Living with purpose

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

I love me a good fresh start just like any self-respecting Type A, INFJ, enneagram 3 and a New Year is prime time to do some serious navel gazing and where are we going from here pondering. Also a softie at heart I revel in all the look back and reflect type exercises too. Our family has a yearly tradition of writing our top ten lists on New Year's Eve. I personally love finding the good, the blessings, the wonder, and I find it connecting to hear what stood out for the people I love too. Not a shock to anyone who knows me even a tiny bit but 2017 kicked my behind. 2017 kicked my husband's behind. 2017 was a year we will never forget, even when we wish we could. During the top ten family list making, several events popped up that I had already forgotten about - a bunch of situations that in a normal year would have stood out for their 'badness'. But this year they disappeared into the cobwebs of my brain crowded out by much bigger situations. Despite all the hard things, I remember 2017 almost exactly like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today

Life just keeps right on chugging along and here we are mid-July already, can you actually believe it? The garden is growing; full of weeds, a little too wild as usual and right alongside it my kiddos. My baby who I will always and forever swear was just born turned seven and asked to climb a real mountain for her birthday so they did - all 2407 meters (7898 feet) of Ha-Ling with daddy and her siblings, this mama who is afraid of heights stopping 4/5 of the way to the top.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Perspective and circling

I was rear ended last week and perhaps the good thing about rear ending someone who has recently been diagnosed with cancer is that (in my case anyway) they might not sweat it. Yes my car needs fixing and going to the police station and calling insurance took up half my day,  yes my back and shoulders are sore but my girls who were with me are a okay (thank you car seats) and we are all alive. I hugged the lady who hit me, she was shaking, apologizing over and over and I told her, it's okay, they are just things. Things can be fixed and at the end of the day they don't matter as much as we think they do, beyond food and clothing and shelter to keep us healthy and dry and warm.

It is a little like cancer. Perspective. As far as cancer goes I have it pretty lucky. Low grade is in some ways better than high grade or heaven forbid aggressive. Caught relatively early and I had my colonoscopy yesterday and there weren't any lesions in my bowel or colon: also pretty lucky. Having my main tumor removed without complications already is lucky. *Possibly* not needing chemo also very fucking lucky. Being able to live without everything there is growth on right now - lucky.

This doesn't mean it feels easy or that I feel lucky. Even yesterday after the happy colonoscopy result I felt pretty numb, likely in part from the colonoscopy prep which involves over 40 hours without solids and crapping out about 30 cups of fluid followed up by getting a camera put where the sun doesn't shine (I will laugh about this one day but that day is not today) but also because whenever a test or procedure or call happens, it is there again. A reminder. Real. Something growing in your body that shouldn't be. Before the colonoscopy results could really sink in I got a call from my other doctor (I have a bowel oncologist and a gynecological oncologist) telling me she was moving ahead with scheduling ovary removal. Again good news(ish) but also hard, a reminder of what is still to come.

Every time I feel positive and well and like "by the grace of God I got this shit handled" I think that will be it. I will be strong and positive and happy each and every day until this is over with. I will be grateful and zen and drink my green juice and take my supplements and essential oils and pray and say my affirmations and see my acupuncturist from now until forever if I need to.

Until I'm not feeling that way anymore.

I had a moment of supreme irritation last week thinking ahead to the colonoscopy and again yesterday getting the call from the gynecologist where I felt so angry at myself about my emotions. About how I was feeling scared again. I'm incredibly grateful in a logical way for the positive colonoscopy yesterday, but the week before it really settled in that this was happening because they might find something else. 

I was mad at myself that I was feeling negative feelings again. But more than that I was upset because I realized that this process will continue until this is done and that makes me feel so, so tired and also beat down. I realized I will circle through  feeling like good will come from this, that I will be refined in ways I both knew I needed and in ways I had no clue and how beautiful that will be and between feeling not so redeeming things like anger and fear and general bitchiness and self-pity.

The harder parts of the circle seem to trigger another round of 'I shoulding' myself (I should be handling this better, I should be being more positive, I should be more grateful, etc., etc., etc.), followed by another round of mourning, needing comfort and burning some fears up.

I'm tired now, this week especially again but it's okay. It's okay to not always do everything well.

It's okay because I have been through this a few times already. I will lean into what is getting me through, continue on in this circle, and come around again to the top.

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Giving thanks - even on the hard days when I don't feel like it. One of the things I'm leaning into.

 

Summer flow

July for us was full of sports and camps and in most ways our days were much more on par with a school schedule than they were a summer schedule. We packed lunches and had multiple pick ups and drop offs at multiple places on any given day. We hurried to bed after getting home from evening practice (after the day training or camp) because we had to get up early the next day. We did lots of laundry and driving and ate a lot of take out and spent not much time at home. I was pretty tired by the end of this and was needing a break and summer vacation of my own. We turned down a few more options for activities for the kids because I wanted some weeks where we didn't have to be certain places at certain times. I strongly believe in allowing my kids to be their own selves and pursue their own passions but I also strongly believe in family connection and periods of rest.

So we had a few weeks to just hang out at home before we left on our family camping trip. We didn't go anywhere much except for occasional visits to the outdoor pool and the library and biking in the river valley. We didn't do much besides book reading and taking care of the garden and yard and eating meals outside together on the deck.

We camped in the mountains with Aarons's family with zero cell service and the kids played and fished and whittled while the grown ups detoxed from our smart phones. 

My parents came to visit and we played games and watched Olympics and slept in and ate a copious amount of delicious peaches fresh from their orchard. 

Summer is my very favourite and it is home to some precious childhood memories. I remember lazy mornings and lots of time to read and bike and swim and really do whatever you want to a certain extent. I remember camping trips and bare feet and ice cream and zero urgency. 

As my kids get older and their worlds continue to expand I want to allow that for my family for at least a few windows of time a year.  Time for us all to fully relax and settle and just be. Time for everyone to strengthen connections. Time to get good and bored enough to discover something about yourself or your family or life or love that you didn’t know before.

On being alive

First thing this morning I went for a swim - one side of the sheltered bay to the other and back. The water was frigid and it was too early for the air to have warmed. I was the only one there. I stood in the sand looking out - seeing the beauty and feeling the chill. Thought about coming later instead.I made myself get in.

My breath took half way across to even out. It was racing with my strokes and the coldness of the water. Racing through the dark depths. I cried at the gift of all the space to breathe - to feel my lungs full and free. To feel my breath come lightly amidst the gasping. The joy of tears and sweat and rebirth.

I start to think about how to do this always. Swim at dawn and come back breathing hard and alive. Kiss Aaron and eat bagels with my bed headed kids.

Sell everything and buy a sailboat. See the world. Move to a tiny cottage by the sea. Drink coffee on the rocks after greeting the day in the water. Make our own bagels. Eat every meal together. Feel God's goodness and feel alive.

I wonder about how to do this. If there is a life that escapes the tightness, the tragedy, the weight, the worry, the responsibility. I wonder if I'm allowed.

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