Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Well Needed Break

Spring Break. Oh how the resonation of those words still have the ability to bring about a sense of calmness in my life.

Last week was incredible. Just the opportunity to not think about school was exactly what I needed. (Ok. I wasn't able to go the entire time without thinking of school, but for the most part I was successful.) The trip began Saturday night after work with Ray and I taking off to Chicago.

We arrived about 11:30ish to Lansing at the Sleep Inn hotel. (Ray's family is moving, so there isn't much room to crash amongst the boxes.) This was about halfway between the old house in Calumet and his new house in Chicago Heights. We spent most of the trip shuffling between the two.

Sunday morning we headed to his new house to pick up his little brother and take him to their Grandma Lorraine's house, nicknamed Mydear. (Pronounced My-Dear, so I am assuming it's spelled that way... We'll go with that.) Here I met his Aunt Tara, three of his little cousins, and his cousin Wayne. We visited for a while, then headed onto other adventures.

The next stop included hanging out with his high school best friend, Justin, Justin's fiancé, Bobbi Jo, and Ray's cousin Karl. Here I got to hear lots and LOTS of stories about Ray's high school days and watch him light up over the good times. Needless to say, my heart melted.
Meet some of the groomsmen! 
Later that night we drove up to the west side of Chicago to visit the infamous Malcolm. He is Ray's oldest brother, and I have been heavily warned about him and his quick wit. Luckily for me though, Malcolm got married last year, and thanks to his wonderful wife Mariah, and his daughter Mattison, he's much, much more easy going than Anthony led me to believe. (Anthony- Ray's brother who goes to SIU and who lives with him. AKA, the pest who tried to scare me out of meeting the family.) It was amazing spending time with them because I got to see a glimpse of what life will be like for Ray and I in the future. I'm not saying Ray is exactly like Malcolm, but there are some major, major, similarities in personalities. Mariah kept beaming and saying, "See what you've got to look forward to!"

It was that comment that changed my outlook for the trip entirely. What I have to look forward to, that I was getting to really see what my future was going to be like. I was spending time with the people who will be my new family, who are my new family. I was getting to know the people who will be in my life forever. And I realized at that moment that I wanted to soak up every minute of this trip.

Monday was our day to go to downtown Chicago. We took the L in from Malcolm's, walked around the city, went to Navy Pier, ate at Bubba Gump's, saw Grant Mitchell (a friend from down in the So Ill who happened to be at Navy Pier at the same time we were), rode the Farris wheel, and took in the beautiful weather around us. We then went back Malcolm's town and stopped in a Mexican ice cream shop and a bakery, which was an adventure all on it's own. The day was wonderful.

You'll have to ask me about the ice-cream trip.
It was quite an adventure.
Tuesday we didn't do much at all. Can you say fantastic? We spent the whole day just hanging out in the hotel, went to eat some tasty food, and went back to doing nothing. (Speaking of food, we did nothing but eat the most delicious and wonderful food the entire week. My midsection is paying for it now...) With both of our busy schedules, we never get days to do absolutely nothing, so we soaked up every minute of it. We then went and picked up his youngest brother Lelan. He is the one sibling Anthony had nothing to warn me about. In fact, he told me that he would be my favorite. After just a brief weekend with him, I can honestly say that I love this kid. He is funny, sweet, talented, smart, everything you could ever want in a little brother. Not that Anthony isn't any of those, he is. But if I start being nice to Ant now, then I am stuck doing it forever. (Can you tell just how much I love my in-laws?)

Me and Lee!
Later Tuesday night by meeting up with Ray's second-oldest brother, Lyiel. As long as things go according to plan, he will be the one officiating our ceremony. Family really means a lot to us, and I am excited to incorporate more of his family into our special day. (Also, Lyiel will hopefully be making a trip south very soon to baptize Ray. Yaaaay!)
Ray and Lyiel- Can you tell they are brothers?
We closed the evening by going back to his grandma's house. It turned out to be one of the highlights to the trip. Ray abandoned me in the kitchen as he went out to the garage. Thanks, baby, for being a typical man. This left me, his mom, his aunt, and his grandma. Nooooo pressure.

It was a blast. The laughing. The stories. The jabs at the new girl. (Thanks to Tara!) By the time Ray came back in, I honestly felt like I was part of the family.
Ray, Renae, Me, Tara, and Tiff
Wednesday our trip was dwindling down. We went to see his old house with his mom, and I got to take a trip down memory lane as all the stories Ray told about "home" came to life as we walked room to room. I was also given a huge bag of pictures to look at on our way to Mydear's house to say goodbye. This brought our trip to a bittersweet end as we gave hugs and prepared to leave.

Mom-in-Law, Me, and Ray
Another reason why visiting the in-laws is great
:) Isn't he adorable!!!
On the way home I was still processing everything. I can't believe how blessed I am with the family that I am joining. They are some of the most open, loving people I have ever met, and I enjoy the ease of being around them. They are people I know will take both me, and my mom, into their lives. (I look forward to toting my mom up north for holidays with both sides of the family. I mean what's going to be better than having both grandmas at the same time?)

Once we arrived back in Carbondale, I readied myself to head to the reading conference in Springfield. That deserves it's own post, so I will fast-forward to the return on Saturday night. Not wanting Spring Break to end, we immediately headed to Paducah as soon as I got back into Marion. (I have an insane love of Paducah, and if Ray happened to get a job there and want to move there, I would say yes in a heartbeat.) We stopped along the way in Metropolis to view Community Christian Church. I personally love this church, and even Ray said it was the first place where he could see us getting married. That, however, is a decision still yet to be made. We then went to a local coffee shop in Paducah, walked to the river, and enjoyed the beautiful weather. We spent a few hours just walking around as we waited to eat at a restaurant down one of the alleys. It was an absolutely perfect night and the best way to end our week.
Down by the river in Paducah
This break was so great for Ray and I. As most of you are aware, things have not been the smoothest on my end of the family. And some recent events have made it even more difficult. Being able to just spend time with Ray without life's daily distractions was exactly what I needed. I was able to just focus on him and the reasons why I am so incredibly in love with him. And I could stand knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the man with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. This week solidified the fact that in a little over a year (424 days), Ray is going to be my husband. He is going to be the father to our babies. He is going to be the old man I sit on a porch with. He is going to be the love of my life forever. And that, ladies and gentlemen, made this Spring Break the most incredible week it could have been.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Anxious Is as Anxious Does.

Can I just say how not fun having anxiety is? To say it's pretty terrible is an understatement. In fact, some days it's utterly unbearable. Well, it isn't, because you are stuck having to bear it, but instead, it makes every other area of your life impossible to manage. It causes you to be unable to function. And for a girl with 7 classes, a job, a school in which I observe, and a fiancé, not functioning is not an option. Unlucky for me though, and those out there like me, I don't have a choice.

Which is why this week I faced my first complete and total breakdown of this semester.

It started slowly. Classes. Midterms. The realization that we still have no idea where Ray is going to be this May. Chris Lowery getting fired and being terrified that SIU Athletics will decide they don't need a student worker if there are no coaches which could leave Ray getting his current job cut. Getting engaged. Accepting the fact that I have truly lost my aunt and uncle from my life. Getting adjusted to a new apartment. Cutting my losses with the money I never got paid from past bills thanks to my old roommate. Trying to pick a venue for a wedding in order to get it booked. Coming up with a guest list that doesn't involve leaving people we love and care about out.

It just got to be too much.

Which is why the perpetual tears that have been rolling for the past two weeks turned into a massive hurricane and flood on Wednesday. I mean continual gut wrenching sobs for hours that just kept coming with every new thought that entered my mind. The idea that maybe I am not fit to be someone's wife, Ray's in particular. Especially when the idea of losing any part of my family still tears the center of my core apart.

But do you know what Ray did? He held me. For hours, and hours, he held me while I just sobbed.

And the next day when I burst into tears in the middle of the student center when I realized my book had gotten wet from the rain and simply because I couldn't take anything else? He held me.

Ray is incredible. My friends, like Courtney who is stuck having to see my breakdowns in person all the time, are incredible. My mom... words cannot describe that woman and all that she does and is for me.

But by Friday morning when I went in to take a make-up midterm that I couldn't take on Thursday due to the student center breakdown (Praise be to God for my professor and her understanding heart!), my head was clear. I felt fine. I went to my student-teaching interview following the exam perfectly ok. And I spent the rest of my day pretty much stress free. ...Well until I tried something to wear that night. But I think that's a battle I will just have to quit fighting.

Point is, anxiety is like a switch in me that I just can't control. It's as though suddenly my mind just can't process everything I need it to, and when I reach a certain point it just explodes, through tears and confusion and inconsolability for who knows how long. Then somehow, through God's grace and answered prayers, I'm fine. I'm functioning. Instead, I am just left looking back on the past few days wondering why I can't control my mind. Wondering what's wrong with me.

On the day Ray asked me out, I told him no. I informed him A. That I was tired of dating douchebags. And B. I knew I was crazy. (As confirmed by the aforementioned douchebags.) I told Ray that the last thing he needed or should want was someone as crazy as me. And believe me I. Am. Crazy.

Ray took my hands, looked into my eyes, and said, "You're not crazy. ...You're emotionally expressive."

And as I have proven him wrong time and time again, and as I have hit the point home through breakdowns such as the one I described here, Ray is still by my side.

Which is why I praise God. And I thank Him for these awful brain-breakdowns. Like the one I had today when I can't find pants to fit. (Ok, maybe not the same thing, but you get the picture.) I praise God for the ones I have had and will continue to have. Because in those moments, I am able to see just how much He has blessed me. How He has given me people in my life to be there, to love me, to support me, to care for me, to be patient with me until my mind comes off overload. I get to be loved by the people He placed in my life, like my mom (God bless that woman.), my friends, and my fiancé, who even though knows I can be nuts-o is willing to be the rock to which I cling in my moments that I feel like life is sweeping me away.

I am so thankful. And so blessed that God loves me that much, that He has given me people to carry me through while He works things out in my life, and that He can bring me a peace that nothing and no one else can. Because it's in the calm after the storm that I reminded that He works for the good of those who love Him; that He knows the plans He has for me, ones not to harm me but to prosper me, plans to bring me a hope and a future; that I can cast my cares on Him, for He cares for me; and that He loves me, oh, how He loves me.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A little family, a little bling. -The night of our engagement.

Ok, so I know I should be telling you the long sappy story about Ray's and my engagement, but there is a different story that needs to be told first in order to truly appreciate the way in which he proposed.

It begins with this guy.

Oh how we have both changed!
Well, it actually begins with Charles and Janet.
Here's the backstory: Uncle Chuck is my grandma's brother. He attended SIU back in the day... Like way back, back when there were buildings that aren't around anymore, and when the strip was still open on Halloween, and they had to use a chisel and stone, I mean pen and paper, to take notes. And upon landing a job in Carbondale, he ended up getting married and started a family. 

But, because of distance and schedules, I only saw his family a handful of times: Mule Day, weddings, funerals, and not much else. However, since I came to SIU, I am around them much, much more. I see them at sporting events,  we go out to eat, and even had Thanksgiving together. Which is part of the reason I love SIU, because come to school here has given me the opportunity to be close to a part of family that I hadn't really been before, and that meaning of opportunity is one that I cannot justifiably describe in a blog post.

But it's worth a shot. Uncle Chuck and Aunt Jan have been my life savers these first four years. They have  helped me to avoid terrible landlords, have told me who to call and where to go for lots of things, and even offered their home to me. This list can continue on forever because the amount that they do for me is honestly indescribable, and I am certain that there is NO way I could be making it through school without them. 

Uncle Chuck and Aunt Janet, thank you for all you do.
Then we have Jenny, who for some reason it took over two years of me being down here for us to actually hang out. But, we now have fairly regular dinner/movie nights though. That whole, you can talk to your friends about everything in your life, but your family just gets you in a way friends can't? Yeah, having Jenny around just to talk to about pretty much everything with is beyond awesome. That and knowing that our hangout nights include comfy sweats and often a chick flick :)

Yes, I creeped her Facebook for this picture.
And last, but not least we have the Davis family. I have to admit that despite my love of Uncle Chuck, Aunt Jan, and Jenny, most of my nights with my family are spent at the Davis home in their basement avoiding tornadoes, I mean, babysitting their children.
The three of us at their wedding.
You already met Avery. But here is a more recent picture:
Avery, AP, Big A, "Tink" 
There is also Aiden Oliver.
Aiden, AO, Little A, "Goose," or as I call him "Monster"
These two boys have an incredibly large place in my heart. I babysit them frequently and look forward to my nights with the A-Team. In fact, I would much, MUCH rather spend a Friday night tucking these two into bed than being around horribly obnoxious drunk college kids. Thankfully, I have a fiancé who feels the same way. Fiancé. ...Sorry just wanted to say it again. Anyway! Because I spend lots of nights at the Davis home, Ray has started to tag along on my babysitting adventures. He even did a solo gig a few weeks ago. (I think I was more terrified of what could happen than Patty was.) But my man pulled through and reminded me again of why I want to marry him. He is going to be a terrific dad someday.

I am straying from the main topic. Family. I love them. I love that on the night Ray asked me out in October, he went with me to babysit the boys. I love that in-between basketball practices and fraternity meetings Ray comes over when I am babysitting to see the boys. And I love that they seem to love him just as much. Especially Monster (Aiden), who absolutely adores Ray.

Which is why I adore that Ray makes an effort to be a part of my family and to include them in our life together. Like on the night he proposed to me.

AP had peed in the kitchen. Aiden had an explosive, nearly vomit-inducing diaper. And the rice we were eating for supper was burnt. But after a huge sigh of exhaustion, Ray handed me a piece of chocolate, and inside the wrapper was a beautiful, perfect ring.
Told you it was perfect.
I was crying so much that mascara was all down my face, and Avery was staring at me trying to figure out why I am acting so nuts-o. Ray looked lovingly at me and said, "I may never be able to take you around the world, and we may not get much farther than burnt rice in the kitchen with Aiden and Avery, but even with all the uncertainty of the future, I know I want you by my side. ...Will you marry me?"

So was the night of our proposal filled with a secret photographer, or a huge engagement party, or the use of the megatron at the SIU Arena (which I had reminded him was available for use during the game on Valentine's Day, and the day he would be center court for Senior Day...)? No. But, it was filled with seeing my cousins, Jenny, Patty, and Titi, Avery saying "Uh-oh" as he peed all over the kitchen floor, and Aiden screaming at the top of his lungs until Ray held him. It was filled with my fiancé sneaking behind my back to get to the Davis house early to let them know he was going to propose, and Avery acting really excited after I showed him my ring even though he had no clue what was really happening.

It was the perfect combination of my future husband including the one thing that means the world to me and one of the most memorable nights of our relationship, my family and our engagement.

And that, my friends, is why I said yes.

P.S. For more pictures from that night, check out Patty's blog here