Tag Archive | Pain

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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Did I Make Myself Sick?!

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Did I make myself sick?
This is a question that has always haunted me. And most recently it has resurfaced.

If we have the power to heal ourselves than the inverse must also be true… we have the power to make our bodies unwell. Right?
A week back, a dear friend was doing some energy work (Reiki) on me. During this session, she received messages from my body. This is not uncommon, and I generally find these messages very helpful.

This message was deep and powerful. My friend told me , “The reason your body is filled with so much sh*t is because you have held on to too many secrets from your youth. And by holding all of this in, it has accumulated in your body, therefore developing disease. It is time for you to speak your truth. To no longer be afraid of how it may affect other people, only to share your story. I feel that by sharing your entire truth, you will be helping many others who are struggling, silently, with similar experiences. This is your path, not only to help others, but also for clearing out all the ‘crap’ and getting well.”

I’ll admit at first this was empowering. All I had to do was write and then share, without fear, my experiences. A clear path to wellness was laid out for me!

And I did start writing. It was, and is, a freeing experience.

But I also started to think about the root of the message: by keeping these “secrets” (which for me surround years of sexual abuse at young ages; a fact my friend was not aware of, making the message all the more powerful), I had made myself sick.
That’s what it came down to. And I started to feel uncomfortable about this.

I shared a summary of this message in my monthly spiritual group. The theme was Desire; and I had written a free-floating thought poem…

“Desire, what do I desire?
A morning song without the rain
A day long reprieve from the pain
A skip, a jump, a roll in the hay
Unencumbered freedom from a body untamed…”

By the end, my desire had become simply for a life of feeling connected, “to know and be known” and towards “internal peace and love of self. To acceptance of Me; and every day I’m Here…”

But, this is the kicker: there was just one line in there that my fellow group members picked up on: “I have been told that I fore-chose this life…”

And they became incensed, on my behalf. Telling me not to take on someone else’s dogma as my own. That that would mean that all Jews murdered in concentration camps fore-chose that path, as well as other startling examples.

So I took both opposing views and sat, to develop my own.
I began to think of a young girl I know, just finishing her first year of preschool, and her almost third year of constant chemo for a rare form of cancer. And I thought, “How could a 2 year old fill her self with enough secrets to make herself sick? How could her story possibly be long enough yet, to tell, ridding her mind and spirit of this ‘baggage’, making her body well?”

Yes, I believe we all have the capabilities to make better choices for our spirits and bodies, to live from a mindset of wellness that leads to true physical wellness.

But there is also a huge component of our diseases that are out of our control. And if we get stuck in thinking, “Why am I not doing enough or the right thing to make myself well?” Along with, “What did I do wrong in my past to make myself ill?” It will only lead to a place of despair.

I have received many messages that I have the power to make myself well. But I do not believe that means I am meant to “fix myself” on my own!

It means a myriad of things: making the right choices for my body, through eating well and exercising; strengthing my circle of support with old and new friends, and accepting their help, without conditions; choosing a team of well-respected doctors who can guide me; doing just enough research to be informed without too much to fill up my head (we all know what I mean!); meditating and doing activities that lower my stress and pain levels; keeping my physical space free of clutter and my sleep space a place of renewal; taking time to laugh as well as cry; and so much more…

I also take time at least once a day to visualize a little army of worker elves marching through my body and fighting off my disease; sending it into Mother Earth to be cleansed, recycled and renewed into something beautiful and useful.

These are tools I think are helpful for any person…well- or dis-abled.

And, yes, I will continue to write my story. Just by being away from the blogging community, I have gotten “clogged up.” There is power in speaking one’s own truth, sharing it with others, and hearing their truth spoken back. This can only aid in the progress of my healing.

But can this, or myself, alone, “make myself well?” That’s a tall order! And all it makes me think is that I somehow made myself sick. And that’s a very isolating thought.

I, alone, can’t fight any of this.

That goes against My Dogma: It takes a village…. To keep the flame alive and pass it on.

I don’t know why I live a life filled with unpronounceable, rare illnesses. But that’s not my job to know or figure out either.

The only difference between me and that precious 4 year old girl is that I know I am sick where she does not (quite yet). Her attitude can teach me, and us all, a great lesson. She just lives each day as it comes. Feeling her feelings when they arrive, asking questions with out shame, playing when she feels like playing, resting when her body tells her it’s tired; and loving everything and everyone around her deeply, with natural childhood enthusiasm. Her disease is a part of her day, but it is not who she is.

She did not make herself sick, and the key to “making herself well” is already inside her: its by going forth one step at a time and not missing a beat when she has a chance to fully embrace and engage in the gifts of life that are in front of her!

It’s as simple as that. Not secrets, not truth telling, Just Living.

Hope Heals The Way…

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Never give up on hope. I’ve heard people eschew this often overused word as unworthy of attention. A word that only gives false hope, which leads to continued feelings of rejection, loss, and disappointment. But, Hope doesn’t guarantee that life will suddenly become filled with rainbows, leprechauns and unicorns. What it does do, though, is pave the way for possibilities!

Possibilities of a life lived better than the one today. Possibilities for answers to our problems; for solution-oriented thinking.

Because when we have hope, we encourage others to do the same. To not give up… on us. On the situations at hand. On whatever obstacle is currently in front of us.

If I had given up hope 8 years ago today because the doctors told me I had a 10% chance of making it through the night, burning_candleI am 100% positive I would not have made it through that night. But the doctors, the nurses, all the caregivers saw that hope within me. Because hope burns like the brightest candle in your soul. And it fueled them to work through the night to save me. It is undeniable; a hard to ignore source of personal power.

But I also think that’s what scares people most about hope. Why they begin to shy aware from it, call it out as being “cheesy” or setting oneself up with false expectations. Because they are afraid of their own burning flame… we all have the gift of this, if we stoke it, feed it, let it grow.

But with hope, brings responsibility. Because with hope, you are saying: “I am worthy.” And: “I am worth it… worth the effort.” You are taking responsibility for yourself. You are saying, “I am not ready to give up yet.”

I saw a woman (Cheryl L. Broyles) share her story of hope last week on a daytime talk show. A story wherein 15 years ago she was given 6 months to live as she battled terminal, incurable cancer. But, she said, “NO. I am not giving up hope for survival, for myself, for my life, for my family. And I refuse to let you give up hope on me either.” And here she is, 14 years later, sharing her story. She talks that what keep hope alive for her is making “deals” with herself; “when I reach my 1 year, 5 year, 12 year anniversary marks, I will do the following feat. Or, I am going to stay alive to see my children enter kindergarten, then it was high school, college, and now, have their first child.” And she now helps other people keep their hope alive.

And that’s when it hit me; I’ve stalled out on spreading my hope out to the world. It was the greatest gift that came from my survival; it was my mission statement when I started this blog. It was my goal when I planned to publish my story. And I have done many of those things. And I certainly make an effort to “practice hope” in my individual actions. But there still is a lot to do; there is still a lot a want to share. And that is where I lost my hope.

Because Hope doesn’t mean that life becomes easier. If anything, my life has become, and continues to become, more and more challenging. But what if that’s all part of my story? Who am I to define what hope looks like for me, or for anyone else?

All I do know is that hope means to keep moving forward. To push outside the boundaries of conventional thinking. To look at things in new and different lights. Because it’s not just us with chronic or terminal illnesses, that benefit from this hope. IT IS EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US!

From the smallest daily conundrums to the bigger challenges in relationships with our partners (current and ex!), children, and co-workers. And on to our inner desires and dreams. There are always ways to achieve what we want and need; it’s just not always gained by the conventional route. And that’s where hope comes in to play! Because once you give yourself fully over to the idea of hope (of worthiness), then you can’t help but say, “Well, then, how I am going to make the seemingly impossible, possible?” Once you open the door to new possibilities, you open the door to light.

I often hear hope and faith lumped together. And this, too, can turn some people off to the idea of fully embracing “hope.” Because they equate faith with religion, and that’s not the space they find their hope in. Many people do, and that’s a gift.

But I also want to point out that faith is defined as “belief in, trust in, loyalty to, strong conviction of…” Couldn’t you fill in that blank with so many other verbs and adjectives? “Belief in Hope;” “Trust in something greater than myself;” “Loyalty to myself and my own well-being;” or “A strong conviction in the fact that I am worthy of living a full life.”

My faith lies both in the power of actively practicing Hope, but also in the belief that I am not the one directing what that hope looks like. I may still die tomorrow; but at least I know that I didn’t go down without a fight. That I didn’t live every moment as fully as I could, in that moment. And that I didn’t let others give up on me. Even more importantly, I didn’t give up on myself.

So open your heart to a little bit of hope today. Feel that candle of life, love and energy burn within. You truly are worthy of it… all.

Healing Through Pain

We have all experienced post-traumatic stress (PTS) from intense life experiences. It can come from a variety of sources: a near-brush with death; the impact of battling intense and painful illness; losing a loved one; a difficult childhood; or breaking off a long term relationship; to name just a few.

The event itself doesn’t matter so much as how it influences us.

This PTS can manifest itself in a number of ways: fear of future life-altering events; free-floating anxiety; newly formed phobias, unrelenting grief; unbidden tears; loss of affect; isolation; and withdrawal from activities. Many times the symptoms are insidious and creep up on us. We don’t even recognize the impact this life event had on us; or we are in denial of it.

We don’t want to admit we are vulnerable.

And, let’s face it, there’s a stigma around the acronym “PTSD.” Oftentimes, we associate it with major catastrophes and/or assume it manifests itself in ways that prevent the sufferer from engaging in life at all.

But once we take away our generalized perceptions of PTSD, there is much that can be gained by recognizing it in our lives, and working through it instead of avoiding it.

Let me give an example…

A dear friend suddenly lost her pet dog last fall. Using the descriptor “pet” seems to diminish the importance of their relationship. She, too, battles with chronic illness and her beloved dog (“L”) had been by her side and been her main partner through some of the toughest years of her life… those days she didn’t think she would ever get out of bed again. But her dog provided love, licking away her tears, and motivation to move, even if just slightly, because eventually she had to be taken outside.

Pets can be important companions to many of us, but I think they hold a special place in the hearts of those with chronic illness. They are the one being in our lives that love us no matter what… unshowered, in pain, grumpy, disheveled, confused, and lonely. They’ve seen the all of us and love us unconditionally.

I witnessed my friend experience months of unrelenting grief. I felt lost and powerless at ways to help her. All I could do was hold the space with her as she traversed this process at her own pace, and in her own way.

Then, one day a couple weeks ago, she had a revelation.

She was walking at the local reservoir, a favorite spot that her and her dog would wander. And she suddenly no longer felt alone.

She reflected on all the times L greeted her with unabandoned adoration, even when she didn’t feel like she deserved it herself. She remembered feeling so down all she could do was lie prone on the couch, too fatigued and depressed to even lift a hand to pet L. But her pup didn’t care, she would climb right up on that sofa and comfort my friend instead. She chuckled as she recalled 10 hour days away from home, rushing in worried because she hadn’t even stopped in to let L out to pee. But, again, her pup didn’t care; she greeted her with enthusiastic excitement just because she was home. No judgement. No shame.

She realized that all these negative thoughts she was having about herself were in direct contrast to what her dog had felt for her. That the best way to honor L’s life was to treat herself with the same unconditional acceptance and love that her pet had.

And then she said the most remarkable thing: “If I could find meaning in her life, I can find meaning in her death, too.”

She went on to say she had fallen into the victim role, angry at her pet for not being here to help her through this grief. Knowing this is an irrational thought, but her heart aching because L had been the one to help her through every difficult emotion over the last decade+. And this was the most painful emotion she had ever faced.
But, another “a-ha moment” had come to her: before L died, she only had her there to help her when they were physically close. Now, she had her with her all the time, and could tap into that unconditional love and understanding whenever, and wherever she needed it.

“To live in the hearts of those we love is never to die.” (Thomas Campbell)

She concluded by realizing that by taking care of herself, she is better able to be there for others. She won’t reach out if she isn’t making life choices that are in her own highest good.

And I have witnessed this transformation… she is now providing support to others that are grieving, because she is authentically speaking from her own experiences.

And by sharing her experience, strength and hope with me, she affected me deeply. It demonstrated the importance of living through the PTS until you can see a purpose in a difficult situation.

I, too, am in the grieving process right now. I am not grieving a specific person or being, but then again, that’s not entirely true. I am grieving someone. I am grieving myself. The person I was pre-illness. And I realize I have been living with the silent stalker of PTS for years, because I haven’t allowed myself to fully open up to this process of grief yet. I thought I was “okay,” that I had moved past it, that I was accepting of my situation. And in many ways I am, but that doesn’t negate the need to grieve what was and what could have been.

I need to look at that “lost Tam” with unconditional love and then give my current self that same gift of love and acceptance.

What experiences in your life have left a residual stain on your soul? An echo of yesterday that you haven’t completely been able to let go of yet?

I realize PTS doesn’t just go away by wishing it so. The passage of time doesn’t necessarily allow it to fully fade into the sunset. And pushing it to the recesses of our minds, tucked away in the box marked “things I’d rather forget” doesn’t work either. The only way to move beyond the experience and the left-over PTS, is to move through it. To dust off that box, open it up, and feel every ugly, painful, sad, angry, resentful, shameful emotion until we are spent. Until there is nothing left except an empty box to start re-filling with healing thoughts of love.

And, remember, this process can be big and scary and overwhelming. But you don’t have to go it alone! In fact, it’s advisable to find people that have traveled this journey before you to light the way. My friend experienced all the stages of grief with the help of support groups, hotlines, and friends. And she is now paying this gift forward by helping others. And I’m reliving my past with the help of a mentor and my friends, no longer holding these feelings in secret.

May today mark the beginning of a new healing journey for us all!

Dear Life…

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Dear Life,

You have been unpredictable and you always keep me on my toes.

At times, I even dream of trading you in for a newer, shinier model.

I can develop “life envy” when comparing mine to others around me.

Sometimes I want to scream, “What the heck is the meaning of all this?
“What is the purpose of living a Life such as the one I’ve been given?!”

But, in the end, I always come back to the same answer…

THIS is My Life and I wouldn’t trade it.

I wouldn’t want it taken away from me.

I wouldn’t want to be robbed of the chance to live it.

And, then, Life, you’ll throw me another curve ball.
Like the one that was lobbed at me yesterday…

Time for another emergency surgery,” Life reminds me with the insistent alarm that keeps going off in my side. This time, the snooze button does nothing to delay this scheduled appointment with My Life.

And I am reminded, “Tam, just because this is the hand Life has dealt you, doesn’t mean you have to play it alone!

So I reach out to others.

Some surround me instantly with Love and Support.

Some even put their own Lives’ on hold for a bit, to help me navigate mine.

But I also discover that many, the ones I most need and crave right now, are so used to Tam’s Life, that this is just another regular ol’ occurrence for her.

No need to worry. Don’t be alarmed. We’ll just go on with our Lives and pretend that everything is just fine.

And they’re right, I am used to a different quality of Life than most.I have had to catch these fast balls many previous times.
And in the end, I’ve always come back swinging, “Watcha got next for me Life? Huh? Huh?!

But, what if this is The End, Life?

What if I’ve already played out my 9 Lives?

Just because I’ve gone through this before, doesn’t mean I, too, don’t battle the arch-nemeses of Life; Fear, Anger, Hurt, Insecurity, and Loneliness.

If anyone else in my circle of family and friends was facing a similar uncertain future, we would all drop everything to be by their sides, to Fight for their Lives.

Yesterday, when I was signing my release for surgery, the surgeon was going over the four long lines of possible (and many, probable) risk factors involved with this procedure. The last two were: “Heart Attack” and “Death.” And you know what he said, Life? “Well, you’ve already had both of those, so you know the risks involved with these complications.” Chuckle. Chuckle.

BOTH of those? Meaning “death,” too.
And, you know what, he’s right.
Because I have not only met my Life, I have also met my Death. Twice.

So, is this supposed to make me feel less scared?
Because it doesn’t.

Yet, when I inform my closest loved ones of this impending, very serious and complicated surgery, happening in just 2 days’ time, they respond, “Okay.”

Okay? Isn’t that what you say when you let someone know you have to reschedule lunch because you’re having a tooth filled?

But, that just highlights how insanely crazy You are, Life. So insane, that insanity begins to appear as normalcy.

And, yet, I still wouldn’t trade you in.

I want to keep living you, Life.

I still have uncharted parts of myself and the world that I want to explore.

I still have so much love, light and energy to give to others.

And I still have a great big capacity to receive that love back.

As I write you this letter, I sit outside in the waxing and waning sun. Watching as it plays hide-n-seek with the clouds. I listen to the one of a kind bird song symphony, never to be repeated at any other time nor in any other place. A unique crescendo of my backyard birds, a concert for one.

I listen to the traffic coming and going on the expressway behind my house. And I dream of where they are headed. I dream of where I next want to go.

I can feel the soothing, loving presence of my husband as he gets ready inside. The one person who has born witness to the all of you, My Life. And never takes for granted the extreme pressure I am under…

I am constantly pushing you up hill. But, I am up for the battle.

I do not planning on meeting your shadow self, Death, again for a long time to come.

But, I also know it is not solely up to me.

So I’ll make a deal with you, Life…
Don’t give up on me and I won’t give up on you.

Love,
Tamara
aka: HopeSpirit

Hope for the Hopeless

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I have been far too absent from the blogging community and I have felt the significant loss of this supportive limb. Each of my days over the last few months have been deeply entrenched in “survival mode.” Not only has my disease been in a deep, unrelenting (and deeply unforgiving) flare, so has my husband’s chronic mental illness.

Many times the caregiver’s needs are forgotten; they stand in the shadows making sure everything functions yet are barely seen, and almost never acknowledged. This fact combined with chronic depressive disorder, is a ticking time bomb for disaster.

And over the last month, that bomb has exploded not once, not twice, but over and over again, as my husband has reached his internal boiling point and has no longer been able to contain nor handle his volatile emotions.

During several of these “boil overs” he has expressed his frustration with the way our life has turned out. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way!” And I have no opposing argument, in fact, I agree. But at the same time, I am not sure what other way it is supposed to be. All he wants, I know, is some reprieve… from the doctors, from our illnesses, from our poverty, stress, worry and fear. It is overwhelming and unrelenting. And when you feel physically “down” at the same time, it’s even that much more difficult to handle the onslaught of continuous stressors.

A couple times, he’s taken it a step further. Vehemently stating that he doesn’t see in any way that this is a life worth continuing to live, if this is the way we are going to live it. He went on to argue that perhaps we are not meant to live long lives. That we might as well give in to our disease processes and let our minds and body fade away like they would have before the “wonders of modern medicine.” He challenged me to “show him” in what way our lives are worth continuing.

Now there is no denying that this cut me to my core and made me question my purpose on this planet. But, there is also something undefinable in me that still keeps fighting. I was armed with arguments of the ways our life does shine (friendships, experiences, each other, etc.), but also knew he is not currently in a place to hear any of these points. So I took another tactic, agreeing with his stance, arguing that perhaps we shouldn’t strive to live past 60, but if that’s the case, then let’s squeeze the all out of life for the next 20 years and go out with a bang! In some ways, I kind of liked (and still do like) this idea.

During this current period of strife and struggle, I keep finding myself humming the Glen Campbell song lyric, “Everybody’s got a hold on hope, it’s the last thing that’s holding me.”

And in reflecting on how we can both have two dramatically different outlooks on the same circumstances, I’ve been reminded of a Cherokee fable. Just recently my mom asked me to refresh her memory about this inspiring story, one I shared with her when she was asked, as a lay Presbyterian, to give a sermon on Hope for her church.

The story goes like this…

Each one of us is born with two opposing wolves inside.

One wolf is “FEAR.” And out of the mouth of this wolf comes a constant internal barrage of anger, greed, jealously, sorrow, regret, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, competition and comparison, feelings of superiority and inferiority, and ego.

Many of us can identify this wolf… we may call it by a different name: our judges or critics, the voice of our short-comings, our shadow selves, or our sub-conscious monsters. But this wolf by any other name, is still the wolf of Fear.

But, there is a second wolf, the “Good Twin” so to speak, who goes by the name of “HOPE”. This wolf speaks softly and gently of love, joy, possibilities, happiness, dreams, miracles, sharing, serenity, kindness, peace, friendship, compassion, truth, love and faith.

As we grow, only one wolf can survive.

“Which one survives?” you ask…

THE ONE YOU FEED.

Think of that for a moment. Which wolf are you feeding today? Are you filling the belly full of the one named Fear? Letting it grow and expand until her voice blots out all other? Or are you ingesting a conscious diet of Hope? Doing things to nurture her growth and development, so that her voice grows stronger and louder until all you hear are internal messages of Love and Faith? So that when you open your mouth, these same sentiments steeped in Hope come pouring forth to everyone around you?
Because the more you share your hope, the more of it comes back to you.

I am so grateful that while at lunch with my mom, she unearthed this memory of years back. Giving me the opportunity to remember not only how I can feed the wolf of Hope for myself, but that the person she came to for inspiration and thoughts on hope, was me. That when many are struggling, they reach out to me. That I have faced innumerable challenges, and have survived. That through my personal struggles, I have been given the gift of passing this Hope on to others.

And that even though my life is far from “ideal,” it’s mine. And it’s all that I’ve got.

It’s up to me what I am going to do with it.

Just for today, I choose to feed the Wolf of Hope. This wolf has soft white fur, and kind blue eyes. She is my protector and my guardian, and she leads me down the path of possibilities.

What is one thing you can do today to feed your Wolf of Hope?

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.