A SEASON OF LEARNING

Nature is a wonderful teacher, and I’ve learned many life lessons by spending time in the garden. At times my garden seems like a metaphor of my life. Both of us have been struggling this seemingly endless season of our lives. Me with my cancer and chemo and everything that goes with it, and my garden with the lack of rain and the sweltering heat of a Louisiana summer. In my fragile state, at times, I haven’t been able to take the best care of my plants and flowers, and they have suffered for it. Nothing stirs me to move more than when I look out the window at my garden and see leaves drooping and flowers dropping petals. They look so sad, lonely, and neglected. In my mind I hear them crying out to me, “How could you!” “Look at what’s happening to me!” “I’m in pain!” “Where are you?” “I need you!” There were times when I had neglected them for so long and they seemed so far gone that I doubted that even a drink of water would bring them back. But, thankfully, I was wrong. Even as I stood next to them apologizing, with the watering hose in my hand, promising that I would not forsake them again, almost immediately I could see life flowing back into the stems and leaves. I could see the strength returning as very slowly, the flowers raised their heads towards the heavens in thanksgiving. Pruning off the dead buds and cutting back the too far gone branches, their tenacity amazes me. Compassion fills my heart as I imagine them sitting in their pots, dying a little each day, waiting for me to come with life-giving water. I know, it’s a plant, it doesn’t have a brain. But, to me, I have a responsibility to nurture and care for every living thing that God has created. I love my plants and I know it may sound silly to some people, but I am filled with compassion for them when they are visibly in distress. Their strife makes me sad.

In comparison to my love and care of my flower garden, I know that God cares so much more abundantly for me. I empathize with nature so much because those very same questions and reproach that I have perceived directed toward me from the flowers in my garden, I have at one time or another directed toward my God. Just as the garden depends on me, I depend on God. He is my sustenance. Without Him, all hope would be lost and I, like my flowers, would wither away and die. Like them, so many times this summer, I have wilted under a burden of suffering. But, God in his mercy, looked on me with eyes of compassion and healed me with His love. Healing comes in so many ways. It is not always in the form of physical healing, but can be a healing of the heart and spirit, the courage to face whatever life brings, a supernatural strength to get through the dark valleys or bare the heaviest burdens, and, most importantly, the gift of knowing that we are never alone – even on our darkest days.

Like the watered flowers, life is beginning to flow back into me. I’m feeling better, and more like my old self, every day. I may wilt a little in fatigue or in the night when I can’t sleep because of the joint and nerve pain in my legs, but, I’m learning to deal with it. Like those flowers, I’m holding on. I’m learning how to deal with the new “normal” that is my life with this disease. I, too, am tenacious.

Even the insects in my garden have something to teach me. Just observing them in their environment brings me so much joy. One of the lessons I learned from the bees is – get up early. If you want to water in the morning, do it before the bees wake up. They do NOT like to be disturbed when they are having breakfast. And, even though it seems you have won a battle as, in their frustration, they fly away from the plant you are watering – they will get their revenge. I learned this the hard way as one of the little buggers laid in wait for me outside my back door yesterday afternoon. I was all prepared to take Rosie for a short walk and just as we stepped out the door, WHAM, a bee stung me on my leg. Oh well, I’m not going to hold it against him. After all, the poor bee gave up his life in his pursuit to protect and feed the hive. I suppose it got tired of me invading its territory. Even insects are capable of self-sacrifice!

Patience is a virtue that the Hummingbirds model all too well. Whenever I remove their feeders to wash and refill them with fresh sugar water, they patiently sit on the clothesline under my arbor or flutter among the flowers close to their perch watching and waiting for me to come outside with the delicious nectar they love so much. They have learned that I will provide for them, just as I have learned that God will provide for me. If I am patient, God always gives me just what I need; it may not be exactly what I want or expect, but it is what I need.

I don’t know how many times this “season” the birds who inhabit my yard have waited in vain for me to fill the bird feeders when, at times, I was too sick to notice they were empty. And, yet, they showed up every day, checking to see if their favorite meal, black oil sunflower seed, had arrived. There have been times when I saw them congregating on the bar above the feeders and I just couldn’t make it out there to fill them. Still, they trusted that I would eventually come. Their conversation might have gone like this, “Where is she?” “Doesn’t she know we’re hungry?” “Just wait, she’ll come.” “Nope, I’m going to find my own food.” “No, we need her, she has food that we can’t get on our own.” “Don’t give up!” Their plight and their perseverance in the face of seeming abandonment resembles my own inner battle, and strengthens my resolve to fight on, to never give up. I depend on God to feed me, to give me food that nourishes my soul and gives me the strength and vigor to withstand those days when my “plate” seems empty. His food fills me with hope for a healthy future and the determination to never give up.

Truly, the things one can learn while spending time in a garden is invaluable! Gardening is, undeniably, an instrument of God’s grace. But, the most important garden we can tend is the garden of our soul. If you work with God to nourish the condition of your soul, growth will follow, and the harvest will be magnificent.

Take Things As They Come

Mid July
Waiting for the results of my Pet Scan seemed like an eternity. When the day finally came, I was anxious but hopeful, but – anxious! My husband and I passed the time in the waiting room playing word games and solitaire on our ipads and discussing which shade of purple my doc would be wearing that day. He always wears purple shirts in every shade you can imagine. I like that about him because I, too, LOVE the color purple. It was my grandmother’s favorite color. I’ll never forget when she passed away my lovely grandmother was lying in her coffin wearing the most beautiful purple flowing lingerie robe. She would have loved it! Anyway, I digress, sorry. As the doctor walked in, I noticed he had on a deep purple plum colored shirt (cute) and a serious look on his face. He is always serious. But, then he smiled a little and said, “The Pet Scan came in clear, no sign of cancer.” My husband was thrilled. I felt relief in that moment, remission is awesome, but yet, I did not feel overly joyful. I peppered the doctor with all my questions about my coming 2 year maintenance regimen on Rituxan, and asked about my recovery going forward. He said not to expect to be feeling myself for another 6 months at least because the chemo has gravely injured my body and it has to heal. Not what I wanted to hear. I’m so impatient to be well again.

My port has been flipping over and I cannot flip it back myself. This has been going on for months and if it isn’t flipped correctly on infusion day, I can’t have my infusion. It’s a little painful to have it flipped and it just flips right back over by the next day anyway, which is so frustrating. I really like having the port, it is so convenient for the infusions. But, after discussing it with my doctor, I am going to have it removed permanently and just have my maintenance Rituxan infused through my veins. This is a concern (I have so many, right?) because my veins are always hard to find for the nurses and they usually have to do multiple sticks to make it work. (Big Sigh) My worries consume me sometimes. I’ve read too much about this disease, chatted with too many patients in the Follicular Lymphoma chat rooms. I may have won the first round with this disease, but it is only the first round, there will most probably be more to come, and the hard part is not knowing how long I will be in remission. It could be forever, or 2, 5, or 10 years who knows? It’s that fear of the unknown that catches me every time. I tend to project what “could” happen and start worrying about it ahead of time. I understand perfectly well that I should live for today, enjoy each moment, and wait until something happens to worry about it. I know that, and some days I’m good with it, but other days I’m so down. So, I’m praying and trying to live the Serenity Prayer each day. I cannot wish away this cancer and my body’s propensity for having it.

My outlook might be more hopeful if I were not still dealing with the after effects of Chemo. Just when I begin to hope for better days, that hope is fleeting. Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m trying too hard. When I feel the least amount of energy returning , I lose my mind and overdo. Like yesterday, it felt so good to be out and about doing errands that I stayed out and shopped most of the day and wore myself out. Last night and today I’m paying for it. Radiating pain in my legs kept me awake all night. I’m not sure whether it was neuropathy or dehydration causing it, but this morning, when I got out of bed, I could hardly walk. Mad as a hornet with this new development, I decided if I forced myself to walk at a fast clip, it might help my circulation and the pain would go away. It didn’t. It just exhausted me so much that the sofa became my best friend again. It’s that worry, that I may not have the energy that I used to have ever again, that disturbs me. What will my new normal be? I won’t know that for quite some time so I really do have to stop freaking out when my body needs to rest.

I’m in physical therapy, hoping to get my strength back so I can get back to playing pickleball. At least that will get me out of this house and with people who are all about having fun. I love being around happy, energetic people because it helps to invigorate me. You can’t help but catch those positive vibes when you are around them.

July 28, 2019
I’m happy to report that I’m feeling SO much better. There are more good days than bad days as long as I behave myself and don’t try to do too much. Well, I must admit, that part is a struggle. I get so much joy out of working in my garden, though it would be much more enjoyable if it were not so hot. Yet, even dealing with the heat cannot dampen my spirits when I see the aesthetic results that my weeding, pruning, and watering give to my lovely garden. My joy is magnified even more when I sit on the patio and watch the bees, butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, and flying insects of all sorts, merrily flitting and flying around the yard, tasting the flowers and communing with one another.

I have been more in touch with God this past month. This journey has put me on a little roller-coaster of a faith ride. At times it’s been a battle to get to prayer, though my struggles eventually always bring me to Jesus’ feet where He consoles and comforts me. We never really have it “all” on our spiritual journey. We may, at times, think to ourselves, “Yes, I’m on the right path; I’m praying, listening, trusting, believing, surrendering to God’s will…” Then, life happens and our faith wavers and God may seem far away. But, He isn’t. God is always there. It is our changing circumstances, our struggles, our emotions, our fears that can cause an imagined disconnect. Thankfully, when this happens to me, the Holy Spirit persists in calling me back into communion with the Trinity. He prays for me when I cannot, He touches my heart with His love, even when I am unaware. The Father never stops reaching out with mercy, love, and comfort that is always available – all we have to do is turn toward it. When I can do that, when I lay my burdens down at our Lord’s feet, I feel a lightness of spirit and a sense of being loved that is indescribable.