When it has been a year: 5 things I learned in 2017

I love me a good fresh start just like any self-respecting Type A, INFJ, enneagram 3 and a New Year is prime time to do some serious navel gazing and where are we going from here pondering. Also a softie at heart I revel in all the look back and reflect type exercises too. Our family has a yearly tradition of writing our top ten lists on New Year’s Eve. I personally love finding the good, the blessings, the wonder, and I find it connecting to hear what stood out for the people I love too.

Not a shock to anyone who knows me even a tiny bit but 2017 kicked my behind. 2017 kicked my husband’s behind. 2017 was a year we will never forget, even when we wish we could. During the top ten family list making, several events popped up that I had already forgotten about – a bunch of situations that in a normal year would have stood out for their ‘badness’. But this year they disappeared into the cobwebs of my brain crowded out by much bigger situations. Despite all the hard things, I remember 2017 almost exactly like this:

2017 was a good year. It was a year I saw my children thrive and continue to believe in love and goodness. It was a year we celebrated Aaron’s 40th birthday and our 19th anniversary and surprise! we still love and like each other very much, and to me that is no small thing. It was a year I got to jump off more things into water with the ones I love and what else could I ask for, after all that was my hope. It was a year I found Jesus my constant companion in the midst of not doing, in the midst of having to be helped, in the midst of fear, anxiety and sickness. It was a year I came to fully believe that even if the worst happened, I trusted God for good. It was a year I started to reclaim who I am at my core and how I want to live that out.

2017 was a year I survived, a fact I am damn proud of and looking back there are some things a survival year has taught me, recorded here so just like our annual top ten lists, I don’t forget.

1. You can do hard things (even when you don’t want to).  This phrase is a bit cliche these days but it is also true. We don’t know what we are made of until we have to make it through something hard we haven’t chosen and then trust me, you can do more than you ever guessed about yourself. This doesn’t mean we always jump up and down with glee over these ‘opportunities’ for growth, or feel immediate gratitude for being drawn closer to what really matters through suffering. What it does mean is that even if we wouldn’t wish this situation on our worst enemy and we are perfectly happy to remain shallow if we could pass this by, when push comes to shove, by relying on God and those who love us we can do this really hard thing.

2. Healing takes longer than you think it should. I could write a whole book about this but if you have been through a trauma like potentially loosing health, life, safety, a loved one, it takes time to heal. Physically yes, but also emotionally and mentally. See a counselor, pray, go to yoga, spend time in nature, move your body – it’s all steps in the right direction but it is still slower going than you would like it to be. Most other people won’t understand this and will expect you to be ‘normal’ pretty ASAP. Hold onto your healing path anyway.

3. It is okay just to survive. There is a movement in the cancer online world to call oneself a cancer ‘thriver’. I swear I wanted to sucker punch someone each and every time I read that. Look, this shit is hard and getting through something that will kill you if left untreated is not in most people’s ‘thrive’ zone. There will be other times you can thrive, other times you can do all the things you see other people not currently going through crises doing. Just getting through cancer or another traumatic season – I’m giving you a gold star all the way.

4. It is okay to say no. Most people I know fall into two categories. The first are people who are okay with taking help and these people also seem to be better at self-nurturing, boundaries, and saying no. The second is people who are not so great at taking help, self-nurturing, boundaries, and saying no. I was in the second category and am trying to slowly move myself more into the first category. I had to say no a lot this year, I took a lot of help this year, I set boundaries and placed a lot of self-imposed limits and sometimes it was really hard. No, scratch that out, each and every time it was really hard. But…BUT I did make some breakthroughs and learned I cannot be all things to all people and even if people might feel mad or sad or excluded I can give empathy, but it is not my job to do their emotional work or meet each and every persons’ needs. (This itself was several counselling sessions of material.) I remind myself of this often because it is still my primal instinct to change what will be best for myself and my family to make everyone else like me, and to try and do all the things because that used to be easy for me. If you are in the second category like me, know the world will keep on turning even if you say no, set boundaries, take help. It’s uncomfortable at first (or maybe forever) but there is more room for authenticity and wholeheartedness which in my opinion is a decent trade off.

5. Everyone needs more grace. Including myself. Having spent much of this year in survival mode has made me act in ways I haven’t always felt proud of. In survival mode things often feel scarce, like there isn’t enough to go around and I am at my absolute worst when I am operating from that place. I have said and done things or not done things I wish 100x over I could undo. I couldn’t do everything I actually wanted to do (not just felt I should) because I didn’t always have the energy to. I try to use this as a guidepost for myself when other people do things I think are douchy too. Most likely they are feeling scarce because of a hard thing or a past hard thing just like I am. So I keep reminding myself, more grace, grace all around.

I’d love to hear what you learned in 2017 too.

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Posted in Cancer, God's love, Life in the 30's, Living with purpose | 3 Comments

Making Space for Hope: Advent Week One

It is the first week of advent and just now, five days in already I have had some time and space to sit down and be still. To think a little bit about this season and what I am hoping for this year. People keep asking me if I am ready for Christmas and to be honest it hardly feels like December yet, so no, no I’m not.

Basically our life is the same as your very own. Our days are full, we juggle some mix of parenting, work, volunteering, appointments, keeping everything somewhat clean and kiddos tummies full, managing minor and major crises in-between the connection and laughter. We are in the mid life years where our days often start before the sun comes up and find us about ten pm, hours after the sun has set in our northern latitude finishing up supper dishes during the first chance we have had.

Mid-life is a daily practice in being present and in making space where it seems there isn’t any to be made.

I so often feel we live in a world that wants us to rush on from one thing to the next. Christmas decorations are for sale before Halloween is over, a symptom of a culture encouraging us to keep looking endlessly forward for our contentment and our joy instead of finding it right here in this very day. This is why I love advent so much, I believe. It is a season of counter-cultural beliefs and practices. As much as it may not be advertised as such advent is intended as a season of reprieve from all the doing and never enough and endless thinking about the next thing. A time to step away from the always seductive promise of bigger and better stealing both my contentment and my life.

If I remember to let it be so advent is a season of stillness, of waiting and repenting and sitting right where I am under the wonder of the full moon with the one who made me. A time for moving slower, pondering more.

Advent is a time to find just one reason to hope in a world where there are a million not to. A time for softening my heart a little bit more towards God who came as an infant – as a vulnerable minority refugee. It is a time to both ponder and act on ways I could further align my own now softer heart with the ways of God I don’t always understand. A time to look for ways I could help plant or water one more seed of subversiveness to help kingdom come.

Advent is about opening my eyes to see the beauty of creation and love and mercy all around me, to drink those things in with my spirit, to remind me there aren’t only hardships and heartbreak and horrors. Advent is about making space for hope and being still with a God who always works towards good and finishes what is promised.

 

(Mostly I ‘do’ this by sitting quietly, or not so quietly depending on which children are awake/around, praying and reading from one of these books or listening to something – no rules, nothing set in stone, just which ever one catches my spirit when I make space to sit down and be still.)

A Widening Light by Luci Shaw,editor

Book of advent themed poetry by assorted authors, all with eyes to see creation and God and faith in new and life giving ways, perfect for reading and pondering one at a time in a snippet of time.


Circle of Grade by Jan Richardson

Every blessing in this book has moved me to tears or towards hope. Richardson incorporates both beauty and heartbreak, which to me is the only type of honest blessing there is.

Watch For The Light

Daily writings for the whole pre-advent through epiphany season by assorted authors. I don’t read them everyday but when I do they always give me something challenging to think about.

Wintersong by Madelieine L’Engle and Luci Shaw

Journal entry snippets, poetry, essays from two of my favourite writers. If you haven’t read these women you are missing out on mid-life artist/faith wisdom from L’Engle and stunning nature/faith reflections from Shaw.

Listening to:

Pray As You Go podcast

Simple Advent playlist on Spotify

Advent 2016 thoughts on hope

Advent 2014 thoughts on hope

And continued here

 

 

Posted in Advent, Books, Prayer | 1 Comment

Today

Life just keeps right on chugging along and here we are mid-July already, can you actually believe it? The garden is growing; full of weeds, a little too wild as usual and right alongside it my kiddos.

My baby who I will always and forever swear was just born turned seven and asked to climb a real mountain for her birthday so they did – all 2407 meters (7898 feet) of Ha-Ling with daddy and her siblings, this mama who is afraid of heights stopping 4/5 of the way to the top.

My middle doesn’t have many little girl years left so I am enjoying this one so much, watching her be so wild and free in who she is is a gift. She swims on scorching days and curls up with her cat and a novel on the rainy ones in between.

My oldest is growing into an almost teenager – serious and just and determined. He fractured his wrist playing soccer but hasn’t let it slow him down much and has still played soccer an almost obscene number of hours this month which makes him happier than truly anything else in the world right now.

I finished a quilt I’ve been wanting to make for seven years. I’ve been playing with the kids and cutting flowers to bring inside. Taking us all to water when the weather allows. Walking the dog with Aaron after the kids are in bed. I went back to work (part time) a few months back so that has taken away some of my writing time but it’s been okay – I’ve been working on listening as my default, instead of always contributing.

When I think back to summers growing up I remember what seemed like an endless stretch of days that didn’t fly by as they seem to now. We swam at the outdoor pool and read book after book, played outside for hours with our friends. We always went camping to visit my dad’s family where we restored all our souls surrounded by British Columbia’s water. After September long weekend, I was okay with going back to school, ready for the newness and routine after getting my fill of floating through the summer days doing more as I pleased.

Now I’m a middle aged mother who wakes up wanting to make the most of each day because every year I can feel a bit more panicky about summer going too fast – about how many more years I will have my kids at home. A week can go by in a blink where I feel like not much happened except our regular life.

My grandmother is right, time does go more quickly as we get older.

Here I am smack dab in the middle of summer, smack dab in the middle of my ordinary, but oh so beautiful life. Perspective is everything, or so they say and I will say that having cancer, in my experience anyway, hones your perspective about almost everything.

Summer does go by faster than I want it to, each and every year but also: that is okay. These things I am doing in my ordinary weeks, I am glad for them. Not everyone gets to wake up and go to work, cook another meal, wash that daily stinky load of sports laundry, read bedtime stories, reach out to hold the person’s hand to offer forgiveness first after a fight. Not everyone gets to scrub their toilets, pull weeds, get snacks for all the neighbour kids. All these things I used to see sometimes begrudgingly as ‘have’ to do alongside the playing and swimming and reading and memory making, I don’t see it that way anymore. I see I don’t have to’s – I see ‘get’ to’s.

God is in the mountain tops yes, and yes God was faithfully with me during sickness and fear. Those are easy for me to remember. But also today, this very one rainy summer day, this is the day that the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it. Because God is also here in this, the ordinary, everyday. All our ‘have to’s’ are suddenly sacred if you imagine it all gone. I’m like Jacob, I have woken up and seen that the Creator is in this place and I did not know it. The holy ground of middle life.

Life may be shorter than you thought so do all the big things you want to do. Plan the trip, climb the mountain, start and finish the big project, for goodness sake get the tattoo you have been thinking about for more than a decade. Throw yourself the party you always wanted, jump into the water fully dressed. Follow where the spirit calls.

But also life may be shorter than you thought so be right here, today, don’t waste it away in forever being slightly ill contented. Don’t let what ifs and could it be betters and comparisons steal anything away from what you have today.

Settle into who you are and don’t wish for someone else’s dreams or happiness because this right here whatever God put in front of you is enough. Smile and stop and look into the eyes of the people you love (and maybe even at some you don’t), cherish your coffee, find joy in all those get to’s. Sieze the shit out of it. Do your ordinary, everyday things in between the big things and love them just as much if not more. No more panicking, just rejoicing.

 

Posted in Aging, Cancer, Everyday holy, God's love, Life in the 30's, Living with purpose, Parenting | 3 Comments

On pieces

I’m looking out the window at our apple tree all in bloom. Sitting under it and breathing deeply gives you a glimpse of heaven, just this one week or so a year, the air infused with it’s scent. It’s like hearing a baby laugh or kissing your love in front of the stove – all just feels possible.


I’d like to be on my way to watch my oldest’s soccer game, this early Saturday morning, because I love seeing my kids do what makes them feel alive. But I have two darlings still sleeping soundly, despite me opening their black out blinds, showering and putzing around with their door open. And it’s like someone said to me yesterday, I still can’t wake a sleeping baby. Amen forever friend.

So I thought I would write out some thoughts here instead, towards the end of May. Here where I most often sit down to write, I have just a few things that really inspire me hanging in my little office alcove. Two of them are meant to be stone drink coasters but they were hand painted on salt spring and I don’t believe in hiding art with a beverage. Instead I asked Aaron to figure out a way to hang them for me and, of course he did. One says ‘create’ and one says ‘still’. Visual reminders of two things I so often prioritize as last on the list. But not this year, this long, late winter and early spring has been a season of stillness for me. A season of sitting with myself and the one who made me.

Last I wrote here it was late March and I knew it would be a haul to get through the last of winter. I wasn’t wrong. April passed by in snow day after snow day. Towards the end of the month on the day I turned 38, I looked in the mirror after a yoga class. Wearing just my sports bra and yoga capris I didn’t recognize the person I saw looking back at me.

My face looked worn and a little lifeless. I have gotten my first grey hairs, given to me not by my children but instead by the stress of cancer. I have been through things this 37th year that have temporarily drained away my eyes ease and sparkle.

List that under things I have lost in my 37th year. One appendix, one ovary, one cancerous tumor. The daily sparkle in my eyes. Having enough energy to get through what used to be a normal day. Knowing who I am, believing I am guaranteed a normal life span. Believing I am guaranteed anything.

I could also see some of the things gained: nine abdominal scars, one tattoo, the gift of more time to live my life. Insight as to what is important to me. An absolute knowledge that God is with me and loves me. Gratitude for everything I have that I used to take for granted. It’s hard to catch me feeling jealous anymore, I’m too aware of my own life’s goodness. I see gifts everywhere and lament when I see opportunities to receive turned away or missed.

My husband and I joke about cancer being one of the mid-life crisises you don’t get to pick. Other people might be buying fancy cars, or changing jobs, or taking really cool trips, or doing something else to get some joy or try and figure out or live out who we really are because we are somewhere around forty and we have no more babies so, heck, why not? But us, we got cancer to bring about intense life reevaluation and even though I didn’t need chemo and am in a promising place health wise now, my very self has shifted in ways and in magnitude I didn’t expect.

The best I can explain what cancer did to me is this. It shattered my very self into a thousand pieces. All the things I have chosen to be, or had to be to survive, to thrive, or often just things I thought I had to do or be are lying there on the ground about my feet. I’m standing in the middle of a broken mirror, my reflection disjointed, fractured. I look at it with interest like I would a Picasso, not like something that belongs to me. I knew cancer would be hard, but this still wasn’t what I was expecting.

I’ve been going to a counselor because, well, because of what I said above. I wouldn’t wish cancer or any trauma on anyone, but I will just say this: counseling has been a gift I’ve probably needed since high school and cancer made me get it.

I’ve seen her for lots of things but one of the things I saw her for was mourning over the loss of myself. Over not knowing who I am. Over feeling like everything I ever cared about, I’m not sure if I do anymore. Over having no idea of who I will be when this all settles. Over feeling like a gross, messy, self-absorbed pile of goop.

My counselor rocks because she looked at me and said something to this extent: ‘Yes that is really hard, totally shitty, you should really mourn that because it’s sad and hard.’ But then she leaned closer and said ‘but also Leah you can be anything you want’ in a voice rich with excitement and possibility.

So here, at the end of May as I look out at new life blooming literally right in front of my eyes, I’m starting to see it differently. I look down at those shards, at those pieces and I’m curious and slightly hopeful. All of a sudden winter is over, spring is in full swing and I’m more worried about picking up too many or the wrong ones than I am about seeing them all lying there.

Posted in Aging, Cancer, Life in the 30's | 6 Comments