awareness, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, identity, Relationships, Serenity, Trust

49er (almost 50 but not quite!)

Tomorrow is my birthday. It’s not the big 5-0, but I will be turning the number only one year away from that. I can hardly stand to even talk about that right now. So let’s just look backwards instead. I remember when I turned 30 I was sorely disappointed because in my twenties I envisioned myself being a “wise woman of God” by the time I arrived at that mile marker. Needless to say, that was “no-go”. I remember my 40th birthday well. A group of ladies went out to dinner with me at Indigo restaurant. It was a special time. My husband and I also celebrated our 40th by going to Grand Cayman for a week! It was awesome, but, side note, as I opened the doors on the veranda of our hotel room at the Ritz Carlton…again, on my FORTIETH birthday….there was a supermodel doing a photo shoot right below us. In a swimsuit. Sprawling across a speedboat. Posing and working the camera with great fervor. She was there for some sort of supermodel convention that would begin in a couple days. Supermodels trickled in throughout the week. I remember laying on the beach as they literally carried said supermodel across the sand to her next shoot about 20 feet away from me. Perrrrfect.

I had sort of blocked out that part of my birthday history until just now….

So, back to my original reason for writing. It’s not to get you to tell me happy birthday tomorrow. It’s about what I have come to understand about life and birthdays: God’s plan is better than mine. It would be easy for me to get pretty sad if I think about the fact that 50% of those friends that celebrated me on my 40th birthday are no longer in my life. Or when I recollect that after my 40th birthday my life pretty much imploded (or exploded?) and has been a serious learning curve ever since. Up until that point of my life I don’t think I ever really knew the pangs of betrayal, heartbreak, terror, rage or despair. I guess I was lucky to not experience it until 40, and for that I am grateful.

But here I am, 9 years later, and I have new eyes to see with as a result of what God has brought me through. I am still not the “wise woman of God” I had wished to turn into when I was 30. But that’s ok. What I am, or in the process of becoming, is more joyful, more humble, more content, more relaxed, more vulnerable and authentic. I am also becoming less of a few things: less judgmental, less angry, less fearful, less insistent on my own way. I have come to realize that though I would not have chosen to go through the struggles I have faced in the past almost-decade, God used them to mold me into a person I finally like. I finally feel like I am leaning in to what He wants for me instead of trying to manipulate him into giving me what I think will make me happy.

I had to go through the fire to reap the benefits of the refinement that comes only through the intense heat of extreme circumstances. There is no other way but through if you want the serenity that comes from trusting God in every single event, challenge, opportunity, accident or heartache that comes your way. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly was not bravely challenging the storm to “bring it on!” most of the time. But I didn’t give up or curl up. I trudged away. I found new friends to celebrate with these past few years. Though I had to say goodbye to many relationships, I have added more than double what I lost. My life is richer now as a result. I would say that I know and interact with at least 100 more people that have blessed my world, all as a result of circumstances that seemed as if they would be the figurative and even literal death of me.

When I was reading Oswald Chambers this morning, I skipped ahead to the reading for my birthday. Here’s what I read and what I will do my best to remember until I turn 50 (at which point we can chat about whatever new revelations God has brought my way…):

“If a man or woman is called of God, it does not matter how untoward (read: horrific, undesirable, agonizing, disappointing, sucky, etc.) fcircumstances are, every force that has been at work will tell for God’s purpose in the end. If you agree with God’s purpose He will bring not only your conscious life, but all the deeper regions of your life which you cannot get at, into harmony.”

Thank you God. Happy Birthday to me.

Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

Celebrating Emma…

On July 20th, our only daughter turned 18. Kind of a big deal, I’d say. Helping her celebrate took some creativity on our part and I have to say, it was one of the best birthdays I have ever had. 😂 I realize it wasn’t my birthday, but the joy of celebrating hers was better than celebrating my own! You see, she is currently living in Oregon for the summer. So, not only is she 1,718 miles away, she can only have her phone on weekends and had to leave the camp for the weekend of her birthday because it was being used for a retreat. But, leave it to Emma, she has made many friends already and arranged to go home with a new friend for the weekend. She had told me she didn’t want any gifts because her pile of gifts, between me and grandparents, was already getting pretty big and she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to get them home! I listened a little bit but knew she would want a little something to open on her birthday so I sent a small package of unique and small gifts and arranged for it to arrive at the home where she was staying. As we talked (after she got her phone back!) she mentioned how excited she was when she realized she would be able to take an actual bath (in private in a clean tub, vs group-shared showers at the camp). Enter Amazon Prime 2 day shipping. I immediately hopped on the site and sent a box of Bath Bombs to the home for delivery on her actual birthday. And this is my favorite gift of all: I spoke with her friend’s mom and arranged for her to pick up the most decadent and glorious dessert on the planet and Emma’s favorite, a Mud Pie from Baskin and Robbins.

During her birthday weekend, she went to Canon Beach, a place I have visited when I lived in Oregon as a child. This gave me such joy, seeing her share in a beautiful place that I could picture and remember. She also visited Multnomah Falls, another place I had been several times when I was young and have fond memories of.

I have been wondering about why I enjoyed Emma’s birthday so much, considering I didn’t get to see her or hug her or eat even one slice that Mud Pie. It’s obvious that I love her and want her to feel celebrated, which I believe she did, but my joy in it comes from doing something for someone I love dearly so that she feels how special she is to me. How valuable she is and how much energy and effort I put in to making her day unique but also with the familiarities of home.

It has occurred to me that this is how God surely feels about me and the good gifts he sets before me everyday. Sometimes I ask for them, but sometimes I don’t, and he gives them anyway-and he loves it! Sometimes, like Emma, I am content to live with what I have and he surprises me with blessings I didn’t even know I wanted-and he feels giddy with satisfaction that he has made my day. Any time I appreciate nature and the creation he has set before me to enjoy, he feels my pleasure and it warms his heart. And when I am grateful for the gifts, the answers to prayer and the surprise answers I didn’t think to ask for, he is deeply, warmly and fully satisfied.

God loves me as I love Emma. In helping her feel loved on her birthday, from Illinois to Oregon, I got a tiny glimpse of God’s intense and sweet love for me and can honestly say to him, “Now I know how you feel. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

Three days before cancer…

Tomorrow marks 4 years to the day I was diagnosed with Leukemia. I suppose it didn’t arrive that day, but I was blissfully ignorant of it until 4:00 February 6th, when a doctor from Simmons Cancer Institute told me over the phone that my blood work, done that morning, indicated that I had Leukemia and I should go straight to the hospital. They already had a bed reserved for me.

For obvious reasons, I have been reflecting on that day, and actually, even more so on the days leading up to that day. Before I get into what I can learn from my experience, I want to share a few miracles that led up to February 6th, making it possible for me to survive Leukemia and not be taken by it. Some of you might not realize what a close call it was. When I spoke to the oncologist after arriving at the hospital around 5:00 (one hour after they informed me of this diagnosis), he told me that at the rate my white blood cells were reproducing combined with the fact I had no immune system, no platelets and no red blood cells, if I hadn’t come in that day, I would most likely not have lived to see next week.

So, let’s rewind a couple of weeks. I was in California visiting my family. My mom and sister and I went on a hike. I literally had to stop every 20 feet or so and catch my breath. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I figured I was just out of shape (because the Leukemia hadn’t presented itself yet but still had some weird symptoms, I had been diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis) from slacking on my workouts. In actuality, I had no red blood cells, which stores your oxygen. Of course, I would not be shown up by my mom and sister so I pushed through and made it to the top. It’s a miracle I didn’t have a heart attack!

Also a miracle: I flew on an airplane with no immune system and didn’t contract even one virus, any of which could have killed me!

While I was in California, I got an email from a friend who I hadn’t seen for several months. She asked about getting together sometime and instead of it being weeks or months before we could coordinate our schedules as sometimes happens, we made a date to meet on Wednesday of the upcoming week. By the time I met with her, I was so discouraged about my symptoms ( I think I knew in my heart I did not just have Rheumatoid Arthritis) that I decided to just ignore it for awhile and pick it back up. I was tired of trying to figure it out. But, when I met with my friend, I told her about all the little red dots on my body and bruises on my forearms, just from resting them on the armrest on the plane ride home. I whined a lot about having to eat differently because I had Rheumatoid Arthritis. She said that her son had a blood infection when he was small and it had similar symptoms to mine. By the end of the day, thanks to Web MD, I was convinced that I had it. I was back in the game of trying to figure out what was going on with my body. I would have ignored it had I not met with her and her son hadn’t had something similar. I remember her telling me that I should see a hematologist. I didn’t know until later, as I went to my Oncologist, that they go hand in hand. And, Leukemia is a blood cancer. Miracle #3.

The next day was Thursday and I was scheduled to clean a house. It was getting harder and harder to function because every movement caused my heart to race. I distinctly remember contemplating if my client would notice if I didn’t vacuum the upstairs that week because I was pretty sure carrying the vacuum up from the basement might do me in. I realized that this was ridiculous since I was a fairly in-shape 45-year-old! I called to make an appointment to see my doctor. I made it clear that I didn’t want to see a nurse practitioner, only my real doctor, because I suspected something was seriously wrong with me. She told me he could not see me for a week. I said that was fine, but after telling her my symptoms, she said, “Hold on a minute. Let me see if you can get you in earlier because of your heart issues.” I was on hold so long that I eventually hung up. She called me back and told me he would see me the next morning, Friday, February 6th. Miracle #4.

I remember that day like it was yesterday and forever ago at the same time. I remember going to a Real Estate training, leaving early and telling the instructor I would be back after my appointment. I didn’t go back to Real Estate for 8 months. I remember sitting in the waiting room with my husband (who I made go with me to bully the doctor into listening to me better). I remember him demanding a complete blood count, and my doctor be befuddled about what might be going on with me. As a side note, I’m no doctor, but if someone told me they had red dots and bruises on their body (no platelets) their heart was pounding out of their chest when they bent over to pick something up (no red blood cells) and had other chronic symptoms that never seemed to get better (no immune system) I would tell you to get a CBC stat to make sure they didn’t have Leukemia. Anyway…I digress. Needless to say, we don’t go to that doctor anymore.

When I got home, I was tired and discouraged. Not really worried, just done. Done with trying to diagnose myself and feeling like no one else could. I slept for 3 hours. I woke about 3:00, did a couple chores around the house and got “the call” at 4:00. I sat at my kitchen table in shock as they told me the news. I didn’t freak out or anything. In fact, I didn’t even call my husband. I called a doctor friend of mine to find out if he knew any good Oncologists because I had just been told I had Leukemia. He said he didn’t and I remember saying, “Hmmm, maybe I should call Blake.” He concurred. Blake came flying in as I was packing to go to the hospital. What exactly does one pack for an open ended trip to the hospital? While I packed my husband called the doctor back to get better information. Apparently I wasn’t able to communicate effectively in my current state. We called a friend to come pick up Bennett and Emma had already left for a friend’s house for a sleepover. As we got in the car I wondered out loud how long I would be in the hospital. My husband said, “Thirty days”. That’s when it started to get real. It ended up being 35 due to the fact that I got a secondary infection that almost killed me, but that’s a story for another time.

Pretty sure that all of that story wasn’t necessary to recount in order to make my point today, but bear with me because I really need to talk about it. It helps me be grateful for where I am and where I am not.

When I go through all these precursors to cancer D-Day, I am not only thankful that we caught it in time and for all the miracles leading up to it, but I am acutely aware that I took for granted life as I knew it before Leukemia. On any given day I can certainly find something to worry and complain about, and boy, do I! But after cancer came, I would reflect on my health prior to that and how often I not only didn’t appreciate it, but whined about it (I am so tired, so sore, so fat….)! For a lot of us, we don’t know what we’ve got til’ it’s gone. We complain about our kids not being focused enough on school, until they are caught with drugs or alcohol. We just don’t think we can make it through one more day of work with those people, until we get fired and can’t find another job. We hate on our bodies when we are young and don’t realize how good we looked until we are old and 20 lbs heavier. We battle feeling taking advantage of and unappreciated by our children until they move out and we feel lonely and long for someone to take care of and cook for.

You get the idea. It is extremely hard to live in the moment and savor it. My friend always asks me, when I am complaining or panicking about my life circumstances, “”Is everything OK right now? Then everything is OK.” In other words, today is all we have, and tomorrow could be drastically different. If we knew what was coming would we have a different attitude? Maybe. Hopefully. But even though God cares about all our problems, there are always people who have it worse, and today or tomorrow “those people” might be you. So, just for today, try to focus on what is at hand. I really wish I would have tried better to enjoy my last few days before cancer hijacked my life. Have you ever had that type of regret?

Today, when I find myself worrying or complaining about people or situations in my life, I think “at least I don’t have Leukemia. I can shower by myself and go to the grocery store and eat fresh fruit. I don’t need a walker or a shower chair and all my food doesn’t taste like metal. I don’t have to stay in the hospital 6 days at a time, I get to do my own cleaning, and I don’t have to give myself a daily shot in the stomach.” Try inserting some of your own words in there: At least my kids aren’t on drugs, at least I don’t have diabetes, at least he’s not drinking today, at least I have a job, legs that work, eyes that see, ears that hear, a car to drive, a house to heat, food to cook, and the list goes on. Maybe that’s a good prayer that will keep us all a bit more grateful and sound less bratty: At least I have/don’t have______________.Thank you, God. Amen”

Today, I am just grateful to be here

awareness, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

Feelings aren’t facts…

Maybe not writing for a couple weeks has a direct correlation to the fact that I am struggling. Which came first? Who knows. What exactly am I struggling with? Well, ironically, during this Thanksgiving season-it’s gratitude. At a time of year when even the most curmudgeonly people seem to pull out something to be grateful for, I am just not feeling it.

You have probably heard it said that “feelings aren’t facts”, but even when I make a gratitude list or encounter dear people I know I am thankful for, the facts remain and the feelings ( read: warm, kind, sweet, tender) don’t match.

I figured out that my attitude sort of stinks on this whole”thankfulness” topic while I was doing some reflective reading yesterday. The book has dated entries and this reading started with the same repetitious reminders that the author has addressed for the past 7 days: “be thankful in all circumstances”, “thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity”, “thank God frequently”, “thankfulness is a language of love”, “thanksgiving puts you in a proper relationship with God,” “fill your heart and mind with thankfulness”, “when your mind is occupied with thankfulness, you have no time for worrying or complaining.” Blah, Blah Blah. You get the idea. I was shocked at my response when I realized she was still stuck on this topic; a big eye roll. I mean, Thanksgiving is over lady! Let’s move on already!

I give you permission to pause it here and decide whether you want to continue reading what my bratty-sounding self has to say (maybe ever again!)…

For those of you who are still with me-I just have to say that I am not proud of this posture and it makes me feel like I have no right to write anything at all until I get my junk together. But I have learned a couple of things from writing a few hundred blogs. One, when I stop writing regularly, bad things happen in my soul (since the majority of what I write helps me first and you second. I can’t give away what I don’t possess). And two, when I share the stuff I am most ashamed to share, that’s when people seem to connect the most. I suppose I understand. I feel weird and isolated and crazy most of the time, and I don’t always find hope when I hear motivating talk from someone whose life seems spotless and never appears to struggle with “temporary insanity”-being tempted to live counter to what they know to be true in their heart. I just don’t relate and despair and self-pity take over.

So-what am I gonna do about my lack of “happy” feelings and my pessimistic, prickly emotions? Well, as I have said, awareness is the first step in making some changes. Now that I I am aware, I can make some phone calls and dialogue with people and God. And I can know that “this too shall pass”, because sometimes we just get in a funk for no apparent reason and we don’t have to flog ourselves over it.

Don’t worry about me. I’ll do what I need to do to get “better”. But even though I started this blog to confess my grouchy, juvenile attitude and maybe give some insight into how to “fix” it, I think that God has other intentions for it. What I hope you hear, is that “you’re not alone.” I am still here for you, still as messed up as ever, and I will walk next to you as we “trudge this happy road to destiny” together. Never, ever forget that.

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, Serenity, Trust

Grateful for air-conditioning

Maybe if I just start typing my brain will untangle itself about what I want to say today. God must be trying pretty hard to teach me about living in the moment, because my brain continues continue to circle back around to that lesson I have yet to learn, apparently. Or maybe he just knows that in most cases, I need lots of reminders.

This morning, while driving my kids to school I was chuckling to myself (since no students in my car are interested in hearing my insights before school or before 8:00am-go figure) about a conversation I had with my oldest son who is currently renting a room out in California. He doesn’t want to commit to an apartment until he decides where he is going to land once he finds a job that can help him along in his career path. Unfortunately, California is running at about 110 degrees lately and since he is only renting a room, he has no control over the thermostat. And even more unfortunately, the person who does have control is the one who pays the bills and they seem to feel that 85 or 90 degrees is a reasonable temperature to keep the house. I say all that to tell you about my (in my head) response to all that: “I bet he wishes he had been more grateful for that annoying dorm life last year!” For the air conditioning control privileges. If only he had known what was coming, he would have cranked it up to 72 and relished what he would one day long for as he lay dripping sweat in his bed (my poor baby!).

But isn’t that how it works? We don’t know what we’ve got til’ it’s gone? I have lost track of how many times I have kicked myself for not wearing a bikini when I was 20 and size 4! I just couldn’t enjoy my body because it wasn’t “enough” of where I wanted it to be. Now I think, I should have been grateful that I looked the way I did instead of wishing I had “that girls” body.

It gets more serious than fat vs. skinny, too. I remember wishing I had a bigger house or better car or job. And I am ashamed to admit that though I haven’t wished for different kids or a different spouse, I have wished for a kid who minded better (when they were toddlers) or talked sooner (when they were babies) or did more or less of what our society deems successful and well-rounded. I have wished my husband was as attentive or romantic as men in movies who are paid to act that way or as financially successful as so and so’s husband. I am not proud of these thoughts. Mostly because it shouts that I am living in the past or the future. Regretting that I didn’t embrace what I used to have or pining for what has not yet come.

Both of these states of mind keep me from being present. From being grateful for this day. this moment. This one and only precious life. If we can learn to say “thank you” to God, to ourselves and those around us for contributing to where we are at today, we can avoid living in the past or waiting for our lives to change so we can be happy. Today Is all we’ve got. It’s time to stop feeling sorry about what was or for what isn’t and start being grateful for what is.

Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, Trust

My cup runneth over (with what? Is the question)

I am trying to come up with a clever way to start this entry without leading with something like “In the 23rd Psalm it says…”. To some, bible verses feel antiquated and childish. But I don’t think I can do it. Just trust me that it will be relevant to your life and keep reading (pretty please).

So, in the 23rd Psalm, which most people have heard at least once in their lives ( you know, “the Lord is my Shepherd…”), the end of verse 5 says “my cup runneth over”. It’s interesting to note that whatever “it” is in the cup, isn’t just full to the brim, contained and controlled, it is spilling out and over flowing. And, who says that the stuff in the cup is liquid? Couldn’t it also be overcrowded, bursting, busting at the seams, bulging, and jam-packed? At any rate. That sucker is not big enough to hold all that is continuously being poured or packed into it.

I am not going to pretend to provide an exegesis (fancy word for a critical and smart explanation of scripture) of this phrase, I am simply going to tell you the state of mind, torked as it was, when I read “my cup runneth over” in a book about the 23rd Psalm. I was reading along and when I got to that verse, a voice in my spirit surprised me. The paraphrased version was: “Oh it runneth over alright! Overflowing with problems, frustrations, issues, questions, doubts and irritating situations!”

Nice attitude, right?

There were, and are, some areas of my life (read “areas of other people’s lives whom I love and feel compelled to fix, manage and control”) that are challenging and disappointing (read “not living up to my expectations or giving me warm fuzzy feelings”). I certainly felt that my cup “runneth over” beyond containment. My natural response was to complain to God about this and demand, as nicely as possible, an explanation.

The other night, my husband and I were discussing the Myth of Sisyphus (ya, know, just some light marital bonding conversation 😬). You know, the story about the futility of life? Roll a giant bolder up a big mountain, only to stumble near the top, lose control, and have it roll back down. Over and over and over for as long as you live. This is Albert Camus’ analogy about our lot in life. Very inspiring, right? My two-cents worth during our discussion was, yes, life is basically a lot of hard work and often very redundant, the only factor we really have control of is our choice in how we do it. Will we choose to whine and complain about the sweat and sore muscles, or will we whistle while we work?

I suppose my point in all this, in case you sometimes feel like your cup-o-crap is indeed running over (and over and over and over), you, like me, have a choice. Because there are also thousands upon thousands of reasons to see it with different eyes. A gratitude list is one of the best ways to stay and keep mindful of all the blessings (even when they are disguised as difficulties) in our lives, the lives of others and in the world at large. Some days your list may only consist of you being thankful you didn’t kill anyone that day. Hey, it’s a start! But soon, I think you will find that you have to cut yourself off from writing down all that is “good” in your life because you run out of time. Some days it might be the superficial stuff (coffee ice cream, Netflix, no humidity, Starbucks, a good parking space, a sale on those shoes you have been eyeing, etc.). Then there’s the basic things we should be grateful for but sometimes take for granted (sleep, air, nature, healthy food, drinkable water, friends, family, etc.). It’s that final level of gratitude that tells us where we are at with God and whether or not we trust his ways in the world (grateful for this or that problem/situation/difficulty that produces perseverance, tenderness, tolerance, compassion, empathy and brave and determined spirit in us).

This morning, a reading from Oswald Chambers made me weep. Mostly because I so often think such inaccurate and flat out wrong thoughts about God when I choose to believe that He has filled my cup with everything but the blessings. “There are times when God wil appear like an unkind friend, but HE IS NOT; He will appear like an unnatural Father, BUT HE IS NOT; He will appear like an unjust judge, BUT HE IS NOT. Keep the notion of the mind of God behind all things strong and growing…You can rest in perfect confidence in Him.”

My sweet friend-does your cup, like mine, feels like it’s overflowing with everything opposite of goodness and mercy? First of all, you are not alone. But it is vital for both of us to choose to trust God’s bigger plan. His desires for us are immeasurable more than all we could ask or even imagine. Start seeing with new eyes the layers upon layers of blessings that are there all the time if we choose to focus on them.

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