Soul Songs #20: Extraordinary Girl

“She’s all alone again wiping the tears from her eyes. Some days she feels like dying. She gets so sick of crying.” *

Though ultimately an optimist, I spent my childhood nights in tears worried about the future, scared I’d never find love, praying for my family. I was so scared I’d let people down and never be good enough. I even had a special pillow that I used exclusively for crying into so my sister with whom I shared a room, could not hear me cry.

I’d cry for hours sometimes. Then I’d take a deep breath, say another prayer and rest with the assurance that tomorrow was a new day and held new possbilities. I’d listen to music until I fell asleep and always awoke ready for the day, wearing a smile more times than not. I would even tell myself that no one ever needed to know how I really felt or how weak and scared I was.

I now have a life far easier than anything I’d known was possible. I’m comfortable. I’m confident in who I am. And I  become bolder and braver every year, more my true unabashed self. My prayers are mostly for others and offered in gratitude.

But I still cry. Comfortable is not the same as happy. Grateful is not the same as fulfilled. But I am not scared. I’m an extraordinary girl in an extraordinary world. I know that now.

*lyrics from Greenday

Soul Songs #17

Parables of Love, Part I: The Guru

“This is your time; invite yourself to just be,” she started.

The soft sound of healing breaths, in and out, began to hum as we drifted into our own inner spaces. Grounding ourselves in our breath, reminded of our humanity, and reaching with our hearts, reminded of our spirits, we commenced our yoga practice. It’s a practice designed for discovery. We struggle with poses we’re not yet strong enough to hold. We flow through stretches that push our limits. We falter, even fall, as we learn to balance. The discovery will be of our true selves, the core of our beings at the energy source that sparks our human existence. This practice is part of all we do.

The chimes bring us back as our guru intones reminders to listen to our bodies and go at our own pace.

“Thank you for sharing your practice with me today. Thank yourself for making the effort to be present. Notice if you were able to put on those yoga blinders and care only for your practice rather than comparing yourself and your practice to others. Ask your soul if you loved yourself in your practice today. That’s why we practice.”

We thought about her words. We closed our eyes and searched our souls. Then we all bowed and offered “namaste” at the conclusion of the hour. Emma sat frozen with a smile, beaming as if illuminated by the time we’d just shared as a group.

Her petite frame was shrouded in atypical exercise attire. But then Emma was no typical yoga instructor. Mousy brown hair went all directions, appearing to spring from her delicate pink face; it was pulled up as usual, in a style none could, nor would likely attempt, to replicate. Her baggy clothes looked as though they could slip off her narrow shoulders and hips without warning. Yet she held her balances with unwavering strength. She moved with beauty and grace none would expect from such a disheveled waif. She looked like a wood sprite or faerie playing at being human and unsure how to fit in. But when she spoke she lit up the room. She was truly beautiful.

“So, how was that on your your neck, Sarah?” She asked as I gathered my things after class. “Was that buggy? Because we don’t want it buggy. Remember, if you’re over it, you’re over it–just like anything in life. Yoga teaches us that, right?”

I snickered a bit. I couldn’t help it. Her phrasing always made me smile. “Who talks like that?” I thought.

“It was great, Emma. Really. I’ve been trying to listen to my body and honor my limits, …” I demonstrated what I’d been practicing, propping my head against my forearms on the mat. “It actually feels better this way and, look.” I pushed out the last word with a bit more force as I kicked my legs to the ceiling and entered my headstand.

“So that’s two goals met: crow pose and a yoga headstand,” I beamed upside down still.

“That’s so awesome! You amaze me.” She waited until I righted myself and returned to sit, crosslegged on my mat in front of her. “Sarah, can you believe that you’re stronger now, so many years after your diagnosis, than ever before? … I mean, that’s really powerful. You should be ecstatic” She searched my eyes, tearing up as they often did when the subject of my health and happiness came up.

“I am proud of myself,” I replied. “I know I can do whatever I set my mind to.”

“But you’re not happy. I can tell.” A tear escaped as she leaned in and seemed to see into my soul.

“I can’t explain it. It’s like I’ve just discovered who I really am and it makes me sad that I haven’t honored my identity but, more, like I don’t know how to.” I admitted, wondering why and how she brought this honesty out in me–and why I kept coming back to share more.

“Sarah, sweetie, you do know. It’s why you keep coming.” We embraced at that and I let the tears flow.

It’s true that I’m a cryer, although most would never guess that. I would rather suffer great pain than cry in public. Tough. Strong. Hilarious. … those are the descriptors I make sure I demonstrate in my day-to-day activities. They’re also what I tell people I am. Emma says crying is a sign of strength, and I almost believe her. But I still think being able to hold my tears until I’m alone is a sign of even greater strength. Every time I say that she speaks of the need for vulnerability, but I’m not there yet.

But today I cried, sobs and sighs, and gasps for air included. It was no dainty or sweet cry. It was the heavy healing kind of cry.

“Well it’s about time, cutie,” she whispered. “I knew you had that in you. And now you’re ready.” Her smile soothed me as she spoke.

“Sarah, you’re about to begin a journey.” A mysterious shift in the room’s light, as if the sun had broken free of dozens of clouds, seemed to welcome me to another dimension as she spoke. The only way to explain it is to say it felt like church, that light and airy and thankful feeling of peace when church is the way it’s supposed to be and love is the lesson.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Today’s lesson will begin to explain it, so just go with it.”

“Okay, Emma. I’m all in. ”

“Cool,” she said informally. “Let’s do this!” She smiled, beamed really, as she began. “Today’s lesson is the parable of the guiding light.”

And, with that, I was transported to a morning more than two decades ago. namaste-yall

Soul Songs #15

I’m going to make mistakes sometimes.

I might even lose my way.

But I keep going.
I’m going to fail sometimes. 

I might even cry. 

But I keep trying.
I’m going to  fall sometimes.

I might even hurt. 

But I keep rising.
I’m going to be scared sometimes.

I might even falter. 

But I keep singing. 
This is my soul song, and mine alone. And it must be sung. 

Soul Songs #12

A Woman on the Move

Motion, movement, momentum, muscle memory… I am a woman on the move. I’ve always been active and more than a bit competitive. I’m driven. But I’m fearful too.

The first time I lost my momentum, I was twelve. I was in sixth grade and I dropped to floor one night in December with intense vertigo. I spent the next several months on my back, getting scans, visiting doctors and psychologists about the dizzying numbness and intense fatigue that had hit and seemed wouldn’t leave. Everything was inconclusive.

The words Multiple Sclerosis now explain that strange period and the others that followed, giving a name to the fear of lost motion, a break in my stride. A woman known for her purposeful walk, her powerful swift pace, her high energy– who would I be if those were no longer mine?

I would still be funny and kind. I would still be loving and loved. I would still be Sarah Josephine. I know that. But Sarah Josephine would change just enough to make me uncomfortable. I want to keep moving.

So I do. I cannot control the future but I can choose my path. I can influence my surroundings. I can accept and embrace the journey and all its obstacles and opportunities.

I am a woman on the move. And I keep on moving because I can, with faith in every footstep and gratitude in every breath.

img_1556

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.

 

FullSizeRender

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!

 

 

 

college.opportunity

 

 

 

 

 

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.

sunlight-on-snow