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Reflection on my first “Cancerversary”

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About this time one year ago, I was headed home from a church council meeting when I received a call from “Unknown.” On a hunch I pulled over and took the call. It was my primary  care physician–bless her–with the news I had already been steeling myself to receive. “Your biopsies were positive,” she said.

Yep, my old teacher cancer had returned after 14 years, metastasizing to my rib, back, hip, peritoneal and lung fluid (ascites). My very kind and thorough doctor promised to try to get me in with an oncologist in whom she had absolute trust, and she did. Within a couple of weeks I was receiving “palliative” chemotherapy every week (talk about a sobering turn of events). Taxol knocked out the problem with the ascites in short order, and to-date the existing lesions have remained stable with no new spots present on this summer’s CT scan.

Today (September 20, 2019) I celebrate this strange sort of anniversary, my first METS “Cancerversary.” It’s been a strange year indeed, with changes, losses, and a new measure of normal that has included:

  • Going from pink hair to no hair (but cool hats) to salt-and-pepper wavy hair,
  • Transitioning from working 50-70 hours a week to medical disability (I prefer to refer to it as my unplanned sabbatical),
  • Grieving the loss of the pastoral vocation that I truly love (at least the way I’ve been accustomed to ministering to others),
  • Trying to figure out what to do with myself now that I’m living in what my oncology team graciously refers to as “retirement,”
  • Watching myself age about a decade in twelve months,
  • Slurping more green smoothies, eating more salads and beans, and drinking more anti-cancer tea than I’d ever thought a human could consume,
  • Learning a new “normal” thanks to a variety of chemo side effects,
  • Discovering that multi-tasking and grossly overstuffed schedules are highly overrated,
  • and learning that, yes Sharron, our bodies really do have limits and if you push it too far for too long there will be a price to pay.

Yes, there’s been a fair share of loss and grief and pain in these last 365 days. But the yucky stuff will never get the last word in my life. There have also been some amazing gifts and “aha moments” during this trip around the sun with cancer. Here are a few highlights:

  • The very first thing I do every morning before my feet hit the floor is say “Thank you, God, for another day of life.” And I MEAN it with all my heart. Life is so precious and fleeting and beautiful. We need to celebrate every single day.
  • My beloved husband and I have found ways to spend more quality time together and savor every moment that we can squeeze out of each day.
  • Relationships with family and friends have taken on new poignancy, meaning, and vitality. I love and value you all SO much!
  • Emotions and chronological time are like amusement park rides–just hang on and prepare for change. Nothing lasts. Not pain. Not sadness. Not fear. Not joy. Not even the present moment (which is the very best place to be, I’m learning).
  • Cancer is not a death sentence. It’s a LIFE sentence. You learn while living with cancer what it means to savor life and appreciate everything. (Well most of the time. There have been a few moments that just plain suck.)
  • Creation is absolutely amazing. If I want to hug a tree, I will hug that tree for all I’m worth. I’ll smile at and speak to strangers. I can spend an hour just watching our new cat and marveling at how brilliant she is. I thank the plants before harvesting their bounty in our garden. So much of life takes on a brighter hue and vibrancy when you realize that we all contain the imprint of the universe and the breath of the Creator’s Spirit. Everyone matters and is beloved. Realizing and embracing this will change your life–trust me on this.
  • Hope is real. Attitude matters. Naps are bliss. Love wins.

So cancer, my teacher and companion, happy first anniversary. I can’t say that you’re my number one choice for how this life thing is going to play itself out, but here we are. So thank you for all that you’ve taught me this year about appreciating people, creation, and the present moment. Thank you for finally getting me to grind my overworked gears to a screeching halt so that I can finally listen for the Spirit’s whisper and divine direction. And, thank you for teaching me how to live better and love better. Yes, thank you.

That said, I still have a lot of living and learning to do, so let’s blow out the anniversary candle, raise high the glass of green smoothie, and keep on keepin’ on. L’Chaim!

(Photo: Jens Comiotto-Mayer, Creative Commons. Thanks!)

 

So long for now, Sergeant Spatula

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Today marks the end of an era. For the first time in almost 17 years, I find myself without a furry companion. We lost Pete more than two years ago, and today we said goodbye to our beloved pastel calico cat.

Sergeant Spatula came into our lives just after my first cancer surgery more than 14 years ago. We were living in upstate New York where I was a pastoral intern when my friend and my daughters conspired to bring this palm-sized bit of fluff and sass into our lives. She was born to one of Crazy Cat’s litters (yes, that was really her name) in friends and parishioners’ dairy barn, and complaining vociferously from her flea bath she entered our home (well, actually the Methodist Church’s parsonage) and hearts to stay.

Sergeant Spatula

Affectionately known as “Spatchy,” the Sergeant received her name and rank from my daughters, who were evidently in a military kitchen implement naming phase. Life with Spatchy was quite an adventure. In her first year she managed to pull down the Christmas tree, bolt outside during a storm and climb some 30 feet up in the neighbor’s tree, and regularly perform acrobatics by climbing pants legs and curtains. She could open doors and cabinets and drove my mother to distraction with her uncanny knack to know just where mom wanted to sit and beat her to it. She was, however, cute and cuddly, and that covers a multitude of feline misdemeanors.

Although she loathed the pet carrier, she was a stalwart traveler, moving from New York to North Dakota to Tennessee and finally to Pennsylvania. She put up with the indecencies heaped upon her out of pure love for her humans, allowing herself to be carried like a baby, wrapped up like a kitty burrito, dressed in humiliating Halloween costumes, and have her nails clipped to try (mostly unsuccessfully) to prevent the shredding of my husband’s leather sofas.

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The cat definitely had the proverbial nine lives. In North Dakota she ingested 18 inches of decorative ribbon with wire edges. Several hundred dollars, a long car trip, and an emergency surgery later, the Sergeant pulled through and came home with the pictures and ribbon retrieved from her gut to prove it. In Pennsylvania she was accidentally sprung from the back porch during  a package delivery. For three weeks we posted signs around our small town, followed up on every lead, put food out near potential sightings, and refused to believe that she had become coyote snack. To our great joy a skinnier but relatively healthy Sergeant Spatula turned up chilling on the den sofa one morning.

Despite her combat-themed name, she was a lover not a fighter and claimed not one mouse kill to her name. The chipmunks tormented her through the glass storm door, and so did the neighbor’s cat, Hugo. We are fairly sure, however, that she had a secret crush on him but was simply too proud to admit it. She also served as sermon inspiration and writer’s muse, usually by plopping her corpulent self on top of my keyboard.

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For the last several days she was clearly not herself. She hid her illness quite well, something the vet tech said cats were prone to do. After the ribbon incident in North Dakota she was always a picky eater, and she was aging, so we tried a procession of new foods with varying success. For the last 48 hours all we could get her to eat were a few bites of chicken baby food and vanilla ice cream.

A trip to the vet revealed advanced kidney disease with no real option to prolong her life without additional suffering, so we made the difficult decision to not allow her to suffer for our sake. That wouldn’t have been fair.

The staff at Colonial Park Vet Clinic deserves a shout out. They were wonderful and helped make her transition as smooth and easy as possible, and they honored our grief so very well. I am grateful to them.

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Why all this fuss about a cat? If you’ve never had a beloved animal companion, I’m not sure I can explain it. If you have loved and lost a fur friend, you know exactly what I mean. In fact, this old world would be a whole lot better if we loved each other like our animal companions love us. We have so much to learn from them.

Thank you, Sergeant Spatula, for the joy and laughter you brought into our lives, for the love we shared, and for the lessons you taught us. You are already so deeply missed.

Receiving the Cancer Participation Award

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Hi friends! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, but I’m back today to share with you the news that I have received the decidedly average Cancer Participation Award*. What is that, you may ask? Well, let’s put it this way: I had hoped at my most recent oncology check-up to find myself in possession of a first place award (i.e. news that my cancer had gone into remission). No such luck! Even though I’ve trained hard

  • drinking pond scum,
  • jumping on my mini-tramp,
  • eating enough salad, legumes, nuts, and seeds to make me feel like a Chia Pet,
  • praying/meditating,
  • practicing yoga,
  • and sweating to the oldies in the far infrared ray sauna (oh, wait–I AM the oldie thanks to the prune-shriveling and estrogen-blocking effects of letrozole),

my estrogen positive metastatic stage IV breast cancer is still present and accounted for and hanging out in my rib, spine, and hip. Woohoo!

Yes, despite all of this life-with-cancer training and healthy living the results of my July CT scan show absolutely no change from the January scan. That is good news, right? Yes. It means there is no progression to sideline me. I give thanks for that. But, typical human that I am, I had hoped for more.

“Is this the best we can expect?” my beloved spouse asked my oncologist as she stared intently at the monitor on which my latest results were displayed.

“Yes,” she said. And then she paused. “Well, no. I would have liked to see some regression with this protocol.

“But this is still good news,” she added. “And we have lots of tools yet at our disposal.”

Drat! Not even the second place award of some regression. Sigh.

Clearly my friend cancer still has a few things to teach me. Maybe I’m a slow learner? Perhaps this chemo cocktail is not the right one for me? Whatever the case, I’m still here and raising my glasses of pond scum and herb tea in the air. It’s been less than 11 months since I received that fateful phone call from my family practice physician, and I am most definitely not ready to throw in the towel on this precious thing we call life.

The downside? I won’t be able to return to work/ministry at the end of August. I still need to continue the focus on wellness and mind/body/spirit health and work faithfully with my oncology team. I need to listen and watch for the Spirit’s movements and design for my life. I need to live every precious moment to the best of my ability–not taking one second for granted.

Yes, I will take that cancer participation award and do so gladly. I have a lot more living to do, and I look forward to sharing the journey with you. Your prayers, intentions, beautiful cards and remembrances, calls and encouragement mean the world to me. You help keep me strong. Thank you for that. No matter how this journey ultimately plays out, cancer will not have the last word. It is my belief that thanks to The Christ, death has already been defeated for all of us. And that’s some very good news.

So, beloved and faithful team, here’s the cheer of the day in honor of the preciousness of life. Keep your eyes, hearts, and hands open. Be surprised by joy. Don’t despair. And…

Two, four, six, eight: Participate! Participate!

Life’s too short to let it fly past.

Get in the game; make each day last!

Two, four, six, eight: Participate! Participate!

*The medal is for illustration purposes only. It’s from the 2000 Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon. I won second place for my age division that year. The marathon I’m training for now is life, and there is indeed joy in the journey (pond scum and all)!

Remember that you are (star)dust…

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Ash Wednesday held new meaning for me this year with the stage IV cancer diagnosis. I’m six days in to my unplanned medical sabbatical (what I prefer to call my time on medical disability), and it’s been sobering to observe my body finally coming off of the adrenaline high that kept me going for far too long. This day has given me the permission to speak truth: I am tired. I am weary. My body needs this time of rest if there’s any chance to recover, heal, and hear those magic words “No Evidence of Disease.” I won’t get there by depending on myself or any imagined “super hero” abilities to defy death and appear magically in control.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These are the powerful and painful words my friend and colleague said as she marked my forehead with ashes this morning. I deliberately chose the quiet chapel service at the church she serves because I needed safe space to experience this moment in a new way, in the shadow of dis-ease and with the words “terminal” and “palliative” still ringing in my ears.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not throwing in the towel. I’m not crying “uncle” to the cancer cells. Not a chance! What I am doing is entering the season of Lent by acknowledging that the shadow of death is just over my shoulder, and my hope lies in God and God alone. But this is true for all of us. None of us is promised more than the present moment; we just choose to live like we have an unlimited span of life ahead. We can wipe that cross off our foreheads, but we can’t erase the truth of it.

Yep, nothing like Ash Wednesday and a cancer diagnosis to set the record straight. This is also a powerful gift to carry into the 40 days of Lent. Without this journey to the cross, without death, there can be no resurrection and no promise of real and lasting life. Only by walking the road to Jerusalem with Jesus and looking unflinchingly at death is there lasting hope or reason to live for something beyond oneself. This is the only path to the risen Christ.

Death will come for all of us–sooner or later. Deny it all you want; it won’t change the truth of it. Every day is a gift of God. Every breath is Spirit-infused. All of creation is held together in Christ. Or, as Eugene Peterson so beautifully renders this idea in The Message (Colossians 1:18b-20):

“From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”

None of us makes it to Easter without the painful reality of Lent. We need that ash cross to tattoo truth smack between our eyes. But here’s the thing: we are not just the dust you dump out of the vacuum bag into the rubbish bin. We are stardust. We are inextricably linked to one another, to all of creation, and to the Christ.

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As my friend marked that ashen cross on my forehead and said those somber words, I took courage and comfort in knowing there is so much more. Cancer may strip me of all my illusions of security, invincibility, and layers of self-defined identity and worth, but it will never have the last word. That belongs to God, and here is truth for me–and for you, for all of us: “Remember that you are the stuff of stardust, and to stardust you shall return.”

(Photos: sblezard and Gianni, Creative Commons License. Thanks!)

 

 

Hair Today. Gone Tomorrow.

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Today’s topic is about chemo and hair loss, although there’s a whole lot more going on than just the demise of my dearly beloved fierce pink tresses. The real subjects are attachments, fear, and letting go–three much more powerful issues that affect not only those in cancer treatment but pretty much all human beings at some point in life.

I went through the whole hair loss thing with the first cancer experience. Taking what measure of control I could, I had my head shaved and sent the ponytail to Locks of Love. It really didn’t bother me that much that I can remember. Perhaps it was because I was sure it would grow back, AND I’d have the added benefit of an outrageously expensive but effective perm. (Note: You have to look for the small bright spots and opportunities to laugh when dealing with cancer or any other life-threatening medical condition.)

Ready for chemo in 2004 with a pony tail for Locks of Love

This time felt different. Perhaps it was the difficulty of letting go of that brave, bright color my daughter so lovingly applied to my hair–a hot pink badge of courage. Maybe it was the comments from folks that this time my hair might not grow back like it did a decade plus ago; after all we’re dealing with long term treatment now as opposed to a once and done experience. It could be the reality of just one more indignity and loss of the illusion of control. After pondering the situation for a couple of months and getting used to my rad baldness and wardrobe of really cool hats, I think it’s something more–something that affects virtually all of us. That something is the power of attachments and the fear of letting go.

You see, the initial tears and sadness of having my beloved shave my head have given way to acceptance and even a kind of love for my bald look. It’s sassy. It’s real. It doesn’t try to pretend that my shorn skull is a fashion statement rather than a side effect of chemo. It’s not, in short, a cover-up of all that’s happening in my life. And therein lies the dilemma.

I am now quite okay with my bald pate and the many lovely, quirky, and precious caps and hats that so many friends and family have made and/or given (I treasure your love and care. Thank you!). Yet sometimes I wonder if I’m becoming too attached to the present state of being. You’d probably never know I am living with stage four cancer if it weren’t for a shiny noggin (and the persistent fatigue). After all, bald IS beautiful, and I’ve embraced rocking the look.

My Buddhist friends will say that nothing lasts. The Buddha teaches that almost all of our struggles–anxiety, anger, sadness, frustration, grief, worry, despair, etc.–all stem from one source: being too tightly attached to something or someone. Jesus had a few things to say about attachments and possessions, too (Check out Mark 10:17-31, Luke 6:32-36, Luke 12:15, Luke 14:33, Luke 15:11-32, Luke 18:18-22, Matthew 5:1-7:29, Matthew 6:2-4, Matthew 6:19-25, Matthew 16:24-26, Matthew 23:25-26 to get started. Pastor, teach thyself!).

I can understand how past attachments may have contributed to my present state of dis-ease, and I confess that for me letting go is definitely not as easy as I would like for it to be. I also know I’m not alone. If it was easy to let go there would be far fewer struggles and pain. We humans are not experts at holding loosely to our lives, possessions, and relationships. Sure, some things are easier to let go of than others, but we all have our “sticky stuff” that prevents us from being truly free.

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To learn to let go of attachments takes intention and practice. Whether you choose prayer, meditation, or some other discipline, the important thing I’m learning is to be gentle with oneself in the process. My most difficult attachment is to the value (both real and perceived) of my vocational life. I’ve been taught to work hard, to work until the job is done, and to do the very best work possible. Unfortunately, a good teaching has become over time both a coping mechanism to avoid dealing with past pain in my life and an attachment that is detrimental to my overall health and well-being (not to mention that of my loved ones). I could definitely take a regular seat in an Overworkers Anonymous meeting!

And here’s the thing: There is no badge of honor for working oneself to the bone, to ill health, or to death. My friends, don’t wait for the death part to figure this out, no matter what attachment(s) to which you may be clinging with ferocity. Learn to let go while you have the choice and opportunity. Do it better than I have done until now. Don’t wait for cancer, heartbreak, or other life altering event to stop you in your tracks and force you to learn. Oh, and rock your wonderful self just as you are. You are enough. You are beloved! It’s okay to let go and be you.

Note: Need somewhere to start? Check out Leo Baubuta’s blog post “The Zen Habits Guide to Letting Go of Attachments.” He offers five practices you may find helpful.

 

 

Marathon (cancer treatment) Training

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I know there’s been a long (truly unintended) digital silence here. I’ve started a few posts, but I’ve simply lacked the energy and dedicated writing time to finish them. What I have learned is that cancer treatment for stage four metastatic breast cancer is definitely more like a marathon than a sprint, and training/treatment/healing is a time-consuming and “all-in” effort.

Last Friday we met with my oncologist to review a recent CT Scan after three months of IV chemotherapy with paclitaxel (Taxol) and denosumab (Xgeva). The news is best described as cautiously optimistic, and my oncologist seemed pleased with this report. While my hope is to hear those words “radical remission,” we are not there yet. The good news is that all the ascites (fluid build-up containing cancer cells) in my peritoneum is gone, as is the pleural effusion in my right lung. My liver, which had been somewhat questionable on the first scan now appears normal. It’s good news that the lesion on my tenth posterior rib shows post-treatment effects. Go little yew tree, go! (Note: Taxol is derived from the Pacific Yew Tree.) It is a hopeful sign that there is no growth in the other lesions or in the two lung nodules, and that there are no new lesions or nodules.

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Photo Credit: By Cancer Research UK – Original email from CRUK, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34333556

 

(Note: Skip the next paragraph if medical/pharmaceutical details put you to sleep. I’m learning to speak a new language in order to understand my treatment and condition.)

The new plan  is to switch my chemo cocktail to palbociclib (Ibrance) and letrozole (Femara) to address the cancer cells from another angle. I’ll still keep taking the monthly denosumab shot, which is a RANKL inhibitor that helps keep the cancer from breaking down my bones. Palbociclib is a reversible small molecule cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor that blocks certain proteins in the cells (specifically cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) 4 and CDK 6). For hormone positive breast cancers like mine this can help stop the cancer cells from dividing and making new cells. Letrozole blocks the enzyme aromatase–used to convert androgens into estrogen. The end result should be a reduction in the number of cancer cells produced and the size of my lesions and nodules. If I’m lucky, it will help push me toward radical remission; however, there’s a lot more that goes into that process. Like my previous chemo cocktail, there are some pretty unpleasant probable and possible side effects (boo!). Given the choice or side effects or not living as long, I’ll take my chances on the side effects and keep addressing the situation with complementary therapies, wrapped in some serious prayer.

(Non-medical/pharmaceutical readers should begin reading again now.)

Complementary therapies that I am using include aforementioned prayer, meditation (aiming for at least 30 minutes per day), monthly spiritual direction, exercise (yoga and walking),  hyperthermia treatments (daily far infrared sauna sessions), some aspects of the Gerson protocol (not juicing yet–doing green smoothies instead), supplements (Transfer Factor) and dietary adjustments (raw as much as possible, as green as can be, mostly organic, avoiding processed foods, sugar, oil, and alcohol). Depriving cancer cells of the sugar they love and need to replicate, and using heat because cancer loves a cold environment are two key elements of my complementary therapies. The hardest thing for me so far is getting adequate rest because I am still working full-time in a demanding vocation that I absolutely love. Finally, I’m trying to look at cancer as a teacher rather than an enemy. That’s why you won’t hear me use the words “fight cancer.” Instead I’m trying to embrace the reality and learn from this difficult teacher.

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The first Sunday in the parish sporting my “new look.” Folks have been amazingly supportive and adaptive–right down to the youngest (who is about to put a band-aid on my head in this photo.)

 

Yes, this is not a sprint. I remind myself that it took time for my body to get in this situation. I was first diagnosed with stage II/III breast cancer in 2004 and declared “cancer free” in 2005 (a false truth–more on that later), so I had a good long run without the influence of cancer as teacher and companion. Now it’s back, and it’s going to take a total surrender to my own will and a willingness to learn and be in new ways to experience healing.* I’ve laced up my trainers and am ready to keep up the work of living with this condition, learning from this teacher, and  seeking healing and radical remission.  I am so grateful for your many expressions of kindness, care, encouragement, and love. Above all I am thankful for your prayers that keep me lifted up when the going gets tough (and it does some days).

*I use the word “healing” rather than “cure” deliberately. Healing is a much richer and holistic notion that includes mind, body, and spirit.

 

We.

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“No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee….”

— John Donne, from “Meditation 17: Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”

We are all beloved and beautiful. We are all broken. We do things and make decisions that cause hurt, pain, and suffering–for ourselves and for others. We also do things and make decisions that get it right and bring joy and hope to this crazy world in which we live. It’s a mixed bag, but one thing is for certain, we do not do this thing called life alone. Even when we try, we are never truly alone; biology, physics, psychology, and theology provide ample evidence of that.

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You. Me. I. We. All of us are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We even share air. Our matter does not go out of existence, simply changing form. The same sunset (I rarely get up early enough to see a sunrise) I watch is enjoyed by countless others–past, present, and I suspect, future. Whether you have deep faith in a creative and sustaining God, have serious doubts that such a God exists, or choose to believe that everything is random and pointless, you still are not alone. You are not an island.

Dearly beloved, own what is yours. Claim your stuff. Pick up your own baggage (and preferably work your way through it and come out the other side much lighter). Understand that you are responsible for your own decisions and actions, those that are good and those that are harmful. But, in the process, for heaven’s sake, don’t carry others’ baggage for them.

Do not accept blame for that which is not your doing. Do not accept the projection of someone else’s stuff and nonsense to become an image of your own. Do not be beaten down or manipulated by the abusive behaviors and rhetoric of those who would ask you to carry their burdens, accept their blame, and wallow in their muck and misery. This is not your work in life. This is not why you were created and gifted.

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Name that which is not yours to carry. Set it down. Leave it behind–gently, yet firmly. Be angry and hurt. That is part of being human; however, do not carry that bitter baggage for long. It will only poison you and give those who would abuse your good will power that is not earned or deserved. Lay it down. Put it to rest. Commend it to the dust of discarded memory and look to the path that lies ahead.

We are not islands. We are meant to thrive in connection and abundance and joy. We are designed for relationship–right relationship that does not pawn guilt or spawn dis-ease. We are called to co-create, not co-depend. Do not be trapped by those who would abuse you into believing otherwise. Do not believe the lies that are myriad and maddening.

Yes, all of us are broken. This is truth. But, my dearly beloved, I believe with all my heart that the arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice (thank you, Dr. King) and that hope is the thing with feathers (thank you, Miss Dickinson) and that you and I, we, all of us, are meant to soar.

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So collect your broken pieces, beloved, sweep them up and treasure them. Examine their uniqueness and know they have purpose and place in this puzzle we call life. Put them back together like divine Kintsugi–with the gilt of goodness, the cement of courage, and the fire of beauty. You will be stronger in your broken pieces that reform to make a new whole.

There is such beauty in your brokenness restored. There is such hope for the world in your reclaimed flaws. There is such joy in the cosmos when you decide to be fully you. We are not islands, you and I; we are the stuff of stars and the entire cosmos hums within us. We are. Loved. Original. Beautiful. Broken. Yet Enough. Not because of anything we could say or do or even deserve. We are because the Creator of the spangled night sky and the tiniest ant spoke us into creative, connected existence. This is truth that hums and sings and weaves us together.

That’s us, my beloved. We.

 

Photo Credits: S. Blezard, Bill Cuffrey, June’s Child. Creative Commons License. Thank you.

Band-aids, Duct Tape, and the Fragile Fine Art of Holding-it-all-Together

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Breathe. Just breathe.

Sometimes this is easier said than done. Sometimes it feels like each breath is an act of sheer will that may crumble into a spasm of tears despite your very best efforts.

BE strong. Chin up buttercup. YOU can DO this. You can hold your fraying self together in a presentable public package that says “I have it all together. My life is picture-perfect Facebook and Instagram ready at any moment.”

This is a lie. Plain and simple.

Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Your life is more than a filtered iPhone photo moment in time illusion. Your precious existence is more important than a stiff upper lip. Much more.

We are, all of us, multi-dimensional flesh-and-blood-and-bone messes. I am a cracked pot, a broken bowl of quivering, quaking, quantized humanity. So are you. We are fallen, fragile, frayed, and fallible.

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We are also the stuff of stars. We are dust and dirt, light and laughter, pain and sorrow, joy and hope.

And all of that is truly impossible to hold together 24/7. Yet for some reason, a lot of us keep on trying (and buying and consuming and falling short of the incredibly high bar we set for ourselves). Here’s the thing:

No one gets out of this life unscathed.

Your public face, you know, the one you want the world to see and believe is incredibly fragile. Its smoke and mirrors image is possible only through the careful application of mental duct tape and emotional Band-aids artfully applied to keep the real you from seeing the light of day.

The truth of the matter is that life is hard–especially when one tries to go it alone and keep all the plates spinning, the balls in the air, and the “perfecto-meter” in high gear. Holding our human mess together is a fragile fine art.

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Want to master it? Sure you do. So do I. So do all of us if we are honest.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all handy-dandy recipe for instant life success. The technique is learned only in the living. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my multiple attempts at getting life right. The list is by no means exhaustive, and what works for me may not work for you at all. Heck, it doesn’t even work for me 100% of the time. We are works in progress, people in process, and dearly beloved by the Creator of the Cosmos. So here goes. Feel free to use what you can.

  1. Quit trying so hard. You do not have to impress anybody. Your job is to live this one precious life and be who you are created to be.
  2. Life works better in community. This means you need to find a diverse group of folks to walk alongside you on this crazy journey. The old saying “there’s safety in numbers and more fun, too” has a real ring of truth to it.
  3. Be vulnerable. Yep. You heard me right. Let down your guard. You will get hurt. Perhaps often. You will hurt others because you are human. But the alternative sucks. Crafting a protective shell around yourself adds unnecessary weight and prevents you from fully enjoying all that life has to offer–both the highs and the lows.
  4. Be generous. Life is more about giving and sharing than getting. You don’t get to take ANYTHING with you when you leave. Most likely people won’t really want the stuff you leave behind, so save them the trouble and travel light NOW.
  5. Take risks. This is the only way you will grow (refer to #3 again). Don’t be stupid, but know that safety and certainty are highly overrated.
  6. Don’t work solely for the money. Passion and joy should be an important part of your compensation package. If you are working only for the money, it will never be enough. You will always need (translate want) more.
  7. Travel. See the world. Meet people. Expand your horizons and value experiences over possessions. Oh, and be sure to travel light (refer to #4 again). You don’t need as much as you may think you do.

Remember: Life is short. Make the most of it. Quit worrying about perfection and appearances. Be real. Ditch the duct tape and Band-aids. If you fall apart, then pick yourself up and try again. Then you’ll be able to breathe. Well, most of the time.

Photos: vagawi and Ansel Edwards, Creative Commons. Thanks!

 

Where Did Lent Go?

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Why yes, Lent has come and gone for another year. My Lenten discipline of plastic-less living has timed out (theoretically), and I didn’t write about the journey once. Not one time. Let’s just say life got in the way in some really big ways. More about that later.

So what about all those plastic avoidance tactics? Were they just so many words?

Actually…no. You may remember my goal was to eliminate these seven simple plastic “sins” from my Lenten life:

  • plastic cutlery
  • straws
  • bottled water
  • take-away beverage cups
  • plastic toothbrushes
  • plastic shopping bags
  • take-away containers
  • plastic wrapped toilet paper

I made some significant progress. I managed to avoid plastic cutlery all during Lent. When we take our lunches (which is frequently) we either pack metal cutlery or use some from the office. That one was pretty easy.

Straws were a bit trickier. I don’t use them at home, and I normally don’t use them when I’m dining out either. Only one time did I almost fail. I say almost because I thoughtlessly began to peel the paper from the offending article because everyone else at the table had already done so. I stopped, and sadly I’m sure that unused straw with the damaged wrapping ended up in the trash anyway. But I did stop, and I have reflected frequently on the power of peer pressure, societal conformity, and normative behavior that works against plastic avoidance. Some restaurants even bring you straws in your water WITHOUT ASKING.

Bottled water was easy. I have a lovely stainless steel water bottle (thanks, Maggie!) that helps me say NO to plastic disposable bottles. I carry it everywhere.

Takeaway beverage cups were also pretty easy. I have a stainless steel coffee mug that I fill at home. It’s cheaper than purchasing coffee out–and much more environmentally friendly. Plus, the coffee we make at home is usually better. I will admit to drinking from a Starbucks takeaway cup once this month. It was a lovely and thoughtful gift/gesture from my husband who was taking pity on my early-morning-caffeine-needy brain before an important presentation. It’s not something I would have done for myself, but one should never refuse radical generosity given in love.

No more plastic toothbrushes for me! I have switched to bamboo and won’t go back. It’s been a happy switch after the first couple of days of getting used to the “mouth feel” of unfinished bamboo vs. smooth plastic. Yes, it’s a little bit more expensive (but not significantly more than a good plastic toothbrush), but I feel better about the choice. n added plus with the brand I bought is that there was no plastic packaging! The four pack was completely packed in recyclable paper Woohoo!

Plastic shopping bags are something already we try at all costs to avoid. We carry reusable cloth bags in all of our cars; however, occasionally we do get caught out without our bags. There were at least two occasions that I had to resort to plastic during the month (for shame!). In retrospect, I could have asked to have the items loaded back into my cart and hauled them home in the trunk sans bags. One lives and learns.

Because we rarely dine out, take-away containers are not usually a concern. This month, however, we did order in Indian food for my birthday, so we ended up with some plastic and Styrofoam containers. We did recycle them, but still. We could have opted to dine out and bring our own glass take=away containers.

The purchase I’m most proud of during this Lenten discipline was toilet paper. I looked in the stores at the price of toilet paper wrapped in paper. All I could find were single rolls, and they were almost double the cost of comparable rolls wrapped in plastic. I am a frugalista, so that was simply unacceptable. I looked on line at office supply stores and found a cardboard case of 80 rolls of Angel Soft commercial grade at 40% discount. Wow! Who would have thought one could get so pumped about purchasing toilet paper?

In the end, I’m convinced that we could all live with a lot less plastic if we simply try and are aware of our purchases and choices. I’ve made some good changes that I’ll keep on doing–buying TP in bulk and using bamboo toothbrushes, for example. I will also keep on trying to avoid plastic in other areas of my life, including avoiding purchasing items that are grossly over-packaged in, yep–you guessed it–PLASTIC.

What tips do you have to avoid plastic whenever possible?

Photo: Your Best Digs, Creative Commons. Thanks!

 

 

Lenten Plastic-Less Discipline

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Every year for the liturgical season of Lent, I identify one or more disciplines on which to focus and practice for the six week season. This year, I was convicted by a Facebook post to choose going plastic-less. I say “plastic-less” because as I’ve been preparing for this discipline I’ve become ever more aware of just how prevalent plastic is in our world and in our daily lives. Some people, like Julie Fathy and Béa Johnson, manage to do an amazing job at eliminating all or most plastic (and other forms of waste) from their lives, but it’s tough and it takes effort.

Thanks to Sarah Wilson I’m removing eight simple kinds of plastic from my life, hopefully way beyond Lent. No more

  • plastic cutlery (I have a backpacking set to use)
  • straws (don’t use them anyway)
  • bottled water
  • take-away beverage cups (they’re plastic lined–ick)
  • plastic toothbrushes
  • plastic shopping bags (I already try to use cloth.)
  • take-away containers
  • plastic wrapped toilet paper

My biggest challenge is to find bamboo toothbrushes locally so I don’t have to increase my carbon footprint by ordering them–and that has to be done by Wednesday. Everything else should be pretty easy to implement, a little more difficult to remember, and hopefully habit-forming.

What are you choosing for a Lenten discipline this year?

(Photo: Dean Hochman, Creative Commons. Thanks!)