I was twenty-four. I was sitting in a doctor’s office and was desperately hoping that this doctor would be different. I was hoping he would finally have the answers I was seeking. You see, for the previous six months, I had been a spectator as my body carried out a mutinous attack against me. I had been to more specialist than I realized existed. I was searching for answers. I was watching before my very eyes, as my body deteriorated and betrayed me. The majority of these brilliant minds agreed that something was seriously wrong as they assessed my symptoms. But no one could put a name to the debilitating pain and fatigue I was experiencing. In late December of 1999 I found myself alone sitting in this doctor’s office hoping against hope that this doctor could finally put all the pieces together and explain why the body of a relatively healthy young woman was imploding.
All these years later, I still remember the doctor walking in and gently shaking my hand. He visited with me for about five minutes, asked me a few questions, and then he said, “You know you have Lupus, right?” As those six words washed over me, I quietly responded, “I know...I just needed a doctor to confirm it.” You see in that moment, I wasn’t upset or angry (that would come later), I was relieved. I was relieved to finally have an answer, a name. I was very much relieved to know I wasn’t crazy or losing my mind.
With those six words, my life drastically changed forever. I wasn’t dying, but also, life would never be the same again. And I had a decision to make. Was I going to let this word--Lupus-- destroy my life, or would I choose to live my life to the very fullest despite this new word that had entered my vocabulary.
Most of us have dreams and visions of how we hope life will turn out. Can I tell you, as a young woman dreaming of the future, Lupus never entered the equation? Writing this twenty years later, I can tell you that most of my dreams from young adulthood never came to be. I can also tell you that getting diagnosed with Lupus wasn’t the first difficulty I encountered in my life, and it definitely wasn’t the last one.
I won’t hesitate to tell you that my life has been hard, but I want you to hear this next thing very clearly--that doesn’t mean my life has been bad. As I thought about what I wanted to share in this post about resilience, I actually sat down and wrote out a list of all the notable traumas, difficulties, and disappointments I’ve faced in my life. The list was long. I won’t share them all--some are quite personal. However, they include major surgeries, multiple chronic illnesses, death, loss, and heartbreak. These things, these heart events, have shaped me into the person I am today. Because of them I am stronger, bolder, more tenacious. I love deeper, laugh harder, and fight more ferociously than I ever thought possible for the things I believe in. I am a survivor. I am a warrior.
You can’t hide from the hard things in life. They have an innate ability to find us. But we have a choice in how we choose to handle those hard things. I absolutely refuse to let the difficulties of life overwhelm me. Trauma may shape who I am, but it does not have to define me.
This week's blog writer is Sharon Ricks Keil, an elementary teacher at Harrah Public Schools. She also writes her own blog "Whimsical Warrior" which can be found at www.sharonkeil.com.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is often confused with sympathy which is defined as feelings of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. Empathic people feel others pain and heartache often times as strongly as their own. Empathy can be a blessing and a burden. To understand a friend’s feelings and feel their pain and their happiness can bring people so much closer, but can be overwhelming at times.
I often struggle with letting people get close to me because feeling their pain can be too much, but then I have to remind myself that joining in their feelings of happiness and joy can also be exhilarating. That the joys outweigh the sadness – that ultimately good friends are worth any amount of pain. I know when I was dealing with a lot, just having friends that would sit and listen meant the world to me. I didn’t need someone to try to “fix” it, just listen to me.
In this age of isolation and judgement, I feel that more people need to open themselves up to feeling empathy – to attempt to understand what others are feeling, instead of judging them based on limited information. While we will never know what people are thinking and it is hard to know what others are feeling, the simple act of trying to know, or trying to understand can be enlightening, eye opening, and even life altering.
This week's blog writer is Delaynna Trim, Curator of Collections at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art. She is also an adjunct professor teaching art history at Oklahoma Baptist University.
Words of encouragement? Take your pick. Fill in the blanks. You are so brave, strong, determined…Ugh. You have been such a warrior, fighter, soldier…Sigh. The strength you have shown is inspiring, incredible, courageous…Stop. Please.
I knew you meant well. You saw the emotionally, physically, mentally stunted person before you. The thought I might be giving up was just too painful to comprehend. Maybe even frustrating. After all, I was still alive. People loved me. I had so much living to do. My spouse, children, family, and friends needed me. God wasn’t finished with me yet. All motivational quips to fall back on simply because it couldn’t be believed that I would wave the white flag and surrender to the circumstances before me. Send the Hallmark card, coffee mug, bible verses, flowers, inspirational quotes, thoughts, prayers and well wishes in hopes that I would find the courage to continue fighting.
It’s hard to be vulnerable and share these thoughts. I think back to my loved ones and how difficult it must have been for my closest and dearest to find hope after my accident. I wasn’t BRAVE. I was BROKEN. From shattered bones to a splintered spirit where was the strength in that exactly? Warrior? HA! They did their best to offer me comfort. And yet I suffered. I didn’t want to hear it. They found the courage to say it anyway.
There is no comfort in that kind of courage.
But they said it anyway. They prayed it not knowing if I heard it. They cried it in the unknown. They said it when I woke up. They whispered it as I rested. They cried it again when the seizures came. They spoke it in between silent sobbing and angry tears. They cheered it when I walked the first time. Once even yelled it between cuss words. And they pleaded it when I couldn’t fight anymore. Courage.
Our family dog Harley is in the last stages of life. He’s a good one. We adopted him from a neighbor because he kept running away to play with our kids. His owner loved him enough to let him come live with us, as it was evident he craved the attention and time that children are naturally inclined to give to a wagging tail and puppy kisses. We love him. Tumors have begun to take over his little body. He is fighting and hurting. I hold him and offer words of encouragement. I fall back on the clichés myself. You are such a strong boy…fighter…brave. I do my best to offer him comfort. And yet he still suffers. I don’t want to say goodbye. I say it anyway. Courage.
There is no comfort in that kind of courage either.
But I said it anyway. Courage is necessary to help one to hang on. Courage is also painfully necessary to grant permission to peacefully go. There is no comfort in either choice but there is courage in making one. To my loved ones, thank you for choosing courage over comfort. To say and believe the words until I could find my own brave…strength…inner warrior. To everyone else nurturing the pained, fill in the blanks. Send the card. Buy the mug. Pray it. Cry it. Whisper it. Scream it, if necessary. Love them. Hold them. But find the COURAGE to say it anyway.
Grace and peace,
This week's blog writer is Heidi Presley, instrumental in the beginning of LIVING52. She is an educator and beloved by many.
And so it begins… my first blog and conversation with you!
The first word in the LIVING52 initiative is acceptance. You may have received the definition and a quote in your email or seen these on your social media. Hopefully, you have thought about these and have started determining ways to implement acceptance into your life.
But, first, I want to get into the root meaning of the word. I have heard it my entire life. The truth is I have heard acceptance used in many different contexts and it’s one of those words which makes me cringe when I hear it. Because of my human nature, I don’t want to “accept” many things. I think that’s why I’ve never cared for this word. If someone told me in the past that I needed to “accept” something, I would try my hardest to change what I was supposed to be accepting. Now, as I have gotten older, I’ve come to realize I was most likely mistaking the word acceptance for settling.
So to be literal, the first definition I found of acceptance was “the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered.” This one does not resonate well with me. Now, the second definition I found was “the action or process of being received.” I can stomach this one! Can’t you?
The beauty of the English language and our different perspectives is that words can mean something different to people depending on the lenses they wear or their time in life. I asked around and indeed this is the case for acceptance. When I asked a 22-year old just finishing her bachelor’s degree, “What does acceptance mean to you?” She replied, “Getting into grad school.” When I asked a 46-year old the reply was, “Finally being okay with who I am and all of my flaws.” A 69- year old grandmother answered, “Accepting my family for their decisions and that it’s okay not to have control.” I guess for myself, acceptance provides peace – which for me comes from my faith. It isn’t even close to settling. Accepting that there is a plan to guide me where I am supposed to go – not necessarily where I may want to go.
Situations in life happen that we cannot currently or never will be able to explain. We don’t want to accept the situation and we know we won’t be able to understand it. In 2013, after recovering from a near fatal asthma attack, I was told my brain damage was permanent and that I’d never be able to drive again. I definitely didn’t want to accept that! However it is something I can never change. Being a good friend of Tonya, I often think about the loss of Taylor, her oldest son. It is a horrific reality to deal with and seems extremely unfair to have to accept, yet it cannot be changed. I also can’t change that my dear friends Anne and Samantha are gone from this world while I am still here, but I can do something with this second chance.
Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” I have struggled daily with the changes in my life that my medical trauma brought on, yet I look at Tonya and her family’s grace and faith and realize that I need to change my attitude. After what she’s been through, it’s the least I can do. What I deal with is nothing compared to what many others do. This is why we as humans have to reach out to each other. We need to communicate and connect. Plus, accept that we are all different and travel on different life paths, yet we live together and need each other.
When I take time to reflect on this, I’m overcome with peace and joy knowing that I am accepted and never alone. God has given me people to love the way they were made and the personal freedom to follow a life path – although, sometimes frustrating and unbearable to me – and we do this together. We have family and people, so that we don’t walk alone.
As I write this, I am reminded of an experience from my high school years. There was a girl that was involved in the school’s drama program, just as I was. We were very different and had a completely different set of friends. I was always acting on the stage and she was always a stage manager. She was very smart and enjoyed debate, while I was very social and couldn’t care less about school (cringe).
Well to say the least, at the beginning she didn’t like me at all. She seemed to judge me and I did the same with her. Our judgments were in the way of accepting our differences. In the fall of our sophomore year during the one-act production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” we began to tolerate each other. After a few shared meals on stage and several laughs backstage, we became friends. When the show was over, the actors and stage crew tore the set apart with a vengeance. This set had been a nightmare to build and we couldn’t wait to tear it down. Everyone signed each other’s pieces of the set and she wrote this on mine, “Different hallways – Different friends – Same friendship.” We stayed friends for the next three years and continued to create shows together. In our final week of our senior year, we were all signing each other’s yearbook and in mine she wrote, “Different paths – Different goals – Same beginning.” I haven’t stayed in contact with her, but I take with me the everyday lessons that I learned from this friendship. I am reminded that we are all different, but all have desires to be respected, loved and accepted even though we may be on different paths. We are all still trying to walk forward. Acceptance allows us to do this walk together, better.
This week's blog writer is Julie Brittain, co-founder of LIVING52. Read more of Julie's story at www.living52words.com/stories.
Welcome! We the founders and creators of LIVING52, Julie and Tonya, are thrilled to finally share this initiative with you. Your interest warms our hearts. We look forward to connecting with you throughout the next 52 weeks.
From the very beginning of our friendship, we desired to collaborate on a creative project that would give us purpose and make a difference in people’s lives. That was sixteen years ago. Both of our lives differ greatly from this earlier time and now we also need a healing distraction from emotional pain. We asked our friend Heidi to join us in the creation process, since she was also dealing with life changes. Through our many meetings with lots of laughter and tears, we gave birth to the LIVING52 initiative.
What started as a joint creative project and later a distraction from pain has turned into:
As we prepared for the initial launch event on December 15, 2019, we were asked by many family and friends, “What is this? What is LIVING52?” It was hard for us to verbalize the concept, so we chose to keep quiet and just say, “Come to the launch to find out!” On the way to the launch event, one of our friends said she was discussing with her husband what we were “selling.” Their bet was – a pyramid scheme selling medical edibles. Oh my! Guess we could have given our family and friends a little more information? Lol!
So, what is LIVING52? It is very simple! It is an initiative in which a group of people focus on one meaningful word for a week and repeat this for 52 weeks. For example, let’s choose the word empathy. Those who sign up with LIVING52 will be sent the definition of the word empathy, an accompanying quote, and a blog on someone’s personal perspective on the word’s meaning in his or her life. Hopefully this will provide an opportunity for all of us to find deeper meaning and personal wisdom. To sign up for emails visit www.living52words.com or connect through the LIVING52 community social media sites.
Words can be powerful. Let’s be aware and conscientious of the words that come out of our mouths, the words we take in, and the words we hold onto. We want to be clear -- we (Julie and Tonya) need this more than most! We need a constant reminder to be positive, to laugh, be joyful, and to connect with others. Your participation will help us heal and stay connected with our families and communities!
Throughout the next year, we will have 52 words, quotes, blogs, etc. Our hope is that you will read, listen, communicate, explain and tell us your stories. Jackie Robinson said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” Let’s make a positive impact by lifting each other up with the LIVING52 words!
For some of you-- this is right up your alley! For some of you -- you signed up because you are curious, or you love us, or you are cynical and doubtful? We hope that no matter which of these you identify with that you will still hang with us for the year! The weekly blogs will vary. They will be funny, serious, sappy, positive, sad, or happy. There will be many guest bloggers throughout the 52 weeks (Let us know if you would like to contribute).
During this year we hope to connect with you and grow together. Thank you for joining us for this year-long initiative! We look forward to seeing the differences we can make together in community with one another.
One Word, One Week, One Year at a time.