“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
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
Yesterday I told my counselor how blessed I felt. Our sessions usually begin with prayer and as he prayed welcoming God to be present and lead our conversation I began weeping uncontrollably. My tears have never cared about timing or company. When they want to flow there’s no stopping them no matter time of day or who’s around. To hear an other human being pray over and for you is one of the most divine experiences and in that moment I was overwhelmed by gratitude and grace.
“So how are you?” He said as if my face wasn’t resembling a broken sprinkler head–doing anything it can to stay grounded while spilling out into places in no need of watering… (I assume he is used to tears but I still felt ridiculous.)
I gathered enough cohesive words to try to explain my state. How every day I still wake up wondering what my body will allow me to do and every day that it’s an other good health day I am more and more grateful. I can’t even find a better word than grateful. Beyond grateful. My gratitude surpasses the small definition Google supplies.
Grateful: feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful.
I told him all the things I feel capable of doing now. Among flute, yoga, and watercolor classes, more time with friends, hiking again, just being able to do my job and enjoy it– one was being blessed to be there for my coworker, just as he had for me. I get to watch as my department pulls together to cover his classes and help during his absence. This time I am blessed to be a helper. And being on the other side of sickness is where most people would rather be.
While I was in the hospital, all my students still needed tests graded and papers copied. Life went on. And my coworkers carried my load. But I felt like a burden to all my coworkers who had added my list onto theirs.
And I was.
Burden: a load, especially a heavy one.
I added more weight onto some coworkers, family, and friends. I was a burden.
“And it’s okay to be. Everyone is. Even healthy people.” My counselor let those words hang around me until they settled in. I didn’t realize I still felt bad about leaving my coworkers with my work, yet I am feeling blessed to help someone carry theirs now. The same way I was helped I get to help. And I would much rather be on the giving side than receiving side. But there is a season for both. And both bring blessings.
Blessing: God’s favor and protection.
We are all blessing and burdens but Christ is carrying us and goes before us. So when we can help each other, we literally become the hands of Christ.
Giving of ourselves is just as important as receiving from others. When we are in need, its important to allow others to be blessed to give to you so you can be blessed. When you see a need, give what you can and be blessed. Everyone wins!
Bother: effort, worry, or difficulty.
We are not meant to be seen as a bother to each other. As long as we stay gracious, it is okay to be a burden.
It is beyond okay.
( Photo taken 4 years ago after I sprained my ankle and was carried home.)
We all need reminders. You usually don’t sit and watch the seconds go by when you bake a turkey. You set an alarm. Life demands our time and we like to fill it up. We get the green beans boiling and potatoes cut while getting lost in a TV show. But then we need that reminder. The alarm sounds. The Turkey needs tending. It is finished.
A huge and unforgettable alarm went off in my city a week ago. Since this alarm went off, people have come in masses to turn it off. Blood banks and charity centers got so many donations they actually had to turn people away. Las Vegas responded to crisis with an outpouring of love and generosity. There are so many stories of good triumphing in the mist of and in response to such a horrific event. My heart aches for anyone in the line of destruction, man or nature inflicted.
But we can’t stop. We can’t sit and count the seconds until the next alarm. As we continue to pick up the pieces, nurse our wounds, and start the healing process there is a ticking in the air. When will the next alarm sound?
Do not fear: I am with you;
do not be anxious: I am your God.
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Why does bad happen to the good and the innocent? We all are trying to figure it out. We all have our own “correct opinions”. It seems making sense of evil is a losing battle. I’d rather fight the good fight. We owe it to the people who lost their lives so unexpectedly. How can we live in a better and safer world? We owe it to our future. We owe it to our present. We don’t know when our time will come but we do have now.
When our bodies are under attack from a virus it doesn’t just affect one organ. Everything is connected. Our throats might swell but our entire body aches.
We all carry our own cross but we are all connected. If we don’t help ourselves, we can’t help our neighbor. If we can’t help our neighbor then our community will ache. If our community aches we can’t help ourselves. Because without support from our community we live alone. And that’s not how we were designed to live.
We you can give, give all you can. When you are in need, ask and receive.
Proverbs 3:27, Matthew 7:7
If we set our own alarms we might be able to avoid someone else’s wake up call but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help them rise. It could’ve been ours.
For the past month, about two times a week, I get a visit from a student at my school at the end of the day. The first day he walked into my room I did not expect what came out of his mouth.
“Do you need help?” He asked.
I stared at him incredulously. He read my face and elaborated.
“I am going around asking teachers if they need help with anything. I just finished helping my English teacher alphabetize. If there’s something you need done, I’d love to help.”
“Why?” Was the only word I could find. I couldn’t believe a student who I don’t have, who I never met or even saw before would be so giving of his time.
“Because teachers need help.”
I was three blocks away, three hours before the shooting. I watched people singing and dancing to music I love. I wanted to be there with them enjoying the nice evening. I watched for a little, tapping my foot and nodding my head. Then I left and safely made it home.
This week I took every class at my gym I could make it to. I stretched my healed body through long yoga poses. I danced and swung my attached and unbruised limbs around a Zumba class. I lifted weights and put miles on the treadmill.
I am alive. My body has known dispair but today I can dance…and I praise God for the opportunities both then and now.
“I’m sorry you can’t eat this.” Was a remark I used to let hang in the air around me as I ate my bland, no seasoned, mushy, baby-like foods. That was all I could stomach. I watched people eat juicy and savory meals be consumed around me in shame or guilt sometimes because it was so much better than what I could eat.
If you CAN eat it; it’s good for you, and you enjoy it, then eat it without guilt. And give thanks.
If you CAN dance, it’s good for you; enjoy it without shame. And give thanks.
Share your story. Listen to other people’s. Be a light. Be kind.
I’m inspired by the selfless generosity a student and my community can give. I’m inspired by instructors who encourage people to “move your body because you can”. I’m continuing to wake up to new alarms. Some I set. Some are from others. But every one is an opportunity to tend to a need. His table is a banquet set for us all to enjoy. It is finished.
John 19:30, 2 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I remember the first time as a kid I ate ice cream in a cone on my own. Before, Daddy was always willing and ready to help slurp up the messy licks. But I was a big girl now. The best was when I got to the first crunchy bite with the cone. The refreshing cold sweetness of the smooth chocolate scoop now had and extra texture. Crunch and cream were definitely meant to be together.
But then I looked at my brother munching away with a bigger cone for the older kids. His was a waffle cone. Mine was a small sugar cone. His had the solid chololate at the bottom of the cone, like an extra surprise in a cereal box (can you tell I’m a 90’s kid?) so it wouldn’t melt through. Genius. Mine didn’t. I wanted one like his too, now. Even his mint ice cream seemed like a better choice than my plain chocolate. I looked down at mine now slowly making chololate paths on my forearms. Daddy to the rescue…
I didn’t get to finish my own ice cream and cone on my own as a big girl because I was too busy looking at and wishing what I could’ve had.
Adult me would tell my big girl me that mine was just as good. That I am and always will be a plain eater. So I like chocolate more than mint chocolate chip. But maybe pick the waffle cone next time.
We look at what other people have so we can see what we want. Some times it’s for us and sometimes it’s not. But when we spend too much time looking we miss out on enjoying what’s in front of us. I’ve been my big girl me in my adult body lately. I want to do it all now that I can. I want to say yes to everything and experience everything I felt robbed of while I was in the Great Flare of 2016 and most of 2017. I get jealous of people who seemed to make life milestones happen while I still feel stuck and in my own way.
As I get closer to remission I am slowly no longer seeing myself as sick. I reached a healthy weight. I’m less anxious about everything I put in my mouth. I’m taking more time for me every day and I don’t feel guilty about it. My hair isn’t falling out as quickly. Just this last weekend I physically felt capable of making a trip to Denver for a worthwhile 24 hours to be with some dear friends. I can go to work and not worry about making it to the restroom. I am making my own milestones. I simply need to remember what matters and “see the light in the tunnel, not just at the end” as my friend Kristinna would say.
We search for more until we have less.
Once you don’t even have your own sweet ice cream cone to finish yourself you realize you shouldn’t have ever been jealous of an other cone. Yours was more than enough to be grateful for.
Enjoying every lick of life.
Today was recycling day at school. As my students quietly tested I not so quietly lugged five bins of papers and poster projects to the door for them to pick up. I watched old and familiar handwriting from kids I’d gotten to know so well and all the hard work they’d shown me fall in clumps into the big bin. And for a split second I thought, “It’s time to begin again.”
I’m well aware we are a good three weeks in to this school year. I know very well that I have 200 new faces who call me their teacher. I just haven’t been able to call them my students yet. Until today.
To some, I’m a hoarder. To others, a keepsake displayer. However you look at it, I hold on to things. I like to be reminded of all the good I’ve got going on, because I know some times it can get bad. Last year when I was struggling to get to school, my students always helped make it worth my while. They’ll never know just how much I needed that.
So after I watched their work vanish in the big black bin, I turned to look at my new students and the empty walls around them that will soon be decorated with their own work. “Out with the old, in with the new” only applies to the work I throw out, not to the memories. I can keep every single one of those forever.
Sometimes when I use the restroom at school I still get flashbacks to when the urgency, bloating, cramps, blood, and fatigue ruled my life. But when I’m in my classroom I am safe. I try to make that space safe for anyone inside it, too.
Being in transition from a flare that lasted for 17 months towards remission this coming December has prolonged certain things while inspired others. Since I technically can’t say I’m in remission until I have gone six months with no symptoms, I still find myself holding my breath every morning as I make my way to the restroom.
“Will it be an other good day?”
I still have a stock pile of Depends, I still question everything I put in my mouth, I still am anal (pun intended) about the exact time I take my meds every day, and I still make sure the type of clothing I wear around my waist isnt too tight. I have been holding on to the fear of it returning. I’m working on letting this go, too, though simultaneously cutting myself some slack that it’s okay to not toss something out until I’m ready.
I have been able to let other things go though to make room for new. It’s like when it rains. It could be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s always good for our Vegas desert but bad if you get stuck in flooded waters. But either way we all have to wash our cars afterwards. Washing away any good or bad stains.
My time for me is vital and I have made it a priority. I stop when I’m tired. I eat when I’m hungry. I drink when I’m thirsty and gosh golly I use the restroom just as much as before except it’s normal now.
It’s not selfish to put yourself first. My past taught me this. My present is putting this into action so I don’t have a repeat in the future.
We all should be putting ourselves first. We shouldn’t need a reason to either. No one’s past history is any more deserving of self care than another’s. We can make room for new things. We can move on. We can give even more when we’ve had time for ourselves.
I’m ready to give my time to my new students. The best of me. Not just what’s left of me.
The past doesn’t have to be forgotten. The present shouldn’t have to compete for attention.
Let the past pass and the present unfold so a healthy future can be told.