Keep On Walking

Sometimes, life keeps sending the same lesson my way over and over again. I suppose it’s the world’s way of casually mentioning that I haven’t been paying attention too well. Maybe I think that I’m learning and growing, but the reality is that I’m quick to fall back into old habits. So, life answers my resistance by again presenting a situation that asks me to rethink what I know, to question the person I am or the person I hope to be.

Months ago, my friend Mike and I were running through town comparing notes on our thyroid-less lives when he suggested I write about how it is okay to walk. I knew exactly what he meant – we have an expectation for what we should be able to accomplish, for how it should look as we go about our business. It’s easy to cling to that notion instead of offering ourselves much needed grace in the face of hardship. When our lungs are achey and our muscles are tired, it’s fine to slow down and start walking. The same rule applies to life. Some days, some circumstances warrant a pace that seems less than desirable.

I struggle to accept this, and perhaps that is exactly why the concept keeps showing up in my life.

I saw the coming year as a chance for a little comeback. After running with Mike on and off for six years, we had made plans to take on a marathon together. Not only do we share a love for running, but we are also connected by being diagnosed with thyroid cancer within six months of each other. The marathon was a way to reclaim our old selves, while claiming victory over the cancer that has challenged us. 

But the world had other plans for me. Pregnancy has asked me to get more comfortable walking in my running shoes. My distances have decreased and my pace has slowed significantly. These days, I’m doing more walking than running.

I was asked to walk again when I stopped taking my antidepressant. The very first thing I noticed was that if I were going to stay off it, I was going to have to reshape my expectations for myself. I watched the rush around me; the minutes filled to the brim with constant activity, endless commitments, and it left me feeling overwhelmed by the hustle of life. I could keep up with it all when I took my daily dose of Celexa, but off it, I yearn for a slower pace.  

Thus, I consider all the things I value in this life. I turn each over carefully in my heart and make a decision. Some things stay and some things I leave behind for now. I simply cannot do everything I think I should be able to accomplish. I keep those that revitalize; those that bring joy; those that offer love. I have to accept my limits and know that today, a little slower, a little less to do, is the best gift I can offer myself. I keep walking.

Weeks ago, I was out with our black lab Libby when I wrapped my finger in her leash the wrong way. She lunged forward with full force, crunching one bone into four. If you’re going to break a finger, the middle finger is definitely the best one to break. I get a free pass at flipping the bird for the next few months, which has offered extensive comic relief. I was pissed and slightly amused as I considered that the same lesson was once again revealing itself.

This is gonna slow you down even more, but keep on walking, my mind whispered. 

It seems we are acutely aware of what we are missing, and the truth is that we are always missing something. But even in the absence of one longing, we are in the presence of another. It’s a battle of the mind. Seeing what we have, instead of lamenting that which is just out of reach. 

I remember how the earth slows down during the winter months. She seems to know that going full speed is an unsustainable venture and so in the quiet of winter she rests. She, too, takes up walking in her running shoes. The cold air moves through empty branches. Darkness falls early. Flurries glide through grey skies and settle on the frozen ground. Winter is a season rooted in dormancy. Winter knows me well.   

I still type at my keyboard with my nine working fingers. I still sneak out to Pandapas every Tuesday morning and wander through the forest with some of my favorite people. I still smile and read and laugh and cry. 

Still I walk. 

I walk down uneven sidewalks, over the coarse yellowed lawn, on a soft trail of pine needles, along the lakeshore, uphill and downhill, through an alcove of rhododendron, over stones in a creek. I breath in slowly, deeply, and think to myself, What a lucky, lucky fool am I!


“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” -MLK

      

4 + 1 = Life’s Next Big Adventure

I sat in a familiar waiting room while my foot bounced up and down, releasing nervous energy out into the quiet air. The lab results were taking way too long, and I sensed it. There was no way I’d be on time to my next appointment. What could possibly be taking so long?  

My mind walked through my current to-do list:
1. Visit my endocrinologist’s office to run a few lab tests. Check.
2. Drive to Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
3. Ingest tracer dose of radioactive iodine.
4. Isolate at my parents’ house for two days.
5. Whole body scan to compare current radioactive iodine uptake to last year’s results. Hopefully, it would be low, meaning all thyroid cells, cancerous and not, had been destroyed.

I would never make it past the first item on my list.

The nurse came to the doorway and called my name, “Sarah?”  

I grabbed my purse and walked toward her. If I drove like a maniac, I might still make it on time. She leaned against the wall in the hallway while she explained, “Your test came back positive.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Look, right here,” she pointed at some words on the paper in her hand. Meanwhile, I stared dumbfounded.

“You’re pregnant. Congratulations! I guess you won’t be taking the radioactive iodine this morning.”

“You’re joking,” I stammered. 

“No, I’m really not. You’re pregnant.”  

Life can be so utterly fascinating. I thought I would be taking a radioactive pill that morning, but instead, drove home with a different variety of pills – a bottle of prenatal vitamins. This is how I know that God has one hell of a sense of humor!

I wish I could say that in those first moments, I was struck with overwhelming joy, but the truth of the matter is I was absolutely scared to death. My whole world changed in an instant and I was working to make sense of what it all meant. I had finally come up for air after spending years suffocating below the surface. My mind replayed one thought over and over again: what if I go back under?

It wouldn’t take long for the wave to find me. My thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) was purposefully sent over 100 in preparation for the radioactive iodine, and it took weeks to bring it back into the normal range (for me, as close to zero as possible). Additionally, on my doctor’s advice I stopped my antidepressant cold turkey, which I realize in hindsight was not the best strategy. Discontinuation syndrome took over as the increased supply of serotonin in my brain was shut off too quickly. I spent weeks right back in the dark place I had just escaped. Slowly, serotonin levels began to rise on their own, but the waiting game was unbearable. Add all this to the regular pregnancy woes and here’s what you are left with: a crumbling, exhausted mess that once resembled a person.  

However, as the end of the first trimester draws closer, I’m feeling much better. I’ve come back up for air. My thyroid hormone levels are closer to normal; I survived the discontinuation syndrome, and I am almost out of the hardships that characterize the first trimester. I spent weeks uncertain if I would actually be able to stay off the antidepressant. I still worry about postpartum. But the good news is that I know what to look for. I’m not so foolish as to think I don’t need to take care of myself, and I’m learning how to ask for help when I need it.  

For many years, Jamie and I have talked about the possibility of having a third child. We are third children ourselves, and I’ve long suspected the third child born from third children would certainly be one amazing child. However, we were leaning toward being content as a family of four. I’d only recently begun to feel like myself again, our kids were getting older and less needy, and I simply wasn’t feeling all that brave in the Grow Your Family Department.

This little one is helping us to reconsider.  

Each new day, I close the door on all the expectations I have for how my life “should” be and instead, commit myself to all that is real and true. I laugh right along with God. I decide that my mantra for 2017 is without a doubt, “Trust the timing of your life.”  

I’m trusting something bigger than myself. I’m seeing the gift I have been blessed with. And the timing of it all was indeed, miraculous. Had my doctor’s appointment been any earlier in the month, it’s unlikely that my pregnancy would have been detected. I would have taken the radioactive iodine, and I’m sure our baby would not have survived.  

So we are carving out space in our hearts and in our home for this new little one. We are also carving out space in my body. I’m sporting a round pooch that makes you wonder how many times I over indulged at Chipotle this week. I may have already gained 12 pounds. Pants are my enemy. I’m exhausted. I’m starving. Holy moly, I’m growing a baby! 

Jackson wants to go ahead and bring all the infant stuff out of the basement so we’ll be ready. He tells anyone who will listen that we are having a baby. With eyes opened wide in amazement he confides, “It’s the size of a blueberry!”  

At day’s end, I follow behind four feet marching up the stairs. There are books and songs and whispers as I tuck two little boys into warm beds. Kisses are exchanged and then one small voice says, “I need to kiss the baby goodnight.”  

It makes me smile as I reply, “That’s a great idea, Jackson. Our baby is so lucky to have a big brother like you.” He scoots close on the bed and bends down, placing his puckered lips on my growing belly. “Mwah!”  

And just like that, love overshadows all of my worries, all of my doubts and every single last one of my fears.  

Invisible Scars

A year ago, a nurse wheeled me down a long hallway toward Jamie after my total thyroidectomy. He sat with me for a bit before my parents came down to check on me. They stood at my bedside smiling and doing most of the talking. I was a bit groggy as I looked at them and whispered, “How big is it?”  I knew I shouldn’t really care about my incision, but there was a part of me that did. 

My dad moved his pointer finger up to his neck and traced an invisible line as he explained, “It goes from one side of you neck all the way over to the other side.” 

What? Across my entire neck? I had thought the damage would be so much smaller.  

My mom nudged my dad and gave him the marital death stare. I knew the words she was speaking with her glance. “Pete, come on! Can’t you tone it down a little bit? You don’t have to be completely honest right now.”

Today, one year later, this cut that went from one side of my neck all the way to the other side, is barely noticeable. It is a thin white line that has faded over the passing of 365 days.  

This scar I carry with me often reminds me of fear and bravery, uncertainty and grace, hardship and love.

It is a physical symbol of the struggle I went through last year. But not all scars are so visible. Quite often, they remain unseen, hidden away far below the surface. I’ve decided that these are the hardest scars to carry.

Long before my cancer scare, I was sick and I didn’t even know it. I suspect that sometime after Parker was born, I started a long slow fall into depression. The signs were all there, but I missed every single one of them. I was exhausted. I wasn’t running. I was perpetually irritable and overwhelmed. Mostly, I was numb. I tried to explain things away. Motherhood is just hard, I told myself. This will all get easier. I just need to try harder. I just need to keep looking the part. Keep mothering. Keep pushing on. Keep making dinner. Keep smiling. I became an actress by day as I went through the motions of all that I thought I should be doing.  

Days and weeks and months and years got harder and harder. I was completely overwhelmed with the demands of my life. I wondered how on earth people got it all done. I napped with the kids nearly everyday because exhaustion was a constant companion. I withdrew from the people I love. I was wrought with the guilt of falling short over and over again and began to harness a growing resentment toward the people I love most. I was working so damn hard to survive, to make it through each passing day.  It felt like I had to give twice the effort to accomplish only half of a task. I could sense that I was a shell of my old self, but I couldn’t make sense of what I was feeling.  Where was the person I used to be? I wrote her off as having disappeared after the kids were born. Apparently, she had the good sense to get out of town and escape the mayhem that surrounded me.

It turns out, the old “me” was in there all along. She was waiting patiently for the numbness to fall away, for me to walk back into the light.

This summer, I got lucky and stumbled my way out of the darkness.  

It was an ordinary Saturday morning. We had plans to meet an old family friend at Barnes and Noble and so Jamie and I worked through the process of getting clean clothes on everyone so that we could look mostly civilized when we arrived.  

As my feet trod down the stairs, I glanced at the clock and realized we were all ready to go and it was quite early in the day. The sun was shining and blue skies shown through our finger smudged windows. Parker sat in front of the storm door with his right leg bent before him as he worked to fit his small foot into the correct shoe. I felt something odd stir within me. It rose up in my chest. It was light. It was something I had not felt in a very very long time. It was the faintest seed of joy.  

JOY!

“Maybe I’m getting better,” I thought to myself. “Maybe everything is going to be okay.”

I turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs and walked back into the kitchen. I opened the cabinet and pulled out the medication I’d been prescibed four weeks earlier as I sat before a doctor sharing details that I’d hoped to spare everyone.  

My palm pushed down on the white top and twisted the cap off. One small pill fell down into my palm. I grabbed a small water glass and took an antidepressant. It was the first time I didn’t second guess my decision to do so.

I carried a small hope around with me for an entire day. Maybe I’m getting better. Maybe joy would find me again.  

It was the beginning of my return to life.  

At first I felt intense relief that I would not have to live that way any longer. I was free from the cage that had held me.  Thankfulness washed over me as I reclaimed myself.  But then the shame and regret set in. I had missed years of my kids’ lives. Everything I should have felt when Parker was a baby, I had missed. Even though I’d been there physically, I was numb through it all. The memories felt tainted by my depression, by my irritation, by my anxiety. A wave of guilt swelled around me as I thought about how this has affected my boys and my husband. It was enough to make me cry for a very long time.

There is a saying that happiness is a choice. I used to believe these words. Now I know it’s not always as simple as that. Sometimes the wall is too high, the hole is too dark. Sometimes we just can’t find our way out.

I am learning to make peace with what happened. I can beat myself up over the past, over something I cannot change, or I can start living today.    

But making peace is some hard, heavy work. As I started that process, it occurred to me that while I’ve never once been ashamed of my thyroid cancer diagnosis, there is a sense of shame that I feel at having suffered from depression. It taunts me at times, whispering, “Your life is beautiful. What reason could you possibly have to be depressed?”

I’m a girl who likes answers and it unnerves me that I have no reasonable explanation. My mind walks through postpartum, through a move, through motherhood, through thyroid cancer and knows that one or all of these reasons are enough. But that doesn’t satisfy shame’s torment.  

So I find myself back in familiar territory, typing steadily away at my keyboard. It’s a place that helps me make sense of the senseless; a place I find hope in my heartache. My fingers dance together, bringing a story I have tucked deep within me out into the crisp fall air. I remember the heaviness I carried for so long, the way I struggled to get through the day, the relief I felt when plans fell through because I wouldn’t have to put energy into pretending to be okay.  Depression stole a few years of my life, but it didn’t steal them all. I am fortunate to have found joy again, to have found myself. 

I am alive once again.

For me, this December will be about finding and sharing joy. Our little family will watch the twinkling lights scattered though trees and outlining homes as we drive through town on dark, blustery nights. We will roam the fields at Joe’s Tree Farm with red cheeks and runny noses. We will breathe in the scent of pine that fills our living room while the boys play game after game of foosball. We will drink hot cocoa and build a blazing fire below festive stockings. We will savor the joy of gathering together with the people we love. We will rejoice. And this year, I will bask in the fullness of the season. Joy isn’t just around me; it is once again within me.

Our scars, whether visible or not, tell a story. They are little miracles that show our ability to heal after trauma. They are proof of our resilience; proof that we have stood in the fires of life and walked onward.

May we remember the perspective we have gained, the lessons we have learned along the way.  May we be brave enough to carry each of our scars with unwavering grace. 

Las Vegas and Pick Pockets

I promised myself I would run a marathon after each baby was born. It was a promise I would keep. Thirteen months after Jackson was born, I ran the Ridge to Bridge Marathon in North Carolina. Sixteen months after Parker was born I ran the Huntsville Marathon in Alabama with Jamie. These races were an attempt to reclaim a part of my life that fell away during my pregnancies. I was hoping to remember who I was, to restore my identity.

I first became a runner soon after Jamie and I were married.  I glean tremendous joy from chosing a race, training for it, and then putting myself to the test on race day. It provides a great opportunity for obsessive compulsive micromanaging, which control freaks such as myself enjoy. I’ve been getting ready for the Las Vegas Half Marathon since way back in March. Most of that time was just me thinking about the race, registering, and buying a plane ticket. It was not until September that the hard work started.  

Consistent running has been difficult for me for years. I’ve struggled with it since my children were born and it went from bad to worse after my thyroidectomy last Decemeber. I’ve been tired; I’ve been overwhelmed; I’ve not been myself.  

All of that changed right before my 34th birthday. I found my groove and have steadily plugged away at three runs a week getting ready for this race. My runs have been far from excellent. I’ve started out too fast on long runs and struggled horrifically during the last few miles. I’ve had achey lungs, I’ve plodded, I’ve walked, I’ve complained, most often to Jamie but also to my friend and running partner, Mike.  

A fews weeks back I was having one of those runs that are characterized by too many beers the night before. As Mike and I shuffled down the Greenway, I explained my latest epiphany: it seems that runners must, in some way, like to torture themselves. When we are pushing our limit in pace or distance, it hurts. When we are unprepared, we are miserable. Sometimes it’s the conditions that get the best of us – the heat, the rain, the wind. There is physical pain. There is mental warfare. There is struggle. Yet, I keep coming right back to it.  

Why? 

Running is very much like living. It’s an endurance event. There are long hills we climb and summit. At the top, we stand proudly taking in the beautiful view we are so fortunate to behold. We recognize the effort that went into it all. We are in awe of what was possible on that day – of all that our eyes saw, of strength and ability, of the fine people we’ve shared it all with. Running and life both hold the promise of amazement. 

Then again, there are the moments we struggle through it all. We can’t gain any traction. We are exhausted. We are hurting. We feel like despite all our effort, we are getting no where, making little progress. We fail at an endeavor and grieve what never was. Running and life both hold the promise of hardship.

Yet we go forth. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other. We hold onto the hope that the struggle is worth it – that all the good stuff is still out there somewhere, even if we can’t quite see it right now.

Last Friday, when I set out for Las Vegas with two of my sisters, we arrived at the airport in Greensboro and were immediately bumped to a flight that would get us to Las Vegas EARLIER than our original flight.  What?  That never happens!  Then the gate employee gave us three tickets for a free adult beverage.  We were flying high.  All was well.  

Six hours later we landed in Vegas.  Somewhere between getting off the plane and arriving at the rental car depot, my wallet was lost or stolen.  The night plummeted hard and fast.

I first thought I could have left it on the plane.  I had purchased a pair of headphones, so I was certain I’d had it on the flight.  I back tracked to the Delta ticket counter hoping someone had found it on the plane and turned it in.  There was no such luck.  It was no where to be found.  St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes, had far more dire events to attend to.  

My stomach was in knots. Here I was in Vegas with no identification and no money.  The cash I brought with me was gone forever by now. Things were going horribly awry. 

I sat on a bench stewing over it all while I waited for my sisters to pick me up outside the airport. With some time, I realized life will go on, with or without my wallet.  The half marathon on Sunday will go on.  I am well.  We are safe.  It could all be so much worse.

Running and life are a mixed bag. They are candy and cavities, summer and sunburn, Vegas and pick pockets.  Through the highs and the lows we will keep on moving. 

 We will endure.  

This is all I am sure of.

Now, I’m off to spend other people’s money. Thank goodness for sisters. I promise I’ll pay you all back, if I can just get back home without my I.D. 

Saved By a Hot Dog

The course was one hilly beast.  Jamie talked about this excessively in the weeks before the Salem Half Marathon, and boy, was he right.  A wave of hills in the beginning, two trips over the Colorado Street Bridge, and one massive hill at mile 12 made for a race course with 615 feet of elevation gain.  My race strategy stood in grave contrast to Pam’s, from “The Office.”  She planned to run fast at the beginning, fast in the middle, and fast at the end.  My plan was to start out slow, maybe speed up a little on the flat parts, and then make it to the finish line.  

Finish, I did.  There is nothing like it.  When you start training, you have trouble thinking you will ever run five miles, much less 13.1.  As the weeks pass, you add a mile here and there and before you know it, you’ve run 7 miles.  It wasn’t pretty, but you did it.  A month later, you get up to 11 miles and you know that on race day, you’ll be mostly ready.  This is perhaps, the best part of running.  One step a time, one run at a time, you are slowly building stamina and strength.  It’s baby steps.  You run a little bit farther each week, and eventually can run a distance that at first seemed unimaginable.  Tiny steps in the right direction add up over time.  They turn into something big.  

The people you run with also matter, quite a lot.  These people watch you suffer on some long, hot miles.  They pull you along.  They slow down to walk with you.  They distract you from your aches with their conversation.  Sometimes, when you are crumbling, they show up with exactly what you are needing.  

My sister Amy drove in from North Carolina to run the Salem Half.  Once Jamie, Amy, and I were across the finish line, we discussed the crazy hills and then set off on important business: find some beer.  I always get a little excited about a cold beer and that afternoon was no exception.  Smiling, we carried our amber cups and sat down on the pavement to celebrate 13.1 long miles, middle-aged stiff muscles, and great company.  

The beer went down easy.  It was cold, refreshing and nothing short of amazing.  But pretty soon I realized I was not feeling well.  I had two slices of buttered toast an hour before the race started.  Now, it was nearly 1 o’clock and I was starting to fade fast.  The beer probably wasn’t helping.

“I’m not feeling so good, guys.  I think I really need to eat something.”  I explained.  

There was a little problem.  We’d bought a lot of beer tickets.  Nearly full cups sat before us and several tickets were yet to be used. 

We devised a plan.  Drink up, then we’ll head to a restaurant and gorge ourselves on anything and everything on the menu.  I sat on the pavement hoping the feeling would pass.  

“Maybe I can find some food to buy,” Amy suggested.  “I’ll wander around a little and see what they have.”

I waited.  The emptiness was growing.  I felt ill.  I reminded myself that next time, food shall come before the beer.  

And that’s when she walked back carrying the most glorious hot dog I have ever laid eyes on.  “Thank you! Thank you! You are the best!”  I cheered as she passed it into my hands.  She really is the best.

“You want chili on it?” she asked.  “I’ll go back and get some chili.”

“No, no.  This is good.  This is perfect.”

I inhaled it because chewing is overrated when you are starving.  The hollowness in my stomach was giving way to substance.  Immediately, I started to feel better.

My sister saved the day with that hot dog, reminding me that most often, the best parts of life are our people.  They love us, they help us, they celebrate our victories and stand with us in hardship, they notice when we are in dire need of a hot dog and then they go and procure one.  

Thanks, dear sister.  You are a rock star.  I’m so thankful you are one of my people.

before
after

Finding the Shade in Motherhood

Summer running can be summed up in one word – disgusting.  I have never been a dedicated summer runner and so it took a great amount of effort to get myself out the door one recent morning.  I stalled.  I scrolled through my Facebook feed.  In an act of desperation, I even unloaded the dishwasher.  But I needed to go, to get outside, to take better care of myself.  So eventually, I laced up my shoes and started running.  

The sun was hot in the mid morning sky.  Its invisible rays burned down on me.  As I plodded along, my skin grew damp with a film of sweat.  Drops poured down my face and painted my azure shirt a few shades darker.  I trotted onward in the stifling heat.  My breathing became labored and I quickly grew miserable in my effort.  Sometimes running is just about getting through it.  Today would be one of those days.

I was going three short miles through downtown Salem.  I turned up Broad Street, wandered through Roanoke College’s campus and then headed back home.  As I turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue I was in the home stretch.  “Just get to the corner,” I coaxed myself.  I wouldn’t quite make it there.

As my feet pounded over sidewalk cracks sprouting grassy tufts, past old Victorians and wrought iron fences, I found myself overtaken by a pocket of cool, crisp shade.  Above me, outstretched limbs from towering oak trees offered a reprieve from the blazing sun.  I stopped mid stride, placed my hands on my hips and paced along the sidewalk below their cover for several minutes while my lungs drank in the cold refreshment.  The heat rising from my damp skin cooled a few degrees, my breathing slowed down, and the treachery of the last mile diminished.  It struck me that sometimes a bit of shade is all we need to gather ourselves so that we may finish what we started.  We know that all the hard stuff is still out there waiting on us, that just beyond the trees the sun will envelop us again.  But a short break from the heat gives us the boost we need to bravely march forward.  

For years, I’ve struggled to recognize when I am in need of shade.  It used to come more easily, but I suspect that some time after becoming a Mother, bits of myself began to fade away.  I intend to consistently carve out time for me, but after kids are cared for, errands are run, a house cleaning is futility attempted, and food is prepared, there are only a few scraps of time left, and those are often used to collapse in an exhausted heap on the couch.  Besides, a good Mother takes care of everyone selflessly, right?  A good Mother puts her kids before herself, right?  And a good Mother does all of this without complaint, right?  I began confusing the person I think I should be with the person that actually does exist, and in doing so, I have become somewhat neglectful.  I’m starting to realize I’ve been out in the sun for far too long; my skin is red and tender.  I suspect I’m not the only one falling prey to the heat. 

I’m learning to rethink what it means to be a good Mother.  I’m learning where to find my own shade.  In this stage of life it often comes in the form of alone time, of quiet space to think or write.  But it’s other places too.  It’s chatting with a friend over dinner and drinks, it’s a blissful hour of yoga, it’s heading to the lake with my boys.  A bit of time in the shade keeps me sane, it helps me be more patient and less anxious; it may be the most important thing that a good Mother takes time to do.

After leaving the shade behind me that morning, I walked up and up and up the long hill below our house, through intermittent patches of light and shade, thinking of all that overwhelms me and all the places I find solace.  

Just as I reached my house a neighbor waved and asked if I’d like to join her on the back deck for some coffee.  We sat in the heat of July under a canopy of leaves and chatted about dogs and kids and gardens, and I recognized it was a gift, a reprieve from my normal chaos.  I was happily engaged in an adult conversation with no small people to mind, no “nos” to dish out, no knees to protect, no sibling fights to untangle.  My scattered mind rejoiced there in the shade.  I sipped my coffee, I watched the wind rustle the leaves, and I decided that a good Mother nurtures the lives in her home – each and every one of them, including her own. 

The Day After

When I woke up on November 11, 2015, I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the next 24 hours.  The day stretched out before me like a blistering highway extending across the Midwest.  My only goal for the day was to survive, to withstand each exhausting minute.

I broke the morning up into tiny parts.  Get out of bed.  Get the kids fed.  Get the kids dressed.  Get everyone in the van.  Get Jackson dropped off at preschool.  It was a habit born from years of running long distances.  The last three or four miles of a twenty miler are often treacherous – I would find myself dehydrated and hungry, covered with layers of sweat and salt, and desperate to be finished.  Miles were too long to fathom, so I’d run to the next light post or cow or mailbox up ahead, making slow and steady progress.  I completed one small section at a time until I found my way back to the starting point where my weary legs could find their reprieve.  On this day, I would wade through hours instead of miles, but the strategy worked just the same.

I dropped Jackson off at preschool and sat in the parking lot trying to decide what to do next.  I was teetering between “go back home” and “cry” when a Mother from Jackson’s school walked by the van.  She stopped outside my window, and we spoke a few words.  Then she mentioned that she was meeting some friends at the park that morning.  Would I like to join them?  

I thought through a million excuses; there were so many reasons not to go.  But I surprised myself when I replied, “Yes, I’ll meet you there in a bit!”  It seemed the universe knew what I needed far better than I did.

I left the school and drove down Main Street absorbed in the endless chatter of my mind.  I relived the events of the previous day over and over looking for some indication that it was all a hallucination, a joke, a dream, or a page from the book at my bedside.  I replayed every aching detail.  The doctor’s stoic face – his dark brows stooped with concern as he explained the results of the biopsy.  His hands clasped together across his bent knee as he sat discussing my options.  The way I fought so hard not to cry before him.  The quiver of my chin revealing more than I wanted to expose.  I walked through the Land of What If’s feeling a heaviness grow in my heart.  What if it has spread?  What if there are complications during surgery?  For the first time in my life, I felt utterly powerless.  There was no action that could change the journey I was starting.  

We arrived at the park and I unbuckled Parker’s seat belt and lifted him out of the van.  I held his tiny hand in my own as we wandered over to the playground equipment. He climbed ladders and went down slides, and as I watched him that morning, I pretended to be someone else.  I pretended that the doctor had not diagnosed me with thyroid cancer the day before.  I pretended that I wasn’t scared out of my mind.  I pretended that I had slept soundly the night before.  I pretended that the kids and I had laughed together at breakfast and then cheerfully paraded out the door to start this beautiful, fresh new day.  I asked the other Moms questions about their lives and their children.  I listened to plans for dinner parties and potty training woes and for the entire morning, I pretended my life was not my own.  I hid from the truth right in plain sight.

It was exactly what I needed.

There would be other days to come to terms with it all, to absorb my new course and to talk with family and friends about it.  But the day after, I needed to pretend that none of it was true.  Amazingly, I stumbled upon a group of women, most of them strangers, who could let that happen. They carried me through a few of the longest hours of my life. 

Weeks ago, while returning some books at the library, I ran into the same Mom from that November morning.  I had not seen her in months.  We waved to each other and talked a few minutes before we were pulled in opposite directions by our young children.  As we said our good-byes, it struck me that she will never know how much her invitation helped me that day.  She will never know that her kindness allowed me to escape my unraveling world and my scattered mind for a few precious hours.

While she may never know, I suspect this story will travel with me for a lifetime.  It will stay with me, reminding me to believe in the power of time and space weaving souls together.  It will remind me that the simplest of moments are often the most profound; the smallest of actions are mighty indeed.  And, most of all, it will remind me God is all around us, tucked away in people’s hearts and nestled in the smallest acts of kindness. 

How else would we ever find our weary way through the day after?