Every New Beginning Ends

100_0389When my oncologist looked at me yesterday during our regular 6 week visit and said, “So you’re done!” it took me a minute to understand what he was saying.

Fresh from the treatment room where I had received the IV medication I’ve taken every 3 weeks for the last year, I was still groggy from the Benedryl. “What?”

“That’s it!  You’re all done with your treatments!”  His smile grew bigger.

“But I thought I still had 1 more!”  Much more alert, I also suddenly felt scared, interestingly enough.

“Nope. You haven’t missed any and 17 is what I generally give and today you got 17.  You’re all done.”

Nearly 24 hours later, and I can still hardly believe it.  In February of 2015, when I was told it would take 18 months to complete the course of treatment recommended, I honestly didn’t think I could do it.  18 months was a lifetime!  It wasn’t just the surgery I had to face.  It was 6 rounds of chemotherapy.  It was the 35 rounds of radiation.  It was a year’s worth of Herceptin, and all the poking and prodding and testing in between.  It sounded like a hideous 18 month clusterf*** of pain and danger and potential side effects to deal with.

This wasn’t a sprint.  It was a marathon and I hate running!

I didn’t think I could do it.  I literally did not know if I’d be strong enough or brave enough to do it!   All I felt was fear – Me, who didn’t think she was afraid of anything, was suddenly a coward begging God to PLEASE make it all go away!.  Seriously, I promised to do literally ANYTHING if it all just miraculously disappeared.

But in spite of the prayers, God didn’t make the cancer go away.  At least, not supernaturally (which I know happens.)  Instead, S/he took me by the shoulders, pointed me towards the fiery furnace, and said, “Go.  Just take one step at a time.  And I will be with you all the way.”

That’s exactly what happened.  With every step I took, God was there  walking with me, never leaving my side and – during some particularly dark moments – carrying me through the flames.  One step.  Then another and another.

Suddenly, 18 months was over.  I made it!

I believe in the power of prayer.  I believe that all prayer is answered, just not necessarily in the form that we think or hope it will be.   Experiencing an immediate deliverance or an unfolding grace for the journey – both are answered prayer and both are miraculous.

Day and night.  Light and Dark.  The Lord created them both and while we may not always understand it, the Dark IS holy.  There are certain things we can learn only by experiencing a Dark Night, as fearsome and lonely and painful and confusing as it might be.  That’s why authentic Shamans are those who have experienced a real and traumatic “death and rebirth” of some type.  Not at all like the New Age folks self-identifying as shamans after taking a few courses, beating a drum, and finding a few hawk feathers.

Learning to accept the dark days of our lives as part of the natural order of things helps relieve some of our suffering.  We come to understand that we aren’t being punished when bad things happen to us – when we suddenly find ourselves face to face with the fire.  We are being called to transform.

In 18 months, I learned to prioritize and simplify my life.  To say “No” where before I said “Yes”.  I learned who my real friends were, and how to care for myself when no one showed up.  I learned to trust “in spite of”….in spite of my fears, in spite of what others had experienced, even in spite of doubt.  My personal spiritual beliefs were honed and sharpened. I know now what I believe in, and WHO I believe in, with a deeper understanding and depth than ever before.  The dross floated to the top and has been skimmed away.

The fire purifies, if we let it.

Every tear I wept was gathered in gentle Hands and kept for safe keeping.  Every time I bowed my head….in weakness or humbleness or fear or worship…those same Hands tenderly smoothed over my hairless head and brought me physical comfort, and an soulful awareness that I wasn’t alone.

And every groan of despair that rose from deep within my belly and broke through lips cracked and blistered was turned into a song of deliverance.

The dark is not to be feared, but revered.  For without the darkness of the night sky, we’d never see the stars.

So.  That’s it! And I have such mixed emotions.  As I turn the page to close one chapter of my life, the blank page of the next is staring me full in the face.  So much has changed, but I’ve never been more ME. I’ve lost much….friends, my job, my old identity…but I’ve gained so much more.

I feel like a new being.  I know that the Next Right Thing will reveal itself to me in due season.  The right people.  The right events.  The right stuff.  Trust in the Divine Plan for my life has never been stronger, forged in the furnace of affliction.

I have walked through the fire and, as promised, made it to the other side unscathed.

To God be the glory.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” – Isaiah 43:2

Hey! Over Here!

OlivettiLong before Social Media, people found their tribes online through chat rooms, online forums and blogging.  And while sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have their place in my life, blogging is still my first love… even if, as with my RL relationship, I don’t spend enough time doing it.

I THINK about it a lot though.  Jeez, I’m a thinker.  An over-thinker, really.  Like other writers, I have a constant stream of dialogue running through my mind. Experiences, quotes, books, animals….everything seems to set off the typewriter in my head to rap-tap-tapping.

Social Media only exasperates this, and not in a good way.  In fact, one of the things I enjoyed the most about my April FB hiatus was that the Voices in my head quieted to a gentle roar.  They were silent, even, at times.  I’m not sure I’d be back there now if it hadn’t been a requirement of my new Habitat For Humanity gig.  In fact, I know I wouldn’t be. After I went through a wee bit of withdrawal, I absolutely loved the quiet.

Learning to ignore distractions has been an ongoing thing for me.  My default, especially during stressful times, is to Check Out in some form or another.  Back in the day, it was drugs, alcohol, sex and spending money.  Oh, and a TON of romance novels – sometimes several a week. (Thank you, Nora Roberts!)

These days, checking out looks more like spending WAY too much time playing some silly game or cruising the Web (aptly named, I’ve always thought, for it’s tendency to snag and trap me).

It’s frightening how much time can be wasted checking email, checking all the Social Media outlets, playing this,  You Tubing that.  Before I know it, an entire morning is gone and I’ve gained what?  A bit of mindlessness and a whole lot of crap in my head?

Time is SO precious!  TOO precious to waste, especially on things and people who don’t matter in the long run.

Whether it’s patience, love, or focus, it seems the only way to master a thing is to be placed in situations where you have to practice it, over and over again – sometimes kicking and screaming.  Forming good habits is like building muscle.  Muscle takes time, persistence and resistance to grow (just ask my wings).

But before that, there has to be a desire to grow.  A willingness to do what it takes.  And, in my case, I have to acknowledge there may be is a little problem.

A decade or so ago, using the Serenity Prayer and the 12-Steps helped me overcome the sex and drug addiction.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess, because today – rather than admit I’m powerless over substances – I really need to admit I have ADD:  I am Addicted To Digital Distractions.

Like a person needing to overcome a food addiction while still able to eat in a healthy manner, I need help to overcome ADD and still be able to function in the Digital Age.  I am, after all, a writer and in marketing.  Social Media is an important tool in both fields.

It’s time for some real soul-searching.  Time to uncover the WHAT of it all:  What am I avoiding?  What is the payoff for checking out?  What am I giving up in order to do this?  What I am afraid of?

And – most important of all – what do I need to do to silence the one Voice inside my head that is constantly nagging me to

WRITE THE DAMN BOOK ALREADY

Work is hard. Distractions are plentiful. And time is short.

– Adam Hochschild

I Can See Clearly Now

New HaircutIt’s funny how life can change in a moment.

One moment you’re minding your own business at work, and suddenly, Mr. Right offers to fix your car and you’re married within the year….

Or you’re all set to start the New Year with a diet and exercise routine, prepping for your son’s wedding, when you get a cancer diagnosis…..

Or you’re talking with your daughter, listening to her dreams about moving out of state, when you realize it’s the same location you and your husband were talking about moving to last year.

In ways both big and small, life is a series of changes.

I’m a planner by nature.  My husband teases me about it, but I don’t care. He benefits from it and he knows it (smiling).  Personal and professional “planning” is in my DNA – everything from what food to buy for meals all week to corporate parties for over 700 people.  Planning stuff is like a having a road map.  Without it, we end up ‘anywhere’.  With it, we tend to get to where we want to go.  In my world, anyway.

Back in February of ’15, I knew I had 18 months of treatments to undergo and “planning” my life pretty much took a hike.  I didn’t know who or how I’d be when I finished with those treatments.  I didn’t know what I would look like, how I would feel, or what I could or could not do, and it sucked.  BIG time.

I also didn’t know that my girl, 28 and a single mom, would be laid off twice in a year – the second time in March, just a week after I was “laid off”. Since the day we found out she was pregnant, I knew one of my biggest “purposes” in life was to partner with her in raising my grandson.  A big piece of that has been additional financial support.

Like many others in the Middle Class, particularly in SoCal where housing takes 50% of income and incomes have been flat, or moving backward, for almost a decade, being a single income family is nearly impossible. So it’s been a draining 18 months where money is concerned, as we’ve helped to support them as well as ourselves through these challenging times.

That being said, the funds we’ve needed have been there, and we haven’t had to tap our credit cards.  We all have a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs, and so much more to be grateful for.

Anyway, she landed a fabulous new job within her local school district a month ago, replete with all kinds of amazing benefits and opportunities for a life long career, should she choose.  The only “down side”, it included a significant cut in pay that made the already difficult task of living on her own impossible.  So, a week ago when she asked about moving in with us once her lease is up come September, we agreed.

Not only will having them live here significantly stop the financial bleeding, it will help all of us in different ways.  Having my 7 year old grandson around is like having a partner in crime….we make serious magic together.

It wasn’t an easy decision.  Big, life altering ones usually aren’t.  We’re all adults and all of us would like our own space – especially my girl.   She has her way of doing “house” and I have mine. But, like many MANY other families across America, we’re doing what we need to do to keep life and limb together and, I believe, actually get ahead.

And I’m good with that.  Because now….we got ourselves a plan.

OREGON

20150623_170311_resizedOregon! Last year, when I came back from my road trip up to Seattle, it was all I could talk about.  First, it’s gorgeous up there.  Rolling green hills, spectacular vistas, water filled rivers…..And we would be so much closer to my son and daughter-in-law, who begged me to move up that way so I would be closer to them when they start their own family in a year or so.  A 3 hour drive is MUCH better than an 18 hour one. (I don’t fly….)

And, as it turns out, my husband’s company has offices in Portland!  For years we’ve dreamed of owning our own home again, on a small piece of land in a place where there is space, natural beauty, safety, and a reasonable cost of living. We don’t need posh.  We’re simple people who enjoy simple comforts and could give a rat’s ass about impressing anyone with our “lifestyle”.

So when my daughter told me her own dream to move to Oregon, where she could afford a little house of her own and could put down roots for she and her son,  BOOM!  There it was!

Just like that, for the first time in a long time, I have a vision for the ‘future’.  I have something to point my prayers and intentions towards.  Something to work for.  I have…

A PLAN.

Sure, it’s all in the hands of the Divine.  Things might change as we go along.  And it will definitely take an Act of God to pull this all together.  A handful of Miracles, even.  But in THIS moment, I feel hope.  I feel more determined, more energized – more ALIVE – than I have in a long long LONG time.

OREGON.

Where the state motto is: Alis Volat Propriis, “She Flies With Her Own Wings”.

Sounds like my kinda place.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”. – Proverbs 29:18

Cryin’ the Chews

Face beet red.  Tears and mascara streaming down my face.  Unable to breathe because uncontrollable fits leave me gasping like a fish out of water.

Did my husband just tell me he was having an affair?
Did my oncologist just tell me the treatments hadn’t worked after all?
Did they find my elderly mother cold and unresponsive in her bed?

NO!

No no no no and Oh HELL No!

That’s a description of me, watching this.

I want to find this woman and make her be my friend.  Knowing nothing else about her but what’s shown in this 4 minute video, I can already tell….Candace Payne is one of my peeps.

Now, I’m off to Kohls.com to see if I can find a Chewy of my own.

Happy Friday, everyone!  And remember:  Life is too damn serious not to laugh your ass off at every possible opportunity.  Go on.  Your body and soul will thank you.