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To: Chronically Ill at Christmas Love: Peace

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As the holiday week began in earnest last night (for both Christmas and Hannukah), I send extra love to my friends with chronic illness. As one friend recently reminded me, constantly fighting this sh*t is HARD!

Which made me think… at least 15% of society does not get any holiday time-off. Yet friends and family, and lets face it, ourselves, have pretty high expectations of our energy and ability to engage in all the same activities we used to do, pre-illness.

Living with chronic illness is a FULL TIME JOB. No holidays “off,” no vacation or calling in a “me-day” on accumulated sick days, no summer vacation, no breaks for our birthdays.

I certainly don’t mean to be morbid! I am just standing in solidarity with my chronically ill brothers and sisters. Because we still try to put on our Santa hats and reindeer bells and look festive on the outside while we feel awful inside. Our hearts want to receive each and every hug, but our bodies pray for not another pain-full squeeze.

For me, my body tenses up. Its almost like an unnecessary fight or flight reaction. So that I many times don’t feel the overwhelming fatigue and pain until I sit down at home post and my body desperately goes into spasm.

So please remember this holiday:

We may need to be selective about how many events we go to in order to conserve and stretch out our energy reserves (our “spoons”).

* We may skip the more crowded events in exchange for more intimate gatherings. Large groups can by over-stimulating and overwhelming and very fatiguing.

* Our schedules may seem unconventional. This year for example, I did church on Christmas Eve with my family, and then we’re not exchanging presents until the 28th. My husband and I cap off the holiday week with celebrating Our Christmas on New Year’s Eve and Day. Its not like I can go out on the town to ring in the New Year anymore!

* The hardest limitation I’ve had to enforce, is cutting out friend activities: Friendsgiving, White Elephant and Secret Santa, Cookie Exchanges, … In exchange for being able to participate in family celebrations.

It has taken me many, many years to come to this balance. And I still struggle with missing out, and even worse, disappointing those I love.

Family and friends can be so incredibly understanding and supportive. As long as I explain the place I am coming from. And the very few that don’t, aren’t worth any of your energy.

Am I miffed at my illness. Hell, yeah! It’s a freakin’ 24/7 job. I can’t take my body off, like a scuba suit, and set it in the corner for even a 5 min. break!

Do I feel melancholy? You bet! I miss walking through cities and malls to look at the holiday displays with Christmas music floating all around me; joining the local town Christmas strolls and tree lightings.

BUT I REFUSE TO LET MY DISEASE TAKE ANY MORE OF MY LIFE! I love Christmas! So I’m not going to compare what I can or cannot do. I am going to appreaciate the beauty of every moment I AM well enough to experience. No matter how small. We have been given one special gift through illness, to recoginize hidden hope and miracles that others miss.

So to my over 15% of FaceBook friends (that I know of) with daily chronic illness, you are not alone! We celebrate  together!!

And to our friends and family, thank you for you understanding, your patience (especially when we’re running late or cancel last minute), for your gentle hugs, and comfiest chairs. We feel grateful for every moment we get to spend with you!

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Inviting My Inner Critics To A Tea Party = Courageous Living

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I have decided to make friends with the Critical Voices in my head. I imagine inviting them all for tea and a round table chat—welcoming them in instead of automatically shutting the door in their faces, which is what my defense-mechanism gut is urging me to do.

I will let them know that I have invited them over to listen to and hear the value in what they have to tell me, observations they may have after years of “hanging around” my life. But that I will also accept these words with conditions. I honor and respect myself enough now to do so.

Historically, these voices have presented themselves in un-helpful ways:

  • They speak in black and white; they tend to have no “grey zone.”
  • They show up as voices of reason, which can be confusing. But instead of “You’re not ready yet; maybe later.” I am ready to shift their thinking to:  “You may not be ready right this moment, but let’s see how we can get you  there.”
  • They can be repetitive. We know, intuitively, that they are irrational, but their persistency can be deceiving.
  • The more we resent these voices, the more they gain power over us. But when we try to form a healthy relationship with them, space opens up; for more kindness, love, compassion and understanding– for ourselves and others (we all have these inner critics).

So, let’s start with an example. It’s a biggie, for me:

My Critic often tells me: “You won’t be able to achieve (or even begin to attempt) this desired dream/goal of yours, until you are physically better. Until then, it’s unrealistic to push forward with this endeavor. It will only be frustrating and create overall, unnecessary distractions in your life.”

I am now going to respond differently to this old introject of fear and negativity:
“I can tell your intention is loving. But the majority of your words are simply untrue. And all they serve by my believing them, is for me to sit and wait for this far off ‘perhaps I’ll be better future.’ Or even more detrimental, they have convinced me to believe that I am not good enough, complete enough, whole enough. Now. As is.”

Then I am going to reframe this original feed-back:
“You have shared some useful information with me. But a more loving and helpful way of speaking it would be …”

“I can see that you have some exciting dreams and desires right now and that your physical limitations have created an impediment to you achieving these goals. So instead of ‘waiting to get well’ I would like to lovingly point out some valuable ways you can achieve your goals: you cannot continue to go this alone. What support, physical and mental, can you access and/or welcome into your life to help you make attainable and doable steps towards your goal? What modifications need to be made to your overall goals so that you can set yourself up for success instead of failure?”

And, here’s the miraculous thing, once I made space for this critical voice in my life, I opened up my heart in new and expansively loving ways. Suddenly I was seeing possibilities instead of roadblocks! And my Inner Judges switched from being critical to critically thinking.

I realize I’ve let this repetitive Critical Voice begin to re-define who I am, and even more so, who I am not (or not capable of being). Constantly telling me what I cannot do, until X, Y and Z happen… until all of my cosmic stars align!

I think we can all relate to this on some level. For we all have Inner Critics. And many have become life-long roommates, hogging up head space since as far back as childhood. Yet, we try to get rid of or ignore these inner voices instead of integrating them.

Kate Swoboda says, “In truth, your Critic is your ‘best friend, with lousy communication skills.’” They are the scared wounded parts of ourselves that deserve compassion instead of distaste.

I, who doesn’t see myself fundamentally as a black and white thinker, had become one. I truly began to embrace these Critic’s voices as my own- as my one true voice- until the point where I thought I was doing myself a service instead of a disservice by listening to and heeding their messages.

They caused me to re-write my story: because my body isn’t currently equipped to truly meet my goals, “reaching for the stars” just isn’t in my current repertoire.

Believing that whole “lower my expectations, so I don’t set myself up for disappointment.” But all this has served is to create disappointment. In life. In my body. In Myself. Leading to resentment.

Yet, what I learned through an amazing workshop called “Your Courageous Purpose,” by Molly K. Larkin is that these critical voices can and do serve a purpose.

Listening to them, welcoming them to my round-table, has opened me up to hearing what’s really going on. How I really feel about the situation; allowing all the big, ugly feelings in first like anger and sadness, before the healing can begin. And then creating some solution-oriented, forward-focused thinking.

So, let’s boil it down to the basics:

  • My body has physical limitations.
  • I do not know when, or even if, this will ever change.
  • Waiting for things to change or “get better” isn’t working. IE: it isn’t serving me or my highest good.
  • In the past, when I have reached out to others or openly welcomed their offers of help and support, I have been able to achieve unimaginable goals and dreams, in spite of my physical impediments.

So instead of the “wait and see approach,” wouldn’t it be more beneficial to ask myself some critical questions:

  • What do my current goals and dreams look like? Feel like?
  • What are some modifications I could make that would allow them to be more manageable? How do they look and feel post-adjustments?
  • What are the most important aspects of my dreams (the ones I have the strongest emotional attachments too)? Defining these will help me clarify which parts I can more easily let go of and which ones are the most important for me to hold on to and make work.
  • Now that I know the most important parts of my dreams, how can I make them possible now?:
    A. What are small, “bite-sized” steps I can take today to move towards these dreams?
    B. In what ways can others help me in reaching these goals?: Ways others can help/support in the actual achievement of the goal. Or ways they can support in other areas of my life (cleaning, shopping, etc.) so I have the energy to take small daily steps towards my goals.

When doing this process yourself, stay aware of what additional Judges pop up. Old ones, new ones, old ones in new ways. What are they saying? What do you need to acknowledge in their messages? Is there any useful information hidden in the Critical Voices?

For example, just in the process of writing the above exercise for myself, I heard an old judge begin to persistently whisper:
“You’re being selfish. If you have any physical energy on any given day, it should go towards taking care of your home, to supporting your husband and others. Then, if there is anything ‘left over,’ you can reach for your own dreams.” Which translates to: “Your needs/wants aren’t worthy.”

Obviously, this is a multi-layered process. Where did I put that handy-dandy onion peeler again? The one that removes all layers in one swift motion, with no tears? Ha. If only!

But that’s the gift of removing one layer at a time.

So who are you courageous enough to invite to your round table today? I guarantee the process will pay off in the end. Setting yourself free to live the life you are meant to be. Now, that’s Courageous Living!

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When Your Resilience Is Tested

Churchill going thr hell quote When your resilience is tested, where do you go? Who do you turn to? What well do you draw from?

There are times when life pushes back one too many times, and I think, “I Just Can’t Do This Anymore!” And… yet, I do. I keep getting back up and taking steps forward – even if they’re itty, bitty baby steps.

Do we all have resilience in reserve? And, if so, is it something we are born with?: Each of us granted a certain set amount of resilience from the universe. And when the well runs dry… well, the well runs dry. There is no overdraft protection on this account.

Or- is it more than that? A bank that receives deposits as much as it gives us the power to withdraw? Think of it like this: every time we experience a stumble in life, yet find the skills, tools and support to get back up and keep going, we remind our soul, the core of our existence, that we have the power, the determination, the inner strength – – the resilience to face the most difficult of circumstances and survive.  We deposit these resilient memories into our mind’s bank.

And “survival” isn’t always “pretty.” In fact, it can be pretty darn painful. Often, we come out of the experience sporting battle scars- – both the kinds that can be seen and the unseen variety.

I used to look at the criss-crossing roadmap that now constitutes me belly and feel pride. Each mark was another war wound – – a battle I had faced and conquered. For just the fact that I am alive today to tell of it = success. I need to remind myself of my Inner Warrior now and again.

Which brings me back to this Resilience Bank. Every memory, experience and story of survival adds to my well.

Personally, I think it is a combination: each of us is born with a certain amount of Resilience Reserve. Some of us may be granted more than others. Or, perhaps, we’re all granted the same amount, it’s just that each of us perceives this well differently. A half-full vs. half-empty kind of mentality. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s there, for each and every one of us. It’s what we do with it that matters.

As the old adage goes: “It doesn’t matter what happens to us in life, it matter how we react to it.”

“We are naturally resilient. We have the capacity for growth and positive adaption in spite of the constant barrrage of stress we all feel on a daily basis.” (excerpt from The Resilence Scale webpage).  Test your “Resilience Score” HERE.

But the most interesting and complexing thing about resilience is the stark fact that we actually have to experience strife and hardship in order to build it.

Think about that for a moment.

It worries me that we are so concerned with young children feeling worthy and successful, that we actually shield them from failure. The exact thing that creates self-reliance. Aren’t we actually doing a disservice to this younger generation?

Think back to some of the most monumental building blocks of your youth. Many of them are uncomfortable to relive. But, at the same time, they are also the experiences that shaped us and helped us to learn integrity, cooperation, self-reliance, perseverance, and resilience. We had to learn how to handle failure such as our team losing a game, or disappointment like when our 6th grade best friend decided to stop talking to us in 7th grade, or determination like when we got a poor grade on our report card because we had slacked off on studying.

Failure builds character. When we rescue loved ones from experiencing, and in turn overcoming, strife, we steal this opportunity from them.

These starts and stumbles of my youth prepared me for the difficult adulthood I’ve had to endure. Because my parents and teachers didn’t rush in to save me, I learned self-coping skills (even if I didn’t see the advantage to this at the time!).

Last Sunday marked the 8 year anniversary of my colon perforation and my first near death experience; the night they told my husband and me that I had a 10% chance of living, and to say our goodbyes.

Today, I have a choice – – I can drown myself in that memory or I can look at it in a different light – – recognizing that albeit these last 8 years have been enormously challenging, I’ve been alive to experience them. I chose not to say goodbye on that fateful night and I continue to make that same choice today.

The last 3 weeks have been some of the most painful in my life. My Trigeminal Nerve is inflamed and Angry- causing shooting pains across my check to my nose to my jaw. The lightest of breezes and gentlest of touches can set it off. Combine that with a continuous cluster migraine that’s like an icepick in the top of my head, and it can be unbearable. Yet, I am bearing it.

Am I scared? Yes. Am I angry? Yes. Am I in excruciating pain? YES. But, I also remember that the fact that I am feeling these big emotions means that I am alive. And if I pause and remember, I can use my past experiences to get through today. 8 years ago I was in more pain than I ever thought possible. And, yet, today, my mind shields me from truly remembering the intensity of that pain. I was drenched in fear then- of the unknown. Of the known. But I soldiered through. The pain passed. The fear passed—and eventually even transformed into hope.

So if I had resilience then, what’s to say I can’t tap into it today? I just need to practice it, nurture it, fill up the well, drop by drop.

Resilience doesn’t mean I’ve discovered some magic button to prevent me from experiencing some future strife (I wish!). And it doesn’t mean I bounce back from hardships unaffected or unchanged. It does mean that I don’t let the fear of these difficult experiences keep me from experiencing life now. It means that I know that in the past, it has passed. Which means, that this too shall pass. I will be okay. I will survive. maya encounter defeats quote

Let Corage and Hope Take On a Life of Their Own

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Courage and hope have carried me through a multitude of challenges. So much so that they truly have taken on a life of their own. They are my manifesto – they are my legacy.

Recently, a dear friend challenged me to expand on this theory. She is currently struggling with a flare in her chronic illness. And as I listened to her process, I heard resistance. Resistance of what is and what this means to her life right now (cancelling plans, making accommodations). And all this resisting has served is to turn her down a road with only one clear direction: FEAR.

I get this. I’ve been there. I think we all have at one point.

But when she reached out to me and asked me how I can calmly “label and describe” my current medical situation without any attachment, I felt poorly equipped with the words to help her. Until I read the above quote…

I realized that as soon as I put on my Cowardly Lion’s Badge of Courage, I remember that I am resilient, that my symptoms come and go with the tides, and that this too shall pass.

And even more importantly is my Beacon of Hope. When I shine it out away from myself, even when I am steeped in darkness, it banishes the shadows from the corners of my mind. Fear lives and lurks in the shadows. But when I bathe myself in Hope, it takes on a life of its own. It becomes my lead warrior in the battle against Fear. It will not allow me to succumb to the darkness.

So… I actually began writing this a month ago. At the time, it was in reference to a conversation we were having about my current flare in unrelenting, untreatable migraines. I was joking about my body’s reactions to the shift of the barometric pressure: more accurate than NASA! And my illnesses’ inane need to re-announce itself this time of year. Usually with a never-ending, looping parade of crashing cymbals and blaring trombones… all going off within the confines of my body.

In response to this “update,” she expressed bafflement at my ability to be so calm and accepting in the face of the unknown. “How can you let go? How can you not worry that these current symptoms will turn into a 6 week or even longer episode?”

And this is the crazy thing… it has turned into a 6 week + episode. The reason this entry never got posted is my body decided to go haywire over the last month; old symptoms popping up alongside new and disturbing ones, followed by a string of specialists and tests, including hospital stays, with no definitive answer yet.

But, this is the thing, the miracle of it all: the point I was at over a month ago has become completely irrelevant in the face of my current “predicament” (to put it mildly!). I have become sicker. But I have also continued to put one foot in front of the other. There is no formula that I can apply to figure the duration or depth of this current flare. So why would I waste the precious energy I have on trying to come up with one?

And, yet, I used to think I could.

I realized the true question my friend was asking was, “How can you not live in a constant state of fear?” Fear, most of all, that what is so painful now (whether physical, emotional, or mental), will forever be? That neither of us will ever return to a state of wellness… nor balance.

I can’t say I live without fear. It’s what I do with the fear that makes the difference. I don’t let it set up camp inside my mind and heart. I don’t let it put down roots.

The truth is, I don’t know when or if this (seemingly) never-ending flare will go away. But when I start to tell myself a “story” about my current scenario, I push the pause button. I tried to write my own story in the past, a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style. If A happens, I will do B, C, or D.  Or, if I do LMNOP in the exact right order, then X will not happen. And you know what? It did not work!!!!

All it served was to remind me of my current painful situation, over, and over, and over again. And each time I was confident I had it all worked out, life would throw me a curve ball. And I would have to figure it out on the fly anyway.

So instead I remind myself of my history: the places where Courage and Hope won out. All the times I did get better; all the periods there was a reprieve from a painful symptom, however short or long. I remind myself that I have a team around me to help, made up of friends, family and professionals. And that if (only if, not when) my current bout turns into something more severe, I’ll know what to do. That in the past, I did find treatment. I was able to “ride it out.” I did get better, even if only marginally, it was better.

Then I shift my focus onto the positive aspects of the now. All the ways I am engaging in my life, in spite of. That for every five events I have to cancel, there is one that I am able to participate in that lifts me up.

I ask myself: “Whose side am I on? Which side am I going to feed?”
The side of Fear & Despair…
Or the side of Courage and Hope?

No matter what fearful demons are lurking in the shadows, get out your flashlights and banish fear from the cobwebs of your mind. Just like spring cleaning, it takes a while. It also takes constant upkeep. Imagine what your house looks like if you only clean it once a year, now apply that to your mind…

Fear can build up if you let it, and then Despair sets up house.

OR… your can clear your mind and heart with daily prayer and meditation, with deep belly breathing. By keeping your feet firmly planted in this moment, asking “what can I do for myself right now?” By taking all the headspace dedicated to predicting, preparing, and preventing, and switching focus to the present… building support systems and nurturing yourself (a bath, a book, a nap, a good pet snuggle, …).

Before you know it, your soul will be flooded with light, fear banished.
And COURAGE & HOPE will start to take on a life of their own!

Listening To That Intuitive Knowing

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So, you keep telling the doctor, “Something’s wrong.” And the doctor responds, “I just don’t see anything conclusive on your tests. It’s probably just… referred pain/muscle pain/arthritis/ adhesions (scar tissue), etc. etc.” And you say, once again, “No. Something is wrong. The pain is intense at times, and it’s different than the myriad of regular pains I deal with every day.” “Hmmm. Well nothing I can pinpoint. Sounds like intermittent constipation” But you know. You live in this body every day. You are not malingering or unnecessarily complaining. Yet this very judgment often keeps you from going to the doctor until the situation is unbearable. You know about accepting every day pain that many others don’t deal with. This is different.

So you’re faced with either: letting the doctors wormhole their way into your brain, making you question your intuitive sense. You may start think, “Well, I guess I may be overreacting. The doctors know best right?” But, there is that small insistent voice that grows more and more persistent, “Don’t let the doctors question yourself! You know your body better than anyone else! Every time you’ve said something ‘bigger’ is going on, you’ve been right!” Time for option #2: putting on your “Self-Advocate Hat” and getting to work. Be the squeaky wheel. Not allowing yourself to be a push-over. Keep insisting on further tests until you uncover the true source of your pain.

So you push and you push and lo and behold, there IS something wrong! Alas, something pretty majorly wrong. And now you start to think, “Hmm. I don’t know if I wanted to be right after all! Maybe denial wasn’t such a bad place.” Because now reality is smacking you straight upside the head. This pain will no longer be ignored!

This is the story that most recently played out in my life. I have had an intermittent pain in my upper right abdomen, right below my rib cage. At times it doubles me over, almost knocking the wind right out of me. But then it will quiet down, and I wouldn’t hear from it for a while. Starting about 6 weeks ago, it would no longer be ignored; the persistent and at times intense pain demanded attention. Hence began the above journey.

I started to question my own intuitive sense. I started to acquiesce to someone else’s opinion about my body. I almost didn’t seek out additional evaluations because I didn’t want to appear as someone who over-reacts.

Where does this irrational fear come from? I know I am not alone in this experience. A dear friend recently encountered similar resistance when she was sent to the ED to get treatment for an urgent condition. Hearing just one voice naysay her doctor’s advice was enough to make her shut down. Enough for her to push on, to work beyond what she should of being doing in her current state. Enough to keep her from calling the doctor when her symptoms flared again.

And I am intimately familiar with this self-conscious resistance. The advice I would so freely give to another, the concern I would have if they were experiencing similar symptoms, the nudging I would provide to encourage them to call a doctor asap… are all compassionate techniques I seem to reserve for others. Not for myself, heaven forbid!

Why is that?

Why do we joke that men will never let their ego stop and ask for directions, when we, females, are just as guilty when it comes for asking for help with our physical bodies?

This stoicism doesn’t serve us. It inhibits are well-being and our ability to fully be there for others. And most often, the end result is an exacerbation of the (physical or mental) situation, because we did not seek help or treatment in a timely manner… we blatantly ignored our intuitive voice.

And all of this is reinforced by society. How many stories have we heard of doctor’s dismissing women’s chest pains when they go to the ED, being told,:”you’re too young/the wrong sex/ too healthy to be having a heart attack… must just be indigestion.” Even in the face of irrefutable studies showing that heart disease is the number one killer of women!

I have already had a near-death experience (truly) due to listening to a doctor tell me that there was nothing wrong… again, the phone diagnosis was that I was constipated (what’s up with that?) and just needed to take a walk. When, in fact, my colon had ruptured and I was septic… and dying.

I now know what is happening inside my body. And I know when something is awry. Now I just need to trust myself. And, even when it is challenging, be my own advocate… push, push, push until I get the care I need.

So, here I am, today, waiting on an appointment with my surgeon on Tuesday to discuss removing my gall bladder. That pain that was “just constipation”… is in fact a large gallstone that appears to be also effecting my liver (hence the lovely cankles I have been sporting as of late!). And if I hadn’t insisted that the doctors keep looking, I would have found myself much worse off. Of course, I am not thrilled that there is something so serious going on. But with knowledge, comes power. Now that I know the source of my pain, I can focus on the treatment for my pain.

I encourage you to take a few quiet moments today and “listen” to your body.

Is there anything that has been lingering, nagging at you mind, that you’ve left unattended? Is it time to ask the doctor about that pain/ache/different sensation or symptom?

Have you held back from telling others how you are really feeling for fear of being judged?

Are you experiencing anxiety, worry, stress, sadness that you are trying to keep bottled up inside?

Or perhaps, it’s something more positive, but just as secretive. A voice in your heart that sings the song of your dreams… a wish left unfulfilled for fear of disappointing or stressing others; of taking time to feed your own needs for once instead of everyone else’s?

What are these intuitive thoughts telling you?

Do NOT ignore them.

They are the essence of your being.
And they are meant to be listened to… by yourself and others!

Little “Seeds” of Hope

friendship-quotes-picturesIn the darkest of hours, a small beam of light will appear at the end of a long tunnel of pain, suffering, and sadness. Two choices lie before you: 1 – face this light, walk towards it, and let it grow into a beacon of hope and faith. Or 2 – turn your back on the light, shrouding yourself in darkness, the known place of suffering seeming safer than the unknown possibility of hope… of taking a leap of faith.

I experienced this very cross roads just last Saturday. I woke once again in deep, unrelenting pain, with a throbbing sadness in my heart for all that transpired over the previous 10 days.  I felt defeated. I felt lost. I wanted to move forward, but I didn’t know how. And, let’s face it, there was that part of me, as well, that wanted to stay stuck right where I was. I felt tired of “fighting,” of constantly pushing through the pain and misery. I witnessed others embracing this place and dwelling in it. And I actually saw benefits to this option.  The biggest of which would be that people would finally recognize, that just because I can see the beacon of light in the darkest of times, doesn’t mean that I don’t also experience pain, and disappointment, and suffering. They are not exclusive.

I had just settled into my comfy chair when the doorbell rang. Upon answering, I discovered an unexpected visitor on my porch.  A supportive friend and champion, she intuitively knew to take a moment out of her day to bring lightness into mine. She hadn’t intended to bother me, only wishing to leave a small package and note in my mailbox. But my mailman had foiled her plans, ringing the bell just before her arrival.

Exactly as it was meant to be.

Inside this “Delicate! Do not squish” package lay three, half-dollar size, whelk-egg-cases-and-teeny-contentsoval seed pods. Transparent, with a little seed inside. Shake. Shake. My friend takes one and gently begins to coax this “seed” out. And lo and behold, it is not a seed after all!  It is this miraculous gift from the sea, the teeniest, tiniest conch shell I have ever laid eyes on (a mere 2-3 mm long!).

I gasp in surprise as my heart swells with wonder and awe.

She explains that upon discovering these years ago on the beach, she researched their origin, learning that conch shells are born by the thousands in connected translucent “cocoons” (often called a “Mermaid’s Necklace”). After a dozen years, they mature into the large conch shells we all covet finding on southern beaches.

conch shell symbolismLater, I researched them further and found that conch is also one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism and “represents the beautiful, deep, melodious, interpenetrating and pervasive sound of the Buddhadharma [“natural law”], which awakens disciples from the deep slumber of ignorance and urges them to accomplish their own welfare and the welfare of others.” (Wikipedia)

And that’s how I felt; as if I was awakening from a deep slumber of depression. And for the welfare of myself and others, I needed to face that beacon of light.

I was reminded of Helen Keller’s wise words: “Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.”

And the gift didn’t stop there; she nudged me to read her note …

“When I’ve been through tough times, I have trouble seeing anything besides my pain.  These [shells] can’t heal your suffering, of course, but I hope they remind you that the universe is full of joy and beauty and awe inspiring creations at the same time.  I hope you find moments where you can access that joy.  Please know that, even in your toughest times, you yourself are a source of joy, inspiration and an example of how beautiful God’s creations are to me and to countless others.”

I felt shaken awake. Flashes of beauty and moments of grace began to pass through my mind and heart. Just in the past week, during the period of my deepest pain, I was gifted access to that Universal Joy; I had not fully shut down. There was a crack in my soul just waiting to be re-opened. And, here was an unexpected angel, pushing her way through!

Her words brought welcomed tears and memories of past experiences where life and death, beauty and sadness coexisted in my life. I shared with her another time of deep sadness, when my mother in law collapsed suddenly from invading cancer and passed away 10 days later. My husband and I rushed back from Boston and never left her side. During this time, we would find ourselves sitting outside at the hospital staff picnic table, all hours of the day, situated right outside the birthing center. As my beloved second mother was lying 7 floors above in hospice, we were witnessing couples and families rushing in to bring new life into the world just below her.

And we couldn’t help but feel peace in the light of God’s grace, the universal cycle of life and energy.

There is no pleasure without pain.

There are two sides to every coin.

I made a choice on Saturday to walk towards the light.  This does not mean that my pain, or frustration, or anger, or sadness are gone.  It just means I no longer give them permission to consume my life.

I am actively seeking out moments of grace, of joy, of hope, and of healing. These are the foundation blocks to my continued survival.

I did not arrive at this conclusion alone. Because my “God” wears skin; meaning I see the God in you as I see the God in myself. And when that spirit knocks on my door, I am choosing to answer it.

I am choosing to let the light in.

Don’t Give Up 5 Minutes Before the Miracle Happens

everything-is-a-miracle

There is a catchy little saying, “Don’t give up 5 minutes before the miracle happens.”  There are times when this concept seems plausible. And yet others, when those five minutes feel like they won’t come for five years, if at all.  Last week was one of those “other times!”  But, I forgot while in the throes of anxiety, stress, worry, fear, and pain that miracles come in all shapes in sizes; that their messengers come wearing a variety of colors and cloaks.

Since August, life has been lobbing one curve ball after another our way.  Starting two and a half weeks ago, it was like the pitching machine got stuck; the balls were coming at such a high speed pace, from all different directions, there was no chance of catching one before the next one flew at my face.  And when all your time is spent juggling the balls of life, the mind is too exhausted to even comprehend the possibility of a miracle.

I knew this would make me blind to any miracle that happened, and I didn’t want to miss a one.  So I started my daily gratitude list, marking ways that “grace” had shown itself in my life.  Many days it was like pulling teeth trying to write down just three things I was grateful for that day!  This started to depress me even more.  I’m not saying the exercise didn’t help to “right size” me on many days; that is, put things into perspective.   But it’s also been awhile since I’ve struggled for so long, each and every day.

I really felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  My weeks were filled with a constant onslaught of medical stressors: five days(!!) of bowel prep for a virtual colonoscopy that discovered a suspicious polyp; a fitting for “absolutely necessary” orthotics that were costing me a mere $500 (no insurance coverage); my autoimmune disease (Polychondritis) that flared in every joint, tendon, and muscle in my body; asthma attacks for the first time in a long time, waking me at night “suffocating”; a subsequent visit to my rheumatologist where he was so concerned he almost increased my Prednisone (IE: steroids- oh, no!) but instead decided to put me on Remicade infusions (half day long treatments that are the strongest this class of medicines gets); the start-up of another “hemicrania continuum” (IE: daily, mind-splitting migraines, unresponsive to treatment); 20+ Botox injections in my head and neck for same (that felt like a barrage of wasp stings and triggered an increase in pain – ouch); a “suspicious” mole removal on my back after early years of over-sun exposure (and a subsequent wound that is not healing);  and lower back and hip steroid injections (never fun!)…

Phew! I am exhausted just writing that all down!

And, the stressors didn’t stop there.  Not only was my disease flared by the change in seasons, but so was my husband’s depression; resulting in daily anxiety attacks (many directed at me. Sigh.).  Several friends experienced emotional crisis during this period, and I was the friend they reached out to for support.  Our cat got sick and needed medical care.  Bills seemed to be landing in the mail daily at the rate of political flyers in November.  And the final straw? Our van, our only vehicle, died.  The frame rusted out and landed on the steering box, and, well… you can imagine the rest!

The fear started to set in.  What are we going to do?  How are we going to afford this?  What if we don’t qualify for a loan?

Then, I took a deep breathe, prayed to my higher power, and took the first step.  Information is power.  And, at that point, I had none.  All I had was mis-information that was swirling itself into a cyclone of worry and anxiety.  Not a good equation for an already over-stressed body and mind!

It got worse before it got better.  But, then, last Tuesday, the miracles began to happen.  And because I had “slogged” through those daily gratitude lists, I was able to see them, and appreciate them as they occurred.  After a few unsavory experiences with used car dealerships, we walked into a particular store and were warmly greeted.  For the first time, I felt like each person looked as us as just another human.  We were paired with a gentle soul from Nigeria whom had worked at this same location for 20 years and took deep pride in his work.  He was not paid on commission and spent hours working with us, never feeling harried or put-out.  He not only helped us find our dream vehicle, he figured out a way that we could afford it.  He gave us free credit-counseling advice, outlining a 3-5 year plan to establish credit (we are a one credit card family; a negative in today’s consumerism America!).   Then my mom stepped in to selflessly lend her name, backing our credit for the bank, so that we would get an interest rate under %5.

Friends graciously lent cars and emotional support.  We had some small gifts of “unexpected funds” come our way.  And yesterday I got news that my mole was benign. Thank, God!

And, I realized, after weeks of “getting by,” we were gifted a day of reprieve and then another.  And that this is the true miracle of life.  This new vehicle and all the angels who helped us to get here didn’t suddenly erase the physical and mental pain we are experiencing.  But it gave us Hope.  And hope is what gets us through the unbearable days. 

At some point, life lets up.  The miracle happens.  We just have to keep our minds, eyes, and hearts open to witnessing it.

Don’t give up.  You never know when your 5 minutes will arrive!