I Choose Joy!

That day, my nursing supervisor called me to intervene with an employee situation. Since I’d worked in mental health for fifteen years before becoming a school nurse, she depended on me to help settle down a staff member who was upset, out of control about a student situation she felt had been mishandled. By the time I arrived at the school, the employee appeared to be manic and was distrustful. I spoke with the guidance counselor who had knowledge of the incident. Before I left her office, I noticed a banner above her desk that said, I Choose Joy!

I met with the troubled employee and eventually she calmed down and left for the day. Later she got the help she needed. Over time, that incident faded from my memory, but the banner never did.

I Choose Joy!

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What a simple, declarative statement. Years later, I remembered that banner.  Three days after I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I was lying across my bed on a Friday after work, feeling totally downcast, overwhelmed with the long road of treatment ahead of me. My sadness was interrupted by a phone call from my cousin, Ron. He told me he’d just found out about my cancer.

“Connie, you’re not going to believe this, but God is going to bring you such joy,” he said, my cousin who knew about hard times. He’d had many health problems, including cancers and a liver transplant. His life appeared to be one challenge after the other, and we often thought he had ‘9 Lives.’

He went on to explain.

“You’re going to be aware of God and all the ways he works during this time,’ he said. “I know, because that’s what has happened for me.”

How can that be? I thought. With the chemo that I faced, inevitable losing of my hair, thirty-plus rounds of radiation, events that I’d miss when I had to avoid exposure to crowds, how could I experience Joy in those circumstances?

Weeks after our phone call, I was reading in the Psalms, my go-to book of the Bible when I went through cancer treatment. I identified with the Psalmist crying out to God in despair. My poor concentration could handle a pithy psalm, like the one in  the first portion of Psalm 86:17 (NIV):

” Give me a sign of your goodness”

 On mornings when I started the day feeling I just couldn’t make it through all the challenges, I prayed that Psalm. Then I’d watch to see how God answered my plea.

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Morning at Iona

I don’t know how much of seeing God’s answer was because my eyes were focused on the goodness in my path, and how much God placed things there after that prayer. Maybe some of both.

Over the past few years, my morning devotional before my walk, comes from Sarah Young’s book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. I am grateful to Sarah for how she writes in a way to help the reader see things from God’s POV. Her words have been used in my life to help me become more present to God in each moment. In the October 5threading in Sarah’s book, she writes:

“Remember that Joy is not dependent on your circumstances.” And further down the page, “True Joy is a by-product of living in My Presence.”

Now her words help me to put these pieces about Joy into a more fully-formed understanding.

Ron experienced that Joy going through his crises because he lived in God’s presence. No matter how much the impact of the anti-rejection drugs wore down his body, he chose to be present with God, and that’s how he experienced joy.

Thinking of the banner, I Choose Joy, that action of choosing is key. Choosing to be present with God, is choosing Joy.

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God’s presence in Notre-Dame Cathedral

That verse from Psalm 86 asking God to “Give me a sign of your goodness” works when we are present to God in each moment, able to see the blessings in our path, no matter our circumstances.

I’m grateful for that banner in the guidance counselor’s office all those years ago. Now, at those times when I feel downcast, I remember that Joy is a choice. I have the power to choose no matter what challenges I face. May we all be able to say

I CHOOSE JOY!

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How About You?

Is there a situation in your life where you need to choose Joy?

How would taking that action step change that experience?

 

 

 

 

Digging Up My Buried Shame

Our group of six women sat around the conference room table of Waverly Hematololgy and Oncology, the place where I’d received my chemo years before and now participated in the first Expressive Writing Group. Mary Barnard, Office Manager and poet, was our group leader and was certified in teaching the Write to Heal program created by James Pennebaker. Based on thirty-three years of research, the program had proven to transform the emotional lives of trauma survivors. We were provided the opportunity to participate in the group through the Waverly Survivors’ Community.

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Writing to Heal

We had an inital go-round of introducing ourselves and sharing some of our hopes for being in the group. Then Mary gave us an overview, discussed confidentiality, assigned a brief warm-up writing exercise, then led us to the first writing session.

“I want you to write about one of your most traumatic experiences,” she instructed us. Mary had set up the group, with the safety of boundaries and optional sharing that are essential for a trusting environment.

We had fifteen minutes and I had no problem writing continuously for the entire time. The traumatic event for me was my experience of working in that toxic research job at the same time as going through cancer treatment. While the breast cancer experience was difficult, the impact of the job that ended with being fired, had been much more damaging to my self-esteem and my professional confidence.

I wrote rapidly, with penmanship only legible to me, as I tapped into a deep reservoir of shame that had remained inside for fifteen years. Blaming the three people who made that work environment so pernicious, I recounted ways they’d misled me about the job, as well as their unprofessional behaviors at that ‘Mom and Pop’ clinical trials company. I’d written about that experience in the past, so it surprised me how much anger I still carred after so many years.

When our writing time was up, Mary asked, “How did it feel to write about the traumatic event?” Some of the participants shared about their emotions, their physical sensations, and pulling up forgotten memories. For most of the women, they had not written about their cancer experience but another trauma in their lives.

We completed a questionaire ranking to what degree we expressed our deepest thoughts and feelings, currently felt sad or upset, felt happy, found the writing exercise meaningful or valuable. Then we wrote reflections for five minutes about the experience of writing YOUR words in YOUR uninhibited language.

I’d signed up for the Expressive Writing Group, partly to support Mary’s efforts, since we were on the planning committee for the Survivors’ Clinic.  I thought because I’m a writer and have journaled most of my life, that I already knew the benefits of putting my feelings on the page.

Mary moved on to the second session.

“Now I want you to write about the same traumatic experience for fifteen minutes,” she told us.

I continued to put down my angry feelings about the company, but gradually I exhausted that well of resentment and transitioned to writing with more control, less intensity. Tired of my harsh judgements, I moved on with how that traumatic experience, simultaneous with my cancer, had forged a new courage inside me. I’d been more honest in that final confrontation with that company than I’d ever been in my life. That dysfunctional work family had fueled my writing and had allowed for that serendipitous trip to Sedona that was the seed that gave birth to my solo journeys.

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We completed the fifteen minute session as we had the first with answering the self-reflective questionniare and writing for five minutes.

While previous writings about that trauma had been solitary journal entries, the third session in this writing community, was about to move me forward from where I’d been stuck.

“Now I want you to write about the same traumatic event, but from a different person’s point of view,” Mary told us. “It can be anyone– for example your friend’s, God’s, or even an imaginary person.”

I wrote from what I imagined as God’s POV. In my scribble I said, “He loves me and knows my heart. I trust his omnipotent point of view in being fair.” Gradually, I brought up ways that I had contributed to the problems– something I couldn’t concede to before. Feeling the love of God who knows my weaknesses, allowed me to let go and acknowledge my part, to gain a more objective, less-victimized perspective.

I ended with, “God’s point of view is merciful. While he didn’t cause the trauma of being fired after I’d just been through cancer treatment, he is omnipotent and allowed what transpired. All of that became a ‘Refiner’s Fire’ that ultimately helped to make me who I am.”

That first group meeting ended with all of us feeling a sense of shared relief, walking out to our cars a bit lighter than when we arrived.

I didn’t realize then that those writing sessions would help prepare me for that year’s solo journey that was four days later. I traveled to Kentucky for a two-week stay at a writer’s residency. My goal was to rewrite my memoir.

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My kitchen table that became my writer’s desk.

During those days of reworking my memoir while sitting at that farmhouse table, I realized that my first time writing it I’d focused on my cancer. Now I had to go back and tell the whole truth– the simultaneous struggle with the research company that ended with me being fired. Now, I could admit to that buried shame, and be honest with my readers about all of my life.

How About You?

What buried shame do you have that needs to be dug up?

How can you examine it from a new perspective, a different point of view, so that you may heal and move forward in your life?

Resources

If you’d like to read about the Write to Heal program by James Pennebaker see this article in Survivors’ Review at http://www.survivorsreview.org/writenow.php?v=2

Mary Barnard may be reached for questions at mbarnard@waverlyhemeonc.com

 

 

 

New Beginnings: Moving Beyond the Gap

In last week’s post, I left you sitting in The Gap, encouraging you to allow yourself to feel that anxiety that comes with uncertainty, finding a resting spot in that trough between Endings and New Beginnings (see Forced Endings: Struggling in The Gap)

New Beginnings is that last stage of Bill Bridges Map for Change where new relationships or the new job begins. But like the Endings and The Gap stages, it has emotional aspects including excitement, fear of failure, anxiety, a sense of accomplishment and/or celebration. But before I can move on to New Beginnings, I’m reminded of another type of Forced Ending that I didn’t include last week.

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Emerald Isle July ’18 Now Impacted by Florence

As I write this post from my home in central North Carolina, Hurricane Florence is spinning down on our coast, producing massive flooding and a predicted record-setting storm surge. It’s a slow-moving storm that takes its time delivering its blowMany people ‘Down East’ have moved to shelters, not knowing how their lives will be changed and what they will find when it’s safe to return home—whatever is left of home. We wait here in the Piedmont, knowing we’re in the hurricane’s path but unsure of how our lives will be impacted.

Natural disasters are another example of Forced Endings that we don’t choose. While they have nothing to do with problems in relationships, workplace politics, or other issues that may produce Forced Endings, they do leave people with the same types of emotions: shock, anger, disbelief, anxiety.

I have a friend from China, and some years ago she tragically lost her parents in a typhoon. What a huge impact that Forced Ending—the death of her parents, had on her life. She has spent years dealing with her grief and trying to figure out how to move from that Forced Ending, through The Gap, and to a New Beginning. While she will always miss her parents, and wish things had been different, she has found the strength to move forward. Her New Beginning is not what she expected as she studies in the States and prepares for her professional future. But it is life, and like those who will be changed by Hurricane Florence, eventually there will be a better day and a glimpse of a New Beginning.

When I was dealing with The Gap following my Chosen Ending of retirement from school nursing  (see Afraid of the Next Chapter)

I’d written in my journal the first day of the following academic year that it felt “empty” to not be going back. The following sentence read,

“but also feels like I’ve moved on and I’m full of wonder with how God is going to move in my life.”

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Emerald Isle July ’18 New Beginning of a Wedding

That is the glimpse of the New Beginning. Knowing that you have moved into that next phase, still uncertain but strengthened by hope, that wonder of how God is working in your life. Totally surprised by the place you’ve landed, you trust in the bigger picture, that you’ll succeed where your feet are now planted.

Whether we arrive at the New Beginning after a Chosen or Forced Ending, we can accept that change as a new start, a place that will challenge us and produce growth.

After I was fired and I muddled in The Gap for a season, I returned to a position in school nursing. At first, I thought it was like I was going backwards since I wasn’t moving to a higher position in clinical trials—as I’d assumed would be my career path. But after a while, I saw that I was a different person since my experience with that toxic job while going through breast cancer treatment. I was stronger and I valued being in a supportive work group. I was more bold and spontaneous with my students and staff. There was a greater freedom to just be myself.

My hope for you, is that whatever Ending you’ve experienced, whatever your Gap has been like, that you’ll arrive at your New Beginning and feel the strength you’ve developed in the process. Knowing that within you is what you need to navigate the new start and that all around you there is support for the challenges.

Now, sitting at my computer and looking out my windows, the wind is blowing harder and the rain has started to fall. I fear that we could lose power before my usual Saturday post. So, I’ll send this to you early and ask for your good thoughts and prayers for North Carolina and all the areas impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Peace and Blessings to Everyone.

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How About You? 

What New Beginning have you experienced?

What strengths emerged that surprised you?

How do you look back on the Ending and the Gap now that you’ve experienced a New Beginning?

 

3 Things I Learned from Cancer

Now that I’ve been a breast cancer survivor for almost eighteen years, I think back on the three things I learned from going through treatment.  It occurs to me that what I learned from cancer can be applied to other areas of life—even to becoming a parent, like my son and daughter-in-law did just one week ago.  While these are very different in some ways, the things I learned from cancer can be generalized.  I’m not an expert, I’m just sharing my perspective from my personal experience.

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Walking with my friend and fellow survivor, Mary

When you hear the oncologist say, “You have cancer,” it’s shocking and you’re paralyzed with fear. The immediate question is, “Am I going to live?”  After you hear about the type of cancer you have (mine was triple negative) the team maps out your options.  For me, it was eight months of treatment including surgery, chemo, and radiation.  While it’s helpful to get the big picture when you’re starting out, I found it overwhelming to look too far ahead.  So the first thing cancer taught me was

#1– DON’T LOOK TOO FAR AHEAD

 Just focus on the next few steps along the path.  For me, I relied on prayer, asking God to help me with the present moment, giving me the courage for whatever I was going through in that phase of treatment.  When you’re a new parent, it helps to do the same thing.  Sometimes you need strength to get through another night of broken sleep, another fussy evening with colic.  You’d be overwhelmed if you looked ahead and thought about how many nights or evenings you could have like that.

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My son, Brooks– a new father.

When I heard I had cancer, my immediate response was to assume the outcome for me would be like one of my high school classmates who’d been diagnosed a few years before.  Even though I’m a nurse, I didn’t work in oncology and I had very little knowledge of breast cancer, so I latched on to the most recent example I had from another woman.  But I didn’t know anything about her subtype of breast cancer, her specific biochemistry, family history, her body’s unique response to treatment.  My outcome was very different from hers.  So, the second thing cancer taught me was

#2 DON’T ASSUME YOUR EXPERIENCE WILL BE THE SAME AS ANOTHER PERSON’S

That’s also true for parenting.  Just because your friends had a difficult time during a phase of raising their child, doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for you.  Another phase will challenge you more because of your child’s unique personality, your perspective as a parent, other things going on in your family life at the time.  When we focus on the moment and don’t compare our experience, whether it’s with an illness or the challenges of parenting, we have what we need to make it through.

Sometimes it’s tempting for me to make broad assumptions, probably to make things seem more simple than they are in life.  With cancer treatment, I knew I had six rounds of chemo and to make that process seem more familiar, I assumed each treatment would affect me the same: the level of nausea, discomfort with the transfusion, feeling foggy afterward.  But the days were varied and sometimes there were unexpected blessings dropped into my life that distracted me from whatever I was experiencing and provided beauty and relief.  So the third thing cancer taught me was

#3 DON’T ASSUME EVERY DAY WILL BE THE SAME

As a parent, the same kinds of mercies show up: extra help when you don’t think you have the energy you need, your child moving forward to that next developmental step when you thought you were stuck, that first intentional smile when you’re at a point of exhaustion.  The days change, each with its own up and down pattern that forms a beautiful whole.

Whatever your challenge, I hope you’ll find some encouragement in these words and you’ll discover what your current phase of life has to teach you.

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How about You?

What are the lessons you learned going through a big change in your life?

How can you share your experience with others?

 

 

 

 

Taking Time to Savor

A boulder has been lifted off my shoulders.  The project I’ve been working on for months, the book proposal for my memoir, Saved by Sedona: Finding a Path of Pilgrimage, has been completed and sent to an interested Literary Agent.  Instead of resorting to my past behavior of rushing on to the next thing, or trying to catch up on what’s been left undone, I want to take the time to savor what I’ve accomplished.

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When I started out, I researched different writing websites for how to structure a book proposal.  Some of them introduced the process with, “Many authors find composing a proposal harder than writing their book.” While that didn’t make me eager to tackle the project, it did help me realize that others’ found it challenging and later when I wanted to quit, it reminded me that my struggle wasn’t unique.

Since January my dining room table has been strewn with papers including examples and my own drafts of each section of the proposal: synopsis, chapter outlines, target markets, author platform, author bio, competitive titles, sample chapters etc. The biggest challenge was to go from thinking like a writer to thinking like a publisher—seeing the world from a marketing standpoint.  I have no experience with marketing and that language is foreign to me.

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Many times over the course of this project, I’ve gotten up from my chair and said, “I can’t do this, God. It’s just too much.”  I wanted to spend time watching movies, or taking a long walk, or reading someone else’s book.  I carried it on my recent journey to Florida and spent a rainy day sludging through the competitive titles section—trying in one paragraph to compare and contrast my book with other memoirs on the market.  What I wanted to do was nap all day like a cat.

But now as I reflect on the process, and the memoir is fresh from my final edits, I realize that going through the challenge of the book proposal was similar to going through breast cancer while working at The Research Company.  At my initial clinic visit when the plan for treatment was laid out—surgery, chemo, and radiation that would stretch over eight months, I was overwhelmed and didn’t know how I’d make it.  Gradually, the noise inside my head quieted down and I was able to hear that ‘still small voice of God’ say to just take one step at a time. Over those months, I found that, like my journeys that followed cancer and the toxic job, there were people along my path to help me.

I think of all those along this proposal path that have given me what I needed to complete the project: writers who’ve generously shared on their websites, fellow members of my Triangle Writers Group who’ve critiqued my proposal, a friend and media pro who worked with me to provide a marketer’s angle, family and friends—in person and through social media who have encouraged and prayed for me.

And there’s been the perseverance that God has given me that has been there because of feeling this is my purpose at this time in my life—what I’ve been given to do.  It means that I sacrifice some things that would be easier for what is best.  It means believing that this book will be published—at the right time.  That is the bigger picture and the impetus behind each small step through a task that felt bigger than me.

Now, I’m able to take a moment in the stillness without the boulder on my shoulders, and see that it has become a rock on which to stand, like the red rocks of Sedona.  Completing the book proposal has taken me deeper in faith and reminded me that no matter what obstacle I face, God my Rock is supporting me and will help me on that path.

 

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How About You?

What situation do you have that feels bigger than you?

Can you remember previous examples of how you’ve met similar challenges?

What resources do you have that can help you to take a step at the time and successfully navigate through the challenge?

 

Don’t You Deserve to be Cared For?

“I thought I was done with cancer.  But now they’re saying I need lymphedema treatment,” I told her, irritated at this interruption in my life.  I’d traveled to Edisto Island, South Carolina for my second solo journey the day after I’d been assessed at the Lymphedema Clinic.  When they told me I’d need intensive treatment, it reminded me of how breast cancer had interrupted my life and I felt like, “Here we go again!”

Sharon, the spiritual director at The Sea of Peace House of Prayer, a center for contemplation, sat with me in our first one-to-one session.  I had scheduled two sessions with her during my five days of retreat, a way of taking advantage of all that was offered to nourish my spiritual life.  I hadn’t intended to bring up the lymphedema, but it was so close to the surface it just popped out.

“Now they want me to schedule all these appointments this summer to reduce the build-up in this arm,” I said, and raised the left that was impacted from the lymph nodes taken from under that arm, five years earlier when I had my lumpectomy.  “I don’t have time for that,” I said, and thought of my summer break from my position as a school nurse, all the projects and plans I had during those precious weeks.

“Don’t you think you deserve to be taken care of?” she asked, her blue eyes looking at me with gentleness.

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Butterflies– a symbol of gentle lymphatic massage

We sat in silence and her words seeped down into my heart.  Tears stung my eyes and the word deserve reverberated in my ears.  Is taking care of me a waste of time, is that what I’m saying, I wondered.  I had done my best to take care of everybody else — my sons and husband, my mother with dementia, the students in my school, people in need of nurture in my community, but had I not given the same consideration to myself?
“Sometimes it’s the ego, the false self that tells us we have to be in charge, that we have to  accomplish more.  If we let go of the control then God can show us how to rest,” she said in her soothing voice.
I felt the startle of recognition in the truth that she was speaking.  I’d walked on the labyrinth that morning, the seven-circuit path outlined with shells and rocks, in what was like a moving prayer.  In my path, I saw a pin oak leaf at my feet that, in my mind’s eye, appeared to have the word Pride written down the center.  I remembered that word had been in one of our scripture readings that morning.  What has pride got to do with anything, I’d thought.  I told Sharon about the leaf and she nodded with a slight smile as if I might be getting it.
That week I settled into a pattern of morning prayer and scripture reading with Sharon and her husband– since I was the only guest, and then going to the beach to ride my bike and swim.  I walked the labyrinth, more slowly and thoughtfully each time.  I kept hearing Sharon’s question, “Don’t you deserve to be taken care of?” and pondering how I’d struggled, even after going through cancer, to maintain that self-care that I knew was so important.
By the end of my week, I decided I must go through the treatment.  I would push aside all my plans for my productive summer to take care of me.  Because I deserved to be taken care of.
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What about you?
Have you found that you take care of others more readily than you care for yourself?
What drives you to that behavior?
How can you change this pattern and allow yourself to be taken care of?

You Need to Overseed!

The day Darlene shaved my head when it was inevitable that my hair would fall out, fifteen days after my first chemo, I returned home wondering how my family would handle it.  When my tenth-grade son, Brooks saw me, he said, “Mom, you look like G.I. Jane!” and chuckled.  Months after I finished my treatment and I had enough hair to go without my wig, he noticed the uneven growth.  He rubbed that area then instructed me with his new knowledge from his part-time job at the golf course, “You need to overseed!”

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Wearing my new hair to my sons’ band concert

I appreciated his humor because mine was failing.  I’d been terrified of cancer– partly because I was mortified of losing my hair.  When I saw a mother of a boy who played basketball with my sons, walk into the gym in a baseball cap, her dark hair gone, I felt like I’d been gut-punched.   It’s happened to her, I thought. Now I was like her, one of them, going through cancer treatment and feeling the pity of others.

My ninth-grade son, Ross was more tentative about seeing his mother bald.  He first observed me from across the room, not able to tolerate a closer look.  Later, when I tried on the wig Darlene had helped me choose, he responded, “Couldn’t she make it look more like you, Mama?”  It had to be hard for him, wondering if I was going to be okay and seeing me bald.  At that age, mothers were embarrassing if everything was normal.

My husband, David, carefully examined my shaved head.  He palpated the area at the crown.  He had made a comment in the past about hoping I never went bald because of that “flat spot” on my head.

“It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would,” he said, and we both laughed.

I wore the wig when I was away from home.  I’d never been one for hats and felt the wig was closer to my pre-cancer self.  But it was hot and itchy, so every day when I came in from work, I took it off.  We all got used to me going bald around the house.

One day, we were rushing to get the boys to their high school for marching band practice.  They knew if they were late, the band director would make them run laps around the football field in the September heat.  When I was turning out of our development onto the highway, I touched the top of my head and was startled to feel my smooth scalp.

“I forgot to wear my wig!”

Brooks, who was riding shotgun, looked surprised.  In my rearview mirror, I could see horror on Ross’s face

“You have to go back, Mama,” Ross told me.

I went back, and they would have to run laps—the price they’d pay to save me, and themselves, from embarrassment.

I finished chemo and then thirty-two radiation treatments.  By the end of March, the yellow forsythia bloomed in my garden and my fuzzy duck hair was long enough to toss the wig.  Some of my radiation tiredness had lessened and I felt the stirring of hope with the emergence of spring.

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“It’s my Easter hair,” I said to myself.  New life after going through the darkness.

My family had changed with me through cancer.  I would always remember how Ross grew to the point of kissing my head “to help my hair grow.”  Brooks continued to check for areas to overseed.  Later, when he became a Golf Course Superintendent, I would associate that portion of his work with his tender care of his mom’s ‘crop of hair.’

How blessed I felt by the love of these men in my life through the days of cancer.

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So proud of my grown sons, Brooks on the left and Ross on the right

 

How About You?

Have you had cancer or another illness or situation that has stripped away some of your dignity?

How did you manage through that time?

How did the people in your life help you through your situation?

 

 

Childhood Dreams

The dream of riding a horse in the wide-open West had been with me since I was a girl.  Those Saturday morning shows like Roy Rogers spurred my interest, making me want to feel that freedom from a saddle.  When my Aunt Polly told me stories of visiting the Tetons, my dream broadened to riding horseback there.  It was time to make that a reality.

I scheduled my solo journey to Wyoming.  I’d learned from cancer that you should live with intention, not wasting the time you have by postponing your heart’s desires.  Each trip I completed gave me more confidence in boldly stepping forward and trying new things.  I’d hiked a mountain alone and stayed with strangers in hostels.  Surely I could ride a horse again– even though it had been at least thirty years.

I planned my stay at Colter Bay in the Grand Teton National Park.  They offered riding trails led by experienced wranglers.  Their website stated all levels of riders could participate.  I assumed they’d give me a gentle horse, an old gray mare for a middle-aged woman.  But instead, they assigned me to Tequila.

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Great, I thought, a horse that can make you crazy.

“She’s good, but sometimes she wants to lead the pack,” the college-age wrangler told me.  “I’ll ride behind you to help you keep her in line.”

I felt my first flutter of panic, climbing up into the saddle on the very tall horse.  I couldn’t believe how high up it felt once I was seated– my height added to Tequila’s.  We practiced how to use the reigns and heard instructions on going up and downhill.

We followed the lead wrangler, starting out through a forest where the ground was level.  About the time I felt myself relaxing, Tequila jerked to the side to move in front of the horse in front of us.   I clung to the saddle horn for dear life as the wrangler came around from behind and expertly edge Tequila back into position.

The trail started downhill and the lead wrangler turned to face us.  “Remember to sit back and keep your toes facing the sky,” the wrangler told our group of nine.

I did what she said but felt like I was going to go over the top of the horse.  Level ground was much better!

Finally, it was flat again as we entered a grassy meadow with wildflowers: red Indian Paintbrush, yellow Balsamroot, and blue lupines.  We stopped in front of Jenny Lake that was as smooth as glass and the stunning mountains were mirrored in the water, a double beauty to behold.  We sat on our horses and drank in the splendor.

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I felt like I’d arrived to the dream of my childhood.  That place really existed and now as an adult, I was getting to discover it.  Taking a breath of the clean, evergreen-scented air, I felt thankful that I’d made it to the Tetons.  The journey I’d started in my imagination as a child had now been achieved.  This feeling of accomplishment, of completion, was worth all the effort it took to get here, and worth conquering my fear of riding a horse, a very tall horse.

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How about you?

Is there a place you’ve dreamed of but never made it there?

Is there an activity you’ve wanted to do but have been afraid to try?

How could you make your dreams become realities?

 

Finding the Divine in the Everyday

The evening after my third chemotherapy, I was lying on my bed and barely able to lift my head.  My nausea and fatigue had increased with the cumulative impact of the medicine.  It was distressing to think I had to go through three more infusions, scheduled once every three weeks, and after that thirty radiation treatments.  In my cast down state, I turned to the Psalms my go-to book of the Bible.  I identified with the cries of the Psalmist and had just enough concentration for the pithy verses.

Thumbing through the chapters, the first portion of Psalm 86:1 (NIV) caught my attention: “Give me a sign of your goodness.”  I could think of nothing good, only the daily strain of dealing with cancer treatment, trying to maintain our home life, and struggling with my job.  In the darkness of that hour, all I could do was pray the Psalm, “God, give me a sign of your goodness.”

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Give Me A Sign of Your Goodness

I wondered if that prayer would make any difference, given my situation.  I found myself changing “Give” to “Show me your goodness.  Was it because I needed the eyes of my heart opened?

I waited and watched, almost like I was daring God to do something.  Some of me was dug in, determine to be despondent—like I could get something good from a martyr’s stance.  Finally, I began to notice what could be answers to that prayer.

In my mailbox arrived a stack of “Thinking of You” cards that matched the number of medical bills.  A co-worker offered to help me sort through the insurance statements that totally overwhelmed me.  A friend called to invite me to go to the mountains for the weekend.

Some days nature was the provider of that goodness; our Heavenly Blue morning glory vine delighting me with a mass of those stunning blooms; my Golden Retriever, Molly snuggling next to me as we sat together on the porch; a beautiful walk at sunset with a horse neighing as a blue heron landed over a neighbor’s pond.  All of these reminded me of the steadfast beauty of creation, how nothing could change that.

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My first Golden, Molly

While it’s been years now since those days of cancer treatment, I still look to that Psalm when I lose my way.  When I’m discouraged and everything seems to be a challenge, I try to remind myself to step back, take a moment, and pray for a sign of God’s goodness.

I’ve thought about whether God causes new things to show up, or were those things present all along—waiting for me to have the eyes to see?  I think maybe it’s both.

When I’m listening for God’s direction in my life, through that ‘still small voice’ inside of me, sometimes I’m directed to do things for others.  I get the nudge to make a phone call, an impulse to send a card, the courage to approach that stranger that God has put in my path.  The longer I live, the more I see that when I, and others, follow that intuition—that leading from within, people receive what they needWhen I’m moving in my own direction and paying attention only to my agenda, some of these needs undoubtedly go unfulfilled.

By opening the eyes of my heart, God prepares me to receive the gift that will meet my need.  While these things may seem very everyday—the phone call, a colorful sunset, the comfort of your dog, they become Divine because their source is our Creator and they are a healing balm for our souls.

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What about you?

Have you seen God’s goodness show up in the Everyday when you most needed it?

How did that sign make a difference in the direction of your life?

Have your actions supplied that Divine sign for someone?

Navigating a Rough Road

Driving south on I-95 toward my solo journey to Jekyll Island, Georgia, I was reminded of my struggle in that toxic research job.  When I passed the exit for Lumberton, North Carolina, I thought of a trip there to one of our study sites on a very hot day in August.  I didn’t want to go that Friday afternoon.  It was just three days after my second round of chemo and I’d had an increase in nausea and fatigue.  But I didn’t really have a choice.

I’d planned to wait until the next week to take study supplies and review their data.  But the Medical Director had something else in mind.

“When are you planning to visit the Lumberton office, Connie?”  he asked.  “We want to get out there in front of the other study sites with our enrollment.”

I wanted to say, let me wait until next week when I’m more rested and my brain doesn’t have that chemo cloudiness.

“I could go this afternoon since we received their supplies,” I offered, trying to prove I was giving it my best.

“That sounds good,” he said and returned to his office.

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How am I going to do this, I thought, while I packed my car in the mid-nineties heat that matched the temperature of my chemo- induced hot flashes.  It would take at least four- hours –round- trip and probably another hour to meet with the Nurse Manager.  I wanted to back out, but I couldn’t.  “God, how in the world am I going to do this,” I said, half-question and half-prayer.

Then in that ‘still small voice’ that is God inside me, the answer came:

Just trust me to help you through each step of the way.

The traffic was as heavy as I suspected.  When I became drowsy, I turned the air conditioner on high and pointed it toward my face, then took off my wig to cool my sweaty scalp.  Hitting stop-and-roll traffic, I panicked thinking I’d be stuck for a long time, but then I remembered that message and settled down.  Pretty soon the traffic moved normally after I passed the fender-bender and the lanes opened up.  A thunder shower developed and again I was slowed down.  When I grew impatient with the interruption of the storm, I reminded myself, “Just focus on right now.  God will see you through.”

Finally, I pulled into the office parking lot just after three o’clock.  I waited in the conference room with everything organized so we could quickly review their study progress.  After a while, the Nurse Manager joined me.  Right when we started looking over their enrollment logs, someone came to the door and asked to speak with her.

My frustration grew as the clock edged toward four o’clock and I thought about the traffic on I-95.  What could be taking so long?

Finally, she returned and said, “I’m sorry I have to go.  One of my staff members has been taken to the Emergency Room.  I’ll call and reschedule next week.”

I watched her rush out of the room, amazed at the abrupt end to our meeting.  I understood that she had to go but felt beaten down by my futile effort to accomplish my goal.

How can this happen, God, after I worked so hard to get here?

Then in the quiet of that room, the answer came:  You did what they wanted and now you get to leave early.  Everything turned out okay.

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The traffic wasn’t so bad as I drove home and felt the satisfaction of knowing God had navigated me through that rough road.  I later thought of this as the ‘Lumberton Lesson,’ trusting God for guidance every step of the way.

 

What about you?

How do you get through situations that feel impossible?

Is there an incident that became an example of God navigating you down a rough road?