A Better Word for the New Year

I’m sure many of you have seen this or do it yourself: picking a “word” to live by or motivate you for the new year. It’s big deal to find “your word” for the year.

When thinking about my word for the new year, I landed on one immediately. The word was “Renewal.” I think I wanted that word because I want to feel renewed. As mentioned in my last blog (https://talkingamongfriends.com/2016/01/07/2015-the-year-of-the-unchosen-path/), I talked about 2015 being a hard year. And it was. So, I’m longing for a sense of renewal. Longing for a sense of peace.
But is it really my word? Renewal is definitely what I want, however, in thinking about it more and more, I realize what my true word is for 2016: HOPE.

I can’t find renewal or peace without HOPE, the hope that comes from my faith, and from family and friends.

How did I get through two bouts with cancer? HOPE. I had to completely let go and trust that God had this. God put the right physicians and surgeons in my path. I had to let go. You can’t let go without hope and trust in the One who is our life, who gives us the breath in our lungs. (Okay, I had to find a way to reference my favorite song these days: “Great Are You, Lord” by All Sons and Daughters. Take a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHz0w-HG4iU).

One of my brothers asked me how I could have such a positive attitude after my second, more serious, battle with cancer. I realized it was because I had HOPE. God had this, I knew God was with me and watching. It was good to feel that.

With 2015, I knew God was there, too, but there were days when it was much more difficult to feel His presence. It was just hard. But the only way to get through it is with hope.

With 2016, I have goals, things I’m looking forward to and things I want to accomplish. I still long for a sense of renewal, of being refreshed and regenerated, but the deeper word, my life word, is HOPE. Hope is not just my word for the year, but probably my word for life.

In our Christian walk, that is the one thing we cherish and hold dear through life, is knowledge that God is with us, and we have the hope and assurance of seeing Him and being with Him again. That HOPE is a powerful force in our lives. So, here’s to 2016 – no matter what comes, let it be our year of hope.

The Next Phase of Life

It’s back to school time. You’ve seen the pictures flooding the internet of kids on their first day of school for this year. For some parents, it’s seeing their kids start high school or middle school, for others, it’s the start of Kindergarten, and finally there are those who are sending their youngest to college and are now facing the empty nest. There’s a new normal happening in many households.

Sandwich Generation

For my husband and I, well, we’ve been empty nesters for several years. Both kids are grown and married. We’ve been in this blissful phase of life, with the kids grown, but before grandchildren, and our own parents still healthy and active.

But as we all know, life can change on a dime and sometimes it’s an avalanche of change.

That avalanche has come roaring at us this year. And not with just one new phase of life, but with several phases bombarding us all at once. We’re entering a new season, and the quiet before these new storms are now past.

I’m mourning that quiet time before this change, but there are good things coming in this new season.

This is what I’m calling my “sandwich” year. I’m sure you’ve heard the term before – the sandwich generation. I don’t quite fit into that definition, but I’m feeling sandwiched enough.

In other words, this is the year where everything changed forever. My parents’ lives turned upside down with the advent of a couple of serious health issues. I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth to be with them, and will do so a few more times this year. For the first time, I see my parents as “older.” If you knew my folks, you know they have never been elderly or even come close to acting their ages. But unfortunately, I see that age now as one faces difficult health challenges and the other has gone into a caregiving role.

As I come to terms with the changes for my parents, we have the other end of the spectrum… and that’s the arrival of our first grandchild! It was so nice to have such joyous news in the midst of the trauma with my parents. As my husband and I anticipate this precious gift of a new baby, we know that nothing in our lives will be the same again. We’re very excited and while we remain empty nesters, we are already looking around our home, thinking about when the baby will be here, when we’ll play and entertain our grandchild…thinking about the “toy room.” (Okay, so we’re planning far ahead!)

This is definitely the year of change. My child and spouse will have a new normal in their lives as they become parents.

My parents have a new normal as they deal with health challenges and the long-term after effects.

As for my husband and I, these events in the lives of our children and parents have impacted us in numerous ways, that we too are finding our new normal. In the future, I know I will always reflect upon this year as our year of major change – some tough changes and joyous changes.

But I look forward to next year with such hope – the hope that comes from our new grandchild, and the hope that my parents will be healthy and strong from this point forward.

While I know I’ll have my sandwich moments yet to come, if we can balance that with a future and a hope (read Jeremiah 29:11), then we’ll make it through and continue to our next phase of life.

Fighting Back from Discouragement

We’re several weeks into the New Year… and this is traditionally the time when we’re already failing in our resolutions that we made three weeks ago.

How are you doing with your goals for the year?

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of tennis. The first Grand Slam of the year is going on now with the Australian Open. And a major upset of the tournament just happened — Roger Federer lost his match. The first time since 2003 that he won’t be in the second week of the Aussie Open. (This is one of the reasons I feel like he’s the greatest of all time… his consistency in the sport to reach semi-finals and finals of the tournaments…but that’s another discussion for another day.)
Roger-Federer-5-418x300
Last time Federer was upset this early in a slam, everyone was talking that his career was over. It must have been a discouraging time for Roger. His desire to play the game is still so strong, yet, these defeats will happen. So, now, at the ripe old (in tennis years) age of 33, is this his swan song?

I can’t wait to see. After the last time he was defeated early in a grand slam in 2013, he played inspired tennis for 2014, and was so close to reclaiming his #1 ranking. He started out this year with his 1000th career win (see why I believe he’s the greatest of all time?). I believe that Roger will take this defeat and turn it into an even stronger, burning desire to compete and win. I don’t think he’s giving up yet. Wimbledon will definitely be the tournament to watch for him.

Watching tennis inspires me again and again to fight my discouragement. I fought for years with my weight. About 2 1/2 years ago, I started to win the battle and lost 85 pounds! It felt so good. Now, the pounds are creeping back and discouragement is settling in. It would be so easy to have the attitude of giving up and belief that I will never beat this.

That may be true. I’ll be fighting my weight for the rest of my life. However, knowing I have achieved success makes me hungry to achieve that success again. And that takes hard work. Roger Federer is the great tennis player he is from hard work. And like Roger, I need to go back to the “practice court.” Sometimes you have to start with the basics and build back up again.

I need to start with what’s in my diet that’s sabotaging me. I need to get back to my strong exercise routine. We’ll see if I ever equal that 85 pound weight loss again. But I know I need to fight back. I feel stronger, more energized when I know I’m doing the right things. Whether I lose another pound or not, I’m going to fight this discouragement, one day at a time.

Roger will fight his discouragement one practice, one tournament at a time.

So, if you’ve fallen away from the goals you set for the new year, today’s the day to take a step, pick up your racquet and step back on the practice court.

Fight against the discouragement. You might be surprised how far you’ll go.

In Our Darkest Moments

NOTE FROM BECKY:  Hi everyone. My friend and fellow writer, Jennifer Slattery, is guesting on my blog today — with a great message of hope.  Please enjoy!

In Our Darkest Moments:
Jennifer Slattery
by Jennifer Slattery

I stood in the back of a large, cafeteria-styled room, Bible in my hand, and stared at the broken women and children in front of me. I’d been asked to speak, to share God’s Word, and never before had I felt the pressure of such a task more intensely.

They sat with hunched shoulders, faces drawn. They’d come for a meal and maybe a bed. The one who pierced my heart most was a teen with thick, tightly curled hair and wide brown eyes. Close to my daughter’s age.

My mother’s heart ached as questions surfaced. How does a homeless child fare in the cruel, clique-laden, shallow halls of high school where poverty is seen as a disease? Does he dream for better? Or drown his pain in busyness and noise? Or booze?

Nothing I could say would fix these women and children’s problems. I couldn’t fill their bellies tomorrow or buffer them from the heat or rain or cold.

But I could share the story of a man who’d been right where they were, one who found glory in the darkness.

His name was Joseph. He was the youngest of twelve sons, favored by his father and despised by his brothers. One day, his brothers turned on him, and his life instantly changed. They stripped him of his robe, threw him in a cistern, and sold him into slavery.

From there, owning nothing and with no hope for aid, he began the long, treacherous journey to Egypt. He arrived in this foreign, pagan land, completely alone, his life at the mercy of the highest bidder.

Or so he thought. But even in the depths of Joseph’s despair, God was watching. And loving Joseph to his very core. In fact, I believe Joseph sensed God’s presence with every step and every bid. Those strong arms surrounding him, buffering him, giving him strength and holding him close.

For a while, things went well. Joseph served with faithfulness, and God blessed him for it. But once again, when he least expected it, a human betrayed him, and Joseph was thrown into a dark, dank prison, indefinitely. No hope of a trial by jury or even a trial at all.

And once again, God was watching, and loving Joseph to his core. I believe Joseph sensed God’s presence with every shiver and hunger pain. Those strong arms surrounding him, giving him strength and holding him close.

Because Joseph clung and surrendered to his Creator, he was able to bring light to a dark and hopeless place. One morning, he noticed two inmates looked upset, so he asked them about it (Genesis 40:5-7). They told him they had two very unsettling dreams, and Joseph used their revelation to point them to God.

This encounter-Joseph’s noticing the pain of other prisoners, compassionately engaging them, and pointing them to God-resulted in Joseph standing before the Pharaoh, the leader of an immensely powerful pagan nation, pointing him, also, to Creator God.

Joseph alone was in a position to speak to those inmates, and God had used his lowly position for something so glorious, pastors preach on this event today!

Had Joseph been consumed with self, he would’ve missed it, and how different this story would’ve been. A lonely man, betrayed first by family than by strangers, left to die in a dark, dank prison.

This was the message I gave those women, and it’s the one I give to you. Each day, we have countless “Joseph” moment, opportunities to look past our circumstances to those God sets before us, individuals in need of hope.

In need of God.

Will we allow God to use us in our lowly, broken state, for His glory?

About Jennifer:

Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. Her debut novel, Beyond I Do, is currently available in print and e-book format for under $10! You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-Slattery/e/B00JKQ4ZTW/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Jennifer loves helping aspiring authors grow in their craft, and has editing slots open beginning in November. Find out more here: http://wordsthatkeep.wordpress.com/

Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. 

Beyond I Do:
beyond I do
Released Sept. 2014

Will seeing beyond the present unite them or tear them apart?

Marriage . . . it’s more than a happily ever after. Eternally more.

Ainsley Meadows, raised by a hedonist mother, who cycles through jobs and relationships like wrapping paper on Christmas morning, falls into a predictable and safe relationship with Richard, a self-absorbed socialite psychiatrist. But as her wedding nears, a battered woman and her child spark a long-forgotten dream and ignite a hidden passion. One that threatens to change everything, including her fiancé. To embrace God’s best and find true love, this security-seeking bride must follow God with reckless abandon and realize that marriage goes Beyond I Do.

Read a free, 36-page excerpt here: http://issuu.com/newhopedigital/docs/beyond_i_do_sample?e=6362996/8842858

Being There

As I write this, the world is talking about the shocking passing of Robin Williams. As the TV talking heads are going through his television and movie credits, I realize how many of his movies I’ve seen… and loved.  It is incredibly sad to lose such a great talent.

But through all of this discussion, this man who is being heralded as a comic legend, who entertained millions, has suddenly become very human.  Yes, we tend to put celebrities on a pedestal, forgetting that along with their immense talent, they are human beings, going through this life of ups and downs, marriage, children and everything else.

Obviously, Robin Williams was battling more.  He was always open about substance abuse, but did many of us realize he struggled with depression?  Severe depression.

It’s almost inconceivable that someone who was so loved and admired was in such a dark and lonely place where he was driven to take his own life.  He brought such laughter to everyone else, but couldn’t find the joy for himself. It’s tragic.

I’m almost embarrassed with my last post, when I talk about “wallowing” in my own sadness of recent events in my life.  Thankfully, I haven’t been to the darkest place where I’ve thought of a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  I always knew I’d pull out of this and things would get better.

But I didn’t share with many how sad I was feeling.  I don’t always share, because I don’t want to burden others, I don’t want to come across as a whiner, and I don’t want to be considered a negative person.

Was that mindset preventing me from getting the support and encouragement I needed at the time?  How do you balance reaching out without being a whiner?  How do you invite people in without pushing them away?

Hopefully, more discussion will come from this awful passing of Robin Williams about depression, about how to help others.  One thing I heard this morning was just be there. You may not be able to solve the problem, but you can come along beside someone and just remind them that they mean something to you, that their life has value.

Maybe this is a reminder to all of us to hug your family and friends and say “I love you.”  I hate that we have to be reminded, and that we’re usually reminded when someone else has died. We need make this part of our daily lives.

Life is short.  Reach out to someone.  Touch base.  Just be with someone today and hold their hand, give them a hug…. heck, just smile at someone and wish them a wonderful day.

What a difference we could make if we all did that every day.

Christmas with a Heavy Heart

It’s tough to go through the Christmas holidays with a heavy heart, especially when you’ve lost someone dear.  
We received word that a family friend passed away, someone I’ve known since I was 11 years old.  We used to live next door to his family, he went to college with my brother,  I’ve watched his little brother and sister grow up from birth, and am close friends with another sister.  Over the years, our families just became intertwined.
Granted, time has put some distance between us, as we’ve grown and had families and lives of our own.  Yet there is always a bond, especially around Christmas.  When we lived next door to each other, we started the tradition of spending Christmas Eve at their house.  Even though we no longer live next door, every Christmas we come home,  we have Christmas Eve with our friends. That included last year.
While we’re reeling from losing a member of this precious family, it hits home a little harder during the Christmas season.  I’m staying home for Christmas this year, but part of me is yearning to be in New Mexico to be with our friends. Yes, I will see them this weekend, when I take this unplanned  journey back home for the memorial service, but I won’t be staying for Christmas Eve.
I know I’m not the only struggling through the grieving process right now. Another dear friend of mine lost her father about a month ago. Getting through this first holiday without him has to be difficult for her.
And I can’t help but remember our Christmas from 18 years ago.  We lost my (step) nephew in a car accident, and nearly lost his mother.  My nephew was 7 years old, and it was 4 days before Christmas. His funeral was Christmas Eve.  I don’t know how my brother got through that time. 
As I think through all of this, I’m learning that while it’s difficult to celebrate Christmas with a heavy heart, I ask what our deceased loved ones would want us to do. I believe they’d want us to move forward, carry on, and continue our Christmas traditions.
I think my other nephew, who was 6 at the time of his brother’s passing, said it best on that awful Christmas when we lost his brother.  He said that he thought our nephew was having the best Christmas ever, because he was celebrating with Jesus!
Out of the mouths of babes…
While we miss our family and friends who aren’t with us right now, are feel their absence deeply, I know they are celebrating with Jesus. 
We must look upon Christmas not just as something we have to get through this year. We need to remember that  Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth.  And in my mind that means: Christmas is hope.  
Personally, as I grieve the loss of my old friend, and recall 37 years of memories with his family, I know I must cling to the hope that Jesus’ birth brings. I will cling to that tightly as I hug my friend’s sister when I see her in a few days. 
We must have that hope to carry us through…and celebrate Jesus’ life, and the lives of those we love, more than ever.

I’m “normal” today!

I know the theme of this blog is the “new” normal, which is dealing with my new physical body, making decisions about reconstructive surgery, visiting doctors every three months for the next couple of years, etc., etc.

But after yesterday’s post on feeling discouraged, I realized I’m “normal,” at least for today – hee hee. I’m not alone in feeling discouraged or upset that I have aches and pains preventing me from exercising, or a sinus headache like no end this morning.

This past weekend, hubby and I attended a wedding and a funeral. As my aunt so aptly said: it was the circle of life. So, it’s part of life to be frustrated or discouraged. It’s normal today that I have a deadline for my job and am battling a sinus headache.

So, because I had cancer do I get to crawl under a rock? Nope — one has nothing to do with the other. Which is why I’m normal today. I’ll have to do what hundreds of other people have to do today — take my medicine and plow through to complete my work. Since my boss commented on yesterday’s post, I for sure better buckle down and “get ‘er done!”

But I want to take a moment to thank everyone for their wonderful comments and words of encouragement. I don’t know what possessed me to start this blog thing. It’s difficult for me to express my feelings and put it all out there. But the comments yesterday and wonderful words have lifted my spirits, and once again, showed me how blessed I am. Y’all won’t judge me forever as a negative person because I have a discouraging day. Thank you for that. Oh, for those reading me on blogger, most of my comments came via Facebook. But thank you to all for being encouragers and for your kind words and prayers.

Finally, although I’m just a normal, average person, maybe my experiences can help someone else not feel so alone. That may have been my goal in starting this, but yesterday proved that I received the blessing.

Okay– medicine taken — let’s pray the sinus headache recedes, and onward I go to complete my work for the day. This day which is a “normal” day!

Keep on truckin’ everyone! 🙂

My Cancer History

A little bit more about me and my history. I was diagnosed with breast cancer (DCIS) in June 2004. I had a lumpectomy and 7 weeks of radiation. Believe me, I did all I could to move on very quickly from that and put it behind me. I hated radiation! By week six, I was in misery, and couldn’t wait to be done with the entire ordeal.

Of course, that inspired me to write about it, with the help of my husband. You can read more of our story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book (released March 2009).

After that, I happily put cancer behind me. Truthfully, I felt like I “got off easy.” I had fairly minor surgery, and despite how I hated radiation, I did not have to have chemo. I was still me and ready to move on with my life.

But five years later it all changed. Yes, I made it to my five-year mark. Five years and three weeks to be exact. But in July 2009, during my mammogram, the doctor said there was something there. But this one was different. I did NOT have a recurrence. Instead, I had a new cancer, in the same breast as my previous cancer. This was diagnosed as a high-grade sarcoma. It was, as the doctors like to say, “an ugly baby.”

Well, this ugly baby would cost me my breasts. A double-mastectomy was in order. I was diagnosed two days before my birthday.

My emotions were all over the place. Fear, hope, faith, fear, fear, fear…
I was afraid of surgery, anesthesia, pain, recovery, what would I look like, and mostly would I die?

The internet research I did on sarcoma was frightening. I was turning 46 years old, and what I had thought was the downhill slide toward 50, suddenly became a very young 46. I wasn’t ready for all of this. A possible death sentence at 46 was wrong. I was much too young!

Yet there it was in front of me. This time, I wouldn’t be able to ignore my cancer, and its effect on me. This cancer was much too real.

More to come…

This blog has long been defunct. Probably because I didn’t have a topic or theme for the blog. Well, maybe now I do. And it’s a difficult one for me to write about. I don’t want to be a public person known JUST as a cancer survivor. I’m much more than that. I don’t want cancer to become my identity. However, there’s so many twist and turns on this journey through cancer, that maybe I should write about it. Maybe just to not feel so alone at times. I know there are many, many other survivors out there who have walked this road. Hey, and thank God there are so many survivors!! I like that! But it’s still an exclusive club that we’re in. A club we never wanted to join, yet here we are. I’ve been here twice now. Back on this journey, and I don’t want to be alone.
To clarify, I KNOW I’m never alone. As a Christian, I have my faith in God, and He definitely has been with me ALL THE WAY through this journey. No, I don’t understand why I got cancer twice. But I do believe that all things are used for God’s purpose. Maybe mine is just to reach out with love and with hope. Maybe I’ll never know the reason, but I definitely want to focus on moving forward and not back.
This blog was originally called Rebecca’s Journey. What a journey this life is! The theme of this blog is the “New Normal.” The “new normal” is what happens when your life turns upside down, and this you’re supposed to begin again — with many things being the same, but your perspective, and your physical health and looks being so much different.
Everyone reacts differently to having cancer, to getting through treatment, to surviving cancer. Surviving is a word I like to focus on. However, different we may react, only a fellow cancer survivor knows what this feels like at its core. Friends and family can understand, sympathize, and care for you like never before, but sometimes you want to scream: You don’t know what this feels like! But as long as those friends and family members allow you to scream, and still love you anyway, then I guess it’s all right.
I’ve screamed at God. I didn’t understand, and I certainly didn’t want this. But yet I know He’s been there by my side the entire time. Of that, I have no doubt. He’s shaping me, molding me into someone else. It’s obviously not just my physical body that’s being re-shaped. And hopefully, I can take this faith, and this experience, and turn it in to something good.
For now, I just wanted to say hello. Next time, we’ll go into my cancer history, so you’ll learn more about the road I’ve been on. Maybe together, we can share and care for each other, and still be grateful to be here!