clearly. Then off to radiation for my daily dose of hazardous rays.

Mindy and I sat and talked about her upcoming trip to Italy, stopped in the chapel at the hospital and ran into a friend of my parents that volunteers at the hospital. She had a beautiful great dane with her that was a therapy dog. The distractions were so very helpful to keep my mind busy. Then three hours past and suddenly it was time for the scan. The bone scan was painless – they always are – you don’t even have to put a gown on, you just have to lay still while the machine does the imagining.

“Results will be at your doctors in 2-3 days” just sounded like, “continue waiting”… and so I continue to wait…

But I trust in the Lord, which has been my mantra since I began this breast cancer journey. I find peace in music and I know prayers of so many are with me and the Lord is carrying me, so I will climb this mountain too and discover myself in the place prepared for me.

Enjoy one of the songs my daughter gave to me in April, that gives me strength: I’m Gonna Love you through it

See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Exodus 23:20

Grace embraced in the comfort of prayer during times of distress and worry. I find comfort in the memorized prayers of my childhood and the honest prayer conversations I have with the Lord daily. I find comfort in the prayers of so many that lift me up every time they remember me. May God’s grace embrace each and every one of you. 

A Radiation Routine

Sorry, it’s been a while since I last posted. I am usually exhausted after work and although my blog is written in my head as I drive home, it has not made it to the blog until now.
I have so much to be thankful for this holiday season and I loved spending Thanksgiving with family!

Well on to the update…I began the next phase of treatment on November 8th…Radiation Therapy

You know, radiation, when they shoot invisible rays through your body that attack the rapidly growing cancer cells that remain.
Oh yeah, they also kill good cells, cause skin dryness, skin irritation, skin burns, memory loss, shooting pains through the chest wall and of course…fatigue.
And radiation is everyday Monday through Friday for six weeks.

Sometimes I think everything up to now was just warming me up for this.
Surgery – 4 weeks rest before chemo began
AC Chemo – 2 weeks rest between four treatments
Taxol/Herceptin – 1 week rest between twelve weekly treatments
Radiation – 23 hours rest between treatment tomorrow

Then again, I don’t really think anyone is ever ready for this.

The therapists at the Cancer Care Center think I’m crazy, I’m sure, but I’m in a radiation groove now.

The first two times I went to therapy I donned two gowns. First you put on a gown open in the back and then a gown open in the front – everything off except your underwear and you shuffle from the waiting room in your socks where you take off one gown and lay on the table/bed where the therapists lay a blanket on your waist and legs for warmth. No clothes, no scarves or wigs, no necklace or earrings, I feel very bare as I wait. So I laid and prayed while they proceeded. Then it’s over and you shuffle back to the dressing room until tomorrow.

As I left the second day, I realized I could not let radiation control who I am or what I do. I needed to make this my experience and so began my routine.

Radiation at University of Chicago, Cancer Care Center, New Lenox, IL

Out of the house by 7:35 to get to the center timely.
I always bring my treatment bag, the one that my thoughtful niece Erin bought me for my surgery…my first step of this journey last May. It’s filled with things that make this my experience…keep reading!
Arrive and greet the receptionist warmly, get the swipe card for entrance into the radiation department
Enter the women’s changing area and open locker #7 – I always look for 7, a biblical number or 14, my wedding day – there is only locker numbers 7-13, so I always choose 7. This is never a problem, because they schedule the appointments so patients are not waiting, I have yet to change with another person in the changing area. On the one hand it’s nice and quiet, but on the other hand, it is nice to meet others for support and encouragement (remember my post about Emily?).
Grab one gown and change into – putting all my clothes, necklace, earrings and shoes in my bag.
Out of the bag comes the beautiful quilt that my sister Toni made. This quilt has wrapped me with the warmth of love through every chemo, so of course it had to replace the second gown for my backside and the blanket once I get in the treatment room for my waist and legs. I also added slippers to my daily fashion show. Erin also got me a really cute beige pair with white polka dots, they make me smile just slipping my socked feet into them.
I put on my thin cute peach hat that fits snuggly to my head. My dad taught me early that most of your heat escapes through your head, so don a cap and I can really feel a difference…oh how I miss my long hair sigh
Then I sit and wait for someone to come and lead me back to the radioactive room with the radiation caution signs on the door and walls.
Boy what a sight I must be…hospital gown, quilt, socks, slippers, cap, holding my #7 key 🙂
As I enter the room I leave the key on the counter, sit on the side of the table and remove my slippers. I unwrap the quilt so it can move from my back to my bottom half as I lay back on the table. The only piece of jewelry that can make it through this process is my birthday bracelet. Friends and family filled a Pandora bracelet with charms that have a significant meaning or represent me to them. It is a beautiful reminder of all the love that embraces my life. I’m as so glad it does not get in the way of the radiation beams.
After minutes of the therapist speaking in a language only they understand “shift my cradle”, “adjust the crown”, “roll a quarter”…all to move me ever so slightly so that I line up with the green laser lights shooting from the walls, ceiling and machine.
Finally I am lined up where they want me and they place a plastic gel square on my left chest. This helps the rays stay close to the surface of my skin and not go deeper than Dr. McCall wants. The two therapists say “Okay, we are all ready” and then they leave me.  Alone in a room to willingly allow my body to accept the damaging radiation rays that will kill the cancer.

I pray…some might listen to music they begin …I pray.


It’s what I know to do, prayer is where I find my center point. It’s where I find peace, it’s where I find strength.


Radiation prayer is my opportunity to call all those loved ones in heaven to be with me, my family and all those going through a cancer journey.

When they walk out of the CAUTION RADIATION EXPOSURE room, I begin my prayer to the saints who surround me.
I call upon Saints: Joseph, Isola, Henry, Gertrude, Donald, MaryJo, Marie, Anthony, Samuel, Mattie who have gone before me
then I call upon all the patron saints of friends and family that strengthen my journey, Saints: Diane, Gianna, Nicolas, Raymond, James, Colleen, Ashley, Matthew, Margaret, Francis, Michael, Josephine, Terese, Gilbert, Cecilia, Henry, Rose, Robert, Zachariah, John, Kevin, Solomon, Victoria, Daniel, Julia, Ann, Angeline, Paul, Elizabeth, Erin, Lawrence, Thomas, Susan, Christina, Luke, Jude, Gerald, Ruth, George, and so many more.

Isn’t that a great group of saints! I am so fortunate to have so many people in my life that are here to support me. They help me stay focused and pray for all those that are part of the Communion of Saints as the Creed tells us. We are all united, living and those alive in heaven – and we are all here to help each other.

So my routine continues…every day…up and out the house, wrapped in the comfort of my loved ones through quilts, slippers, bracelet and prayers, with key number 7, I forge ahead to the end goal of “Cancer free, see you in six months”!!

Grace embraced through the wonderful therapists; Kim, Joann, Rosie, nurses aide, Rochelle, and nurse Nicole that are smiling every morning as I arrive. They spread joy during a challenging period in the lives of so many. They console, care and share their lives with me and others. May God bless those who minister to the sick.

Don’t worry about anything, but in prayer and thanksgiving, make your request known to God. Philippians 4:6