I spoke. Twice. ... Neither talk went exactly the way I would have wanted it to, but I had prayed beforehand that I would know what to say, and that I would say that thing over what was written on my yellow paper, so I'm okay with how it turned out.
The workshops were less well attended than they had thought they would be. I spoke with my friend who was on the committee and she said there were 89 people in the cultural hall when we started. (They had expected over 200.) There were about 10 workshops every 45 minutes, so none of the classes were jam packed. I had between 10 and 15 people in both workshops I taught, which wasn't the crowd I'd been expecting (again, it wasn't the crowd the committee had been expecting, either... there was a brunch before the workshops and you should have SEEN all the food that was leftover!), but I do so enjoy being the center of attention, so I'll take what I can get.
Most of my family came to listen to me speak. Spencer and Brea brought their two youngest. It was an interesting experience to talk about the cancer; specifically, about how hard physically it has been, with my 8 yr old nephew staring up at me with his beautiful, wide eyes. At the end of that first session, I spoke directly to him and thanked him for coming, as I told him that I hoped he would always remember that I had had cancer, but that I had always been me, too; that I had always had candy at my house, that I had always loved him, that I had always made an effort to choose happiness. I told him that when I was almost his exact same age, I'd had an aunt who had cancer, too, that she taught me those things and that they have been invaluable to me. ... If there is anything in the world I would hope to give my nieces and nephews, it would be what my aunt Kathy gave me.
I spoke more about the physicality of the cancer than I did the emotions, in both sessions. That was not my intent. I spoke more about the medical side, the diagnosis to the surgeries and the recoveries that I had planned to. The upside is that I got to look out at a group of people when I said the words "22.5 tumor" and see the shock register. The downside is that I wasn't able to share as many of the emotionally impactful experiences that I had wanted to. ... It takes a long time to give even a brief travel log of the doctors I've seen and what my body has been through. I can't believe that I thought 45 minutes would be hard to fill. ... I didn't even scratch the surface of what I had intended to say.
As I told my brother, Kirk, yesterday afternoon, the beauty of not getting to say what I wanted to say there, is that I can say it here. There, I had a limited timeframe and was going off the spirit of what I should say. Here, I also go off the spirit and feel my way into what I write, but I have unlimited time in which to say/write what I want or need to say. (Read: Go get a snack. This is gonna be a long one.) I know that what I said this afternoon, and how I said it, was impactful to people in the groups. I know this, because I was approached, privately, by several of them afterwards and they spoke to specific points of what I had said (things that were NOT written on my yellow paper, but came out of me anyway). I am grateful for the opportunity speak publicly. I am equally grateful for the opportunity that I have to catalogue things here, for a readership who takes a genuine interest in my life and what I have to say.
So, for those of you who weren't there - and for those of you who were, but didn't get to hear what I had planned to say, because I was so busy talking about what was coming into my mind at the time - I give you what I what I would have said, had I gone off my notes:
When I think back on the last two years, there are four key life lessons that come back to me:
1) Be there. When you know a friend needs you. When you are invited somewhere, be it a birthday party, a Primary program or a friend's house for dinner. Make an effort. Show up. You never know what will matter, what people will remember years from now. Whenever and wherever you can, be there.
2) Show love. In a multitude of ways, because it's important that everyone you love can feel that - and people feel/receive love differently. Say you love them. Show them you love them. Hug them, kiss them. Smother people with love. (I mean, it's infinitely better to smother a person with love than with a pillow, right?)
3) Say thank you. All the time, to everyone. Every chance you get. Because the reality is, there are people helping you or doing things that have a positive impact on your life that you aren't aware of. So, when you recognize kindness, acknowledge it.
4) Celebrate everything. I mean, everything. Whether it's a milestone in your life, a reconnection with an old friend, National Ice Cream Cone Day, a clean scan or the first day of beautiful Fall weather. Recognize the important events/days/people in your life, and celebrate them.
Showing up, showing love, showing gratitude and celebrating life are what it is all about, I have decided. And I intend to do those things for the rest of my life, as well as I can do them.
*Insert travel log story of the last two years of my health history here. (Again, if you don't know said history, refer to June 16th. That post came as close to "summing it up" as I ever have.)*
I've had several conversations in the last few weeks revolving around the world, "vulnerable". Often, that word has a negative connotation. I would like to submit that vulnerability isn't necessarily negative. It can actually be quite the opposite, as it is only through being vulnerable/open that we can be made complete/whole.
With a little reframing of that word, I think it can be seen as an opportunity for growth and healing, rather than a place where you feel powerless and separated from your peers and loved ones.
When you have absolutely no control over an area of your life, you have to learn to acquiesce and give it over. This year, I came to a place in the my life where I knew what I needed - and it was everything. I needed everything. I didn't have job security, in that I was a new hire with a small company and I wasn't sure if a medical leave could be arranged. I didn't have Short Term Disability insurance to bring in any income while I was out of work, and was at risk of losing my health insurance if I couldn't keep my job (which was a very real possibility, considering the size of the company and my short time with them). I didn't have savings. I had no one in my home to talk to in the dark, worried, sleepless hours of night. I did have cancer. I had nothing but a diagnosis and a knowledge of the surgery that was to come, along with uncertainty in what I would do once I got there. I was vulnerable. In every sense of the word - and I could not get away from that feeling. So I did what I have always done. I wrote.
I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote - and ultimately asked for help in the one area I knew I most needed it. (See June 16, 2012.) And that help came. My hole was filled. - And I'm not just talking about the Money Pit of Cancer hole. - Multiple holes were filled as a direct result of me recognizing and acknowledging that I needed help, and asking for it.
I reached out with two hands, and hundreds of hands reached back.
Had I not been so open to knowing what I lacked, could I have recognized the blessings when the help came flooding in? I think not.
Vulnerability is hard. It is scary. We want to have a sense of control in our lives, like that control is what will make us happy. I would like to submit my theory that the very act of giving up that control, opening yourself up to feel all of the things you need to feel, will ultimately do more for you than keeping a lid on it ever would have.
I needed help. I asked for it. I got it.
As humans, we all struggle with vulnerability. That mixed emotion of hope and fear is familiar to us all, yet uniquely individual at the same time. Speaking specifically to single adults, we have a vulnerability that our married ward and family members do not have. They cannot understand the particular vulnerability of being single, because they aren't in our circumstances. More specifically, they aren't us - they don't live in our bodies and have our experiences and our feelings. They literally cannot understand us, in the same way that we cannot understand them. But the Lord does understand. He understands all of us, our circumstances, everything we think and everything we feel. I testify that the Atonement covers not only our sins and imperfections, but our infirmities as well. Turn to Him. Use the Atonement. Let yourself be truly vulnerable. Be open. Ask for what you need and TRUST Him - and the people in your life - to give you what you need.
He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10) Abundance is perception. (Says the girl with the 600 sq ft apartment, 11 yr old car - with a tape deck - and little to no money, because she has spent it all on her health. ... Says the girl who also has more love in her life than she knows what to do with.)
Men are that they might have joy. He came that we might have a more abundant life.
Joy is a choice. Abundance - the awareness, the perception, and our own personal definition thereof - is also a choice.
May we all be a little bit better in recognizing what it is that we do we have, in choosing joy, that we might have a more abundant life. With all my heart, I believe that is what He would want us to do.