Monday, September 30, 2013

Ten Days of Gratitude

I think about this blog every day. I think about what I want to write. What I want to share. I think about the people who read it. I pray for them, for you. You have shared your stories with me. You have shared your lives with me. And you certainly take precious time out of your days and nights to read my wandering thoughts. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

For the next ten days, I plan to write a daily post in which I share with you a few things, people, circumstances, situations, outcomes, moments that I am grateful for. Starting right now...

Today, Monday, September 30th, I am grateful for -

* the clear, warm, gorgeous days we have had here in Charlotte of late
* some excellent discussions I have had with my son while homeschooling

 * a handful of health - this is my daily regimen of supplements, vitamins, Juice Plus, and tamoxifen, all of which had BETTER be bringing goodness and strength into this body of mine
* the freshly pressed juices I make in the morning to wash down the handful of health pictured above
* the simple delight of freshly picked apples

* the fact that the ants that created this rather intricate anthill do not live in my house
* a wonderful little savings tip I picked up someplace recently: save $5 bills. Everytime I get them back in change from a purchase, I put them in an envelope and save them. I saved up more than $200 in less than three months. That money will be put to very good use in about ten days...
* Origins skincare - my daughter and I had facials at the Origins store this past Saturday. Felt great. Smelled great. My skin now looks great.

 * all this doggone hair! I have actually had it cut since I took this photo. Imagine that - enough hair to warrant a haircut.
* (re)discovering clothing that I love... in my closet. With the change of seasons and slightly cooler weather, I can pull out tops, skirts, and dresses I haven't worn in a while. Fun, fun.

 * this precious little boy is one of my buddies. He's turning 1 this coming Saturday. I can't wait to put on a party hat and celebrate his little life.
* my precious little boy who recently turned 17 and his older sister who will turn 20 in a few short weeks. I CANNOT believe that I will soon have a child who is OUT OF HER TEENS!!!

* the Jesuit Church here in Charlotte. I finally had a chance to see it last Friday. Of course, I lit two candles. Whenever I enter a church where I can light candles, I light two. One for myself. And one for love's sake. May the light of love warm and illuminate our homes, our nation, and our world.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Seventeen years ago this morning...

On Sunday, Septemer 22, 1996, I settled into a tub of hot water at the Birth Cottage, and gave birth to my son. Nope, it wasn't a planned water birth, but that's what happened.

 (I remember looking his little face - he had blonde hair and blue eyes until he was about six months old - and wondering if anyone would believe he was really my son. I remember nursing him at the mall once and looking up to see several people staring at us. I had to laugh. I thought: "Nothing to see here, folks. The days of wet nurses are behind us. This little white baby is mine, all mine.")

Anyway, back to the story of his arrival - we got to the birthing center around 4 that morning, and I settled in for what I thought would be a lengthy labor. I sat in the rocking chair for a while. I sat on my exercise ball for a while.

Around 7:30 am, one of the nurses said I looked tense.
I thought: "No sh*t, Sherlock. I'M IN LABOR!" But I didn't say that.
She went on to say: "I'll go run you a bath so you can relax in the tub."

After enduring several more contractions while the water ran,
after walking what felt like a mile and a half into the bathroom - but was actually less than 15 feet,
after moaning through a couple more contracts while standing next to the tub,
after climbing what felt like twelve flights of stairs - but was actually just over the lip of the bathtub,
I maneuvered my swollen, achy, tense self into the warm water -
and immediately felt the urge to push.
That same nurse told me that I shouldn't push because I wasn't fully dilated.
I chose to ignore her.
Somebody else said, "Go ahead and push if you feel the urge that badly."
Maybe I was the one who said it.
So I pushed one time.
And out came Daniel's head. Under the water.

Oh, my Lord God Jesus! There he was.
Knowing I wasn't going to have any more children, recognizing that I needed to experience that miraculous moment to the fullest, I reached down and rubbed his head there underwater. I stared at his hair and ran my fingers through it as gently as I could. I remember that moment like it was three weeks ago. There was the head of my child, my son. The miracle of life - transitioning from the water of my womb to the warm water of the tub.
The midwife came running into the bathroom, looked into the water, and said, "You may as well go ahead and push him out." In that case, I did exactly as instructed.
After his shoulders emerged, I put my fingers into his armpits, and pulled my precious baby boy out of my body and up onto my chest.
I remember thinking: "If all labor and delivery were this easy and I could give the kids away after the first year, I would have lots more kids."

(He used to do this thing where he would frown at me like he was angry 
and then immediately smile and laugh. 
Who wouldn't love that amazing, cute, funny little face?!?)

A couple hours later, my parents arrived with Kristiana. She was one happy big sister. She still is. She loved her brother from the moment she saw his scrunched up little face. She held him close and smiled more happily than she ever had in her two years and eleven months of life up to that point. She still smiles at him that way.

Seventeen years ago this morning, I became the mother of two children.
We became a family of four.
I was grateful for Daniel's safe, watery arrival.
I still am.
I love that boy, that young man, this son of mine, more than he will ever understand.

Happy birthday, Daniel.
I love you, buddy.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thankful Thursday - these weeks fly by so fast...

It's not that I feel like life is going past quickly.

Well, that's not entirely true - sometimes it seems like life is flying past. Like, I cannot believe I am 47 years old, turning 48 in December. I cannot believe that my son is about to turn 17 and my daughter is about to turn 20! Very soon I will have a child in "her 20s"!!! How is that possible? I still feel like I'm 35 - tops. So, yes, on the one hand, it does seem like life is moving past me.

On the other hand, these weeks seem to be dragging past. Is it only Thursday? I feel like 17 days have passed since last Thursday. I've had to come up with dinner ideas almost every night, and that makes it feel like every day is twice as long as it needs to be. Mercifully, my daughter pitches in and cooks once or twice each week. If she didn't, we would eat cereal or oatmeal for dinner often. Very often.

Anyway, here I am in the middle of another Thankful Thursday. Counting my many blessings. Giving thanks. Living in wonder, love, grace, and gratitude for all that God is doing, all that we are doing as a family, all that I am doing as a wife, mother, daughter, friend, and individual, and also looking foward with anticipation and hope towards all that is yet to come.

What am I grateful for today?

* Last Tuesday, 9 days ago, I had a serious disagreement with my beloved son. No need to share the details here, but our discussion ended with me in tears and him in silence. His silence and anger, my frustration and anger lasted for a week. Then this past Tuesday, I told him that I had looked forward to this year of homeschooling with him too much to allow it to slide away in silence and anger. So we talked, we listened, we cried, and we worked it out. Cleared the air. And now we are back to laughing, talking, and the usual teenage silence and nail-biting. I can live with that. And, Lord, Lord, Lord, am I grateful to be back on speaking terms with my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.

* I am grateful for the therapy of journal writing. I can carry my journal with me almost all the time so that I can whip it out, along with my favorite pen and pull the cork on my heart and let the wine/whine of life flow onto the pages. I attribute much of my mental health, the strength of my faith, and the stability of most of my relationships to journaling - I pour out most of what confounds and irritates me onto those ever-available pages so that when I am dealing with people face-to-face, I've already processed most of the tough stuff. I also list dozens of things and people I am grateful for. I write down stories and jokes I hear. I make lists of things I want to do, places I want to go, and people I want to meet in person. I jot down details from daytime dreams and nighttime dreams as well. I keep track of questions I have for my many doctors and other caretakers. I outline detailed plans of what I will do if (when?) I will the Powerball lottery. Plus, as Oscar Wilde wrote: "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train."

* Last weekend, I had the chance to spend a day and a night with a dear friend who lives in Durham, North Carolina. She took me for a long walk in the Duke Gardens. What a beautiful place!

What beautiful people we saw there - a quinceaƱera with her birthday court, the girls in hot pink and grey dresses and the boys in grey suits. I wished her a happy birthday as we walked past the photo shoot. (I couldn't resist taking photos of them. That impressive looking group was more than twice the size of my wedding party.) And this precious little girl wearing her gold and black ball gown.

* This little fella didn't want to leave the geese behind. His father had already walked away, but he stood and watched his feathery friends for a few more minutes. His father eventually returned, and although I couldn't understand what they were saying, I imagine that Daddy was trying to convince the young zoologist-ornithologist that the geese would be there on their next visit as well.

* I am enormously grateful for the dear, dear friend who led me on my tour, regaling me with stories of the gardens, the donors who support the gardens, and the lovely city of Durham.

* Earlier this week, I went to a nearby gas station to vacuum my car and go through the car wash. That in itself is something to be grateful for - although on the way home, I was annoyed with myself that I had spent $10 on two things I could easily do myself... Anyway, before I vacuumed the car, I checked the floors to make sure there wasn't anything there that I would hate to lose into that high-powered dust buster. I found a small piece of a dreadloc. Immediately, I was reminded that I used to have a lot more hair. I was reminded of how much I liked the color of my locs. Within seconds, tears welled up in my eyes as I thought about how much kanswer truly sucks. Almost as quickly, though, joy welled up as I thought about how far I've come in the past ten months. Yes, folks, I was diagnosed more than ten months ago, on November 6th, 2012. These have been the longest ten months of my life - but also the most enlightening and empowering. I had no idea how strong, how determined, how hopeful, how angry, how disgusted, how frightened, how courageous, how resilient, and how healthy I could be until this terrible thing happened to me. And all of that raced through my mind while holding a little chunk of red hair.

* I am grateful that I rediscovered the two books Gibbs lent me: Silence and Solitude and Attention/Intention. They are published by The Contemplative Outreach folks, and each one provides 40 days of readings on how to live a life centered on prayer and meditation on God's Word. (Sorry I've had them so long, Gibbs. I promise to return them when I'm done with them...)

* This morning's reading reminded me of a simple, profound, and often uncomfortable truth - "Everything is a grace."  --> "In Jesus' teaching, sacred places (and sacred people) are not essential for someone to be able to enter the Kingdom of God. The sacred place is where you are. It is ordinary life. This is what transformation is about. It is not going on pilgrimage or entering a special state of life. It is how we live where we are. What Therese (of Lisieux) called the 'Little Way' is quite simple the circumstances of everyday life and what we do with them. 'Everything is a grace' was one of her favorite sayings - a saying that while right to the point, is still terribly hard to grasp. How, we may ask, can everything be a grace?" 

I read tomorrow's reading as well. It adds: "She (Therese) gave her daily actions to God, working without hurry to stay in the present moment. She refused nothing given to her. She learned to prefer whatever happened." 

*** This is one of the things I am most grateful for in my life, not only on Thankful Thursdays - I am grateful for the increasing desire and ability to accept all that my life entails, to consent to the life that is mine, and to be transformed by what I experience and learn. Instead of immediately resisting the difficulties I encounter, I am learning to sit in them, to marinate in them, and to listen to the lessons they are teaching me. It's not always easy; heck, it's not ever easy. But I am determined to learn my lessons well, to share what I'm learning, and to deepen my love for and life with God in, through, and because of the little, ordinary circumstances of my life.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Underneath all this clothing...

I'm naked, scarred and wounded.

Underneath my maxi dresses and long skirts, my legs shake sometimes.

Underneath my smile, I am sad sometimes. Angry too.

Beneath the courage is fear, doubt, and shame sometimes.

Behind the quick response is a stream of questions.

Between my tongue and my teeth are muffled curses and screams and pleas for a "do-over."

Beneath the surface of the skin on my chest is the port where healing chemicals are introduced to my body.

Underneath all this clothing, I am also whole, complete, beautiful.

Underneath my maxi dresses and long skirts, my legs also stand firm and tall, unbowed before most of what life has brought my way.

Behind my smile is also love, happiness, and the sheer joy of being alive.

Beneath the courage is also strength, resolve, and boundless hope.

Behind the quick response is also the longing to listen to everyone else's stories.

Between my tongue and my teeth are also a million stories of grace, peace, mercy, forgiveness, and God's remarkable love for me and presence with me.

Beneath the surface of my skin my heart, mind, soul, and spirit also overflow with gratefulness and joyfullness.

2 Corinthians 4:7-9 - We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."

The power I have, the joy I have, the peace, the courage - this is not of me. I turn to God in prayer on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, because I often feel hard pressed on every side, crushed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. In prayer, in silence, in journaling, in meditation, I am refilled, renewed, reinforced, and am able to return to the fray, the challenges of parenting, marriage, homeschooling, and taking care of our home - as well as taking care of myself.

Underneath all of this clothing, I am naked, hungry, shivering,
and I am also loved, satisfied, and held close.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Tonight I am thankful for:

* the wonder of butterflies. Today, I went with my son and a dear friend to Discovery Place where we watched Flight of the Butterflies. If you've ever seen The March of the Penguins, then you can imagine the beauty of this film. How on earth do those animals know where to go, generation after generation? Flying south of the border as cool weather begins, eating, laying their eggs, resting and mating all along the way and then when winter ends up north, they make their way back. How? Why? I am grateful for the scientists and film makers who brought their story to us.

* the bounty of the supermarket
* the ability to buy what we want and need freely
* the opportunity to serve those who are not able to shop freely at the supermarket. Today, after seeing the movie, we went to our church's Loaves and Fishes food pantry to help distribute food to folks who needed help. One of the women we worked with took a bag of dog food, explaining that her dog hadn't had anything to eat today because they didn't have any food for her. My first thought was: "You could give her some of your food." Then I remembered, if she had enough food to spare, she wouldn't have been there at Loaves and Fishes. It saddens me to think of all the cats and dogs who are loved dearly by their human companions, but aren't getting enough to eat. To think of all the hungry children is truly heart-breaking. I am honored and grateful to be able to help fill some empty tummies through L&F as well as the Second Harvest Food Bank.
* the gratitude that the men and women expressed at being given the food they received
* how happy my son was to be there helping

* cool mornings for long walks
* US Open tennis
* meeting a friend at Michael's Craft store today - to wander and talk there and then in Target
* an invitation to lunch at a local country club tomorrow
* a freshly baked peanut butter cookie from The Great Harvest bakery
* red seedless grapes for 99 cents a pound
* discovering great dresses at Good Will and the Salvation Army store, not having to pay more than $5 to look fantastic
* escaping with Project Runway, Chopped, and House Hunters International

* a book I picked up at the library called Writing as a Way of Healing. So much wisdom and encouragement in this book. Here is one of my favorite sections:

"For illness (in Ethiopia) is viewed as a mystery to try to fathom (thought it might not yield its secrets) rather than as a puzzle to be solved (as it tends to be viewed in North America.) 
"I wouldn't be alone in dealing with my illness. The cleric and I would form a healing partnership. This is because my illness is understood in communal, mind-body, and interactive terms rather than in individual, physiological, and singular terms...
"I wouldn't be left along to comtemplate my illness, nor would I be told of its meaning by someone surer than I of what my body was experiencing. My healing journey, then, would constitute a collaboration. I would tell my story; the cleric would listen. Together, we would ponder the conundrum of what I was experiencing. Together we would try to understand its meaning. After hearing my story and assessing my circumstances, the cleric would devise a scroll for my personal use, drawing upon his knowledge about efficacious signs and symbols. 
"Reviewing my life in the context of my illness would constitute the single most significant part of my healing journey. For it would invite me to impose a kind of narrative order on what had happened, on the seeming chaos and destabilizing effect of my illness. It would invite me to think of possible cause and plausible effect. It would invite me to link my present with my past; to ponder how I might have come to harm; to imagine what my future might now hold. It would give me something to do now - a present-day task that I could effectively fulfill. Most important, it would involve me as an active participant in my journey to well ness. Being involved would make me feel less victimized, more efficacious. And thinkinkg of myself as capable would require restoration of belief in myself, a belief that had been seriously undermined by my illness." AMEN!!! I would LOVE to have a doctor who listened to me more than he/she talked, who asked more questions and didn't just offer answers. I would LOVE to have "a healing partnership" with my doctor. My chiropractor comes pretty close, but there are emotional and spiritual aspects to dis-ease, to kanswer, and to surgery that he and I haven't talked about. The good news is that I have dear friends who are willing to do some of the tough work, the weepy work, the soul work with me. Speaking of which...

* I am grateful for your support of me as a writer, as a woman, as a friend, as a fellow life traveler dealing with this crappy kanswer thing. Right after I was diagnosed, a friend from church said, "You've got to live life on life's terms." She was so right. And that's what I feel like I'm doing these days - living life on its own terms. With laughter, tears, numb toes, and all. I'm learning to tell my story more openly and honestly. I'm also learning that some people can't handle me telling my story. That's fine. I won't tell them any more of my story. Which brings me back to you - thank you, friends, for your presence here. Thank you for your comments. Thank you for the emails you send me behind the scenes. Thank you for the love, the thoughts, the prayers, the visits, the cards - thank you for being you. Thank you for encouraging me to be me.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The temptation

The temptation is to just write about happy endings.
to remain upbeat,
to tell stories of victory, only victory.

The temptation is to say that I'm back to normal,
that life is back to normal,
that everything is the way it used to be, even better.

The temptation is to smile,
to laugh, to tell jokes.

The temptation is to talk about recovery,
good health, doing the best I can to keep kanswer at bay forever.

The reality is that not all endings are happy,
not even my own.

The reality is that I'm not always upbeat;
I wasn't always upbeat before kanswer,
and I'm not always upbeat now.

The reality is that I am still really pissed off about kanswer.
I hate this dreadful disease.
I am angry that it invaded my body, my family, my life.

The reality is that, in my case, the term "remission" doesn't apply.
There is no test that can prove that there are no kanswer cells in my body.
All we can say is that the places where we saw kanswer cells at the time of my diagnosis are gone: surgery took those body parts away.
My body has been permanently altered because of this awful disease.

I still have to go for treatment every three weeks.
It enters my body thru a port in my upper right chest.
It goes directly to my heart.
I have had two ekgs to make sure it isn't doing damage to my heart.
Yes, I can develop heart problems as a result of kanswer treatment.
When I sit there in the treatment room, I am reminded of the horrors of chemotherapy.
I am saddened for and about the many people who will suffer so terribly in the days and weeks that follow treatment.

My fingernails still aren't normal, nor are my toenails. They are still loose at the tips, like they want to separate from my fingertips.
My left big toe still feels numb much of the time and swells after I walk.
The scars on my chest need to be stretched out regularly.
I have to lie on the floor and do exercises to stretch them.
I have to use elastic exercise bands.
Every day. Twice a day.
I stopped for a couple of weeks - thinking "It has been almost five months since surgery. Surely, I'm doing okay now."
Nope. The tightness returned. Back to stretching.
Looks like I'll be doing the stretches for a few months. Perhaps forever.

I take tamoxifen now - a daily pill - and will do so for at least five years.
A daily reminder of long-term possibilities of this terrible disease.
Deciding to take the medication involved a lot of reading, research, thinking, praying, and journaling.
I didn't want to take it. I really didn't want to take it. But I'm taking it.
Hoping, believing, expecting that it will kill of any kanswer cells that may have survived chemotherapy and surgery.
And the reality is that I can take these pills for five or ten years - and kanswer could still come back.
Kanswer sucks, folks. SUCKS!

The temptation is to not share these details.
The temptation is to not talk about how much I think about kanswer.
The temptation is to smooth the edges of my ragged emotions and make everybody else feel comfortable with me.
The temptation is to lose hope, to stay stuck in self-pity, and downplay how difficult it is to live with the reality of being a kanswer survivor.
The temptation is to hide in a bubble of belief:
"I believe that kanswer is behind me.
I believe that it won't come back.
I believe that if I eat well, avoid bad food, exercise, and pray hard enough, then I will be okay.
I believe that if I stop talking about all of this, then the tears won't flow so freely."

I'm glad that I don't easily give it to too many temptations.

Remember the critical voice I mentioned in this post? Well, it's back.
Saying insidiously creepy things like:
"Don't write such a negative piece. People want to read good news."
"Where is your faith? Don't you believe you are healed? You have to believe."
"Just let the kanswer thing go, Gail. Be thankful. Stop thinking about the bad stuff."
"How can you be sad and thankful at the same time? Ditch the former; choose the latter once and for all."
"Don't worry; be happy."