Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oh, Christmas Tree!

We will be ringing in the New Year within a few days, so that also means ringing out the old year. I've spent the past few days gathering up stuffed Santas and sprigs of holly and foreign glittery substances from the carpet. It's a full time job just to un-decorate from the holidays. It never fails that once I get the boxes marked "Xmas" into the attic, I find a stray bulb or a fat snowman or some Christmas item hiding behind the couch.
Although I have a scratchy throat and a (what's this crazy Southern Illinois weather?) headache, my Mission Of The Day is to disassemble and store away my Christmas tree.

Around Thanksgiving, I am in love with my Christmas tree. I haven't seen him in almost eleven months and I'm excited to welcome him back into my home. I don't even have second thoughts about moving the two-ton desk, the array of wall photos, the giant throw rug or the coffee table out of the way to make room for him.
He's so tall. So breathtakingly beautiful!
I adorn him with various ornaments and bling and sentimental embellishment. I caress his branches, flirt with his bulbs, and turn him on. And he rewards me with a glow that warms my heart.
I can't wait to awake each morning to see him. I sit in the darkness with only the brightness of his shining personality to light the room. I'm content. Just the sight of him makes me smile...

But, this quirky "tree love" is short lived.

Soon I grow tired of tripping over the moved furniture. I'm soon weary of the gaudy glitz of silver bells and plastic icicles and tiny pointed lights that glow obnoxiously in the corner like an alien. I'm sick of fake fir needles on the floor, drooping poinsettias poked amid the artificial boughs, and the crooked cardboard star that sticks to the ceiling.

I sorta ignore him. Walk past him like he's not even there.
I don't even want to turn him on anymore.

I flip on the lamp and the TV and go about my business like he's invisible. I don't even try to explain myself to him. And he just sits there in the corner and pouts.
He suddenly looks ridiculous in that silly skirt! He looks short. And stout. And a little less handsome. The shine has worn off- the romance has died. Our relationship grows more strained by the day and I know that one of us has to go...

Yes, oh, Christmas tree- you are going to the attic today. Sleep well, my friend. Enjoy the cobwebs and spiders and little furry mice. They'll keep you company for awhile.
I'll bring you back into the warmth and sunlight in eleven months or so. We will shine again. And dance and sing and love.

Relax. It will be here before you know it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Last Ordinary Day

 I was going to begin this new blog on January 3rd, but had to spill my heart out a little sooner than anticipated...:)

"A year from now you'll wish you had started today."

The most glorious thing about new beginnings is that you have the power to go whatever direction you choose. The canvas of a new year is clean and white- no maps, no road signs, no obstacles or stormy weather. It is up to each individual to paint their story. To design their own map. To build bridges where they need to be- and prepare for inclement weather. We can leave footprints of bitterness and regret- or we can create paths of optimism and delight.

I will begin my new year with huge dreams- anxious resolutions- hopes that flutter in my heart like baby birds. My list is relatively small, but each goal looms like a giant shadow of unfathomable proportions. I must tame them. Lasso them into manageable habits. Fill my veins with them like a flourishing attitude transfusion.

"Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it."

The first thing I want to do this year is to share a personal story. Some of you may not care to read it, and I understand how a person can trick themselves into believing that bad things only happen to other people. That we are somehow immune to tragedy or illness or life changing events.
I used to flip past the stories in womens magazines about menopause and empty nests and breast cancer. In fact, somewhere deep inside my insecurities, I grew aggravated with the pink ribbons and relays and bald women smiling like nothing had changed their lives.
But during the holidays, I wished I had read every single article. I wish I had been educated, prepared, and armed with the knowledge of frightening diseases. Yet, one thing I have learned- (and hope I carry it with me like my skin)-you can't go back. Now is the time. Life won't wait.

It all started with a friend's blog. She was scared. And high on wine. And crying that she may have felt a possible lump in her breast. And she babbled about cancer and her mother- and she sounded completely out of sorts and discouraged.
I wrote her back and told her that I would schedule a mammogram if she would- and then we could have lunch together. (We have never met).
I spent the next few days worrying about her and finally I called to make my own appointment so that she would realize how serious I was about the whole "buddy" thing.
Through e-mails, she assured me she had an appointment for a mammogram. And a few days later, she rejoiced that the results came back negative.

So, I went ahead with my appointment. Armed with that "It will never happen to me" attitude. Everything went well. But a few days later, the doctor's office called and said that they wanted me to come back for an ultrasound- that something suspicious was found in my right breast.
This had happened to me before, so I wasn't overly concerned about it. And when those x-rays were over, the doctor called me to the back room- said everything looked fine- and told me to come back in a year for my routine exam.
I was happy. Immediately set out to do some Christmas shopping. I was starving and couldn't wait to get my groceries home and unloaded and relax for the day.
But I didn't relax for almost three weeks.
An hour later the doctor called me at home and told me that he had looked at the results a bit closer and he advised that I have a breast biopsy.
Well, in my dictionary, biopsy=cancer and cancer=death. I couldn't eat. I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't function.
But, I had a house full of family coming in two days and I knew I had to face them with a smile and positive holiday cheer. So, I did.

"Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them."  ~Vincent McNabb

I spent the next week or so wishing I had done something different. Perhaps if I had read all the articles, done all my homework, kept up the routine yearly exams- (Which I had done somewhat. I let a year and a half slip by before scheduling this. But I know if I hadn't read my friend's blog, another year (or two, or three) may have slip by unnoticed.) Thank you, Christy!
And I prayed a lot. Harder and fiercer and more determined than I had ever prayed. I prayed for miracles, for healing, for strength, for my family, for my future, for my salvation.
One moment I felt safe and content. The next moment I was trembling and sobbing and expecting the worst. My emotions were on a roller coaster. I rehearsed  the speech that I would tell my kids concerning this "false alarm". But, at the same time, I was writing my eulogy and imagining my husband's next wife.

"Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother."  ~Kahlil Gibran
Fear and doubt does strange things. It paralyzes you. It controls you. It squeezes you so tightly that you can breathe. It stops the sunshine. It blurs the future.

"The value of consistent prayer is not that He will hear us, but that we will hear Him. " ~William McGill

The day I was to find out my biopsy results, I was up early- packing my husband's lunch, making coffee, stacking the dishwasher...And I stopped what I was doing and stood in the middle of the kitchen and cried. "What if this is my last ordinary day?" I thought to myself.
What if this usually mundane routine of cleaning and cooking and vacuuming and dusting is really over for me? What if they were soon to be replaced with bed rest and medications and hospitals and surgeries and looks of pity? What if ordinary cups of coffee and bologna sandwiches and fattening cookies would be overtaken by a lack of appetite and doses of radiation and the eventual decline of my health?
"The best things in life are nearest:  Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.  Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life."  ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Luckily, the final results were negative. Benign. No cancer.
And I cried like a baby on the phone when the doctor called me with the news. I slobbered a "Merry Christmas" to him and then actually jumped up in the air and smiled till my teeth hurt.

"Gold that buys health can never be ill spent."  ~Thomas Dekker

I have learned so much from this experience. How fragile life important that family and friends are...not to take your health for granted...get your routine exams...listen to your body... keep close ties with God even on perfect find joy in the monotony of your life... because you never know when it might be your last ordinary day.

Finally, to all you women out there -Get your mammogram on a regular basis. Most women spend hours having their hair fixed or nails done, but refuse to spend ten minutes having their breasts examined. That is ridiculous. It may be uncomfortable for a bit, but it is worth any amount of pain if it prolongs your life. And for those of you worried about the cost, most mammograms are free of charge for those without insurance. Check into it.
Don't be a boob.

"If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realizing that you are the author and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page."

The new year awaits just beyond the gate. I'm looking forward to that first clear step into the untouched snow- the feel of my toes on new sand- the sound of my feet on new roads- the feel of my heart, fresh and wild with giddy anticipation...and a new year full of beautiful ordinary days!