Cloud of Witnesses
Most of you who know me know that I have, on occasion, been known to quote Stephen Covey and Stephen M.R. Covey, his son. In fact, a bit of my dissertation was based on Stephen M.R. Covey’s work around trust. I simply looked at it through the lens of the teacher and principal and did my research on what builds and bars trust between teachers and administrators. I won’t delve too deeply into the results (maybe in another blog), but suffice it to say, communication, honesty, and support for the teacher were three of the top trust builders principals can work on to improve the trust in their buildings with staff.
I am three weeks post-op from a double mastectomy and reconstruction brought to us unexpectedly from a diagnosis in May of breast cancer. I have talked at length about the gratitude I have felt for people who have surrounded me like a cloud of witnesses (anyone heard Mark Schultz’s Cloud of Witnesses ? If not, it is a must!) In the 1990s and 2000s, I was blessed to be an advisor for our youth group at St. Jude’s Episcopal Church in Niceville, Florida. What a joy it was to be a part of their middle school and high school in leading them through Sunday school and all that entails. To be a part of their weddings, see them have babies, visit them in Hawaii, etc. has all been icing on the cake of being a part of the lives of these special youth group "kids". This song has always remind me of those whom we surround when they are in need.
Fast forward to the last three weeks. Trust me, I have been through some surgeries and tough times in my life and Dave has always been my rock, or as I like to say, my human face of Christ in everything we do together. He is the face of prayer, praise, worship, trust, integrity, fairness and an overall reminder to me to keep sane in insane times. But this diagnosis and the major surgery that ensued brought out so many of you---my own cloud of witnesses. I can’t even start naming all of you---family, friends, AA group support, Edge Elementary School who pinked out for me even though I hadn’t been the principal there in three years, too many faces to name. But I have to say that the days before and after went like clockwork (besides a tiny incident of throwing up on Dave in between telling him over and over on pain meds how much I love him) because of some folks with whom I have the utmost trust. Angie, who is in a field of work that revolves around this type of diagnosis. She would call to check in about my doctor’s appointments. Barb, who continues to post a prayer for me every single day on Facebook. Glenn and Callista, who heard every gory detail along the way at dinner or Happy Hour and brought over chocolate cakes on a weekly basis (and who doesn’t need that???), Christie and Denise (my best friends from high school), who despite their busy schedules, made time to visit before the surgery. When I first wondered, “Well, what is there to do BEFORE the surgery?” they proved that was the perfect time for a visit as it kept my mind from going to the negative while allowing me to talk about my fears in a safe place. Afterwards, my two best friends from college (Robin then Kelly) tag-teamed, along with my best friend (Michelle) from my doctoral program. Between the three of these dear people, Dave was able to go back to work while they literally became nurses for the time they were here. They drained tubes from my breasts (and that ain’t no easy task for the faint of heart), they made sure I took my meds, they took me on field trips (albeit short ones at first), they cooked dinner and best of all, they made me laugh my hind end off!!!! Every one of the “nurses” saw my disfigured form at its worst and nobody gagged (at least not in front of me). They were truly my cloud of witnesses. And all the while, I was (and am still because this is SO not close to over) receiving cards, flowers, fruit baskets, plaques, funny and serious gifts that simply are making every day special.
Stephen Covey talks about relationships in terms of emotional bank accounts. If we have enough trust in these relationships, we never have to worry about making an occasional “oops” or withdrawal, because the bank account is there and being filled so it is never overdrawn. I am so grateful to the cloud of witnesses who continue to see me through all the tough times and making me laugh when I need it and allowing me to cry when I need it.
Just for today, perhaps you might listen to “Cloud of Witnesses” from the above link and thank a few people who have been there for you in tough times.
More about how we say things
Getting Used to Saying Things a Different Way
I know I just spoke about Randy Pausch and how he talked in his “Last Lecture” about how to say things so people will hear what we say instead of turning away from our words. After he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he still continued to write and fill people’s lives with joy, even though he knew with certainty his days on this earth were numbered. One of his quotes that I just love was “I'm dying and I'm having fun. And I'm going to keep having fun every day I have left.” Wowee, if we could all live our lives like that, wouldn’t it be a glorious day. Speaking of Glorious Day, as I was walking (by myself, because I have been grounded for now to walk the dogs on the leash while I am healing and still having some pretty intense procedures done), I heard this song on my “Recovery Playlist”. If you want an uplift for the day, take a moment to listen/watch this Casting Crowns video of “Glorious Day”. It is so very beautiful and reminds me of one of my dear nurses, Michelle, who completed her doctorate with me and gave up her precious weekend to come nurse me with nasty procedures and tons of laughter.
I was thinking about this whole “how we say things” issue, as I have openly put out the details (not all, I promise) of the tour of breast cancer and double mastectomy and now the recovery. I know that by doing that, I open myself to people offering their condolences (which is okay, but I am not planning my demise, more about my “get up and go”) or their stories of “my grandmother just died last month from breast cancer but I’m sure you’re going to be okay”. Friends, Dave, and I laugh about those well-meant but horribly timed statements because honestly, sometimes we just don’t know what to say..
I have a confession to make (I know you love these). I adored being an elementary school principal for seven years (that’s not the confession, by the way). Loved it!!!!! (most days). But I remember distinctly the first time I saw the hair raise on the back of a parent from something I said. Let me be clear. I know I wasn’t perfect in any way, shape, or form in what I did, but I tried to live my life as a principal as God would have me live. Listen to others, love the kids unconditionally, love the teachers and staff with all my heart and be as kind and caring and welcoming to parents as I could possibly be. But there it was---the day the parent came in and said, “Ricky came home yesterday and said that Mrs. Figowitz (have you gotten the idea that the names have been changed to protect the innocent?) told Ricky he was the worst writer she had ever had.” Here’s what I know. Mrs. Figowitz was one of the best teachers with whom I had ever had the privilege to work, so I knew it wasn’t true. But I made the fatal flaw. Without asking more questions or asking Ricky to come up and tell me exactly what was said, I bristled as only a Mama Bear can, and said, “Wow, I can’t believe that. I’ve never heard any ill words said by Mrs. Figowitz.” What did the parent do? Got furious, not surprisingly and the reaction was something like, “I don’t care if she’s ever done it before but she did it yesterday.” When you are mad, you’re mad and no amount of telling someone an argument against their complaint is going to help. I have talked with many administrators about this issue since that time and we have figured out that sometimes, parents just want to vent. Sometimes, when we get Ricky in the room, the story changes dramatically because he isn’t going to tell stories (usually) in front of the principal. But sometimes, we find out the truth is somewhere in the middle. The teacher said something that sounded “off” to Ricky but the innuendo was missed.
Just for today, I would like to remind each and every one of us (me included, of course) to simply think about the words we say before we say them and think about how they might be received. And, in doing that, a great thing to do is put good in and good will come out. Listen to beautiful music, read uplifting literature, talk to people who build you up and not talk negatively. In the meantime,
I am an overcomer
I am an overcomer and so are you.
True confession time. I run to the gym each morning, which in technical terms, means I run/jog/walk uphill to the gym, do all my sit ups, pull ups, all other reps, etc. then jog back downhill to my house (not even a two-mile round trip). But…I am moving, right? Great. That, unfortunately, is not my confession. My confession is that when I am driving along, heading out to do errands, etc, and I see someone walking slowly along the same path I traverse, I find myself judgmental at times. You know the snarky remarks “They could pick up the pace a bit and get in better shape” or others like that. I am not proud of any of those remarks I make, outloud or to myself. But sometimes God gives us exactly the situation we need to “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” Enter my double mastectomy that I just had less than two weeks ago. Since the surgery, I have tried to walk every morning, except maybe the first morning that followed a night of throwing up every hour or so getting rid of that evil anesthesia. Despite the fact that I am walking every morning, in some pretty intense Tucson heat, you might make comments as you pass by me in your car (or lap me while running), “I wonder if she knows that snails are passing her”. I admit, I am slow.
But I am moving. I am fighting the good fight.
Before I had my surgery, I made a playlist for my recovery. It has everything from Pharrell’s “Happy” to Mandisa’s “Overcomer”, which has become my anthem, I think. The words say,
“You're an overcomer
Stay in the fight ‘til the final round
You're not going under
‘Cause God is holding you right now
You might be down for a moment
Feeling like it's hopeless
That's when He reminds You
That you're an overcomer
You're an overcomer”
Here’s what I know. I may not be working out the same way I was before my surgery, but I am staying in this fight ‘til the final round. I might even be trying to overachieve just a tad (does this surprise anyone who knows me well?). Case in point: I had four drainage tubes that were put in during the surgery to drain the fluid from the breast area after the expanders were put in behind the chest wall (don’t ask anymore if you are faint of heart—it’s not pretty). Three times a day, the tubes have to be drained, measured and the color recorded. Yick. Thank you, dear Dave, Robin, and Michelle and soon to be Kelly, who have been the “nurses” who have been doing this very glamorous task. Last Tuesday, I went in to the plastic surgeon, hoping to have the tubes removed. They warned me---“Take extra pain medicine. It is a bit painful having the tubes come out.” This word of warning from Captain Understatement. First of all, the doc said, “Only two can come out today as the other two are producing too much fluid, still.” Well, just make it stop, is what I want to say. No dice. As the sweet nurse removed the suture that holds in the tube, I thought she was already removing the tube and I said, “Well, that isn’t so bad.” Then she said, “Ummm…take a deep breath, as I am about to remove the left tube.” Well crumb. Deep breath, then a scream that I luckily kept inside. I looked at Dave’s face and he had a serious look of pity on his face. I looked at the doc and asked, “Why, oh why, does this hurt so much?” He explained that the eight inches of tubing that is inside my chest wall (8 inches!!!) has to be drug through raw tissue and muscle. He made me feel a little bit better by saying, “Most people say it hurts even worse than you did.” I laughed and said, “I just don’t use that kind of language outloud but I promise I am thinking it.” We finished the visit by him saying I could come back on Friday and hopefully have the other two tubes removed. Stubborn tubes that they are, however, they just keep producing, so now I will have them a few days longer.
This song “Overcomer” makes me realize I have no more or no less pain (physical, emotional, whatever) than any other person on this earth. I just have to make a daily choice to allow Him to remind me that I am an overcomer. I will say that I could not do any of this without the help of Dave and my dear friends who have not once thrown up with any of the tasks I’ve had to ask them to do. Glenn and Callista bring dinner, Angie calls to check in medically on what they are asking me to do, my sister checks in continually, and all you other friends are there for the sending of cards, flowers, fruit baskets, treats, and well wishes and most importantly, prayers.
Just for today, I hope you remember you are an overcomer because I believe it and you should too!!
A week ago today, I had a pretty major surgery, specifically a double mastectomy. Friends and strangers alike can tell you all the stories of what it will be like to have such a devastating surgical procedure but nothing can truly prepare you for it until you have it done yourself. I have to admit that, one week later, the feeling that is most prominent in my psyche is gratitude. I have felt an intense pain, I have thrown up on my husband (that will surely be a blog for another time and place in the future), and I have taken drugs almost non-stop but those are not the overwhelming feelings I am feeling today. I love to write and I love to express my feelings but words fail me in explaining how grateful I am to have the healing hands of doctors who truly care, nurses who laugh at my stupid drug-induced jokes, and particularly friends and family who have gone above and beyond with caring for my every need. As a strong-willed (Dave says “stubborn mule” but I prefer strong-willed) person, I don’t always take direction well, but if I want to get better, I know that the doctor’s orders are pretty clear and crucial. I need to take the medicine as prescribed before the pain ever catches up, I need to get rest (I feel like I am sleeping the days away but I hear that is precisely what I am supposed to do), and I am supremely blessed to have people around to keep me upbeat.
Here is a sampling of what has been done for me:
*Angie who gave me really good questions to ask the doctor about decisions to make
*Christie and Denise visited the weekend before the surgery to take my mind off of the pending surgery, We laughed and reminisced and ate and joked for two days.
*Dave took me to the surgery , where the surgical staff made sure my toes were warm (a constant worry and problem with me) before they put me to sleep, only to waken with two less ovaries and two less breasts and a good bit of pain and nausea.
*Dave spent the entire night at home with me, feeding me medicine (as food would not stay down for the first twelve hours or so) and propped up pillows all around me to get me to be as comfortable.
*Teresa Lien sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers that smelled like Heaven (which, after throwing up for several hours, anything would have smelled dreamy but this truly was lovely) and then another bouquet was sent from Waterford, the great early learning company for which I am a consultant. I know some people say flowers are an easy out to send to someone ailing, but I have to say I appreciate them so very much as the beauty of them makes me smile and the thoughtfulness makes me feel so appreciated, as well.
During the next couple of days, Dave learned new skills, particularly how to drain the tubes that collect fluid around my chest. They have to be emptied every few hours as they collect with blood and other bodily fluids (I somehow feel better if I don’t know exactly what it is). As an engineer, he has learned to do it with precision and without saying “Ewwww!” even one time, which I find remarkable.
Glenn and Callista, our dear friends who live nearby, have brought pizza and salad and haven’t complained once that I almost fall asleep while eating a few bites.
Enter Robin, who is one of my very best friends from college, who without question, made reservations to come stay for a week so Dave could go back to work. She has taken over emptying tube duty, “milking the lines” (best not to ask), made dinner, shopped, and make certain I took my meds on time.
Couple these helpful caretaking items with cards, letters, and fun novelty items (like a puzzle from Kelly and Angelle that I promise to start when I am a bit more coherent and a beautiful squeezable pink cross, and so many more). I will just say I honestly feel loved.
I have lost all sense of modesty and feel like I am a bit like a science experiment at this point.
But what I have gained is a true appreciation for what everyone has done and continues to do for me at this point. I adore my family and friends and look forward to more time with any and all that call and visit.
Gratitude for having breast cancer? Maybe not . Gratitude for friend and family who are helping me through it? Absolutely!!
Just for today, perhaps we can be thankful for all that we have been given.