Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, Relationships

Here’s to you, Vismay…

On July 17, 2015 I wrote a blog called “Take a Deep Breath.” The over-arching theme was  about how God “book-ended” my leukemia journey by providing me an encounter that allowed me to close out my treatments in a meaningful way. You can read it in my book or in the archives, but basically, on the last day of chemo (hopefully ever) I went out to eat with my mom. We walked into the cantina (because the last day of chemo calls for fajitas and margaritas, naturally) and the only people there besides us were two men eating dinner, who just happened to be one of the residents who was there at the beginning of my journey (that’s the conservative and positive word for “roller coaster of terror and tears”) and the resident who checked me out-for-good just hours before. Seven whole months after our lives as we knew it came to a screeching hault.  I believe God was telling me that he “knows and sees” every tiny detail of my life. He also knows I am a total sucker for these kind of coincidences, or “God-things”, as I like to call them. I am not making that story up and I am not making up what I am about to tell you now…

The impact of having Leukemia didn’t end when I left the hospital for the last time. It just marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another. I continue to write about how our common disease of the soul is a connecting, on-going battle. My book was officially available for purchase 2 days ago. It begins less than a month after my leukemia diagnosis (I apologize in advance for my rough writing skills at that time. Don’t judge…) and covers 100ish entries. I have written 300+ to date. I didn’t plan for my vacation to start this way, but God knew it was coming. I suspect He was a little giddy with anticipation, knowing what was about to happen. I am currently sitting on an airplane headed to Napa to spend time with my parents, my siblings and their families and a couple college friends. I am choosing to use this to celebrate that the book-work is done (for now…) and hope to relax and refresh. And if that was where the story ended it would be a good one. But that God…He’s so extra. As I sat on the plane I was visiting with some local friends sitting behind me who were also headed to California. I knew they were aware of my leukemia and had prayed for me, keeping up on my blogs on occasion. I told them my book was officially done, available on Amazon and gave them a couple business cards with my blog link on it. Then, the man sitting literally across the aisle from me (practically on my lap on these puddle jumper planes) says, “You’re Heather Carter. I thought I recognized you.” I had thought he looked familiar (in all fairness, he didn’t have a beard when I saw him last, and I had a lot less hair, as in none). His name is Vismay. He was rounding on his first day of Residency when I plopped, frightened and fragile, onto the Oncology unit of Memorial Hospital.

So-I am sitting here emotional and overwhelmed with gratitude and affection. It takes me right back to the beginning of it all.  You see, while the doctors and nurses changed every day for the first 30 days I was in the hospital (yah, the first 30), the residents were consistent. Their faces were my only constant. They held my hand and smiled and offered a security I desperately needed. I specifically remember Vismay being my translator one day when I was in ICU, with new doctors and nurses, confused and terrified. Someone needed to explain to me why an infectious disease doctor was talking to me and what in the blue-blazes he was saying. I squeezed the life out of his hand and implored him with my eyes (I wasn’t able to speak after being intubated for several days) to translate. I remember looking at the doctor (on the right side of my bed), trying to make sense of what he was saying, and then looking to Vismay (on the left side of my bed) for translation.  Lucky him.  However, I will say that every patient he had after me was probably a cake walk!

He is sleeping now, and I sincerely want to get him a blanket and pillow and a drink and ask him if there is anything I can do to make him more comfortable. I probably won’t, because I’m not a complete lunatic. But I so wish I could give back in a way that shows the significance of what his presence meant to me 3 years ago, and what it means to me to see him again today.

So, to quote myself from my very own book 😉😬,

“Book-ends: the beginning and the end-the front and the back, with all kinds of stories sandwiched in-between.”

God is again showing me:

*That He is paying attention to the details of my life and wants me to know it.

*That He wrapped it all up like a sweet, thoughtful gift, so that I can open it and use it to help me and help others as I move on to write new stories.

 

Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

The “Good mood of the soul”

I really wanted to write about sleep this morning. Probably because “spring forward” was 4 days ago and I am extra-tired from waking up in darkness and laying awake, unable to get to sleep at my normal bedtime. However, as I started reading this morning, I noticed a recurring them running through each author’s insights: Joy. So, as it goes in so much of life, sleep will have to wait.

I love how Methodist pastor Anne Robertson explains joy. She says that ancient Greeks described joy (chairo, in Greek) as “the good mood of the soul.” What a full description for such an indescribable sense of being. It’s not a feeling, stirred by kind circumstances and memorable and cherished events. Joy, unlike happiness, can be a state we live in even when actual happiness is impossible. Brene’ Brown says, “I’d like to experience more happiness, but I want to live from a place of gratitude and joy.”

And that seems to be one of the key ingredients to living a life marked by joy; gratitude. I realize this sounds simplistic, but when we keep in mind that “it could be worse”, we will alleviate much of the complaining we do about our current circumstances. When we choose to focus on the good in our lives, or even absence of the bad, we are choosing to live in joy. We don’t have to think very long, to come up with people we know who live or have lived through horrific circumstances and tragedies with an aura of joy radiating from their spirit. Nor do we have to think too hard to bring to mind someone we know who lives in a constant state of ingratitude and joyless-ness, even as they float through circumstances most people would envy. It’s about attitude, and gratitude. It’s about perspective and choosing to see through the lenses that God prescribes, rather than our own smudged, scratched and smeared pair of glasses.

Only with God’s vision see clearly and face the endless flow of problems of this life with good cheer. In His presence we have a joy-a peaceful and restful state of soul and spirit-that no one can take from us (John 16:22) and that no turn of events can threaten.

Joy, it seems, is found most commonly in, well, the common. I remember very clearly my first “outing” when I was finally released to be out in public after my leukemia treatments. I had been neutropenic (having no immune system and susceptible to any and every disease) for weeks and was finally free to leave my house. I went to Hyvee. To a grocery store. And I could not have been more grateful. I was overwhelmed with joy. I had a deep appreciation for the very activity I used to dread; grocery shopping. What had previously been a drudgery, was now a luxury. My perspective had changed. I was fully present and engaged in my day to day, mundane life because I had been rescued from death’s doorstep.

Now…I was lucky. Because it is far easier to have this amazing perspective when you have been taken to the edge of actual death. But it can still be done. And I highly recommend that you learn it today by choice, rather than having to learn it in the pressure-cooker of heartache, tragedy or pain. If we seek joy in the small gifts of everyday living-in the tucking in of a child, the observation of nature, the delightful taste of a well-prepared meal, the aroma of coffee in the morning, the fact that you can drink and bathe with running water, and the thousands of tiny blessings we take for granted-we might actually obtain it.

Happiness is fleeting. It comes and goes with the wind. But joy doesn’t have to be. It can be your underlying “constant”. The stillness of soul that comes from a heart bent toward unconditional gratitude. Without joy, we live deflated and defeated. We pump ourselves up with activity and vacations and entertainment and accomplishments, but when those things wane or falter, we are left lifeless and flat. Our remedy, our prescription, for living in joy, is gratitude.

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize

how good things really are.”         -Marianne Williamson