My Soul Songs #21

Truly Impressive

 

I’ve always been impressed with my ability to overcome.

I’ve just rarely loved myself for all I am.

“Not bad for someone who…”

Insert the randomly selected self-limiting descriptor.

 

Enter MS.

 

Now an MS fighter the phrase has been consistent.

“Not bad for someone dealing with MS, huh?”

I thought I sounded confident and self-impressed.

But I was limiting myself.

 

No more.

Not bad. Period.

In fact, I’m so much better than simply “not bad.”

strength-training-kettleball-weights-muscles-Tatomm-iStock_000063354919_Medium
MS: My Strength

“Impressive, huh?”

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

Soul Songs #3

A body in motion tends to stay in motion. So I am a woman on the move.

I get up. I give thanks. I go all in.

I might fall. I might tire. But I won’t give up and I won’t give in. I’ll just keep getting back up–and with a smile at my triumph.

I know who I am, my best self.

I am active, grateful, and ever growing as I move forward on my journey.

This is my soul song. MS won’t win.

In Training for Something Great

 

I almost lost it yesterday. The tears had welled up. My throat was tight. My breathing had shortened and my body tensed.

The narrator recounted the years of violence and abuse, the pain of poverty and putting up with pain and suffering in order to pay the bills and feed the family. He was the oldest, like me, and assumed the burden of both growing up and deciding who he would be and who could never let himself be, but too, he assumed the burden of protector and advocate. This is a noble response to struggle but it can be overwhelming.

He was just a few years older than I am. And here we both were, somewhere near midlife, taking a moment to assess if we have become who we need to be and how we can continue our healing so we can do our part to make this world a better place for those experiencing their own pain.

As  he spoke, I saw his story unfold in my mind. My own story played out in a parallel space. His horrors were not mine, but they were connected. And our present desire to keep learning from our past to become who we truly are at our core … that struggle is inexplicably connected.

I couldn’t speak for some time. As one gasping breath escaped with the first few tears, I was finally able to acknowledge “I’m struggling.”

I realize today the strength in being able to announce my pain–and my work at processing and overcoming that pain. Again, his struggles were not mine. This inspirational man experienced things I can only imagine. And I think he would say the same thing about my story.

The point is that we all have immeasurable strength. And that strength can see us through just about anything. We need only acknowledge it.

So, in the middle of this sunny day, late summer, 2016, as my diseased body flowed through its movements and my mind raced through its thoughts I took a moment to acknowledge that I’m struggling. So this is the time to draw on my strength.

I have been challenged. I have been hurt. I still hurt, in fact. But I am so strong. I have overcome so much. I have overcome by taking the time to place one foot in front of another and finding one reason to smile after another.

If I can now flow through vinyasas and hold challenging asanas in yoga that previously eluded me–and do this with the stiffness and fear my MS brings, then what can’t I do?

If I can overcome abuse and still love life, of course I can love myself. If I can raise an amazing young man with love and passion in his heart, of course I can set cycles of positivity in motion. If I can earn graduate degrees and shape policy, of course I can influence my community for the better.

I have what it takes to make my world a better place. In fact, I can scarcely believe what I’ve already accomplished and overcome.FullSizeRender

I am a beautiful work in progress. I am in training for something great–and I have the strength to get there.