Extraordinary Girl, Part 2

I pull out my American Idiot tee, hoping to feel sufficiently badass for strength training at the gym. But it happens again. I relive everything in the moment it takes to pull it over my still-sturdy shoulders.

I request Siri begin playing “Extraordinary Girl” to get me pumped, and to process the pain of the memory. And I travel back in time.

It was December 2, four years ago. I stood in line to purchase my commemorative tee, and one for my husband and son of course. I was giddy with anticipation before the show.  The reviews had been solid, but that didn’t matter. I’d wanted to see American Idiot for years. It had been a feat to get tickets and coordinate our schedules, but everything had fallen into place and now, there I was, buying mementos to mark the moment.

Following the sing-alongs, the tears, the groans, the laughs, I stood for the ovation. “Well, crap.” I thought. “I can’t feel my back. That’s strange.” I walked out to the car, pounding my side, trying to bring the feeling back. It never came.

Ruston drove home as I tried to calm my nerves. I noticed, instead, that it wasn’t just my back. It was the whole right side of my torso. I wasn’t as scared as I should be, but I was mentally playing the odds like I always do. “What are the odds this is cancer? Circulatory? Spinal? Neurological? Just a pinched nerve?”

Two weeks later, it was worse and the pinched nerve theory was eliminated completely. After a course of steroids and ant-inflammatory drugs, so was the spinal theory. Something wasn’t right. I began researching. I knew what was wrong, but the odds seemed so slim! How could God allow me to have this condition? The same condition that claimed my step-dad’s first wife? The condition I had donated funds to for more than a decade so none would have to watch their loved ones deteriorate as he and my stepbrother and sister had.

How could it be?

Time passed and I visited clinics and doctors a few times each week. 9 MRIs later, the diagnosis I had given my self four weeks into the ordeal proved irrefutable. MS.

Insert favorite curse word, tears, anger, regret, complete frustration with statistics and probability–my beloved logic… all of it.

“I wish it was you” I said, as horrible as I knew it was. I am good at taking care of people. I like it, even. I hate being taken care of.

So I dedicated myself to caring for others while I could. “I should do this. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to…” That warped sense of depreciating value shifted, though, and I’m thankful.

I increased my attention to my own health and wellness. And I realized that not knowing how much time I had left could be an important reminder to enjoy life, live as I had always wanted to–and not wait!

I run to the car now, chilled by the frigid 20-something weather and lightly falling snow. Fully present, no longer dwelling and processing on my lessons learned, I start the engine. I have places to go, people to see, things to do!

Heading to the gym tonight, I’m reminded of my strength and the power of living fully. My choices determine my destiny far more than any “condition” outside of my control. And, so, here I am, on my way to laugh with friends as we lift, squeezing in an extra strength session between travels.

This is the life I want. I want fun, fitness, friends, and the family I’ve made around me of those who treasure joy as much as I do and never take a moment together for granted.

 

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From Colors to College: Kindergarten Inspires College Going Dreams

I had mastered all of my colors–and then some, of course. Fuchsia and chartreuse were strangely not on the card handed to me by my teacher. As two of my favorites, this made no sense. I asked her why the omission, and she very matter-of-factly explained that she would add those to my card for the spring test.

“Oh. Good idea.” I agreed.

I had also mastered my numbers, my sounds, and already loved reading. Feeling pretty good about myself and the stickers I’d just received from my teacher, I sat down to help Jose with his sight words and was gleefully cheering his efforts to sound them out. Soon, Jose, Sheldon and I were all practicing. I would hold up the flash cards and count to three to see how they did. I even added what I thought were better words for them to learn to the backs of several of the cards.

“Miss P., I can be a teacher whenever you need, ‘kay?” I called up to her as she walked past.

“Sarah, I do want you to be a teacher. Just not yet.” She replied, smiling down at me.

“What? Why not?”

“First,” she was very quiet and clear asshe said this, leaning down and looking me straight in the eyes. The moment felt sacrosanct. “You need to get a good scholarship and go to college. I’ll help you do it, but that has to come first.”

College? I could go to college? I had seen the pretty ladies in my tv shows go to college, but I didn’t know I could go to college! And who knew teachers went to college. Well, really, who knew anything about college?

 

I went home and told my momthat I could go to college. It turned out that she already knew. She and Miss P.  had been talking about it at Parent Teacher Conferences. Wow.

I began playing with my dolls and stuffed animals at night creating what I envisioned to be college-going scenarios. Soon I was telling everyone about college. Family friends even gave me little trinkets from local colleges–the tee shirt from Clark College even had Mickey Mouse on it and looked great with my Mork and Mindy suspenders. It really did!

A few years later, I made friends with agirl whose parents had both graduated from college. I was so impressed!

College hadn’t exactly become an obsession but it was definitely something I craved information about. I asked all the adults I could if they went to college and where. I had learned that colleges had sports and drama departments and places you could live at while you went to school. It sounded perfect.

Every teacher I had thought it sounded perfect for me too. They all told me how smart I was and they praised my hard work. But it just kept getting harder.

 

Life was chaotic. We moved a lot and changed schools almost as much. I was sick all the time. I was scared too. I didn’t sleep well. And there were a lot of tears. At least, I thought, no one at school knew what my life was really like.

Eventually, no one knew what I was like either. Withdrawn, shy, exhausted, and overwhelmed, not only was I not on the honor roll, but I had no idea how I’d ever make it to college. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do anything but work. I even kept a bag packed in case I had to leave and head out on my own.

 

“Hey. You sit next to me in finance, right?” His accent was thick and his smile adorable as he tilted his head to look down at me. He was at least a foot taller than I was, but most guys were.

“Uh. Yeah.” I mumbled. “I do.”

“Cool. Wanna hang out?” I blinked.

“What? I mean, okay. Sure.” who was this guy, I wondered. “Remind me your name,” I managed.

“I’m Ji. I’m staying with a host family here. I’m actually from Korea.”

“Wow! That’s awesome,” I felt somehow connected to him in that moment. I was new to the area, new to the life style as a former inner city girl trying to acclimate to the upper class suburb I’d found myself in withmy mom’s latest marriage.

He had come to the US to go to college, but decided to do a year of high school first to work on his English a bit more. So he was older than I was as we started the year together. I was a junior in high school and he was already nineteen. But we connected.

I’d help him with his homework. He’d drive me wherever I needed to go and give me time away from my crazy house whenever I needed. By the time he started college, we’d become best friends. He was my only friend, really.

We spent every day together. He was worried about me. My mom’s drinking had gotten bad. He was certain that if it weren’t for me, my family would fall apart so he did what he could to keep me grounded.

He needed me too, though. Still insecure in his English, I edited every paper and coached him through each assignment.

“I got an A!” He exclaimed, hugging me.

“Way to go!”

“You know I couldn’t have done it without you,” he said. “I told my professor about you and even showed her some of your poetry. She said you could easily get a writing scholarship even with your grades the way they are.”

I’d barely managed a 3.0 with my honors classes and wasn’t on track to graduate after this last change of schools. But someone thought I could still get a scholarship. …

Miss P.’s words came back to me. M
aybe college was still a possibility, even a scholarship. I signed up for the SATs that weekend.

My SAT scores barely qualified me for entrance into the state schools, but barely is good enough it turns out. I didn’t get a scholarship, but Ji told me about work-study. I could pay my way through school. I knew how to work hard, after all.

But I’d have to get away. I couldn’t take care of the family and work and go to school. So I made the biggest decision I’ve ever made, to this day. I left my family. I left the state. I left Ji, with his help. It was my turn to travel and explore new worlds.

So I went away to college and I never looked back. I became a kindergarten teacher, just like Miss P. and told everyone of my students that they could go to college. And I just passed my comprehensive exams for my doctorate in Educational Leadership.

The universe works in mysterious ways. I know Miss P. and Ji were sent to guide me. I pray, now, that I can guide others–from kindergarten to college, and beyond!

 

 

 

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Silver-Linings

“You’re playing the Polyanna Glad Game again, Honey. There doesn’t always have to be a silver lining,” she smiled her sad, sweet smile as she looked through the rearview mirror back to me, seated in back of our old Honda Civic.

I half-laughed, half-sighed at her silliness. “But, Mama!” I exclaimed. “It doesn’t matter if it has to be or not. It’s just that there IS always a silver lining!”

It was that day I realized how sweet and sensitive my mama was. I worried she was too beautiful and too fragile for this world. To me, she was practically perfect, in the way a delicate work of blown glass might be. Dainty and delightful, her laugh tinkled, her bright blue eyes danced, her freckles played across her face, and her arms were always outstretched ready to give or receive a hug. But she was also sad. If only she could see all the good!

I thought of that scene in the musical Peter Pan when Tinkerbell’s light was fading, she was dying, because not enough children believed in fairies. That’s how my mama seemed to me at my brash, bold ten years of age. Mama even looked like the Disney version of Tinkerbell with her short strawberry hair and tiny figure. At just under five feet tall with pixie-like humor and a child-like voice, the cartoon could actually have been based on her.

She was going through a rough time, I knew that. And her heart was hurting. So much in her life had changed and she was questioning how to move forward. She was also worried about me. I never really understood that, but I do now.

I was always sick. I missed so much school. Something was always wrong with me and I had to see specialist after specialist to try to decipher the genetic code destroying my immune system. But in my mind, I was strong. I was amazing. God was good. Life was a gift. And no matter how bad things got, somehow, it seemed, they always worked out for me and I was okay. There was always a silver lining.

As we drove to the doctor’s office, yet again, I know my mama was worried that someday I wouldn’t be able to find a silver lining and I wouldn’t know how to deal with that. And I was worried my mama would miss out on the joy life had to offer.

Fast forward thirty-some-odd years, and not much has really changed. My world view is still informed by the search for a silver lining. And Mama is still trying to remind me that life is more complicated than that.

As we debriefed my last appointment with my new neurologist tasked with caring for the MS trying to take over my nervous system, I cried as I admitted this disease did not have a silver lining and I didn’t think I got it to learn some sort of cosmic lesson.

“MS just sucks. And that’s the way it is” I gulped between sobs. She took my hand and held me, no words needed.

But, true to form, I moved on and found silver linings. I found the lesson to live life to its fullest. I found motivation to get stronger and eat better and achieve my goals. I realized how healthy and fortunate I was compared to so many. Somehow, I’ve been able to make the glad game not just an appreciative process of gratitude, but a way to get through the hard times–even ignore them.

A few years later, Mama sat across the table from me and held my hands again. This time she asked, “When are you going to stop playing the glad game, sweetie?”

I broke down in tears. I’d been listing all the evidence I could that everyone in my life was doing their best, the evidence that things were good enough, that I needed to be thankful. But I wasn’t just focusing on the good.  I was deluding myself into thinking everything was “just fine.”

A silver lining doesn’t mean there isn’t a cloud. I was ignoring the clouds. And I was in the middle of a storm.

My mama, the sweet, sensitive soul I once worried was too fragile for this life showed me what real strength is that day as she let me cry. Real strength is acknowledging what is and moving on with a smile through the good and the bad. I can still find a silver lining but I cannot pretend the clouds aren’t there.

This will be my work this year. I will seek joy and love and light and all the silver linings I can. But I also deserve some sunny days. So instead of pretending the clouds aren’t there, I’ll seek cover, even bluer skies. Because there isn’t always a silver lining, but there don’t always have to be clouds overhead either. silver-lining2

 

 

My Soul Songs #4: Sunlight on Snow

Sunlight on snow has always been one of my favorite scenes. Cool, sunny skies invigorate me. But it’s deeper than that. It’s not just that this girl from the northwest still gets excited at the sight of snow. There’s something almost spiritual about the way the light dances on blankets of snow, the way a gentle wind picks up the crystals to create swirling patterns of glitter in my path.

It’s the balance of energies, fire and water that inspires me. We tend to think of these as opposites and as opponents. Water quenches fire. Heat evaporates moisture. But with sunlight and snow we can see how the two energies can exist in a complementary harmony.

Snow reflects sunlight. Sunshine amplifies the beauty of the crystalline water. The cold helps us appreciate the heat. And the heat slowly supports the shift from snow pack to life-giving water.

This is not a passive relationship. The balance is not static, but dynamic, and the catalyst of needed change. And the fact that we are blessed with this scene and its symbolic reminder each new year is a gift. We can enter the new year inspired to seek and create such balance in the energies of our own lives.

In my yoga, I remind myself that my soul craves and creates both power and peace. In my relationships, I remind myself that I exist to both give and receive. In my prayers, I request and I praise. I seek to create balance where it is lacking and to embrace the balance that exists.

In 2016, I learned the kind of life I want to live and the kind of love I want to have. I learned better the kind of contribution I want to make and the kind of legacy I hope to leave. I learned that I need others and that I have much to offer as well.

I carry these lessons with me into 2017 with a new appreciation of how they can be balanced in my life. I enter the year with a new perspective and the acknowledgement that I do not control the elements, but the elements are my allies. I will not fear the heat, for it brings the light that I need. I will not fear the storm for it brings new life. I will live in harmony as the sunlight on snow.

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Soul Songs #6:

Living My Yoga

When I say I’m living my yoga, I mean I’m living true to my core being. I am honoring my soul. In yoga, I start by setting my intention. Why would my days, my life, be any different, I wonder. Yet they have been–and more often than not.

When I say I’m living my yoga, I do not mean I am as flexible or strong or dedicated as I can be. I mean I am practicing. Yoga is a practice.

I am practicing honoring who I am at my core every day.  I am practicing how to take deep cleansing breaths when I least want to. I am practicing my balance. I am practicing get up after each fall. I am practicing how to listen to that soft voice from my soul.

I want to be the person my yoga mat sees, someone once said.

Exactly, I say. This is my soul song.

I am living my yoga.

Namaste.

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Living My Yoga

Meditation for a New Year

The scent of lavender oil and sandalwood incense intermingle as they waft about the small, dimly lit room.  I breathe it in and let the healing begin. I offer a silent prayer and set my intention for the day. As the sun begins to peak over the mountains in the distance I begin my meditation, my role in receiving the answers to all my heartfelt prayers.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.” I repeat the mantra as I meditate. I’ve never been able to sustain meditation without a mantra.  I go to this particular mantra often. It focuses me.

A gift from a dear friend one birthday many moons ago, I have kept this little saying in my office for more than a decade, and in my heart and mind always. It is one of my Soul Songs that reverberates with each breath and vibration my existences sends out into the universe and its pure light, my tiny ripple in the waters of life.

I am only one, but I am one. I am all that I am, nothing more, nothing less and that is enough.

Breathe in, breathe out. A deep, healing, falling out breath. I release all the negativity and fear. I let it go.

“I am enough. I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

None of us know what the future holds and that’s okay. What we are capable of is ever-changing and often far greater than we ever give ourselves credit. I take another deep breath and I remind myself of this.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

I breathe in and out along each chakra as I visualize my core and every place of strength and weakness along the way, scanning my body in my mind’s eye. I send love and light to each crack and fill ache each with gratitude for doing their best to hold together the strength needed for me to continue each day with a smile. I am so thankful.

These mortal vessels we’ve been given to carry us through this life experience are amazing, delicate and strong. I am in awe of all I can do and all I continue to become. So I give thanks.

I refuse to believe that our bodies become diseased or weakened for a reason or lesson to learn, but I do insist on learning something from every experience. The succumbing of my nervous system to MS didn’t bring any great lessons; I have chosen, however, to take it as an opportunity to focus my efforts, my purpose. My purpose is gratitude and joy.

I breathe in gratitude and prepare myself to give and receive greatness. I want to live a full and fulfilling life.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

I have learned from MS and from each of the challenges, lessons, and gifts along my life’s journey. I have learned that I want to live a life full of laughter, smiles, hugs, music, memories, and those who feed my soul. Such a life aligns my purpose to my actions and empowers me to remember the difference we each make. I can make a difference.

E.B. White is said to have proclaimed “I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.” This is how I choose to live and create a life of my choosing.

“I will do as much as I can for as  many as I can for as long as I can” and I am one of those. I am fulfilled and energized by interacting with and giving to others. I have a contribution to make.

I can only fully make that contribution, though, if I honor myself and my needs. I will rest and restore and refresh. I will seek support and assistance too–from all sources, temporal and spiritual, for these gifts are for me to use along my journey so I stay strong and accomplish all the good I can do. It is with joy in my heart that I make the biggest difference. And the source of my joy is that “hell of a good time” I have. So, I will have a great time. And I will change the world. Today.

The incense is nearly extinguished. The sun is aloft. The world is aglow with daylight sparkling on snow. The meditation chimes hum.

Another deep breath and I am ready for the first day of this new year. It’s going to be a good one.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

From the Ice

Glistening, gleaming,
Glinting white,
Guiding Godlight.
Help me find my way.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me.*

Slipping, sliding,img_0007
Seeking strength and
Scared to fall.
Help me find my way.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me.

Hurting, hoping,
Hearing songs of
Healing angels.
Help me find the way.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me.

Glistening, gleaming,
Seeking strength from
Healing angels.
I find my way.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside. Help me find the way.

 

 

 

*These words are taken from a song that got me through every childhood fear and comforts me still, “I Am a Child of God” from the Latter Day Saints Children’s Songbook and Hymnal (Randall, N.W., 1957)