Exciting new updates with photos and a personalized novella for your summer reading pleasure!

Well, hello and happy summer! I hope this finds everyone wonderfully well and enjoying some fun in the sun! I wanted to send out an update because Neil and I have had some really exciting stuff happen to us in the last few months and I wanted to share it with all of you who been so supportive along our journey. So I’ll just dive right in… The first, and most recent news, is that we just got back from our big trip but, not from the trip we had originally planned. I love how things have a habit of always working out for the best and I see this transpire in my life more and more. It is one of the many blessings on the back end of our journey and one for which I am most grateful. And, by sharing the details of it with you, gives me an excellent opportunity to show you what I mean.

When I left you last, we were off to Greece for our big celebratory trip. And, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about what’s been going on with their government and economy. Ironically, I choose to basically “live under a rock”, so to speak, and even I knew what was going on. What I mean is, I rarely watch TV, let alone listen to the news, and it is not uncommon for people to be talking about current events and I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Put it this way, big “breaking news” is usually on a 2-3 week delay for me, if I hear about it at all. I know that may sound a bit naive or even ignorant, but I just find most of it very depressing. It’s not a “stick your head in the sand and it will all go away” approach, I am just very selective now with what I choose to focus my time and attention on. Once you learn that whatever you focus on expands and that by giving your attention to something you’re essentially asking for more of it (whether you realize it or not), you choose more carefully. Plus, I just find I’m much happier when I’m not marinating in all of that negative “soup”. What I really need to know seems to find it’s way to me, one way or another, without much effort anyway. Getting back to our trip…right before we were about to leave the riots in Athens broke out. Given the fact that we were scheduled to fly right smack into the center of it, we decided it might not be the best time to go and started looking at other options. This is where it starts getting exciting. As we started brainstorming about all the places we might want to go in lieu of Greece, a wonderful thing happened. For one, we had a ton of fun dreaming up all the places in the world we want to visit (and got some really great ideas and tips for future travel plans), but the most amazing part was what actually took shape and transpired. A friend of a friend heard about our “situation” and offered us an unbelievable opportunity to go to the Maldives. He had just returned to the States after working at a resort there for three years and offered to “call in a favor”. We will be forever grateful for his help and generosity. When I told people about our change in plans and where we were going instead their response was “Cool! … Where is that??” We had to look at a map too, even though it has been on my “bucket list”. To save you a trip to the map, it’s a group of islands (about 1200 of them actually but only 200 of them are inhabited) situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, to the east of Africa and south of India. And when I say it’s in the middle of the Indian Ocean, I mean the middle. It’s so remote you actually have to take sea planes to get to the resorts because there are no roads to get there. Sea planes and speed boats are their version of taxies and cars…pretty cool. On the sea plane ride over there, Neil and I were climbing over each other, pointing and mouthing, “Did you see that?!”…”Look at that!!” Our grogginess from the 37-hour trip quickly melted away as we took in the aerial views of majestic, crystal-clear turquoise-colored water and the almost ethereal beauty of the islands that seemed to rise up out of nothingness. We were like kids in a candy store soaking up all the natural beauty. Not bad for a dramatic arrival either. And the rest of the trip did not disappoint. We had a amazing time doing two of our most favorite things…trying new stuff and PLAYING! We tried new exotic foods (LOVE authentic Indian and Moroccan food!); I went scuba diving (had never been); Neil caught some killer waves surfing in the middle of the ocean; went sea kayaking; befriended the locals and learned what it’s like to live on the opposite side of the planet. All in all, an amazing adventure and one we will not soon forget.

On the trip over there I had a moment, at Starbucks of all places, that really struck me. We were in the Dubai airport waiting for our connecting flight to the Maldives and I wanted to get a hot tea. We were 24+ hours into our trip at that point and Neil was asleep in one of the recliners they had at the airport. By the way, the Dubai airport is AMAZING. Not only do they have rows and rows of recliners for travelers to relax in as they wait for their flight and charging stations every few feet to charge your phone or lap top, but there is a whole, full-on mall in the middle of it and more than a few gourmet restaurants, complete with trendy couch-filled lounges for your dining/waiting pleasure. The whole airport is like one big Crown Room on steroids. We are forever spoiled now after traveling through Dubai. Anyway, back to my “Starbucks moment”. So I left our stuff under Neil’s watchful (asleep) eye and headed off in search of my coveted tea. I, of course, was wide awake even though I had only slept a couple of hours on the 12-hour leg from New York to Dubai. Neil, on the other hand, can sleep anywhere, any time and even on command. He can fall asleep in about 10 seconds and I mean that quite literally. It’s a talent and one I salivate over. I, on the other hand, have to have total silence, total darkness and be fully reclined to fall asleep, so you can see why I was up. By the way, that’s also another reason why I don’t watch much TV because no matter what’s on, how late it is or even how terrible it is, if it’s on, I’m up. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen asleep on the couch watching TV in my life. It’s a bit annoying at times but there are worse things. So there I was at Starbucks, after wandering through the “mall” to find it, standing in line to order my tea. As I waited, I looked around. To my right there was a Saudi couple. He was in the full-length white robe and head covering with the black rope tied around his head, a real-life sheik, and his wife stood in a full-length black robe and head covering with only her eyes showing, both with sneakers peeking out the from under the bottom of their robes. To my left stood a beautiful Indian woman in a Sari with henna tattoos on her hands and arms. And then there was me, in my yoga pants, track jacket and flip flops. (Yeah, I know, but it was a long trip and it was comfortable!) As I looked around I couldn’t help but think, “Am I really standing here?! Is this really happening??” And it occurred to me, as we all stood there getting our Starbucks, that even though we were each from different parts of the globe, both near and far, we weren’t really weren’t all that different and yet we were. We had all grown up in very different cultures with very different customs, religions and beliefs, yet there we stood all drinking our Starbucks. (Man, Starbucks really is EVERYWHERE!)

And, as much as I like to travel and go on adventures to far off places, I feel as though I have to say that I am always more than just a little proud to come back home. There’s something about standing in line at customs, waiting to be let back in to the US, that creates an extra surge of gratitude for the country we all are blessed to live in and the freedoms it provides. I know it’s silly yet I can’t help but feel like I’m part of the “in” crowd when I flash my navy blue passport and say a silent “thank you” as I pass through.

I’ve attached a link to a web album I put together or you can just Google the Maldives and see plenty of shots of what it is like there if you are interested. I was brave and included some bathing suit photos in the Picasa album, since it was pretty much all we wore, so please be kind :). I think the photos speak for themselves of the natural beauty of the Maldives so I didn’t include any captions. Also, you’ll notice some pictures that look like we’re in New York City and you’re not seeing things. The airline changed our return flights at the last minute and it was a blessing because we were able to play in NYC for a day and enjoyed a morning run through Central Park, a day of shopping, a Broadway show and a yummy dinner and, most importantly, slept off our jet lag prior to catching our return flight back to Atlanta. So this last-minute change to our big, celebratory trip took us on a wonderful adventure in more ways than one…I LOVE how God works! :)

Maldives

On to other news…
I have a confession to make. I just can’t hide it anymore. I have found a new love. I know this might come as a shock to many of you and I want you to know that Neil is in full support of it. I don’t know how else to say it but to just say it. I am in love with writing. There, I said it, it’s out there and I don’t care who knows. :)

Despite the cheeky delivery, I wasn’t joking when I said that Neil is totally on board and I am so, so blessed to have someone who supports me in going after my dreams and passions (especially given that I have a long list of them). It’s one of my most favorite things about being married–we encourage each other to chase our dreams, both together and individually, and cheer each other on was we both “go for it”. We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.

I should also fess up that I love books too, in a big way. I love the way they smell, the weight and feel of them in my hands and the delicious possibilities that live inside the growing stack of them by my bedside. I have a book fetish, I’m not afraid to admit it. I buy them faster than I can read them. I get side tracked at CostCo on a regular basis perusing the book section, reading the back covers and inside flaps, plotting my next acquisition. I love getting lost in a story, totally enraptured by another time or place and walking around the world in someone else’s shoes for a while and experiencing it through different eyes. And I love words. I love stringing them together and capturing a moment on paper like catching something elusive in a net, a verbal snapshot to savor later and longer. One of my favorite books is the Dictionary. I love finding new words and tumbling them around in my head to see how they fit together with other words, like piecing together a puzzle in a sentence. I know, I know. Where’s the pocket protector and nerd police? But I can’t help it. I’m hooked. I have found my true passion, my calling. This two-year journey realigned me with what it is I came here to do and, at the same time, gave me my story. This process and my whole life, I see now, has been one long winding road to this, to my true purpose and essence, revealing my deepest passions and finding what truly makes me “come alive”, what I was made to do. I included a quote in a past posting by Aldous Huxley that said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Well, my friends, I have found just that and now I’m going to go out and share it.

I also realized along the way that I “write” in my head…all the time. More accurately it’s as if I’m listening to what I will write, and, no, I don’t need my head checked. But quite often I feel more like a transcriptionist than a writer! It’s not unusual for me to race back into the house after a walk or run or even from running errands to jot something down before I forget it. Honestly, I think the biggest leap for me was just deciding to do it, to be bold enough to claim it and then step out and try something completely new. It’s funny how often the biggest thing in our way is ourselves. I’ve always been grateful that I’ve had a natural instinct to “feel the fear and do it anyway”, but, let’s face it, we all have things that push the limits of our comfort zone and as we brush up (or get slammed up) against them, the natural instinct is to back off. In what I have been through the last couple of years the boundaries of my comfort zone have been moved way out, the box widened, and I have actually come to enjoy running right past them. Something about conquering the fear of death scales everything else down in proportion. I’ve heard somewhere that astronauts say right before they break through the stratosphere the cockpit begins to rattles. I look at fear and growth like that, that the rattling feeling just means I’m about to break through, that’s all. And once you break through, you’re free. So I smile when I feel the rattle now, because I know it’s just the sound of freedom getting closer. So my new creative endeavor has been another opportunity for me to step out in faith, checking all fear or doubt at the door and to take another leap out onto an uncharted path, trusting that it will lead me where I need to go.

In keeping with that, I’ve taken the first steps out on this new adventure and recently had the opportunity to meet with a literary agent from New York to see how my writing ranked at the professional level. I submitted 20 pages of a proposed inspirational memoir which included two of my earlier postings which I thought best represented the scope of our story. I am pleased to tell you that I got very positive feedback and, most exciting, that the agent thought the writing was really good…at the professional level :). What did Confucius say, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”?

Neil commented recently, “You’ve been on Cloud 9 for the last three months or so, haven’t you?” And I have. It seems that in the last few months something very big and wonderful has shifted. Like swinging an ax at a big tree once everyday, little by little, until one day it falls. Well, it seems my tree has fallen, that all my chopping has paid off and some big block was removed and life began to flow again, time made sense again and I felt myself surge forward. I’ve never felt more alive and I’ve never been happier. I’ve never been more sure of who I am, where I’m going or what I want to do. I laugh more and there’s a looseness that permeates everything I do that wasn’t there before. I feel and see things in such a different light now and it’s as if the whole world is new to me–so many things to experience, see, try and do. So many wonderful people to meet and places to go. It all seems so exciting and lovely to me, even things I thought were “bad” before seem softer to me now. I can see what’s underneath them now and that changes everything.

Another wonderful piece of news is that I’m officially a published author, well, sort of. Two years ago I stumbled across an email requesting submissions for personal stories called “Modern Day Miracles” that would be published by a large national publisher in June of 2010 and it seemed to call to me. It was due January 15th and I knew from my first high-dose chemo and bone marrow transplant that I likely would not feel like editing or revising copy for a submission a week or two after my second transplant and, given that they were only five weeks apart, I wanted to be prepared if it was tougher the second go round. So the night before I was to start the four days of high-dose chemo my mom and I reviewed the last changes of my draft and I sent it off. As “luck” would have it, my mom was an English/Lit major at Northwestern and is a FABULOUS editor! It’s like having my very own, private, on-call editor. I was in the hospital already receiving the required 12 hours of IV hydration prior to the start of the high-dose chemo the following morning, so we sent it off and kind of forgot about it. About six months or so ago I remember thinking about it and being a little disappointed, assuming that my story hadn’t been chosen since I hadn’t heard anything. I had really felt a push to submit it and was a little confused why God had me go to all that trouble if it wasn’t going to be used, but I chalked it up to good practice and moved on. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was driving in my car and got a call from Neil. “You are such a miracle and I love you SO much!” I heard. “Wow,” I answered. “Well, thank you! Where did that come from?!” I answered with a laugh and a smile. He’d been asked to play in a golf tournament that afternoon and said he knew it had something to do with raising money for Northside Hospital (where I was treated) but found out only at the end of his round that it was specifically in support of the Bone Marrow Unit. He said he almost dropped his clubs. “Wow,” I said again, only this time it was with awe in my voice and goosebumps all over my body. We both spoke words of gratitude, aloud and silently, for all they had done for us, as we often do, and relished the Divine reminder of how fortunate and blessed we were to have been led to their wise and gracious care. We said a quick goodbye saying we would see each other in a second as we were both almost home by then. I beat Neil home and started sifting through the mail. There was a box amongst the envelopes and it clearly contained a book. “Huh, I didn’t order anything. Maybe Neil did,” I thought. But it was addressed to me, so I opened it. Inside was a copy of “Modern Day Miracles” by Louise Hay. I looked for a packing slip but there wasn’t one. Confused (I must have been a little slow on the uptake that day because it took me a minute to catch on), I looked it over and then remembered the story I had sent all those months ago. “Oh, they must have sent a copy to everyone who submitted something, that was nice,” I thought, still assuming that mine hadn’t been chosen since I’d never heard anything. By that time Neil had made it home and asked me what book I had gotten. I was just about to answer when a glimmer of a hope started to emerge from the back of my mind. “Maybe….” I told Neil what the book was and reminded him of the submission I had sent off and we started to look through it. He was standing behind me, looking over my shoulder, and as I searched the back of the book for some index of names to scan, my excitement began to build. “Maybe, just maybe…” And then there it was, on page six, my story! It was the third story in the whole book and I almost dropped it. On the same day that Neil had played in a golf tournament supporting the Bone Marrow Unit at Northside Hospital and called to tell me about what a “miracle” I was, also was the same day I received a pre-release copy of the book entitled “Modern Day Miracles” with my story in it that I had sent from the Bone Marrow Unit the night before my last high-dose/transplant. I couldn’t speak. It was so clear and I was floored by the Divine fingerprints all over it. So, I’m now officially a published author! I’d say we’re off to a good start! The book is out now and my part is on pages 6 and 7. This was a powerful lesson for me that by trusting life’s pushes, wonderful things can come out of some “tough” times.

So that’s enough of my little novella here. My next scan is scheduled for the morning of July 12th and I just had a follow up appointment with my Gyn/Onc. He said the he was “feeling really good about things” and I had to laugh. “Me too,” I said. “Me too.”

Sending love and gratitude to you all,

Alyssa

“Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.” – Voltaire

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – N.D.Walsch

To view our Maldives/NYC photos, click here.

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