"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." Brother David Steindl-Rast

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Not Always Fair, Always Precious (Point #16)

Today I am grateful for this blog and how it helps me keep gratitude in the forefront of my thinking.I am also grateful for my counseling colleagues and the support we offer one another.

Point of clarity #16 is "Life isn't always fair, but it's still precious."

We are all entitled to moments of "life isn't always fair." There are plenty of examples we could all rattle off. If asked, I would rattle off:

-it's not fair my dad died before my son was born
-it's not fair I can't drink anymore
-it's not fair I got breast cancer (or my two sisters, or my friends either)
-it's not fair that depression runs in my family
-it's not fair...

See, it's easy to rattle off how life has been unfair to us. Easy, but not very helpful. Have your moments, but don't stay there.

It really boils down to dwelling in the "poor mes" or dwelling in a place of gratitude.

If I focus on what I don't have, what I didn't get, and so on, life starts to feel quite unfair.Conversely, if I focus on what I do have, what I have been given, life feels full and rich. I don't feel mistreated. I feel blessed.

Blessed with precious gifts like life, my five senses, air to breathe, family, friends, faith, love, goals, working legs and arms, food to eat, a heated house, a closet full of clothes, time, today, this moment.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Great Teachers (Point #15)

Today I am grateful for the arrival of Ellaina, the first child of my niece Stacy and her husband Drew.What a joy to think about being a brand new parent and the total sense of amazement that comes with it. I am also grateful for humor. It helps me lighten up when I get wound too tight.

Point of clarity #15: Children and pets are great teachers.

Sam was six when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Emily was 13 and Arthur 17. Kids may not say much, but they are thinking more than we realize. During the thick of my surgeries and chemo, we tried to give the kids enough information to help them understand what I was going through, age appropriately. We answered their questions. We kept a routine around the house and in our lives as much as we could, because that helps kids keep a sense of stability. It helped Darcy and I as well.

In return, Sam especially, taught me about resilience. About laughter always being possible. About the little things really mattering. Reading a bedtime story. Playing catch. About priorities. Most days I was a mom first and a BC patient second. That helped me too.

Emily and Arthur helped remind me that my cancer didn't need to be front and center all the time.They didn't say much, but I know it scared them more than Sam in ways because they could fully grasp what it meant to have cancer. But all three children helped me to consider what it might be like through their eyes. Sam didn't need the details, he needed mom to tuck him in at night. I tried to look at things from their perspective then and I still do now. It helps.

We only have one pet. His name is Oliver and he's an apricot-colored cockapoo. He converted me to a pet person in no time. Read about the timing of his arrival in our lives here. See him in my profile picture. Oliver and my post-cancer self grew up together, so he has taught me plenty.

Here are just a few of those lessons:
*Taking daily walks is a great way to follow the seasonal changes.
*If there's no one around to play with, just take a nap.
*Stretch when you get up.
*Take care of your basic needs first.
*Keep your mind clear.
*Always be happy to see your loved ones.
*Personality and cuteness aren't just for humans.

And the list could continue, but I wouldn't want it to go to his head. He already has us wrapped around his paw.

What can we learn from our children and pets today? Have a good day!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Blessing In So Many Ways (Point #14)

Today I am grateful for support in recovery from alcoholism from both family and friends. I am also grateful for the laughter of my son and husband. What a nice sound!

Point of clarity #14: "My husband is a blessing in so many ways."

This one's for you Darcy.

He's been a blessing in my life since we met. Our marriage was strong and in year #10 when we faced my cancer diagnosis together. He was with me every step of the way; at appointments, surgeries, chemo, listening and processing with me as I made decisions. With me as my body changed after each surgery. With me to share the fear, the relief, the humor that worked its way into some moments. He showed a loving tenderness and compassion that meant so much during difficult times. Our marriage is stronger today.

Darcy and I temper one another in many ways. We aren't total opposites, but we definitely have our differences. Sometimes it is one another's tempers that we help temper. I so appreciate that he is quick to forgive and forget. I am still working on that quality myself. He accepts me as I am, better than I do myself at times.

After yet another run done together this last Saturday, I am so very grateful we share running as our hobby. It's more than a hobby. It's for our health and overall wellness. But it is great to have a running partner and motivator in the same house. We help one another keep moving and we honor our bodies by trying to take care of them and give them what they need. I think our children have picked up on our example at least some.

We take plenty of walks together too. On those walks and runs, we talk, we get caught up, we help one another unload and vent work or other frustrations. Even when it is one another we may be frustrated with, we are often able to talk it out and follow that age-old wisdom--"Don't go to bed angry."

Darcy is also a tremendous father to all of his children. What a blessing that is for all of us! He has been able to put difficulties about his past and his relationship with his own father in the proper perspective. I have great respect for him because of that.

Thanks Darcy! You truly are a blessing in so many ways.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Keep Priorities Straight (Point #13)

Today I am grateful for the beauty of a fresh snowfall and the physical capabilities to shovel it off of our driveway. I am grateful for my family and friends.

I am thinking of my friend Beth and her family today. Her father's funeral is this morning. I was hoping to be there, but that winter beauty also created driving hazards. Sending thoughts, prayers, and hugs your way Beth.

Point of clarity #13 is so very important, and I wish I would have fully learned that importance before I was in my early forties, but that's what it took. Time and a cancer diagnosis.

Point of clarity #13: "Three words . . . keep priorities straight."

I focused on this in a post from May 15, 2012 as well. It was titled "1-5, #6" and you can read it here.

I have been slowly learning about keeping priorities straight since I began my recovery from alcoholism. If I don't keep recovery and spirituality as key focal points in my life, I will lose recovery and then my priority could become a bottle again and it would likely kill me.

I learned more about priorities when I got married and became a stepmother to two children. Even moreso when our own son was born.

But for me, it did take a cancer diagnosis to really firm up this idea. Not so much what my priorities are, but that they deserve my first energy and focus. I just heard a speaker, talking to parents of teens about stress management, that she often hears people talk about how they don't have enough time. That is not the problem. Everyone on the planet has the same amount of time in a day. The problem is not knowing and honoring our priorities, not being able to say no to some things so that our main focus areas get the time they need.

On a daily basis, remembering my priorities helps me decide what to do next, instead of getting bogged down in that to-do list that never gets done.

Recovery/faith, family, friends, writing, and running are my priorities. What are yours?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

H20, Lots of H20 (Point #12)

Today I am grateful to have finished the half marathon yesterday and to put some 9-minute miles together later in the run. (That may not be fast for some of you, but it's not bad for me, especially after I've already run 9 miles.) I am also grateful that Darcy was happy with his run too and that Papa Murphy's pizza tastes so good.

Point of clarity #12 is all about water: "Drink lots of water. Then drink some more."

Good advice for sure. As I said back in my post from July 27, 2012 here, I got serious about my water consumption when I was pregnant and then breastfeeding. But after 11 years of water, water, and more water, I remain firmly convinced that it makes a big difference in my quality of life and in my overall health. This time of the year I think it helps prevent some of the cold and flu bugs from taking hold too. Of if they do strike, they tend to be less intense and shorter-lived.

Our bodies overall are about 60% water, with our brains at about 70%, and our lungs at about 90%.It shouldn't take us long to figure out how very vital H20 is to our functioning. But too many people are being pulled away from our purest form of refreshment by promises from manufactured beverages like soda and energy drinks. Drinks that can end up dehydrating more than hydrating. Not to mention the wasted calories, added sugar, high levels of caffeine, and other downfalls of any beverage other than plain water.

I am a coffee drinker so I can't preach too much, but I'm a water drinker first and foremost.

Even yesterday when we ran in below zero windchills, water was available and consumed. My body said thank you and then helped me push through those 9-minute miles. The best teacher is experience. If you don't drink much water, try it for a few weeks. Double your intake, or more. See what happens. Feel what happens. I bet you'll become a believer. (Yeah, I know. More trips to the bathroom too. But it's worth it. Life is full of trade-offs.)

I'll close today by revisiting another way to show appreciation. I practice gratitude on the run during race events by thanking the helpers who control traffic for runner safety, who hand out water for runner replenishment, who clean up after us, who provide the refreshments at the end of the run, who keep our checked bags safe and return them to us. And I thank the supportive fans who may be out there waiting for a family member or friend to come by, but who shout encouragement to all of us.

Thank you to you all!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Life of a Vehicle (Point #11)

Today I am grateful for the chance to run a half-marathon with my husband in the middle of a Minnesota winter. (I am saying that with a smile on my face.) I'm grateful we have the attire to keep us warm on a morning with below zero windchill. (I guarantee we will be wearing more than we are wearing in my profile picture.) I am also grateful for a much-needed nap.

Point of clarity #11: My body is just a vehicle. The life in it is what counts. But I take care of both.

Some people take better care of their actual vehicles of transportation than they do of their own bodies, their earthly vehicles. I try not to be in that category, though my sugar consumption would sometimes indicate otherwise. But I used to be in that category.

When I was younger, I drank to excess and smoked cigarettes. Not very good self-care there. But let's face it, when we are young we feel invincible and sometimes act recklessly. There has been one area that I have always honored in self-care. That is exercise. So it is fitting that this is today's point of clarity. Darcy and I will be running the Securian Frozen Half-Marathon in St. Paul later this morning. Our training mileage in recent months hasn't left us feeling terribly prepared, but experience tells us we should be able to cover the distance. One step at a time.

Our physical bodies are just vehicles, but we sure put a lot of emphasis of what they look like. I will try not to get on my soapbox for too long, but I have to express some concern and disdain. Culturally speaking, we seem way too hung up on exteriors to the detriment of our interiors. I am a low maintenance gal when it comes to upkeep. I don't wear make-up or much designer apparel. Sure I care about how I look and what I wear, but I believe that the root of our beauty is our heart and soul and they emerge in our smile, our eyes, the way we carry ourselves.

I did not arrive at this conclusion until I was in my mid-thirties, after years of work in recovery, and marriage and motherhood were added to my life experience. With my cancer diagnosis and bilateral mastectomies at age 43, my view of my body changed, but I am more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been. I can't say how others feel or what they may think when they see me flat-chested-in reality most probably don't even notice- but it just doesn't matter to me. That has been four years in the making though. And I feel for women who are caught up in what others think and what society seems to demand. If they make decisions based on that, as opposed to making decisions their heart and soul point to, that is unfortunate.

Sorry for digressing a bit in this post. Clearly the key word in this point of clarity is life. Sweet life. Gratitude is so helpful in helping me appreciate life, the big and little gifts in life, and just life itself.If I take life for granted, mine and others, I will miss out on so much appreciation and grace. And that appreciation leads to little moments of joy and happiness throughout  the day. Gratitude makes a difference. Life makes a difference. I try not to forget either.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Open-minded Inspiration (Point #10)

Today I am grateful for the video footage we have of Sam as a baby. I am also grateful for cake and ice cream-what a great team.

I am thinking today of my friend Beth and her family. Her father passed away yesterday. Thoughts and prayers are with you Beth.

Back to the "17 Points of Clarity." Point of clarity #10: "An open mind allows inspiration in."

A mind full of fear and worry is not open. An exhausted mind is not an open mind.

But a mind that can stay in the present moment, also known as "mindfulness," is one that may find inspiration coming through.

Mind-fullness or mindfulness? I'll take the latter.

When I was going through cancer surgeries and treatment, keeping the fear at bay with faith, and keeping myself busy with day-to-day stuff allowed inspiration to come through. Sometimes that inspiration helped me come to a decision about what to do next with surgeries. Sometimes that inspiration allowed words to flow from pen to paper, helping me process difficult emotions.

Then and now, openminded inspiration includes consideration of what I have to be grateful for.Maintaining an attitude of gratitude as I move through my day helps me stay in the present moment. Focusing on what I do have, instead of worrying about what I might lose or wishing for what I might get, seems to be a better place to put my energy.

Sounds like a plan for today. Have a good one.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Happy 11th Birthday!

Today I am grateful for my son Sam and the joy he brings to my life. I am also grateful for the lessons he teaches and the lessons we learn together.

Today is Sam's 11th birthday! I always have mixed emotions on my son's brithday. It is bittersweet. He's growing up so fast. I am so proud of him, but that "so fast" part makes me a little sad.

I am grateful for Sam's healthy growth and development, for his laugh and sense of humor, for how well he is doing in school, for his regular routine that works for him, for his personality that is a good mix of his dad and I, for his beautiful blue eyes. I am grateful I get to be a parent and though tough at times, my life would not have been as full and rich had I not become Sam's mom.

He is almost as tall as I am now. I notice that more and more during our daily hugs. But I tell him he will always be my little boy. That is reflected in my profile picture today. It is from 10 years ago, when he was 1. Love those teeth and that smile.

I will close with that, because there is birthday cake to bake and birthday breakfast to make.With much love to you Sam.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Faith and a Pen (Point #9)

Today I am grateful for a calm demeanor when those around me maybe aren't so calm. And I am grateful when the tables are turned and someone else's calm helps rein me in.

I also am grateful for two pieces of snail mail yesterday. One was a note from my friend Diane. Another was a letter from my friend Bonnie. I rarely get mail like that, then got two on the same day. Made my day x 2. Thanks!

Calm fits nicely with point of clarity #9: "Faith and a pen can trump fear and despair."

These points of clarity came out of looking at my experiences with a cancer diagnosis, treatment, and surgeries in the rear-view mirror. In retrospect, I realized what I already knew. Faith and a pen had helped me for a long time.

Faith to me means a belief in a power beyond myself, belief in a good force at work in the world. I typically call the source of my faith God or Higher Power. Names don't really matter to me, the trust and belief do. Faith assures me that I am not alone, ever. And when I have to face fears, I try to face them with faith. I don't have to have all the answers. I never will. I don't know what is in store for my loved ones or myself in the future. I have faith that I will have the support and strength to get through the tough times and the grace to fully appreciate the good times. Cancer certainly drove that point home loud and clear. A common mantra for me in those months was "Replace fear with faith." "Face fear with faith" works too.

Finding faith. Facing fear. These will continue for a lifetime.

I believed in the power of my pen before I believed in a power greater than myself. I started writing somewhere around age 12. I kept a diary and I wrote some poems. As I grew into my teen years my angst was compounded by my drinking. Self-hatred was ever-present and I was so tough on myself.It was then that I began putting some of that pain on paper and releasing it. As my drinking continued, as the downward spiral picked up speed, it was my writing, my poems, that helped stop the train wreck. Getting those toxic emotions out, from my heart through my pen, saved my life. I truly believe that.

By the time I was diagnosed with cancer, writing was a staple in my life. Thankfully, the toxic emotions have been long gone. But cancer brought a different set of difficult emotions with it. Despair wasn't frequent, but it was definitely lurking. I wrote about my fears, the changes my body was going through, the love and support I received. And I also wrote many details of appointments, tests, chemo, and surgeries. I am so glad I did that because my memory would not serve me as well as reading it on a journal page will.

Pen and paper. Words flowing. Healing and reflecting happening.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Side-by-Side Friends (Point #8)

Today I am grateful for knowledge of the serious nature of alcoholism. I am also grateful for push-ups and sit-ups.

Point of clarity #8: "You can't beat having a friend by your side."

This one's for you Jenny. I have mentioned Jenny several times in this blog. She and I were co-workers for several years before our breast cancer diagnoses less than a month apart launched us into what was a huge silver lining during the despair of breast cancer. For years, I had wanted to get to know Jenny better. I never saw this coming though.

When I told her about my diagnosis (we both had family histories of BC) she was already heading down a similar road of tests, mammograms, etc. When she called to tell me of her diagnosis, we met that night and spent time at a Barnes and Noble, in the women's health section. We were full of fear and questions, but we knew already that we were also blessed to have one another. Over the next weeks and months, we talked for hours on the phone, walked for miles in person, and sent long emails back and forth. Those conversations and that time together were invaluable in helping me process what I was going through, and I know she would agree. We certainly have our differences in personality, but we found plenty of common ground in our approach to life, the value of the written word and the love of exercise. (Jenny practices and teaches yoga, I run.) 

Jenny went with me to my 3rd and 4th rounds of chemo. We visited each other in the hospital. We laughed together and expressed the whole range of emotions that cancer presents. By then, I had two sisters who had already been through their own BC diagnosis, and their support as well as the support of many family and friends was much appreciated. But "You can't beat having a friend by your side." To be walking a similar path at the same time, we both felt less alone. We unloaded the raw and painful stuff with one another. It was safe. We each did things our own way, but I have a great deal of respect for Jenny and the choices she made.

When we were in that bookstore in June of 2008, we saw a lot of medical books, but not a lot of raw, personal stories. A seed was born. What do you expect from a novelist and a poet? We went on to write a book about our experiences and about our friendship. That book remains in manuscript form, but it is what brought out the essayist in me. (And the book? We still dream of getting it published. Patience required.) Here I am blogging, writing a newspaper column, writing guest blog posts, and more. Jenny helped me with a lot more than cancer stuff. She pushed me to write from a deeper place and helped me find a voice I never knew I had. For that I will always be grateful.

Jenny and I are busy with our own lives, families, writing pursuits. But we have a bond, a deep level of friendship, borne out of a few months in 2008 that changed us both forever. We don't get to see one another very often, but I am so grateful that our friendship emerged out of a challenging time.

My profile picture today is of Jenny and I. We took the picture ourselves. She was coming from yoga class. The hair on my head was soon to start falling out from chemo. The picture is from September of 2008, right in the thick of our cancer ordeals. When I look at it, I see our smiles and the energy we both exude. The energy we gave to one another at some of our lowest points. Thanks Jenny!

Jenny and I were thrown together. Some of my friends didn't know what to say or do when I was going through cancer, and so they kept a distance. But so many were so supportive. A shout out to my friend Jill who was there for me for chemo round 2 and in many, many other ways during that time.

When my friend Sheila was diagnosed with BC herself in 2011, I was able to offer her a kind of support that only fellow cancer patients can offer one another, mixed in with a friendship that had begun over 30 years prior, and included her helping me through some very difficult times.

And then there's Darcy--my husband and my best friend in those ways only a spouse can be. You really can't beat having friends by your side.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Free and Effective (Point #7)

Today I am grateful for heat that works indoors when the temperature is below zero outdoors. I am also grateful for a conversation with my friend Sheila.

Here we are at point of clarity #7: "Endorphins are free and very effective."

If you know me and/or have done any regular reading of this blog, you know that I love to exercise and I love the benefits of that exercise: time to myself, taking in nature, mind-clearing, and the endorphins that give me a natural mood boost.

Don't take that to mean that I think endorphins are all that is needed to feel better. For some people with mental and physical illness diagnoses, the need for prescribed medications is real. I am so grateful that there are efficient medications that help people I love and care about. I do believe that exercise, if possible, can complement the medications.

I am grateful that when cancer came calling I was able to maintain some level of exercise. Even when all I could do on my worst days was walk a few blocks, it felt good to be able to do that. There are some vivid memories I have from the weeks I was undergoing chemo and one of them is feeling almost euphoric when I could go out and run for 20 minutes. On my worst chemo days, I couldn't muster much energy after I did the necessary things--like work, family and self-care. So to feel good enough to run 20 minutes gave me such hope and such a boost that I was going to make it through this.

I also recall 25 years ago when I was still drinking. If I had a bad hangover, I would often force myself out on a run. I called it a punishing run. But it would also end up being a cleansing run. I would sweat out some of the alcohol and feel better. It would be enough to calm some of my rocky emotions too.

Over the years, I have gone on many a run after a stressful day at work. Stride by stride, the stress would fall away.

I'm hooked. Definitely hooked. I am fortunate that it hasn't been hard to maintain the motivation to go out for regular endorphin fixes.

If you are looking for the motivation to exercise, apply gratitude. Being able to exercise is a gift. Having the proper attire and shoes, the time, the equipment or access to the equipment, are all things to appreciate. Don't let all those gifts go to waste. Go chase some endorphins today.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Body Parts that Matter (Point #6)

Today I am grateful for a visit from my sister Ruth and her friend Bob. I am also grateful I was able to go just down the road to our local library to meet author Lt. Col. Mark M. Weber and have him sign his book for me.

His book is titled Tell My Sons. Weber is dying of cancer and the book is a letter and a legacy to his three sons. I read the preface and introduction as I waited in line. I am already taken in by the whole idea of this book, but I am in the middle of another book, so I will report back on both when I am done reading them.

Point of clarity #6 is "I can live without my breasts. Just don't take my heart and soul."

Breasts are a feminine hallmark, but they are far from the only thing that defines women. I wrote this line, "I am not less of a woman, just a woman less her breasts," in an essay that appears on Gayle Sulik's Pink Ribbon Blues blog. Here is a link to that guest post titled "What Lies Beneath" from a year ago:

What Lies Beneath

I have also written "in ways, my breasts were more attached to me than I was to them." I don't say that lightly, just honestly. I have never been a girly-girl or one to show cleavage in public. I grew up an athletic tomboy. Make no mistake, I would have preferred to keep my God-given breasts. But my life's perspective made the no reconstruction option the best one for me. I do not judge other women's choices when it comes to breast cancer surgeries and reconstruction decisions. They are deeply personal choices. I just ask not be judged for my choices either. I am always willing to talk to anyone about why I made the choices I did and how I feel about them now. (No regrets here.)

I remember missing my breasts in the early weeks and months after my mastectomies. For a variety of reasons, some too personal for this venue. There was a strange vacancy when I could start sleeping on my side again. There was phantom pain or an itch in non-existent body parts. It took time, but I healed physically and emotionally. It is possible to live a rich and full life without breasts. I am living proof of that. (Rich and full defined by me of course.)

Cancer surgery literally made my heart "closer to the surface." But figuratively cancer made my heart and soul more prominent as well. Those weeks and months after my breasts were removed were a case in point of how gratitude for what I had helped me through. I focused on what I still had, rather than hashing over what I had lost. It works. It really does.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Laughter is Always Possible (Point #5)

Today I am grateful for a fun birthday party for my son Sam and three of his buddies. I am also grateful that we have a great bakery in our town.

Point of clarity #5: "Laughter is always possible."

Laughter is a companion emotion across the range of emotions. And not just nervous laughter when we are talking about the difficult emotions like fear and grief. Real laughter that is healthy, healing, and cathartic.

Here are a couple examples from my cancer experience:

*Two days after my diagnosis, I was attending a meeting where the facilitator asked innocently "Does anyone have anything they want to get off of their chest?" I thought to myself "Sure, I have some cancer right here (pointing to my right breast) that I would like to get rid of." I didn't say it outloud, but I laughed to myself. Some fear was released and the tiniest bit of acceptance took hold.

*Three months later, about two weeks after my first chemo treatment, my head started to itch and my hand running through my hair gathered a good crop. It was time to have it shaved off. My stylist of several years had already agreed to come to our house to do the job. (Thanks Lori! I really appreciated that.) When she arrived, my son (just a 1st grader at the time) sat next to me at the kitchen table, my stepdaughter had the camera, and my husband had the video camera. It was a difficult time, but I am glad today that it is caught on video. What got me through it was my son laughing as Lori first gave me a mohawk cut and them took it from there. My innocent child laughed and said I looked funny. His laughter made it bearable. We all laughed together.

*Nearly a year after my diagnosis, I got a letter from our local clinic reminding me to get my annual mammogram. My surgeries and treatment had been at other facilities, so someone missed the memo that I no longer had breasts to be mammogrammed. (I think I just made up that word.) Someone else may have cried at that point. I laughed. I knew before I even opened the envelope what it was going to be. And I knew that acceptance was coming. I don't miss mammograms either.

And from other recent life experience:
*At the visitation and service for my friend Sheila's brother, there was laughter. Her brother would have appreciated that. Laughter among family and friends over memories. Laughter shared as stories were told. Laughter to take a little bit of the jagged edge off the sharp grief many were feeling.

*Last night Sam and his three friends, and the rest of the family, enjoyed time at Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America. if you aren't familiar with it, it is a large indoor amusement park inside one of the largest malls in the world. There was plenty of laughter and the carefree screaming that accompanies carefree amusement park rides.

Laughter is always possible. I think Anne Lamott might say it helps let in air and light.

Friday, January 18, 2013

New Glasses (Point #4)

Today I am grateful for sunshine and good parent-teacher conferences for our son. I am also grateful for the better view that gratitude provides me.

Point of clarity #4 is "Gratitude is a good pair of glasses to wear. It makes everything look better."

Like the bathroom mirror after the shower steam clears.

Or the car windshield after the defrost mode has done it's work.

Like going to the eye doctor and finding the right prescription option.

Or focusing on what is going well rather than what isn't.

That is what really helped me through the worst post-chemo days and the toughest early days after cancer surgeries. I'm walking, talking, laughing, breathing. I'm loved and supported. Things sure look better from that vantage point than they would through the "Why me?" and "Poor me!" lenses.

And then the lyrics of one of my all-time favorite songs comes to mind-Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now."

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright, bright, sun-shiny day
Look all around, there's nothin' but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin' but blue skies

Figuratively speaking, these words capture what regular practice of gratitude does for me.
When I can see my blessings, rich and varied, the clouds do clear.

Have a good day!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Considering Mortality (Point #3)

Today I am grateful for the patience medical care providers have with me and my questions. I am also grateful for a working dishwasher (besides me that is).

Point of clarity #3 is "Having to consider my own mortality helps me cherish my life."

Though I didn't consider my mortality at the time, mainly because I was in my late teens and early twenties, my drinking days could have killed me. After my cancer diagnosis, I went to the scariest places. Cancer kills. Will it kill me? I wrote about getting a third chance. Surviving active alcoholism and having a shot at recovery had already been my second chance. Would a post-cancer life be my third chance or had I run out of chances?

I came closer to dying because of my drinking than I did during my cancer treatment and surgeries. I sure hope it stays that way. But I don't know anyone who has heard "you have cancer" who hasn't done some double-takes regarding things like being around to see their kids grow up, knowing their grandchildren, having the chance to enjoy retirement with their spouse. I can only imagine what the double-takes are like for someone with late-stage, metastatic cancer.

I was at my cancer center yesterday for my 6-month check. Things are looking good. For that I am so grateful. I always get a little nervous in advance and feel relief as I leave. Yesterday I walked in as a woman in a chemo cap walked out. I saw patients who were clearly struggling. I also realized, as is usually the case, that I seemed to be one of the youngest in the waiting room. All reminders of the fragility of life. All the more reason to cherish it.

Cherish is such a beautiful word isn't it? Today I will be on the lookout for all that I have to cherish.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Knowing Fear (Point #2)

Today I am grateful for the challenges and rewards of my job. I am also grateful for clementines (cuties)-an easy-to-peel and tasty snack.

Point of clarity #2: For me, fear of the known is less than fear of the unknown.

But it is still fear. The toughest fear I faced in my cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2008 was the period between my diagnosis and my first surgery. Believe me, there was plenty of fear once an MRI found a "suspicious area" in early May, followed by an ultrasound and then the biopsy on May 27. I knew there was a very real chance I had breast cancer, and the waiting was so hard. The two days from biopsy to confirmed diagnosis on May 29 had me thinking of Tom Petty's lyrics--"the waiting is the hardest part."

Once I knew it was cancer, however, the fear took on a different tone. Until surgery is done, there are so many unanswered questions--big questions like has cancer spread to the lymph nodes? Treatment plans are developed around surgery pathology results. From May 29 to July 17, I knew I had cancer in my body and I knew I wanted it out. And I feared the worst. Not always rational fears, but fears nonetheless. "The tumor is growing in these days and weeks." "If I go running, will I shake some cells loose and then they'll spread?" I saw my surgeon. I saw my oncologist. I had genetic testing. The 4th of July holiday was thrown in. My surgeon was out of town. Crazy-making. My oncologist's nurse tried to reassure me...she said this time-frame wasn't uncommon and that if my oncologist felt it needed to move along faster, it would be. Yeah, easy for you to say, but thanks for trying.

I was also afraid of the unknown that came with this, my first surgery, and my first time under anesthesia.

I was one sharp edge in those six weeks. The fear was palpable. After the first surgery delivered a huge relief with a clean sentinel node biopsy and my cancer was staged at Stage I, the edge was dulled.

Gratitude that my cancer was early stage and treatable.

Another time in my life when I knew a gripping fear was during my drinking days when I would have blackouts. The fear came the next day. It was pure mental torture having hours of blank memory, not knowing what I said or did and not always knowing who I had been with during those hours. Hangover and hell wrapped into one package. Fear of the unknown.

Gratitude that I survived those nights.

And so many parents out there can probably relate to this fear: you lose sight of your child momentarily--at the park, in the store, wherever. For those few seconds, my mind would go to the scariest places. My thoughts would be along the lines of "My son has been abducted and I will never see him again." Relief would flood through me when he was back in reach and in sight. Stark fear.

Gratitude that my son was safe and sound.

Fear is a human emotion none of us can fully escape and that is as it should be. It clarifies things. And for that I am grateful.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Day In and Day Out (Point #1)

Today I am grateful for my job and the students, parents, and co-workers I get to interact with. I am also grateful for support from others in recovery from alcoholism.

Point # 1 from "17 Points of Clarity" is "All any of us have is today."

Nitty-gritty gratitude day in and day out doesn't mean I always have a smile on my face and preach living life to the fullest. Some days suck. Some days I wonder who is out to get me. Some days I am exhausted and disheartened. I always look for meaning in my life though, and that is easier to do day by day. And you know what? I always find some meaning.

Pain hurts. But pain reminds me I'm alive. Joy feels good and reminds me how much better it can feel after the pain. Without both pain and joy, I don't think I could really appreciate what I do have. We have to lose some things before we realize their value. We have to love with an open heart before we can know true joy.

In cancer circles you will hear people talk about the fear of metastasis(spread to other areas of the body) or recurrence (more cancer in the same spot). These are huge fears for some, huge sources of denial for others, and perspective finders for still others. I am in the last category. I am not paralyzed by fear or numbed by denial. I am a realist, on the lookout for changes in my body, but not obsessively so.

That said, I read the writings of metastatic breast cancer patients like blogger Lisa Bonchek Adams (http://lisabadams.com/) and I have a spike in fear. She is living my worst nightmare, and she is doing it with grace and dignity, like so many other MBC patients. But she knows she is dying. Unless something else claims her first, she will die from metastatic breast cancer. If you want to know the real value in this day, talk to or read the words of someone who knows their days are numbered.

Remind yourself of this when you are saying goodbye or good night to someone. We never know when it may be the last time we see a loved one. I feel better ending with "I love you" just in case. And it's a win-win. I don't think a sincere "I love you" is ever wasted on either party.

In reality, all of our days are numbered. Which is a perfect lead-in for this line:
"Don't count the days, make the days count."

Monday, January 14, 2013

17 Points of Clarity

Today I am grateful for time to sit and converse with my brother and his wife. I am also grateful for my stepson Arthur and the young man he is becoming.

Today I am starting a look at my "17 Points of Clarity." This is the title of one of the essays I wrote for the book my friend Jenny and I wrote about our breast cancer experiences after our diagnoses less than a month apart in May and June 2008. It tells the story of how the 17 points came to be. Then, I will take a point a day for the next seventeen days.

This essay was written for the segment Jenny and I dubbed "rear-view mirror." It was the last of 12 essays we each wrote on 12 different aspects of our experience, but we put it early in the book. We were trying to capture what only hindsight can capture. Even as I read through this essay again, I realize that the time (over 3 years) since I wrote this, has further deepened the insights I have. As I read I also sensed the joy and relief that I was feeling in that second year after my diagnosis. That joy and relief are not as intense as they were, but they create an undertone of gratitude in my days. They help me not take my health or my life for granted.

I try to keep my posts relatively brief. There are exceptions and today is one. Enjoy the read.

Seventeen Points of Clarity

            In a way, my cancer excursion began in my car. It was there that I took the phone call that confirmed my diagnosis. The next months would change me in fundamental ways, but it’s still me I look back at in the mirror, rear-view or other, each day. At that moment, and for months to follow, there was plenty of uncertainty on my horizon. I would end up changed physically and emotionally in ways only imagined at the outset.  Driving down the road from one appointment to another, literally and figuratively, the horizon continued to be broad, expansive, hard to grasp. But what I saw in the rear-view mirror after each appointment, each surgery, each treatment, was a tighter picture with more clarity. Today, what I see has me living life “into the blue,” living life more fully. 

            Jenny and I first helped bring each other through these various cancer events, then helped one another process it all in the aftermath. We don’t want to keep reliving our cancer experiences from a “staying stuck” mindset, denying, feeling self-pity. We want to keep moving forward and seeing what the rear-view mirror can tell us. After all, cancer is now a part of our life experience, just like marriage, motherhood, and our careers. Let me put it this way:  I prefer to distance myself from cancer experiences like chemo and surgeries, but I can’t distance myself from having experienced cancer. That has been inexorably transforming—like marriage and motherhood have been. 

            Chance brought Jenny and I together just when we needed one another. Chance put my husband in my life and running marathons on my goal list. Chance also made the numbers seventeen and five significant in the thick of dealing with cancer and the months after. My first and third surgery dates were on July 17 and December 17, 2008, exactly five months apart. Five months after my bilateral mastectomies, May 17, 2009, I ran my first post-cancer half-marathon. Exactly five months later, on October 17, 2009, I ran my first full marathon on this side of cancer. Those were fifteen transformative months from July 17, 2008 to October 17, 2009.  What did those four pivotal dates look like as I approached them?  What did they look like in my rear-view mirror?

            Early on, it seemed July 17, 2008 and my first cancer surgery would never arrive.  There was an excruciating period of waiting, wondering, and fear from confirmation of my diagnosis on May 29 to this date.  I felt at the mercy of time, at the mercy of medical professionals, and at the mercy of a fear like none I had known before. When I wasn’t going crazy in those weeks, I was marveling at my Higher Force’s sense of humor. Long in need of lessons in patience and acceptance, I was now getting, though reluctantly, some very effective ones. 

            I woke up on July 18 a little groggy, but feeling a huge relief.  I was no longer a rookie awaiting my first big league at bat. A couple days later when the pathology report delivered both good and bad news, I was still mostly relieved, but beginning to realize that this game of cancer treatment for me wasn’t going to be a short one. It was going to go into extra innings. Crucial knowledge about what I was facing had been gained. The sense of urgency was gone, leaving with the invasive tumor that had been removed.

            Time, my enemy prior to July 17, became my friend between then and December 17.  After a failed re-excision, my focus turned to getting through four rounds of chemo and deciding what course of action would be next. There would be a third surgery. What would it entail? I lived in a sort of limbo those months. Limbo imposed by the chemo spread over two months. Limbo imposed by indecision, then by a decision I felt right about, but that was still difficult to wrap my head and heart around. It’s pretty hard to look ahead to losing body parts—but not as hard to look ahead to closure, to relief, to moving on.

            December 17 and the surreal quality of becoming a double amputee came and went. In the last days prior to that surgery and the first days after, I wasn’t seeing a very broad view. It was all about the mastectomies, the relief, the drain tubes, the loss, the grieving, and the healing.  But it didn’t take long for the view in the rear-view mirror to become clearer, for the colors to deepen. Continued relief and steady progress forward brought clarity. There was also significant gratitude that surrounded that relief and healing.  Gratitude was never too far away at any time during these most difficult months, and that made a substantial difference in how I came through.

            The next five months leading up to May 17, 2009 were about adjusting and accepting on many fronts, mostly having to do with my new flat front. Adjusting to putting on and taking off my prosthetics. Adjusting to breast-less sex. Acceptance of my flatness where before had been breasts big enough to fill my size 38C bras. Acceptance of new fears and hang-ups, but not the all-consuming type. Adjusting and accepting merged as my training mileage was upped for the half-marathon I was aiming for. It was easy to adjust to the freedom of running minus two running bras. It was much slower emotionally accepting my new running physique and what others may or may not think of it.

            The last days prior to May 17, 2009 became mainly about the milestone—five months to the day since bilateral mastectomies. It was again about gratitude—to be able to reach that point, bounce back quickly. No bouncing boobs as I ran anymore, but bouncing back from cancer. What a triumph! Donning my pink shirt and white hat with pink ribbon that morning, I faced my first flat-chested public run. That night I went to bed humbled. Humbled by the exhilarating run I had that morning. Humbled by the apparent lack of attention my flat chest got. In ways, that day was my final clearance for post-cancer take-off. New normal meet Lisa. Lisa, meet your new normal. 

            Jenny and I were about to actually start writing this book, after some months of discussing the idea, and getting through our various cancer events. About to start putting pen to paper and reliving some of the lowest lows I had ever felt, here I was coming off one of the highest highs I had ever felt. Not dwelling in “I had cancer and I’m a survivor” mode, I was relishing in life as a post-cancer warrior. That remains my daily plan. The writing process hasn’t pulled me back down to dark depths of despair. It is helping me heal. It is cathartic. I know Jenny would agree. 

            I got a new pair of glasses that spring, literally, but I got a new pair of glasses figuratively too. Family, friends, recovery, running, writing—my front and center items—stay front and center more easily than they ever have before. Gratitude continues to flow from a source that has me waking up each day appreciative for the day. Waking up knowing that I will most likely be able to handle whatever comes my way. Waking up vowing to live my life doing it the proper justice—remembering those still suffering, remembering those who have paid the ultimate price, taken by this disease. 

            The summer of 2009 was vastly different from the summer of 2008. We had great weather for marathon training. My husband and I embarked on numerous training runs together. The early essays of “Into the Blue” were composed, and the “into the blue” philosophy became firmly entrenched in my life—stay hopeful, be grateful, keep moving, look for signs, listen for messages…

            My job began for another school year and I was refreshingly unfazed by it. October 17 was on the horizon, surrounded by clear blue, and I was ready. For each of the marathons I have run, the excitement and anticipation leading up to marathon day has been substantial. That was ramped up even more prior to the Kansas City Marathon. To be running my first post-cancer marathon ten months to the day since having both breasts removed, to be running it with my husband and the goal of finishing together, left me full of the best kind of anticipation. 

            It was fitting that my husband and I would head to Kansas City alone. He has been a stellar source of support from the days leading up to diagnosis to the present moment. I have always been an intense and introspective person. That became more the case going through cancer surgeries and treatment and all that came with those. He was there with the kind of support, patience, and acceptance that I needed. It was fitting that we wanted to finish this marathon side by side, after what we had been through together in the previous fifteen months. In the back of my mind, there was also “let’s do this now because we don’t know what next year will bring” thinking.  Not in a “doom and gloom” way, more in a “live life richly because beyond today none of us knows what we get” way. The hat I wore for the marathon was the same I had worn on May 17. It has a pink ribbon embroidered on the front. Running in triumph myself, I was also running in memory of and support for others taken by or touched by breast cancer. I had “Into the Blue” embroidered on the back of this hat before the marathon. Breast cancer came roaring through my life, but it is “into the blue” that has my back now. 

            It ended up being my most pleasant and enjoyable marathon experience to date.  Maybe because it was my first post-cancer marathon. Maybe because how fast or slow I was running didn’t matter. Most likely it was because of the magnitude and depth of gratitude that was coursing through my body that day. I try to keep it coursing every day.   

            That gratitude keeps the mirrors of my life clear, reflecting lessons back to me.  Today, the rear-view mirror of my life and the blue in it have brought into focus these points of clarity. Things I knew before but know at a deeper level now. Things I didn’t know before, but learned through hardship or in unexpected ways. Things that amaze me in their simplicity, in their genuine life-giving power. Some deal directly with cancer, but they all deal with life, sweet life.  Seventeen points of clarity to take with me each day as I live “into the blue.” 

17 Points of Clarity

1.  All any of us have is today.

2.  For me, fear of the known is less than fear of the unknown.

3.  Having to consider my own mortality helps me cherish my life.

4.  Gratitude is a good pair of glasses to wear. It makes everything look better.

5.  Laughter is always possible.

6.  I can live without my breasts. Just don’t take my heart and soul.

7.  Endorphins are free and very effective.

8.  You can’t beat having a friend by your side.

9.  Faith and a pen can trump fear and despair.

10.  An open mind allows inspiration in.

11.  My body is just a vehicle. The life in it is what counts. But I take care of both.

12.  Drink lots of water.  Then drink some more.

13.  Three words . . . keep priorities straight.

14.  My husband is a blessing in so many ways.

15.  Children and pets are great teachers.

16.  Life isn’t always fair, but it’s still precious.

17.  All any of us have is today.

            Now when I drive down the road each day, I try to do so in silence for a few minutes on both ends of my commute to and from work. Looking ahead, looking back, but focusing on today, the road directly in front of me. I dream. I smile spontaneously at times, not caring if anyone sees me. It’s not all easy-flowing day in and day out. I’m human and life still vacillates, but after having experienced cancer, I accept my humanness, and everyone else’s, better than I ever used to. 

            At my mid-life, having hit a stalemate in pursuit of several of my aspirations, I needed a shake-up. Jenny calls it her mid-life blur. I knew that blur too. Cancer became our vehicle of transformation, coming along and taking us for a ride. That ride over the next months was sometimes dark and bumpy, but often there was light and hope. The seventeen points of clarity were brought to me on this expedition by others, through others, always under the direction of a Higher Force looking out for me, even when I was angry and reluctant. 

            Chance propelled Jenny and I on to the same path. A path of camaraderie and mutual support, but also a path that our two writing souls could not ignore. Sometimes our vehicle of transformation felt like an out-of-control roller coaster, sometimes it was more like a boat on a calm, blue expanse of water. Always and still, we marvel at how our mid-life blurs came in to focus. Two women in their mid-forties, two writers, two acquaintances, then two breast cancer diagnoses.  We are minus three breasts and a youthful sense of security, but let us tell you what we have gained.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Find the Good

Today I am grateful for a visit with my brother and his family. I'm grateful for the safe travels they had here and for the enjoyable time together.

Time with family is precious. I am reminded of that more and more as I get older. I appreciate that they took the time to come to see us. My brother and his wife have two kids close in age to ours. It is nice for them to be able to spend time together as well.

It is easy to find the good when the weekend has been pleasant. But it is still possible to find the good even in unpleasant circumstances. My new gratitude journal (Thanks Dorothy!) has daily quotes in it.A recent one has this quote by Alex Haley:

"Find the good--and praise it."

Short, to the point, good wisdom.

It is similar to the Dove promise I had in another recent post:

"The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."

Four years ago I was recovering from my bilateral mastectomies. Progress was incremental. Daily exercises helped me get my range of motion back in my arms. A loving and patient husband helped me come to terms with my revised body. It was a tough time emotionally and physically, but I truly believe that focusing on the good, celebrating the progress, helped me through it more smoothly and moved the healing process along more quickly.

Consider trying it today. Find the good. Praise it. Repeat.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

UPPERCASE WOW, lowercase wow!

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy, our communication level, and our levels of communication. He is a gift in my life and I don't want to forget that.

I am wrapping up my own look at Anne Lamott's book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, today with consideration of what she calls uppercase and lowercase wows.

She talks about wows coming in all shapes and sizes, just like us. Your uppercase and lowercase wows may be different than mine. Case is in the eye of the beholder.

Some of my uppercase wows:
*Denali National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park
*crossing the finish line of each of my 10 marathons (especially the three I  have finished
beside my husband)
*true love
*long-term friendships
*walking along an ocean beach
*the Oregon Coast
*writing inspiration that picks me up and carries me away
*giving birth
*frost or new snowfall clinging to trees

Some of my lowercase wows:
*a warm bed
*my favorite pair of jeans
*a shower after a workout
*sunrises and sunsets
*the simple act of putting pen to paper
*the smell of fresh-cut hay or grass
*an ice cold drink of water on a hot day
*learning from my son and stepchildren

My list could go on and on. I don't expect uppercase wows. That is what makes them special. But my gratitude practice has me more aware of my lowercase wows on a daily basis. I will keep "help, thanks, and wow" in mind as I proceed through my day. I will apply light and air as spiritual antibiotics when I am feeling less than grateful.
Thanks Anne Lamott!

Friday, January 11, 2013


Today I am grateful for my son Sam and the joy he brings. I am also grateful for what he teaches me about life and being a parent.

I was thinking about Anne Lamott's third essential prayer-"Wow!"-and Sam came quickly to my mind. Giving birth to him was a major WOW! I loved being pregnant and his birth was pretty smooth. Contractions and that final urge to push. Amazing stuff! I wrote about baby Sam in my "Nuzzle" post from December. Read it here.

I get mixed emotions when each birthday arrives for Sam. His 11th is coming up. Bittersweet comes to mind. I love that he is growing up healthy and happy and doing well. But I miss each phase he has already been through. I know the next years will become challenging in new ways, but I look forward to the young man he will become. One of my regular "thank yous" is for his healthy growth and development.

I think "Wow!" when I think about even having a child. I was 33 when I got married and 36 when we had Sam. I wasn't sure what life held for me, but I am so very grateful that motherhood was in the works. It gets too easy to take our children for granted. I try not to do that. I hug him daily. (Though I know he is hitting a period he may resist those more). I tell him I love him often. I still tuck him in at night.(I know those days are numbered too.)

I think "Wow!" when I think of the depth of love a parent has for a child. Anne Lamott's son shares my son's name. Many of her books have wonderful anecdotes of her son's life, beginning with Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year. It is a great example of how this author can take you through the range of human emotions in such a way that you know you are not alone.

On p. 71 of her book, Lamott says "Wow" means we are not dulled to wonder.

Children are full of wonder and wonderful. Where do we lose that sense of wonder? Why?
Can gratitude help keep the wonder alive? I think so.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hidden Waters

Today I am grateful for the morning quiet that allows me to gather my thoughts and gives me time to do some writing. I am also grateful for the hidden water sources in my life. Read on.

Here are a couple more paragraphs from Anne Lamott's latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, from the "Thanks" section:

      So I say "Thanks," because revelation has shown me things that are miserable that somehow I may get to sidestep; or that are miserable but that prayer and friends help me find a way through; or that are painful and beautiful in ways that make your heart ache, that draw you closer forever to the comrades who have walked with you.
      Without revelation and reframing, life can seem like an endless desert of danger with scratchy sand in your shoes, and yet if we remember or are reminded to pay attention, we find so many sources of hidden water, so many bits and chips and washes of color, in a weed or the gravel or a sunrise. There are so many ways to sweep the sand off our feet. So we say, " Oh my God. Thanks."(p. 53)

Gratitude is always possible. I believe. Even in difficult times. Even through some of life's biggest challenges and most heart-wrenching losses. And as Anne Lamott says above, it so often is bearable because of the people that help us through. I have been blessed with such people. Family. Friends. My husband. Fellow recovering alcoholics or cancer patients. And sometimes it is a complete stranger and an interaction of a few seconds that helps us through.

Sources of hidden water abound when I keep my mind and heart open to the possibilities of each day. Pay attention indeed. For me, the only way I can stay open and willing is to start from a place of gratitude and to start by thanking God or my Higher Power.

Have a good day. Drink up.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Today I am grateful for a fender bender with no injuries and a valuable lesson to a young driver. I am also grateful for car insurance.

A minor inconvenience for me was kept in perspective by Anne Lamott's second essential prayer:Thanks. Thanks again for no injuries and a vehicle that would still get me home. Thanks for reminding me that in the whole scheme of things, this is nothing. Nothing in comparison to things like metastatic breast cancer or siblings dying suddenly or alcoholics going back to the bottle.

I so appreciate Anne Lamott's style because she writes raw and genuine. Her words often strike an emotional nerve with me. Here is one striking passage from the "Thanks" chapter:

"It is easy to thank God for life when things are going well. But life is much bigger than we give it credit for, and much of the time it's harder than we would like. It's a package deal, though. Sometimes our mouths sag open with exhaustion, and our souls and our minds do, too, with defeat and that saggy opening is what we needed all along. Any opening leads to the chance of flow, which sometimes is the best we can hope for, and a minor miracle at that, open and fascinated, instead of tense and scared and shut down. God, thank you."  (pp. 44-45)

That is what gratitude practice can do for me--keep me open and fascinated, even at the little things, the minor miracles. I spent years tense, scared, and shut down. I don't want to go back there.

Sometimes life is hard. No doubt about it. But in my experience, gratitude is always possible. It does allow a positive flow, even if just a trickle at times. I'll take that.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On My Knees

Today I am grateful for Oliver and our quiet time together in the mornings. I am also grateful for the supportive friends I have in recovery.

Yesterday I mentioned getting into position to ask for help. I meant that literally.

As I grew into adulthood, I balked at praying with hands folded, on my knees. I was tired of the ritual and routine I had grown up with. My attitude was "I'll pray when and how I want to." I became a prayer rebel. It helped me to move beyond the idea that prayer was just a group thing and I realized the most important part of prayer was my mindset and my words, not my physical position. My rebellion paid off and prayer took on more meaning, but I was still holding back.

When I was going through a difficult time in my early 30's, hurting over a relationship that had ended, I went back to my roots. I wanted this relationship to work out, instead it became a great example of an unanswered prayer in my life. He was not meant to be the one I stayed with. I was meant to meet and marry Darcy. It was a painful time, and a friend (Thanks Jan!) suggested I get on my knees to pray, as a form of surrender and letting go. Again I balked, but I was in enough pain that I decided to give it a try. It worked and I still do it. Each day I try to start on my knees. It puts me in a better place for prayer. This act of surrender brings a humility that allows me to be more prayerful, that allows me to remember I am not in charge. It makes asking for help palatable and possible.

Anne Lamott's chapter on "Help" is full of many good words, lines, paragraphs. Her books are always like that for me. It was easy to pick a quotable passage. It was hard to pick just one. But here goes:

"In prayer, I see the suffering bathed in light. In God, there is no darkness. I see God's light permeate them, soak into them, guide their feet. I want to tell God what to do: 'Look, Pal, this is a catastrophe. You have got to shape up.' But it wouldn't work. So I pray for people who are hurting, that they may be filled with air and light. Air and light heal; they somehow get into those dark, musty places, like spiritual antibiotics. We don't have to figure out how this all works--'Figure it out' is not a good slogan. It's enough to know it does." (p. 16)

Prayer as spiritual antibiotic. I love that. Air and light do heal. And I firmly believe tuning in to gratitude in our daily lives contributes to the healthy air and light. Onward!

Monday, January 7, 2013

"Help, Thanks, Wow"

Today I am grateful for our house and the good feeling that comes after cleaning it. I am also grateful for time to put pen to paper.

If you are a fan of Anne Lamott like I am a fan of hers, the title of my post today may sound familiar.It is the title of her most recent book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. I wrote a couple of posts back in August regarding Anne Lamott. Check them out below:

Favorite Author: Anne Lamott       and         Nitty Gritty Spirituality-Anne Lamott Style

The more I read about the idea of prayer, the more I realize that the key seems to be found in the simplicity of it. And that there are as many ways to pray as there are people. 

In the first pages of her latest book, Lamott says:

"Prayer is private, even when we pray with others. It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding." (p. 1)

"Let's not get bogged down on whom or what we pray to. Let's just say prayer is communication from our heart to the great mystery, or Goodness, or Howard; to the animating energy of love we are sometimes bold enough to believe in; to something unimaginably big, and not us." (pp. 2-3)

Growing up in a strong Catholic home, I don't think I realized that prayer was private. We prayed together before meals. We went to church and prayed with others. I wasn't inclined or encouraged to pray on my own, at least not that I recall. I saw it as a group thing. I was taught several prayers that I was expected to know by heart. But I missed the true meaning of "know by heart."

The absolute key to prayer for me now is captured in the last words of the second quote above - "and not us." Prayer is effective for me when it stretches me beyond my own mind, heart, and soul, when I am reminded that seeking help is the ultimate reason to pray. It could be help in small ways, or big ways, but it is help I know I need and cannot provide myself.  Help. That's simple.

And my daily prayers always include prayers for others. I pray for people with cancer, people in recovery, people who just had surgery, or just lost a loved one. Praying for others helps me. It gets me out of myself and it also brings the gratitude back around.

More tomorrow on how I put myself in position to seek help. Prayer and gratitude create a great partnership. Both are enhanced.

Have a nice day!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Sad Day, But a Good Day

Today I am grateful for old friends, safe travels, and an early morning run in the fresh, cold air.

This morning I was running into the coming daylight. Yesterday morning I was driving into it. I was on my way to Des Moines for the funeral of Chris, my friend Sheila's brother. I met my friend Beth halfway and we made the rest of the trip together. I appreciated the time with Beth too.

Chris died suddenly at age 47. That is a tough one. No time to say goodbye. Such a shock. So unexpected. So young. But there is some comfort for family and friends because Chris was doing what he loved with people he loved.

It was good to see Sheila, her family, her siblings. It was good to see Beth and several other classmates and friends. Chris was a year behind us in school, so we ran with the same crowds. The service held to celebrate his life was very nice. Chris clearly made a difference in many lives in many different ways. I hope it also brought solace to his loved ones to hear the words of those he touched.

The time with Beth was good for catching up. (And thanks for driving Beth!) The brief conversations with other old friends meant a lot. To be able to hug Sheila and be with her on a most difficult day made the trip and the miles well worth it. At our age, it tends to be weddings and funerals that bring us together. But it isn't supposed to be funerals for younger brothers.

It was good to see my friend Deb and her family and her home in the middle of a remodel too. Though the visit was brief, it is always good to see her.

Make time for friends and loved ones. Take time to tell them what they mean to you. I am grateful for the day I had yesterday.

It was a sad day. But it was a good day.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Scars of the Physical and Emotional Variety

Today I am grateful for my stepdaughter Emily, on this, her 18th birthday. I appreciate getting to know her better and spend more time with her in recent months. I am also grateful for my ears, with which I can listen to others.

I guess I am still thinking about the earthly vehicle I referred to in yesterday's post, and about scars of the physical variety. I have numerous scars on both knees from the many tumbles I took while riding bike on gravel roads when I was growing up. If you have done the same thing, you probably recall the painful job of picking pieces of gravel out of your skinned knees.

I have a scar on the index finger of my right hand from my pre-teen days. We used to get up on the roof of the chicken house on our farm. That was easy enough, it wasn't very high. But on one of these trips I caught a sharp corner and got a nasty cut.

During the basketball season my sophomore year of high school. I was going for a loose ball and my nose collided with the forehead of an opponent. I bled, got stitches, then got two crimson and purple black eyes. A couple of days later, we discovered my nose was broken as well. One thing I didn't get that I wish I would have at that time was a picture of me with those black eyes. My nose was sore and sensitive for months. I remember taking a ground ball to the nose during the following summer's softball season and it being quite painful. The scar was a short, straight one across the bridge of my nose.

Some of these scars have faded and some others I couldn't give you the specifics on how I got them.My most prominent physical scars today are my right and left mastectomy scars. Most days I barely notice them. They are just a part of me and a part of my life story.

I'll take physical scars over emotional ones. Emotional ones are much more jagged and painful and they take longer to heal. None of us is spared from either kind of scar, but my hope is that you don't have too many of either.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Earthly Vehicle

Today I am grateful for this earthly vehicle I reside in. My body is far from perfect, but it serves me well. I am grateful for acceptance, when it comes to my body and life on life's terms.

It has been a long journey to get to this point of acceptance of my body as is. I haven't always treated my body with respect. Drinking alcohol to excess and smoking cigarettes certainly didn't qualify as respect. But I have always been one to exercise and stay active. That alone makes a huge difference, not only in how I feel physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They are all interrelated and efforts in one area pay off in all areas, in my experience.

It concerns me to see so much emphasis put on just the physical component of who we are. In our society and culture, it seems to be too much about how we look, what we wear, what size we are. More and more types of cosmetic surgery are becoming more and more common. I believe happiness and self-esteem are inside jobs. But I do understand that how we feel about our bodies factors in to that.

I think it is easier to consider what I can do today, just for today, to help me feel good about my body. If I set a goal to lose 10 pounds, I still have to do the little things each day to make that happen.

Exercising regularly and drinking lots of water are good starting points. The key is to start. If you can do that, I can almost guarantee that you will start feeling better and be motivated to continue.

Flat-chested and all, I very much appreciate my earthly vehicle, but especially the heart and soul within.

Like gratitude, my physical health needs daily attention.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Pattern That Needed Breaking

Today I am grateful for my job. I enjoyed my time off, but I appreciate the job to return to.

I am also grateful that gratitude letters #14 and #15 are on their way.

I am thinking of my dear friend Sheila and her family today. Her brother passed away suddenly, in his mid-40's. Thoughts and prayers go out to her and her whole family.

The pattern I am referring to in the title for today's post is a cancer pattern that developed in my family. My sister Zita was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, my sister Mary Jo in 2006, and me in 2008. Mary Jo had a second cancer, a primary lung cancer, diagnosed in 2010. I was a little nervous for 2012 with that every other year pattern that had been going on. Now, I can safely say the pattern has been broken.

But that doesn't mean complacency or being lulled into a false sense of security. It is important to remain ever vigilant with my health and be aware of changes in my body. I hope my family members are doing the same, both those who have had cancer and those who haven't.  Every first and second degree female relative in my family now has a strong risk for breast cancer. And it doesn't matter how far out from our diagnoses we are, those of us who have had cancer could suffer a recurrence or metastasis.

This is scary stuff. But I choose to not live in the fear. Fear can be paralyzing. Instead, I try to face the fear with faith. Do I do absolutely everything I can for my health? No. But I do pretty well.

Gratitude helps me not take my health for granted, which inspires and motivates me to take care of myself. And the sudden death of my friend's brother reminds me that all any of us have is today.
Tell those you love that you do.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Day!

Today I am grateful for an outdoor run with Darcy yesterday and the proper attire to keep us warm in sub-zero windchills. I am grateful for family time together, the four of us, as we did a little shopping. And I am grateful for my stepson Arthur's successful GRE.

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and my hope for you in 2013 is for health and happiness. But today, just today, is really what matters, and is all any of us have. There are no guarantees, regardless of our circumstances. I am not a big fan of New Year's resolutions. I think people tend to set themselves up for failure with goals that are too lofty or long-term. Another reason to stay in today. Daily resolutions are more attainable. If they work, keep doing them. And start whenever you want. The date on the calendar is just that. A date on the calendar.

Taking life in 24-hour chunks is a recurring theme in this blog. I have used the quote "Life is hard by the yard, but by the inch it's a cinch" along with other ways of saying the same thing. Here is a little more crude way of putting it, but it sure makes the point clear:

"If you have one foot in yesterday and one foot in tomorrow, you are pissing all over today."

Yesterday. What's done is done. As my buddy Jim used to say "You can't saw sawdust."

Tomorrow. Not here yet. "If you want to hear God laugh, tell him/her your plans."

Too much time lamenting past regrets or fearing future possibilities is wasted time.

I choose to put my energy in today. At least that is what I try to do. My humanness has me slipping back and stepping forward, but at least it is for shorter periods of time, which conserves most of my energy for this day.

Recovery wisdom uses one day at a time as a frequent motto. Having cancer helped me learn about priorities. But it is the experience of the calm and joy that can come from actually staying present, staying here in this moment, that has been my best teacher regarding the value of "one day at a time."

Gratitude practice is very effective at helping keep me present. I think I will keep practicing.

Have a good day!