Seatbelt fastened

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Margo Channing in All about Eve

My latest IGM flare-up has been an emotional roller coaster. After my initial worry and the subsequent sense of acceptance, I began to experience anger. It began as a slow simmer while at work.  By the time I came home from this week’s biopsy, I was livid.  I was angry at the physical pain. I was angry at my body and its apparent ongoing weakness.  Mostly, I was angry at the behavior of certain individuals who conduct themselves with negativity, rudeness, and disrespect on a daily basis; I straight up questioned why they are well. I even said I could punch a specific person.
If Rambo hadn’t been present, I might have thrown a few things.  But those moments pass.
Then there was the waiting. It has been so hectic at work that I haven’t had the time to dwell on the possibilities. Once that call came through (of course it had to happen at work), there was the relief.  I am still cancer free.  But I still have an infection so the journey to healing continues. 
Faith is a must as I handle living with a chronic illness. One of my samba sisters had issued a Bible verse challenge nearly a week ago, a day after I discovered the lump. Every day I have shared a Bible verse on social media. These particular verses inspire hope in me while I reflect on my personal experiences. It has been a practice that has helped me focus on the positive.
One of the positives was meeting my new specialist. My previous specialist, known as the local expert of IGM, retired. Fortunately, I was able to get a Tuesday afternoon appointment after my Friday morning call. I rescheduled due to having the biopsy to Friday afternoon, always a good day to get good news. He is of the opinion that the infection I have is simply that and is not necessarily a flare-up. He did not recommend an additional round of antibiotics and is confident we can avoid invasive procedures this summer. He also said I could resume exercise so long as I stay aware of discomfort and pain.

My health may present occasional challenges but la vida continua(life goes on.) I had already planned to have my gall bladder removed in a few weeks so that will happen(see previous blog at June is full of M’s dance performances.  Carnaval with SambaFunk continues through various celebrations. As I was once told by King Theo, healing is mine! 

An old friend resurfaces

At one point in my life, I seriously considered becoming a lay member of a monastic community.  I wanted to leave the world of work and personal life, if only seasonally, and focus on contemplation, prayer, and learning more about my faith. Inspired by poet and author Kathleen Norris, I specifically explored how I might become a Benedictine oblate.  Many events and people drew me away from this plan; however, some of what I learned sustained me through life’s challenges. How wonderful to know that Saint Benedict will be rejoining my daily litany.

Saint Benedict, apart from being a founding father of Western monasticism, is also the patron saint of gall bladder disease and inflammatory disease.  Two birds with one stone, pun absolutely intended.  
One of the stories told about him is that some of the monks, newly introduced to him and his Rule, decided to rebel and attempted to poison him during Mass. Benedict survived because the chalice broke and a raven stole the bread before Communion.  

The surgery I will have in the summer is elective; in the words of my new surgeon,  I’m “not on fire.” Still it is reassuring to know that I can literally call on Saint Benedict.  


“…The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the Soul…” Walt Whitman
“No tears, no time to cry
Just makin’ the most of life” As sung by Mariah Carey
“I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free…” Civilla Martin and Charles Gabriel 
Lately, I have received good news about my health with little fanfare. No jumping and down. No shouting. No fist-pumping or high-fiving or end zone-dancing.  I think about it.  Instead, I take it in and breathe.   All that training in mindfulness is put into practice for several moments of serenity.  It has made these milestones sweeter somehow. 
In the last two weeks, I took on a new role.   While resuming my professional duties, I also became my own nurse. My morning routine once again shifted to include a wound care session.  Every day, I gathered my supplies: mirror, scissors, gauze pads, wound cleanser spray, and a Muppets bag M got at Subway containing skin protectant film, swabs, large Band-Aids, and Aquacel dressing.  I would remove the previous day’s bandage and shower (oh the joy of a real, warm shower without the incessant beeping alarm or the soggy plastic bags). Then I’d pack my own wound and tell my body to heal, heal so I can be cleared to travel and cleared to exercise. Once a week, I would take measurements as my home health nurses used to do and I began to see rapid progress.  Even before yesterday’s appointment, I knew I would hear good news.  Still, it was nice to hear my nurse say, “You’re free.” 
Of course, this journey is far from over. I will continue to dress my wound with topical ointment. My wound will close in a week or two. The scar from my surgery won’t heal for several months. I will have to be aware of any changes in my body, to see if the IGM is responding to my daily medication. In the immediate future, I will resume exercise to regain muscle and cardiovascular fitness.
I know I could have tied on my new running sneakers last night and gone out for my first run since February’s Superbowl Sunday 5k.  I know I could have worked out this morning.  But as with the removal of the Wound-Vac, the removal of the wound packing felt odd.  As before, I felt vulnerable and exhausted.  I slept better than I have in a few weeks.
 This morning, Rambo and I watched a movie about the end of the world and how one family faced it with serenity and with love.  Because along with wound care technology and the quality medical professionals I am fortunate to work with, I know I have made it through this experience  because of my will, the love of my family and friends, and the serenity that comes with accepting God’s grace. 

All is blessing.  

Fifteen reasons to pray

What I miss:
Bear hugs with my daughter
Feeling completely clean
Getting up from sitting without having to carry the vac
What I won’t miss:
Blistered, irritated skin
Knowing my daughter is suffering from stress
Being disappointed by others  
What I appreciate:
Being infection-free for five weeks
A renewed sense of humility
The love of my immediate family
The unflagging and unconditional support of my close friends and dance community

The opportunity to value the blessing of health

Being put to the test

Seven days ago, I was a whirling dervish of activity. I began to live this way years ago in an effort to survive.  Too much time on my hands meant too much time in my head.  So I found ways to fill my time and my mind. These days I rush about from home to work to my daughter’s activities to my dance classes and dance community to family gatherings to me time to volunteering to church. It’s not always the least stressful life but it’s a good life. 
It is a good life. I am awake. I can walk. I can talk. I don’t have a life-threatening disease. I have a job, a home, a family, and the greatest friends a person could desire. But this week has tested me greatly.  In addition to the physical challenges of my recovery, there are mental and emotional challenges. I must relearn to sit quietly, do nothing, and wait.  I wait for myself to become comfortable again with the gift of time and space, the blessing of a calendar and schedule wiped clean.  I wait to trust my thoughts, to stand firm in the knowledge that never again will I allow negativity to cloud my life. I know I have learned so much through life experience, that my will to live and to change continues to be strong. I wait for healing.

When I was younger, I used to ponder becoming a contemplative, if only as an oblate to a certain Order or monastery. I used to ponder going on a desert retreat or a silent week-long retreat. Perhaps this time is meant to be that opportunity. May I trust it and seek peace.   

Getting up from the mat

Mark 2:11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat, and go home.”
The other day, I talked with a young man who was grappling with professional challenges.  He admitted to me that he tends to become depressed and that his negative thinking then greatly affects his behavior. I shared with him that I have a similar history and detailed some of the ways I have taught myself to live life in a way that fosters joy and balance.  Little did I know that within days I would be putting these skills to the test.
For decades, I would have reacted to my current situation very differently. I might wallow in the negative emotions: fear, self-pity, grief, anger. I might shut out those who offer support.
This is not to say I don’t sometimes do this; after facing several crises in my early thirties, I did fall apart and then shut down. I’m human, not Teflon. Living in joy does not mean living in an imaginary world.
I look back on all those years in my teens, twenties, and even early thirties, when I chose to see life as difficult, tragic, or lonely.  But I am grateful for having lived with those perspectives. Now I can face even the worst news with the knowledge that I will ultimately move forward. I have surrounded myself with friends and a community like no other I have experienced, people who offer me their joy and strength. I have learned to cherish each day, to choose making memories over merely going through the motions.
 photo by Elise Evans

In the next few weeks, I may face great challenges. I will allow myself to feel the emotions that result.  Then I will stand up and move on with my life.  

YouTube Theology -Or- how making my own music video was spiritual exercise

“I let it fall, my heart
And as it fell, you rose to claim it
It was dark and I was over
Until you kissed my lips and you saved me” Adele
Last Good Friday, I spent a few hours perfecting a visual and musical reflection on Jesus Christ.  I tend to be verbal, articulating my thoughts into words.  Still, I found the project worthwhile. It made me weep, smile, and think.  It was also an experience I could share with my daughter, discussing the different images with her. To this day, she associates Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” with Jesus.
So just what did I mean?  I’ve had many a student put together a PowerPoint or music video to articulate her/his thoughts on a book and my attempt was no different.  In creating this video, I intended to produce a reflection of key images and themes related to my understanding and connection to Good Friday.  Lent has always been an important liturgical season for me; it resonates deeply with my life experience and my spiritual life. I’m well aware of the brokenness of my connection to the church; I have been in self-imposed exile from ministry since the second trimester of my pregnancy. I still attend Mass and nurture my prayer life.  I still seek Jesus.
Who is Jesus to me? He is a man of open and magnanimous heart. He is a beloved first and only child to his mother. He is the forgiveness of a loving father to his prodigal son(s).

Jesus is a lover of people and equalizer of society. He reached out to women, already second class citizens in a patriarchal society, especially those who were outcasts: the woman at the well, the woman with the hemorrhage, the adulteress who was going to be killed.  He preached truth and hope to everyone.

In recent history, I have recognized Jesus in the activism for a more equitable society.  Our world of failing economies and political battles is in need of a Good Shepherd, a wise rabbi, a teacher of the people.
And who is Jesus if not his Passion?  In the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, countless stained glass windows and paintings, we experience the moments of Jesus’s suffering and death. Jesus is a political prisoner, tortured and stripped of human rights. He weeps in pain yet carries the cross with dignity. We are called to be the angel in Gethsemane, Veronica, Simon the Cyrenian, Joseph the Arimathean, Mary. We are called to love him. 

As for the song chosen, I’m sure many feel that a secular song is inadequate or even inappropriate. However, in revisiting the lyrics, I hear of the love between Jesus and humanity, of his sacrifice and pain, of the end of the relationship on Good Friday.  But I also hear of a love that inspired and challenged.  That first stanza may as well be me talking about Jesus. 
And so I wait for Easter.  

It’s beginning to look a lot like…Monday morning?

I have lost my Christmas mojo.  Whether my shoes are too-tight or my heart is now two sizes small thanks to a steady diet of lack of sleep and proper exercise, I am feeling uber-Grinchy.  I have yet to wrap the few gifts I purchased. Though I’ve planned out my Christmas Day menu(I’ll be making my debut as this year’s family dinner hostess), I am not buzzing with anticipation.  Despite the rain outside, there is a sense of dryness, that I’m in an emotional desert.
Back in 2007, much was made of Mother Teresa’s experience with “spiritual dryness,” upon the publication of Come Be My Light, a book of her correspondence spanning decades.  Through letters to her spiritual directors and superiors, we learned that the Nobel Peace prize winner grappled with loneliness, frustration, and doubt.  It was hailed as a new perspective on a modern saint but more importantly, as a testament to the struggle of faith.  Though I have only read excerpts, I did and still do appreciate how it validates a universal dilemma, to keep believing when our hearts and minds are weakened by circumstance or emotion.  It is a problem I know too well. I have had many dark nights of the soul and wonder if my current bout of gloominess isn’t evidence that one is forthcoming.

Advent means waiting.  As the Advent season comes to an end, I am waiting.  I am waiting for that wonderful feeling of expectation to resurface. But as with previous times, I am pushing forward.  I won’t stop the work of love simply because I feel different or distant at the moment.  I will love on and know that the light will return.

My Christmas List

Seven.  That is how many gifts I will be purchasing, not the thousands of dollars to be spent or the number of miles of lights to be strung up around my house.  As usual, my holiday is being “downsized” in the eyes of consumerism but upgraded and reinvigorated in my opinion.  I would like to continue to move away from the practice of spending money to the tradition of spending time sharing faith with my family.
In my house, the crèche is the centerpiece.  Inspired by the crèches I saw in Peru and in Italy, I began to see the Nativity manger differently.  It is and continues to the best decoration for the season. 

We put up a Jesse Tree for the first time. Inspired by years of catechism, I had always fondly remembered this tradition and began to incorporate into our own celebration.   I hope to revisit this tradition more purposefully. M is attending parochial school so she has a better sense of Bible stories and how they connect to our own family.   I want to make the Jesse Tree feel like less of an “extra” activity. 
Last year, I also began keeping an Advent calendar for M.  True, each day featured some little trinket: a sticker, a toy ring, a small candy.  But it was more about anticipation and excitement, about looking forward to daily surprises.  This year, I’ll be revisiting the daily treats. How might I make them more meaningful, less “little” in terms of substance?
So I will likely be cleaning or writing or exercising on Black Friday morning.  After all, my family is here at home, not in a mall or a parking lot.