Stuck in Time – Roles we play

February 25, 2013
Solid Rock

Solid Rock

As I have run into many old friends and acquaintances this past week, I am reminded of how I feel stuck in a time zone. I have played a variety of roles over the years, and built many relationships. Different situations and time periods have brought out different parts of who I am or who people perceive me to be or how I perceive them to perceive me (generally not the same thing). When I run into a variety of people from different time zones, or different role periods, I find myself confused, as if I am struggling to feel solid in my identity.

Over the past 14 years I have belonged to a community of people from a place I call my “church home”. I love what the church brings – hope, love, faith, service, community, strength, and relationships. It also brings for me confusion, judgement, conflict, vulnerability, and questions about my beliefs and experiences. In my church home, I have gone through periods of sporadic involvement, little involvement, outsider, regular attendee and active leader. In many ways, the best and worst parts of me have been known in this community I call my “church home”.

As I walk the halls of the church building I feel like the wind is blowing in a variety of directions. I see teenagers and girls who are in my coaching world. The place of today, and where I spend much of my extra hours and devotion. I also run into people who were active in a mom’s group which I led, or a committee I was on, where we connected together for a purpose and passion. Then I turn around to the people who were around in the middle of my darker/addicted mind-set, watching me spin out of control. Next to them might be the person who recalls my early fibromyalgia days, and has compassion for my illness. And then, almost worse than the rest, is the new leaders and attenders, who are completely unaware of my existence and history, seeing me as “the newbie” or “nonexistent”. I can’t make sense of the history and the various feelings that emerge from within. How do I change and intersect these places, and block out the negativity that can haunt and paralyze me?

I often believe that the healing and transformation is in the process. Perhaps all my feelings are a way for me to be more graceful to myself and just step into the fears that permeate my whole being. I tend to believe that I have to do something to make up for the things I did that were destructive to my soul and hurtful to others. It is easy to simplify people’s responses, when I move into a shame based center. When I find my own place of peace, is allows me to be more centered and have a better balance of inward and outward focus. I may still feel the fear and shame, but my decision won’t come from that place. Maybe things will change for me if I look to receive the grace and love, than to question or seek to understand the complicated thoughts and feelings of another towards me.

I feel ready to get out of this zone. I honestly don’t know how this will happen – but I aim to at least see the next layer. Instead of focusing on what I perceive from others and the role I am playing, I can focus on the vision for myself and where the Spirit leads me in that moment. It isn’t a battle to win, I have nothing to prove to myself – this is about being open – about seeking to grow and build relationships with this community I am in. It doesn’t have to look a certain way, and I may not ever be “the leader” I once was, yet I can be someone with greater love and grace that continues to transform me from within.


How serious is my chronic illness?

February 25, 2013

This past week, I have learned that several people I know have cancer. Cancer is a horrible disease that most of us have witnessed in some capacity. It can be painful, deliberating, expensive, draining (emotionally and physically) and potentially deadly. We wish and pray that this disease finds a cure.

While learning of the cancer diagnosis for people I care about, it has brought about a lot of personal emotions for me to process. Having any chronic illness and going through the process of discovery of what it is, the prognosis, and treatments is difficult. At times we have hope for what the future can bring through this new illness, and at other times the future looks bleak. Having people around for support and love can make all the difference. It gives us a degree of connection, though we might still feel alone in the journey.

When I first began having fibromyalgia symptoms, I blew it off as an extension of an illness. I thought eventually I would regain my strength, and the tingling sensations were just a weird manifestation of an infection of some sort. Emotionally I was dealing with some personal issues, that seemed to be leading me into a dark place. I wondered if the stress was taking its toll upon my body.

After several months, and having pain that was moving into the 6-7 pain scale, it was time to see a doctor. I could no longer ignore what was going on, and the constant lying around was becoming problematic. Summer ended, and laying on the couch wasn’t as fun as laying in a baby pool with my kids.

Those early days of diagnostic testing and medication experiments were tiresome. I can remember the fear I felt as I went through the process of searching out potential diseases I could have. Each test brought different possibilities. At the beginning, I can remember hearing and dreading the word fibromyalgia. I hated this word, because it seemed to imply more mental issues and unclarity than other diseases, especially since it appeared to be more of a “we don’t know” diagnosis. As I had more tests, and realized the possibility of something deadly, I began to care less. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office having an echogram (I think that’s the name) where they were searching for a heart infection, and the technician was explaining that if they found an infection, it would need to be treated right away, or I could die. I felt relieved later, to discover that I had no infection in my heart, and became more open to any possibility, even if it was more in my head.

I can understand more clearly how fibromyalgia is an invisible disease. Though I have received great support over the years, especially in the early stages, in general this has subsided. I know people care, yet few people understand. I feel a battle inside of finding the balance of keeping it alive (this is what Fibro looks like), and living my life in my own personal fibro bubble. Because I look and act “normal”, even the people closest to me forget my pain and fatigue. Occasionally someone will add a reflection that shows an understanding of my illness to the situation at hand. I feel blessed and loved when those connections are made.

I cannot imagine fully the impact of having cancer. I live with a chronic illness, and have watched my mother die from tongue cancer and my sister-in-law survive cancer but have not experienced it myself. No matter how difficult my days are, I realize that this disease will not take me away from my loved ones. I may have to watch for other symptoms (such as depression) that could shorten my life, yet the core symptoms of fibromyalgia won’t do this. Cancer doesn’t necessarily mean a death sentence. Most people with cancer, actually live a long life. However, the fear of death is greater because the potential is there.

I hope and pray that I can be a support to others in their experience with a chronic illness and/or disease. I admit, at times it is hard for me, because I can long for the support and love that can come from people with a more serious illness. As with any difficult challenge, it is important that I recognize how people care, even when it may not be so evident in the way I desire. I still have people ask me how I am, years later – the love is there. May I be able to offer the best of what was given to me.

None of us know what it is that lies ahead for us. Our life is filled with both amazing blessings, and horrific challenges. The medical world can try to simplify and provide better treatment through diagnosis and statistics. However, regardless of what it might appear to be, the mystery remains. May I find a way to love and be loved in the mystery.


Memoir Review: Torn by Justin Lee

February 18, 2013

I love hearing Justin share about his process of searching for truth in the Gay vs. Christian debate with humor and grace. Though this feels like my most political post yet, it really doesn’t need to be. Searching for truth is always the right path, and this generally involves looking at our own beliefs and biases.

Justin is a conservative Christian who is gay. He initially seeks to find a way to change his orientation through ex gay turned straight organizations. He asks a lot of questions, trying to understand from an intellectual and personal viewpoint. He is surprised to discover much of the testimonies of the ex gays, are giving half-truths, trying to bring hope to others, yet denying the reality of their experience. He seeks answers through the Christian community, and through the LGBT community, not always fitting in well with either. He also studies scripture to learn more about the context the Bible verses against gays were written from.

Justin has a great way of sharing his journey without criticizing other people. He asks questions, and seeks to understand the perspective and wisdom of other people, and to find the right path for himself while following his personal Christian beliefs. I see a man always striving for integrity and relationships built on truth. I admire him for stepping out on this issue, putting himself in the line of fire, so others can understand we aren’t the judge of who can and cannot be a Christian.

Before I read this book, I have had many of the same questions Justin Lee has about this battle of Christians against gays. Though I am a heterosexual, I disagree with the cruelty that has often come about from a rather young age for people with different sexual orientations. Many years ago, I encountered some pretty severe criticism from people, because as a Christian I have been open on this issue, and couldn’t honestly say I thought it was wrong to be gay. Having had close gay friends in the past, I saw the same spirituality and challenges in them, as others who were straight. I questioned many of the scriptures he reviewed, also recognizing how often woman can be treated with the same disrespect throughout the Bible, and many people take this as a cultural issue, not a moral one. Because I am human not God, I believe that it is better for me to focus on what is loving than on what is right, and trust that my Higher Power can be the one to teach each of us what is right.

I highly recommend everyone read this book and share it with others they know. Regardless of whether you agree with his truth, you will learn much about compassion, grace, the personal struggles, and seeking truth.


Surrender my chronic pain to something greater

January 8, 2013

Summer 09 352It can be hard to surrender my chronic pain to a higher power.  It is easier for me to seek answers in others to bring wholeness to fill the void in my life.  I often feel shame because it makes me feel weak and needy, feelings I seek to avoid at much cost. I can see that alone I am lacking, and I long for something greater to fill the voids and bring healing. 

I see that my way of controlling life and finding meaning does not work. It leaves me emptier than I was before, and separates me from the One that can bring my life back. In the moment it has brought me to see the longings that I have tried to deny, and to also see that I really don’t always believe the Spirit can meet these needs in me. I can see myself as bad and being punished by God.  I wonder if the Spirit has abandoned me when I hear nothing, and my symptoms don’t change.  When I take the time to connect, generally I can feel the peace. Often this is done through prayer and music.

When I come to the Spirit in my greatest place of need, and in my weaknesses, struggles and failures, and find love, than I become more trusting. I can become more honest and vulnerable allowing room to reveal the brokenness, and bring healing to my life. I don’t have to fear this part of myself anymore, and am willing to look at it without shame. I find that as I accept my life as it is, that I am much more humble and graceful to others. I can see the heart of the Spirit in a way I never have before. Compassionate, yet willing to guide me out of the traps I set myself in. I have many obstacles to really trusting and believing in a Spirit. Many of which for now, I just have to acknowledge and be open about. I see the distortions in my head, and it will take longer for it to sink in my heart. This is where real transformation takes place.

I believe that I live a spiritual life and in many ways feel deeply connected to the Spirit. I want to follow and surrender to something greater. Yet I still struggle to give up my desire for what I want-complete healing and to rearrange the dreams I had for myself. I still have much to understand about the bad things in life, including my illness/pain, and I know this hinders my ability to trust. I have to remember that religious people, are not the same as the Spirit. And that spiritual leaders may be godly in some areas, while being destructive in others.  I will be open with what I don’t get, and listen to what I am to do with that.

I love connecting with the Spirit in nature, and am finding this extremely valuable. Walks with the Spirit have been a source of clarity for me, as I hear a voice in the wind and trees. The majesty of spiritual things reminds me of who is in control, and that a power is greater than any problem I ever have or will face. He also is a Spirit of beauty, and wants to bless me. So much has been given, that I have not received.

I have been given so many people for the journey, lots of support and spiritual guides. I have learned so much from the people who are in my path. People who have shown me grace and love. Not all understand chronic pain or me for that matter, but I do know many love and care for me. I am grateful to have my heart open up more to all kinds of people and situations and to realize that things aren’t always as they seem. Can’t be too quick to make assessments about people and situations I do not understand. I gain much wisdom as I am able to ask with a heart for the person, and a desire to learn about their unique experiences. My life is truly about relationships, and if I didn’t have much time on this earth, this would still be where I would devote my time.

2.       Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could bring us peace and sanity.

3.       Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

 


Dreams, Goals, Adaptations and Plan 15M

January 7, 2013

Picture 033I absolutely love making goals and creating plans.  It inspires me to dream and make positive changes to my life.  I can take time to reflect on what in my life is or isn’t working, and look at ways to move in the direction I want for my life.   

I find that making goals in life works best when it starts with listing out my own values.  This gives me a framework for deciding where to invest my time, and when it might be best to change a course.  Because my values are also about relationships, this helps me to include people in my goals, not just concrete goals around accomplishments.  I include values of self improvement and character traits I aspire to.  Though these may not be as measurable, my personal integrity is more important than the accomplishments I make.   

I have a list of seventeen top values that I have revamped over the years.  My overall mission statement is:  I will strive for growth, healing and deeper spirituality, where I can truly love others, giving joy, grace, and peace to those I meet.  Some of my values include building strong relationships with family, friends and neighbors.  Others are about personal traits such as saying I am sorry, being forgiving, having fun and living a life of integrity.  I also include fitness and health, making a difference, being financially secure and helping people in need.   

Next I start with a free write of goals and hopes of what I would like to accomplish.  This might be short term or long term ideas, as well as self improvement type of goals.  I try to avoid thinking too rationally when writing out my dreams, as this is something I will do later.  For some this might be better done by writing in paragraph form visualizing the life they wish to have, others prefer lists.  It can sometimes help to look around at people you admire, and what are the traits and actions that draw you to them.   

Once I have a list of goals and dreams, I begin to group them into categories and time lines for further evaluation.  I will group together health goals, relationship goals, spiritual, personal trait goals, finances, etc.   With each group I will think about what I can do in the next year to make progress in this area.  For relationship goals it might be scheduling dates with my husband, planning some vacations and/or having a game night.  For health goals it could be losing weight, going to a new doctor, trying a new exercise  and/or meditating self compassion.   

One thing to remember with goals is that it is about progress not perfection.  In 2012, I had a list of about 40 goals and I accomplished about 60% of them.  Some of these goals were minor, such as putting pictures in frames and going through donations.  Other goals were more significant like starting my blog and going back to yoga class.  I never did finish doing touch up painting around the house, but I am ok with putting this off another year.  I wish I had found the time to create goals with my children, as this is a worthwhile project.  Even though I didn’t finish everything on my list, I can see that the year 2012 was filled with some new adventures and progress in areas that matter to me.  The other goals I didn’t finish I can evaluate whether this is something I want to reconsider in the next year.  Fortunately, 2013 brings new opportunities.   

I am excited for what 2013 can bring and my personal goal of implementing the 15M plan.  For 2013 I am going to focus more on making life style changes in increments.  The 15M plan allows me to make progress even in the more difficult health days, as I focus on spending 15 minutes on the desired activity each day.  Often when I am tired or feeling a great deal of pain, I lay on the couch a good part of the day and isolate.  If I can focus first on 15 minutes of some type of exercise, it is a goal I should be able to attain most days, resulting in less discouragement and better health.  When I am feeling good, I will most likely do more, but on a bad day this can help me shift gears.   I will add other areas that I want to progress in such as writing, family time, cooking and doing chores.     

Life many of us I have goals for improving my health in 2013.  I plan to do some experiments with the types of food I eat to see if they may be adding to my symptoms.  I also will be doing health coaching for other people who want to improve their health.  I hope to be able to make an impact on people struggling with chronic health problems and to give hope.  I want to strive for more consistency in my life, and learn to work around the tough days.   

Making goals can be a simple process or something you spend weeks processing and planning.  The most important thing is to make some progress.  Taking 15 minutes to write down 10 goals is a great beginning.  For the artist among us, one can draw or clip out pictures from a magazine instead.  You can post the list on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror.  Others may prefer to spend some time evaluating last year, writing out values, and creating a detailed plan for 2013 like I have done.  Finding a buddy to share it with might help keep you motivated and encourage a friend at the same time. 

May 2013 bring you some great learning experiences and opportunities.  May you see an impact towards the values you hold dear and be an encouragement to those in your path.   

Elissa

 (also posted at fibromodem.wordpress.com/2012/12/ and in December issue of LIVING WELL with FIBROMYALGIA)

 


Memoir Review: Crash by Carolyn Roy-Bornstein, MD

January 2, 2013

Crash was an amazing read. Carolyn is a fabulous writer who was able to draw you into her experience of her son’s serious accident by a drunk driver. Being a doctor she explores her struggle of dealing with her son’s injuries, the tragedy of being hit by a drunk driver, the girl-friends’ death, the medical issues that arise and making sense of her experience from both a doctor and family member perspective. She is honest, thoughtful, and inspiring.

One thing that struck me was the randomness of the accident. Many things in life can seem random, in the sense that everything can change in a moment. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a simple decision that turns costly. Even those who make poor choices, have a sense of randomness. Many people pay costly for their mistakes, or cause great harm, while others pay less outer consequences. Life isn’t always fair from our reality point. This can be a hard one for me to swallow. I strive for integrity, yet it doesn’t mean my life will be easy or pain-free.

Carolyn’s story was inspiring in the way she was able to grow from her experience and find the gold nuggets in all the losses. She strived to find the balance between doctor and patient, and to use this experience to make her a better doctor. The tragedy of her son’s injuries was brought in perspective by the death of his girlfriend. Her recognition of own lack of understanding of depression and brain injuries is very humbling, as she strives to learn more about a subject so relevant to her son and later becomes an advocate for people with Brain Injuries. She is honest in the struggle, yet looks for the positive, and grows closer to her family in the process. In the heart of the story, is Carolyn’s evidence of grace. “I don’t believe in fate. I believe we deal with the hand we are given. We make our own meaning. We find our own grace. Grace as a kind of acceptance. Grace as thankfulness. Grace as new meaning for a changed life.”

What a way to begin 2013, to move forward in grace. The year 2012 had many challenges and blessings, yet grace is what brings growth, love and humility. Through the health challenges, the healings, the relationships and losses, may grace help me live in the moment in a place of love, acceptance, gratitude and deeper understanding. I don’t know what 2013 will bring me. I can feel fear at the possibilities of financial struggles, health problems, and learning to navigate through relationships. At the same time, I trust that whatever arises, I will walk into it, grow, and becoming a greater person, more aware of the spirit within, around and above, and find the gold nuggets to receive and to give.

Happy New Year everyone. May grace abound to you.


Merry Christmas everyone

December 24, 2012

Hi, my fellow writers and readers.  I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas.

The last few weeks, it seems everything has gone by quickly.  Lots of distractions in the holiday preparations – shopping, baking, decorating and seeing friends and family.  My routine and diet have been changed, and order seems to be less predictable.  At times this has been great fun, and other days it can be a challenge to keep up.

We plan on spending the holidays with family members, and making phone calls to our loved ones.  We tend to spread it out over a few days, as it is less chaotic and makes for easier and more meaningful conversations with people.  We spend more time playing games with the kids, and cooking/baking in the kitchen.  We enjoy a Christmas service and reflecting on what matters to us.

Christmas is one of those holidays where I like to create the best of memories.  I hope for family peace, family fun and a sense of the Spirit around me.  I enjoy giving and receiving the gifts from people who care about me.

As much as I hope for the best of memories, often the holidays can bring sadness and anxiety.  Life is full of conflicts, losses, personality conflicts, past issues, and health problems.  The more I can accept this as part of what makes us who we are the more I can dive into the greater meaning of Christmas.

Christmas for me is about love, peace, forgiveness and hope in my relationships with God and other people.  It isn’t about perfection, finding the best gift, or having a life without conflict.  As I learn to see God’s light shining like a star, in the midst of what is before me, the clearer vision I will have of how to reflect and act in the moment in front of me.  I pray that this season guides me to what is of most importance, bringing a foundation for the start of another year.

Merry Christmas All.  Elissa


Memoir Review My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell

December 2, 2012

I loved reading My Sisters the Saints.  A great spiritual memoir, learning about the different saints and what makes them special.  Colleen writes an interesting book, as she shares her own spiritual questions and learning to apply spiritual principles to life’s challenges.  I could relate to many of her challenges, infertility, aging loved ones, making relationship decisions, and balancing personal desires when they seem to conflict.

Reading spiritual memoirs is one of my favorite ways to grow spiritually.  I love stepping into another person’s life and hearing how they live out their own beliefs and the way they process through them.  As she used books to learn about her mentors, I also use spiritual memoirs as role models to learn from.  Her book gave me both, memoirs in a memoir – gotta love that!  I am blessed to learn from her humility, her ability to dig deeper into the questions, and her desire to follow her heart and her values.  Thanks for a great read.


Relationships and humilty – the darker side of life

November 29, 2012

Recently I have been having an inner battle with exposing the darker sides of life in order to reach out to someone who is struggling.  Much of the time I feel content in dwelling in the blessings of life and portraying an optimistic viewpoint.  I prefer to dream, plan, and encourage others to live in the moment, follow their values and seek meaningful relationships.  Talking about chronic pain, mental issues, dysfunction, crazy thoughts I might have, and addictions are topics I would rather stay in the shadows, or allow a slight exposure for a sense of humanity.  However when someone is hurting, it is hard to look the other way.

Sharing about the darker side can bring panic and fear.  What will people think of me?  Will I lose respect from people I care about?  Will they use the information to harm or threaten me in the future. Integrating these parts of myself can bring shame and fear of abandonment until full acceptance gives grace. I prefer to compartmentalized and move on losing this part of myself verses taking these pieces as the masterpiece they can become.

Opportunities always present themself in life.  Every difficult situation I have encountered has the potential to bring good, especially as I face the truth and find strength to move forward by both digging deeper and taking steps to make necessary changes.  I feel this responsibility to offer my experience, my compassion, possible guidance to resources, and wisdom that has guided me along the way.  I also need to be open to learn, to hear, to challenge my viewpoint, so I can learn what others have to teach me and to see the beauty in their life.  I don’t know if it will make a difference, but I can’t ignore the opportunity.

What I know to be true is that each of us has a unique path – what works for one doesn’t always work for another.  However, my greatest growth and wisdom has come from hearing stories, seeking truth and prayer, and finding resources through people and words of wisdom.  My greatest teachers have all have different opinions and values in some area, yet can still be a guide for enriching my life and growing spiritually.  I have learned to connect more easily with those who come in humility, willingness to listen, gave some hope, cared about me and were able to enter into the darker aspects of both my life and their own.  They had an inner strength , compassion, grace and love, and wisdom from their own experiences, yet were open to learning from the experiences of all they came into contact with.

May each of us keep our hearts open to allowing life to unfold in the most mysterious of ways – seeing the light shine in the darkness.

Step 12:  Having had a spiritual awakening because of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in our lives.


Letter to my Higher Power – Step 2 chronic pain

November 14, 2012

I have been taught to believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I want to trust in Him as my Higher Power and guide through this life. I want to believe He loves me and that through Christ’s death, that my sins have been forgiven. At times however I have doubts and struggle to understand my own beliefs.  I have had many wonderful spiritual experiences that have impacted my life.  I have also had some traumatic experiences and distorted words that came out of a religious context.  I find that my resistance drops when I focus on the Spirit and the relational aspect that I continue to feel each day.

I believe there is a spirit in all things, that something spiritual is at work in this world and in my own life.  I believe this spirit is relational in nature, that it has the power to change things around me, that it isn’t something I have ultimate control over.   I believe in the purity of this Spirit, that this Spirit has the capacity to bring light, truth and wholeness.  I believe the Spirit is above all loving, that it is filled with compassion and grace for all mankind.

Turning my will over to a spiritual power is something not easy to do.  I like to hold on to what I believe feels concrete, not something that is less physically seen.  At the same time, releasing to a Spirit gives me peace, brings me wisdom, and helps me make better decisions.  When I walk with the spirit in mind, I am more of who I want to be, also filled with more love, compassion and grace.

Surrender is about willingness.  Willingness to let go of what I know and desire and be open to something different.  It is being willing to say both yes and no, and seek love and truth.  It is choosing to look at myself, striving for growth, while accepting what is.

When I try to control my health problems it doesn’t work.  I can’t completely change my course with my mind alone.  I can’t always tell when I am holding on to something, but trust the Spirit will guide me as I keep searching.  I do not need to be perfect or to have all the answers.  I am not the cause of my health problems and I am not being punished.

I do not completely understand the Spirit.  I can’t explain the different religions that have a unique spiritual slant. I see a Spirit at work in a variety of people and places that feels similar to the Spirit I follow.  I have many questions that I long to have answered, yet realize many of them won’t be.  I trust that my Spirit will be with me, and be a guiding force in my life.


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