A Poem for Healing

In my life, I’ve never really felt like I belonged anywhere except these acres of land where I was raised. When I was a young kid it’s where I felt the most myself, and it didn’t change the way I thought it would change as I grew up and went out to see how I fit in a bigger world.

I think about that girl I was, the one who, at barely 19, grabbed her guitar and gassed up her Chevy Lumina to hit the highway with her North Dakota accent and songs about cowboys and prairie skies and small town tragedies. I think about how I could be that rooted yet so completely comfortable on those highways and interstates that stretched on for miles between gas station snacks and Super 8 Hotels. How could everything seem so possible and impossible at the same time? I had no reason, no context in which I could reach back and pull that confidence, I just said yes, even if I was terrified, and got in my car and drove.

I turned 38 last month. And while I have plenty I could write about how grateful I am to be here, I’m feeling compelled today to dig out what I haven’t been saying, in part to keep with my promise to share the hard stuff in case it might help someone else with the hard stuff, too. And maybe as a reminder that what looks fine on the outside, might not be the full story, no matter what you’re seeing on social media or in that quick grocery store chat, no matter the motivational speaking and the narrative that indeed you can have it all if you just washed your face and planned your meals and made a monthly date night and cut out carbs and scheduled a run and went to church more…

I want to scream. One size does not fit all! One size doesn’t always fit one person!

And also I want to go back two years before I got sick and had my chest cut open and could maybe believe that stuff. Before the pandemic weighed on our health and our communities and our relationships so heavily. Before this chronic pain consumed me and made me feel guilty for not living each day to the fullest, because, I am, in fact, a survivor who wants to desperately to do more than just survive.

And so there I was standing in my kitchen sobbing, finally, to my husband, that spending a year and a half of my life draped in a nagging pain that threatens every day to steal the joy in which I’ve drawn my ambition and my confidence has maybe, at last, accomplished its mission. It was getting to me. I’m tired. Yes. Me. I get weighed down, too. I feel heavy. I don’t feel like I belong in this broken body sometimes, and this broken world, and then it makes me so angry. Because I’m tired and all I can do is sob in my kitchen and ask my husband to please, don’t try to fix it…

And so he doesn’t. He just listens. And tells me I’m human. And when you’re human you can be all of the things at once, happy and scared, grateful and mad and tired and hopeful and desperate and worthy and worried….

And so I take to the hills of this place that has held me so close and, even in the driest year, has never let me down. And it all seems so impossible and possible at the same time.

Keep driving.

A poem for healing

Wherever you are. However you are hurting, or sighing, or rejoicing,

I hope you have loving arms to hold you tight, to wrap around you and move you…

if you are low….

or if you didn’t think you could possibly be higher.

I hope those arms lift you, if just a little bit…a little bit more.

But mostly for you I wish,

wherever you are,

however you are hurting, or sighing, or rejoicing…

you will know to look to the skyline,

reach to the trees,

run your hands through the grass,

let the creek flow over your boots,

sit under the sunset and breathe in the cooler air…let the earth feel with you.

Let the dirt absorb the impact of a life you can’t control, lay down in it and know that you belong.

You belong here.

Here where you sigh.

You sigh.

And the earth sighs with you.

And you can cry. Scream to the sky.

I hope you know you can.

I hope you know something is listening, something can hear you and is echoing your pain, echoing the words “you will laugh again, you will, you will.”

And when you do, laugh loud.

Laugh at the hurt that tried to break you,

laugh because you know you can,

laugh because you never thought you would again.

Then reach for those arms, wherever you are, however you are hurting, or sighing or laughing…

reach for those arms, listen close and look to the sky…together.

September is National Suicide Prevention month. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out. You are worthy. You are loved and you are needed here.

On pain and carrying on

Dealing with chronic pain requires taking things one day at a time
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To those of you who are suffering with chronic pain and showing up to your life, day in and day out as best as you can, today I want to say “I see you.”

For the past year or so, before the scope and sternum surgery that removed the tumor from my airway and declared me cancer free, and for the months since, I have been dealing with chronic headaches and nerve pain that is always there, sometimes putting me flat on my back and other times relenting just enough to allow me to do something other than think about the pain. I’ve been doctoring, researching, trying medications and treatments, changing my diet, justifying it as a repercussion of the trauma my body endured and crying in frustration because I want my life back to the way it was before.

Today I feel like I’m finding a light at the end of the tunnel, help through physical therapy and check-ins at Mayo Clinic, and I’m feeling hopeful. Hopeful enough to realize that maybe it’s time to share it here. Because people on the street, or at the grocery store, and, of course, in my circle of family and close friends, they ask me how I’m feeling. And, in the spirit of being honest, I’ve made a promise to myself after what I’ve been through, to not beg off on that question. In the spirit that my story, even if it’s not pretty right now, might help someone else.

And so, I tell them: I’m still recovering. I’m hopeful I’ll get to the other side of this.

But man, when you’re in the middle of it, in the middle of work that needs to go on, in the middle of motherhood and trying to be a good partner instead of a sick partner, in the middle of wearing out the optimism, putting off big plans not to mention the laundry, and worst of all, shushing my children when I should be dancing with them in the kitchen, it’s hard.

Because it turns out that the level of their voices, their enthusiasm, temper, frustrations or needs don’t quiet down because we aren’t feeling well. In fact, I think, these children might amp up just to see if we’re still the momma or daddy they know us to be. Turns out we still want to/need to be a parent even when it physically hurts to raise our voice or comb their hair. And the house seems small when we so desperately need a rest, especially when they find us at the moment we’ve finally fallen asleep, or snuck away for a shower. They want to climb in the bed or get help with doll clothes or need a drink or to tell us how her sister wronged her. And we listen while our body aches or works so hard to heal it feels like we’re drowning…

And so this is another lesson I’m learning in compassion during the past year or so of getting rid of cancer and trying to heal up a body that is screaming at me. Because I’ve been smiling and carrying on as best as I can despite it, it occurred to me that there are people around me doing the same thing day in and day out, working and raising kids, taking care of aging parents and businesses, serving on boards, continuing to show up while coping with physical pain or mental illness that tries its hardest to break them down. And when you ask them how they are, they will say, “Oh, just fine, thank you.”

And so today, while I’m feeling good and hopeful, feeling like I have a plan and that I can see the other side, I just want to tell you that you are strong and brave and doing good. I pray you get well if you can, and if you can’t, you find relief from the pain and a peace to the chaos.

And while I’m here, thank you a million times to the partners, family and friends who are fully and completely here for us, to pick up when and where we can’t.

Here’s to one day at a time and a better tomorrow.