The Slowing. (A Poem)

Words come slow and steady on the paper

where my heart and my tea pours,

and I feel the warmth of the Autumn sun

against my cheeks.

It fills my mind with thoughts

of beauty, of life, of death,

and the endless cycle that it is.

How nothing in this world lasts, but how it is good and helpful

and wise, because it teaches us.

It teaches that love runs deep and love is really all there is.

That seasons come and go,

that the river ebbs and flows

and then it slows

until it becomes only a trickle of what it used to be.

How it will never die,

but it will always flow.

It will always be

the river.

It will always carry life and hope and refreshment for all who sit on its banks

and all who drink from its waters.

I soak in the warmth and remember the seasons and the reasons

why I’m here

at this place,

in this moment,

HERE.

Where all is still

and the waters of time have slowed to a trickle.

The hurried days of summer have all but dwindled

and it’s only me, and the sun and the beauty

that is

this season,

this life,

this death,

this slowing down.

It always comes when I’m not ready, but it always brings me gifts.

Gifts of peace and a new understanding

of what it means to live,

to breathe,

to celebrate each moment, without fear.

No fear of the cold and the future and what comes next,

But just to be,

Fully alive.

Remembering the summer without wishing for it.

Enjoying the memories, without pining for them.

Listening to the thoughts

that come, without cringing.

Coming to peace with myself,

and the dying.

The dying of leaves and plans and ambitions

and the golden dreams of summer.

PEACE

with where I am

and where I’m not.

Embracing the present,

Without the noise and the rage and the battle.

Embracing this place

where my heart becomes quiet

and the ink and the river slows.

Where all I can hear is that gentle bubbling,

the hushed and silent knowing

that all is well.

That whatever the pause, the change, the internal winter brings,

it can never take away the sun, or the beauty or the warmth

0f this moment.

For it is deep and eternal,

and it is mine to keep.

wpid-img_20141016_105759.jpg

The Gift of Grief.

(This is a continuation of my last post “When Grief Comes…” If you haven’t read it, please do so, and then continue here.)

I learned a few things from that moment of grief at the San Diego airport. One of them is that it really IS ok to cry. It’s ok to let yourself hurt and feel and remember. In fact, some times it is necessary for you to move on, to get to your next destination.

I learned that grief is good and that this was my dad and this was simply another way to honor him. Even though it caught me in a very public place, I would have done myself a disservice and him a dishonor, to push his memory away.

It never really goes away, anyway. Why not just let it come and let it teach and transform me when it comes?

Because it will.

Grief is a gift and if we allow it to, it will lead us into depths of love and oceans of gratitude we could not possibly have known or felt otherwise.

It takes us on a journey that enlarges our hearts for so much more. More beauty, more joy, more compassion, more love.

I have seen and felt it do its work many times, but none quite like that day, when I stood in the spot where my dad had last walked and breathed and smiled at me. It had been awhile since I remembered him so vividly. His humanity and his greatness. His mistakes and his wisdom.

It had been awhile since I had remembered his love and his care, so flawed and imperfect and yet so deep.

And it had been awhile since I had become so grateful.

sea-252965_640

Much like the first wave that had hit me and knocked me off my feet, a wave of deep, powerful love washed over me and left me feeling incredibly blessed and thankful. Thankful that I had known such a man like my dad. Thankful that he had let me in to his pain. Thankful that it had changed me. And that I had become the compassionate person that I am, because of it.

I realized more than ever, that even my father’s death had been a gift, because it had enlarged my heart to feel love in ways I never would have felt otherwise. It had left me searching and vulnerable and exposed, but in the searching, I had found something I didn’t even know I needed. A touch of eternity.

Like the saying goes, “it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” Never do you know this more than when you grieve.

So, I am learning to let myself remember. And in that remembering, to honor the man I called my dad. I am learning to pay my respects to him, by not pushing his memory aside. No matter where I am. No matter when it comes.

I am learning to grieve, and in grieving, to be thankful for what I had, for what I learned, and for all the love I knew.

When Grief Comes, Unexpected.

I was not prepared for the tsunami that hit me in my chest, when I walked down that sunny terminal toward gate number 44 at the San Diego Airport last Sunday.

I had spent three days in the city, networking with bloggers and hanging at the beach with my brother and his wife, who live there. I had had a great time, and I was happy to be going home! The smile I felt in my heart when they dropped me off at the United check-in held no warning of the wave that would hit me, when I walked through the sliding glass doors of that familiar airport.

sunrise-69614_640

The wave was grief and it was strong. So strong that it knocked me off of my big girl feet and landed me in a heap next to the sign that said “Denver: now boarding.”

There I was, laptop and trail mix in hand, ready to board my flight and all I could see was my father. All I could see was him standing in that same corridor, eight years ago.

Grief came and forced me to remember. Eyes gaunt and shot through with pain. Veins pierced through with blood transfusions. Body drooping and weak. Arms, hanging limp by his side.

We had tried to find food before he got on his plane, but our choices were very limited at that terminal, so I had run around several escalators and terminals in a frantic search to find something that his stomach could handle, before he boarded. Eventually I brought back some fries and a milkshake. It was the ONLY thing that didn’t make him nauseous, and I was happy to see him eat.

He made it through half of his fries and then handed the rest to me. I blinked back the tears as I hugged his frail body, and he told me that he loved me and thanked me for being there. He held onto me for what seemed like years, then finally turned to walk down the corridor.

I remembered how I had stood there and watched him until I couldn’t see him anymore. It was as though I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He was my dad. My childhood hero! I remembered how he had turned around and smiled, one last smile, before he disappeared.

But how could I NOT remember?

It was the last time I saw my Father alive.

This time, I stood at gate no. 44 and remembered it all like it was yesterday. I remembered how I had thought life could not possibly go on, but then how it did and how things have changed, how I’ve had babies and how much he would have loved them.

And I grieved. Right there at the San Diego airport. I cried fresh and deep and hard and long for what I missed and for what I had lost.

Somewhere in the depths of my soul, it felt really good. It felt good to just be in the moment and let myself feel the wound, the gaping hole that my father had left. It felt good to not be afraid or ashamed of it in any way, and just let it come.

And doesn’t it come to all of us? Don’t we all feel the gaping? The wound that loss leaves?

I believe that grief comes to all of us in some form or another. A missed childhood. A failed marriage. A ship-wrecked relationship. A baby we never met. An opportunity that never came. A dream that never happened.

american-20913_640

This world can be disappointing and we often find ourselves at the grave of what we’ve lost. Our health. Our hair. Our energy. Our independence. These are all things of value that can be so quickly snatched away and we ache and long to have them back.

But yet we are told to move on. The world pushes us onto the plane that’s waiting. So we push past our pain, scrambling to get to the next destination. But we haven’t grieved yet. We haven’t taken the time to remember. We haven’t honored that person, that piece of us, that place we lost.

We haven’t gone back and said thank you.

(Continued in my next post, “The gift of Grief.”)

LeAnna.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

She is the light that shines through the trees in the middle of winter.

A light that refuses to go out.

Even in the darkness

she carries her sorrow with a smile,

a smile that goes on forever

through her loss and her deepest longings

and the pain that she feels.

Behind the smile is a heart that is broken,

behind closed doors she softly grieves.

She grieves a loss that no one can understand until they have been there.

She cries a tear that no one can hear

unless they have listened.

She is just as beautiful when she is weak, as when she is strong.

She is just as bright behind closed doors,

as when she goes out.

For, behind the questions and the speculation and the condemnation,

she believes.

She believes in the good and the God in people

even when they don’t see the same.

When she laughs,

she laughs with her heart wide open

to life, to possibility, to a love without end,

and nothing can take her happiness.

She laughs at her opponents, for they can not destroy her beauty,

they can not dim her spirit.

She is alone, but alive.

Alive with passion and hope and all the things

she was created for.

She knows not where the way will lead, she only knows that she must go.

She knows not how to walk as others do,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and so she dances, heart and hands and barefeet,

unafraid of the future,

undeterred by the rumors and the whispers

of where she is going.

Never stopping,

never slowing down.

Always laughing,

always dancing.

She is my sister,

she is LeAnna

and she is my friend.

My Journey to Health: Finding Community

One of the first things I noticed about the hospital at Oasis, is that they left the patients’ room doors open. Unless the doctors were discussing confidential information with the patient, there was plenty of freedom to come and go, and to visit each other as we pleased. In fact, that kind of interaction seemed to be promoted.

I should not have been surprised. It was just another part of the community atmosphere that is encouraged there.

Unlike the typical hospital, this was a place where all types of people could come together and find strength in the uncommon ground of suffering. A place where mealtimes were shared in a large open dining room and conversation happened frequently in hallways. Where the face of cancer invited you to come closer, not to run further away. And where pain was not something to be afraid of, but to embrace with courage and love.

In the months after my dad’s death, I began to see how badly I needed that in my own life. Not only had I lost a major part of my identity, my husband and I had just moved to a big new place where we did not know a single soul. My plans for the future lay in pieces, and now I was a lonely twenty-seven year old girl with no friends and no dad.

I subconciously began to look for people who could handle my pain. Everywhere and anywhere. Churches, bars, airports, parks and public restrooms. It didn’t matter.

When you’re lonely, you don’t care where you meet a friend.

And surprisingly enough, they were out there. I made a lifelong friend at one of those bars, when we came there for a live music show and John and I had unknowingly taken her and her boyfriend’s seats! Just before that, a friend of mine from South Carolina moved in with a young couple just a few miles away, and while her and I rekindled an old friendship, we also became friends with the young couple.

Eventually more people came…into our city and into our lives.

And something very beautiful happened.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before long, we found ourselves surrounded by an unlikely band of believers. We discovered kinship in a gaggle of struggling musicians, recovering alcoholics, misplaced dreamers, and searching lovers.

Many of us should not have found each other, much less become friends. Like the girl that spent the night at a male friend’s house and then came with him to our bonfire the following day. Their romance ended about as quickly as it started, but we had made a connection that remains strong to this day.

We found each other. Despite the walls and judgements and stereotypes that typically divide us. Blacks and whites, gays and straights, christians and atheists, republicans and democrats, rednecks and yuppies. It did not matter.

We found each other at downtown diners and backyard barbecues. Morning-after breakfasts and late night bonfires. We found each other through the haze of fake cubans and the honesty of real pain.

And in finding each other, we found community.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The kind of community that is driven by the simple desire to know and to be known. To love and to be loved, even in the darkest places of our souls. And the kind that doesn’t leave when it gets ugly.

No.

It was this community that stayed with us through some of the most disastrous and disfunctional years of our marriage. They hung with me when I discovered that my husband was not the “perfect” mennonite boy I had married, and that there had been other women. They loved on him in ways that I couldn’t, when he hated himself so deeply. They stayed with both of us, even when it seemed we could not possibly stay together.

No matter how ugly and messy it got, they did not leave!

They came back and called back to see how I was doing. They left groceries at my doorstep and invited me over for tea on their porches. They asked us both to come to their dinner tables and they were just as happy to come to ours.

It was this community that ultimately brought me out of the depths of disappointment and helped me find my purpose again. It saved my life at a time when I did not think it was worth saving.

And believe it or not, it’s still there!

It may not look exactly the same as it did in those years, but it’s still right there under the surface of my busy life. Waiting for me to seek it out. To stop a little longer at a friend’s house. To help a stranger. To visit my sick neighbor. To abandon my inaccessible pride and become real with another.

Actually, I believe it is there for all of us.

Whenever we lay down our preconceived notions and silly hangups about each other. Whenever our longing for companionship becomes greater than our need for status. And when our desire for healing becomes greater than our need to impress.

Savannah Feb 06 210

Community happens when we let go of our false images and silly fisods and let ourselves be known for who we really are.

And so. I dare you to come out of your comfort zone and talk to someone that’s not your type. I encourage you to venture outside the lines of isolation and listen to the lonely. Even if they’re gay. Or liberal. Or weird. Get out of your broken shell and knock on someone else’s.

Remember that the most life-giving friendship could be on the other side of your judgement. The most miraculous healing could be on the other side of your inconvenience.

It could be that like me, you find the most lasting connections in the uncommon ground of suffering. You might discover the most fulfilling relationships in the midst of your deepest pain.

My Journey to Health: Cancer, Part 3

We were all shocked and devasted by my father’s sudden passing. Even my mom who had spent the last two days with him, did not suspect that the end was near. We believed with all our hearts that he would be healed, up to the very end.

When I waved goodbye to him at the airport, I had no idea it was the last time that I would see him. I did not know the significance of the moment when I watched my dad walk down the corridor toward his plane and then turn and smile at me, before he disappeared.

Now I do. And I will treasure that smile forever!

It took many months before I could even begin to make sense of what had just happened. And it took even longer before I could find ANY good in the circumstances that had taken my father’s life.

I felt only anger and pain for a long time.

Eventually though healing came and layer by layer, I began to remember the good. I began to remember the grace I had found in the suffering. The beauty I had found in the pain.

In the end, I had spent just five weeks total at Oasis of Hope, but I had seen and heard enough to never be the same.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And how could I?

I had walked among the living dead and caught their smiles.

I had been prayed for by the sick. I had listened to their stories and believed in their miracles.

I had cried in the chapel and healed in the garden.

I had walked to the ocean and yelled at God, then found His love in the outstretched arms of the dying.

I had been cared for by janitors and loved on by strangers.

I had eaten their food and detoxed on their juices.

And not only had I found a healthier way of life, I had found Amazing Grace, in such a profound way that it would take years to comprehend its impact.

Yes, I watched my dad suffer and die. And yes it was difficult. Extremely difficult.

But in the end, I had experienced the most extraordinary acts of compassion and witnessed some of the most amazing miracles of my life through that process.

I had learned such valuable lessons about love and life and health and God. Ones that I would not soon forget, and those that would help me later when I faced my own crisis of depression, migraines, infidelity, miscarriage, and suicide.

It is these treasured transformations that I would like to focus on,  and that I would like to share with you!

In the coming weeks, we will be discussing the areas of my life that have been most positively affected by this experience, things that have stuck and continue to impact me. I look forward to sharing my knowledge and personal transformation with you in these areas. Together, we will explore the topics of:

Community
Diet
Forgiveness
Gratitude
Sunshine
Exercise

and perhaps a few more, as I remember them.

I pray they will be of some help or inspiration to you as well.

Thanks for coming with me, as we talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good that is waiting to be found. The bad that turns good. And the ugly that in time, becomes beautiful.

DSC00270

“For we are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.”

My Journey to Health: Cancer, Part 2

At first it seemed that my dad did well under the treatment at Oasis. He fought against nausea and a metallic taste in his mouth from the chemo, which made him not want to eat, but other than that, he seemed to be doing okay.

That is, until about seven weeks into it…

That’s when we started to notice a rapid decline in his body, and overall wellbeing. He was losing sleep, and a lot of weight, (though he couldn’t afford to lose either one!) and experiencing more pain, especially in his abdomen around the area of his tumor.

He began to make more frequent trips to Mexico, as they tried and failed to manage his pain. I got the priviledge to accompany him on a few of those trips. And even though they were excruciating, I am so thankful for them, and the things I saw and learned while I was there.

wedding pics 553 - Copy

It was there that I experienced a phenomenon that would change the course of my life.

Oasis of Hope believes in combining both conventional and alternative medicine for what they call a Total Cancer Care Program, individually tailored to each person’s body and type of cancer. After extensive reviewing of my dad’s situation, the doctors there felt that a small dose of chemo, combined with mega doses of vitamin c, ozone and other healing therapies would be the best possible route to take in treating his specific lymphoma.

But now that he was having so much trouble from his tumor, they felt the need to change it up and get more aggressive with the chemo. So with my dad’s consent, they upped his dosages and in the meantime, performed a pain blocker procedure on his abdomen to help him cope with the pain. Finally, after several horrific weeks of unbearable misery, he found some relief and some sleep again.

But the roller coaster wasn’t over.

The months that followed were an emotional blur of highs and lows, hope and despair, pain and relief, healing and suffering, as Mexico became my dad’s second home and the people at Oasis became my second family.

He made friends with his IV port as I made friends with the cooks. He found faith in the prayers of the suffering while I found hope in the success stories of other survivors, at the dining room table. We both found strength in the calm reassuring care of the doctors.

During the times that I was there, I walked my dad to every nutrition class they offered and on the days he couldn’t walk, I wheeled him down to his favorite place on the grounds, the Oasis Garden. I made sure he took his supplements, even if I had to hide them in his morning smoothies. I fought for his healing when he was too tired to fight.

I heard his laughter, as we reminisced of times gone by, or spoke of the nurses and the funny comments they had made that day. I caught his tears when another scan came back showing little or no progress. I held his hand and told him he was going to climb mountains again, even when I was afraid he wouldn’t.

I celebrated his victories and felt his despair.

Until one sad sunny day in June, it all ended. The IV’s and the supplements and the raw carrot juices stopped. The roller coaster ended as abrubtly as it had started and he lost his fight.

Four short months after his diagnosis, the whirlwind was over and my father entered into Eternal Rest.

Continued in next week’s My Journey to Health: Cancer, Part 3