Birth-day vs. Death-day

Yesterday was my birthday and I spent time at the hospital, not to be confused with in the hospital, which is the reality that wooed me to writing today.

My middle son, Bennett, had a rib extracted (look up Thoracic Outlet Syndrome for some fun reading)! He is home now and doing great. But I find it ironic that I spent my birth-day at the same hospital I almost spent my death-day 7 years ago.

Some of you might be tempted to feel sorry for me that I spent my birthday reflecting on how I almost died, how I spent time in 10 different hospital rooms on multiple floors, how I sat with visiting friends in the sunny courtyard, how I roamed the halls while I spent 70 days there over a seven month stretch, and how I was admitted in the very same department as we admitted my son the day before. It was all very surreal but don’t you dare spend a minute having pity on me…

I loved it.

In a twisted way, I embraced the memories and absorbed the history of it all as I ate the cafeteria food I had “enjoyed” dozens of times in the past. The only downside was I didn’t get my special button so I could have them serve me whatever I wanted, in bed, whenever I wanted; I soooo miss that button.😥

Because I am free of Leukemia today, I can celebrate. Being present there, on that specific day, was a wonderful gift from God…no doubt in my mind.

But, as per usual, I also had a couple new insights while hanging out in the waiting room during his surgery. Hang tight while I pontificate about one of them.

Picture a room full of people, from all walks of life, various ages, and gifted with a wide variety of social skills. The main thing, maybe the only thing, we had in common was that we were all waiting to hear about the progress and prayed for the success of someone’s surgery; Someone we loved or were at least obligated to support ( we have probably all been in both scenarios).

There was a desk by the front entrance with a land-line phone on it. No one was sitting at the desk, like they would have pre-pandemic. There was a simple note that instructed people in the waiting room to lend them a hand: if the phone rings, please answer it and then, somehow, find the people/person the nurses are trying to get information to about the patient and put them on the phone.

Alrighty then.

So, occasionally it would ring, and whoever was closest to the phone or had the least tolerance for the incessant ringing or is one of those weirdos who likes to be all up in everyone’s business and be uber-helpful (possibly me), would answer it. Then they would wander around calling out a last name until someone answered ( and not to tattle, but the Browns had apparently just left there “person” there and gone to lunch or something!).

As this continued to happen, it occurred to me that everyone who answered the call to get a message to the family member of a sick person, was also a family member of a sick person. Probably a very very sick person if they were needing surgery. But again and again, people answered and got outside of their own fear, worry and waiting for their own results in order to do their part. In order to bring a message of good news even when they didn’t know for sure that their news would be the same.

I have been preparing to do a few Events, what I call Soul-Selfie Soirées, in the next couple of months, and seeing this played out reminded me that even when our story is rocky and precarious, even while we are still “sick” with the dis-eases of cancer, addiction, resentment, control, anxiety, fear, doubt, etc., we can still use our stories to help others who are going through the same.

We will never be 100% whole and put together this side of heaven, but you might be just far enough along that your solutions might benefit someone else who struggles with similar issues.

This idea reminds me that the very first chapter of my first book is dated March 29th. I got out of ICU March 3rd. I didn’t know if I would live or die from Leukemia. What I did know was that up to that point, I had enough to say about hope and faith and healing and was ready to share it with anyone who needed to hear that message.

I’ll say it again for the thousandth time: It’s not what I write about that makes me keep writing or keeps others reading, it’s why I write. I write to let others know they are not alone in their struggles and there is always hope.

I don’t have to be “all better” to do that. And either do you. Your story matters. It matters to others and it matters to you. Quit waiting until you get your act together, your life cleaned up, or your circumstances ironed out.

When you tell your story, it’s a win-win: It will encourage and strengthen you as much or more than who you tell it to.

Stop waiting.

Answer the call.

Who do you think you are?

What I really want to talk about today is Elvis. But even though I have been preparing to write about him after seeing the new Elvis movie (which I can’t stop thinking about since I saw it a couple weeks ago…and no, it’s not because of his “Elvis the pelvis” dance moves so just relax😂), I “know in my knower” as Blake’s dad used to say, that I actually need to write about something else. We will save the King for later.

As I was trying to figure out (see past blog on “A new ‘bad’ word ) what I was going to say regarding my current state, I remembered that this blog has always been a vehicle for me to reason things out on paper with myself, God, and eventually, you. So, because of that track record, I will simply start typing and hopefully we will be pleasantly surprised when it’s all said and done.

This is a confession about a question that has been haunting me, harassing me, actually, for the past month or so. Maybe you have heard a whisper from the same accusing voice in your head: Who do you think you are?

question marks on paper crafts
Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

I believe this question is a direct reaction to getting a few “Soul-Selfie Soirées” booked at some local churches. The Self-doubt and questioning started there and came to a head when I booked one at the church in California I attended when I was in high school. Where my father-in-law pastored for 20 years. Where I met my now-husband. Also, where I was kind of a rotten, arrogant, prissy, bossy little brat.

The voice got violently louder after I hung up the phone, securing a time and date to do a 3 hour interactive women’s event: a Soul-Selfie Soirée. It said something like this…

“Who do you think you are, Heather? I mean seriously. So you had cancer. Big deal. You are not even a ‘real writer’ so what makes you think you are qualified to speak? Especially on spiritual topics. Don’t you remember all the dumb, mean, selfish thoughts you had last week? You gossiped and postured and posed. Who are you to tell anybody else how to live? You are a fraud and a sub-par Christian and person at best. Get over yourself already. No one wants to hear what you have to say and they wouldn’t respect you or listen to you if they knew the real you.”

And those are just the PG-13 accusations.

So, now I have three events booked and am locked in. We are moving forward so it’s high time I address this question with a better answer. When I am connected to God and putting His will first in all of it, here is how I respond to the question of “Who do you think you are?”

“I know exactly who I am. I am first and foremost a child of a God who redeems the hard stuff of our lives when we use it to help others who are going through the same. I am fully aware that I am also a hot mess much of the time. I am broken and riddled with chronic plagues of the heart and have character defects oozing from my pores.

And yet, I know that I know that I know, that those are the only reasons anyone keeps reading or listening to me: because I share in the messy. And I share how God has used suffering and various trials to mold me into someone better than I was before. Not perfect, just growing and learning what I can, usually from my mistakes. I long to help others realize that they too can embrace their story, even when it may be intended for ‘mature audiences only’, and share it with others who need to know they are not alone in their struggles and that there is always hope.”

That’s the answer I will try my best to remember. I don’t offer these Soul-Selfie events to brag on myself or show off what I know.

I actually don’t know much, but what I do know, deep in my bones, is that when I continue to “go first” and share with vulnerability, strength, and confidence that God can do all things, others seem to feel free to follow suit.

You can do the same. Mute the evil voice in your head that questions who you are and assumes you will cower when the awful, heinous, lying answer comes.

Own your story. Use it to help others. You are not a fraud. You are human. You are real. You can be vulnerable and let God use you–wherever you are at–to help someone who also needs a new voice of hope in their sweet little head.

This is there

I am going to have to learn how to go on vacation without taking a vacation from myself; from my routine and the time I set aside each morning for reading and connecting with God. After being gone more in the last month than I was home, I am realizing that I get soul-sick pretty quick when I mentally and spiritually check out from my entire reality. Lesson learned…

So here I am, back in my usual spot on the couch to reconnect with myself and with you.

Let me tell you a little bit about some people I met on my travels. It wasn’t competency mindless and indulgent, I suppose. 😉

At the airport, during my layover, I hopped on a zoom call with 3 amazing women who are using their past pain to do what I do: help others get through what they went through. One of them is a women named Sylvia who speaks and writes about how our trauma and drama effects our bodies. One great phrase she reiterates regularly is “our issues are in our tissues” and she has a book coming out called “Stressed to Kill”. (www.mindbodyworks.ca)

I spent a couple different mornings chatting with a new friend named Dan. He is a fellow cancer-kicker. Only he kicked it by avoiding surgery and chemo and switching to an entirely plant-based eating plan (Read Dr. McGregor’s book “How Not to Die” to see how he did it!) . By following it, his 57+ malignant tumors completely shrunk and disappeared. He is currently cancer free and living a busy, successful and healthy life!

I also got to meet one of my new friends, Rick, in person. We have know of each other through a family connection, but haven’t ever sat down and had a real conversation face to actual face. Zoom just doesn’t suffice indefinitely. We have been chatting regularly over the past few months because we are both authors of books designed to help others get through rough times. In about a years time, Rick lost his wife, his mother and his brother. He learned more than he ever wanted to know about the gritty details of what it takes to prepare for and follow up after someone you love dies. He has written an important book called, “When It’s Time”, that everyone, at any age, should read to make sure they are prepared.

Does anybody see a pattern here? I don’t believe it’s an accident that there is a common theme to all these conversations. What I keep hearing in my head is the title to a book I read in college by Francis Schafer: How Should We Then Live?

How should I live if I don’t want to die from diseases or from stress and emotional duress?

Such a great question. There are probably a plethora of answers depending on who you talk to. But since I like to share in my current state of mind, I only want to talk about one answer that has come to light as I have been reflecting on this question; one solution that might help me/you “then live”.

thoughtful woman writing in notebook at home
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

This thought came to me as I was talking with a friend yesterday. I heard myself say out-loud, “maybe this is there.”

This is there.

What I meant was that instead of focusing on where we want to be or go and beating ourselves up for not being there yet, maybe we should be fully present where we are, in the “this.” “This” is the only place/circumstance/body/mind we have to choose from.

We can obsess about the past and worry about the future, but we can only do that in our head. Our body is only capable of being in the exact moment in which we exist.

And that is enough.

We can “strive to arrive” all we want, but we can only be present in the present. If we can learn to live fully in the “this” and keep our head with our hands, we might have a chance of being content. Free. Dare I say, happy.

I have been struggling with this recently. My head has definitely been not with my hands. For example, last night I was trying to create a master blend of spices in the blender. I ran out of basil so I ran to the store and bought a new bottle and added a tablespoon to the blend. I proceeded to mix it, all the while thinking how strong of a basil smell the blend had. I couldn’t imagine how it could taste good on anything. That’s when I realized I had put the entire bottle of basil in the blender instead of the seasoning mix and was now left with powdered basil, good for pretty much nothing.

This is just one of many examples of not being fully present. Luckily it was pretty harmless. But there are so many other ways I am not fully present in my life.

I am too often “listening but not listening” to those I love. Distracted with my own fears, regrets, endeavors.

Even when my body is doing something “fun,” my mind is often elsewhere, trying to “figure it out,” whatever that “it” may be.

I know I have said it a dozen different ways in various blogs, so when will I finally accept and live out what I know to be true: that this is there.

This is all we have and the only there we are guaranteed is the this we are presently in.

Now, repeat after me: This is there. This is there. This is there.

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