Sponge Diving Our Way to Authenticity

The Sponge Diver

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.

Henry Ward Beecher

We all have a narrative, a unique story to tell.  As individual collections of life experience unfold, we see before us a dramatic self-portrait form, a picture based on the very peaks and valleys that make up life achievements as well as life challenges.   Often times we sit back and view the painting through a foggy lens, one cluttered with learned behavior, tradition, societal expectations we feel compelled to align with, and so on.  The question surfaces:  Is there really such a thing as an authentic self, a bona fide me?

Pure art.  I once read that every good painter paints what he is.  Every so often one is blessed to experience something that leaves you spellbound.  I honestly didn’t expect a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts with the boys over the summer to  render such a state, but this particular visit was so pure, so meaningful … I’ll never forget it.  While exploring the unique handprint illustrated on every piece that day at the museum, I felt an intimate connection, a momentous view into the heart and soul of each artist.  I envisioned their hands at work, powerfully expressing their life narrative, with the purposeful strokes of a paintbrush.  Taking in the world around us, we often find relatable links to our own lives through the canvas of creation’s powerful pull.  For me, words are my art medium …writing my paintbrush.   Though not nearly as beautiful as a masterpiece hanging on a wall, my words become an artistic expression of my heart.  When I’m silent, I’ve usually failed to claim the peace that comes from tapping into creation’s “voice” all around me.  Recently, my silence has stemmed from allowing exhaustion to dominate my narrative.

I just completed the next “installment” of cancer treatment—30 rounds of radiation therapy.   Similar to chemotherapy’s bittersweet end, my emotions took me off guard.  Suddenly my head began to buzz in a sea of rhetorical questions:   What now?  Will I have the strength to not let fear dominate my existence?  Will I fail at keeping hope close?   I guess you could say treatment in some ways becomes supplemental courage. The poisons of chemo, the removal of body parts via mastectomies, and the cancer-causing beams that make up radiation—all contribute to a (false) sense of security.  The truest test of faith comes when you have nothing else to rely on … but the very faith you entered this ride with.  The past couple of weeks I’ve had a weighty question tugging on my heart:  Who am I?  Have I allowed this “life circumstance” to take over the pre-cancer me?  Coco Chanel said it best:  Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.   

When I encountered The Sponge Diver by Winslow Homer that day in the museum, I became instantly gripped by its beauty and authenticity.  I envisioned myself there in the Bahamas, watching from a distance as a sponge diver emerged from a “naked dive” to the ocean floor, surfacing with his prize.  I thought of the rich history attached to sponge diving and the remarkable courage of early divers—always equipped with a readiness for sacrifice and a willingness to take risks.  In the old days when the skin diving method was used, divers went out to sea in a small boat, often using a glass bottomed object to search the ocean floor for sponges.   These authentic divers used simple methods … relying solely on their God-given bodies and their own natural breath-hold ability—historically performing at levels rarely attained by contemporary divers.   As time progressed, greed took over sponge diving and divers began using large, hard-hat diving gear to take on longer dives at deeper levels.  What resulted was a great deal of death and paralysis among divers.  The history of sponge divers shows us two faces of an empirical approach to life:  allowing the want for more to influence you, compromising everything; or staying focused on your God-given unique qualities that will not only get you the prize but without the compromise.  Fortunately, the beautiful centuries-old tradition Winslow Homer captured in his watercolor personified the original glory of sponge diving in its naked form.  Homer once said “You will see, in the future I will live by my watercolors.”  I’d like to think he pondered the authenticity of the scene set before him while painting this masterpiece.

Thursday, I have my next visit with my medical oncologist and the plan is to begin Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen hormone therapy designed to stop the growth of cancer cells that may be present in the body, while blocking the effect of estrogen on these cells.  The plan is to have me on this for the next 10 years.

Isn’t it funny … as a child, we just want to be like everyone else.  As we get older, we desire to beat to our own rhythmic drum.  As we further mature, the connecting events of life further complicate our sense of self.  A diagnosis of cancer has made one thing crystal clear in my life:  I desire to be defined by nothing more than God created me to be.  My “now” plan is to be satisfied with my Creator’s design … the authentic, unique me.  It is only after taking off the dangerous diving gear of the world’s pull on us that we can find freedom like no other.

Nicole

 

Finding Comfort from the Inside Out

starfish

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

—Epicurus

The distinct smell of newly fresh cut grass is exquisite to me and triggers an early childhood memory – something so nostalgic it gives me goose bumps.  Turkey dinner with all the “fixings” or even homemade mac & cheese (especially my Grammie’s) are favorite comfort foods for me.  Even hearing old “Journey” songs brings peace and comfort—Steve Perry’s voice soothing to the soul (don’t judge me).  Gulls . . . as annoying as they may be . . . the screeching sound of them soaring high above the sea, coupled with the smell of the ocean, gives me an amazing, amazing high.

I honestly believe I’m not alone.  Each of us has a bit of Epicurean in us . . . the Greek philosopher’s devoted pursuit of sensual pleasure, things that bring comfort to the senses.   Though perhaps different in nature, we each carry with us distinct lists of gratifying moments, those unique memories that arouse the senses and bring comfort to our souls—all the “go-to” things that help ease anxiety and stress.

Thursday was a LONG day and physically speaking . . .”fairly” comfortable.  The drains were finally removed at the plastic surgeon’s office.  Yes, a combined 3 feet of tubing was removed from my body . . . seriously–3 ft.  It was like exhaling a giant EWWW and WOW all at once.  It was indeed a very odd sensation, but nonetheless I felt a bit of relief having them removed.

Results.  The oncology team met me to go over the pathology results, the very thing I’ve been all-consumed by since rolling into the OR on the 14th . . . or honestly actually since beginning chemo in January.   I guess I felt since I’ve been on a fast track doing what I need to do, as aggressively as possible—those results will be the very comfort I’ve been seeking for the last 6 months.  They sat and explained that typically neoadjuvant chemo does one of two things when it works:   melts tumors like ice cream in the hot sun, or explodes tumors like atoms.  My treatment did the latter and exploded most of the tumor beds into fragments.  Of the many fragments left they found a small amount of invasive carcinoma left.  After removing everything, they are confident they got clear margins, no chest wall or intravascular invasion revealed.  They also removed 13 lymph nodes.  They considered the lymph nodes a macrometastases.  One particular node that clearly showed the goopy evidence of chemo at work, though cancer was still present—was most prominent.  Unfortunately, it was difficult to determine how many of the 13 nodes were positive for cancer pre-chemo . . . but for now we know for certain chemo did a pretty good job and my prayer is that my radical surgery helped a bit too.

So all in all the results were “good” . . . not crystal-ball, magical moment of “You’re cured for good, no further treatment necessary, all cancer forever gone”  good . . . but good.   Isn’t if funny that even with cancer we seek the best answer that will bring “comfort” to our minds.

My next stop on this exhausting journey is 7 straight weeks of radiation, 35 sessions.  That should start in a few weeks and based on my age and the aggressiveness of the cancer, my oncologist plans to then start me on daily Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen therapy for 10 years—God willing He’s got at least another 10 year plan for me here.

I love to preface everything with the cliché “in a nutshell”, but you all know that my mind (even in chemo-crisis fog mode) is constantly moving and active and it’s rarely possible to find a nutshell big enough to wrap up my thoughts.

Comfort and contentment always come with uncertainties and all too often bring results we can’t predict.  All our feel-good moments are simply sought and fed by the desire to momentarily free oneself from pain, constraint or even fear.

I can’t help but think of my Grammie’s house.  Her tiny house in Maine has always been a source of mostly fond memories during childhood.  I always remember playing in the backyard, my secret little special “fort” far in the wooded area of the yard.  I laugh hysterically now, because honestly the memories of the yard when I was young were memories of this HUGE piece of land.  Now,  I don’t exactly recall the age when I visited the house after being away for a while, but I’ll never forget getting that nostalgic feeling pulling up to the house, eagerly running out into the backyard, my “comfort zone” of childhood.  There I stood—my heart sank.   Where was it?  It was unfathomable that this postage stamp of land was actually the same enchanting romping ground I enjoyed playing as a child.  For a quick moment … that nostalgic “comforting” memory shattered before me.  One would call it:  the Epic letdown moment.

Can it be that those “comfort” memories of the senses, can often disappear by our own shallow expectations of what we remember and how we wish to freeze such memories to permanently make us feel good.  I had the pleasure of talking to my dear friend, Jean this afternoon, and she said it perfectly:  “We need to find our contentment on the inside and not worry about the temporary comfort measures that come from our senses.”

While Epicurus did believe that pleasure alone should be humankind’s pursuit, in actuality, Jesus is the only true source of comfort, when He sent us the Holy Spirit.  Though I learned perhaps later in life than some, I now know that the same God that gave us our intellect and senses is also the only true source of comfort.  He is our ever-present help in need, the only guarantee that never shrinks like Grammie’s yard in my mind.

Though I know this truth in my heart . . . I realize how often I’m still so self-reliant on my own sources of comfort to bring me through this rocky journey.  I pray for strength and courage to continue to press me into the only source of comfort that will keep me going . . . and ultimately keep me sane.

Please continue to hold me up in your prayers.

I love you all so much!

Nicole

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.   

2 Corinthians 1:5-7

Swinger of Birches

birches

. . . So was I once myself a swinger of birches.  And so I dream of going back to be. It’s when I’m weary of considerations, and life is too much like a pathless wood where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs broken across it, and one eye is weeping from a twig’s having lashed across it open. I’d like to get away from earth awhile and then come back to it and begin over.  May no fate willfully misunderstand me and half grant what I wish and snatch me away not to return. Earth’s the right place for love …

–Robert Frost

I love birch trees … I always have.   The beautiful bark and graceful branches and shape have long been sought after landscape choices for many seeking beauty and exquisite charm in a simple, artistic way.

Some months back I remember traveling and as the passenger looking dreamily out the window, I saw what seemed to be a good mile of nothing but clusters of birch trees.  I was mesmerized by the beauty and remember commenting to John how I’d love to be lost there in the woods amidst the birches.  Fortunately, John’s known me long enough to know how “unique” my imagination is . . . but also how crazy I am; therefore sped up a bit, most likely afraid I would ask him to pull over and drop me off—me all too eager to be lost in the “forest of birches”.

Surgery happened.

My surgical oncologist is a rock star and knowing a bit about my music interests and the frame of mind I was in, I let her choose what music would be played in the OR.  So after praying and being wheeled down the hall, I entered the bright OR with the very unique and melodious Dido—calming my nerves incredibly.  My surgeon and anesthesiologist held my hands until I slipped away to Dido’s beautiful voice, remaining in never-never land for the next 7 hours.

I don’t actually recall awakening per se, but I do remember in my dreamy, morphine fog, seeing John for a moment, next my mom, and then my sister.  My eyes couldn’t stay open for long, but what I later realized was that I had to be alone that night, which killed me.  My family was told they were only allowed about two minutes to see me as we learned the hospital was over-capacity, meaning  there were no rooms to send me to—so I would be spending at least one night alone in the PACU, no visitors allowed. The pre/post anesthesia care unit (PACU), consisted of a lovely 2×4 curtained-space where I was surrounded by sick people going in or coming out of surgery.   Not to whine, but I honestly felt helpless and alone, knowing that my ONE expectation and comfort pre-surgery was that I would have my family around me when I awoke.  In my mind, I needed this more than ever, because though this necessary “thing” needed to happen, this surgery (that I still don’t vocalize all that much), the thing that was vainly and intensely dreaded—yet eagerly anxious to get over with, hoping to remove this thing called cancer out of my body (with the goal:  for good)—I felt more vulnerable and weary than ever and desperately needed people who loved me around me when I awoke.

Now let’s face it— typically, any type of amputation is a day surgery these days with insurance or at best an overnight stay.  Staying 4 nights was over the top for my little “Angie Jolie” procedure.   The result of my surgery was apparently “beautiful” …. odd choice of wording, but okay, whatever.   By the middle of day two in PACU-ville (still no room available) I was told I would have a private room by dinner time.  Yay.  What I didn’t know was that in all the unseemly unfairness in my “lonely Nicole land”, the staff, some very special angels in my midst who really understood my emotional struggle really hooked me up—BIGTIME.  My room was in the “celebrity hotel quarters” of the hospital, or the place where those who choose to spend a month’s salary per night out of pocket after insurance go to heal—private chef and all.  Honestly, God is good, because this is NOTHING I would ever choose even if I were celebrity-status, but after my disenchantment post-surgery, it was indeed a lavish treat, though not exactly one of my “bucket list” return spots of interest.

In and out of sleep the last two weeks, I’ve thought and dreamt about birch trees … I don’t know why, but they’ve visited me in my dreams.   What does the birch tree symbolize?  I guess from what I’ve gathered, the birch tree symbolizes a fresh start and can bring courage and determination especially to those of us who are treading the path of spiritual growth and weariness.   Although the birch does appear fragile, in all its “romantic” carving ability . . . (y’know , the way lovers can permanently make a mark on its writeable bark), instead, the birch tree is extremely hardy—teaching us that in apparent weakness there is often to be found great strength.

Worldwide, birches also promise new life and love, and are great symbols of purification and renewal, helping to focus our attention on our potential for change and on the consideration of new directions and goals to be experienced in our lives.

When I think of Robert Frost’s masterpiece—“Birches” I’m reminded of the swinging motion—the substance of the poem and the deep force that comes with such a motion.  My life is filled with the contrary pulls of truth and imagination.  Tangible and spiritual.  Control and abandon. Flight and return.   The upward “swinging” substance of the poem brings me to imagination and escape—away from the ultra-heavy truth of cancer and all the changes and uncertainties it has brought to my life and those I love.  The downward “swing” and truth of Frost’s brilliance, brings me back to earth, to face the challenges set before me and to look with fresh eyes at the many areas of my life that need clearer focus, new direction, deeper love.

I’ll be honest—Truth with a capital T for me is that I often desire to get away from the earth awhile these days, becoming a swinger of birches.  The thought and attraction of climbing a beautiful birch, leaving the difficulties and weariness of this journey behind is in many ways a no brainer.  Who wouldn’t want to escape?  Life is so much like the “pathless wood” Frost speaks of.  One easy way to navigate would be to climb a tree, high above every obstacle below.

God, however is Love and has intricately put each of us here for a plan and purpose bigger than ourselves.  When I think of that, it motivates me to pursue all He has planned for me regardless of how much time that may mean here on Earth.  I love how Frost says in his poem:  “Earth’s the right place for love.”   For now, he couldn’t be more right.  In my deeply imperfect state, constantly craving escape, I must return from my upward swing and come back again … to keep going where He wants me.   I’ll always want to push toward Heaven, where difficulties and heartache don’t exist, but as His plans have me here, I need to know the limits and limitless abilities my Father has chosen for me, and pursue them now with passion.

Yes . . . I love birch trees.  They are the perfect vehicle.  A thrill to climb, yet firmly rooted in the ground—never allowing one to sever the ties God has with His plans for us here on Earth.  Swinging down takes experience, skill and courage . . . leaving that higher place.  It means that you take risks and you explore the mysteries of life. Being a swinger of birches means I can look back on life and be proud of the accomplishments and challenges.

I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree, and climb black branches up a snow-white trunk toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more, but dipped its top and set me down again.  That would be good both going and coming back.  One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.     

Tomorrow’s a new day, and actually the day I will learn of my pathology results and hopefully have these dreaded drains removed … (for all you who’ve had them, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about).  I will keep you updated on the news of my results.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.      

2 Corinthians 4:16

Nicole

 

 

When Life gives You Lemons … Indulge

Lemon

Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.

~ William Shakespeare

“Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy” is a tune each of my three boys has declared on more occasions than I can count.  The expression was mastered by the boys in Kindergarten, and has since become a jingle of choice, my little mantra in times of difficulty.   What I never realized, however, was the amazing truth behind the cutesy rhyme—in its very literal sense.   Lemons are truly an easy solution to a multitude of problems.

Many people have asked where I’ve been these days.  The normal “zest” I try to tap into every day in some ways turned sour this past month or so.  I think I’ve been in survival mode since Christmas, and as deep fatigue and malaise set in with the last phase of chemo, I guess the reality of the “big C” has really weighed on my mind much heavier.   I have found it difficult to find inspiration in the things around me that usually bring clarity and joy to my daily life.  Instead, I’ve been “puckering” up to the sour circumstances of this thing called cancer and all the un-pleasantries that come with it.

Chemotherapy is now done.  Finito.

The last few visits to Dana-Farber had me physically ill before arrival.  I guess you’d call it a psychosomatic response to the dreaded poison that was about to make its way into my veins.  Ironically, the last infusion of AC was bittersweet—a real sense of relief that chemo was over coupled with the real fear that chemo is over …. surgery looming on the horizon.  There were tears, hugs, well-wishes and love poured out on me and my heart ached a bit knowing that the very poison I dreaded every week , the very thing that made me so sick and tired was no longer going to be beating me up to make me well.  It sounds sort of warped, but there was a sense of trauma that accompanied me out the door that day.

Lemons.  A while back, my sister, Michelle lured me into a lemon love-fest, leading me on an exploration of this citrus gem and all the wonderful medicinal properties it delivers.  I won’t lie, as a woman, I love learning about hidden beauty secrets that…well, help me look and feel 20 again.  Who doesn’t?  So learning that this citrus fruit full of Vitamin C is also a great source of protection from free radicals, y’know those pesky little things that, theoretically speaking—“age” us … led me to begin my love affair with the savant of the citrus family—limones.

Cancer treatment does a number on your body.  For many, that number is called something like whopper-doozie or as I like to call it:  “le destructeur” to the enth degree.   Chemo is cumulative.  In short, different symptoms present at different times, many worsening as you go.  Completing 20 weeks of chemo—my “le destructeur” wreaked havoc on a few different areas of my body, some worse than others.

First up—Anemia.  This past month, my red blood cells were at a relatively speaking all-time low.  For me that equated to difficulty walking up a flight of stairs without looking like that annoyingly under-exercised person gasping for air at the top of mere 10 steps (no judgment here).  Yup.  I was that chick.  Only as I was gasping for air, chest pain and often severe headaches accompanied it.  It was frustrating.  I’m usually the one racing up six flights of stairs in 4 inch stilettos, with a resting pulse rate at the finish line.  Seriously—BEYOND frustrating.  On the bright side:  I could walk up a flight of stairs.  After all, some struggling with severe anemia can barely get out of bed because they’re just too exhausted to even put their feet on the floor.  Little by little, I am gaining back strength and stamina, but adding the bitter-tasting, yet miraculous power of lemon juice has the added benefit of aiding the body to produce red blood cells, thus speeding along the process.

The beauty of this little yellow fruit knows no bounds as it also helps ease anxiety.  Lemon balm has a calming effect and therefore may be able to help remove fatigue and exhaustion, anxiety, nervousness, and tension—pretty much the very things that sour my spirit.  I’m not saying Valium can be completely tossed to the curb, but hey…I’ll pucker up.   Ironically, I also earned that though I’ve been in a state of brain fog from the chemo, apparently inhaling lemon oil helps to increase concentration and alertness.   (I wish I had remembered this fact during all of my forgetful chemo-brained moments … that still plague me).

In many ways my lemon in life has been the source of much sweetness.  Cancer’s sour taste has become the old adage:  “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”   My lemonade has been tasted in the sweetness of new relationships and the beauty that comes with having people to love and be loved by….so many bringing light and joy to my life.

Last Wednesday I had an MRI to see how the cancer responded to the chemo.  I won’t learn results until this Thursday, but ultimately know the full picture won’t be revealed until I’m opened up.  My prayer is that chemo did its thing … which will help guide the surgeon to a goal of a better outcome.  My surgery date has been set:  June 14.  I felt a pit in my stomach when I got the call confirming the date… but I know it’s time.  The date however does bring special significance—Logan’s birthday (also Flag Day).  I was further inspired by my friend and colleague, Sarah—her Grandmother also sharing that birthday, a precious soul who lived to be 101.

Nothing in life is a coincidence.  His timing is perfect.

My son, Logan recently placed a scripture on my bathroom mirror.  His note brought tears to my eyes as he wrote:  Mom, Isaiah 43:1-4 says it perfect— “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!”

Thank God, I am His.

Little by little, I’m shaking off my sour to make room for the sweetness and zest that comes from indulging in the lemon that has been sent my way for a season … for a reason … for a greater purpose than I may not be able to grasp just yet.  Though I feel changed, I know that my Father has not changed and will forever be in the business of unfolding His plan and purpose for my life.  That fact alone brings me peace that passes all understanding.

All my love . . . Nicole

Castaway

dingy

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.

~Winston Churchill

I’ve missed you all.  I’ve had “behind the keyboard withdrawals.” I find this wonderful forum or as I like to call it:  my c-blog therapy sessions behind the computer, help to keep my spirit soaring as I express my heart.  I won’t get into too many details about my computer drama causing my longer than normal absence, but let’s just say when the hard drive goes unexpectedly on your computer and you lose all your files and pictures because they weren’t properly backed up . . .big girls do, in fact, cry.  Actually, they bawl.

As many of you can guess by now, I’m about as right-brained as one can get.  As such, my scattered mind makes me more of a creative thinker than other, perhaps more organized folk.  I’m wired by feeling and intuition as opposed to sequence and logic when gathering information.  I tend to visualize the whole picture first then work my way backwards to fit the pieces together that create that whole picture.

Over the weekend, the boys wanted to rent a movie—one that in all honesty, I’ve had no interest seeing, despite all the acclaim it has received.   Life of Pi was the chosen feature presentation and all I can say is that my initial “non-interest” turned to—WOW!  I was truly blown away by every aspect of the film.  Sadly, I’ve never read the book, a New York Timesbestseller that the movie is based on.  Perhaps if I had known how incredibly rich in symbolism and full of deep truths this gem was, I would have read the book ages ago and been more than eager to see the movie.  Actually, I’m usually not fond of endorsing movies based on novels, because often the film doesn’t live up to the book.  However, book or no book—the movie was wonderful and moved me to tears.

Pi, the film’s protagonist, is a shipwrecked castaway that spent over 220 days at sea.  This boy, in the face of unimaginable tragedy and inconceivable adversity, brings the viewer into a truly magical journey—weaving a fantastic story in the face of a cruel reality— the story, becoming his life vest of survival.

Do you ever notice that during times of great suffering and tribulation come unexpected, powerful moments that give meaning and purpose to life?  Often these moments become the very necessary tools for survival.  Pi’s storytelling became his means of survival.   In fact, the Bengal Tiger in the life boat with Pi, is the symbolic side of him that though he wishes to escape from, he instead embraces, learning how to live in both opposition and partnership with it.

Though I refuse to be defined by it, breast cancer is unfortunately in my life boat whether I like it or not.  Though I’m also opposed to embracing its hold on my life, the truth is . . . it’s real and I need to be in partnership with its place in my life, so I can positively bring hope and light to others who may be a castaway in the face of darkness.

My appointment on Friday was semi-optimistic and difficult all at once.  The oncologist confirmed that what I’ve been feeling on my skull is real, discovering that in addition to the lymph node at the base of my skull, the bone above that area feels different because there is another lymph node on top of the actual bone.  She honestly felt these areas were “normal” and not to worry about them because the size of the lymph nodes are not at a worrisome size.  Meanwhile, the pathology report I’ve never actually held in my possession finally was printed . . . and honestly, that was more difficult to look at than I had thought.  Though I have hope and trust in the plan laid out before me, the truth is the staging is a bit scary to look at in black and white.

The same earnest hope in the face of a cancer diagnosis still comes with the reality that there’s a bad side of breast cancer—not all “pretty in pink” as the awareness ads dangled in front of us make us believe.   In fact, the reality is that in the U.S. alone, breast cancer death rates among women are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.

Reality can indeed sometimes scare us . . .  but it’s okay to acknowledge it and even talk about it, as long as it exists in partnership with God’s promises.  Like Pi, I’m but a castaway on the open sea, ready to use this moment to produce an inspirational story of hope and survival that blesses many.

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.   

~Psalm 119:50

Mastering the Keys with Precision

piano keys

(transferred from my CaringBridge page from 3/5/13)

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.

~ Bob Marley

This weekend, I had the distinct privilege of experiencing one of my favorite jazz pianists and composers—Joe Sample.  Working with the likes of Miles Davis, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and George Benson (to name a few), Joe incorporates jazz, gospel, blues, Latin and even classical style into his amazing compositions.

Jazz.  There’s something about listening to it that brings such peace to my spirit—in many ways like a deep soul massage.  Just thinking about Joe Sample’s music relaxes my shoulders.  I’ve always found the best musicians to have a distinct sound that can easily be discerned from the ears of a true fan, even if you were blindfolded.  Sample could play a simple melody like Chopsticks on the same Yamaha as hundreds of other pianists, and still have it sound incredibly unique to him.  At one point during his performance, he talked about all the painful hours he has spent exercising his fingers.  He continued to share that the exercises were not about how well he could execute an entire piece of music, but instead how well his fingers landed on each key.  The precise placement of his fingers touching each key—determined the kind of sound only he can produce.

This past week was tough.  No sugar-coating . . . it was exhausting, trying and demanding of all my focus and energy.  “Mental drain” sums it up well.  In a moment during the week when my spirit seemed too weak to think let alone pray, it brought priceless encouragement to see one of Colby’s scriptures on my mirror:  “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7)  Because He cares for you.

I was doubly blessed to have my mom join me on Thursday for chemo.  While we were able to have some great one on one time, I was also able to share some of my struggles with her.  Though I can’t imagine the intense pain a mother must feel having a sick child with no way to fix it, my mom always encourages me while also allowing me to have moments of weakness, moments of human frailty—without going into meltdown zone because of my lack of optimism.  Though people don’t mean to communicate additional stress, often a sick person feels pressured with an expectation to be perpetually positive.  “Stay positive” is the mantra of choice.  The mentality behind the saying is sensible and wise, yet with it comes the added anxiety of probable failure.  Instead, my mom listens earnestly, never discouraging me from expressing honest pain.  She’s the perfect best friend/mother combination—loyal, unconditional, honest, loving and true . . . never letting me sit in worry and confusion, but also never dismissive about my feelings.  I thank God every day for her.

Sometimes we put our Faith in full compositions, instead of individual key strokes.  I often find myself busy praying over the big picture instead of the smaller, intricate steps that would be easier to hit with ease and precision.  I need to exercise my Faith the same way Joe exercises his fingers . . . not on a mission to perfectly execute my ballad of sorts.  Instead, the crux of this composition laid out before me is about the way my fingers graze each key.

I recognize that every step along the way of this trial is going to be difficult, even unbearable at times.  If I look too far down the road, it will be easier to falter.  Instead, I need to look at the placement of my feet, one step at a time . . . trusting the Lord’s lead.

“Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” ~Oswald Chambers

This week marks week 9.  Almost ½ way there!

 

A Mind Resting in Eden

James Dean

(originally posted on my CaringBridge page on 1/15/13)

 Only the gentle are ever really strong.

~ James Dean

Have you ever woken from a deep sleep with a face ingrained in your mind?  Confused for a moment, not quite recalling what you were dreaming about, but knowing it had something to do with this face.  Often times this face is someone you know who’s been heavy on your heart, or maybe someone you’ve recently encountered.  Sunday morning I woke up with a face fixed in my mind of someone I’ve only ever “met” through pictures and films—James Byron Dean.  Not sure why exactly? . . . I mean, I haven’t been thinking about him lately, haven’t seen one of his films recently.  Anyway, there it was . . . his beautiful face.

We’ve always referred to our oldest son, Colby as an “old soul,” incredibly wise beyond his years.  When he was three years old, his favorite movie was It’s A Wonderful Life, and he earnestly remained captivated, even during parts of the film that would likely bore even the most passionate Jimmy Stewart fans.  I, too, was one of those “old souls,” a girl before-my-time.  While many girls were donning posters of Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze on their bedroom walls in the late-80s, it was not uncommon for my walls or bookshelves to include black & white images and books of actors such as Montgomery Clift, Audrey Hepburn . . .  or more significantly, James Dean.  I was especially enamored with him.  Recalling my fancy over this complex, young actor—who came and went before my time, I began to think about one of my favorite reads of all times . . . John Steinbeck’s, East of Eden.  James Dean’s face brought this book to mind, as I was reminded of his infamous role as Cal in Elia Kazan’s film based on this haunting novel.

As a lover of literature, I read this book at a fairly young age and reread again later . . . at the time never exploring the depth of my own human condition. Cal was symbolic of Cain in the Bible, and like all of us, he had free will to decide between good and evil.  Choice.  Just as each character in East of Eden faced—so does, ultimately, every human being.  This same free will that we’ve been given, even blessed with, applies to every aspect of our lives…and at times it can be really hard to choose responsibly, especially in the realm of the mind, when the bad creeps in at your weakest moments.

This past weekend, I got to enjoy a wonderful “date” weekend with my three little princes.  The good stuff came with:  snuggling by the fire w/a movie & popcorn, watching magician, Logan perform his latest card tricks, laughing with Lance as we read through a great book, and getting goose bumps, listening to the latest story Colby wrote in his journal . . . and then church Sunday followed by a fun, “mom & guys” brunch afterwards.  Good times.

The bad stuff found a way in too, looming in the always active mind.  It can quickly become a vestibule of doubt, worry and fear—closing in when you least expect it.  It usually presents after a long day of distracted fun, perhaps in the middle of the night, when everything else appears peaceful yet lonely.  My mind visited some unwelcomed destinations. I won’t share them, but I will tell you how much I thought about the significance of mothers.  Being one.  Having one.  Loving many.   I thought about my mom who is tangled up in her own web of worry—over a daughter who is ill, over her own mother, struggling with leukemia, and seemingly in a downward spiral …blood transfusions more often than not.  It saddens me to the core to know how much heartache my mom is no doubt dealing with.

If you’re not careful, when it’s left to its own device, the mind becomes a filthy watering hole, “corrupting” your being with negativity and lies.

I love the line early on in East of Eden when John Steinbeck writes:  “I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east.”

You can love the east for the light that every morning sunrise brings or sigh at its reminder of another hard day’s work ahead.  You can dread the west for the darkness that every sunset creates or relish it for the colors that linger on the horizon.  Basically, we can choose to wander east or west . . . not always finding what we’re looking for.

As for me, I so long to rest my head in Eden, allowing paradise to guide my heart and mind.

 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  (2 Timothy 1:7)