A Turtle Creates a Village

God, I offer myself to You–

to build with me and to do with me as You will.

Relieve me of the bondage of self,

that I may better do Your will.

Take away my difficulties, that victory over them

may bear witness to those I would help

of Your power, Your love, and Your way of life.

May I do Your will always.

(3rd Step Prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous)

I sat quietly with this prayer daily, starting in January, 2005.  It took the place of resolutions.

In late February, 2005, I found an odd lump in my groin.

On April 15, 2005, I was diagnosed with cancer–non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

I had 2 malignant lymph nodes, but no symptoms and I felt fine.  After tests, the treatment plan was “watch and wait.” That took a while to accept. God and the doctor and I have “watched and waited” for almost 10 years.  Still no symptoms and no treatments. Dr Sherrill says at each checkup, “It’s still in remission.”

Go back and read that prayer again.  I’ll wait.

I started writing emails to a group of spiritual friends shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer.  I didn’t want to talk about it much, but I wanted people to pray for me and I felt compelled to share what happened and how I dealt with it, including my faith journey.

I’ve written before about being an introvert and a turtle.  When things get hard, I pull into my shell.  I’ve learned, though, that I can invite people in through my writing.  And I often feel pushed to write for this blog by a powerful and irresistible force.  I can resist for a while, but God starts writing in my head and it doesn’t go away.

This piece started forming in my head a couple of weeks ago.  I had cervical fusion surgery on December 2, 2014, to correct a place at the top of my spine that moved to a dangerous position because of damage from my rheumatoid arthritis.  A piece of my spine was impinging on my spinal column at the very top.  A fall or car accident could have ended my ability to breathe.

I’ve had several other surgeries, including a total knee, in the past 10 years, but nothing scared me like this one. It was “a big surgery,” Dr. Pool, the neurosurgeon told us. I asked the retired man I live with the morning of the surgery not to let them keep me alive on a ventilator if things went wrong.

The first couple of weeks after this surgery were very hard–lots of pain. I was grateful to be whole and breathing and alive.

Before the surgery, I started another email list of pray-ers.  And once again I could feel the power of the prayers. I don’t know how to explain that, but I know it’s real. I felt surrounded and encircled by God.

I try to tell God that I’ve fulfilled my 3rd Step Prayer obligations.  10 years is enough of this “take away my difficulties so I can show how God works in my life” stuff.  But more challenges come.

With each surgery, each setback, each test of patience and hope, I learn again that things will change.  And it’s all a bit easier when I remember God is with me. Not everything can be fixed completely. Sometimes it’s just different. Then I figure out how to live with it and keep going as best I can.

If I ever write a memoir, I think I’ll title it “Okay, God, Now What?”

 

 

 

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A Buddhist Nun Told Me To Chill

Pain in my feet might help.

I had foot surgery a little over a week ago.  General anesthesia, both feet, outpatient surgery.  The hope was to repair or modify some of the damage from 26 years of rheumatoid arthritis so I can walk better.

The challenge is not walking on them now.  Since the first couple of days I’ve had no pain so I was up and moving around.  I saw drainage on one of the bandages four days after surgery, went to see the doctor and was told to stop walking on my feet so they could heal.  To the bathroom or to get something to eat is okay.  Sitting with feet up on the ottoman is good.  Lying on the couch is better.  For the next week and a half.

I started a 3-year-term on a non-profit’s board of directors this month.  Triad Health Project provides HIV/AIDS services, education and support to those infected and affected by the virus.  I got involved as a volunteer in the mid-90’s.  You know that Bucket List thing?  I always wanted to say, “I’m on a Board of Directors.”

Last month, I missed the social get-to-know-each-other gathering at a wine bar because I had horrible back spasms.  Now this month, the first for-real meeting, I have healing feet so I can’t go again.

With all my free time, I am reading Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun.  This morning I read about how we get caught up in 8 worldly concerns:  pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disgrace, praise and blame.  While I was reading, the other track in my brain was struggling with whether/how to get to the 5:30 THP board meeting.  (It gets busy inside my head.)

I am used to being the good kid.  I generally follow through on commitments and am pleasant and helpful to have around.  My reputation matters to me.  A lot.

I do not like that my disease may shape others’ first impression of me.  I want to be seen as competent.  Not needy, not vulnerable, not disabled.

Pema Chodron says, “If we don’t act on our craving for pleasure or our fear of pain, we’re left in the wide-open, unpredictable middle.  The instruction is to rest in that vulnerable place, to rest in that in-between state, to not hunker down and stay fixed in our belief systems but to take a fresh look with a wider perspective.  The truth is we’re always in some kind of in-between state, always in process…When we’re present with the dynamic quality of our lives, we’re also present with impermanence, uncertainty and change.”

I think that means I’m not in control.

She describes three commitments or vows Buddhists take.  First, the commitment to cause no harm.  Second, the commitment to take care of one another.  Third, the commitment to embrace the world just as it is.

I emailed the THP director and told her I would not be at the meeting.  (Do no harm to myself.)  I want to be able to help with the big fundraiser in early Dec. If I let my feet heal, I’ll help more. (Take care of one another.)  As my brother used to say, “It is what it is.”  (Embrace the world just as it is.)

I will be present to the discomfort that washes over me every time I imagine my empty chair at the THP conference table.

Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t feel good.

P’ease Pick Me Up

  “Amma, p’ease pick me up,” pleads Adaline.

But I must say,

“Can’t do it, my sweet girl.

Do you want to climb up on the couch and we can

eat some blueberries?”

F–k, I say in my head.

God help me.

Give me

hands, my hands that work.

I am Amma,

just as I am.

Kristin needs help.  She doesn’t ask.

Loss.

Love.

Maggie I can still pick up,

now, today.

Oh, please, will someone give me Atticus?

Quit trying?  Never, not ever.

Relaxation and

recuperation, they come later.

Stephanie worries.

She sees me struggle.

Tuesday I will play with them

under the trees outside.

Voices will sing and we will laugh.

Wednesday I will rest and maybe hurt.

X-rays of my hands and wrists and spine

yell at me to be careful.

Zebras at the zoo?  Let’s go!

(This is an alpha-poem (look at the first letter of each line) started during a workshop titled “Writing Through Grief and Loss” led by Ray McGinnis, author of Writing the Sacred)

Published in: on February 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm  Comments (11)  
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Volunteer for Pain

Do you know rugby?  It’s sort of like football with no helmets or pads and lots of beer (that part was true when I was in college; I bet it still is.)  A young  I know played in the UNCG Women’s Rugby 10-year Reunion Rugby Game  yesterday.  The Alumni beat the current team.  She said on Facebook she’d probably last 10 minutes.  She played two 30-minute halves.  That is a badass!

I asked her how she felt today. She said, “I’m a little sore, but some of my teammates had it rough… A possible torn ACL, busted knees, bruises in the shape of cleat marks, etc. Tough girls!”

My comment back–“I will never understand volunteering for pain.”

Saturday, the retired man I live with and I accompanied 2 daughters, one son-in-law, and three grandchildren under the age of 3 to the Persimmon Festival in Colfax, NC.

We heard live music as we sat on scratchy hay bales, ate pork and beef BBQ, tasted apple cider pressed while we waited.  We were too late for persimmon pudding, but we did see some persimmons.  Brightly colored handmade quilts waved from a clothesline.  2 mules pulled a cart loaded with people.

Adaline sat on a bright red 1941 International Harvester tractor seat.  7-month-old Atticus rode on his mom’s back in an Ergo baby carrier.  After trying to nurse on her back (that’s what it looked like) he fell asleep.  Almost 10-month-old Maggie rode in the front seat of the double stroller and said “Hey!” to anyone who made eye contact.  She squealed in delight at any child who came near.

The sun lit up a Carolina blue sky.  A light breeze blew, making a sweatshirt  or a jacket feel cozy.  The BBQ smoker looked like a locomotive with a really fragrant smokestack.  The chainsaw sculptor captured my son-in-law.  The noise scared the little ones.  The whole thing was so small we could all wander around and still see each other.

I followed 2-3/4-year-old Adaline around.  It took a village to keep up with her;  I felt good enough to be part of the team.  I walked a lot on uneven terrain.  The retired man I live with said I was “4-wheelin’ it.”

I took the risk–I volunteered for day-after pain.  (My back hurts and my feet ache today.)

I’d do it again in a minute!

I still don’t understand rugby, though.

Published in: on November 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm  Comments (6)  
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Supposed To Be About Pain

I sat down at my desk early this morning to write a blog post about pain.  Since then I have:

downloaded and subscribed to podcasts for This American Life and On Being with Krista Tippett (at least I didn’t actually listen to them),

reconstructed my iGoogle homepage that I somehow cancelled (it had a bunch of blog feeds so I had to look for and download each one I could remember I liked and read the ones I missed),

checked 3 different email accounts ( and wondered again whether to transfer the contact list from a very old Earthlink email account to my yahoo email that was hacked by someone who deleted my contact list, including email addresses that are nowhere else),

checked Facebook (which of course is the major time-sucker I always thought it would be) and watched a 2 minute you tube video about a law in Michigan protecting bullies who go after gay kids (click here to see it),

went back to yahoo email and looked at the link to my pregnant daughter’s “dream diaper bag“,

considered reading some of the blogs that appear enticingly when I open wordpress.com to get to Amma Ponders (but I didn’t),

and then finally started typing this list of all my ways to procrastinate.

Oh, and I gave you links to my wanderings so that you, too, can have a relaxing, non-challenging hour or so.  Just click on any of the words that are red.

You’re welcome.

Published in: on November 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm  Comments (4)  
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W W J D?

(What would Jesus do?)

“I can’t usher or help with the Lord’s Supper.  And I can’t mentor the Boy Scouts either.”

He has been an active and faithful church member for years.  He has worshiped and participated regularly and enthusiastically.  He turned to his pastor for support months ago when he was diagnosed HIV positive.  He trusted his pastor with the truth, to be held in confidence.

A member of the congregation complained to the pastor.

This pastor told my friend he could not participate in the activities and fellowship of the church.  He could worship if he sat in the back row.

My friend feels hurt and betrayed.  He still believes God loves him just as he is.  He also believes God loves his pastor.

I am humbled by my friend’s genuine desire to forgive.

I am awed by such faith.

Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm  Comments (10)  
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No, You Can’t!

Remember what 15 felt like?

Can I...?”  “No, you can’t.”

I want to…”  “No you can’t.”

May I please…?”  “No.”

“Why not??”

I feel like that.  It’s my body saying “No, you can’t.”  And inside I’m screaming “Why not??”.

My rheumatoid arthritis flared up all week.  It was mid-90’s hot.  And humid.  I wanted to drive 4 hours to a weekend retreat for people who are HIV-positive from all over the southeast.  Only the dining room is air-conditioned at the rustic retreat center and the paths between buildings are uneven and unpaved.

“I can’t,” I told the director of the day center where I volunteer.  “I can do hot or pain, but not both.”

I’ve read several books lately about our bodies and our spirituality.  I see layers of metaphors in my decision to take care of myself.

I allowed myself to be sad for a day or so.  Limitations frustrate me.  And I realize some of the changes in my body can’t be fixed or reversed.  My granddaughter, at 15 months, can almost outrun me.  More metaphors.

I’m not what I thought I’d be at this point in my life.  (Is anyone?)  So I pray for willingness and acceptance.  And the continuing ability to laugh!

The Paper (or Cloth) Bag Story

Take your problems, all of them, from the tiniest annoyances to the most horrific, difficult challenges and put all those problems into a brown paper bag or a politically-correct cloth eco-bag.

Then imagine if everyone else took all of their problems, put them into their own bags and brought them to the center of town.

Think of how many bags there would be, all piled up in one big mountain of brown paper and brightly-colored cloth bags.

If you were told you could pick any bag of problems and take it home with you, do you think you’d want someone else’s problems?

(Story borrowed from The Faith Club, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner)

“Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”  The Familiar can be quite comfortable.  It’s predictable, we think.  It’s known.  We’ve practiced dealing with it. We assume we know how things will turn out and we get ready.

My body and I have lived with rheumatoid arthritis for over 20 years.  Pain and discomfort vary.  My pain–physical, emotional, spiritual–is invisible if I choose to disguise it with humor or stoicism.  So is yours.

Remember PacMan?  That’s how I pictured my arthritis in the beginning.  The disease was an enemy force of scary little critters using my blood vessels as a superhighway to randomly chomp on my joints.  I hated them and the medications I was trying were losing a lot of battles against them.

Eventually, I gave up the anger and war images.  I had to make peace with those mean monsters inside me.  If I could be compassionate and forgiving, they might be gentler.  So I prayed for willingness.

Today we are next-door neighbors inside my body, the critters and my Spirit.  Sometimes they are noisy and intrusive, but I can shut my windows and ignore the doorbell.  They are familiar and they could be worse.  I accept them as they are and I deal with them one day at a time.

I know how to do “hard”.  I’ve had practice.  We all have.  I know I can probably handle most any problem that pops up next.

If I could pick one bag from the pile, would I pick my own again?  I’m not sure.

Life Percolated

I can’t drink real coffee anymore.  I guess.

I’ve percolated a lot of life through my insides.

So much stuffed down there, so much acid.

 

I see the old-timey coffee pots on the gas stoves

in their little kitchens in the Project:

Irene

Betty

and in the bigger kitchens in houses

in Munhall and West Mifflin and Duquesne:

Mary

Margie

Julie

Millie.

So much love, so many women.

 

I just wanted a beer.

There were too many of them

and I didn’t know how to be in their world,

in their houses, in their lives.

Lots of food and always coffee.

 

But mom and dad’s–

cold

decaf

“Turn off the light”

not enough food.

Here I fit in, but I didn’t want to.

 

I wanted to know

how to live

like a grownup,

how to mother,

how to wife,

how to make real coffee in a percolator instead of decaf

in a Mr. Coffee that’s reheated later in the microwave because

we sure can’t pour that cold shit down the drain.

 

35–

I started to learn

from other women who had to learn once upon a time, too:

how to make real coffee in a Mr. Coffee

and that sugar can make feelings bearable

after I learned I had feelings

like anger and joy and fear and love.

But those women thought I was okay.

And they helped me see I could be funny and silly.

 

57–

I don’t drink real coffee anymore.

A while back it made my stomach really hurt

and my doctor described a bleeding ulcer’s risks

and I said OK.  Damn it.  No more coffee.

So then I tried decaf.

It didn’t taste good, any kind.

 

So I tried green tea.

It’s good for me.

Weak-looking,

but strong enough to be good enough.

 

Like me.

 

 

My Inner Two-Year-Old

Adaline is one now.  Her world is just fine unless she is hungry or tired.  Then someone takes care of her. No one expects her to be self-sufficient.  What does she have to be snotty about?  The one-year-old is usually quite content.

In a year, she will be 2.  Things will be different then, I think.

Disability came as a surprise for me after my knee replacement surgery a year ago.  I expected to hurt and hobble.  I didn’t know I would need help with everything, including going to the bathroom and bathing (which Mike insisted I do daily so my incision didn’t get infected).  I appreciate my husband’s patient and loving care through those weeks.

I wasn’t always gracious.  My inner two-year-old raged and cried and temper-tantrumed more than a few times.

I couldn’t put on a pair of pants by myself because my knee wouldn’t bend.

“Let me help.”  “I do it.”

I had to use a walker to get to the bathroom and then I had trouble standing up.

“Let me help.”  “I do it.”

I couldn’t stand up long enough to fix anything to eat.

“Let me help.”  “I do it.”

I will be sympathetic when Adaline says “I do it“, even if she can’t.

My knee is functioning well.  I am grateful daily for what I am able to do on my own.

I can take my own showers and go to the bathroom alone and even put on my pants easily.  Maybe one day that won’t be the case.  I do wonder if I should have long-term-care insurance.

Today, just for today, I did what I wanted.  My inner two-year-old is very grateful.