Peace like a River

Now more than ever, I feel the need to find peace. My body (which has been plagued by immune system problems) yearns for it.

My main problem is that I’m a perfectionist with a type A personality, but looking back over the past 24 years that I’ve had autoimmune diseases, I realize they were red flags that I ignored. I worked too hard for much of my adult life, worried too much, and misspent so much time. I’m not sure if I’m having a mid-life crisis now at the age of 44, but I want more out of life…not more stuff, just more simplicity and solitude. I don’t want to fill up every part of my day being active. Instead, I want to take long hot baths and lie in bed just listening to some soft music or writing or reading each day.

So here’s my plan for this year (we’ll see how it goes). First, less energy spent on being a perfectionist. I don’t need to get outstanding scores on all areas of my evaluation rubric at work. So far I’m doing a pretty good job this school year just being proficient which was hard to accept at first. (It’s hard for a perfectionist to accept just being good enough, but for my sanity, I have had to do just that.) I will also make time for a bike ride and/or walk each day after work if it’s over 50 degrees because light activity makes me feel good. No more yoga for now since my rheumatologist pointed out that downward facing dogs and planks are too hard on inflamed wrists and fingers which I guess I kinda knew but didn’t want to admit. Instead, I will try tai chi which is offered at my church. (I may go back to yoga if the Enbrel I’m about to start taking for Rheumatoid Arthritis significantly reduces the inflammation because I truly do love yoga and I miss it.) I will practice my harmonica and continue writing my novel, but I will not pressure myself to do so and feel guilty if I don’t. I will do these things when I miss doing them. I will recite Psalm 23 each morning and picture the beautiful imagery within it as I drive to work. At least once a week, I will write down a blessing and put it into my blessing jar to read at the end of the year. (I did this a couple of years ago and don’t know why I didn’t do it last year again because it was truly a positive experience). I will continue to listen to calmer music which is already making a world of difference for me. (See playlist at the end of this blog for a sample.) When I feel stressed, I will not only listen to calm music but practice deep breathing and other grounding techniques. By the way, you can find a good article on some of these practices at Most importantly, each day, for at least half an hour, I will seclude myself in my bedroom or the bathtub with a do not enter notice to my extroverted husband, and I will listen to soft music during that time. I will say no to people who ask me to take on long-term volunteer commitments, and I will not feel guilty. That’s the plan anyway. 

If you’re looking for a playlist of soft music, you can try the YouTube list I compiled which is linked below, or you might try starting your own playlist. I’ve also come to enjoy the Soundscapes channel that comes with my Spectrum cable subscription. It’s nice to listen to on the weekends as I sip tea or hot cocoa.

One other thing you might try is listening to the same song that truly gives you peace over and over again. I started doing this after someone else mentioned this on her blog, and I’ve been doing this a lot with Hymn of the Cherubim by Tchaikovsky. Now when I feel stressed at work, I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and start listening to it in my head for a minute or two, which is easy because it has become ingrained in my memory. (It’s a nice way to detach from the chaos and remember my place in the universe…as a child of God who is only in this world for a little while.)

If you’re the type of person who needs to be doing something in your free time and can’t sit still, try to do something relaxing like doodling, coloring, journaling, bike riding, walking, lifting weights, or fishing. With or without music, you may find this helpful. If you have any suggestions for unwinding aka de-stressing aka becoming grounded, please include them in the comments below.  I’d love to hear what works for others. I’m certainly no expert. I’ve just done a lot of reading on the topic and many of these techniques are helping me a great deal. 

Calm Playlist: 

martin-sanchez-391082-unsplash (1)Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

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Love Wins

Recently, a friend told me of a man in his 90’s who is currently terminal. He had been a devout Christian his whole life, but now he had doubts about whether he would be able to get into Heaven. My friend shared some insight from the book Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell with him. I was intrigued when my friend told me about it, and I’ve enjoyed many of the author’s Nooma videos, so I decided to read it myself.  I was not disappointed.

I’ve struggled with the idea of Heaven vs. Hell for many years and how certain Christians so readily believe that God wants people to suffer for eternity, even good people who had little or no exposure to Christ or had doubts. Some preachers even seem to revel in this picture of people engulfed in fire and brimstone. But how could the loving God of the New Testament send good people to Hell for all eternity and let so many sinful hypocrites who have supposedly accepted Christ as their savior into the pearly gates? Rob Bell examines the concepts of both Hell and Heaven as they are described throughout the bible to try to answer this question. He also tries to reconcile the ideas of Hell and justice with Christ’s message of love and redemption.

So, I know you want me to summarize the book in detail, breaking down each chapter, and telling you what Rob Bell says, but I’m not going to do that. Much of what he points out is in the bible anyway (Old and New Testaments). He just lays it all out, providing some historical and linguistic considerations and uses these and what we know of Jesus and his life to help the reader come to a more complete picture of Heaven and Hell which aligns to the teachings of Jesus. Some preachers have had serious issues with this book, typically the aforementioned lovers of the fire and brimstone version of Hell, but I urge you to read this book and not just others’ criticism of it.

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Casting for Recovery

A couple of weeks ago, I took advantage of an amazing opportunity to go fly fishing with a group of other breast cancer survivors in a program called Casting for Recovery. This program is available in 48 states, and has benefited thousands of women. Thanks to generous donations from individuals and corporate sponsors such as Orvis and Cabela’s, the retreat is completely free. During the weekend, we not only learned about fly fishing, tied our own flies, and went fly fishing under the guidance of experienced fly fishers, we also had time to share our experiences with each other and ask questions of both a medical expert and a mental health expert. There were other activities as well, and the food was delicious. The volunteers were all so kind and made us all feel welcome and cared about.

This time last year I was between surgeries and was experiencing quite a bit of discomfort, but some of the women on this trip had gone through so much more; they’d had several surgeries as well as chemo or radiation or both, and a couple were only in their thirties when they were diagnosed and have children. Some had lost family or friends who couldn’t deal with it. I witnessed some amazingly strong women on this retreat, women who now mentor to others with breast cancer, are traveling to distant places, and caring for other loved ones. When I think of the word strength from now on, I will always think of these wonderful ladies.

I am thankful to Casting for Recovery for empowering me and so many other women over the years, and I hope that many more survivors will be able to experience the healing and sense of peace that I did. Next Tuesday is Giving Tuesday. If you’re looking for a worthwhile organization to contribute to, please consider Casting for Recovery.

casting for recovery

In case you’re wondering, I’m in the lower left hand corner of the picture with the puffy blue jacket. It was a little bit cold!

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A Horrendous Week, a Perfect Weekend

It’s interesting how things can change so quickly over a week’s time. Last weekend, my husband was in horrible pain from what we now know to be a herniated disc and two bulging discs. I felt helpless to do anything, and I was pretty sure he would lose his job since he couldn’t stand or sit up and had to miss work. He’s only had this job since June and has no sick or personal days. I broke down one night, alone in the bathroom, sobbing out of fear…fear I know I shouldn’t have had as a Christian but fear I felt nonetheless. I just knew I was going to be supporting my husband again…after doing so for two and half years up to June. Fortunately, his new workplace has been pretty understanding and my husband was able to start back yesterday with the help of a steroid shot and a special inflatable neck collar. It looks awful, but it seems to help.

So after a stressful week, I had the house to myself this weekend since my husband worked twelve hour shifts both days. I started early yesterday, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, grocery shopping and starting some stew in the crock pot. Then I was off to Bartonville, TX where an old friend was celebrating her 40th birthday at Marty B’s BBQ. It was great to catch up with her and other friends I hadn’t seen in over a year.

When I came home, I decided to go for a bike ride and I was finally able to ride my bike without touching the handlebars, something I’d been trying to do for a while now and had done as a kid but figured I couldn’t do on a 21 speed bike…especially at my age. I can’t describe how light I felt. It was like when you’re a kid learning to ride your bike, and you suddenly realize you’re riding your bike by yourself because your dad has let go of the seat and is no longer running beside you. I felt liberated and young again.

I also spent a lot of time this weekend just resting and listening to soft music. I know that sounds boring, but when you’re always on the go and you have a stressful job, it’s rather peaceful and energizing. After church and lunch with friends today, I found time to play the harmonica for a while…much to the disappointment of my dogs.

The best part of this weekend was being called up and told that I get to take part in a Casting for Recovery retreat next weekend. These retreats, which are for those with breast cancer or who have recently had breast cancer, give participants a chance to learn how to fly fish and practice. I had been chosen as an alternate, but I figured no one would cancel, but someone did. I’m so thankful for this opportunity and am looking forward to being around others who have experienced what I went through last year. It’s been almost a year since my reconstruction, and I’m still trying to get used to the way I look, the way my clothes fit, and the sensations, and lack of sensation, that I experience.

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On the Mountaintop

Last year I wrote a post titled Wander On, Weary Soul, the title of which alluded to a song by the Bluegrass Gospel Project. I couldn’t think of a better song to describe how I felt at the time about my circumstances. My husband was out of work and had been for quite a while and my mother’s mental and physical health was declining in front of my eyes. It was a few months after this that I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. Luckily, I am now considered cancer free. My husband also started a job recently…the day before my mother passed away last month. So much has changed in such a short time.

I’m kind of in shock right now. For so long, I had no free time. Everyday, Monday through Friday, I would work at least eight hours, go see my mother for at least an hour, and then go home where my husband was starved for conversation after being home alone all day. I saw my mother for even longer on the weekends. As an introvert, this really took its toll on me. I was physically exhausted and mentally beat down. Sometimes, I would just get in bed and bury myself in the covers, not wanting to be disturbed.

Now, so much weight has been lifted from me…mentally, emotionally, and financially. Yes, my mother is gone, but her quality of life had greatly diminished due to the Dementia as well as her arthritis, blindness, and constant shortness of breath. She said she was ready to go see her family who had gone to Heaven before her, so I’m happy for her. I am confident that I will see her again someday as well. That being said…it’s hard to be a caregiver. Now that my husband is working, I have more time to read and to write. I’ve also been walking and riding my bike almost every morning which I find invigorating.

I feel like the past couple years I was struggling to climb up a steep mountain while being battered by raging wind and rain, and now I’ve reached the mountain top and the storm has suddenly stopped, the sun has come out, and the birds have started singing. It’s crazy how quickly life can change! I know this serenity won’t last the rest of my life. I know there will be other mountains to climb and storms to lean into. But for now, I’m going to relish the peace that comes after the storm as I stand on this mountaintop and rejoice. I have been refined like silver and tested like gold, but by the grace of God, I made it!

At the same time, I don’t want to forget the lessons I learned. When I was going through such a difficult time (especially after my cancer diagnosis), I was able to put my life into perspective. I started to detach from this world, and I hate to admit it, but I even prayed for God to take me. I just didn’t feel like I could endure anything else. Please don’t let that color your opinion of me, and please don’t compare my life to yours. I was going through multiple crises (spousal job loss, elderly caregiving, and cancer). You can’t possibly put yourself into my shoes, but a positive outcome of all of this overwhelming stress was that I was able to see more clearly than ever that we are only in these bodies for a short time, and we have to make the most of the time we have and do the most good that we can while we’re here. I think my greatest fear now is that I will forget that feeling and take my time and talents for granted again.

Another lesson I learned is that people only have so much emotional capital. We only have so much ability to cope. I think this ability to cope is like a pitcher of water. Every stressful situation or crisis pours out some of that water until we’re dry. I used to naively believe that people should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and buck up. When you’re the one facing multiple crises, however, it’s not so easy. It’s no wonder some people turn to alcohol, drugs, smoking, and cutting. They’re desperate! I will never look at others the same way.

God gives us so much grace. He’s the kindest, most loving father in the universe, freely offering his divine favor and mercy. Shouldn’t we, then, turn around and show that same grace to others? Whether it’s in terms of forgiveness or helping others who are going through a difficult time, we owe it to God and to others to practice grace, to help others in need…even if it’s just in listening to a person share his or her story. You can do so much by simply being with a person and letting that person know that you care.

samuel-scrimshaw-76650-unsplash (1)

Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash

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In Memory of My Mother

On June 10th, my mother was placed on crisis care with hospice after not wanting to wake up, eat, drink, or take her medicines. The only time she woke up completely, she asked me, “Are mom and pop still here?” and “Has John go back to the base?” My uncle John was in the navy and passed away four or five ago at the age of 88. My grandparents passed away when I was a child.

My mother went back to sleep and passed away two days later, soon after each one of her daughters and three of her granddaughters talked to her through the speaker on my cell phone, telling her how much they loved her and that it was okay to go to Heaven. After the phone calls, I played some soft gospel music, and I watched her take her final breaths during the song “I’ll Fly Away”. I cannot describe my feelings at that time.

The funeral was in Arkansas. My four older sisters and I reminisced about the past. Our relationship with our mother was a complicated one with many ups and downs, but in the end, she was still our mother. Despite our tumultuous history, I look forward to seeing her someday, healthy and whole, surrounded by her family who went on before her: my dad, my brother, her mom and pop who emigrated from Italy, and her six older brothers and sisters, including my Uncle Louis, missing in action in Korea whom she always mourned. A few weeks before her passing, she asked me what I thought Heaven would be like. I told her that she would see them all again and that they would all sit at a large table with a white table cloth laid out with all of their favorite Italian dishes like freshly made pasta with marinara, braciola, thick crust pizza, black olives, and for dessert, Italian Cream Cake. She looked out into the distance, grinned, and then said simply, “That sounds nice.”

mom young 1

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When Everyday is Saturday

This was a rather interesting week. I go to visit my mother everyday after work at her assisted living, and each day this week, she asked me if it was Saturday. She even called me at work on Tuesday to ask me if I was still planning to take her out for lunch since it was Saturday. Only it wasn’t. We all lose track of days when we’re on an extended vacation or retired, but my mother’s behavior was not normal. It was due to Dementia.

I did take my mom out to eat yesterday when Saturday had indeed arrived, and we had a lovely lunch at Cracker Barrel, but going out now requires the use of a portable oxygen concentrator, and she’s worn out by the time I get her back to her assisted living facility. She’s at the point where she’s too tired or forgetful to take part in activities they have, but she wants me there as much as possible…even though she dozes off quite a bit.

My mom is on Hospice, and I don’t know how much time she has left. It’s the oddest feeling…not knowing how long you’ll be in such a state of uncertainty…not knowing if there will be a sudden end to the uncertainty, or if things will gradually become worse. I’m a type A person, a planner, who likes to have everything scheduled and organized, but that’s not how life works. So I’m learning to take things day by day. I don’t like it, but I have no choice. I just pray that God gives me the strength to get through each day no matter what it brings.

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