Friday, May 30, 2014

A New Adventure

I will officially graduate tomorrow. I will walk nervously across a stage to an unknown presenter and accept my rolled diploma secured with a shiny ribbon. The official document displaying my Bachelors degree in Human Services that I diligently plugged away at for six years. I will smile as I go along, knowing within myself that my other classmates will never know the giants I have slain to get to this monumental moment in my life. 

They were larger than life most of that time. 

I am sure I will cry once I am back in my seat, and I will remember that every tear I have cried in the past,  and every tear I will be crying tomorrow will be worth the joy of realizing what an accomplishment getting my Bachelors degree has really been.

It was one of the hardest goals I have ever achieved in my life.

My upcoming graduation has been nothing less than a miracle, and crossing that stage will be a true example of the courage I have had to muster to ignore my surroundings and the negative forces in it, and push forward, even on those days when I wanted to burn my books and smash my lap top, among many other daily obstacles.

Yes I had those days, more than I care to remember. Sometimes it was many days in a row. One time I think it lasted for a month and then there was that time when I had decided to just give up.

Yea, I did that too, to the point of completely quitting.
No less than three years ago I was hanging it up, for good. I had decided (along with a couple of doctors) that I was just too sick to go on and there was no future for such a sickly woman like me. I was feebly trying to get around, acting like I had it all together when I had oxygen tubes hanging out of my nose helping me breath and weakness taking over my body and medicine clouding my mind. 

So I bowed out quickly and quietly. 

I disappearing into the shadows as I  listened to those voices (and those doctors) in my head that kept beating me up, or should I say beating me down and slowly killing my dreams. My dreams of doing good and helping others find their courage. That was why I did it in the first place, to make the world, or at least my little corner of it, a better place for the people living in it. But sadly I was becoming one of those people I was initially out to help.

I was slowly being surrendered to the negative. 

But then I had a day of clarity.

It was that moment hidden in among all of the confusion and doubt and assumed impossibility that my thoughts shifted and I looked beyond the sickness and the words of death from the doctors and the words from those who thought they were doing me a favor. I looked beyond the negative people who were consoling me and telling me "Its OK to quit, you're sick, you should just hang it up, what if you get sicker? You will never be able to do it." 

And It was in one of those negative moments that I decided I would NOT be defined by sickness and fear and lies ... and I boldly picked myself up out of the pity pit and made up my mind, in that very instant, that I would finish college, no matter the depth of the pit I was in.

The work was not easy. I worked harder than I ever thought I could at something. And I look back now and still wonder, how did I do that? I remember the 4 a.m. bed times after writing out chapter out-lines and reading whole text books and writing seven page minimum papers. I remember how hard it was to take control of my health and lower the medicine and wean myself off of oxygen and set the oxygen tank aside and heal my lungs. I remember my mentor's telling me, "We are so glad you are back, we were worried, we didn't think you were going to make it back."

 And I wonder where did that push come from? I wonder that to this day. And clearly there is a fighter in me, one from nature and from nurture. It proved to me that the two together are a driving force when they need to be.

That time in my life was so hard, too, because I had to be my own cheerleader. I had to work beyond my sickness and disability, because I knew in my heart I was not going to be the victim of a sickness. I knew I could not let it win and I know now that my shift in attitude and my thinking positive thoughts improved my health. Even on the days I thought I was dying I was positive, and every morning, filled with thanks, I woke up.

I studied at home and met with my mentor in his office every other week, and beyond that, I was on my own. I had to get out of the house in snow storms during my winter classes wearing oxygen and driving to school because I didn't want to miss my meetings. I had to get the work done, I had to meet my deadlines, I had to prove not only to my mentor but to myself that I was an enthusiastic learner and a dedicated student with a professional attitude. 

Apparently I have accomplished that, and I have no words for that feeling.

There were layers of myself that began to surface that I was not aware of in my previous world of sickness and failure. And it felt good to start to see and feel what I was really made of.

My grades were a great example of my success. I only got one C in six years.I got 10 A's and I forgot to count the B's but those letters sure do look good on paper. 

I read and typed and spoke my opinion and learned a plethora of information about adolescents, the elderly, the mentally disturbed, teen mother's, the differences in the male and female brain and the shocking dynamics and bitter truth about the Great American Family of the 1940's, 50's, 60's and beyond; Which to my surprise and my well educated opinion never truly existed. Ozzie and Harriet did a splendid job on television during their claim to fame and to this day, that is exactly where those families live, in the television. It was fascinating to learn about and time well spent, and history that is not taught in school. 

And my greatest accomplishment over these last six years has been my fortitude and my the final goal, my graduation. 

So many things happened within the last five years that could have stopped me, and that almost did, but I fought back with a strength I didn't know I had. The list includes my mom dying, another divorce, moving to another home, getting sick with a lung infection after years of lung problems and ultimately loosing my job because I was not getting better; It was a job I loved and I miss to this day. I was left jobless and almost penniless but not without something strong and positive coming up out of the ashes ... which would be me. 

Me with my degree and pride in the fact that I did not let the voices win.

Admittedly, had it not been for college, and if I had not trusted God in every detail of my life everyday, I would still be on that pity train. Thank the Lord I got off that ride. I learned to survive and thrive in some very difficult circumstances and I thank God, my studies, and my friends and family for their constant support; I had more cheerleaders than I was aware of. 

In the end what matters most is that I found my way out of the pit, I didn't let the dark
win and there was something alive enough in me to shock me back to the person I was before I got scared and sick and withdrawn, and if I can do it, anyone can. All that is needed is a slim glimmer of hope and the knowledge that we were made to forget the haters and remember that "WE can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengths US." Philippians 4:1

His word has never meant more to me than it has over the last six years, especially this promise. It is proof positive to me that He is always with me. Even when I felt alone and especially during that dark time, the days I thought I would die, the days I didn't want to take my medicine or use my oxygen, the days I focused only on giving up. The light is always brightest in the darkest places, and I remember the "YES I CAN do it", and I proceeded out of that darkness.

And now, starting tomorrow, I will be off on a new adventure, and I am so excited. I know there will probably be a few ruff spots ahead, but I only have to remember the last six years, look at my diploma and remember my graduation tomorrow to remind myself that if I can do this, I can do anything. There are only the limits that we put on ourselves that keeps us down. 

We were all made to do great things and I am so excited to see what is ahead for me. I believe we will all be surprised at the good we do in this world. So if anyone is down, keep your chin up ... there is something great out there waiting for you too.

I can proudly say I am very impressed with myself and I can, just for one day, pat myself on the back and say great job and I am so glad that I held on.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Never the Tenderness

Wanting babies. NEEDING Babies; I remember to this day the raw emotion that accompanied planning my own. What can I say, it is a natural desire, a maternal instinct, a deep pit-of-the-stomach feeling that needs to be satisfied no matter the obstacles. Having my OWN family was just a natural expectation. A baby was a welcome gift from God given to touch a part of a person's soul that can be matched in no other way.

I am told there is a deep connections of emotions between a mom and her baby. I'm guessing it is an experience too amazing for words, since I have tried about 20 times now to describe what it must be like and I still can't write it down. I can only assume It is an intimate attachment where a baby is close to their mother's heart, sharing her body, growing, and connecting in a way that can never be duplicated in any other relationship.

I l-o-n-g-e-d for that connection and that tenderness, the bond between a mother and their child; The kind of bond that can be see from across a room.Those initial gazes and feather-light touches between a mother and her infant child I will never know because instead I struggled with infertility.

Infertility can make a young bride bitter. 

To this day the most difficulty things for me to do is hold a baby; To smell their sweetness and feel their petal soft skin and look deep into their eyes. I admire babies from afar, and I remember deep in my mind, most time unaware that "I never had those moments." 

Most people I know have no idea I struggled with this. What is saddest of all is that it is a feeling and a desire shared by thousands of women.  Women who fought with infertility, and shots, and surgery and pills and multiple miscarriages, and buckets of tears and promise upon promise ... and never had their own children. 

And my soul still yearns for that tenderness shared between a mother and her baby. Even 25 years later. 

It wasn't like my husband and I didn't try. It was an all consuming time in my life that revolved around fertility pills and perfect timing and sperm counts and Basil Body Temperature and surgeries to remove scar tissue caused by endometriosis which caused more scares for future surgeries. The biology of the reproductive system was a daily conversation for us which included the "perfect time to conceive." Red check marks on calendar dates and thermometers and early wake up calls, those were the tools of the trade.

Infertility was a nightmare, and I have to say that even though my love for children and my nieces and nephews and friends children is very real and very deep, it is not the same love as you have for your own biological child.

I have tried to duplicate it; To create it with a baby that might be in my life at the moment, but it isn't possible. Its not the same, it almost feels like I am stealing from a friend.  And it makes my soul sad and my eyes water and my stomach knot; And then I have to walk away. 

I had multiple surgeries to remove scar tissue from endometriosis, which caused more scar tissue. I had the monthly disappointment of negative pregnancy tests and the frustrating looks on my husbands face ever single month. 

Worst of all was when all of my friends and family were having and celebrating their new babies, and I was encountering that tenderness for the first time, watching them share the thing I wanted most, those tender moments. 

So what does the one in the room with no child say or do? 

I said nothing; My body shutters, I quickly wipe away hot tears from my eyes and I left ... that is what I did.

That was  a very lonely place to be.

I did my best to avoid baby showers and chances to babysit and birthday parties. I avoided groups of friends with newborns and toddlers because no matter how hard I tried to avoid the subject, the subject came up and there was always that one person who would ask, "How are YOU two doing? Are you having any luck? I am sure you two will have a baby soon."

I wanted to hit them. I wanted to look them in the eye and tell them how dare you act like it a tooth ache or an ingrown toenail? How dare you sit there with that smile on you face and ask me "how are you doing?" When I clearly knew they knew what was going on.

But then again, they probably really didn't know what was going on. They probably really wanted to comfort me and try to help me in some way, anyway they could, but bitterness was easier for me to muster than accepting their kindness, so I rejected it.

And we were never successful at conceiving. 

Attempts at pregnancy were futile and we never did have a baby. We tried foster care, and that just seemed like a terrible attempt to place a little boy with people he didn't want to be with; He just wanted to be with his own family.  

Eventually alcoholism and anger and disgust took the place of love and friendship and commitment that we had vowed to each other and our marriage, and we split up. The stress was just too much, and we couldn't fix each other. There was just no medicine to fix what had happened to us. Our dream of a life together died right along with that desire to share that tenderness with "our" child. One we never had.

Thankfully I can say that I have healed from the anger and bitterness and sadness of it all. It was a long time ago and all of my friends children are having kinds of their own now. I have found happiness for new families and new babies but I will always mourn that tenderness. The looks and the relationship shared between a child and their mother.

As much as I hated it, I always had to remember on thing, and that is,  "this too shall pass," (Thanks to my Aunt Grace) and that you (and I) are special and important, even if infertility is or has caused pain in your life. I believe that is the only way I made 25 more years. 

And sadly, there is no pretty ending here, no magically poetic conclusion. It's painful and emotional and real, and finding other things to fill the void is hard but necessary. I pray for those dealing with this right now, and if I can ask one thing, do not let it devour you. Take one day at a time, make other plans in the meantime, keep your relationship the important factor in your life and focus on the future - with or without that special tenderness, life is meant to be lived. 

One final thought ... I never blamed God, not even once. Because I know now just like I knew then that he LOVES me and would never do such a thing to me. It just happened and through it all I have learned to love other more deeply, with my whole heart, and I don't think I would have been able to do that had I not been down this road. 

There is always a reason - God always has a plan and anything from God is a good thing. He is full of tenderness ... and I have found he can fill that void.  

Romans 8:28
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My Mother's Daughter

Today I want to remember my Mother, not just as my mom but as my friend.

I want to share with you some of the secret things we shared together, just the two of us; Special things that have come to the surface this Mother's day.

This is the short list of course, to list them all would be impossible; It would go on forever. 

We both love(d) and enjoy(ed)flowers. She especially loved roses, and she had a special garden of them made up of a rainbow of beautiful colors. I remember one cold and rainy Mother's day when I went on a hunt for a new and unusual colored rose for her because I knew it would add character to her already bountiful bouquet of roses. 

The color ended up being a soft, creamy pink color, and though the name escapes me now, she loved it. She said that the color was "unusual, something she had never seen before." I am sure if I went and looked in her garden it is still there blossoming for her. 

We have the same sense of humor and I think, honestly, most people still don't think its too funny sometimes. It can, at times, be hard to understand, but we got it, and isn't that what mattered? We understood each other. And to this day, I think only my very best friends understand my sense of humor. All of the others are just left wondering about me I suppose, and that's OK.

My mom, me and my four leaf clover
She was a professional Four Leaf Clover hunter, locator and collector. She always found one and sometimes two or three, no matter where the clovers were growing. I have found that I am sometimes pretty lucky at finding these elusive green symbols of luck myself, hiding out in my yard just waiting to be discovered. She did have a secret in finding them though, and I will share it now, since it was leaked to me by a mutual friend. She said "they are always the tallest clover in the bunch." So, my assignment to ya'll is to go see if you can find some Four Leaf Clovers for yourself. Have fun, I am sure you'll find at least one. Remember to look for the tallest one.

We share a quiet and sometimes deadly trait of telling it like it is, sometimes to fault. I find myself, at times, expressing truths that are frankly better off kept under wraps (most times), but they are usually spoken because, frankly, it needs to be said. I have found in my life that the comment is most often stealth and piercing and the recipient unsuspecting, and what is said stinging. Even served with diplomacy, the truth can still hurt and often times be bitter. And though it may not make me the most popular person in the room, it is often food for thought that needed to be served and If it's me that has to do it, so be it. I'm OK with it, so was my mom. Its one of those family jewels!

My mom loved to cook and was, hands down, one of the best cooks I have ever known. I think when I was a kid cooking was of course done out of necessity and feeding a family every night, so why not make it delicious, right? But watching her cook taught me some handy tricks, especially cooking without a recipe; And now the rest is history. I can turn meat, potatoes and a veggie into a three course maybe three star meal in no time. All the thanks goes to my mom. I think that the love she put in it made all the difference, no matter if it was Thanksgiving dinner or liver and onions on Thursday night. I have a feeling that is how she learned to cook too.

The exact beach we were on
We loved the waves in the Atlantic Ocean. On a vacation together to visit my grandpa in Florida, we spend one whole day at the beach, which for my mom was unusual. We laid in the waves instead of trying to go out in the water to far because of the under-toe, and we let the waves pull us out to sea and then push us back up onto the beach again, just like seals. It was the only way we could stay in the water without being pulled under and disappearing for good. By the end of the day we both had sand in places I dare not repeat, but it was a glorious time and we laughed so much we had smiles on our faces for the rest of the day. That day would have to be one of my all time favorites with my mom and those huge, frothy salty waves we shared as we laughed the day away. What a blessing that day was. 

And there are so many other things that I could share, but these are just some of my favorites. They are good primers for future Mother's days. These are the moments and memories I am finding near the surface for this Mother's day, and if my Mom were here to reminisce I am sure she would be pleased. I think she would say, "she is her mother's daughter after all," with a smile on her face and wink of approval.

Right now, in the writing of this, my eyes want to cry for her and so does my heart. The loss of her is unspeakable, for there are no words, and the pain of her absences is very present. But even in those raw feelings I want to celebrate and thank her for what she left with me, cherished things that I can share and show the world what a wonderful mom I had and how circumstances took her away from me and all those who knew her and loved her -far too soon.

Happy Mother's Day Mom ... I will be thinking of you in many special ways today, ways that remind me just how much you loved me and how I loved you in return.

Thank you Mom...I love you.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Choosing Solitude

It was never my intention in life to live in solitude.

But fortunately,(or unfortunately as some may think), I am alone, and throughout the last five years I have become somewhat of a pro at it, although I do have dreams of it being different someday. 

Contrary to what many may think, solitude is not a lonely place and it has caused me to do more things on my own than I ever thought I would do. Honestly these new and different things have been slow in coming, but I am getting the hang of it. And I am enjoying it, and my interest are gaining momentum as the days pass.

I was literally thrust into singleness and solitude at a point in my life when I thought nothing would shake my foundation, and I should have never been so sure of my plans. And instead of reaching out to a stranger and starting another difficult and clumsy situation to deal with, (like I had so many times before) I made a conscious choice to do life on my own, on my own terms, in solitude no matter how broken and scared and worthless I felt. 

And I have made it, so far, simply by living one day at a time. And believing in myself.

It has not been easy. And without my faith in the Lord, without him lifting me up out of the pit I was in, I would not have had the consciousness to make it this far. There were days I functioned without thought, without aim, without reason.

Thank goodness I had a guide.

The only focus I had on many days was the focus to make it to work and to make it back home again. Somedays I felt I had blinders on. But daily my focus became wider until suddenly ...

I made it. 

It was five years ago in March; and today I am alive and strong and able to get a new chance every day. Everyday is a new beginning and I have found joy in that, even in solitude.

The alternative is not an option, even on my worst day.

I credit my niece and all of the people that love me for coming forward and reminding me that I am worth it and I need to make it; and not just for them but for me. 

We get but one chance at this life and I could not let circumstance get in the way of living. I had to be reminded that I am worth it - even in solitude.

Yes, solitude can be lonely, but only if you settle, its a choice one way or the other. I am doing a great job at making my solitude less lonely. 

Writing has helped so much, and the Lord and his promise of my New Life makes every moment of solitude one step closer to what HE has called me to do. 

Solitude created an atmosphere of hope to pass on to other's; and has created in me an ability to simply share a smile and His grace to help someone out of their pit. The reassuring fact that because I have been there, and I can help someone else find a silver lining, provides a joy and satisfaction for me that I can get by doing nothing else. I can help someone out of a place where I once was and that to me is success. It is proof that God didn't bring me through it to keep it to myself. 

Hope is a contagious thing; and mine has been blossoming in solitude. Sharing my hope and my experiences and being able to brightened a lonely person's day and remind them that they are important, to me, that is the MOST important thing in life.

Solitude is not a bad thing. It is a growing place, a nurturing place, a place to encourage myself so I can then encourage others. It creates hope; And maybe, just maybe, my hope will encourage others to pass on their new found hope and make it a gloriously contagious thing.