Thursday, June 30, 2011

As Life Rushes On

Six days have passed since I last posted. Six sunrises and five sunsets. As I sit here at my desk in the early morning hours - the quietness of the house, windows open, birds at the feeders, dogs asleep at my feet - it's a familiar peacefulness. Much like the last time I sat at this keyboard to bring my thoughts to you. It's so funny how things remain unchanged - or better yet, constant. More like a river flowing. From a birds eye view we say, "Ah, there's the river!" Constant in it's "river-ness", but never the same. Changing with each molecule that rushes by. Hidden under the shiny blanket of familiarity.

                                                                                                                   Photo by David Ralph Johnson

This brings me peace. As I sit here, thinking about the rush of the river, the current of my life, I am comforted greatly by the things which surround me in this moment. Birds, breeze, sun, the smell of summer - I feel as if I am experiencing them for the very first time. These timeless gifts - all new, here for me, in this beautiful moment.

My mother and grandmother. 
The river has indeed been rushing. In my prior updates I wrote to you of the upcoming graduation and week of visiting family. Just a few days prior to that my mother was hospitalized with a stroke. It was a large stroke, but she was extremely fortunate in regards to damage and has been blessed to be recuperating at home. We have a small family - just myself and my brother, who lives in Louisiana with his wife and children. The fact that he was scheduled to be home this past week for our family gathering made things much easier for me. He flew home Sunday afternoon and I already miss him dearly.

My bother Jimmy.

Monday morning came all too quickly, and I was back at the hospital for appointments and IVIg. I don't know if it was the break in routine that came with a busy week of company or just my current state of mind, but I found myself quite contemplative this day. My first appointment was with the health psychologist that I see every two weeks and it might come as a big surprise (I say this with a tad bit of sarcasm), but I was extremely "weepy" at this visit. Hum...go figure!

I opted to sit up for my infusion this go around. I usually request a room with a bed, since I'm there for over five hours. But for some reason, this time I wanted to be more alert.

This is me. As you can see, I'm still awake. Prior to the actual infusion of IVIg, I get a nice dose of IV Benadryl, which usually knocks me out for a good four hours or so.

Before I entered into the "lights out" phase of things - I snapped a few shots for you...
Hook up. Standard conversation prior to "the poke". Nurse, "You have great veins! This should be no problem."
Me, "Looks can be deceiving. I have tough skin, my veins roll and are full of valves."

On average, this takes at least two tries. The good side of peripheral neuropathy...loss of sensation!

Blood pressure, heart rate and temperature. Standard checks before, during (every half hour) and after infusion. Handy little machine. Wish I was WelchAllyn.

Patient Pal.
Indeed! This great invention carries all the good stuff and is easily transported into places such as the bathroom. Unplug, hook and roll.

The curtain.
They all look alike. It doesn't matter if your in the ER, in an actual hospital room or sitting in the specialty clinic - they all accomplish the same goal and sound the same way when the doctor comes in.

Examination gloves by SensiCare - small, medium and large.
Stick to IV tape, smell funny and make great rooster combs when blown up. Powder-Free Nitrile. Well THAT's good.

Discussion topic at our house: Is it ethical to take a rubber glove home with you? Hum.

Baxter. That's the brand name of this device. 
Every time I look at this machine I think of my daughter's dog Baxter. Both small, both wonderful...both make shrill noises when upset. This regulates the flow of anything going into my veins. It's really quite amazing. I've learned to read the screen very well and can pretty much tell you what's going wrong before you look. Most times - just air in the line. The speed at which I receive my infusion changes every half hour until the max rate is reached. This prevents adverse reactions - which are no fun.

Lights out.
One last look at the clock.

The curtain, again.
There's a whole other story in this picture - I'll save it for another day. But I'll just say this - in a dark room, when you're sick, or afraid, or lonely - the light on the other side of this curtain almost feels like the light from another universe. It can feel as welcoming as heaven or as far away as "infinity and beyond". I've spent many, many hours longing to be on the other side - in both situations.
Yes, I have my shoes on. My feet are always cold!

Only recently have I entertained entertainment. I set things up before I fall asleep as it would be next to impossible for me to accomplish this after. Since there is no cell phone reception in this area I communicate with Dave and the kids this way. As I watch the Baxter and account for things such as occlusion, ten minutes for clearing the line with D5W and IV removal - I can predict my time of departure within about five minutes. A quick message to Dave on facebook and he is out front waiting for me when I'm done.

That was my Monday, in a nutshell.

Tuesday home. Wednesday back to the hospital to see my cardiologist. I've been struggling with some arrhythmia/atrial fibrillation/tachycardia  issues for some time now. Right before the big graduation festivities I had met with Dr. Chen and discussed the need for some minor heart surgery. We agreed to put me on a low dosage of medication and postpone things until after the graduation. That date was yesterday. I've been put on a cancellation list for July. If there are no cancellations, then surgery will be August 5th.

The surgery is called a catheter ablation and has much less risk than putting me on antiarrhythmic medications, which could potentially be life-threatening. A risk that is significantly increased by my diseases and the medications I am already on. If successful, I would be completely off all heart medications!

Today is Thursday, and as I sit here and write, the Governor of Minnesota and the heads of the House and Senate are sitting behind closed doors, only eleven hours from the second state government shutdown in Minnesota history. Their inability to to agree on a budget timely could mean the layoff of thousands of state employees and the loss of services to many of Minnesota's most vulnerable populations. My husband and many of my closest friends will not have a job on Friday morning if this is the case.

The river rushes on.

The birds, the breeze, the sunshine through my window - they cover me with a blanket of familiarity that still brings me peace. When all else surges by, I find myself motionless in this moment. Alive. Awake.
And I am completely aware that I have everything I need - right here, right now.

I wish the same for you. Whoever you are - wherever you are. Know that this is possible. Know that the greater the storm, the more beautiful the peace.

It's there - waiting for you.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Before The Smell Of Coffee

This is my favorite cup.

Almost every morning, unless one of my kids has absconded with it, this cup holds the coffee that brews before beds stir each day. No doubt about it, I love my coffee. I'm not so sure its the best thing for me, but it will definitely be the last vice to go!

This week that cup has been my best friend. Having made it through graduation last Saturday, we rolled right into a week of company - averaging about 20 people per meal. I am extremely fortunate to have a family that supports me and watches my every move, so help has been more than abundant. But as those of you with chronic illness know, it does not take much and we're basically suffering from post-marathon exhaustion. I say that in jest, but I can not tell you how many times I think back to my racing years in times like these. Setting my sights on the goal, putting my head down and stepping one foot in front of the other. It's all good. It's all extremely rewarding. And it's completely exhausting!

Two more days and the house will be empty...well, empty with myself, Dave, Anna, Evan, Emma, Sara, Maggie, Jake and Jenni (the last three are pets!). I will be extremely sad to see my family head down the driveway and back to Louisiana. It's a long way down the road to Mandeville. But at the same time I am filled with the contentment that comes from knowing how fortunate I am. Blessed beyond measure.

There will be lots to write about when the dust settles. My brain has been taking notes and capturing snapshots of moments that have flitted around this house like little field mice. There was a day when those moments would have been completely invisible to me. Overwhelmed and distracted by the need to do it all and to be everywhere, creating the perfect...whatever. But not this time. This time I was here. This time I heard the first "Aunt Theresa, can you...". This time holding a baby took precedence over dishes and playing Kings in the Corner was way more important than throwing in another load of laundry. This time...was all that mattered.

As I sit here, coffee brewing and all the mice still asleep, I am filled with a happiness that wells up in my throat and gently flows down my cheek. There is so much to be thankful for in this life - if we just look. It really is possible, brother. It really is.

Life is good.  


Mother's are those wonderful people 
that can get up before the smell of coffee in the morning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Artwork by me. Inspired by my dear friend. 

I didn't always know how to breathe. In fact, prior to 2005, I did not realize that breathing was even something one paid attention to. I simply left the job up to my autonomic nervous system. Autonomic...automatic...autopilot...what's the difference? 

And then I met Jeana.

Jeana came into my life at one of those points when everything else seemed to be leaving. I had just taken a new job in St. Paul at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. I was also in the midst of the devastating collapse of a 22-year marriage and role as pastor's wife in the rural Midwest. Having raised our daughters in a town of 150 (of which we were 7), the Twin Cities felt much like stepping off a cliff in the black of night. Every single piece of my foundation had seemed to crumble away. It was truly my darkest hour.

One of the first gifts Jeana gave me was a framed piece of Japanese art. On this beautiful picture were these words, "Inhale. Exhale. Breathe In Life."  Little did I know the impact these words and this friend would have on my world. As the years have gone by, I have learned much about breathing from Jeana. Her direct and gentle persistence throughout the ups and downs of my days has not only changed the course of my life and the lives of my daughters, but has opened my heart and created a desire that at times seems almost unquenchable. A desire that continues this day to lead me down a path of self-awareness, acceptance and compassion. 

I've thought of Jeana a lot this past week. Hearing her voice, feeling her soft touch on my shoulder, reminding me to breathe. It's not so automatic, this breathing. The world sneaks in and the next thing I know, my shoulders are tight, my breath is shallow and life seems more like something that is happening to me than with me. 

View here!
In thinking about how this happens, something dawned on me the other day while reading  Pema Chödrön's The Places That Scare You. I mentioned a couple of posts back that she talks about emotions needing a story to proliferate. What she means by that is that whatever emotion we are feeling - whether it be anger, loneliness, fear or even emotions such as joy or passion - those emotions cannot exist if we are not telling ourselves some sort of story. If I'm really feeling sick and stuck in fear, I may be telling myself things like, "I'm never going to feel well. I haven't felt good in over two years. I can't keep doing this. Pain is taking away my life. I don't do anything. How will I get what needs to be done, done? The doctor's don't understand how this is impacting my life. I'll never be normal again...."  Consciously or unconsciously, I am telling myself some sort of story. Why? Because I get something out of it - temporarily. Kind of like a piece of chocolate cake in the middle of your diet. Short term...heavenly! Long term...not so good. It feels good to sympathize with ourselves. But in the end, it only keeps the negative emotion alive.

What dawned on me is that when I find myself sitting there, out of breath, this is exactly what I am doing. I have stopped being present in the moment and I have gotten myself all caught up in some story. The solution? Pema says, "Drop the story line and just abide with the energy." Ouch. We don't like to do this! I don't like to feel pain. I don't like to feel lonely. I don't like to feel hungry. I don't like to feel hurt. So what do I do? I try to get some bit of relief by telling myself a story. And it never works.

So, this week I put my enlightenment to the test, on two different occasions. My first opportunity was after IVIg on Monday. On a scale of one to ten, one being a fairly uneventful infusion and ten being plain old miserable - this one ranked at about a nine. I felt sick during the entire infusion and the days that preceded it were filled with nausea, digestion issues, headache and pain. At one particular point I found myself spiraling downward, contemplating all that needs to be done this week in preparation for a graduation party and a week filled with company. The story was pretty good.

My second opportunity was after hearing something less than desirable about myself. Whether or not there is validity in the statement has little impact. No one wants to hear about his or her shortcomings - real or not. It's painful to think that we are not perfect in the eyes of those we love. Especially our children. And it's easy to get caught up in trying to figure out the why or in trying to prove one's innocence. Another pretty good story.

In both situations, I was able to realize what I was doing and give the whole "abiding with the energy" business a shot. Was it difficult? You bet! Was it worth it? Absolutely!  First of all, stopping the story takes away a lot of the energy. In the situation where I was feeling sick, the minute I broke free of the story I felt a distinct peacefulness fall over my body. The pain was still there - in fact, there were moments where it seemed more intense and the temptation was to tear up and start the whole "woe is me" line - but I caught myself. And the more I was able to just abide with the energy of not feeling well, the more I was able to breathe. Soft, gentle, slow breaths. Just being.

In the situation where I had gotten my feelings hurt, stopping the story shortened the whole ordeal dramatically. Not only was I feeling better sooner, I did not aggravate the situation by responding inappropriately or making false assumptions. I realized the situation for what it was, allowed myself to just feel the energy of being sad, and moved on. Because I did not respond out of my hurt, because I was in control of my breath, a wonderful conversation later ensued and it was a cherished opportunity for compassion and growth.

"Inhale. Exhale. Breathe in Life." I am so thankful for these words and the reminder they have become for me to be present in this life. They have inspired me in so many ways - the books I read, the poetry I write, the paintings I paint. Breathing means being present. Being present means recognizing what's going on in my world. And as Pema states, "Never underestimate the power of compassionately understanding what's going on."

Blessed breathing to you.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

To-Do Lists

Art work by me : )

Anyone that knows me well, knows that I am far from black and white. Not that I don't have certain beliefs or hold convictions that I remain faithful to, but for me, life is lived in the gray. It is in the "in between" where experience finds compassion, where obstinacy finds understanding and where grace abounds. It is where true joy can be found - but it is also where some of our most difficult days find their struggle.

One of the times where this gray matter becomes most difficult for me is when I am put in the position to verify my illness with Social Security or my long term disability insurance. I've written about this before. The contradiction of wanting to be well, yet having to prove how sick I am. My nature is to make the best out of things. Yet, when it comes to these situations, it feels quite the opposite. Thank goodness, these ordeals happen on a limited basis.

But there is also a sort of living in the gray that happens on a day to day basis. Balancing what I want to accomplish with what I am actually capable of accomplishing can be a trick that sneaks up on me at times. When I am very sick, these decisions are pretty cut and dry. Laying in a hospital bed does, indeed, limit my possibilities. It's not where I ever want to be, but it is a place where my focus and energies can remain on one thing - getting well.

When I was healthy, prior to getting sick two and a half years ago, possibilities seemed limitless. Often times the only thing to get in my way was my own lack of ambition. Unless hindered by some sort of an injury, setting the goal to run a marathon was a challenge that was completely doable. Balancing work, family, running, hobbies... was a task that included a conscious selection on my part. All elements holding possibility.

The past two weeks have been very gray. At one end of the spectrum I have an upcoming graduation celebration and family coming for a week. At the other end, I have a flare that seems to be continuously smoldering in the background and a heart condition that is being barely kept at bay with a medication that makes me less than "energetic". Add in two parts perfectionism, one part avoidance - and you have a recipe for suffering. My first clue... not having time to meditate.

So... this is the To-Do List on my kitchen cupboard. It's actually list number two. List number one went up about three months ago and was accomplished (mostly by my husband) this past weekend. The current list includes details that are supposed to be "accomplish-able" by the 17th of June.

Unless you are the Buddha, not many human beings ever attain complete enlightenment. Even the perfectionist in me has a very realistic idea of what I am capable of. What we can hope to attain is an awareness of who we are, where we are at or what we are doing. This morning, after a few hours of ridiculousness, I became quite aware of who I am and what I was thinking...and I just had to laugh. There I was, at 7am, standing out in the front yard in my pajamas, trying to hold a hose so that I could water my flowers (number one on the sub-set list made this morning). I hadn't taken my medicine. Heck, I hadn't even taken my first sip of coffee. About 15 minutes in the sun and I felt like I was going to pass out. Frustrated at my body, I just kept pushing forward. Water the flowers by the driveway...don't forget the ones in the front of the house...oh, bring a pail out to the mailbox where the new sunflowers are coming up...bring the hose to the back deck...make sure to spray the pollen off the furniture...sweep the pine needles... STOP!!!!!!!!! This was the complete insanity that began to flood my brain. All the while - feeling more and more sick. Barely able to walk in a straight line, I dropped the hose and walked back into the house. 

This is me, in my chair. These are my pajama bottoms, of which I am still sporting at this very moment (12:42pm). I have no intention of taking them off today, nor do I plan to go pick up that hose or even look at a list. Today I am going to be well - both physically and mentally. My ego would like to convince me of the importance of a perfect home, a completely organized graduation and the title of "Super Women". 

If I listen closely, my heart tells me that what matters most is taking care of this moment. And my taking care of this moment is the greatest gift I can give my family. 


Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Dinky Town Day

I was talking to my mother the other day about what some of our options might be if the Minnesota government shuts down for longer than a month. Worst-case scenario, we would have to move out of our home, downsize, and sell a few things…. There are all sorts of options.  Some a little more difficult than others, but none all that daunting.  I told her that nothing in this world – nothing – lasts forever, and the end of one journey only opens the path for the next one.  Towards the end of our conversation, she made this comment, “I think this spiritual thing you are on is really helping you.”

Photo by Emma Jane
Yesterday was our Anniversary.  To be completely honest, if it were not for Facebook stating, under my Upcoming Events section, “Your Anniversary with David Johnson is today”, I don’t think either one of us would have remembered.  To some, that may seem completely unacceptable. A sign of careless disregard – thoughtlessness.  Quite the opposite. When your cup is full – it’s full.

Dave and I met on eHarmony.
This is the first picture I saw of him.

For the past couple of months Dave has been trying to sell his motorcycle. It is a bike he has had for years and years, a 1984 Honda Magna. He owned it when I met him, and much of our courting took place on those two wheels.  And, every year when the spring air hits, it has been our favorite things to look forward to. Winding in and out the hills of St. Croix County at 45 mph is nothing short of heaven. However, we are getting older. Dave’s diabetes is a little more unpredictable, and my health is…well, you know the story.  The plan had been for Dave to sell the motorcycle and use the money to buy a new camera.  Photography is where his passion lies, and new cameras don’t come easy. We figure the bike is worth about one-half a mortgage payment.  Things change.

We sold the bike yesterday – on our Anniversary.  It’s been an odd couple of months dealing with the riff-raff which invades your life through the doorway of Craig’s List. Most, not even real human beings – computer generated emails consisting of offers to “buy you motocycle, happy to pay cash so email phone immediate please.”  For every one real person, there exist about ten computer bids.  Moreover, quite often that real person would rather swap 100 bottles of Red Bull or 20 Nintendo games instead of paying cash.  Getting to the real deal is frustrating to say the least. Dave sold the motorcycle to Jon.
He was a real as it gets.

When Jon and his friend Linda drove up in our driveway, Dave was busy trying to get the garage cleaned out for graduation and I was watering some flowers.  Up early, lots needed to be done on this beautiful sunny Saturday. The clock is counting down – only two weeks to go – really only one weekend.  

The minute they stepped out of the car all ticking ceased.  Within minutes, Dave had determined that Jon had never owned a motorcycle.  A scooter, but not a motorcycle.  Yet, if enthusiasm alone could get the job done, Jon would be riding by afternoon. There was something very special  - very endearing about the way in which Jon went after his dream of owning a 1984 Honda Magna. After about 15 minutes of discussion, off they rode. Dave on the front, Jon smiling from ear to ear on the back.  I set up a couple of lawn chairs amongst the disarray of the garage and Linda and I began to talk.

She is a teacher in Minneapolis. Her husband a professor.  She explains to me in detail just sufficient to get the point across, that her friend Jon is very ill. No one, including his partner, is very excited about Jon getting this bike, but it is his dream.  I tell her about my health and the past couple of years. We talk about pets, taking in abused animals, raising children and how life is. Short and beautiful.  We share the most intimate of vignettes, this perfect stranger and I.

What seemed like only moments later, Dave and Jon returned.  Dave told me afterward, that the minute they got on the bike, he felt his role slowly change from salesperson to teacher. He felt a certain compassion and responsibility towards the safety of this new rider. I can envision this quite clearly as two of my husband’s best qualities are mentoring and patience.  It makes him an amazing father.

Money was exchanged, the title signed and an agreement made for us to ride the bike into Minneapolis so that Jon could practice safely on the streets of his own neighborhood and not on the four lanes of Interstate 35.

Photo by David Ralph Johnson

By 5:30pm the bike was parked out in front of Jon’s house.  I wish I could capture in words or photos the emotion of this moment.  Both seem to fall short.  What I can tell you is this – we are better people because of it.  Changed forever.

Emma was with us for the drop off. She was my riding partner as we followed Dave into the heart of Minneapolis.  As we drove off from the exchange, Dave felt it was appropriate to go somewhere “quirky” for supper. To celebrate.  We love when Dave says “quirky”. It usually means we will end up in Dinky Town or some obscure corner of Minneapolis or St. Paul. He knows both cities like the back of his hand and this always makes for an adventure.  We ended up in Dinky Town, at Annie’s Parlor.  We sat up on the rooftop and gorged ourselves with enormous sandwiches, a basket of fries, milk shakes, chocolate sodas and two cherry phosphates.  I had an exchange with a young woman that was wearing the exact same shirt that I had on – it was pleasant, full of laughter and real – like a long lost friend. I remember thinking I would miss her as she left – most likely never seeing her again. Glad that I picked that shirt from my closet earlier that morning.

As we left Annie’s, there were two men playing hacky sack on the side of the street. Emma and I saw them first. I could tell by their demeanor that they would most likely not have a problem with Dave taking pictures of them. So I yelled up the stairway for Dave to come down (as a rule, Dave lags behind…another wonderful quality!!) and take pictures of this incredible display of dexterity and general “coolness”.

Photos by David Ralph Johnson

Bill and Pete were their names. Bill, the one with the great hair, was successfully completing day five of his sobriety from drugs. Joy surrounded him. He kicked and moved and jumped with the lightness of a child. Like the sun just kept filling him up. Like the air just kept lifting him a little higher.  

He talked about how he hadn't had his picture taken for over ten years. Around  the time he finished writing his first book. Which lead to the realization that we both found comfort in Emerson and Thoreau and some of the more contemporary spiritual writers of our time, like T.S Elliot, Gibran and Chopra. I told him of Tolle, he offered Smothermon’s Winning Through Enlightenment.  In the time it takes to stop at a traffic light, my heart had filled with compassion and a connection that left me longing for just a few more hours and a cup of coffee.  As we parted, I told him to “be well”.  I could not have meant that wish more than I did in that moment. In the simple speaking of the words, I hoped for the world.

We did not get the garage done yesterday.  In fact, I never even thought about it until we drove into the driveway.  What started our day at 5:30 in the morning is not at all what ended it.  It could have been so much different. And for over twenty five years of my life, it was.  Expectation, perfection, keeping up with the status quo and fear all kept me working for some glorious “end” that never seemed to arrive.  I jokingly commented on Dave’s Facebook wall the other day, after realizing our Anniversary was on Saturday, “ Well, we have finally arrived”.  Not that one ever really “arrives", but when the past no longer holds its grasp, and the future ceases to exist – the present moment becomes this vibrant, captivating doorway of unlimited possibility. Where vulnerability is worn like a brightly colored scarf and eyes and mouths and hands become instruments of pure authenticity. And there is nothing so beautiful and so fulfilling.

Yes, Mom, I do believe this spirituality stuff is helping me. And no matter what happens in this crazy life we live, be comforted in this –

I will be just fine. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Difficult Days

In Ralph Waldo's Emerson's essay on Nature, he writes at great length about the holiness and sanctuary found when in the presence of "the sublime". In the very first line he states, "To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society." In other words, I can sit here in my bedroom, typing away, completely alone - but still be far from solitary. "But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars." 

He then goes on to say something very interesting to me. He talks about the charming landscape which he saw that morning that was "indubitably" made up of some twenty or thirty farms. "Miller owns this field, Lock that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape.There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet.This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title." 

Me walking the BWCA,  2008                 Photo by David Ralph Johnson
There is no place in my life where I am more connected to God than when I am in the woods. I've been in many churches in my lifetime. From small country churches to the great cathedrals of Europe. Nothing compares to the intercourse of heaven and earth found in the stillness of the forest. Or in the dirt that falls between my fingers in the gardens that surround my home. "There I feel that nothing can befall me in life - no disgrace, no calamity which nature can not repair....I am part and parcel of God."

Life can sneak up on us sometimes. It doesn't matter who you are, how fat your check book, how white your picket fence, how organized your calendar or how spiritually awake you are - life cannot be pinned down like the papers on my desk when the wind blows through my window. Life is in constant motion, a never ending series of beginnings and endings. Most, completely invisible to us. Others, so catastrophic that we are left empty and broken in their wake. What we so often fail to realize, is that it is these very endings that make fertile the growth for new life.

After traveling to three countries on the heals of a life devastated by divorce, Liz, the primary character in the movie Eat, Pray, Love discovers this truth, "Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation." Here we are, with so much wisdom and potential - and without even knowing it - we cover it over to protect our selves from the unknown. We have the freedom to experience the life of a butterfly, yet we mysteriously prefer the small and fearful cocoon of ego.  

This was the place in which I found myself this past week. Life crept in through the windows and under the doors of my home and the next thing I knew, there I sat crying in the middle of the room, wondering why everything was in such disarray. My health has been slowly declining over the past month. A few extra doctor visits and tests have determined that I will need to have surgery to repair some electrical malfunctions in my heart. They also determined that the lupus is active and therefor I am unable to get off steroids. At the same time it was determined that my bone density is being severely compromised from this very same steroid use. In the end, new medications with new side effects were added to my already lengthy list of thirty-seven different prescriptions.

Anna's Commencement Ceremony  
On top of not feeling well, June is a very busy month for us in the Johnson/Buresh household. Anna May is the fourth to graduate from high school out of seven daughters and will celebrate this event on the 18th of June . An occasion that I have been looking forward to almost more than she has. I want nothing more than to rejoice this day and share in the honoring of all she has accomplished in her life. School has never come easy for Anna, and through hard work and an amazing spirit, she has persevered with the utmost of grace. But this can be a daunting task for someone with chronic illness. Planning, remembering, executing.... all hold very real challenges.  

Yet I was managing. Asking for help, doing a little bit every day. Sorting through pictures and school memorabilia (this can be done while in bed!) saving every extra penny so that I could pay to have food brought in... neatly tucking life under the paperweight on my desk. And then the news... the State of Minnesota cannot agree on the next two years budget so the government is preparing to shut down on July 1st. Lay-off notices will be going out on June 10th for over 45,000 state employees. One of those notices will be addressed to my husband. 

Fear set in. We don't have the resources for this. We don't have savings, except for the small amount I have set aside for graduation and a week of visiting family. How will we pay the house payment? Will I even have insurance? Missing even one medication can be life threatening. What will I do about my heart surgery? How will I pay for Anna's wisdom teeth that need to be removed this week? I can't afford to have graduation catered, how will I fix all the food needed? School will be out soon, where will all the grocery money come from? I cried my tears, became angry at the very man that loves me more than life and slipped right into the comfort of my fearful little cocoon. 

BWCA 2008
Without realizing it, we continue to shield ourselves from pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices and strategies – walls of stone built to protect ourselves from suffering. Walls that are strengthened by emotions of anger, indifference, jealously, envy, arrogance and pride. But if we look closely – there always remains a soft spot – like a crack in the walls we erect – a beautiful place of vulnerability. A blessed ground fertile with opportunity.

I couldn't make it into the woods this past week. But that didn't matter. All I had to do was step out my front door and all of heaven's wonder was there waiting for me. The sun, the wind, the birds, the spring flowers...the smell. Those things that for which no man holds title - the very fiber that connects my tired, aching body to all of creation - beautifully infinite and wholly perfect. Surely the wisdom that opens the blossom will find it's care of me.

So too, will I open.