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

Control, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

More on predicting the future (in case you have been arguing with me…)

This blog is for those of you who read my post last week and have been arguing in your head ever since. If you haven’t read it yet, take a minute to do that before you finish this or it might not make very much sense.

The previous blog was about how we have a human habit of getting ahead of ourselves and preparing for every possible (usually bad) outcome. We waste hours, perhaps days, of our lives occupying our minds with potential solutions to problems that may or may not ever come to pass. My answer for you was to stay out of the future. Be present and quit trying to plan how you might respond to events you have predicted with your limited knowledge and ability.

But some of you start questioning the irresponsibility of not thinking about the future. I mean, anyone knows that if you want to achieve a goal, you have to set one! You have to have a plan. You can’t just hope you will have enough money to go on vacation next summer or assume that the hotel you want will be available when you just show up expecting a room. Some forward thinking is necessary if we are to be functioning vs frustrating members of society.
Even though it might sound like I am contradicting myself, hang with me for a few…

A few months ago I had lunch with a very motivated and successful business woman who gets more done in a day than I do in a week, and with a fresh happy attitude and mounds of energy. It was hard to have a consistent conversation because every other person that walked by knew her and wanted to stop and say hello. I was fascinated. She was meeting with me to help me figure out how to promote my book, shortly after it was published. As we talked about several topics I write about in my blogs, this particular one came up. She thought about it a minute and said that she understood we should give it all up to God and not try to live in the future, but asked “how do we do that if we have meetings and events and conferences to plan? What does that look like?”.

I sat there for a minute and I feel like God gave me an answer that might help her, but for sure helped me: “Hold it loosely”.

James 4:13,14 says “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow…what you ought to say is, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ In other words, “Hold it loosely.”

It’s OK to plan. It’s probably necessary to plan most things. Sometimes even far in advance. Part of dreaming and hoping means pondering what the future might look like. But, what I have learned is that I don’t always know what I need or what is best for me. On multiple occasions I have not gotten what I wanted, been sore at God and the world about it, only to find that if I had gotten my way, it would have been disastrous! And there have also been many times that the results I did get, even though I had planned differently, turned out to be better than anything I could have concocted with my small scope of vision.

So relax. I am not advocating that we all live like hippies and give no thought to the future. But, as you plan, get God in there. That part is imperative. Make plans along with God, asking for him to show you his way and his will instead of doing it your way and asking him to bless it after the fact. And once you have made said plans/goal/resolutions, hold them loosely. God may have something entirely different and most likely better than anything you could imagine.

Anxiety/Worry, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear

“Back to the Future”

By now you know I live in the Midwest. Last week they (“they” being meteorologists who in my opinion have one of the worst jobs ever, being as most of what they forecast rarely happens as they predict, resulting in frustrated and disappointed people around the planet…or maybe that was just me) told us we should expect 5-8 inches of snow. Based on this prediction, Open Houses, conferences, sporting events, yoga classes, concerts and bridal showers were cancelled all over Springfield. My son works at a grocery store and he said that based on the crowd you would think people were preparing for the Apocalypse. Apparently people planned to survive on bread, milk and booze. Ya know, the staples of a well-rounded diet. My son was planning a trip out of town so he left a day early to avoid the “hazardous road conditions”. My husband and I and both sets of grandparents made him a bit crazy with all the tips and warnings about driving in the snow, how to contact AAA in case they slid into a ditch and made him pack blankets, gloves and a hat in his car because you just don’t know what might happen!

Well, let me tell you what did happen. Nothin’. Nada. Zilch. Not only did we not get 5-8 inches and 35 mph winds, what did drop pretty much blew away or melted immediately. So, enough weather talk, because I think you catch my drift 😂…when we predict the future and base our current behavior on what we assume the outcome will be, we are usually in for some disappointment. Not only that, lwe rob the present of it’s joy because our minds are occupied with planning our reactions to future events that may or may not happen.

As usual, when I start thinking about such topics, like I did the day we got zero snow, life provides me with an opportunity or two to learn a lesson. I have to tell you that I am not super happy about it. In fact, I got very little sleep last night because I was very busy formulating all the ways that I will respond to a variety of potential scenarios. I knew it wasn’t helpful or healthy but I just couldn’t seem to shut my mind off.  I tried to turn it over to God, but I just kept taking it back. I let fear and worry about all the obstacles that could arise in the next few days steal my serenity and my sanity. I obsessed about the various possible outcomes of the situation as if I had no other option.

I hope that I am unique in this behavior, but I have a feeling I am not. I smiled when a phrase, a classic movie title actually, came to me regarding this tendency to fret about events that don’t exist: “Back to the Future”. I need to train my mind and choose not to let it to go “Back to (worrying about and trying to predict) the Future”. I would say I made a teensy bit of progress last night and this morning. In the night I tried to focus on being grateful that certain tough circumstances are no longer a part of my life. Instead of a gratitude list for what “is”, sometimes it is more beneficial for me to make one for what “isn’t”. That helped keep my mind stay occupied and my heart be thankful. The other thing I did was look up some readings on Letting Go, Control, and Living in the Present in one of my Recovery books. Then, I looked up a song on U-Tube about Fear being a Liar. Not only did the lyrics give me some relief (Fear, he is a liar. He will take your breath, stop you in your steps. Fear, he is a liar. He will rob your rest, steal your happiness. Cast your fear in the fire, ‘cause fear, he is a liar. -Zach Williams), but the video of people in truly hopeless situations gave me perspective on my own and made me cry and cry. This softened my senses to what many others struggle with and took the focus off of myself and my problems.

I still don’t know how my situation will resolve, but I am choosing not to try to “figure it out” ahead of time. I have done my part and have no control over what other people do or say. One of the lines from a book I read this morning really helped ground me in the truth of the matter:

“Part of me gambles that by worrying in advance, bad news will be easier to face if it comes. But worrying will not protect me from the future. It will just keep me from living here and now…I needn’t explore how I’ll feel about something that might occur in the future. I don’t actually know how I’ll feel, and it may never happen. So when I feel myself leaving the present, I’ll remind myself that the future is not today’s problem.” (Courage to Change p15)

Today is all we have to work with. I don’t want to miss it by going “Back to the Future.”

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Recovery

Extraction!

I don’t usually write at 4:30 in the afternoon, but today I am a little off because I got a tooth extracted this morning. I went in at 7:00 am and left at 9:45. I have mentioned before that I am a big baby when it comes to dental work. My heart rate rises and even during the shots I am clawing the arms of the chair and my whole body is tense. It didn’t help that a kid was getting his tooth pulled in the room next to me. He was crying and wailing, which was pretty much what I was afraid might happen when they started yanking on my tooth! I wished I would have brought my headphones because the breaking and grinding was sort of making me go insane. I actually asked them to turn up the Mumford and Sons radios station that was playing. At least I could sing along in my head! The dentist was patient and luckily, strong. The roots to my tooth were so wound around the bone that the dentist had to pull on it with all her might for an hour to get it out. When the last piece finally released I thought she might do a post-touchdown dance!

All that was pretty un-fun. But here is the worst part; they don’t put my fake tooth in for 4-6 months! There is nothing there, an no, you can’t see it! I feel so “hillbilly-ish” I can hardly stand it. Apparently it has to heal or something dumb like that, then they can screw a fake tooth into the piece they just drilled in to my jaw (anyone feeling light-headed just talking about this?).

My point in all this isn’t to get sympathy (though I totally earned it!). I had to let my brain go somewhere different while I was waiting for all that to be done, so naturally I thought about how that pleasant situation could relate somehow to life. For starters, I remember a friend sharing that she had some trauma as a young woman that damaged her heart, her body and her tooth. She has been wrestling with the effects of this event for almost 20 years. Awhile ago, she finally had the damaged tooth extracted and shared with me how she used it as an opportunity to make it a symbolic extraction of not only the tooth, but all the pain, nightmares, fears, insecurities and anger that she had been battling for years. I decided to give it a shot.

I pictured God as the dentist, trying his hardest to extract the rotten, unnecessary or no longer needed defects of character out of me. I know without a doubt that even though I know it needs to happen, there is something in me that holds on to those things for dear life. I am like those roots, twisted and tight and clinging with all my might to the very things that can set me free. Relieve me of pain. Help me move on in health and lightness.

And about these defects of character…recovery rooms define them as “assets that have lost proportion.” When we get out of touch with God, listen to wrong voices, are self absorbed and egocentric, or are effected by the disease of addiction in whatever form it presents itself, we often let the very things that once served us well, morph into behaviors or thought patterns that are dangerous to ourselves and our relationships with others. Our job however, and thank God for this, is not to figure out which ones need to go and how to make them go. Our job is simply to turn them over to God and let him decide the where, when, what and how of it. This may sound lazy to some of you, but if you think you are in control of what gets removed and the rate at which it goes, you might be deceiving yourself a bit.

Giving it to God lets a great weight fall from your shoulders.

One last thing; just like the area where my tooth is missing (sigh) has to heal for several months in order for a new tooth to be installed, so do you. You have to give time time. After the old ways, the useless and sometimes harmful ways are extracted, a period of healing and preparing and regenerating needs to happen before the new can be installed in you. Enjoy that time. Rest. Recover. Be patient. Be present. Be grateful. But be ready, because he is about to do something new and beautiful in you when you are ready for it.

I promise it will be worth the wait.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, Serenity

What’s on your index card?

As I have mentioned before, I do some yoga in the mornings. If I am coherent enough to remember, I lean an index card against the coffee table leg with a meditation to focus on and keep my mind from running ahead into the rest of my day. the other day I fired up my laptop with the video, set up my card and my mat and lit a candle. As I prepared for my first position, my mind started to fret over a few things left undone and and things I was afraid I would forget to do in the future. Luckily, I remembered, after a few minutes of worrying, to re-center my mind on my day’s mantra. I glanced over at the index card for the words I knew would give me perspective: It was upside down and backwards.

Well, that sounds about right. How much of my life is lived with me either forgetting about that card entirely, or operating with it upside down and backwards? I have several cards to choose from each morning. Each has some truth that reminds me of what I believe to be true, or want to be true in my life. Phrases like, “Do not worry about the past or the future. Each moment is enough for now. BE PRESENT” , “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him”, or “Me and the people I know and love are exactly where we are supposed to be right now. We are all ENOUGH.” But doggonit if I don’t forget them as soon as I roll up my yoga mat.

Over the past several years I have had to gather some new beliefs and tools and practices to manage some extreme challenges in my own little world. I read and review and talk about these principles with friends and at recovery meetings. But it doesn’t take much to let my serenity slip subtly away. It doesn’t take a catastrophe to make me forget what I know is the best way to live and behave. It only takes a slight distraction. That distraction can be a too-busy schedule with no time set aside to reflect and pray. Or it can be a person I choose to focus on fixing rather than taking care of my own over-all needs. And it can definitely be all the “cares of this world”, as Jesus put it, that vie for my attention and trick me into thinking that much of what I think matters, simply doesn’t.

This week I picked up a book. It’s actually my book about my life written by me. I am fascinated! If only I could be like that girl, I’d be amazing! And to quote myself, “when you compare yourself with yourself and you’re still not good enough, you know your in trouble!”. I would read an entry and think to myself, “Yes! I forgot that I believe that! I haven’t been living as if I do, that’s for dang sure.”

Here’s the deal; most of us know what we believe to be true and how we ought to live, love and act. If you don’t, start there. But if you do, you are probably also keenly aware, especially at the beginning of a new year, that you have a strong tendency, like I do, to forget to return to those beliefs and ways of living that you know will help you be your best and highest self, living in harmony and unity with yourself, God and others.

Yes, my index card, with an reminder of what I believe, was (and often is) upside down and backwards. But the goal is to keep referring back to those cards. First figure out what you need to put on your “cards” and harken back ( that’s fancy talk for “remember to look at it ya ding dong!) to it over and over as you go through your days. There will be times the words will be embedded on your heart and mind with unwavering clarity, while other times your card might be crumpled on the floor of your car or mixed in with a bunch of junk on your kitchen counter. But remember to look for it when you sense yourself getting out of step. Aimless. Grumpy. Discouraged. Heavy. Anxious. Fearful. Angry.

None of us can do this perfectly all the time. But my prayer for me and for you is that we will notice less and less space between the unrest and the solution when remember to return to our roots. To the core of what we know we believe.

Harken back to what’s on your “index card.”

Control, Faith/Spirituality, forgiveness, grace

A huge mistake! (Followed by “God is my refuge”)

I have been reading through my book to collect quotes for my Soul-Selfettes (posted on Instagram and FB in between full blog posts). And it happened, one of my worst fears came true. I found a HUGE mistake! I haven’t actually read my book in book form yet because I was afraid of this exact thing! Spelling and grammar are the worst culprits, but this one was even worse. I  wrote a blog in May 2015 and quoted myself from an earlier blog I wrote on April 21st. Only I couldn’t remember reading that entry in the book. When I looked back, I was horrified to realize it wasn’t in there!!! Seriously, what are the odds that the ONE blog that gets left out is the one I refer to and quote from an entry a month later? Slim my friends. Slim. So, anyway, now that I have recovered from being thoroughly annoyed with myself, I thought I’d re-post. If you have the book, just prints and stick in it’s chronological home. Humor me. 😜

 

April 21, 2015    God is my refuge

I spent yesterday weeding through all the things that have accumulated in my house over the past two months. It was a pretty big task and A LOT of decisions about where to put things. I haven’t had to make any “every day” decisions for a very long time. My brain hurt. One of the blessings of sorting through cards and gifts and lotions etc. was that I was able to read through some special notes people have given us. Warmed my heart all over again. One letter I found, though, was a note to Blake that someone ( thank you, friend, if you are reading this) had written to him soon after he left Hope. It was a letter and with it there was a poem. It was called: REFUGEE. I have always heard God referred to as a REFUGE, but never put two and two together (it’s a problem that plagues me) and realized that if He is my REFUGE, than I am the REFUGEE. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our REFUGE and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” Just to clarify, a REFUGE is defined as “Shelter that provides protection from danger or distress. ” A REFUGEE is defined as “a person who flees TO a POWER to escape danger…” . No one FLEES to a country or a power who is more dangerous or harmful than the enemy they are running from. It has to be a destination guaranteed to protect and defend to make it worth the risk of fleeing. Yet I seem to do this all the time. I tend to forget that people, places and things are not powerful enough to provide me with a “shelter to provide protection from danger and distress.” Only God is loving enough. Big enough. Wise enough. I love the response in Psalm 46 when the Psalmist has reflected on how powerful and magnificent God is..He/She says, OH! CLAP YOUR HANDS, ALL YOU PEOPLE!!!! Celebrate and rejoice. God is your REFUGE.

The final lines from our friend’s poem say:

There, the sky is near as near can be, and we are not afraid to ask:

“If you will be my REFUGE Lord,

Then shall I be your REFUGEE?”

Faith/Spirituality, grace

“When is enough enough?

My yoga mediation for today was “today I am ENOUGH, and I trust you with my future”. Mine are always some sort of reminder to “get God in there” as I start my day. This one is particularly powerful for me at Christmastime, a time when I feel sub-par in multiple areas. Maybe you have been feeling it too. I have caught myself worrying that I don’t have enough money to buy this or enough to pay for that (now that I just swiped my credit card). I am certain I don’t have enough hours in my day to finish my shopping and get everything wrapped in the next 6 days. I feel like I am not a good enough friend or neighbor because I haven’t baked one cookie or Christmasy treat for them, or for my own family, for that matter. I haven’t celebrated enough with people I care about, I haven’t spent enough time sitting quietly in my living room enjoying my Christmas tree and I haven’t done enough holiday activities or engaged in enough of our usual Christmas traditions. I haven’t reflected enough on the real reason for the season. My home doesn’t look enough like a Martha Stuart catalogue. I haven’t sent enough Christmas cards out (ok-so zero Christmas cards is legitimately “not enough”) and I am scared to death that I’ll realize on Christmas Eve that I don’t have enough presents for one of my kids (because we all know everything has to be even). Oh, and did I mention that lately I haven’t gotten enough sleep or eaten enough fruits and vegetables or worked out enough? Sigh…

You might say that I need to relax and lighten up. Take it easy on myself, for pete’s sake. You might be right.

But isn’t this the battle we all feel drawn to engage in during this single month of the year? we feel like the answer to the question “when is enough enough?” Is “never” when it comes to the scramble of the holidays.

One of the reasons I do not feel “enough” is because I compare myself with others and determine I don’t measure up. The other is because my expectations are unreasonable, unrealistic and unattainable. when I focus on trying to meet such expectations, I feel less than. Like a failure. Like not enough.
Today (and I will try not to wish I had practiced this meditation soon enough to enjoy this season more fully) I will remind myself again and again and again that who I am and what I have done is enough. It’s enough for me and enough for others and most certainly enough for God.

Faith/Spirituality, fear, Patience/waiting, resentment

Waiting for Christmas (to be over?)

We are in the Advent season. In this case, Advent is a religious term meaning “expectant waiting”, in case you have heard that term your whole life and are embarrassed to admit that you don’t know what that actually means. Specifically, it refers to the days of December leading up to Christmas. I love how author Jan Richardson eloquently puts it; “Advent is a dance set to the rhythm of waiting.”

As I read about Advent last week, I was a taken aback by my reaction. It went something like “Oh I’m waiting alright. Waiting for Christmas to be over!”. Maybe it’s because I am the slightest bit tired of the work required to redecorate my entire house for a month’s enjoyment. And maybe it’s a tiny bit about the fact that my kids are teenagers now and doing the usual Christmas tradition activities are a chore to them ( Looking at lights with mom and dad? Boring. Going to Festival of trees? Yawn. Frosting sugar cookies? Laborious. Hanging Christmas ornaments? Tedious.) It’s also possible that the past few Christmas’s haven’t gone swimmingly and my expectations for this time of year aren’t necessarily as hopeful as I wish they were at Christmas. Sometimes I feel like I am just holding my breath, tying to “make it through” without incident or trauma (like Leukemia, for example…).

Maybe you have a similar something going on. When kids are little and excited it can be contagious. It definitely helps distract from what our hearts tend to reflect on during the holidays. The Christmas season, like no other season, definitely embodies the words of the famous Christmas carol, “the hopes and fears of all the years” that circle and weigh and even haunt us. Our expectations are either through the roof (I mean, after all, look around at all these happy people going to parties and spending extravagantly and baking cookies with and for their friends and family) or they are in the pit (Christmas means disappointment, poor behavior from relatives, relational strain, or painful memories of the year our parent lost a job or we lost a parent or our parents split up, or or or…) . Nothing ignites our fear (what if this Christmas isn’t like those of Christmas past? Or what if it is?) and confounds our hopes (should we dare to hope for joy, celebration, or the feelings of “Christmas spirit?) like the ringing in of the first Christmas song in the department store the day after Thanksgiving. It has begun. How much longer before it can be over?

Even though many of us or “waiting for Christmas to be over”, most of us don’t really want to live that way. We long to have that childlike anticipation about Santa coming or what’s inside that weird-shaped box under the tree. I don’t know if it’s really possibly for us to recapture that kind of enthusiasm, but I do believe that with a little, or large, tweak in our attitude and approach to Christmas, we can learn to enjoy it in a fresh way this year. And I am talking mostly to myself…

So here’s one thought…let’s take the words of “Oh little town of Bethlehem” one step further. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” It is my belief, though clearly I struggle keeping it at the forefront of my life, that God came in human flesh at Christmas to fulfill my hopes and squelch my fears. Because he came, I can dare to hope. Hope for a different future, hope for a softer spirit, hope for a fresh start, hope for new patterns of living that produce a life I can embrace and cherish. And I can give him my fear. He came to cast out our fear of the future and also our fears created by the failures and damage done by us or to us in our past.

This doesn’t have to be a season we merely endure so we can get on with the new year. This can be a season of healing and gratitude if we take the time to remember what the gift of Christmas truly is: God in flesh. Who fills everything in every way. Advent, the waiting, can be a time to suspend all that is ordinary and bleak, and hover over the truth of what we can expect with confidence this Christmas: that God didn’t just enter our world as a baby on that first Christmas, he stayed. God is with is. Immanuel. And he is in the business of making us whole and feel wholly loved. Giving us hope, and casting out fear.

Faith/Spirituality, forgiveness

Jesus’ “birthday month”

I have a dear friend whose husband celebrates (and semi-requires his family to celebrate) his birthday, not just on his special day, but all month long. “His birthday month starts today,” my friend will inform me. It’s a busy time for everyone involved. Even though other activities occur out of necessity during that month, there is an over-arching theme that permeates each day’s responsibilities: the celebration of his birth and his existence in every regard. My friend is a good woman so even though she occasionally rolls her eyes, she cooperates and engages with what I would say, a pretty positive attitude.

I thought of this as I was doing my pre-Christmas-day reading. The book has dated readings and I started to panic a little when I realized I was on day 4 already! Every time I read it I will know exactly how many days (read: days to shop and get everything mailed and send out Christmas cards and bake cookies) are left until “the” day arrives. We all know Christmas isn’t just about the 24th and 25th of December. Advent, the time of preparation for Jesus’ birth, starts December 1st (and the bustle of Christmas in the retail world starts about a month before that!).

Jesus gets a birthday month…just like my friend’s husband. But I have to say, that even though it’s Jesus’ birthday, I have a natural inclination to make it about me. Let’s just take a minute to pretend that my friend treated her husband the way I treat Jesus during his birthday month. How honored will her husband feel if she regularly complains about the hassle of decorating or planning for or shopping for his party? Will her kids and family sense her love for them if she is cranky and short-tempered because this birthday thing is just getting to be a bit much? Will her actions and words during this month draw people into wishing they knew this amazing man who she has carved out her precious time to celebrate? Would her husband feel blessed and cared for if she didn’t do or buy anything she knew he really loved during this time, only doing what was fun and easy for her?

Does the God of the universe, who came to earth as a tiny baby so I could be free from sin and shame and loneliness and hopelessness, really “feel the love” from me during his birthday month? Have I been whining and complaining about decorating for Christmas? (Yes) Have I chosen to give him what he truly wants (forgiveness and grace and compassion extended to others) rather than what is fun or easy for me? Does my attitude about the Christmas season (Jesus’ birthday month) reflect well on him? Will others want to celebrate him also because of how I honor him with my words and actions? Have I made his birthday a month about me and mine rather than making him the common thread that runs through the Christmas carols, Christmas programs,  Christmas movies, Christmas presents, Christmas dinner and Christmas clean-up?

So, just a couple thoughts as you scurry through the next few weeks. First off, no, you cannot declare that you too shall have “birthday month”, because that sounds like a phenomenal idea to you. Second-we’re only 4 days in, so it’s not too late to start the party. Start putting your focus where (on whom) it belongs. Start doing the things Jesus likes because after all, it’s his birthday month. Start being mindful of how much you love him and acknowledge your gratitude for his unconditional love and selfless sacrifice. Start forgiving mean people who have hurt you on purpose or on accident. Start smiling. Stop complaining.

Stop waiting for Christmas to be over

(blog on that topic coming soon…)

**This is dedicated to my friend’s husband who shall remain nameless unless of course you helped him celebrate his birthday last month 😉

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.