“You rule over the raging sea; when it’s waves rise up you still them.” Psalm 89:9
This is the post excerpt.
“You rule over the raging sea; when it’s waves rise up you still them.” Psalm 89:9
You may never be able to…you just aren’t…you can’t be…
Distractions can seep into my thoughts. Sometimes they carefully form a hollow shell that I can easily crush and sweep away. Other times they pierce right through me with no warning, forming a dense and cemented root, robbing the spaces of positive affirmations and gratitude along the way. That requires a chisel to demolish. And maybe some chocolate.
I’ll always look back over my shoulder at the rubble I surmounted. One reason, so I can do what I can to avoid ever being destroyed again. And an other, to see how far I’ve come and how amazing the journey can be. I was the debris that a team from damage control (being God, family, friends) and my own will power helped put back together. A Humpty Dumpty classic on repeat.
Some days I feel like I’m pecked from my new glorious perch and placed right back on top of that pile that tried to defeat me. Like a puppy that breaks out of it’s crate, is chased down to be detained again. I have the flexibility now to get so far away from it but the tether bungees me back. Sometimes because of my own force of trying to escape further I self-destruct, bounce, and bang all the way back. It was at least out of sight, left only in the crevices of my mind while it lasted.
Until I’m snapped back. Until I’m reminded. Until there’s something else, a form, a survey, a statistic of science, that reinstates my conditional contract with normalcy. Until I’m told that this pile might be harder to completely bulldoze away to ever make room for all the things I want to fit inside my world.
At any minute I know one wrong step and the haphazardly placed pieces of ground could come crashing down, burying all my progress and any plans. Taunting me to test my footing, it lies in clutters; ashes and dust circle and fall delicately on top, kicking up at the slightest inkling of freedom, an excessive reminder of where I stand.
There are other reminders too.
I remind myself, that if I fall, the lose ground that was below me is now lose ground around me. And I will have better balance to rebuild.
I remind myself that the perch is nice. But it’s more beautiful to see how I got there.
I remind myself that when I’m dejected, re-jected or redirected, God is in the rubble, the rebuild, and the renew.
He is making room for all that I need.
He is able…
He is I Am…
He always will be…
Fun fact. “Rubble” phonetically spelled out is “ˈrəb(ə)l.”
Today at lunch I used my thumbnail as a knife, puncturing, carving and peeling my way through a tangerine. We only get 30 minutes at lunchtime, at least five of which are spent walking to and from the staff room. But today I took my sweet (pun intended) time removing the protective peel so it all spiraled off in one piece. It fell onto my plate as I continued separating nature’s natural slices, popping them into my mouth one by one. Yummm.
Exactly this time last year I wasn’t able to stomach a treat like this. My lunches were organic triple rinsed thoroughly cooked white rice and peeled russet mashed potatoes. This tangerine was amazing in other ways too. Seeing them in my coworkers lunches brought a sense of comradery- eating the same types of things as those around me. People notice what you eat when you’re always eating vastly different things than they are but also notice when you bring the same type of foods. When I first was diagnosed, my mom was the one packing my lunch. At that time she tried a gluten free diet before the stores caught on to the business it could generate, so the gluten free bread she made me from scratch looked quite different. And even though there was more love in every slice I got way more looks too.
Over the past year, some of my close friends and colleagues have actively made a change to eat better and take care of their bodies. I’ve had the joy of witnessing them experience the struggles that lead to successes. Plus, now they are the ones recommending healthy restaurants and food options. I don’t feel like the choice of where we eat out, when we rarely do, defaults to me anymore because of my restrictions. They have their own too. In fact I am inspired by their desire to be healthy and them actively following strict meal plans. To most it’s an aspiration to be better and while that is part of my desire too, a generous amount of my motivation also stems from a fear of getting sick again. It’s much easier constantly fighting temptation when I know the result of giving in would be immediate dis-ease.
Got off on a tangent… Back to my tangerine.
As one of my five weekday meal-prepped meals was heating up in the microwave I finished savoring my sweet treat whiling eating up these few more minutes of good conversation before we all went back to teaching. That was an other thing. I got to go back and do my job.
I was able to teach Tangent Functions this is year. Like most teachers I go back through notes from previous years to better them for the current year. But the “Tangent Functions” notes were gone. And I knew they would be. Regardless, turning to an empty page was a huge reminder of where my life was just a year ago. I didn’t have it in me to make sub plans from a hospital bed so my coworkers stepped in and taught Tangent Functions, gave my students their finals, and saw them the last day of school to close up my classroom for me.
I have a silent code my students respond to which is: when classroom lights go off its time for notes. (One of the few things I learned from Educational Psycology.) I never verbalized this, I just started doing it and expecting them to proceed accordingly which within the first two weeks of school they learned without even realizing it.
Got off on an other Tangent… Back to Tangent Functions.
I began my notes like I always do but as soon as I wrote the title my student aide, who I had last year, remarked, “Oh, wait! You never taught us this last year. The other teacher did.” I smiled and said that was correct, but I get to teach it now. Throughout the lesson I noticed she glanced up from her secretarial work to listen and partake in my explanations.
This year I am making new notes and making them better at the same time. This year I will get to watch my students take their finals and be there to wish them a good summer. This year I will lock the door to my own classroom, wrap up a full, successful school year of good health and healing, keeping all those sweet juices inside me, ready to be slowly peeled and savored.
This year I got to teach Tangents with a belly full of tangerines.
We may get off on our own tangents but God is providing the sustenance; carving away parts of ourselves and peeling back others to expose the real fruits we have, keeping us fed, and keep us going. On or off track, we’re never far from His juicy promises.
Proverbs 3: 5-8
I grew up in a house that taught God exists. I was taught prayers. I was taught scriptures. I was taught church life. However, I did not know God based on any of these things.
I came to know my Creator when I was 10 years old. The same age I was first diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. I have a sweet and sour relationship with the big UC. It can swoop in like a hungry vulture robbing an already barren desert of the last unhatched egg before it ever had a chance to fight back. It can leave me so bare, stripped and robbed from things that tie me to this world, only my Savior would be able to salvage any remains.
And that is beautiful.
It’s amazing to know you can have nothing but still have everything you could ever need.
A couple close friends encouraged me to revisit some hobbies and try new ones while I was so sick. One dear friend taught me how to crochet, an other encouraged me to paint again, and I gravitated back to playing my flute and yoga. Some of these activities were even too much on bad days, but when I could do them, I did, and when I did I went to a different place.
I still pray the prayers I was taught. I still go to church. I still read the scriptures (I could be better at this though). But my best prayers are prayed with a paint brush, crochet hook, flute, or yoga mat in my hand. Gratitude pours through my fingertips onto a canvas. Grace sings it’s encouragements through my flute. Wisdom is woven into the stitches holding me together. Praise bursts through poses and stretches to meet me in places I never would’ve explored on my own.
A friend volunteered me to facilitate an art session during a retreat for teens this weekend. To share what painting means to me was an honor. To be a witness to these kids exploring His gifts, watching them pray in this way, was a blessing.
We are a blank canvas with so much potential.
We are a work in progress with beautiful flaws.
We are able to create. We are able to change. We are able to inspire.
No matter how abstract, God understands your picture even if you can’t at that moment.
Just begin and see where it takes you.
We are His work of heart. We are God’s masterpieces.
My favorite part of teaching is when I get to have full class discussions. The discourse and dialogue is usually short and mundane but the kids eat up every second of the off-task banter and…so do I. It breaks up the math lesson, which to some, fine most high school students, is dry and pointless. (Although in math, especially Geometry, there are infinitely many points. Pun intended.)
The weeks have been passing quickly this year. Quicker than any other of my four years of teaching experience. The seasoned teachers say this is normal. My own experiences say the same. Once you get used to something, the more familiar it is. The more familiar it is, the less likely you are to notice.
I know why this year is going by so fast and it isn’t just because I’m more familiar with the profession. It’s because teaching is not competing with my health. Last year and the year prior, my “familiar” never went unnoticed, it just became routine. My normal routine was anything but inconspicuous. So now that I wake up without running to the restroom (or be in the middle of a lesson and have to go), wear jeans all the way buttoned because I no longer feel the cramps or bloating, eat seeds without worrying if they will tear open the bleeding ulcers even more, can get 7 hours of sleep instead of at least 8 without getting set back, worry less about worrying over even the small things you wouldn’t think would bring any stress to your body like going to the movies- I have a new normal that grants me the freedom of not having to nurture myself as much. But if I didn’t know what my old normal demanded, my new normal wouldn’t include my own tangents and off-task agendas to stay on track.
“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” Said by so many famous people, I don’t even know who to credit(?).
I still am on a strick schedule but I have the luxury of scheduling some fun; being able to commit to and follow through with weekly and even distant engagements.
When I did the adult thing and stayed home from one of my weekly classes to cater to a cold I immediately got upset at myself. Not because I did the adult thing to take care of myself, but because I allowed my thoughts to be consumed with all the times canceling or rescheduling was my life. I was in route, on my way to class when something in me said, “It’s okay not to go, you know.” It’s okay to stray from routine. It actually might be beneficial. “But I waaaaaaaaant to goooooooo.” I wined back. I’ve catered to much worse, I didn’t think this was a good excuse. I made it a goal to go to every class. It’s a great goal. But I did what was best for me. I’m learning not to push through something just to get through it for the same reason I can’t shove math at a 15 year old for 80 minutes straight without giving us all a break. Going off on a tangent can redirect us to the on ramp for a better view.
A break in routine is just what the doctor ordered. I ended up getting some brief time with loved ones ad a bonus, which meant more than what I was missing out on. Taking time for yourself also helps free up precious quality time with others. Teaching math is fun, but teaching it to students I’ve gotten to know, who sometimes are so engaged in our “off-task” conversation that they don’t even pull out their phone (big deal) is even more fun. A healthy routine is good. A break can make it great.
For three months straight, in the fall of 2011, I got to play tourist. Studying abroad in Spain meant Europe was my playground and Madrid was my home base. It was more than what I thought and hoped for; nothing less than what I expected. I learned more than just the material from my Spanish, Dance, and Art classes (which were the only classes I had that semester). It brought a new sense of self in me no other experience could.
I could write a novel on how my experiences from those three months still continue to shape my life. I could write an other, or maybe three, on how living with an incurable disease also shapes my life. And maybe I will.
My experiences in Spain were amazing. Having colitis and going through flares or living with the possibility of having an other is hard. Both are shaping me in different ways. But each journey brought rough patches (some rougher than others) and in the hard parts is where I found my true strength. Each journey also brought joy, but I needed the contrast to identify which part I was in. Without one side, we can’t truly understand the other.
Some things that exist or that we do every day or even every moment on this Earth; yet they happen without much thought or are easily overlooked:
Gravity. Unless we’re about to embark on a spacecraft, we don’t think to buy velcro toothbrushes or pressurized pens( so the ink will come out). And thank God our poop can be flushed or buried!
Breathing. Unless under an asthma attack, emphysema, or other breathing issues. Imagine, if you have never had to, not being able to fully inhale without coughing, hyperventilating, wheezing, or having a machine help you.
Seeing. Unless color blind, almost blind, or blind. Imagine, if you haven’t, that your observation of life is dark unless the sounds you hear are sweet.
Hearing. Unless hard of hearing, or deaf. The already imperfect manner of correctly conveying ourselves to one an other and to the world is sprinkled with yet an other obstacle in communication. It’s already hard enough sometimes for two people who can hear to fully understand an exchange. Imagine, if you haven’t had to, having to communicate with only your hands and body language everywhere you go.
Walking. Unless physically impaired for any reason. A trip to the kitchen is a mountain to tackle. And then you have to get to your bedroom…
Holding or feeling…anything. Unless you don’t have any arms or are physically impaired. Until any article of clothing you wear makes you feel boated or nauseous, you hardly notice the small pressure pants put on your stomach. Or the feeling of your hair as it brushes an other surface of your skin. Until you can’t carry a purse or move a book without getting achy or have sharp pains run through your body from the weight moving a half pound object, or until you don’t have any hair, you don’t think too much about these sensations.
We don’t think too much about the things that come easy to us or the things that fade into the background, until we do. Until, most times, we have to.
Food poisoning, traveler’s disease, and influenza are some conditions that can onset a flare in colitis patients. Some even think that’s how the disease is activated originally. Or so I’ve read. They are still researching causes and cures. But when I caught this deathly national flu a few weeks ago, I decided to think of my Spanish shoes instead of a possible flare-up.
My Spanish shoes have awesome soles. I have a few different types. I learned quickly to get rain boots, then there are the regular boots, and the flats. They all have one thing in common. Oh… actually two things. Style. Sole.
When I first got to Spain it was still summer. I had brought only flip-flops and sneakers but the flip-flops were easier to slide into so I wore those more and I wore them out fast! Not only that but my toes and heels were starting to crack and bleed. Amateur American afoot! The callouses I had built up we’re not holding up or new ones weren’t forming quick enough. Walking everywhere for everything you don’t realize how many miles a day you track. When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do!
I went shoe shopping. I went looking for the type of stylish shoes I saw all the classy young Spanish women wearing. Time to walk the walk (because talking the talk was taking me a while to learn anyway). I found some really cute and surprisingly really comfy shoes and realized as much walking as this city does, it’s no wonder I couldn’t find flip-flops. (If the Walmart of Madrid didn’t carry them, they probably didn’t exist.)
A week of wearing different shoes with sole support was what my poor heels and toes needed to callous correctly. Let the walking and exploring continue more comfortably! I remember tossing my flip-flops out and seeing my foot impression– literal foot prints in my shoes. The heels were threads away from being one with the ground and you could pick out every toe and infer my right foot turns out more than my left. But the wear only defined the soles of the shoe more clearly.
Wearing my flip-flops made me appreciate having any shoes at all, some people don’t even have that. My new shoes helped me see how worn my flip-flops had become and how many miles I was blessed to be able to walk. The new shoes helped heal the tenderness of old callouses while new ones formed.
Our souls will find a way to make their mold and their mark. We are more than our experiences. This too shall pass. Greet the challenges to be able breathe in the beauty. Because the impression Pain and Fear make crosses paths with the height of Hope and Joy.
I recovered from the flu and am still holding on to remission. Gravity can’t hold me down when Christ holds me up. Listening for Him, seeing His creations, feeling His presence. Breathing in…and out.
2 Corinthians 5:7
San Sebastián, Spain 2011
December. December was my light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s officially and finally December.
It was a hot Summer day in June when I remember waking up for the first time in a year not having to rush my body to the restroom before a crime scene happened in my bedroom. That being my “normal” for so long I couldn’t remember what it felt like to have confidence in my bodily functions or to go without a symptom for more than a few hours. The urgency, blood, bloating, cramping, stomach pains, lightheadedness, fatigue, and aches all slowly disippated.
“I’m starting the countdown again today.” I told myself. I had started one before but only made it a couple weeks before symptoms crept back.
Most Gastroenterologists say it takes six months free from colitis symptoms to be considered in remission. So as I re-marked and regathered more hope that this is the countdown that will actually count down, I looked forward to the holiday season more than ever. The holidays mean joy. They mean hope and celebrations. It also meant remission this year for me. When they wanted to start playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving, I was overwhelmed by relief with an other sign of the season changing, bringing me closer to my next official stage in my healing journey. Bring on the Christmas tunes!
My journey has taken me to extreme places. When you’re stripped of what you thought made you you, you start questioning who you really are. If you can’t get out of bed and do the things you love, your passions and commitments, what then? What’s left? How does the world see you? More importantly, how do you see yourself?
What if an Olimpian hurt themselves to the extent of abdicating their spot in the finals? Who are they to the world now? That’s all they’ve trained for, that’s all they know. That’s what the world knew them as. Now what? Now who are they? How do you go from being extraordinary to average? Kerri Strug’s story is both inspiring and humbling to me. After a fall that sprained her ankle she went on to win the gold. An instant inspiration and legand. Finding a new career path as an educator and being okay that her students didn’t know of her former life is humbling. But in the world of gymnastics, her legacy is fixed. What about the others who never got the chance? Like Inky Johnson. His name is only well-known now for what he did with his life after a fall left his arm paralyzed for life. He also was forced to leave behind the only world he knew and how the world knew him to create a different name for himself. His motivational speeches got me through some really rough days. Thank you, Inky.
Clothing. Have you ever missed the memo for dress attire? They always say when in doubt go all out. Better over dress and look the fanciest than to under dress and look the funniest. (Unless its a pool party and you come in your fresh-pressed black tie suit instead of a swimsuit.) Or, like when you outgrow your favorite pair of jeans. You didn’t realize how much confidence they gave you until you have to find a new pair. Even if you can find that same brand and same style, it fits differently. You feel different. Our clothes are an extension of how we like to make impressions. How would it change your confidence if you had to pick only one outfit for the rest of your life for any occasion?
On a deeper level- you lose a loved one. Someone you shared many moments with. Who supported you and encouraged you. You were understood when you were with them.
Who are we when we aren’t factoring in what we do/our passions, our style of clothing, or the people we surround ourselves with? These are the questions I wrestled with daily during my worst days especially.
This disease can be very lonely. I felt robbed of every joy I once knew. What I did or wanted to do. Clothes that put any pressure on my body, which was all of them except my old soccer shorts, I couldn’t stand to wear. I stopped making plans with friends because I didn’t want to have to cancel or explain why I wasn’t up for doing really anything they wanted to do. I was left with just myself. Who am I?
How could I stick the next landing like Kerri? How could I create a new name for myself like Inky? How could I just feel like I was living again?
Have faith in the fall. You won’t stay down forever. Make room to grow taller, be rooted deeper, and see from a different point of view. You can start brand new.
I went from being squeemish and looking away any time a phlebotomist even came close to me with a needle, to watching my own hand puncher my own skin to inject my new medication. I went from requiring makeup to be painted and stenciled on my face before anyone saw me, to usually wearing little or none even to work. I went from hiding my diet and coming up with false excuses why I couldn’t do something or why I HAD to do something, to openly and unapologetically disclosing my truth. I went from only taking days off of work for physical sickness, obligations, or appointments, to finally taking a day off for emotional and mental health. I went from hearing multiple former and current doctors sigh and look inquisitively at charts trying to figure out what to do for me and why what they’ve tried isn’t helping, to rejoicing today with my current doctors, family and friends that my body is finally responding and healing. I am in remission. Remission. A word that seemed so foreign a few months ago. I cry a lot but laugh even more. My gratitude has torn apart and upturned my once one-track prayer playlist. Every breath is seriously a gift.
The fall taught me this.
I am loved and highly favored and never alone. That’s who I am when I have nothing. Because when I felt like the least of myself, that’s when I felt His presence the most. Which is having everything.
The fear of a relapse is real. I am still learning and still growing in faith. I want to hold on to this new, old feeling of physical capabilities. But some times growth can only happen after a fall. If a seed avoids or lives afraid of falling there can never be new life. I’m learning to fall, and hoping to land in rich soil, while having faith that no matter where I land God is at my roots.
Too everything there is a season. I will never forget this Fall.
Blue blood is good. Red blood is bad. I always thought this. Somewhere someone told me that your blood inside your body is blue and when it comes in contact with Oxygen it turns red. Ergo, when I see blood it is red. Blood should stay inside the body.
So red is bad. Blue is good.
It’s crazy the conclusions we draw to make sense of the world around us. We all like to have answers. Not having an answer to a question drives us crazy and we come up with one “right” or “wrong” so that we can be at peace with the unknown.
Blood is still red inside our bodies. Just a different color red. (According to some quick Google clicks.) But it still makes me feel blue when I see it. I get overwhelmed with a sense of panic.
“Am I sick again?”
“Is it only a matter of time before I can’t do the things I want AGAIN?”
“This isn’t right. Some thing is wrong.”
I felt all of these when I saw blood this month. I’m doing everything right. Right? I don’t deserve to go backwards anymore. I earned a better chapter. I felt angry and sad. The dark shades of red and blue were all I could see. I was getting some red warning but my first reaction was blue saddness.
Whether or not this is “normal people” problems or my colitis acting up, I’m learning to remember:
Neither God nor life promise easy or grant what we think we’ve earned. His perfect plan can’t always thrive in an imperfect world. It is okay to be affraid so we can react for survival but not so much that we lose our peace. His great promise surpasses even our best days. He is always with us. And that’s enough to be thankful for.
Every color can be mixed with another. And you can always find a beautiful side or shade.
Maybe that’s why purple is my favorite color.
Joshua 1:6-9, Psalms 103:1-5