The Perpetual Quest for Meaning

Is it just me, or is my seemingly insatiable search for meaning and fulfillment common to most midlife women? Of course I can only truly consider myself at the mid point in life if I intend to stick around until I am 118. 😳 What? It could happen! But I digress . . .

I have always been someone who dreams of more. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed performing in plays during my school years, and why I continued into college. Acting allowed me to try being different kinds of people doing different kinds of things, unlike many "grown up" jobs I have had, which quickly caused me to grow bored and become discontent. It wasn't until I began teaching back in 2000, that I found something I could stick with long term. But even now, I still dream of finding something that would provide a more personally fulfilling outlet for my interests and passions by which I could earn my income.

For example, my sister-in-law is an amazing baker and cake/cookie decorator, while my specialties are pies, breads and homemade soups. She and I have often fantasized about opening our own shop where people could come in and either buy yummies to take home, or sit and sip a good cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy a fresh-baked treat. Or both! I have seen it in my mind’s eye, set squarely on the main street of my hometown up north, with windows facing the thoroughfare. It would be our place to run as we want, season after season, becoming a fixture in the community. The reality of it is that the baking we love and enjoy could lose its luster by having to do it day in and day out, not to mention the constant focus on having to become and remain profitable.

In the last year, I have discovered a number of YouTube channels whose focus is beauty and skin care for mature women. Oddly, the YouTubers in this genre range in age from their 20s to their 60s. I relate more to the latter than the former. For a while I started thinking about how I could start a YouTube channel too and weigh in on the same topics while throwing in my own take on navigating this autumn season, which includes physical and familial changes. Our bodies begin morphing at a rate akin to puberty, but in not-so-pleasant ways. Children grow and leave the nest, creating their own independence; this is natural and needful.  In time, grandchildren bring a new and amazing dynamic to the mix. And let’s not forget that our own parents, if we are fortunate enough to still have them, also redefine our life and purpose as we become the caretakers of our original caregivers.

While I have shelved the fantasy of having a YouTube channel, it is the desire to express my thoughts on these very topics, and others, that has led me back to my blog. So here I am. Writing to satisfy that force in me that begs for outlet. And, hopefully, to provide a bit of guiding wisdom born of experience for the autumn travelers who will find themselves in this very place long before they ever expected to.

For my peers and me, there were precious few voices speaking to us of what was ahead. We are the offspring of depression-era parents, who kept themselves to themselves for the most part. Theirs was not a generation that talked about their feelings. As a result, my generation has been figuring it out as we go. And unlike our parents, we talk about everything.

As one by one my children left home for the last time, I lost my sense of identity. I had no road map telling me which way to turn or what lay before me. My identity was firmly planted in motherhood, and while I was still a mother, I no longer had children who needed me as they once did. They went off to live their lives, which was as it should be. Couple that with the onset of menopause, and I experienced the perfect storm of tangled emotions and confusion. It has taken me almost a decade to find myself fully past the angst of those years. And now, there is a wealth I hope to share for the benefit of women who are beginning their own upheavals. Perhaps this can provide some insight to men as well, helping them to understand the women in their lives. I invite ladies and gentlemen alike to come along for the ride.

I look forward to every blog post, and hope you will feel free to add your own thoughts as well. We will learn from each other. I do hope we can encourage one another to live our best lives and be kind to ourselves as we do.

Until next time . . . 

I'm baaaaaack!

I started my blog in February 2013 with ever intention of writing regularly. And I did. For a few months. Then procrastination and avoidance set in, and the longer the lapses between posting . . . well you get the picture. 2014 saw only 4 posts, and 2015 just 3. Then a little thing called life happened.

Less than 1 month after my last post, I was hit with a curve ball of sorts. And the resulting fallout lasted  through August of the same year. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In the 5 months that followed, I underwent a major surgery, other surgical procedures, numerous appointments with a variety of doctors, and 6 chemotherapy treatments. As a result of the latter, I lost all my hair, and often felt like a wrung-out dishrag. I missed more than 2 months of work, but thankfully because of our school district's sick bank, I did not miss a single paycheck. What a blessing that was for us! I returned to school on August 17, 2015, the first day of teacher planning week, in the afternoon following my final chemo treatment that morning. I was bald and still somewhat weak, but I was alive, and knew I would be for a very long time to come. With long life He satisfies me and shows me His salvation (Psalm 91:16).

In the past three years, I have continued with physician follow-up appointments, occasional CT scans, and oodles of blood tests. I regained my strength and my hair. I'm thankful for every day I wake up. I am awed by the goodness of God, and His love for me. I learned that my husband is my champion. He was an attentive, compassionate caregiver when I needed him to be. He overwhelmed me with his love through it all. We are closer now than we have ever been.💖

I don't share all this to gain sympathy, pity, or praise. I don't want it. This experience humbled me in a profound way, because it is only by the grace and mercy of God that I am here. I do not label myself a "survivor." I am an over-comer like those in scripture who heard the words of the Master when He said, "Your faith has made you whole."

I do share this as a way to pick up where I left off three years ago. I am well. I am healthy. I am happy. And I have so much to write about in the days and weeks ahead. I hope you will stay with me. Please let me know you're here, and don't hesitate to ask questions if you have them. You can even just say "Hi!" That would be fun too.  I will let you know when I've posted a new blog. Consider it my invitation to hang out, share a cup of coffee or tea, and good conversation virtually. I will likely even venture into video blogs (vlogs) from time to time. We'll see. I'm excited to be back.

Until next time . . .

February 5, 2015: Update on my Mom

I've been on quite an emotional roller coaster for the past eight days. Until yesterday, I wondered how in the world my dear mother would ever get out of the hospital alive. I have called her nurses every morning for updates, and gone to visit her every day, and I watched as she looked increasingly weak and frail, and doctors and nurses added to the laundry list of her illnesses and ailments. Early on, she blew through two IVs, and had to have a PICC line inserted. 

I have also seen the toll on her body of mass quantities of medications. Drinking the stuff that preceded her contrast CT scan caused her to have difficulty breathing, and sent her heart into AFib, for which she was given a new medicine to bring her back into normal sinus rhythm. Her oxygen was upped to fifteen liters for several days, and that alone kept her in ICU until yesterday. She has received large doses of steroids to help clear her lungs, but that has sent her blood sugar soaring over 300 more than once. Because of this, they have been giving her shots of insulin.

Finally yesterday, I was told that the amount of oxygen Mom is getting had been reduced to five liters. Good news! Her catheter had been removed. More good news. No more need for heart medicine. Great news. And she was downgraded from ICU to regular patient status. Brilliant. Though she's always tired when I visit her after school around 3:00, still she looked better yesterday, and I could see improvement. I desperately needed to SEE improvement.

I think the most difficult thing for me to deal with this past week, was the discussion I had with my parents about their advanced directives, and in particular, Mom's. I knew they/she did not want to be kept around via life support such as ventilators or something keeping the heart beating. But I did not realize that their wishes extended further than that. They signed DNR (do not resuscitate) orders, which meant that if for some reason my mom's heart stopped, they would let her go. No chest compressions. No CPR of any kind. She wants to be allowed to die naturally. 

Being a believer, and knowing my mother is as well, allows me to see in my mind's eye what awaits us and in particular, her, beyond this life. When my mom leaves this world, I am certain she will be greeted by her two children who preceded her in death, her first baby, lost to miscarriage, and my brother, Bobby who was hit by a car and killed at the age of six. Her own parents will be there too, and my cousins Jim and Brenda, and my cousins' sons as well. My Aunt Cecile will welcome her home as will so many others who went on before. She will be healthy and whole and at perfect peace. She will be young again, in her prime. No difficulty breathing or moving or walking. No more dizziness and coughing. No more pain. 

I thought about those things, and about how much I want my mom to stay here, but that means she will experience increasing shortness of breath due to the pulmonary fibrosis that has attacked her lungs. The pain she constantly lives with from arthritis and fibromyalgia. The frustration she experiences living in a broken-down body. My desire to keep her here is absolutely and purely selfish. I know how much better off she will be in heaven, but she's still my mom. And at some point I will have to surrender my desire to keep her close despite what it's costing her, and let her go to a place where I will know she is happy and healthy, and where I have no doubt I will see her again. And when the time comes, I will comfort myself in knowing that our parting is temporary.

I am immensely thankful that the times during which we have to face our own or our loved ones' mortality are usually few and far between. They are excruciating. But they also serve to remind us how very precious life is, and indeed, how finite. I can only be the daughter I want to be to my parents while I still have them. I can only be the wife or mother or friend I want to be, while I'm still breathing. It's insane to put off living to another day, because we have no guarantee of another day. I am so grateful that my mom's still here and that I'll get to see her and talk to her and hold her hand in about an hour from now. She is, after all, my mom.

Until next time  . . .

January 29, 2015: Yesterday I saw My Future

I received one of those calls yesterday about twenty minutes after noon. It was my dad telling me that he had taken my mom to the hospital. My nearly eighty-four-year old mother has been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, which means that any cold or other assault on her pulmonary system must be taken seriously. Dad had had a bad cold the week before, and Mom must have picked it up from him. When she vomited on Tuesday night, then again Wednesday morning, Daddy decided to take her in to the ER and have her evaluated. That's where I found her the minute I could leave work and get to the hospital, mercifully only seven or eight minutes from the school where I teach.

I spent most of the next five and a half hours watching her sleep in her emergency room gurney. Amid the noise and chaos of the ER, blood draws, nebulizer treatments, and even a CT scan, Mom slept. Normally when my mom sleeps, she wears her CPAP mask, but there in the ER, she didn't have it. So as she slept, I watched as her chest expanded and contracted and I listened as she snored and gurgled. Several times I saw her chest movements, but realized she was cutting off her own air supply. And though those moments passed within seconds, it frightened me to see how frail she had become.

See, my mom had a hip replacement surgery several years ago, followed by a torn hamstring, which occurred in her first rehab facility due to the negligence of the staff there. We didn't learn she'd torn her hamstring until almost two weeks afterward. What we did know was that my mother was crying out in excruciating pain, and asking Jesus to take her because she didn't believe she could endure the torment. She was returned to the hospital and spent another week there, during which time the staff did not diagnose the secondary injury, but instead tried to make us believe that she was becoming dependent upon the medications they were giving her for pain. After that week, she was sent to a different rehab facility; one where the staff actually knew what they were doing. After nearly a week there, they ran either an MRI or a CT Scan - I don't recall which - and they finally found the torn hamstring. They then realized that, because Mom had been on and remained on blood thinners, the tear continued to bleed internally, and when the blood would pool, it put direct pressure against nerves in the area of her groin and her new hip. No wonder she was wishing for death. Immediately they stopped administering blood thinners, and instantly she began the process of healing. Mean time, she was left with fear. Fear of pain. Fear of injury. And as icing on the cake, the hip surgery left one leg three-quarters of an inch shorter than the other one. This meant that for the rest of her life, each time she bought shoes, she'd have to pay in excess of a hundred dollars per pair to have a larger sole built onto the shoe corresponding with the shorter leg.

Because of the surgery and the subsequent injury, that perfect storm of horrible medical experiences took the starch out of my once active, healthy mother. The woman who always nurtured a garden when I was a girl . . . the woman who learned to play golf prior to retirement, and even shot a hole-in-one . . . that woman who moved with my dad to Florida to enjoy their retirement years in the warm sunshine . . . that woman was replaced by a woman who has become increasingly sedentary and plagued with one health problem after another. Pulmonary Fibrosis. Fibromyalgia. Bouts of pneumonia. She gained weight and moved less. As a result of the steroids she takes on a regular basis, her face is now so full and puffy. My mother was a petite woman for most of her life. She's on oxygen 24/7 now. She has dizzy spells, and often nearly falls because of them.

And as I watched her sleep and watched her body's effort to breathe, I knew I was seeing my future if I don't turn things around now. My weight has been an issue for forty-five years. And in the past fifteen years, I have ballooned to a morbidly obese weight on my five foot, three inch frame. I have noticed in the past six months or so that my mid section now looks as it did when I was about to deliver one of my babies. But at my post-menopausal age of fifty-five, there can be no other explanation than FAT. The heavier I've gotten, the less active I have become. Walking short distances which once took no effort at all, now leaves me winded and feeling the beating of my heart. I snore like a lumberjack (my husband's description), and often hear myself wheezing. I have six adult children and four grandsons, and I am way too young to feel so old that I can't enjoy their endless energy. I looked at my mother and saw what I do not want to become. I knew that I want to live.

I want adventures. I want to bike the Erie Canal trail. I want to kayak with my husband. I want to take ballroom dancing lessons. I want to sit on my husband's lap. I want to learn to play tennis. I want to breathe freely and tie my shoes. I want to shave my legs without breaking a sweat. I want to see the petite woman I know I'm meant to be, emerge from this shell of fat, and really live. I cannot start this journey from any place but the present. I saw what my future could be if I don't make changes in my life, and it is not the future I want. So today. Right now. I choose to find my way out of the life I've created, and into the life I long for. It will be a process of discovery, and I'll share as much of it as I can. Right here. By the grace of God, I will live, and live well!

Until next time . . .

Finding Balance & ABC's Extreme Weight Loss

Inside all of us who fight the battle of our own bulge, is the thin self aching to be free. I have heard morbidly obese people on talk shows espouse their self love and self acceptance, while knowing in myself that the truth is they hate their physical condition, and deep down fear they can never change. More than likely this belief comes from countless failed attempts to rid themselves of excess weight. I get it. There is nothing so frustrating as continuing to live in a body that holds you captive and keeps you from living the kind of life about which you have only dreamed.

I am now fifty-five years old, and I have been at war with my body for forty-five years. Since the age of ten, I have had to wrestle with two versions of me, the ideal me and the me I see in the mirror. And with every passing year, the reflected me has grown stronger and more oppressive in an attempt to silence the hidden me. There must be a way to free her. If one person can do it, then so can I. And daily we see proof of those who have succeeded in escaping prisons of their own making.

In my heart of hearts I believe the answer is in finding balance. Spiritual. Emotional. Nutritional. Physical. Balance. The $64,000 question is this: after so many years, where do I begin? And that is simply the beginning of an avalanche of questions that follow. How do I do it? Who do I believe when there are so many conflicting opinions on nutrition and weight loss? Why haven't I been able to change in all these years despite my desire to do so? What is wrong with me? Is it too late? The questions circle my brain and spin faster and faster, leaving me confused, frustrated, and waist-deep in self loathing, which is completely counter productive.

How do I see myself as worth the investment of the time and energy (not to mention the pain and discomfort) required to release the me held captive for decades? For every voice in my head that whispers You're a good person or You are pretty, there are myriad voices screaming You are a failure! You are a LOSER! You'll never get the weight off. You're too far gone.

I went out on a limb this week. After checking occasionally over the past few months, I discovered that Extreme Weight Loss (on ABC) has begun casting for Season 6. In fact, the day I checked this week, is the very day that the process began. I was home alone, and I perused the show's website, and the next thing I knew, I was filling out the preregistration. The open casting calls are a long way from where I live, so I won't be able to get to one, which leaves me with having to make an audition video, and send it in by the first week of March. I'll keep you posted on my progress. But what does any of this have to do with balance?

I feel as though I am so far OUT of balance that I will need to do something drastic to find a place of equilibrium for the rest of my life. Believe me, the thought of doing what it takes to achieve the change I desire is overwhelming and frightening. Having the help and support of someone who has helped others like me chisel themselves out of their prisons of fat, would be the gift of a lifetime. What I long for is to live in my body and not be at war with myself. In fact, what I really long for is to stop thinking so much about ME! Self-centeredness is not always thinking how superior you are; for millions, there is a constant mental ticker tape scrolling through the mind announcing that others are negatively judging you, or reminding you to compare yourself to any random thin person with the understanding that you are a failure and they are winners.

I'm not foolish enough to believe that I am the most deserving of any person who applies to Chris and Heidi Powell for their help. Nor do I believe it's likely I will be selected for the show. This is as long a shot as it can be. But somewhere along the way, I hope they hear my heart, and give me a chance to become the inspiration I know I can be. I have to believe that by the grace of God and with the help of the Powell Pack, I can achieve my lifelong dream, and chisel my way out of the prison in which I've been living for over forty years.

Until next time . . .

Progress Here and There

Another week has come and gone and I have made some progress. I find it's easiest for me to be disciplined during the day, but after my husband goes to work and I'm home alone until bedtime, that's when I struggle. I am, however, so weary of excuses for failure, that I will not make them anymore. If I succeed, it's because I allowed the grace of God to get me through. If I fail, it's because I gave in to momentary, childish desire to satisfy something . . . boredom, loneliness, disappointment, frustration . . . whatever it was that came floating to the surface. 

And I must find a way to force myself to MOVE. I have not merely been sedentary, I have been a sloth! Once my husband pulls out of the driveway and leaves for work, I park my posterior in the chair in front of my computer, and there I veg until it's time to go to bed. Of course there are the occasional, unavoidable bursts of energy when I get up to go to the bathroom or to get something to eat. 

I actually made progress today by beginning my preparations for the new school year. And by beginning, I'm reminded of something I heard Brother Kenneth E. Hagin (founder of Rhema Bible Training Center, where my husband attended) say years ago when he was preaching. "I'm fixin' to commence to begin to close." I didn't move any mountains, but, at least I made a start. And since I'm back to work on August 11th, and students are back on the 18th, now's as good a time as any to commence to begin getting ready.

I have a yoga DVD my daughter gave me. I'd like to use that because I've had a lot of back pain and discomfort that I know would be helped by consistent, quality stretching. And I have a couple of Leslie Sansone walking DVDs that are just taking up space on a shelf. I have an entire house to myself for almost nine hours a day before bedtime. I could pop in a DVD in the living room where there's plenty of space to move, and walk a couple of miles, followed by some yoga stretches. Have I done it yet? Not so much. I want to. But that's not enough. I need to position myself for success. I've made so many promises to myself over the years, and I've broken pretty much all of them. I need to get the DVDs, and put them in the living room where I can see them. And I need to mean it when I make a promise to myself, as much as if I make a promise to anyone else.

Okay, so . . . when I post today's blog, before I do anything else, I will get the DVDs out and take them to the living room. And tomorrow I will use them. It's not enough to WANT to change unless I'm willing to also DO what it takes to make the change.

I have come to realize there's no point in wasting time feeling shame over the fact that I've let so much of life pass me by. It is what it is. Tomorrow morning is a new day, and I have the chance to make it count for me. What I do with tomorrow is up to me. God, please give me the strength and grace to make the right choices tomorrow. We'll deal with the next day when it comes.

Until next time . . .

It's a New Day

And . . . here we go again. I admit it. I didn't think I'd ever get this close to my highest all-time weight, but I am half a pound under it. It must stop now. The upward progression needs to end, and my weight needs to start sliding downward.

As I usually do on Tuesdays, last night I watched ABC's Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition. And like ever Tuesday, last night I cried like a friggin' baby from the first five minutes of the show. I did something last night though that I hadn't done before. I went on Twitter, and commented about the show a few times. And one of my comments elicited a response from Chris Powell, the trainer who works miracles with the people he chooses to feature on the show.

This season, they have been weighing in the selected people on the spot, when and where they surprise them with the news they are chosen. Georgeanna, last night's person, was in a gathering at her church. Right there, in front of her husband, daughters, church folks, God and everyone . . . she stepped on a scale, then wept when she was told her weight was 315 pounds. My comment reflected that moment, when I said "I get the shame." Chris's response was swift and to the point.

Wow. I guess truly, what IS the point of shame? God knows the truth and how far I've fallen. I certainly know it. My husband isn't blind, nor are my kids, my friends, my coworkers, or fellow travelers on life's journey. Shoot. Who do I think can't see what I've done to myself. So yeah. What good does shame do? Just keeps me defeated and wallowing in self pity. And like Chris said, "Own it and then release it." It is what it is. (IIWII! spoken as: Double I, W, Double I) It certainly doesn't have to be a permanent fact. Even that ugly number on the scale is subject to change, if I choose to make it happen. And Chris says I can succeed. He should know. He has counseled and trained and coached a lot of people who were far worse off than me.

After Georgeanna had her 90-day weigh-in, at which she had lost an astonishing 94 pounds, Chris looked straight at the camera and said something like this: What about you watching at home? What could YOU do in the next 90 days? I'm not sure I believe I could lose 90+ pounds in the next 90 days on my own, but I could make a heck of a start on getting where I want to be in that amount of time. Let's face it; the time will pass whether I make progress or not. The question is, what will I have to show for that time once it has passed?

My son issued me a challenge today. He suggested we both work on losing weight in the coming weeks and months. And he added that we should also set another goal. For him, it will be to write 750 words every day, so that by the beginning of summer 2015, he will have written the first draft of his first book. I'm not sure I have a book in me, but I do have words and thoughts enough to blog regularly during the upcoming year. About what we're doing. About how we're changing. About whatever I feel like sharing. I think I'm going to take him up on it. I turned 55 years old last week (on July 16th), and time is slipping by. I've wasted far too much of it. It's time to redeem the time. It's time to be the me I've always dreamed of being. I don't for a moment think it will be an easy process. It will likely be one of the hardest things I've ever done. But it will be for me. An investment in my body and my life.

Hey Chris (& your gorgeous wife, Heidi) . . . if you're listening . . . you have inspired me. Please keep doing what you do. It's a gift of God and you truly are working miracles in the lives of many, many people. I'll keep you posted!

Until next time . . .