Guest Blog

17191794_10211972892381522_696044197707358754_oToday I have an important guest blogger, my husband Bill.  He has a story to tell that is important.  In fact, it is one of the things that has been swept under the rug at our house for years, as we have been in survival mode. It is where so much of our lives together have been formed. In this current season of unraveling and looking back to go forward, we have started to dissect some things from the past. We have decided not to suffer in silence any longer.  I cannot tell you how proud I am of this man, and how much love I have for him.  He is amazing and I thought it appropriate to share this first part of his perspective of how brain injury affects him, on our 31st anniversary.  This is taken from conversations we have had together while hiking, or sitting over coffee, or driving in the car.  It is the tip of the iceberg. We are thinking of compiling our experiences for a book, at some point in the future.  It is kind of random and raw at this point while we are processing.  He shares and I write it down for him so he can concentrate on expressing his experiences.  I can tell you this, marriage with a TBI has been a hard road, still is, but I have a heart bond with this man.  Most couples do not survive TBI, we understand why, but we also are deeply committed to be one of the couples who does.  If I had known 31 years ago on our wedding day, what was in store in a year’s time, I still would have married this man I love.  Happy Anniversary!  

 My Hidden Permanent Disability

as told by Bill Gunnin

How do you overcome a disability you cannot see? I wonder how many of my perceived character flaws are really a symptom of my TBI?  It’s been so long ago, but they say TBI is forever. What if my character is not flawed as I think it is, but my TBI has redefined my life? It is like a living nightmare to be unable to do things, but to have no idea why I cannot do them.  An invisible force prevents me, and it is as if I am boxing an unseen enemy who I cannot identify, and I cannot defeat.  It has the advantage over me because not only is it hidden to others, who only see outward appearances, it is imperceptible to me, from inside myself.

There is a long list of symptoms and I have many of them, but I don’t always know. I have to have someone else tell me. There used to be more, but these are the ones I still have trouble with sometimes:  Impulse control, memory, ability to attend, focus, brain hyperarousal, agitation, irritability, egocentrism, denial, selective obsession, depression, lack of motivation, social immaturity, social dependency, inability to make decisions, logorrhea (excessive talking), panic, anxiety, frustration, mental fatigue, impatience, being hypercritical, hopelessness, decrease of social interactions, disinhibition (loss of filter), intolerance, inflexibility, setting priorities, word retrieval, and decision making.

It’s embarrassing.  People think I am one way because they cannot see the injury.  I want to be the person they think I am, instead of who I actually am.  I am embarrassed of myself, within myself. When I talk about my deficits and a possible job, I think ‘who would want to hire someone who has all these deficits.’  I don’t want to talk about it.  I know I can do the job, at least I think I can, so why talk about possible limitations? But I may not be able to do what I think I can do.  I don’t know if I can or not, so should I say something and risk not getting the job at all?  It’s discouraging and depressing.  I have trouble making decisions.  I can’t direct myself to what needs to be done now and what needs to be done later, because of that sometimes I can’t do anything.

I’ve been told of deficits and I’ve read about them.  I am more aware of the ones that affect me, after they happen than when they are happening, any recognition I have about myself is all in retrospect. Just now, I realized something, but then I went to get paper to write it down and forgot it. I want to just be me, but I feel I am not acceptable as I am.

Impulse control. Delayed gratification. I cannot delay wanting something.  If I want a milkshake, I go get it.  In the early days after the accident, this happened in outbursts of anger or other feelings. I could not control my temper, or my tears.  I felt things and they just came out.  You don’t realize how much your brain helps you to be socially acceptable with your feelings by allowing you to hold them in or let them out appropriately.  It is not as much controlling emotions now for me, only when I am tired or overwhelmed, but I can hold them back better.  For me, it is more external things for comfort that I cannot seem to stop.  I guess it is what some people would call will power.  I lack that in some areas. For example, impulse control in conversation…I can’t hold back my thoughts, so I interrupt constantly, and even go in different directions in the conversation. I don’t know it though, not at the time. It requires review after the fact for me to see it. It frustrates my family, or people I am talking to for me to do it, but because I don’t say everything that comes into my head (believe it or not) I think I am doing well.  I don’t always see the frustration on someone’s face or pick up on social cues, so I just keep talking.  My kids will tell me, or my wife will nudge me under the table, but I don’t see it myself really.  So I think I have more control than I do.  Like right now, the music that is playing is bothering me while we are talking. I don’t want to hear a song where I recognize the melody, because it pulls my attention away from trying to talk about this with you. I just jumped off topic because of my external environment and my inability to filter it out. If I am in a loud place, like a crowded restaurant it is overwhelming to me. I will stop talking because I cannot keep up with all the stuff going on in there and carry on a conversation too.  It also tires me out, so when I leave there I need to go rest so my brain can calm down again.

Memories are a tricky thing. I don’t trust that I am remembering it correctly.  When I try to analyze things I can’t, especially under stress.  I get agitated when I have to deal with external stressors.  A lot of regret about not handling things well…after the fact. Or not being able to remember things that I know I should know.

Symptoms are sporadic and sometimes I can do things…other times I cannot.  I hate these problems.  They have no solutions.  It’s not clear cut…like needing hearing aids, or my knee is hurt, so I cannot walk. Those are direct and easy to understand at least. For me, sometimes I know the issues, and sometimes I can’t see them.  So much of it depends on external circumstances that are beyond my control, and it prevents me from showing what I can do.  For example, I had a job interview recently.  I was in the lobby filling out some short answer type questions where I had to write.  There was a baby in the room and there was some confusion as to who was keeping the baby between the two adults there, so one of them could leave. I couldn’t concentrate on what I was writing because of the distraction, but also because I was worried about the baby and the situation even long after they had solved the issue. It’s like it got stuck in my brain. They came and got me for my interview but my questions were not finished, which made me feel like I did something wrong. Employers don’t have any idea what it means to me to say, you can finish it later.  I went from the lobby, and my unfinished questions with my feelings of being inadequate, directly into a room with a panel of people asking me about how I would handle made up scenarios.  I thought the interview went great, but now looking back at it I can see I totally messed it up and my answers were not good because I could not think clearly. I talked too much, because I do that when I am stressed. When I interview they probably think I can’t handle stress.  They think about how those little things, like a baby in a room while writing affects them, not me.  I can handle a job, but I never get the chance to show it.

This transfers to other areas, it is easy for me to be critical of other people, but impossible for me to understand what pain they have from their own experiences.  People who are discriminated against for color, or religion, no one truly knows what they have been through in their lives.  I have the same type issue with my hidden disability…no one knows.  It’s invisible. Saying you understand is different than my gut level experiences with rejection.

I have compassion for people who are having trouble, like the elderly, or disabled people. My limitations have taught me patience and given me empathy. I like for the elderly to feel their own autonomy in the small things, like which trash bags they want or other things when they are shopping.  I could just pick some things, but I want them to feel they have some control over their lives still. Sometimes they are like children with an intellect.  I understand how that feels. I can guide while still letting people feel they are in control. I want to be someone who comes from where they are.  No assumptions on my part, instead I want to show empathy.  If they are angry and cranky, they don’t have evil intent, they are just frustrated.  Cranky old people are misunderstood, the problem is they are losing themselves and it makes them unhappy. I get that.  I say let them be who they are.  Interesting people.  I want someone to let me be who I am, too.   Nothing I can do can change what older people think or feel, and just because they are old, people nod and smile and understand them, give them patience.  I want people to give me that same kind of understanding.

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The New Normal

humility“You will find a new normal.”  I have heard the phrase many times, and in fact, I have said it to others in trying circumstances. The new normal seems like a goal, a hidden place where all things line up once again.  However, what no one talks about is the strong longing for the old normal…before.  Before my arms ached for a baby who was alive.  Before my husband changed to a different person.  Before the scars from cancer marred my body. We all have our befores. Before death. Before disease. Before dysfunction. They are right, you do adapt to the new normal and learn to cope with losses.  With each loss, I learn to deal with a different reality than I previously had to consider.  But that doesn’t stop me from grieving the old normal.  I know people who have endured unimaginable losses.  Many of them have sent me notes as my last two raw blogs were published.  Some are dealing with diseases and the limitations they bring.  Some have lost children and have gaping holes in their hearts the size of the Grand Canyon.  Some have walked through divorce and are facing single parenthood, alone and scared.  Some have lost friendships that have ruptured their souls.  Others have loved ones who have died, or children who have turned their backs. Dysfunction has claimed families to the point there is no reconciliation.  Abusive behavior of a spouse, a sibling, or a parent has caused self-doubt and condemnation to rise up. And still, people say, “You will get used to the new normal.”

I want to spit on that phrase because it denies the truth of the loss.  It says, ‘just get used to it’ or the other common phrase ‘just get over it,’ as if it is ME who is the problem, not the circumstance.  The root of the finding the new normal is acceptance of whatever the loss is.  I have never been one to blindly accept things until have understanding, until I work through what a monumental loss means to me.  I used to ask why, but I long ago realized that is the wrong question, because it leads nowhere and has no answer.  It leads me around in circles, taunting me in my attempts to sleep and it puts all the reasons for calamity firmly in my court.  I didn’t DO something right.  If I had been better this horrible thing wouldn’t have happened to me.

Instead of why, a better question is what now?  What do I do now that my life is no longer normal?   I am an optimist…or I try to be.  I look for the silver lining because there always is one.  But sometimes I wonder in trying to look on the bright side all the time if I sweep too much under the rug.  In my effort to avoid being a victim of my circumstances, have I pushed the perceived pain away, or I have I simply denied it exists? The problem with burying the hard stuff is that it doesn’t really go away.  You end up, in a place like I am in now, where the rug is mountainous thus preventing movement. It is time to pull it back and examine the pieces I have swept under there so I can be truly rid of them rather than just pretending they aren’t there.

It is times like these where I can relate to the Children of Israel in the desert.  Going in circles is tiring.  It brings out the worst attitudes.  We look at the provision of God for them and think, ‘How could they not see God’s hand protecting and providing for them?  How could they complain against him in the midst of the miracle of manna? What whiners they were!’  Now I am the one in the desert who cannot see the promised land.  Now, I get it.  How long will I wander?  How long will the promises be withheld from me?  I gather manna daily.  I have for nearly 30 years.  I watch the cloud, the hand of God, cover me and I see the pillar of fire light my steps. I depend on him for everything because I have no other choice.  I worship him in the desert, but I also do not understand why I must stay here.  If I were Moses I would have beat the rock to death out of frustration.  I can so relate to why he didn’t do what God told him to do. I am sure it felt good to hit that stone, and once he got started he just couldn’t help himself.  Meanwhile, the cynicism of the people grew to the point that once they got to the land, the giants loomed larger than God. The daily hardships overshadowed the promise.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, it also clouds the eyes.  Hope becomes an enemy who never keeps a promise. The other shoe always drops, and the light just goes out internally as a means of self-protection. It hurts too badly to hope for a different normal.  The longing for milk and honey is overwhelming.  The loss of dreams never to be fulfilled is painful.  The dichotomy of those two is unbearable.  Instead, I find a “new normal” which denies my hurting heart expression.  I adapt.  I cope.  All while the mess under the rug gets bigger and bigger, until one day I am trapped in a room with a mountain that blocks my way out.  A day like today.  A day when life has to take a backseat to healing and where wholeness becomes a priority above all else.  A day when I decide to go retrieve hope from the old normal and bring it into the new.

Practicing Self-Care

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I didn’t plan to start the new year in crisis mode. By nature, crisis is mostly a surprise, otherwise it wouldn’t be called a ‘time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger.’ It is the immediacy that catches us off guard in these kinds of situations. In my experience, it usually starts with a phone call.  This time, it was that my father-in-law was in the ER. Those drop-everything-and-get-here phone calls never get any easier because the adrenaline kicks in and the heartrate rises. However, I have learned that instead of running out of the house in two seconds, I need to to force myself stop, think, and pack a just-in-case bag.  Book for sitting in waiting rooms…check.  Toothbrush in case I have to stay for days…check.  A bottle of water and a snack in case there is no food nearby…check.  Brush so I don’t look like I slept in a chair…check.  Change of clothes so I don’t smell…check.

In the midst of being in crisis, the sense of urgency overrides taking care of basic needs like sleep and food. We tend to ignore everything but the person in crisis, and to some degree, that is as it should be.  But the amount of time you can go in that kind of state is limited.  There will come a point where you will crash and burn if you do not learn to practice self-care and to recognize signs of over stressing yourself.

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I didn’t really learn about self-care until after my cancer.  I have always been one to look out for everyone else. Never ask for help. I can handle it…whatever it is.  My kids.  My husband. My family. My friends. When I had cancer it took 7 people to do all that I had been doing.  That was an eye-opener for me. That, in combination with all my medical needs, helped me to see that if I survived, something had to change. I started with exercise, which is something I had always avoided. Too busy.  Too tired.  I revived my love of hiking, despite the fact that it takes TIME to hike.  I started Jazzercizing, because I have always loved to dance. I found that when I gave myself an hour a day, others in my life got a better version of me.  In that hour, I released stress.  My mind calmed because my body was working.  And though, at first I struggled to make myself go, I found that soon I craved it…not as a means to a bathing suit…but as a way to feel better.  I also gave myself the gift of time in the woods, with birds who do not toil, and flowers that do not spin.  When I hike, my worries float away on the breeze and the rivers sing over me. I return to my life uplifted and renewed.

After years of yo-yo dieting, I finally changed my food for good.  It was a slow process with much wrestling.  Lost 70lbs, gained 35.  Lost.  Gained.  Up, down, up and down. But last year, I made a drastic change in the way I think about food.  Like when an alcoholic finally sees the light, I recognized that much of my life was controlled by food which was killing me.  By removing those foods, I found energy, and health.  I found a clear mind, and reversed my diabetes.  I have lost 60 lbs. since last January, and I am on track to get the last 25 off this year. I can tell you that even though I knew food could affect how you feel, I had no idea how MUCH it affected it.  I am a new person, with new confidence and new vision.  These are longer term ways to care for myself that took slow and steady change.  However, there are other ways to practice self-care that are more immediate.

In our current crisis with Bill’s dad, I had been at the hospital pretty much for 4 straight days before I took stock of my own health. There wasn’t really a choice up to that point.  It was time to be there with him, meet with doctors, feed him, talk to family, share updates etc… I was not alone in this crisis, but it takes a toll nonetheless.  At some point that I cannot pinpoint, I paused and took stock. I recognized signs of stress building up.  Formerly, I would have dismissed the signs as exhaustion, which is easy to do because exhaustion is part of crisis. I would have thought there was nothing I could do about it, and pushed through, continuing to wear myself down.

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Now, however, I recognize signs because I self-assess.  My body starts to ache in my core. My heart feels like it is beating harder.  I get irritable.  I have less patience with people. I cannot focus long enough to read.  I FEEL the stress.  It is my sign that I have been disregarding myself. It is a sign that I need to pull back…ask for help…take care of me. What does that look like?  Packing my lunch to go to the hospital instead of eating unknown foods.  Parking the farthest away from the hospital so I can get some walking in.  Taking a hot soaking bath when I go home for a break.  Having a cup of sleepy time tea before bed.  Getting to bed early when I can. Going to morning Jazzercise class before the hospital.  Calling a friend to come and pray with me.  Asking my sons to take a shift at the bedside. Standing beside my car for a moment to gaze up at the stars. All pretty simple things.  All doable in the current situation.

Is the stress over?  Nope.  This is going to be an ongoing issue, even once he is home.  It is likely to be more of a marathon than a sprint, which is why self-care is so very important.  I have numerous friends who have started the new year in crisis.  Hospitals, funeral homes, doctor’s offices, mental wards, lawyers offices, surgery centers…all of them stressful places.  All of them places where you can pause and take stock to determine if you are practicing self-care.

P.S. Bill’s dad is getting better and we expect him to be released from the hospital as soon as his pneumonia has cleared, in the next day or two.  Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes.

Me and My Friend Bev

 

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I had a delightful afternoon with my childhood friend Beverly yesterday.  We hadn’t seen each other face to face in many, many years. However, over the past few, we have bonded on Facebook through our shared Cancerland experiences.  It was good to finally get to hug her neck long and hard, and to catch up on life with her and those who came out to see her while she is in town.  Memory lane.  Always a fun place to visit.
On my way home I remembered a story from long ago, somewhere around 1979, at Camp Waco. (Which we pronounced Wacko.) We always went to youth camp in the summer, and Georgia, in the summer, is a very hot place, especially without air conditioning in camp cabins. It is so hot, in fact, that you never cool off.  One afternoon, a few girls were determined to try.  We took cold showers.  We dried our hair for 3 minutes at a time, which took an exceptionally long time since all of us had long and thick hair.  We stayed on our bunks under the fans for a bit to avoid moving too much.  We dowsed ourselves in baby powder to absorb the inevitable sweat that would return as soon as we stepped out the door back into the sun. It kind of worked.  We were cool for the first time in a week. Eventually, we decided to go back down to WATCH the shaving cream battle that was scheduled for the afternoon.

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We were standing there laughing at the shenanigans, when suddenly we were grabbed and pulled into the fight against our will.  I do not remember who, I only remember grabbing hold of a tree to try to avoid being drawn in.  At some point, resisting was futile and we joined in completely, knowing that all the work to stay cool would be lost.  We hoped the hose to wash off the shaving cream would at least be cold water, but alas, it had been sitting in the sun all day, so a hot water rinse was all we got.  The moral of the story: Often in life, the unexpected happens and disrupts your plans, but you just have to go with it and find the fun despite the discomfort.

There was no way, at that time, that Bev and I could have known that in the future we would once again be pulled into another battle against our will. Now, rather than our desire to be clean and dry, our desire to live bonds us.  We have walked through Cancerland from our different regions of the country and are walking still, because once you are a citizen in this place you remain one.  Whether treatment is passive or active you will always be a cancer patient.  Bev has been in the active battle for 4 years and fought hard, with the help of 9 chemicals and radiation, for the remission she now possesses.  Treatment to retain this state is a constant in her life. Maintenance chemo they call it. Daily, weekly, and monthly. Three chemicals. I call it torture.  Yet, she has such a positive countenance that she glows. All that effort keeps her alive, and that fact makes it bearable.  Her eyes sparkle with love of life and her smile lights up the room.

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She recently turned 50, and is overjoyed to have made it.  Living fully has become her priority.  That is the silver lining of Cancerland…new priorities.  She set herself a goal to backpack into 5 national parks and camp for a week, all within her 50th year.  She has two under her belt already, and her photos are stunning in their detail. The wilderness is alive, and when you go there you feel alive too, which is something we cancer survivors like to feel. The life draws you to go deeper in because it pours hope into your soul. Breathing in fresh mountain air is the way breathing was intended to be, or so it seems.  In any case, the freedom to go and to breathe, is a gift. One fully embraced by my friend, Bev.  She is an amazing woman.  She inspires me.  She may kill me for writing this, but it takes a heroic effort to do what she is doing.  The courage, the tenacity, the ability to laugh, and the peace that hovers over her are testaments to her love of life and of God.

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The battleground has changed since 1979, we are no longer playing with shaving cream in the hot Georgia summer…but the moral remains the same: Often in life, the unexpected happens and disrupts your plans, but you just have to go with it and find the fun despite the discomfort.  Beverly Stripling is my survivor sister and she is kicking Cancer’s butt!

Amazing News

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If you have known me at all, at any stage of my life, you have known my struggle with my weight. As a young girl I had an issue with it before I was even overweight, when my perception of myself ruled whom I saw in the mirror. Because of this warped view of myself I have dieted on and off for years. When I tell you that I hate dieting and all things to do with it, I am not overstating things. It is the truth. Diets make me angry. Angry with myself. Angry with my food. Angry with my lack of ability to maintain any weight loss that I achieve. That is why this year, when I once again began the diet roller coaster ride, I didn’t set a weight loss goal. Instead I set 3 goals: To feel better. To have my clothes fit better. To reverse my diabetes.

My long time diet buddy Jessica, who recently lost 80 lbs. had just started a group called Find Your Food. The idea that there are some foods that work for my body and some that don’t put the power back in my hands to determine which is which. My mind latched onto the concept of thinking of food as an experiment. Take out all possible problem foods for 30 days. Then add one back at a time to see how my body responds. Seems so reasonable and common sense, and unlike former diets that control every grain of rice, this approach allows me to make decisions about what I will and will not eat based on my “research.”

We started in January. I say we, because Bill also wanted to find his food. Once the detox stage was over, food got quiet. The cravings and temptations were minimal. We felt better, had more energy, and less aches and pains, and Bill’s thinking got clearer…so much so that he asked if we could continue for 30 more days, and then 30 more after that. We have tried adding back some foods and are surprised at the reactions of our bodies. The range has been from no difficulty to pretty darn sick. We are finding what works and what does not.

Today I went to my diabetes doctor for my usual check up. And guess what? I no longer have diabetes! It has been reversed!!! My blood work showed I no longer need medication! I thought that this goal would take much longer than 90 days to achieve. I was stunned that it happened this quickly. Yes I have lost 28 lbs…but to me the more important thing is the health that I have gained! I will continue to eat, fresh, non-processed foods. I will lose more weight as I do, but that is not my focus.  I will continue to do this experiment and find my foods!

If you want to join our group go to findyourfood.org or join the Find Your Food facebook group. We’d love to have you.

Elephant on My Back

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Nine years ago today I had an elephant on my back. Literally. Well, it was a stuffed elephant, and it was really more around my shoulders…but still. It felt like a real elephant. It was an orange fuzzy scarf with a smiling elephant face on one end, and though it was not heavy, the weight I imagined it carried might as well have been a ton. You see, this elephant lived in the chemo room.

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Week after week, month after month of treatments take their toll. The hair was long gone, the blood was weak at best, and I won’t even try to tell you about the side effects of poison pumping into your body regularly. The whole process was heavy, exhausting, emotionally draining and physically destructive. Carrying the weight of your world on your shoulders is impossible on your own, but cancer patients do it everyday because while you have a whole support system around you, you are the one in the chair.

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That’s why I think it was appropriate that the ‘elephant in the room’ was designed to be a reward. The last day of chemo, that elephant sat on my shoulders smiling until the last drop of poison was in. Then the whole room applauded as the elephant was removed. Pictures were taken…which I have intentionally lost…cheering and congratulations were offered by all. Goodbyes were said to the nurses who saved my life and the other patients with still unknown futures.

Everyone in that room secretly envied the elephant…coveted it really. I think because you never knew if you would get to have it, which made it even more desirable…a silly goofy treasure of enormous value. It seems to be a last day, but in reality it is a first. The first day of the rest of my life…however long that is. It was a day I mark as a day of celebration. The day I decided to live fully…from that day forward.

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And so, today on the anniversary of that day, I went hiking on Mt. Yonah. Not to the top, just partway up to meet up with some friends, but still, up a mountain. I hadn’t considered the significance of the day until I was climbing in the quiet. A solitary climb on my own…a time of reflection to soak in the beauty of fresh air and the freedom of movement. A day to remember. Fighting cancer was a big mountain to climb. I never knew if I would ever climb a “real” mountain again, but I do…regularly. Each one is a marking of a life lived well. And what a gift it is to have the ability to do so. A gift that I treasure and celebrate on this day.

And as I left the mountain, on Michelle’s Alive Day, I heard a song that was my mantra during my cancer ordeal. In Christ Alone. I could not sing/hear this song without weeping. The last verse still gets me every time. And today particularly, it caused my heart to explode with gratitude and my eyes with tears.

In Christ alone my hope is found,

He is my light, my strength, my song;

this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,

firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

My Comforter, my All in All,

here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh

Fullness of God in helpless babe!

This gift of love and righteousness

Scorned by the ones he came to save:

Till on that cross as Jesus died,

The wrath of God was satisfied –

For every sin on Him was laid;

Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay

Light of the world by darkness slain:

Then bursting forth in glorious Day

Up from the grave he rose again!

And as He stands in victory

Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,

For I am His and He is mine –

Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,

This is the power of Christ in me;

From life’s first cry to final breath.

Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man,

Can ever pluck me from His hand;

Till He returns or calls me home,

                 Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand. I’ll stand.

Reminder

IMG_9673I love the beach.  I love the Song of the Sea and I long to hear it.  But sometimes there are voices in my head that drown it out. I think most women know these voices. They come from my own head as I put on my bathing suit and step outside.  They are the body image voices that are engrained deep within us from a lifetime of being compared to magazine pictures.  We have come to think of those voices as part of us, but a few years ago, after my cancer, I realized that these voices do not belong to me. They are the voice of the enemy who tries to crush women. Instead of bullying my body, I decided to love her. Let me tell you it set me free to view her in a different way, and to recognize the voice of the enemy when I hear it.  It is the trips to the beach that try to pull me away from why I came and encourage me to bully her once again.  When that happens, I pull out this letter I wrote a few years ago…and I read it…over and over…and I remind myself that she is beautiful as she is. You might want to write one of these letters…it will change the way you SEE.

My Dearest Body,

First I need to ask your forgiveness. For most of your life I have regaled you, called you names, treated you horribly, and hated the sight of you. I thought of you as my enemy, keeping me from living the dream life of a skinny person. (The pretend ones they show on TV.) I have starved you, gorged you, worked you half to death, and sat without helping you at all. It has been a roller coaster ride in which I have made all the calls and you have done your best to comply. I have thought your face was too round, your freckles too noticeable, your double chin embarrassing. I have complained about your wide hips, thick thighs, and flabby arms for as long as I can remember. I never stopped to consider that your hips made it easy to birth my four children, your thighs keep me upright and walking, and your arms have carried everything from groceries and laundry to puppies and babies. No, in fact, I have never stopped to consider you at all. If you were another person, and I treated them like I treat you I would be considered an abusive bully. This saddens me more than I can say. I fell for the lies of the society we live in, hook, line and sinker. That makes me feel incredibly stupid now that I am nearly 50 years old. How could I have not seen it before now? The good news is that I did see it!

You are beautiful.

It took being bald, with no eyebrows, nose hair, or eyelashes. Translucent skin, sunken eyes, with a hole in my gut and bruises all over my body, scars abounding, and needle tracks in my hands and arms. Cancer taught me about how amazing you are and how wrong I had been about you. It took melting down in a dressing room in front of a mirror…horrified at the sight of you…for me to see the true you. It took my husband holding me and telling me how beautiful you are and pointing out each scar as a mark of victory. It took him wiping my tears, and holding me up in the midst of the painful reality…I do not know you. I have only seen you through the lens of perfection taught to me by airbrushed pictures and half-starved women. I had not seen you through the eyes of love until that day, because I had never loved you, but my husband had. Hearing his words, while seeing you in that mirror shifted something inside of my mind. I saw beauty in a whole new way. So now, I want to thank you and to tell you how much I love you.

I love that you were strong enough for me to be an active child. I love that your feet and legs carried me into the woods, down mountains, and onto horses’ backs. I love that your eyes have brought me so much pleasure in the colors of the sunset, and the words on pages. I am grateful my ears could hear the words I love you, from those I care about most. I love that my lips can feel the cold of an ice cream cone or the heat of a passionate kiss. I love how pleasure is one of the gifts you have given to me and my husband. Your inward parts nurtured five children. The first you held as long as you could and I love you for trying so hard to keep that precious baby. The other four you would not let go of until their appointed day. What an amazing body you are…knowing exactly what was required of you to introduce me to my children. Then feeding them, nurturing them, and bonding with them as they nursed at your breasts. You are Life Giving.

Your hands have patched up boo-boos, wiped bottoms, and held others in times of trauma and crisis. You have strong hands. And shoulders. You have carried much on your shoulders some of it has tried to crush you. I am sorry I have let the weight get so heavy. I am sorry I did not know how to lighten the load. You fought valiantly when disease came to destroy me. You did not give up even though you felt like crap most of the time. I love that your blood tried so hard to renew itself because you know that the power of life is in the blood. Your bones ached they tried so hard to make more. Your organs freshly washed from surgery where they cut you up, continued to work beautifully. Your heart, being pumped full of poison, continued to work knowing that its job was critical to eradicating the cells that revolted against me. Thank you. Without your hard work I would not have made it through.

So now you are disfigured from the fight. Muscles were severed that mean it is not likely that your stomach will ever be flat again. Your tissues have been compromised along with your cartilage. You are weaker now than before in many ways, but now I see. I know how much you love me and how you have tried to care for me. Now that I know, I am going to try to care for you too. I am going to love your sagging breasts because they have served my family well. I am going to love your face as it is, and your fine, limp, thin hair simply because you have some. I am going to be grateful for my bionic knee because you have accepted it as part of you and made it work to the best of your ability. I am going to love your weathered hands because they can still hold the hand of another and bring comfort. I am going to love your rolly-poly stomach because it carried my children, and fought heroically when disease tried to ravage it.

I will love you by not calling you names any longer. I will love you by eating and drinking things that will only bring you life. I will love you by not taking on more than you can handle any more. I will love you by moving you, making sure you have plenty of fresh air, and working all your parts in healthy ways. I will love you by loving others and letting them love me. I will receive your love, Body…your hard work to keep me alive…I will cherish what you do for me daily. I will remember this love when I am tempted to slip back into my old ways of bullying you. It is my promise to you and to God who created you to love you as he does and to care for you as if you were the only body I have…which of course you are.

You are the home of my soul, and the abode for my spirit…the True-me. You house me and allow me to move about this planet. True-me abides within you and for that I am ever grateful. Thank you Body, for making a resting place for my spirit and giving me physical attributes with which True-me connects with the world. Thank you for my mind that allows me to think and process. Thank you for my emotions, which sometimes feel roller coaster-ish, but mostly give me a heart that is tender because it is bathed with tears that flow from your eyes. Thank you for giving my spirit a place to grow and to become one with the Holy Spirit who dwells within you as well. You are an amazingly strong body. One day you will no longer be able to do this job and on that day I will be free to fly…but not before I say thank you, Body.

I love you. You are beautiful.

Michelle

Starting Over…Again

IMG_9672I am starting over. Again. For the millionth time. A few years ago I lost 70 lbs. For the first time in my life I got it. That exercise is life. That my health depends on the foods I eat. It was not a diet or a temporary thing, it was long term change precipitated by cancer. It was life or death. My eyes were opened and I saw it. I was well on my way to my 100 lb. goal when I got hurt. My knee injury did not change my new view, it merely slowed me down. For two years and through two surgeries, I kept up my new lifestyle. Weight loss leveled out but that was to be expected until my knee was fully healed. Only it didn’t fully heal, it never got back to full range of motion and now I am permanently disabled. Even so, I continued to walk, jazzercise (greatly modified), and ride my stationary bike. No excuses. No slack. Move to live, and live to move. Pounds started to creep back on…I kept moving.

jazzerciseHannah left to go around the world, and I took a second job after school to fund my trip to Thailand. That added stress to an already overwhelming year at work. Yet, I still got off after working two jobs and went straight to Jazzercise before going home. Like I said, this change I made was real. But somewhere along the way, I went into a bit of a funk. My load got heavy. My food choices were not great. The few pounds turned into more, until I had gained 35 or 40 lbs. back. I cannot tell you how many because I am scared to get on the scale to find out. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, I refused to look at the truth. My clothes told me. Pictures told me. I knew…I just didn’t want to know. Then today I went to the doctor for my regular diabetes check-up. I turned my head when I got on the scale…but the nurse called it out when she wrote it down. I guess she thought I would want to know. I did not, but when I heard I was heartsick. Once again as it has been for the past several years, my blood work was fabulous. Blood sugar right where it is supposed to be. Blood pressure superb. Once again, I am the healthiest of the sick people. The doc was all cheers until the she saw that I had gained 15 pounds since my last visit 9 months ago. Yikes!

scale_upload-lI have sat in this humiliating chair so many times before. I pay this doctor to give me wake up calls, and she is very good at it. I could give myself the speech…actually I do, in my head only my speech to myself has no compassion in it. None.  I beat myself up so much more than anything she could say to me. But I do my time and I sit in this chair and grimace and say I know, I know. I will be better. I will do better. I will try harder. And somehow, the groveling apologies get into my head and defeat me. Tears sit just below the surface and I swallow hard to keep them from choking out my voice as I promise to lose the pounds I have gained. I want to leave and eat a whole gallon of ice cream…go into a diabetic coma…and sleep for days. I have been here before. So. Many. Times. It is exhausting and depressing and last time I just knew I would never be back here again. Yet, here I sit.

What is it about going back to that which you know will harm you? Is it complacency? Somehow I don’t think so. I do care a great deal about my health and well-being. Is it self-contempt? In the past I would have said maybe yes, but my cancer journey taught me I am beautiful no matter what I look like…so no, not self-contempt. I think it is the familiar. It is comfortable not to change. There is nothing unexpected. It feels safe, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is not safe to turn to something that causes you to feel like a failure, that is bad for your health, and that could make you sick or harm you. There has to be a total transformation of your perception of yourself. There has to be a new pattern set to replace the old one that DOESN’T WORK. So I have to look for a new viewpoint.

i-can-do-hard-thingsWhat I learned through my brief but significant 70 lb. success is that I cannot focus on what I did not do. I cannot focus on how I have fallen short. I have to look at what I have done, and turn around the bludgeoning going in my mind. For starters, I did NOT gain back 70 lbs. It is not too late to start again…I am still 30ish lbs. down from where I started all those years ago. Not bad…not bad at all. I did NOT quit exercising. I work out no matter what, maybe not as hard, or as often…but I still work out. My health has interrupted my routine but it has not stopped it. And another thing…I did NOT go back to the horrible eating habits I had before. My food, when I cook (key issue) is healthy. So I am not a complete and utter failure here, nor am I defined by the number on a scale. I just need some small adjustments to get back on track. The hardest work…the completely different mindset… has already been done. Now it is just the walking out what I ALREADY know. I did this before, and it made all the difference in how I felt…and because I did it before I KNOW I can do it. And so…here I go…again.

 

A Love Letter to My Body

I read a blog by Sarah Bessey entitled In Which I Write a Love Letter to my Own Body.  You can find it on Sarah Bessey .com  It was such a powerful letter that I decided to write one of my own even though the article requesting women do so is over a year old.  I have to say that this exercise was very eye opening and healing at the same time.  I would recommend for all women to do this and to save it so you can read it OFTEN.

Image

My Dearest Body,

First I need to ask your forgiveness.  For most of your life I have regaled you, called you names, treated you horribly, and hated the sight of you.  I thought of you as my enemy, keeping me from living the dream life of a skinny person. (The pretend one they show on TV.)  I have starved you, gorged you, worked you half to death, and sat without helping you at all.  It has been a roller coaster ride in which I have made all the calls and you have done your best to comply.  I have thought your face was too round, your freckles too noticeable, your double chin embarrassing.  I have complained about your wide hips, thick thighs, and flabby arms for as long as I can remember.  I never stopped to consider that your hips made it easy to birth my four children, your thighs keep me upright and walking, and your arms have carried everything from groceries, and laundry to puppies and babies.  No, in fact, I have never stopped to consider you at all.  If you were another person, and I treated them like I treat you I would be considered an abusive bully.  This saddens me more than I can say.  I fell for the lies of the society we live in, hook, line and sinker.  That makes me feel incredibly stupid now that I am nearly 50 years old.  How could I have not seen it before now?  The good news is that I did see it!

You are beautiful.

It took being bald, with no eyebrows, nose hair, or eyelashes.  Translucent skin, sunken eyes, with a hole in my gut and bruises all over my body, scars abounding, and needle tracks in my hands and arms.  Cancer taught me about how amazing you are and how wrong I had been about you.  It took melting down in a dressing room in front of a mirror…horrified at the sight of you…for me to see the true you.  It took my husband holding me and telling me how beautiful you are and pointing out each scar as a mark of victory.  It took him wiping my tears, and holding me up in the midst of the painful reality…I do not know you.  I have only seen you through the lens of perfection taught to me by airbrushed pictures and half-starved women.  I had not seen you through the eyes of love until that day, because I had never loved you, but my husband had.  Hearing his words, while seeing you in that mirror shifted something inside of my mind.  I saw beauty in a whole new way.  So now, I want to thank you and to tell you how much I love you.

I love that you were strong enough for me to be an active child.  I love that your feet and legs carried me into the woods, down mountains, and onto horses’ backs.  I love that your eyes have brought me so much pleasure in the colors of the sunset, and the words on pages.  I am grateful my ears could hear the words I love you, from those I care about most.  I love that my lips can feel the cold of an ice cone or the heat of a passionate kiss.  I love how pleasure is one of the gifts you have given to me and my husband. Your inward parts nurtured five children.  The first you held as long as you could.  The other four you would not let go of until their appointed day.  What an amazing body you are.  Life giving…knowing exactly what was required of you to introduce me to my children.  Then feeding them, nurturing them, and bonding with them as they nursed at your breasts.

Your hands have patched up boo-boos, wiped bottoms, and held others in times of trauma and crisis. You have strong hands.  And shoulders.  You have carried much on your shoulders some of it has tried to crush you.  I am sorry I have let the weight get so heavy.  You fought valiantly when disease came to destroy me.  You did not give up even though you felt like crap most of the time.  I love that your blood tried so hard to renew itself because you know that the power of life is in the blood.  Your bones ached they tried so hard to make more.  Your organs freshly washed from surgery where they cut you up, continued to work beautifully.  Your heart, being pumped full of poison, continued to work knowing that its job was critical to eradicating the cells that revolted against me. Thank you.  Without your hard work I would not have made it through.

So now you are disfigured from the fight.  Muscles were severed that mean it is not likely that your stomach will ever be flat again.  Your tissues have been compromised along with your cartilage.  You are weaker now than before in many ways, but now I see.  I know how much you love me and how you have tried to care for me.  Now that I know, I am going to try to care for you too.  I am going to love your sagging breasts because they have served my family well.  I am going to love your face as it is, and your fine, limp, thin hair simply because you have some.  I am going to be grateful for my bionic knee because you have accepted it as part of you and made it work to the best of your ability.  I am going to love your weathered hands because they can still hold the hand of another and bring comfort.  I am going to love your rolly-poly stomach because it carried my children, and fought heroically when disease tried to ravage it.

I will love you by not calling you names any longer.  I will love you by eating and drinking things that will only bring you life.  I will love you by not taking on more than you can handle any more.  I will love you by moving you, making sure you have plenty of fresh air, and working all your parts in healthy ways.  I will love you by loving others and letting them love me.  I will receive your love body…your hard work to keep me alive…I will cherish what you do for me daily.  I will remember this love when I am tempted to slip back into my old ways of bullying you.  It is my promise to you and to God who created you to love you as he does and to care for you as if you were the only body I have…which of course you are.

I love you.  You are beautiful.

Michelle