Anxious for Nothing

This has been a difficult school year what with the cancer diagnosis, hubby still not getting a paycheck, as well as my mom’s Dementia, her recent pneumonia scare, and now her worsening kidneys. My job has also gotten harder. I guess it’s no wonder I’ve been struggling with anxiety, but I’m working to change that…

Lately, I’ve been studying mindfulness, doing some yoga, listening to sound tracks of waves hitting the beach, going for walks, and most of all, praying. I think back to simpler times and hope that things will improve. At times, I feel overwhelmed and want to run away, but I know, as Seneca pointed out two thousand years ago, the problems would just follow me.

Fortunately, while looking for a new book of devotions on Amazon, I came across the book Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World by Max Lucado. Within this slim volume are questions for reflection, stories, analogies, and scriptures for the anxious.

The scripture that forms the framework for the book is this…

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:4-8

Subsequently, he believes we can find CALM if we do the following:

Celebrate God’s goodness

Ask God for help

Leave your concerns with Him

Meditate on good things

I don’t want to give away anymore of the book which I highly recommend you read. I just want to say that I found it very helpful. We know from studies that feeling or expressing gratitude can help people feel happy, so it makes sense to celebrate God’s goodness, not just to feel happy but because he loves us and really does want what is ultimately best for us. We also know that he welcomes our petitions and prayers. We are told to cast our burdens upon him as well. What I have the most difficulty with is meditating on good things. I’ve been a regular Eeyore lately, moaning about my problems and not reflecting and being thankful for the blessings and miracles all around me, so I’m going to work harder on this.

Another scripture that is helping me get through this difficult time is this one…

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

It sure is hard to “glory in our sufferings”, but when you accept that this suffering is building your character and helping you develop hope, it can help in accepting one’s plight. That’s not to say you won’t sometimes chew off your fingernails, binge on junk food, or get serious butterflies in your stomach when you’re doing something you’ve been dreading like conducting professional development for fellow educators, but it can help you to take things a day at a time and just do your best. If people have a problem with your doing the best you can under stressful circumstances, they will just have to deal with that, for “If God is with us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31

 

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The Oncology Appointment

Sitting in the lobby

awaiting lab work

as others look at magazines

or stare at cell phones

or each other

or at nothing in particular.

Two old men begin to converse

and break into laughter,

dispelling the silence.

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Goodbye 2017

Well, I can honestly say that this was one of the worst years of my life. Don’t close this page or hit the back button! I promise this post gets better, so stick around. My year started with my mom recovering in my home from a heart attack and six months later, after a diagnosis of vascular dementia, moving into an assisted living facility. It also started and ended with my husband being out of work, and in the middle of it all, I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. I’m glad to report that I had my reconstruction surgery on December 19th, and I’m faring pretty well. After all this, I can honestly say that I am truly blessed!

How can I feel blessed after all that? For one, I’m considered cancer-free which means no chemo for me. That is a huge deal! Secondly, even though my mom has dementia, she seems happy in her assisted living facility, playing bingo and attending other daily activities. Third, I realized I had a wheat allergy, and I haven’t had all the chronic itching, pain, sore throats, nausea, low blood pressure, and chest pain I had since I virtually cut wheat from my diet. Fourth, my husband loves me, and we share a nice paid-off lake house with two especially sweet dogs. Even though it’s below freezing outside, it’s nice and warm inside, and we have food to eat and clothing to wear. We’re doing far better than most people in the world. Yes, I am counting my blessings, and I have many of them to be thankful for, so I will sing God’s praises and give him the glory.

That being said, I’m expecting 2018 to be a much better year than this one. Lately, as I’ve been reading devotions, there’s a recurring theme of being patient and having faith. This is so hard for me at times. For instance, I keep thinking, when is the phone going to ring with a job offer for my husband? Some people in the bible, however, had to wait years (and years and years in some cases) for things to happen. Just because we seem to be stuck in a holding pattern doesn’t mean that God isn’t listening to our prayers. Romans 8:28 assures us that, “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God is listening to our prayers and never deserts us. Even when I was crying myself to sleep after my cancer diagnosis and asking God over and over again, “Why?” I knew he was there with me. Was I angry and confused? Yes! But I never stopped talking to God. I’m still not sure why God let me go through the bad things I experienced this year, but I know that good will come from it. I will be stronger or I will be more compassionate or I will be able to witness better or all of the above. Only God knows right now. I think that at some point, though, I will be able to look back and say to God, “Oh, I get it. I see what you did there. I now know why you allowed me to go through all that Lord.” At some point, I suspect that all this will make sense.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a clip from The Empire Strikes Back. Why? For one, it’s the best of all the Star Wars movies, and secondly, although it’s completely fictional, I think Yoda’s faith in the force is comparable to the faith that God wishes us to have in Him while Luke demonstrates what happens when we have very little faith.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” and Jesus told his apostles in Matthew 17:20 “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” I have faith that God is always with us through the good and the bad and that he will never leave us. I hope that you feel the same, and I wish you a very happy and blessed new year!

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The Pursuit of Happiness

This week was hard. The kids at my school were hopped up on candy for Halloween and there was a full moon. We had several technology issues, and the newspaper company once again stopped delivering our paper stating we hadn’t sent payment which they do every year about this time.

Because I had such a hard week and because I haven’t been feeling very happy about my work, I decided to start re-reading The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha. It is such a well-written and concise book about why we live in fear and how we can be happy. Too often, especially today, we’re driven by extrinsic factors. We live in fear and we pursue the wrong types of success.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of changing jobs or going back to school, and it’s because I’m not feeling the “self-success” I experienced when I first became a school librarian. The intrinsic motivation has been mostly gone this year. Education has become a numbers game (sales success) and social success game (pleasing or impressing supervisors and peers), so it’s hard to achieve my original goals (inspiring kids to read, building positive relationships/mentoring, and helping them become better researchers). The pressure to apply for grants, participate in Twitter chats/webinars, build Makerspaces, conduct professional development, fix sub-par technology, reach out to community members/organizations, teach prescribed lessons on digital citizenship to all 3,400+ students in the building has been killing my love of librarianship.

I don’t think that this is a feeling isolated to librarianship, however. This need for sales and social success is killing a love of career for many people. Extrinsic motivation doesn’t lead to happiness. It just doesn’t. Unfortunately, we compare ourselves to others and measure our success by numbers or by what others think. We compare our statistics with our co-workers and feel we don’t measure up. We read articles and blog posts by leaders in our field, and we don’t feel like we’re doing enough. When we don’t participate in activities that our bosses “strongly encourage” us to participate in, we feel like we might be disappointing them. This is me sometimes, but I just realized today that one of my bosses quite often posts on Facebook that she’s working 12 or more hours a day, is suffering from insomnia, and is going to or conducting professional development workshops on Saturdays. Is she successful? Yes, she’s successful in a couple ways, but it sounds like she’s under a great deal of stress, and I don’t want that for myself.

What are some other things that lead to happiness according to Neil Pasricha? Well, having a positive attitude leads to happiness. In fact, there’s a wonderful quote from Charles Swindoll in the book about how much more important attitude is than so many other things we value. (See below.) Being grateful for what we have and committing random acts of kindness can also lead to happiness. Reflecting on good things and being active leads to happiness as well. And something I wish I could do more, unplugging and meditating, also causes people to feel happy. Every now and then I go through this experience of feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied, and I just have to remind myself to look at life through a different lens and focus on what’s important…even if that means taking time out of my busy schedule to rest, read, or go for a walk.

By the way, in case you’re curious, it’s been two months since my surgery, and I’m feeling good. I’ll have my reconstructive surgery in December or January, and a couple months after that, I should be (almost) as good as new. I truly am blessed. I just tend to forget that sometimes.

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 Photo courtesy of Frank McKenna  (@frankiefoto) at Unsplash.com

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Hope

It has been almost two weeks since my bilateral mastectomy, and I’m surprised to admit this even to myself, but I feel blessed. Don’t get me wrong, my muscles ache as though there’s a vice grip around my chest, severed nerves periodically fire back to life with searing hot pain, and the drains absolutely disgust me. My underside of my right arm is covered with slowly fading bruises from the multiple failed attempts to start an IV the morning of my surgery.

But there is hope. There is hope that the worst is behind me.

The breast surgeon informed me three days ago that the margins around the tumor were clear and that the sentinel (closest) lymph node was clear of cancer. The oncologist let me know the next day that because my cancer was considered non-aggressive, low-risk, and hormone receptive, I do not need chemotherapy. Instead, I will be on endocrine therapy in the form of Tamoxifen.

I have had much time for reflection since my surgery as I sit here in my recliner both day and night. This is what I’ve learned so far:

  1. I am loved and cared about.
  2. It’s OK to say “screw it” to a lot of stuff…a lot of stuff really isn’t that important.
  3. It’s OK to ask for and receive help.
  4. Having cancer means doctor’s appointments…a lot of them.
  5. It’s important not to overdo it.
  6. It’s important not to under-do it.
  7. Life is too short to put one’s happiness on the back burner.
  8. I have to stop telling myself, “Maybe when you retire, you can…” because I may not be around that long.
  9. I need to say “No!” more.
  10. God will always keep me guessing.

What I have come to realize most of all is that I’ve tried to control too much and have worked too hard. I have been racing around chasing my own tail, trying to please others, second guessing myself, and misplacing my priorities. I have allowed myself to be used up and taken advantage of. I felt like God was happy with this, that He was using me for His good, (and some part of me thought that I was maybe being punished), but now it is clear to me that I am on the wrong path. If I were on God’s path, life wouldn’t be this hard. I would have time to devote to reading the Word, meditation, and deeper prayer, and I would rejoice in my vocation. I would also feel joy and peace, things that have been severely lacking in my life the last couple of years. Instead of feeling hope, joy, or peace, I  have been feeling beaten down, barren, and lifeless. I have not been bearing good fruit.

This will change. God is in control, and I will have faith in him, for “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

At this difficult time in my life, I know that God is calling me to rest and to hope.

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Photo found at https://www.flickr.com/people/dafongman/ using Google Advanced Image Search for pictures in the public domain.

 

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Anger

Tuesday night I was angry…SO angry. It’s been many years since I’ve felt so angry, and I didn’t know what to do with all that anger. I was tired from open house the night before, work was stressful, then I went to see my mom at her assisted living and she accused me of stealing her wooden hangers. (I’ve never known my mom to have wooden hangers by the way.) On my way home, I started crying and then yelling about how life was so unfair and why was all this happening to me.

By the time I got home, I was seething. I slammed doors and yelled some more. I then got in bed and balled my eyes out. I wanted to give up, and I was very close to calling off the surgery. My husband was very caring and just lay with me, rubbing my back till I calmed down and went to sleep. The next morning I felt a little less angry though I chose to listen to Metallica instead of Debussy on my way in to work.

Being around teenagers can be stressful, but you have to stay calm, collected, and “never let ’em see you sweat”. Therefore, I put my anger and sadness aside to get to know my new library aides better, make ID’s, conduct librarian orientation scavenger hunts. I was back to my old self pretty soon, but I’m still struggling at times while I’m not at work. I’ll hear a song or read something and then the tears start welling up and I wonder what I’m supposed to get out of all this. Is this supposed to make me more compassionate, or is it supposed to help me in some other way? Am I supposed to be steered by this into making some life-changing decision? Is God letting the devil test me? Am I meant to die in surgery at the age of 43? What’s the meaning of all this? I want to be stronger than this, but I’m struggling. I just really wish God were a bit more forthcoming. I find comfort in the Psalms and other passages of the bible, but it’s still hard. I wish all of this were over.

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Cancer

Well, as you can tell from the title of my latest post, I got some bad news. It started with an abnormality spotted on my 3D mammogram in July. (I got the call the first day of my vacation…naturally.) This was followed by a sonogram and a biopsy the following week (which hurt a helluva lot more than they told me it would), and four days later, I received a diagnoses of Stage IA breast cancer. I have a small tumor that has broken through a duct wall but, luckily, has been deemed non-aggressive. A lymph node nearby looked suspicious (thickened), so the radiologist biopsied it as well, but it came back negative.

This has been a bit overwhelming to say the least. We never had any cancer in my family, that I knew of, until my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer last year…not my mom, grandmothers, aunts, or three other sisters. Now I’ve been diagnosed as well.

I got the call on August 4th with the diagnosis, but I haven’t felt like writing about it yet. I’ve been vacillating between shock, anger, sadness, and acceptance. I’ve had two bouts of crying myself to sleep and a whole lot of praying to God, words that typically go like this: “God, was Lupus and Dermatomyositis not enough?” I had accepted in the last couple of years that sometimes $#!^ happens, and it’s not punishment. Our bodies aren’t perfect and they break down with age. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble accepting that right now. I knew my immune system was messed up and have known that for many years, and I knew that having Dermatomyositis increased the chance for cancer, but I never expected this. I feel like I’m being kicked while I’m down.

I called my Rheumatologist almost immediately and found out that  I have to get off he Cyclosporine, which I started taking a couple of months ago. It was starting to help me feel somewhat normal again, but now I can’t even take that anymore…at least not until I’m healed from my surgeries. I get to stay on Prednisone and Plaquenil, but the Prednisone may affect the healing from the surgery and reconstruction. It’s a low dose (5 mg), so we’re hoping it won’t. I’m not a candidate for lumpectomy and radiation because radiation is not advised for people with connective tissue disease. Apparently, it causes significant fibrosis (tissue scarring), resulting in contracture which looks bad and is very uncomfortable. Consequently, I’m going to have a double mastectomy on September 12th. I opted for the double because I don’t want to possibly go through this again later which is certainly a possibility since I’m relatively young, have a sister who had cancer, and I have Dermatomyositis.

I’ve met with the breast surgeon and the plastic surgeon and will meet with an oncologist soon after the surgery. I’m so overwhelmed by all the appointments, and I know this is just the beginning. Please pray for me as I go through this. I’m not so much afraid of dying (I’ve been dealing with that very real possibility of dying young since I was diagnosed with Lupus at 23), and my faith is very strong. What I DO fear is pain!

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