Miracles Happen Every Day

mir·a·cle/ˈmirək(ə)l/noun

  • a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.
  • a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.
  • an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something.

Every day we hear about the tragedies happening around the world. They are on all the television news channels, radio stations and posted on Facebook. How often do we hear about the miracles – big or small – happening? Not so much. But they ARE happening, every day. Oftentimes, it depends on how you define a miracle and what your mindset is.

The first thing I think of when I think of a miracle is something huge and wonderful and completely unexplainable. You know what I mean – the creation of heaven and earth, living organisms (you, me…frogs, trees), and how everything in our existence works together in a complex, synergistic rhythm. I love science, but science truly can’t explain all this. I also think that the range of human emotions and the courageous and compassionate actions people take to help others are miraculous. I believe in the soul and love how the miracles of art, music and faith speak to and complete it. If it was all just about survival, I see no need to help the helpless or feed the soul. Amazing, extraordinary miracles.

Miracles may be small and affect just one person, or be only in the eye of the beholder. When your favorite song comes on the radio just when you are feeling really blue? Or when your child or pet comes running to you for a hug when you walk in the door? How about the tingly feeling you get in your toes as you think about someone special? Miracles or not miracles? The song timing is improbable, and the love is extraordinary. I choose miracles!

I’ve been blessed with several miracles in my life, three of them truly life saving. My parents tell me two stories about growing up. In the first, I was 6 years old. We were driving home from grandma’s house and stopped in a small town for coffee and donuts. My parents say that because I insisted on staying for a second donut, we just missed being caught in a tornado that crossed our path home leaving destruction along and across the highway. In the second, the one I remember, I was 8. My dad and I were at the hardware store and Dad gave me money for the gumball machine. I popped the gumball in my mouth and was sucking the candy coating off, rather than chewing it, when I tried to talk. Instead, I inhaled the gumball which got stuck in my windpipe. My airway was completely blocked and I turned blue. The store owner grabbed me from behind and tried the Heimlich maneuver but it didn’t work. There happened to be a doctor shopping in the store who heard the commotion. He asked if he could help and then reached down my throat with his pinky and pulled the gumball out. I wouldn’t be here today if not for him. My third lifesaving miracle? The success of my breast cancer treatment. I thank God every day for answering my prayers for healing, opening my heart, and walking with me as I went through chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, reconstruction and hormone therapy. My medical team was amazing in their skill, commitment and compassion. Without my ‘earthly angels’ I would be in a bad place.

Continuing on my life journey, I choose to find miracles in simple things like the birth of a child, the beauty of a summer day, or the love and companionship of family and good friends. This brings me joy and peace. It is too easy to get sucked into the daily negativity permeating our world. Like most, I need a purpose and reason beyond myself to feel fulfilled. So I look for those earthly angels who cross my path. I keep my eyes open for the opportunity to help others. And I try to shine God’s light so others may see the miracles too.

It’s Not About the Stuff

As I wake from my after-Thanksgiving dinner nap (yes, those of you who know me are sagely nodding), I’m struck once-again by the materialism I see on television and in my email box. It’s there throughout the year, but really ramps up in these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The pressure to buy ‘stuff’ for yourself and those you love at outrageously ‘low’ prices for the holidays. It used to be that stores and people started the shopping frenzy in the wee hours of Black Friday morning. Now some stores open Thanksgiving evening to get a jump on their competition. Is this really necessary? I don’t think so. It’s not about the stuff!

Growing up, my family went to my aunt and uncle’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a tradition. We would bring some special dishes to share and my aunt always cooked to feed a crowd, no one ever went home hungry. The house was small with one television. They had five kids, we had two. If you add the adults, we had a nice group of 11. As the kids grew up, our dinner guest list grew up too, with spouses and grandkids. What loud, messy, fun times we had! How I looked forward to those dinners! (Btw, those post-dinner naps got started here, with lots of joking and ribbing). The only gifts were the tasty leftovers that everyone took home.

My family went to my grandparents – both sets – as part of our Christmas tradition. We all lived in MN so winters tend to be cold. It never really felt that way, too much love and drama going on, especially on my mom’s side of the family. My mom’s family was big – 9 kids – and diverse in their ages and interests. I had so many aunts and uncles, cousins and step cousins, I’d be hard pressed to name them all. Some portion of the family – whoever was available that year – got together in my grandparent’s big brick house to celebrate family and the birth of Christ. The meals were healthy and home cooked, the gifts that were exchanged were simple and often handmade or hand-me-downs. With so many kids around, we didn’t care. My dad’s family was smaller, just him and his sister, with a total of 5 grandkids. Those Christmas’ were just as fun! Small group, lots of hugs and joking (grandpa loved to laugh). Simple gifts exchanged. I wouldn’t trade a moment.

Now that I’m grown with a family of my own, we have our own family traditions. Thanksgiving at my parents’ house and Christmas at our house. It’s a small group. We missed Thanksgiving at my parents’ this year due to some unusual conflicts, and we really missed it. Like REALLY missed it. And it wasn’t the food, which is good but not fabulously amazing, it was the fellowship! It was the people and the connection! Note to self: We will NOT miss Christmas!

I’m not against shopping, don’t get me wrong. In fact, shopping with family or friends can be amazing fun! I just don’t think it is as important as we make it out to be during this holiday time. I believe the holidays are for other things. I believe they are about celebrating the people we love – family, friends, and friendly strangers – and God. The abundance of gatherings, the food (yum!), the smiles, hugs and laughter are amazingly life affirming. And it doesn’t matter if the gatherings are big family get-togethers with all the drama that inevitably happens, or small groups of friends, or fellowship at your church. Every positive connection we make nourishes our soul.

As I get older, I realize that my loved ones are getting older too and won’t be here forever, which makes it so much more important to cherish our time now. Life is upredictible, age doesn’t matter, there’s no guarantee of what tomorrow will bring. Intellectually we know that, but how often do we really ‘know that’ as we fritter away precious moments? The stuff – television, video games, and phone/Facebook – can wait. Get up, get out, love someone today. Help someone today. Smile at someone today. Say a kind word to someone today. Do something that matters! You’ll be glad you did.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

Last month I went to the dermatologist for a simple skin cancer screening. It’d been 3 years since my last check and I wanted to get all caught up on my health ‘to do’ list. Plus, I thought I had a planter wart on my foot and wanted to get that taken care of before a family vacation. The simple screening…turned into a 4 site biopsy session! That worried me because I didn’t expect anything like it. I was also upset because this was summer and I wasn’t allowed to jump in the lake until the biopsy sites were healed.

Tick-tock. I waited impatiently for the results (and the healing) and finally called the dermatologist 10 days later because I hadn’t heard from her. Results from the nurse…1 benign mole, 1 basal cell carcinoma and 2 dysplastic moles requiring excision for clear margins. What? I was stunned. This meant more trips to the dermatologist, more summer fun postponed and more questions. What exactly is basal cell carcinoma skin cancer? What about deadly melanoma skin cancer? I was immediately on the internet researching these results and what they meant for me. Whew, okay, basal cell carcinoma is different than melanoma. The chances of “severe dysplastic moles” hiding melanoma cancer beneath them is slim. BUT POSSIBLE. I found all the scary worst case scenarios.

Can you guess what happened next? My mind immediately jumped to very deep, dark conclusions. Doomsday scenarios interrupted my thoughts day and night. I was consumed by this fear for a week as I waited for my followup dermatology appointment. When it finally arrived, I responded with tears to the nurse’s innocent question, “how are you doing?”.  All of my fears spilled out in a rush. I obviously wasn’t the first tearful patient she’d seen. She quickly brought the dermatologist into the room. Calmly, it was explained to me that I didn’t have melanoma, they didn’t expect to find melanoma hiding under my moles, and the clear margin requirement was a precaution to prevent future melanoma. The doc also apologized that the nurse’s call the week previous hadn’t made this clear to me.  She did caution me to use sunscreen and keep a close eye on my skin. Through my research, I’d found out breast cancer survivors are more prone to melanoma than the general public. Not fair! Even so, I walked out of there with a big bandaid on my back and a big smile on my face. I was going to live another day! The fact that I was still banned from lake swimming was completely forgotten.

Moral of the story?  Try not to jump to conclusions. They are often wrong and can cause unneeded anxiety and stress. I realize that my reaction to the dermatology experience was very different than it would’ve been before my breast cancer diagnosis. For better or worse, our life experiences shape us and how we perceive the world. I now know if something DOES come up, it’s much better to take a deep breath, clear your mind and approach it calmly.  That’s what I hope to do next time!

(In case you were wondering, the planter wart on my foot wasn’t actually a  plantar wart, it was a corn! Back to the internet…)

Be Grateful Always

Before being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, I don’t think I fully understood what it means to “be grateful always”.  Sure, I enjoyed my life – a lot.  I had married my college sweetheart, traveled, enjoyed a successful business career, retired to raise our children and then started working part-time as a fitness instructor.  I had a passion for health, fitness and fun and I loved my family fiercely.  But, somehow, I got lost in all the fun.  Everyone was so busy, we started to drift apart.   Active husband, active teenage boys with all their stuff – it was a game of divide and conquer.  I rarely thought about the here and now but was focused on the next thing.

Then…Boom!  Just another day, took a shower, felt a lump, got it checked.  Breast cancer.  Cry, cry, cry on my husband’s shoulder.  Felt my life was over, wondered “why me?”.  Cry again.  And again.  After I was cried out, I got busy sorting out what I needed to do to keep on living.  What steps, what treatment, where, when, how.  Life was a whirlwind for the next month as I lived on the phone, or the internet, or in the doctor’s office.

Slow…down.  Decisions made, time to let family and friends know about diagnosis and start treatment.  The morning after high school Homecoming, my husband took the boys to breakfast and filled them in.  Made phone calls, sent emails, posted to my mom’s and husband’s FB (I didn’t have a FB account).  Next day infusion Smart Port in, weekly chemotherapy begins.

This is when I started my faith journey.  I prayed daily, several times a day, for a miracle.  I’d been in my church high school youth group, married in church and had our boys baptized but hadn’t done much else.  Isn’t it funny how you turn to God in the bad times but often forget about Him during the good?  That was me in a nutshell.  Thank goodness God doesn’t hold grudges.  He was there for me when I called and sent me many, many earthly angels to help me through this journey.  And that’s when I started to realize what “be grateful always” really means.

To me “be grateful always” means I wake up each morning and before I get out of bed, I thank God for another day on this earth.  I don’t care if it’s rainy, snowy, freezing cold or blazing hot – I’m just glad to be here!  I thank Him for my family and my friends.  I thank Him for my health and the health of those I love.  I send specific prayers for those that need them.  If I tell someone I’ll pray for them, I mean it (I keep a list to remember).  I ask for continued health.  And I ask for guidance to live a life of joy, gratefulness, and service to others.  Every day I try to show and say “I love you” or “I care about you” to everyone in my life.  Why wait?  No guarantees on tomorrow.  Many wonderful people helped me in my time of need, both friends and friendly strangers.  It’s time for me to pay that forward, backward and sideways!