Happy Birthday to Me!

Today we celebrated my birthday, with my first trip to the Cheesecake Factory! I am the kind of person who likes to tell everyone I meet that it is my birthday – the people I work with, the check-out lady at the grocery store, the person I bump into while out for a walk, our server at the restaurant – if I am given half a chance to interact with anyone on my special day, they will know about it and be given the opportunity to wish me well. Some of you might think that sounds obnoxious, and maybe it is, but I don’t really care what anyone thinks. What the heck good is a birthday if people don’t know that they should be telling you, “Happy Birthday!”? (I am agonizing right now about where to place that question mark with my last interrogative sentence. Should it be inside the quotation marks next to the exclamation point?! That just seems too weird, because then, it looks like I want people to give me a questioning birthday greeting, with a raised voice at the end, and that is just not what I am saying. So, I am breaking the rules, and leaving the question mark outside of the quotation marks, just to prove that I am, indeed, aloof to the norms of societal behavior.)

Anyway, getting back to the point, I LOVE hearing those words, “Happy Birthday.” Not quite six years ago, with the diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer, I faced the fear, head on, of not celebrating any more birthdays. When doctors are telling you that you have a very aggressive form of breast cancer, and then they start giving you the statistics of your chances of being alive in five or ten years if you choose to take the chemo and radiation treatments, as opposed to opting out of treatment; when you’re going to the oncologist every other week for infusions, for the “necessary evil” toxin that floods into every cell in an effort to stop the cancer; when the hair falls out and the devastating complications of chemo knock you flat on your back, physically and emotionally, you might begin to think about the possibility of never getting back up again. I did. It’s not that I wanted to think that way, or even that I was prone to thinking that way, but chemo sometimes really messes with people. It chose to mess with me. And so the questioning fear came over me, what if this is the end? I was a home schooling mom, and my youngest was only in the seventh grade. She has a learning disability, but my home school program was giving her all she needed, and she was flourishing. Did I need to think about what her life would be like without me, and tie up loose ends?

That’s not a question that most of us like to think about. We all know that life on this earth comes to an end, sooner or later, for every one of us, but it’s not a concept we embrace too easily. Most of us just go about our daily lives, making plans and deposits into our retirement accounts, imagining that we will make it to a ripe old age and contemplate death as it draws near. For me, facing reality was painful and frightening, because death is something I preferred to keep out of my usual realm of thought. Dying “young” happens to other people, not to me….not yet, anyway. But, I did think about it, and I faced the chances of such a fate changing my plans. I began to realize that my “plans” are a puff of smoke, a tiny wisp of a cloud that no one would even notice on a bright, sunny day. The realization that came to me is that each and every day, being a gift from God, is not to be lived for me and my plans, but for the plans of the One who created me, who breathes life into my soul, the very author of life. The shape and content of my morning prayer began to change. Don’t get me wrong, I still wasn’t settled with the idea of giving up the ghost at that point, but I was learning to shift my gaze, from a foreground focus to a longer-range point of view.

I had always felt like I needed to find my way in life, and now it was becoming clear to me that what I really yearned for was to find God’s way for me, on a daily basis. Facing the potential loss of my life led me to a desire to live each day as thoroughly as possible, with God’s blessing upon my activity. Another thing that I was forced to recognize was that quiet time, relaxation time, down time…whatever you want to call it, is absolutely essential to a life of faith! I had been so used to being busy, busy, busy – planning, organizing, running around here, there, and everywhere (home schooling moms like to joke about the “home” part of the terminology, because we seem to find plenty of things to keep us out of the home!), but suddenly, because of a lack of physical energy and fragile emotional health, I started pulling out of activities. Everything left me utterly exhausted and stressed to such an overload that I would literally go into a daze because I could not cope with the struggle. I had never been a quitter before, so I found my behavior startling and embarrassing. I wondered what friends would think, and occasionally I tried to explain what was going on in my head, but mainly, I just ran away, settled into my recliner, and stayed there, safe and cozy.

From that vantage point, I was able to hear God’s voice stronger and clearer than I had for years, and mainly what I heard was something like this, “Be still, and serve those around you in love.” In these six years of waiting and serving, I have seen two of my daughters begin their married lives. I have helped in the care of my elderly mother-in-law and have given full-time care to my own mother in my home. I had the blessing of being at the bedside of both of these women when they breathed their last, seeing them off into eternity with words of love. I have had the joy of becoming a grandmother. I have completed my teaching career with the high school graduation of my youngest daughter. I have grown stronger and healthier with each passing year. And now…

Now I find that the landscape of my journey has changed, yet again. God has led me to new places that I would never have dreamed of going. With this change of course, I will not lose my bearings, I will not find myself questioning my way in life as in days gone by, because my hardships have taught me hard won lessons. I do not have to plot out my entire course, because I only have today. And today, I will live to the fullest of my ability, applying my unique gifts and talents to the challenges I meet, and I will strive to make a difference in the lives of those around me. Most importantly, I will offer it up to Him who has given me this gift of one more day. And if I receive the gift of another day, I will do the same, over, and over, until God deems that it is time for me to leave this life. This is all I need, and all that is asked of me, and in this, I find peace.

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Grandma’s drops of coffee soup wisdom

I know that many of you are forming an unfair opinion of me from my previous posts. You are thinking to yourselves, “This is one, crazy lady whose blog has no theme or usefulness, and I am wasting my time here.” However, I have a depth to me, which I have not yet shared with my faithful readers. Over the years, I have learned a thing or two. Some of these little pearls of wisdom might come in handy for a few of you, so I thought it would be very kind and unselfish of me to share these hard won nuggets. Since I do, sometimes, consider myself kind and unselfish, I felt obligated to offer this compilation of lessons learned, from many years of experience, for your perusal.

Lesson 1 – Always smell things before you taste them. This is a very useful and necessary piece of information. Unbeknownst to many of the unschooled amongst us, our taste and olfactory nerves work in conjunction with one another. Chances are, if the smell of something makes you gag, then the taste of it will make you vomit. Smell any questionable food items before tasting, and if you feel the slightest queasiness from the odor, toss it in the trash. Or, if you don’t tell PETA, you can feed it to the dogs.

Lesson 2 – Never smell things that you pick up off of the floor. This wise advice is closely related to #1. I have a habit of smelling anything that I can’t categorize. This is not a good habit to get into. There are strange and gross things in this world, and many of them live on the surface of the earth, or on the floor of your home. If you reach down to pick up an unnamable item, simply wrap said item in a tissue, and toss it in the trash. You are not a scientist. Classifying every object you encounter in your daily life is simply not necessary.

Lesson 3 – Always check the toilet paper supply before the release of any bodily wastes. I know this is a rather taboo subject, but it is something that we must, as a society, be willing to talk about. Too many people find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing a wipe when a wipe is inaccessible. Sometimes, if you are in your own bathroom, or in the bathroom at a friend’s house, you can rummage around in the cupboard and find emergency back-up, however, do not fail to follow this friendly forewarning when visiting a public restroom.

Lesson 4 – Never send anyone under the age of 20 years old to look for something in storage (i. e., in a food pantry, in the attic, in a cupboard, on shelves in the basement, etc). Anyone under this age of wisdom has not yet assimilated the concept of searching for items. If the thing they are looking for happens to be behind or under another item, they will never locate the item. They will search for a very long time, while you are, perhaps, stirring the pot, anxiously awaiting the needed ingredient. You will then have to find someone to take over the stirring, so that you can go rescue the searcher, who is standing there in a daze, staring at the shelves. You will move one can aside, which will reveal the jar of sauce that has eluded your unschooled detective. Invariably, the thwarted searcher will say, “I didn’t know it would be hidden behind something!”

Lesson 5 – Never, ever let yourself believe that grocery shopping can be taken care of in one trip per week. You will ask the entire family, several times as you are laboring over your shopping list, if there is anything that anyone needs. They will invariably say, “No.” You will take your cell phone with you, just in case they think of something while you are at the store. As soon as you get home from your big, weekly marketing excursion, and pack everything away where no one under 20 can find it, someone will say, “Did you get toothpaste (or tissues, or saltines, or quick oats, or whatever it happens to be that they have suddenly remembered that they can’t live without)? You will stop by the store on your way home from work the next day, and then the following day, you will run back again for an essential recipe ingredient that you forgot to put on your list, and so it will go, until you are stopping by the market three or four days a week, and everyone who works there will know you by name, and think that you are cuckoo.

Lesson 6 – Buying clothes in a smaller size to encourage yourself to lose weight will not work. You might think that those cute, little shorts and the skimpy tank top will be like a carrot in front of your nose, leading you on to a successful diet and exercise plan that will get you in great shape for the summer. It seems like it could be a beguiling incentive, however, the only good thing that can come of such a gamble is a nice, generous donation of brand new, never worn clothing to the local Goodwill. In addition to the donation, you will also have to hit the shops again, to get some clothing that actually fits. Save yourself some time and money – buy stretchy clothes.

Lesson 7 – (Standard Mom advice) Don’t let people get on your nerves, and try not to worry (about stuff that probably won’t turn out as bad as you think it will, anyway). Don’t take things personally. Always give people the benefit of the doubt. It never hurts to ask. Laugh a lot, be goofy, have fun. Thank God for the gift of every day, and leave things in God’s hands.

Lesson 8 – (Ending on a serious note) The only thing that really leads to true happiness in this life is relationships. Family, friends, work associates, classmates, the folks who work at the grocery store or your doctor’s office – these are the souls you can impact on a daily basis with your love and kindness and compassion and good humor. God brings these people into your daily life, and how you act towards them can truly make an impact on them, for good or for ill. Choose to love, choose to care, choose to be kind, choose to compliment and encourage and pray for those in need – these are the greatest gifts we have to offer to our little part of the world each day, and the sharing of these gifts will bless us in ways we cannot begin to grasp. We will feel happier, and we will leave those in our wake feeling happier, but these simple gifts of love and kindness will splash and ripple out into eternity, and have astounding and lasting effects we may never know.

Lesson 9 – Don’t imagine you can grasp all these staggering life lessons in one reading, because, honestly, you have to be old to be this wise.

Time Breaks the Sound Barrier

People like to say that time flies. The older I get, the more I can relate to that phrase. When you’re a kid, time hardly ever flies. You’re always stuck in school all day, wishing it were summer break or Christmas break. Do you remember looking forward to events for months and months, when it seemed like the big day would never come? I sure do. I would calculate the days for something colossal that I was anticipating. I’d get the wall calendar down and start a count from whatever the special day was – our summer trip to Cedar Point amusement park, Christmas Day, my birthday, whatever it was – and then, I would mark each day off before I went to bed. Sometimes, it seemed like it would take forever, but finally, after many little slash marks on my calendar, the waiting would pay off. Inescapably, the night before the big event would come, and I’d be so excited I couldn’t sleep. I’d wake up, rush through the long-awaited adventure…and then it would be over in a flash. I guess that time did fly during those enjoyable times, because I recall that summer break was always way too short! All the good stuff would come and go, and then it would be time to find something else to look forward to. I counted down to my high school graduation, to my photography school graduation, to my wedding day, to the birthdays of each of my children, Then, before I knew it, I was in my 30’s, teaching my daughters how to do an official event countdown.

When I hit the big four-O, I had just lost my dearest friend to suicide, so time became eerily distorted for a while. But still, I counted. My oldest daughter went off to college, very far away in California – I began looking forward to Christmas again, just like in my childhood days, and also to summer break. The little numbers showed up once again on my calendar, and I marked off each day before I said my bedtime prayers. Then, in my late 40’s, cancer came to visit me. It was a surprise visit, as it most often is for folks. While I was going through the worst of my treatments, I didn’t know for sure when the struggle would end, so there was no reason to count. I stopped looking ahead, and sometimes barely managed to drag myself through each day. That was all I could do, and, at the time, it was enough. Each night, I still took the time to cross off the day on my calendar, but it was more like checking things off of a to-do list. I had done it, I had made it through another tough day, and I wanted to have many more days ahead. I did make it through, of course, and eventually, I realized I was going to be okay, and I found my silly, inner child again. By that point, I was getting close to my 50th birthday, so I planned myself a big, crazy celebration, and it went down in history as one of the best parties ever!

I am now six years out from the cancer treatments (seven years from when I first found the lump), and time is flying by so fast that I can barely hold on. I do not make a countdown on my calendars anymore. I still look forward to things, but my cancer has taught me to slow down, enjoy the slow, quiet times, and live in the simple joy of each day. I am still in the habit of crossing off each day before I go to bed, because it is one more gift of time for which I can offer thanks. But even without the countdown, I was, without a doubt, looking forward to having all of my family here for Christmas, especially since I don’t see much of my two older daughters during the year.

They were all here, my entire (extended) family, for two glorious weeks, and it was lovely, but with my new work schedule, and trying to squeeze in lots of fun outings, and preparing tasty, homemade meals almost every evening, and sitting with my granddaughter in my lap at every opportunity, reading her books, and staying up late on Christmas Eve to wrap presents that would be opened the next morning, and babysitting my grandbaby so mom & dad could go out, and, (take a deep breath!), staying up late to greet the new year…, suddenly, it was time for everyone to pack up and leave. My house had been overflowing, packed with the belongings of eight people, and now it feels empty and quiet, and back to “normal.” When I go to bed tonight, I will be making a slash through the slot allotted to January 5th. How did this happen?! We’ve gone though five days of the new year, and I can still hardly believe that Christmas has come and gone. This Christmas season went by so quickly for me, I’m quite certain it broke the sound barrier. I did notice an explosion on New Year’s Eve, and I was just assuming, at the time, that our fireworks fanatic neighbor had fired up some fuses, but now I know better. It’s one of the laws of physics that time passes more quickly for the aged. In eleven days, I will celebrate another birthday – not such an exciting event as when I was a kid. Who, in their right mind, would count down to fifty-five? But you know what?! I think I am going to resurrect my old practice. As soon as I am done with this pointless piece of prose I am composing for your pastime, I am heading straight to my wall calendar. I am going to do a good, old-fashioned countdown to my birthday. And, when my birthday has come and gone, I will find another upcoming event and count the days until that, too, and I will keep on going and going, because…it will make me feel like a kid again, and when the passage of time is breaking the sound barrier, I need all the “anti-aging-secret-weapons” I can stockpile. Fifty-five isn’t really that old, but I am planning on being around for quite some time! May God bless you in this new year, with many good things to look forward to in the months ahead, and possibly even a few worth counting-down to!