Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!! Here's to becoming our true selves ...

It's hard to believe that today is the last day of 2010. Hard for me to even put into words what a year this has been. I have been challenged on so many levels. It's been a hard year but it has also been a very rewarding and joyful year. It is in our darkest moments where I believe true transformation and growth take place ... I reached my darkest moment this year, and thank God for all the love and support of friends, family, my dogs (Ahnung, Missy and Mister), faith .... I was able to see that it is in our darkest moments where the stars shine the brightest.

I close out this year with a heart full of gratitude for all who have touched my life and my heart in so many ways. We are all connected ... I am especially grateful for my dear friend Laura who has opened up her heart and her home to me as I have gone through a very painful transition and the ending of a long-term relationship. In exactly two weeks I close on my new home. It will mark the beginning of my next phase in my life's journey. I will continue to work on healing myself ... spiritually, emotionally and physically ...

I would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year! May 2011 bring us joy and happiness ... and when loss and pain touch our lives, I wish for us the courage and strength to move through the pain and to trust that we can get to the other side ...

Now I Become Myself
by May Sarton

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before--"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

and thank you Ahnung (her name means 'star' in ojibway) for continuing to be my north star and guiding me through the night skies as we move through this transition. She's been busy doing her work as a therapy dog by simply being with me. It never ceases to amaze me how healing and powerful the love of our four-legged furry companions can be .... for those of you with furry companions, give them an extra hug (and treat!) as we welcome the New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Unconditional Love ... universal child ...

In July of this year I spent a week in Bimini swimming with wild free dolphins. On that trip not only was I touched by the wild dolphins on so many levels ... it also marked was going to be a major shift and transformation in my life, none of which I could have anticipated. On that trip I met the most incredible person who has since become one of my dearest and most treasured friends ... a soul connection if you will. She has been by my side through some very rough waters, always believing in me, loving me unconditionally and touching that little girl in me that has for so long ached for a motherly kind of love. Despite the thousands of miles that physically separates us I always feel her presence and her love wrapped around me. She knows I am packing now and texted me to ask me to play Annie Lennox's song "Universal Child" from her latest Christmas CD. She said she thought of me when she first heard the song. I just purchased it on iTunes and have been listening to it over and over and over ... the lyrics reach deep inside of me to the wounded little girl who is struggling to heal and to find her voice so she can fully experience love and life. My dear friend Michele ... thank you for loving me so unconditionally and for believing in me and for supporting me and holding me up. As I listen to the lyrics of Annie Lennox's song i can feel you in my heart ... i can feel your love.

Universal Child

How many mountains must you face before you learn to climb.
I'm gonna give you what it takes, my universal child.

I'm gonna try to find a way to keep you safe from harm.
I'm gonna be a special place, a shelter from the storm.
And I can see you, your everywhere, your portrait fills the sky.
I'm gonna wrap my arms around you, my universal child.
And when I look into your eyes, so innocent and pure.
I see the shadow of the things that you've had to endure.
I see the tracks of every tear that ran ran down your face.
I see the hurt, I see the pain, I see the human race.
I can feel you, your everywhere, shining like the sun.
And I wished to god that kids like you could be like everyone.

How many tumbles must it take before you learn to fly.
I'm going to help you spread your wings, my universal child.

I can feel you everywhere shining like the sun.
And I wished to god that kids like you could be like everyone.
And I wished to god that kids like you could be like everyone.

Grounding myself ... the ebbs and flows of grief

It has been a challenge for me over the past month to be with my grief, with raw, gut-wrenching pain and the feeling of heaviness and darkness wrapped around my heart ... squeezing and squeezing till it feels like my heart can't take anymore -- that I will simply die from the hurt, that my heart will explode, that I will never emerge from this darkness. I have been blessed to feel more moments of relief, but in a heart beat it seems like I can slip right back into the abyss.

I want my heart to remain soft and supple even though my instinctive way of dealing with hurt and loss is to harden my heart and to put yet another layer of protection. How do I deal with the hurt and the pain of feeling like I am simply being erased from the life of someone whom I loved, and still love, so deeply? How do I fill my heart with love, not anger or bitterness or even regret? How do I embrace the grief and the memories that burn my flesh?

I remind myself that all of life is a cycle ... the beauty of the four seasons here in Minnesota remind me of  the cycle of life, and death ... of light and darkness, of cold and warmth. Winter is here with a vengeance and it's time for me to rest and to nurture myself. I've been so overwrought with grief, working hard to engage in small activities to simply feel moments of relief. My health continues to be uncertain with many upcoming tests and procedures in the horizon. I have postponed health appointments because I can't take anymore at this time trying to find a place to live so I can bring my 3 dogs ... but I close on my new home on January 14th and in less than a month I will continue in my journey of making a new physical structure feel like a home for me and for my dogs Ahnung, Missy and Mister.  I am leaning on friends, family, faith and my animals as I move through this painful transition. With ever step forward I visualize grounding myself deeper and extending my roots ...

2011 is around the corner and I don't know what the year will bring for me ... I stumbled across this quote and feel like it is just what I needed to read this morning:

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel
for our journey.
~Kenji Miyazawa

Monday, December 20, 2010

After a While

I was supposed to head down to Mayo today for a day of test and procedures for my pancreas ... I opted to re-schedule with the snow heading our way and instead decided to spend the day packing. Today is also the 42nd death anniversary of my Papa. I feel him with me ... I feel him carrying me and holding my hand and giving me the strength I need to move on to the next stage in my life's journey ...

As I was packing and going through closets and my belongings, sifting through what is mine, what needs to be packed, etc ... I stumbled across a framed poem that I purchased at some point in my past ... must've been another ending of a relationship .... how appropriate for me to stumble across it today as I'm packing because today, for the first time ever, I feel like I am turning the corner. After a month of feeling extremely raw and at times where I feel like I can't bear the pain, I am finally able to feel hope, lightness, relief and confidence that I can move on ... that I will learn and grow from this ... and that I will not only survive but thrive ...

After a While
by Veronica A. Shoffstall

After a while you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
and company doesn't always mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts
and presents aren't promises
And you being to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child
And you learn to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn that even sunshine burns
if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure
that you really are strong
and you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn 
with every goodbye you learn ....

and through this painful transition in my life I have also learned more than anything that I can lean on my friends and family, on my faith, on my animals, on my support network, and that I don't have to go through this alone ... because the truth is ... I am never alone. I am also learning to trust my gut and to listen to that inner voice deep within me that has been aching to come out and be heard ... and so with this painful goodbye, I both step forward and I step inward ... trusting in whatever journey I am meant to walk ...

"Heed the small voice that so seldom leads us wrong, 
and never into folly"
~ Marquis du Defand

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Finding comfort in Rumi's words ...

"Thirst drove me down to the water where I drank the
moon's reflection."

"We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars
like dust."

~ Rumi

Friday, December 17, 2010

Making space for transformation ...

"As far as inner transformation is concerned, there is nothing you can DO about it. You cannot transform yourself, and you certainly cannot transform your partner or anybody else. All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter."

~ Eckhart Tolle

I am learning that I must be gentle with myself and to learn to love myself. I am learning to listen to that inner quiet voice deep within me .... to love and most importantly to let myself be loved; to trust and to risk loving, being loved and yes, having my  heart shattered. I want to be able to love myself and all beings who bless me with their presence ... to love unconditionally and to meet others and myself wherever we are in our respective journeys. I am learning that love (agape love which is unconditional love) is about giving myself and others space to grow and transform in our own time ... all the while, loving and being there. I have been blessed as I have gone through such difficult times of late, to have friends and family who love me unconditionally. What a gift to be loved, truly loved with no expectations in return. And in being surrounded by such pure and unconditional love ... I find space in my heart and my soul for love, grace and joy to enter and blossom.

"The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place."

~ Barbara Deangelis

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Transformation of fear

I'm back at the house tonight ...  wow ..  I didn't realize how hard it would be to go through stuff and start packing. Yes, there's a new beginning around the corner, or at least I keep telling myself that ... but the pain of the present as I hold onto memories and a deep love I have always had for my now ex-partner feels especially raw when I am in the house we shared for 6 years, building a life, building memories.

As I was going through files and starting to clear out old documents and prepare for my move ... [i made an offer on a house and will be closing on January 14th] ... I found myself filled with a deep sadness. I stumbled across this piece of writing ("Fear of Transformation") that was shared as a writing prompt for a Discovery Writing class that I took years ago, and where I met my dear friend Elaine, whom I lost to cancer in April, 2009. There's such a depth to the grief I am carrying in my heart after the recent ending of a long-term relationship. I have to believe that the grief is not only the loss of my long-term partner but the grief of losses I have never really truly grieved ... till now ... and so the flood gate of emotions I have feared for all my life is now here ...  this most recent loss is the tip of the iceberg.

I know in my gut I am going through some kind of transformation. I have to believe that. I have to hold onto hope. I have to believe that I will see light at the end of the tunnel and I will once again feel joy, and bliss, and happiness ... maybe even more so than I ever imagined possible for this time around I am feeling the loss; I am feeling the grief; I am feeling the God-awful pain that cuts so deep I often don't know what to do or how I can make it ...

So tonight I just want to share this piece of writing ... a piece of writing that marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Elaine where even in death she still blesses me with her presence by appearing in my dreams ... I share this piece in hopes that some day soon I will feel a lightness and I will feel like I can soar and fly ... I  love my now ex-partner ... I always have and I always will. I just pray that the pain will not always feel so raw, so painful, so gut-wrenching. I pray that for any of us going through a difficult time that we will find peace and relief .... and that we will trust that transformation and growth are taking place in our deepest and darkest times ,,,,,

Fear of Transformation
From: The Essene Book of Days by Daraan Parry

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I'm either hanging onto a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I'm hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I'm in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I'm merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance, and what do we see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It's empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, in my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart-of-hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won't have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn't matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of the "the past is gone, the future is not yet here." It's called transition. I have come to believe that is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a "no-thing," a no-place between places. Sure, the old trapeze-bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that's real too. But the void in between? That's just a scary confusing, disorienting "nowhere" that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste? I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being outfilled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to "hang out" in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the world. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Little Drummer Boy ... the beat goes on!

In December 2006 I wrote a piece titled "Little Drummer Boy .. the beat goes on" ... it's a piece I wrote to ease the heartache and pain of losing my beloved dog Shen to cancer of the spleen and reflecting and recognizing the synchronicities and how I believe my Papa brought Shen to me ... my Papa died on December 20, 1968 when I was four years old. I learned of Shen's cancer on September 14, 2006 (which would've been my father's 77th birthday) ... she died the very next day.

The Christmas season has always been hard for me. Bittersweet, one could say. Every time I hear the song 'Little Drummer Boy' I go back to the 3 months I spent as a 4 year old at Barnes hospital in St. Louis, Missouri with my mother visiting my father every day ... my mother praying desperately to God to save my father's life. As an adult i've never put a Christmas tree up. This year with the ending of a long-term relationship and some major health issues I find myself having to reach deep inside of myself to find strength, and to reach outwards to my friends and family and animals, and to God and my Papa to help pull me through a painful and uncertain time in my life ... it's like i'm walking on a thin sheet of ice ... days of crashing through and feeling like i'm going to drown while other days I feel like I will make it to solid ground.

Yesterday we (Minnesota) were hit with a major blizzard. About 18 inches of snow. I am living now with my friend Laura and her son Walker as we go through this transition. She played Christmas music as we decorated the Christmas tree ... and the house was filled with warmth and love as she made chili and biscuits. And as she reached for the last ornament in the box, she pulled out The Little Drummer boy ornament. She knows my story and significance of The Little Drummer boy. She handed it to me and said I need to put this ornament up. Laura remembers the story behind all her ornaments except for this one. She said, "I think The Little Drummer boy ornament has been waiting for you and for your story." So as I clasped the ornament in my hand I could feel Papa; I could feel him carrying me; and I whispered to him ... this will be a new beginning.

Here are excerpts of the piece I wrote in 2006 along with excerpts from more recent writing ...


Friday, September 14th, 2006.  I’m at my veterinarian’s office as the dreaded words come out of his mouth, “she may have cancer – cancer of the spleen.”  I look at Shen, my 11 year old collie/shepherd mix.  She doesn’t look or act sick.  How is it even possible she has cancer?   Over the past month she has had occasional episodes of lethargy, weakness and loss of appetite.  I’ve been on a seesaw of emotions as contradictory and inconsistent test results have come back from the time I took her in to be checked out “just to be on the safe side.”   My vet shared with me the possibility at the very early stages, that these inconsistent results, the deep lethargy quickly followed by what appears to be a full recovery and normal behavior, are indicative that she may have a mass in her spleen.   On my drive to the vet’s office that morning, Shen sat on the passenger seat, as she always does, resting comfortably while peeking out of the corner of her eye to ensure I was still there.  Traffic lights along the way were a welcome chance to give Shen extra pats of love, as she responded with kisses on my hand.  We talked that morning, as we always talked, on car rides, one of Shen’s many joys in life.  The difference this morning was that her brother Shadow, a 36 pound black lab/pit mix, wasn’t stepping all over her as he insisted on looking out the windows.  This morning, Shadow remained at home.  September 14th is a day with special meaning for me – it’s my father birthday.  If he were still alive, he would’ve been 77 years old.  I prayed that my Shen would be spared from the wrath of cancer.  I had just returned from a trip from St. Louis, Missouri visiting my mother and helping her in selling her house so she can move back home to the Philippines.  Upon my return, my partner shared with me that Shen appeared to be acting “depressed.”   We have joked in the past how Shen has a somewhat perpetual sadness about her.   I believe it’s the depth of her spirit speaking.  Her demeanor has a depth about  Most of the time, she’s her usual spunky self, however, Just one day earlier on what would’ve been my father’s 77th birthday, those How powerful memories are.  I’m in a time warp, returning to December 20th, 1968 – a Friday afternoon as well, at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis Missouri, gateway to the west, so they say.  I’m four years old.  That Friday afternoon, I lose my father.  St. Louis, Missouri, known for the arch – gateway to the west.  That afternoon, it was the gateway to heaven.  To my mom, it was the gateway to hell.

            Fast forward.  It’s Friday afternoon 38 years later - a sunny, crisp fall day in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Our 11 year old collie/shepherd mix, Shen, is in surgery at the University of Minnesota’s small animal hospital.  Two days ago she was full of life.  That morning, I lifted her 47 pound body into the passenger seat of my 2004 burnt orange Honda element, a vehicle I purchased, certainly not for its looks, but for the functionality and ease of transporting our dogs.  Her eyes had always pierced my soul.  Her eyes, a window, not into her soul, but into mine.  In a daze, I made the drive down Jefferson Avenue to University Avenue, turned right onto Raymond Avenue early Friday morning.  “Is this her last car ride with me?  Is this it?  Is this goodbye?”

            The ultrasound confirms a golf-size tumor in her spleen.  It’s cancerous, and has spread.  The prognosis – grim.  “She is dying –  we can remove the tumor.  Only after we go in can we assess how far it has spread.  Any efforts are palliative – you may only get days with her; if you’re lucky, weeks”, the vet says gently.  I am not ready to let go.  I try to fight back tears.  It’s useless.  A tsunami of uncontrollable emotions rushes over me.  I am drowning, yet expected to make a decision on her “fate.”  I realize now, that desperation, that sense of helplessness, that overwhelming anger at the injustice of it all – that’s what my mother must’ve felt that Friday afternoon, December 20th, 1968, when my father, a mere 39 years of age, was ripped from her, just as Shen was being ripped from me. 

            My decision.  I have to try.  I give her a kiss and a hug.  I whisper to her “I’ll be here, waiting for you.  If you choose to move on, I’ll be okay.” 

            The vet comes out to tell me “she needs another blood transfusion.  It’s worse than we expected.  The cancer is everywhere.  She’s bleeding to death.”  I realize, it’s time to let go.  Shen wasn’t the one hanging on for dear life – I was the one.  My dad wasn’t the one hanging on for dear life – my mother was, and unknowingly, so was I.  At four years of age, I sat perplexed in the corner of the hospital room, not understanding the chaos and desperation that filled the air, as doctors and nurses came rushing to my father’s room, as hospital staff wrapped their arms around my mother, as she screamed and cursed the God above for savagely ripping from her, the love of her life. 

            It’s Friday afternoon, December 20th, 1968 and the hospital PA system is playing Christmas music. It's five days before Christmas, a day to honor, reflect, and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Or, to a four year old, a day in hopeful anticipation of Santa arriving with Christmas presents. He arrived the year prior with Papa and Mama watching me as I gleefully ripped wrapping paper off of large boxes I’m sure Santa had trouble transporting from the North Pole. Santa traveled a long way to make the trip from the North Pole to Bangkok, Thailand where I lived in bliss with Papa. Somehow, this year, something felt very different.

             I am sitting in the corner of a room at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. In October, 1968 my mom was told by doctors in Thailand, “your husband is dying – there’s nothing we can do.”  Papa resisted going to the doctor for months. “ I feel fine,” he insisted as he continued to lose weight. One day my mom noticed the color of his skin changing – there was a yellowish tint to his skin and the whites around his eyes were turning yellow. “Whether you like it or not, you are going to the doctor!” my mom tells my father. He quietly concedes. After a series of tests, my mother hears words she never imagines she would hear, “your husband is dying.” We travel half way across the world to St. Louis, Missouri. It’s been two months since we arrived, and every morning, my mom and I would spend the day in Papa’s hospital room. I’m four years old  - too young to be in school. My mom’s brother lives in Godfrey, Illinois, and tells us Barnes Hospital has great doctors and maybe they can save him. My mom, desperate, is willing to try anything so she brings our family to St. Louis – my dying father, my 7 year old brother and my 5 year old sister. 

            Outside the hospital window I see a huge stainless steel arch in the distance – the St. Louis Gateway Arch. My father is laying quietly on his bed while I play with my Etch a Sketch. Over the hospital intercom system plays “Little Drummer Boy.” My mother is sitting by my father’s side. She’s talking to him. There’s no response. My mother has placed a rosary in his hand and has been praying non-stop for weeks. As I watch my mother lean over and into my father, I notice my father’s grip loosen. The air in the room comes to a standstill. As my mother runs out of the room into the hallway, I hear her frenzied, desperate, quivering voice say to my father “There is no light. There is no light. Don’t follow the light.” Years later, she tells me “Your Papa asked me that morning what’s that shining light I see? It’s so beautiful.” She said he looked so peaceful. She also acknowledged she knew in her heart it was God’s way of telling her the time had come. Yet how could the God she had placed her faith and unwavering trust in turn her back on her now? How could she accept that the love of her life was being taken from her?

She tells my father there is no light as she frantically shut the blinds. Moments later, the cross breaks loose from the rosary my mom placed in my father’s hand, and falls to the floor. “The chain of life has broken” she tells me, decades later. “I knew God was taking your Papa away. I was so angry with God and I was so angry with your Papa. How could God take your Papa from me? From you? How could your Papa leave us?”

            In minutes, my father’s hospital room is filled with doctors, nurses and machines. My mother’s cries continue to echo and vibrate in a time tunnel connecting us and cementing me to that moment when my father’s soul left his body. The stench of stale air mixed with ethanol stings the insides of my nose. Is this what happens when life stops? Does time stop – the frames of our life’s movie frozen. Only I am sure my mother wishes the frames could’ve frozen years earlier, maybe even the first moment my father laid eyes on her – it was a moment a decade earlier, in Bloomington, Indiana where they both in graduate school and a mutual friend introduced them at a dinner party. My father had traveled from Bangkok, Thailand to the small town of Bloomington, Indiana; and my mother from Manila, Philippines. “I remember your Papa that night. He didn’t say much. Quiet. Humble. Handsome. Oh yes, very handsome. And he always smiled.”

            “No, no. Don’t take him from me.” She grabs the cross off of the pale beige floor, clasps it in her hands, and cups her hands over my father’s left hand. She pushes the cross in the palm of his hand and wraps his fingers over it. She won’t let go. The nurses gently wrap their arms around my mother and ask her to wait outside. She won’t let go. “There is no light. There is no light. You have to stay with us. You promised me you would,” she wails.

            I don’t remember how long it was. I sat in my corner not understanding what was happening. The beat of the Christmas carol “Little Drummer’s Boy” playing in the background. Not long after the nurses escorted me out of my father’s room, the beat of my father’s heart stopped. He was 39 years old. His death certificate reads: “Cause of death: liver disease.”

      The melody, rhythm and beat of the “Little Drummer boy” are etched in my memory, in my cells, and in the fabric of my being.  The drum beat fades off into the distance, as the spirit of my father is set free – Friday, December 20th, 1968 at 3 PM.  Now, Friday, September, 15th, 2006 at 3 PM, I bury my face in Shen’s body, clenching tightly to what is now an empty shell, as her spirit, like my father’s, is set free. 

The holiday season is here again.  It’s always a time of reflection for me.  Little Drummer Boy is playing again.  I hear the music; I feel the beat. 

As Christmas 2010 approaches I wonder where Papa will lead me ... where will I be going as I follow the beat of the Little Drummer Boy? Wherever it is, as long as I have my Papa carrying me and I am surrounded by the all the angels he continues to surround me with ... I will be OK.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Breaking down ... breaking open.

I've been awake tonight, unable to sleep -- my heart feels like it is being thrown into a shredder over and over, and my stomach feels like a volcano on fire. I wonder ... how many pieces can a heart shatter into? How many tears can I shed for the loss of someone whom I love so deeply? How deep is this well of tears that has been sealed shut for so long? What do I do with this ache in my heart? How do I let go of someone I have loved so deeply and for so long?

All the while I hear the doctors voice at Mayo clinic telling me the other day that 90% of my pancreas may be damaged and a list of tests and procedures rattled off to try to understand what has caused my pancreas to stop functioning.... blood tests, CT scan, MRI, possible biopsy. The first set of tests is to see how shriveled or enlarged my pancreas is, or if there are any tumors. And not far behind the pancreas doctor's voice I hear my primary doctor telling me with RBCs in my urine we need to have a renal ultrasound done to check the functioning of my kidneys and bladder and to check for blockage or tumors or cysts. And then the rumblings of my breast doctors and surgeons stressing the importance now of doing something about the abnormal/atypical cells in my breast as they are looking more and more like cancer.

I have been living with a friend for the past few weeks as I go through the transition of a long-term relationship ending. I have one dog (Ahnung) with me. My friend Laura has been a saint opening up her heart and home to me. The other two dogs (Missy and Mister) are still at the house but I visit them as often as I can. I am looking to buy a new house so I can bring all 3 dogs with me. My heart hurts for everyone. I turn once again to God, as I don't know where else to turn when the walls feel like they are caving in on me from all directions. 

Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I am given unimaginable gifts;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.

Each condition I flee from pursues me.
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed…

~ Jennifer Welwood

When we come close to those things that break us down, we touch those things that also break us open.  And in that breaking open, we uncover our true nature.

~ Wayne Muller

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Let your soul be your pilot

This past Sunday I went to mass again. It was exactly where I needed to be on a bitterly cold morning ... we were celebrating the second Sunday of Advent. After a long, long absence i've returned to St. Joan of Arc church in Minneapolis where their tag line is We Welcome you wherever you are on your journey. The message for last Sunday's mass was of trusting the God voice within as we search for answers in the wilderness ... Wild Hope is what the sermon was about. The previous Sunday it was Wild Awakening.

 And during mass one of the SJA choir members sang a song by Sting that just touched me deeply, "Let Your Soul be Your Pilot." While he sang, the lyrics of the song were flashed on screen for us to follow along. I realized that when I hit my lowest moment a couple of weeks ago, that God and my Papa took control ... and now I am learning, at what feels like at a snail's pace, to listen to the God voice within me.

This morning I meet with my doctor to continue the evaluation of what is causing the high RBCs in my urine. I've also been so fatigued these past few days and unable to stay awake past 7 or 7:30 at night. I wake up with my stomach feeling like it's on fire and my hands and feet are always freezing. And tomorrow I head back down to Mayo to meet with the pancreatic specialist.

And as more doctor appointments approach, I pray .... Dear God, I entrust my life and my journey over to You. Give me strength and courage to walk these coming days and months. And give me the wisdom to hear Your voice within me, in the wilderness and in the angels you have placed around me.

Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot

Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
He'll guide you well

When you're down and they're counting
When your secrets all found out
When your troubles take to mounting
When the map you have leads you to doubt
When there's no information
And the compass turns to nowhere that you know well

Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
He'll guide you well

When the doctors failed to heal you
When no medicine chest can make you well
When no counsel leads to comfort
When there are no more lies they can tell
No more useless information
And the compass spins
The compass spins between heaven and hell

Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
He'll guide you well

And your eyes turn towards the window pane
To the lights upon the hill
The distance seems so strange to you now
And the dark room seems so still

Let your pain be my sorrow
Let your tears be my tears too
Let your courage be my model
That the north you find will be true
When there's no information
And the compass turns to nowhere that you know well

Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
Let your soul guide you
Let your soul guide you upon your way...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Trusting ... allowing myself to be carried in tough times

This is the last photo I have with my Papa. It's my most cherished photo and memory and it is what got me through my lowest moment in these past couple of weeks. I continue to have significant health challenges in very uncertain terrain, and  am also going through a significant life change and a deep loss. The combination of all of these major stressors pushed me to the end of my rope ... and I am beyond grateful that I felt God in my heart and saw Papa and I let go, surrendered and fell into their arms. They surrounded me with angels on heaven: my dogs (Ahnung, Mister and Missy), my friends and family, my doctors and health care support team.

This past Wednesday I met with my doctors at Mayo to discuss the results of my last pathology report and to discuss options. The surgeon tells me that there is definitely something going on with the cells in my breast. "You've had 3 surgical biopsies in the past year and a half and each has shown progressively more atypia and is progressing to look like cancer." Every slide on this last surgery that the pathologist looked at shows aytpia (she says you have >3 foci of atypia), and you are also now showing calcifications. "What's of great concern to us is that there is no correlate and way for us to really monitor what's going on with you. These abnormal cells aren't forming lumps. They are dispersed and appear to be everywhere. Nothing shows up on a mammogram or ultrasound and even an MRI didn't light up the area you were concerned about on this last surgery." I reflect back on this last surgery ... something in my gut was just telling me there was something wrong and that this area in my breast just needed to be removed. I pushed my surgeon to do the surgery even though she felt like it was normal breast tissue and possibly some scarring. I'm glad I did. I learned that my breast are filled with abnormal cells and I wasn't "crazy" ... I learned the importance of listening to my gut. My 3 options continue to be a) close surveillance, b) tamoxifen or c) double mastectomy. Doctors at Mayo and in the cities feel like close surveillance is too risky an option. The surgeon said that it appears my abnormal cells aren't forming lumps and even the calcifications aren't forming lumps. She's concerned that there is already DCIS and it's not showing up on mammograms. My gut says tamoxifen isn't right with the other health issues I have. So we spent more time talking about option c. She said it would be 3 - 5 days in the hospital (depending on whether I also did reconstruction). It would be about 4-6 weeks of recovery (probably more with reconstruction) and that I should plan on being off of work for a month. If I choose close surveillance then she recommended that I have an MRI done in April as MRIs are better at detecting invasive cancer.

I shared with my doctor I have some major things on my plate right now not only health wise but also personally. They are aware of the pancreatic problems I have and know that I am seeing a pancreatic specialist next Wednesday at Mayo. They are also aware of the abnormal lab results showing high RBCs in my urine and have told me that it would be fair to address these other health issues first and put the breast issues lower on the list of priorities. I also ask the doctor that with all these various "issues" i'm having could it be something at a systemic level. She said yes and that I should consider seeing an internal medicine doctor at Mayo who can take a look at everything and work with a team of specialists. I start though with seeing my primary doctor next Tuesday to beginning the further evaluation of the high RBCs in my urine (hematuria) and possible issues with my kidneys or bladder. Repeat tests were done and apparently it's not just high, it's significantly high. The normal range is 0 - 2 and the two tests I had showed '14' and '18'.

Over the past couple of weeks I have often felt this heavy, dark cloud over me. There are moments though when I can see the sun and feel moments of lightness and relief in my heart. I hold on to those moments and know that with time I will feel them more. I've started reading a book by Pema Chodron, "When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times." I've read it a couple times before but felt the need to read it again ... I am reminded to not run from fear or pain. She says "fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."

"To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. " 

~ Pema Chodron

and by surrendering and letting go and falling into the arms of angels on earth ... I trust that some day I will feel the lightness and joy in my heart again and i will be able to soar. And here's a quote from Earnie (a parishioner at St. Joan of Arc) who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer:

"And when our “Okness” doesn’t depend on specific outcomes but rather on Who is holding us we are safe beyond any power that could destroy us."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Surrendering .. letting go

There have been many moments over the past week or so where I have felt like I had reached the end of my rope .... clinging on so tightly it was like I could no longer hang on. Then this image of one set of footprints in the sand came into my heart. I needed to surrender ... to let go ... and to fall into the arms and the love of God and of my family and friends and my furry 4-legged angels.

I've struggled with significant health issues over the past year and this past week received more bad news. I'm working on reframing "bad" to simply, more news ... not good and not bad. I am working on truly letting go and surrendering myself into the arms of God. Today, I feel moved to share the Footprints in the Sand poem:


Last night I had a dream. I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonged to me, the other to the Lord. 

After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.  “Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

The Lord replied, “My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of suffering, when you could see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. So much has transpired in my life this past week ... too much to even share in this blog posting and to be honest I am needing time to process and simply sit and be with all that has happened. What I do know is that I am extremely grateful to be alive and to have the most incredible friends. I am grateful for my dogs who are healing magic to me ... I look to my dog Ahnung who has and will continue to be my northstar as I maneuver my way through the next step in my life's journey.

A few days ago a good friend of mine shared the following poem with me. We are all walking our journey of life ... I have been afraid to step into some deep old hurts and pains ... hurts so deep that I had convinced myself they weren't there yet I know in my gut that they have manifested in the health issues I have been struggling with over the past year and a half. Next week I have my appointment at Mayo to discuss options around the cancer/precancer in my breast and the following week meet with a pancreatic specialist.

To add to all of this I learned the other day that I have an infection ... abnormally high red blood cells (and white blood cells) in my urine. I had another test done yesterday and will hopefully get results back tomorrow. The internist tells me ... it could have something to do with my gall bladder or kidneys. Sounds like I may have more tests and procedures to go through. The internist is most concerned about the abnormally high levels of red blood cells.

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Against all Odds!

It's been almost a week now since I completed the San Francisco US Half marathon on Sunday, 11/7. I arrived on Thursday, 11/4 as I had some work meetings ... the weather was perfect -- sunny and in the 60s. Prior to leaving Minnesota I checked the weather forecast for San Francisco to determine what running attire to bring .. the weather forecast was saying sunny and high 50s at the time of the race start. In my mind, I thought, "how perfect! I get to run 13.1 miles in gorgeous weather and I get to cross the Golden Gate bridge twice!"

Then I come to find out that rain is predicted for Sunday the morning of my half marathon. And it's not just a light rain, it's a heavy rain! A few months ago I made a decision to train and sign up for a half marathon. This time last year I could barely function. My doctors hadn't discovered the cause of my extreme fatigue and the continual weight loss. It wasn't till March of this year when I was diagnosed with pancreatic insufficiency with unknown etiology ... in plain English, my pancreas had stopped functioning normally and no longer produces the essential enzyme lipase that breaks down fats. I'm a mystery to my doctor. I've been taken pancreatic enzymes which have been a lifesaver ... my doctor tells me he is happy the enzymes are helping however he's still concerned because they still can't figure out the underlying cause for my pancreas shutting down on some level. He suspects there are changes going on at a cellular level in my pancreas that unfortunately can't be seen with tests and scans. Not to scare me but to stress the importance of listening to my body, he tells me it could be an early sign of diabetes (although he doubts it because I don't have other symptoms) ... and possibly, very early signs of cancer. He goes on to say, the good news is that when we did the endoscopic ultrasound and looked at your pancreas we did not see any visible tumors so if there is anything it's going on at a cellular level. Hmmmm .... in the past year and a half I have walked a parallel path with precancer cells in my breast and this last surgery in October revealed that yes, my cells are definitely going awry with one pathologist saying it's definitely cancer, the other 3 saying it's still in the pre-cancer stage. I'm walking a very gray area in the western medical world where I'm a mystery to them as I'm not following the norms ... pathologists at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN where I've gone to get a second opinion have expressed serious concern ... well, I guess they all do. There's concern there is cancer already in my body but the western medical world can't treat it because they can't isolate an area or spot in my breast ... recommendations are a double mastectomy or tamoxifen .. neither of which feel right to me at this time.

So ... training for this half marathon was huge for me on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. For the first time this year I started feeling strong enough to exercise again. I had also completed two marathons in the past in which both of them I had injured myself and crossed the finish line in excruciating pain. This time, I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to listen to my body ...  and I wanted to integrate mind, body and spirit into this run. I wanted to cross the finish line with a smile on my face. Running this half marathon was to reclaim my health ... no matter what lies in front of me healthwise as I continue my visits with doctors, surgeons and specialists ... I will be okay. And for my half marathon I chose to have my running bib read the name of my dog Ahnung, whose name means north star in ojibway, and who has been my north star in many ways over the past couple years as she has helped heal the wounded child inside of me.

After I learned about the rain I had to shift my perspective and my attitude. I could hear Ahnung telling me, "It's so much fun running in the rain!!" Ahnung is like the little kid in me. And as I ran 13.1 miles in non-stop rain (even major downpours at time), mud puddles and killer hills ... I could hear her telling me to have fun! And so I did. As I came down this muddy slope after crossing the Golden Gate bridge I joined the other runners in splashing in mud puddles and not caring about my Asics running shoes getting filthy. I had never run in the rain before nor have I ever had the desire to run in the rain. Last Sunday I considered it a spiritual cleansing. I was in San Francisco from Thursday through Monday and every day was perfect weather except for the morning of my half marathon on Sunday. I don't believe in coincidences ... I believe the rain came for a reason. It gave me a chance to shift perspective and to let go of expectations and to live and embrace the moment. With support from so many, I welcomed the 13.1 miles in pouring rain. I welcomed the steep uphill climbs and muddy routes. And at the end when the wind kicked in, I even welcomed that!! As I crossed the Golden Gate bridge the second time I looked up into the skies and just thanked God. This time last year I would never have imagined I would be able to complete 13.1 miles.

My journey continues ... and on this run, the little girl in me also carried my father and God with me as I wore around my neck the diamond heart my dad gave to my mom when they were dating, a gold band that my father wore all the time and a gold ring with a cross on it ... a reminder to me that I am not alone.

Today I celebrate the 4 year old in me who ran a half marathon last Sunday ... against all odds, and with a little help from my pup Ahnung!!! Thank you Papa for carrying me through this run ... just like you used to hold me as a little girl I still feel you carrying me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gearing Up for the San Francisco US Half Marathon

Hanging out at Fisherman's Wharf
with my brother!
I arrived early this afternoon in San Francisco. This trip, unlike my many recent work trips, is a combination of work and pleasure. Tomorrow I have a busy work day then comes the fun ... hanging out in San Francisco and getting ready to run the San Francisco US Half marathon on Sunday, 11/7 [I am very grateful my dear friend Michele is going to meet me here in SF so that she can cheer me on as I cross the finish line!].

I've been training for this race for a few months now. This time last year I was struggling on so many levels with my health ... for someone who's normally very active I had essentially reached a point where I was so fatigued and weak that I couldn't even exercise and had also lost so much weight. At the beginning of 2010 my GI doctor figured out it was my pancreas and since i've been on these magical enzymes I've stopped losing weight and my fatigue has dissipated. I still have some bad days but for the most part I feel so much better ... so a few months ago I made a decision to train for this half marathon and also started working out with an awesome personal trainer, Holly Margl of Flex Appeal in St. Paul. In many ways I felt the need to reclaim my health and to know that I can do anything I set my mind to!! So I registered for the SF Half marathon .. and I made a decision to also run this race not only for myself but also for my dog Ahnung who has been my source of strength on so many levels  ... Ahnung, which means star in ojibway, has been my north star and many nights when I was unable to sleep because of pain I would hold onto her, and I would tell myself exactly what we tell the kids we visit at schools ... to hold on tightly to our north star and to trust that our north star will guide us into the light ... and for me, she always does ....

This past year has been a rough year for me on many levels ... it has also been an incredible year of growth and transformation. In the same way, I have witnessed and journeyed alongside of Ahnung as I have witnessed how much she has grown and blossomed and how much of a difference she is making as a therapy dog volunteering with at-risk youth and in hospice. So when I registered for the half marathon and I was given the option of a customized bib ... I made a very conscious decision that I was going to have my running bib read 'AHNUNG'. I am going to run for Ahnung and in honor of an angel who came down from heaven in the body of an adorable big black dog ... but I will also feel the presence of my father when I run. My father appeared to me in a dream for the first time ever on January 3, 2010 .. and January 3rd is a very special day for me (and Ahnung) because it is the day (1/3/2009) when I officially adopted her from Pet Haven.

The race starts at 7 am on Sunday .... and it will be an incredible route as I will get to run across the Golden Gate bridge not just once but twice!! My sweet girl Ahnung (aka nung-nung) is NOT a runner ... so for this run she's happy that she will be with me in spirit and not in physical body. The last time we participated in a 5K9 run/walk, it was definitely a walk and not a run!!

I am looking forward to crossing the finish line on Sunday morning as I proudly wear my running bib that reads 'AHNUNG'!! thank you nung-nung for not only being my north star, but the north star for so many others ... and I of course, also have to thank Mister (another one of our dogs) for helping me get back to running and being such an awesome running buddy for my shorter runs!! Thanks Mister!!