Showing posts with label Perspective. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Perspective. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Soft Whisperings

I've always considered myself someone who adapts fairly well to change. Part of the reason, I think, is because I get bored. I remember as a young girl, loving to rearrange my bedroom and the feeling of things being different or new when it was all done. Same old stuff, just moved around a bit, made my world exciting. I've never been stuck on routine (sometimes to my detriment). Changing plans on the spur of the moment feels like a fun little shot of "possibility" to me. And the quip, "because that's the way it has always been done" is the biggest motivation for change that there is in my mind...until I got sick. Getting sick not only rocked my foundation, it picked it up and moved it somewhere else.

Maybe change has never been easy for you. Keeping things status quo feels safe, brings comfort. It's one of the reasons why holidays are steeped in tradition. Trees adorned in ornaments from the 1960's, green bean casseroles and the smell of cinnamon in the air all tell us we're home. I have a hutch in our dining room that has combination wood and glass shelves. On those shelves are an assortment of old trinkets, my grandmother's dishes and at least three different varieties of incomplete wine glass sets. Our dining room floor slants directly west by about a quarter of an inch, towards the outside wall. When you walk by the hutch there is a distinct rumbling that waxes to a fevered pitch the closer you get and then wanes upon your departure. It used to drive me crazy. About three years ago I had enough. I emptied the hutch and lined all the shelves with a soft rubbery shelf liner and replaced my menagerie of assorted glassware. It worked! I could walk past the hutch in peace. In fact, I could even dance in the dining rumbling! I was so pleased with my accomplishment. My children, on the other hand, were not. They immediately noticed the difference and preceded to tell me that our house did not sound like "home" anymore! Needless to say, they got used to the change. This one I was not going to give in on.

Last July I wrote a piece entitled When Chronic Illness Makes You World Weary. (If you haven't read it, you may want to do so before continuing on.) A lot has happened since July. A lot of change. It was during that period that my long term disability company was putting me through some very challenging times. I had been under review since the previous March, and had since been under video surveillance by their team of private investigators. To put into words how violating that experience was is impossible for me to do. At some point, I plan on writing about it to you. In fact, I plan on writing about it a lot. It's what I need to do in order to do my part in creating change. But until then, let a general synopsis suffice so that I can get to the heart of the matter.

Long term disability companies (of which Hartford is one of the worst) have one very important goal and that is to make money. I say important, because it should be first and foremost in the minds of those insured by such companies. Despite what you read in their propaganda, they are not committed to fulfilling their promise of payment throughout the life of your disability. And, in fact, the longer one is disabled, the higher the bar becomes in regards to disability criteria. I joke, although there is truth to this, that at the two year mark if you can lick envelopes from a hospital bed, you are fit to work. Despite the validation of twelve medical specialists and recognition from Social Security Disability, Hartford has denied me my disability claim. Just like that.

The roller coaster that ensued was quite a ride. In the end, I ended up with two very renowned attorneys from different parts of the United States, both willing to fight for me. Both feeling confident in my ability to not only win an appeal, but if the case would have ended up in court, it would have leaned strongly in my favor. But something odd happened along the way. Something very strange and very unexpected. Something I definitely did not plan on.


And that change was in me.

My case file had arrived - all 2000 pages of it, including video footage. The attorney I had decided to go with had an unexpected death in the family and because it was around Christmas, there was a significant amount of "wait time"before we could get back together. Wait time during which I was officially and legally no longer considered disabled by long term disability. And more importantly, disabled by The Hartford, who had, for the past five years, been harassing me relentlessly. Constantly requiring unjustified paperwork to be filled out by myself and my doctors, showing up at my home for recorded interviews and consequently following me around, unbeknown to me.

It was during this time period that I began to notice a change. Not just the obvious changes, like being able to walk out to my mailbox or stop for lunch on the way home from a doctor's appointment without wondering who was watching me - which is what the video footage was actually of (I guess sitting at Noodles & Co. with your family is not allowed if one is truly sick!). But a more important, more subtle change. I was beginning to feel what it was like to let go of an identity, of my identity as Disabled Person. And this letting go was quite different than the letting go that came along with getting sick.

But this is what I find so interesting. When I first became sick I really struggled with who I was. So much had been taken from me. So much that I strongly identified with, that is. My "type A - marathon running - career women - super mom - outdoors person" image was no longer looking back at me in the mirror. It had been replaced by a very tired, sick looking women I hardly recognized. And she wasn't going to go away.

When I spent the month waiting for my attorney to get back from her family emergency, what I came to realize was that I was gradually letting go of yet another identity and it was the best feeling I have had since becoming sick.

I was letting go of being a Disabled Person.

It doesn't matter what your identity is. It's shaky ground at best. The minute we begin to identify as something, we risk losing part of ourselves when it's gone. What I did not also realize is that the minute we begin to identify as something, we lesson who we truly are and what our full potential is.

As Pema Chodron writes,
"Our identity, which seems so reliable, is in fact very fluid, very dynamic....Your sense of yourself - who you think you are at the relative level - is a very restricted version of who you truly are. But the good news is that you can use your direct experience - who you seem to be a this very moment of time - the sound you are hearing, the smell you are smelling, the pain or comfort you are feeling right now - by being fully present to your experience, you contact the unlimited openness of your being." 
In letting go of my identity as a Disabled Person, I was beginning to feel the enormous expanse of the unlimited possibility which is me .

I'm still sick. Best I can tell, that's not going to change much. My letting go of Disabled Person is not going to miraculously make me well (although I do not underestimate the possibility). And my days are still full of pain. But it has a significant effect on the amount I suffer. I did not realize how limited my thinking had become. Partly because of my fear that Hartford was lurking around every corner and that my actions would be misinterpreted. That's just one of the many ugly facts needing some serious federal legislative changes. But I take full responsibility for taking on an identity and then making sure I stayed well within the confines of it's expectations.

It's funny what started to happen during that month. All of a sudden my world just opened up. Instead of giving into what I can't do, I began to think about options. Ways around things. Modifications. Situations that seemed like "all or nothing" softened. Possibilities started seeping in around the edges and under the doors of my mind. I began to contact the unlimited openness of my being.

How is your identity limiting you? What rumblings are you not listening to? We do all these wonderful things with our lives, and we keep doing them because we believe they somehow reflect who we are or what we think we are suppose to be. I would urge you to find quiet space in your life to listen to the soft whisperings of your heart. So often we are a reflection of an identity and not our authentic selves. By letting go of those identities, if just for a moment, we can peer ever so slightly into our own unlimited openness. It took a couple of really nasty situations that were beyond my control to cause me to take a second, third, fourth... look. I hope that by reading these words you "get it" a bit quicker than I did.

In the end, I chose not to fight The Hartford. I consider myself blessed and extremely fortunate to even have the ability to entertain that option. Some (including my attorney) may think that's just about the dumbest thing I could ever do. Me, well, I'm just learning how to paint again. And it's absolutely wonderful.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Plum and Level

“Now, since our condition accommodates things to itself, and transforms them according to itself, we no longer know things in their reality; for nothing comes to us that is not altered and falsified by our Senses. When the compass, the square, and the rule are untrue, all the calculations drawn from them, all the buildings erected by their measure, are of necessity also defective and out of plumb. The uncertainty of our senses renders uncertain everything that they produce.”
Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), French essayist
Plum and level by David Ralph Johnson

Sometimes my husband drives me crazy. It's an odd kind of crazy though. It's a completely frustrated, want to scream kind of crazy that almost always makes me laugh in the end. Sometimes I laugh right away. Sometimes I hold back that laugh just to be sufficiently crazy to make a point. And sometimes the laugh comes much, much later. The latter is most unfortunate and I'm working on that one. We are both very artistic and passionate people, romantics at heart. What makes our life so fun is that quite often, most often, we travel along the same path. Walking through an art gallery or down a city street with him is one of the most enjoyable things in my life. But there are also those times when our ideas, our visions, our passions seem like they are polar opposites. Or maybe we just don't share the vision at all. The above photo, prior to its creation, when it was simply the formulation of my husbands (sometimes wild and wonderfully abstract) imagination, frustrated the hell out of me. Pure and simple. Every time he made mere mention of it I shuddered at the (what I thought was) simple and obviously lacking in substance artistic nature of it. Completely deprived of depth, about as subtle as a knock-knock joke. (Yes, I can be that harsh!) I assumed it was a silly idea and that was it.  

This past week or so I have observed a number of painful "situations" on the internet. As we all well know, the internet can be a really wonderful thing, but it can also be fertile soil for the growth of misunderstanding and suffering. I remember when my mother tried to have a facebook page. Every misplaced punctuation, every short sentence, every lack of response sent her into emotional panic. No matter how often I tried to tell her that she should not "read into" these things, her heart continued to break. I saw the same heartbreak this past week when the mother of a child with cancer was devastated by the comments or lack of comments from a life long friend. A friend that I know deeply cares for her. 

Another situation I witnessed was in regards to the comments left on an article a good friend of mine wrote. The article was pertaining to an incurable chronic illness and the devastating toll misdiagnosis can take on one's life. An assumption was made by a person commenting that the author's illness not only could, but mostly did stem from unacknowledged emotional pain. The commenter made this assumption based on her own experience and the success of her treatment. No matter how often the author replied that she had researched that possibility and emotional factors were not the cause of her illness, the commenter accused her of being in denial and therefore creating her own illness. She simply could not see that the author's situation could be different than hers. 

Which brings me back to my husbands picture, Plum and level . Thankfully David Ralph Johnson is also not only artistic, but quite strong willed. In fact, he often says, if you want me to do something, just tell me I can't. And I am so happy that he did. First of all, the minute I saw the picture I fell in love with it. For so many reasons I don't think I even know them all. Secondly, what a profound lesson I needed to learn...again. How quick I am to assume. How quick I am to judge based on my own experience. As Michel de Montaigne states, "Nothing comes to us that is not altered or falsified by our senses." Ahhh, so true! 

To be plumb, an object is exactly vertical or perpendicular. It also means things like "precisely, directly, absolute, to examine closely to discover the truth and out of or off true".  I like the irony here. In light of the things going on in my life right now, the picture begs a deeper question of me that I am not so sure I know the answer to. A far cry from " simple and obviously lacking in substance"! But what I do know is this, it's hard not to make assumptions. We go on what we have, and what we have is our very own, very personal life experience. It takes conscious work to step outside of ourselves and look at things from a different perspective. And maybe, if you're lucky enough, if you happen to be plumb and level, you'll find yourself laughing in the end.  



Monday, August 4, 2014

Wild Abandon

Today, when responding to the recent "flurry" of events associated with Toni Bernhard's publishing of my piece in her Psychology Today column, I used the terms "wild abandon" when describing how I felt when I originally wrote the article. Having just received notice (after months of being harassed) that my long term disability company had been taking video surveillance of me, I was frantically spinning in circles with energy. And it wasn't good energy. Feelings of anger, fear, violation, shame, panic, judgement, humiliation, mortification...were so intense I found it difficult to even breathe. It was the kind of news that if not for a nearby chair, would simply drop you to your knees. 

It's been almost a month now since that letter came in the mail; about twenty-five days and just as many emotions. In those first days, one minute I would think I have the whole equanimity thing figured out (if it turns out good, I'm okay and if it turns out bad, I'm okay...) and the next I would feel paralyzed by the stories spiraling in my head. Many nights completely unable to sleep. "How can they truly know how sick I am and how this disease affects me if they only video tape me outside?? I only go outside on good days! How do they know by looking at me how many times I have thrown up or if I have been unable to leave the bathroom due to unexpected diarrhea? How do you see cognitive disfunction or migraine on a video screen? Where are they every evening when I feel so ill that taking my medication and falling asleep is my only reprieve? Yes, I drove myself to that doctor appointment, but what about the thirty or more that I was unable to drive myself to this past winter? Maybe I shouldn't drive anymore. Maybe I shouldn't get the mail. Maybe I shouldn't water my flowers on a good day. Maybe I shouldn't go out to eat with my family..." It's been a crazy roller-coaster ride and it takes a tremendous amount of mental work to make it stop. 

But this is what I have figured out about myself throughout this whole ordeal thus far. And believe me, I'm still a work in progress. 

1. I don't believe I randomly picked the words "wild abandon" out of thin air (like I felt I did) this morning when describing my frantic writing episode after receiving that letter. It was wild abandon. There were no rules when I wrote. In fact, when I did it, I had actually planned on using it as a journaling exercise to try and rid myself of the physical side effects I was feeling from the panic I was experiencing. Definitely wild. No one's looking kind of wild. A complete lack of inhibition or restraint kind of wild. 

2. If you look in the dictionary under abandon, the first definition reads something like this, "to give up completely (a course of action, a practice, or a way of thinking), discontinue". That is exactly what I needed. It's what my body was begging for. For that horrible sensation to be gone. I didn't want it any more. And for some reason, I felt that if I just let my fingertips go on the keyboard I could somehow find a way to release things. To let it go. To give it up. I didn't care what I was typing or who was going to potentially read it or if I would somehow let my viewers down. I had simply had enough

3. The second definition, although similar to the first, says, "to cease to support, take interest in or look after; desert. Leave empty or uninhabited, without intending to return". To me, this means that not only am I giving up something, I'm not planning on taking it back. And by doing so, at least in my situation, I am leaving this "thing" empty and definitely uninhabited by me. I am putting my foot down and refusing to allow this situation to take up any more space within me - or I within it! 

4. The third definition is where I am at now. It's the very thing I talked to my health psychologist about during our time together today. For me, it's almost a byproduct of the first two; "to allow oneself to indulge in (a desire or impulse)". The minute I hit the "Post" button on my blog account there began an immediate change in my internal circumstances. At that very moment I was done being scared. (Not that fear hasn't returned at times, but with much, much less ferocity!) This was the first moment I truly felt the presence of equanimity. Once I let go, once I no longer let these "things"(fear, anger, my long term disability insurance, whatever is making me miserable) have power over me, or in me, or in my future plans... my world felt bigger. It wasn't really a change in my circumstances, but more a shift in how I was looking at them. I allowed myself to indulge in a desire or impulse. And my desire was to let this all go. Quite a task for a control junkie like me!

The picture at the top of this post is that of an abandon house in Kensett, Iowa. It stands (barely) just down the road from the Izaak Walton League where my grandfather was the president for many years. I was so fortunate to be there recently for an old-time family reunion, which is when this picture was taken by my husband. Years ago, when I was healthier, I walked down the railroad track about a mile or so and carefully made my way through the old front door, which now no longer resides on it's hinges. If you've ever done such a thing, there's a feeling that goes along with it. That feeling can range anywhere from a sort of "spookiness" to a grand sense of days gone by. It's fun to look at light switches and wallpaper and envision what it used to be like way back when. But for me, the minute I walk into an old abandoned house I have this intense feeling of Holiness. Like I'm stepping on sacred ground. Outside the door, old abandoned house. Inside the door...a home. Where the rooms and walls are filled with stories of life and death and everything in between. Just like those stories and the people that lived them turned this old abandoned house into a home, so, too, do our stories turn you and I from flesh and bone into compassionate, spirit-filled beings, beautiful and holy.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bulbs and Blank Slates

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there within me lay an invincible summer."    
~ Albert Camus

These bulbs were given to my husband in a small paper sack this Christmas by a co-worker. In the bag was also a small note giving instructions as to how to get the bulbs to grow. It simply said to place them in water, support with sand or stones, water and wait. In four to six weeks we should get a preview of Spring. So I did exactly that. I found some of my favorite rocks (I collect rocks) and placed them in a bowl, tucked the bulbs in, filled it with water and put it up on the window sill in our bathroom. 

Life amazes me. 

I've been a bit absent from the on-line world as of late. I apologize for those of you waiting to hear how Oliver is or how Anna is or even how I am, for that matter. I forget sometimes, that the words I write are actually read by others and not just some sort of therapy for me. You remind me with your comments, honest and real. Sometimes painfully so. I am always surprised and humbled by your truth. But the fact of this matter of this absence is that it's been quite deliberate. Per the instruction of my neuro-psychiatrist, I am to live life a bit more experiential and not so much "up in my head". As someone who thrives on knowledge and strives daily toward self awareness and enlightenment, I have to admit, I can get caught up in the "idea" of it all. The bookshelf full of unread books on philosophy and mindfulness, or "books in waiting" as I like to call them, is a reminder of this "issue" of mine! I have always felt a great desire to "know". But as I am learning, to know something is quite different than what it means to feel something. And in order for our bodies to have the ability to go somewhere, it must have in it somewhere the capacity to feel that place. To have memory of it. I can know what it means to be at peace. I can know what it means to be relaxed. I can know what it means to meditate. I can know what it means to let go. But actually moving from that knowing to the experience of feeling is something that takes time and effort - and stillness. 

The problem for me arises when my brain does not work. Which, with lupus, happens quite often. When I am unable to rely on coping mechanisms that have helped me in the past - thought process that help me when I am in pain, or sad, or depressed - I find it difficult to arrive at a place of comfort (peace, relaxation,calm) physically. So the idea here is to get there more often, without so much thought, so that when crisis arises it is not such a difficult place to find. As my wonderful neuro-psychiatrist Shep says, to find it in two breaths - this is my goal. SO....not so much reading and writing and a little bit more living. 

Bedside table with iPad and headphones. My sanctuary!
The first and most important thing I have been doing in my day is to listen to the most recent recording of my hypnosis session with Shep. This was a difficult thing for me to remember to do, until he actually put it in the recording for me to remember to listen to the recording! It's been a life changer for me. I am so very fortunate to have a skilled team at the U of M pain clinic on my side. I just don't know what I would do without them. I also have a wonderful collection of mindfulness based healing talks and music - all helpful with the every day of chronic illness. To experience what it means to feel relaxed. 

Homemade gluten-free pizza...YUM!

I have also been trying to eat more healthy, especially in light of the issues I have with gluten and other food ingredients that cause havoc in my system. Paying more attention to ingredients both when eating out as well as when in the grocery story creates not only a healthier diet, but a more pleasant eating experience. To experience what it means to feel comfortably full.  

A beautiful red infant cap in the making. 
Recently I had to co-create my treatment plan with my team. One of the goals I had for myself was to work on not defining myself as a sick person. I thought I was doing pretty good at this, but the more I looked at myself, my actions were speaking louder than my words. In fact, my oldest daughter recently called me on this when I was throwing out one of my, "Oh, I'm sick and old" comments and she said that no matter how many times I said that, I was not "sick and old". Ouch. But she's right. I am. Period. I simply am. And it's about time I start experiencing what I so often talk about on these very pages. Every time my doctor asks me  how my painting is going, I come back with some excuse about my hands not working and my eyes being bad and my mind not focusing. Who IS this person? Well, this person has now learned how to crochet infant caps and if I can get one or two done, I plan on donating them to charity. Do my fingers and eyes always work? Nope. Do I care? Nope. To experience what it means to feel creative.

Tabula rasa...

It's funny how things happen in life. The day that I created that treatment plan was a good day for me, in many regards. For starters, I was able to drive myself to my appointment. Not only does it take a good day for that to happen, it takes a number of consecutive good days for me to feel confident enough to venture behind the wheel of a car. This day I had the confidence and so I set out alone. The appointment went well. I knew we would be working on the plan so I had put some thought into it ahead of time. The effort paid off and I felt really good about where I was headed.

On my drive home I realized that I would be passing by my favorite art supply store. I can't remember the last time I went to this store alone. It's been a long time. Plus, moving off the beaten path meant possibly getting confused and losing my way. The exit approached and I took it. I just took it. I had no idea why, I had no plan for any projects and definitely nothing in the works, but it just felt right. I walked up to the door and read, "ALL CANVASES 50% OFF"!  I walked in, randomly selected seven canvases, paid for them, and walked back out to my car. As I drove home on that sunny day I had the most wonderful feeling of anticipation, of potential, of possibility. 

Oh, I would be remiss if I didn't end up in my head at some point in this note to you. I promise not to stay there long. But as I sat looking at the above photo, trying to think of how to caption it, I just kept hearing the words "blank slate". Drawing from the education recesses of my mind, I tried to remember the theory behind the words. "Blank slate" or "Tabula rasa" is one of those phrases you never forget. Now, almost thirty years later, I wonder a little deeper. Tabula rasa is the epistemological theory (theory about how we attain knowledge) that maintains that people are born without any mental "content" and that their knowledge comes from the perception of their experience. So, in essence, at birth our minds are a blank slate and our sensory experiences become our rules for processing data, or our knowledge. Hum....

I think that bulbs and canvases and I have a little bit in common. That's what I believe this part of the journey is about. Allowing myself permission to be that blank slate in order to experience that which I so long to know - the emptiness of letting go. The release of not holding on. The experience of peace on a sensory level that can only be known by having been there before, physically. And this can only happen by repeatedly putting myself in a place where this is possible. Not somewhere up in my head. Not in a book. Not in words on a computer screen, but in experience. 

I can't help but wonder what will end up on those canvases. Just like I wondered about those two small bulbs in that small brown paper bag. Just like I wonder about me. I think that Camus was right, as I find him in most cases to be.

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible summer."   


Oh, and Anna is doing fantastic! A few bumps in the road, a little more pain than any of us had anticipated, but she is recovering well and back at working her two jobs. She continues to wow us all. 

Oliver healed up just like new! After clearing him with the vet, we decided that it might be best if we find a home where Oliver could get a little more one on one. So we found a simply fantastic no-kill shelter called Caring for Cats and Oliver has officially been named Olivia and is awaiting adoption. We are very excited to think of the wonderful life this beautiful kitty will have. 

Life truly does amaze me. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

When The Pain Is Yours


I don't like going to the vet...I never have. Today was no different.

This is Oliver. Oliver showed up on our deck sometime in September, or maybe it was August, I'm not really sure. It was sometime near the end of the summer because we were already trying to come to some decision as to what to do with her if she was still "hanging around" when the weather turned cold. She never left.

Yes, Oliver is a she. We found this out a little over two weeks ago when we had to take her to the vet. We had somehow gracefully slid into the understanding that she was here to stay. And now she was sick. Or so it seemed. Excessive drinking and salivating led us to suspect she had some sort of kidney issue. Two hundred and fifty dollars later we were assured she was just a thirsty, salivating, perfectly healthy two year old female cat.  I had exceeded my pet budget for the month, so booster shots and spaying would come later.

I have to admit, this was not a real popular idea with myself nor my husband. Two dogs and a cat already seem overly sufficient. Adding another pet, that will most likely be with us for the next 13 years, was not the direction we wanted to be heading pet-wise. But it's a difficult spot to be in. You don't euthanize an animal that just seems sick. So you figure out the most inexpensive way to find out what might be wrong and go from there. Getting the "all okay" meant bringing the cat back home. I think it was at that point that I let Oliver into my heart.

Two weeks passed and mental adjustments had been made by all. Oliver was officially part of the Johnson/Buresh clan. Which truly was not much of an inconvenience to our daily activities because Oliver prefers to be outside. Out of 24 hours, I would guess that Oliver maybe spends 4 of those indoors. The rest are spent stalking and hunting the various mice and birds that frequent our bird feeders and surrounding woods. A real hunter, she's quite the antithesis to our Jeni, who prefers longs naps in the sun and full bowls of Indoor Formula Cat Chow.

The middle of last week, after spending a full day out and about, Oliver came in holding her front leg up. Unable to put any pressure on it, she hobbled to her usual spot in the spare bedroom and stayed in for the night. Three days later both legs on one side were not working properly. Four days later she walked in a completely arched back position and meowed in pain as she moved. This weekend she could barely crawl to her food. The progression, heart breaking to watch.

Our appointment was for 8:30, the first appointment of the day, the one you get when you call at 7:01 am.  If I could have figured out anything else to be doing on this beautiful morning I would have. Just getting her into the crate brought me to tears. I had already told the girls that we could not afford any more medical testing. That this is a stray cat and our budget only goes so far. That she might not come home with me... Tough talk last night, but now it's just me and Oliver and my heart is breaking. She has the absolute most beautiful green eyes you could ever imagine and at that moment they were pleading with me to leave her alone. Trusting me.

The vet was very good. The sign in the exam room where we sat read "Every pet deserves a good vet, and we HAVE good vets". Yes, they do. He lifted the top of the crate off so Oliver would not have to be moved.   Ever so carefully he examined her as I held her head in my hands, stroking her face and eyes. In my heart I hoped it comforted her, calmed her. I could feel her body quiver with fear, but she never moved. This once active, inquisitive cat now lay motionless looking directly into my eyes.

It was at that point that I lost it. Apologizing for my tears, I just kept saying, "I'm sorry, I'm really sick and I think for some reason this is especially difficult for me." He was a sweet man, a little unsure as to what to do with me, he simply nodded and said, "It's okay." It took everything in me not to fall to pieces in that exam room. As I sit here and type these words, I'm still not really sure of all that fills this painful space. If I could pick some words out of thin air they might be helplessness, frustration, sadness, anger, fear...a most intense longing for things to be different. Why can't some things just be different.  

In a few weeks my daughter Anna is going to have major surgery to repair a birth defect that only now, at the age of 19, has made itself evident. She will have her jaw broken in multiple locations, upper and lower, with extensive work on her temporomandibular joint and chin. We have been planning for this surgery, which was suppose to happen in August, for over a year now. I have the most intense longing for things to be different. Why can't some things just be different. 

My bedroom window
I sat down to write this piece instead of doing my usual Cyber Monday shopping because I had to. When I put my fingers to the keyboard I had absolutely no idea what I was going to write about. I just knew that the only way to find out was to begin. As I looked up out of my window two bald eagles flew between my window and the pines in my yard. Beautiful, crisp white heads, wings spread, one right in front of the other. Eagles have always been important in my life, representing balance, intuition and spirituality - their presence bringing assurance that the divine is present. A validation of the path I am on, the direction I am going.

A reminder of the Holy.   A reminder to let go.

Oliver came back home with me today. We are fairly certain that something is wrong with her spine. Neurologically, things look good, yet she is in a significant amount of pain and is unable to move because of it. Everything else checks out okay. As to what is wrong with her spine, we don't really know. I have enough pain and anti-inflammation medication to get us through three days. If she doesn't improve by then, well, I'm not sure what we can do next. I'm not really sure about a lot of things in this life. But this I do know - that it can be really painful at times. And that the biggest of lessons can come from the smallest of creatures. And that life is precious. All life. And we can talk big about things, like "not spending money on an animal" and "I know what I'd do" and "If it were my cat I'd take it out back and..." But when it's your life, or your heart, or your health, or your kids, or your pets...well, that big talk gets pretty small when the pain is yours.

I decided to go check on Oliver one last time in order to give you the most current update. I got down on all fours to crawl quietly to the spot between the table and the patio doors where she lay in order to take a picture. This is what I saw in that very moment. She lifted her head and gave me the most peaceful look, almost a smile if you look closely enough. As if to say, things will be okay...just as they are.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Creativity - one step at a time

Since posting my last article, my husband Dave made his way into the Stillwater Gazette with his 90 day journey to the top of the Main Street Stillwater staircase. The 90 day mission, which ended on day 143, brought much more than making it to the top each day (157 steps in all), it brought a new perspective on life. Sometimes it just makes sense to do something that makes no sense at all. 
Click Here to read the full article.

Life is good.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Journey Into The Unknown

Recently, my husband ended a 90 day journey to the top of the Main Street stairway in Stillwater, Minnesota. Funny, as I type that, it sounds like it took him 90 days to get to the top! Actually, the journey was a daily one. Every day as he drove through Stillwater he stopped and climbed to the top of the stairs to take a picture. This 90 day mission took him 143 days. What began as a whim on a cold February morning ended as something much greater - something unknown, yet powerfully significant. He says, "It's a great luxury to do things that don't make sense."

There is a white building on the left side of the street. It towers above all the rest and slopes without reason on the back corner. On the backside of this building there is a pair of windows.

Inside those windows lives a beautiful women. 
She is my daughter, Anna.

This is her first apartment on her own. No roommates. No live-in boyfriend. No help from Mom and Dad. This picture was taken the day she moved in. Exhausted from the days events, she is graceful, elegant and filled with passion for her life. I painted the picture of her that you see on the wall behind. The eyes of a then 13 year old. Piercing. Asking their questions of me. Hoping, trusting. 

This picture was taken on that very same day. Low lighting and movement producing a haunting reflection on life. These are how days seem sometime. Fleeting, ghost-like apparitions. We try to hold on, as if grasping at smoke. But the Universe has a different plan.

In the heart of Los Angeles, right next to Beverly Hills, there is an area called Sherman Oaks. This eclectic town is approximately 1,975 miles from where I live. In this town lives a piece of my heart. Sometimes a piece so large that its absence takes away my breath. Sometimes a piece so large that I scarcely can hold the joy that it contains.

This is my daughter, Amanda. 

She and Daniel moved out to California four years ago with an old car, a few suitcases and a roll of toilet paper. They had nothing else...except a dream. A hope. And trust.

Last month I took my first trip to visit Amanda and Daniel. It's crazy what can happen in four years. When I think of all that has happened to me in the past four years - getting sick, fighting for my life, becoming disabled, learning and accepting - and compare it to all that has happened in her life...

I realize that none of us really knows how this crazy journey will go. Not one of us. Yet, we keep walking. We keep loving. We put ourselves out there again and again - being vulnerable - because the risk of losing does not even compare to the gift of being loved. So we chance it. Again and again. When the whole world thinks we're crazy and everyone else gives up. We just keep believing. Because some day...some day.

Some day you take this picture and you realize that love is bigger than you could have ever imagined
and it's worth every tear and every hope and every fear. And that 2000 miles aint nothin'. 

And then there were three, where there once was 
only two. 

This is my oldest daughter Aleela and her husband Keith and the newest addition to our family, Adella Marie. 

Being the oldest isn't easy. It makes you responsible. It makes you determined. Charting unknown territories,  with an impetuous invincibility. Refined, lovely, compassionate. 

They brought this miracle into the world and I can't help but be thrown backwards into the past each time I look into her deep blue eyes. I see a little girl in a pink dress, with a pink bow in her hair, standing on a stump in the yard singing to her hearts content. Unmoved by the world that surrounds her. Freely creating masterpieces of make-believe, joy flinging off the tip of a wand. Pure, care-free and open. 

Oh, my beautiful Adella Marie. What will you become? Where will you go, my precious, precious baby girl. If you are one millionth of what your mama is, you will be rich with life. 

I have no idea what steps you will take. But this I know - I refuse to live a life of fear 
when it comes to this world. And I will work with all that I am 
to show you the hope
and the beauty
and the joy
of this amazing 

In 1987 I was 21 years old. After the birth of my second daughter, Amanda, I was told it would not be a good idea to have more children. Two operations later - Anna May was born in 1993. Three seemed like a good number. A safe number, all things considered. 

1996 I was 30 years old when I became pregnant with twins. Life will do that to you. Throw you that curve ball, when you're not looking. When you're not paying attention. It will just hit you square between the eyes 
with the most amazing

Meet Emma Jane and Sara Jane.
They were a two-for-one deal
I cannot imagine life without them.  

They are the last two at home. They have known a life very different from their other sisters, although the sinew of sisterhood is more powerful than one can ever imagine. I see it between these two and it is the force that binds them all together, connecting them, holding them tightly through every storm. I see a beautiful trust in the knowing that no matter what, no matter what - they are never alone.

Often times when I talk of Emma and Sara people will say, "Oh, a surprise " But isn't everything in life a surprise? We are lucky that most often during our day things happen to go as planned. Gravity still pulls in the right direction, the alarm clock goes off when it's suppose to, the milk is still in the fridge... But it's all up for grabs, really. Yet we trust.

On September 28th, 2006, Judge Eric J. Lundell granted me a judgement of divorce from the father of these five daughters. He was my first true love. I met him at the age of 16 and married him at the age of 18. We had so many dreams. And for 22 years we watched most of those dreams come true. We also experienced the painful end of others. There are very few things in this life that shake your foundation like divorce, all horribly painful, all life changing.

In the middle of my writing this morning an old friend from work called to just say hi. She herself has experienced one of these "things" when she lost her husband to cancer a couple of years ago. She talked of how Fall made her reflective. How in that reflection there was sometimes a bit of sadness. She talked of the colors and how the leaves fall off the trees and things begin to shut down for winter, and how that brought about feelings of death. But only a "little sadness" she said, because like the new relationship she now finds herself in, and like the flowers that eventually burst forth in Spring, "things must come to an end so that others may begin."

It is our ability as human beings to take tragedy, in it's finest hour, and turn it toward reclamation. A holy redemption. The freedom to begin again.

I don't even know where to begin when it comes to my "second chance" at life. I think I've only had a dozen or so of them! But if it would not have been for the miracle of love and forgiveness, I would never have had the chance to be the step-mother of Casey and Maddie Johnson.

Being a step-mom is not something you grow up thinking about. In fact, in my day, the only vision of step-mom's were that of Lady Tremaine from Cinderella and the Queen from Snow White...not really images I like to emulate. It's tender, risky business. Hearts are at stake. The hearts of children, of mothers and of fathers. You tread this area like walking through a room full of the dark. Slowly and softly.

There are simply no words to describe how blessed I am in this regard. There's a knowing that comes before this kind of love.It's what makes love all the richer. It's like sunshine after the rain. Like spring-time after a long winter. It's what keeps us loving again and again.

I started writing this morning because I was missing my daughters. It's tough sometimes, having kids live so far away and being too sick to travel. When I feel this way I have a tendency to start telling myself stories that are not very helpful. So I thought that maybe if I just started writing, I might work things out. Kind of like the journey that my husband was on - the 90 day journey that I wrote about at the beginning of this article. The one that went from 90 days to 143 days. He didn't really know what was going to become of his mission, he just knew he needed to be on it.

It's when I try to make sense of it all, when I try to ground my feet in something that really isn't there, that I struggle. My husband is so right. It is a great luxury to do things that don't make sense. Isn't that what loving is all about. If you think about it - most days it doesn't make good sense. But we do it anyway. We love, we trust, we hope...and we love again.We venture into the unknown.

No one has taught this to me more than my daughters.