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awakening to love

As my heart began to expand, I started to see more than before. Maybe just from a different perspective, not sure. In the same year as my knee surgery, I met my husband. I was at work one day and Mike, the guy across the hall from me, was giving me a hard time for being so dedicated to my work. He said there was more to life and he had someone for me to meet.  

Mike convinced me to be brave and oblige. He introduced me to a guy on his team, someone he had worked with before and knew well. Only issue was we lived in different cities. Or maybe that was by design. I was probably a little more open to consider dating him if he was not around every day. After a first date hiking in Muir Woods, I decided maybe Mike was right. After a few more lovely weekends getting to know each other, and a long distance love affair was born. My heart continued to expand. Faith in something bigger than me and the joy and playfulness of this love growing began to have my daily focus, more than the fear of my heart getting stomped on. The following year, I joined him in Northern California and we were married in 1997. The armor started to dissolve, inch by inch, with the persistence of my husband’s love. An emotional thinker, a passionate dreamer by nature, he acted in a spontaneous way, much of the time. Opposite in some ways to me, probably a good model to help encourage the softening of my edges, the expansion of my heart.

My sisters and our families gathered in Austin just before Christmas in 2003 to surround mom with our love and support. Her energy was low but again, she pushed through each day and was happy to have us all around. Mom was the unifier of our family, always trying to bring us all together and keep the peace between us.  For this first year of Christmas as a divorced mother of two, I was glad to be away from my new home and distracted with the family activities and conversation in Austin. The tension and stress was high as we all knew what we were facing just a month later, mom’s surgery. When I returned home, my heart was broken wide open. My reality came back to the surface.  The depth of pain was greater than any I had felt before. Here I was- a newly divorced mother, starting over, while my mom’s life was at the mercy of the evil ‘c’. In that moment, my awareness and understanding was heightened to see why some people turn to drugs or alcohol to mask pain. I had two young babies depending on me and knew I had to be strong, push through the pain and move forward, if not for me, for them. So I carried on, relied on my faith and the help of a therapist and good friends to get through.

Mom chose to have her surgery in Houston at Methodist Hospital, just two blocks from where we grew up, on January 19, 2004. We were all there to support her, along with our many family friends in Houston. Her doctor recommended that we go out into the hall and see her as she was being taken in the operating room. She looked so angelic, as if lit up from the inside out, had a very peaceful smile and rosy cheeks. As mom was wheeled away, I closed my eyes and imagined God’s healing light surrounding her. Focused my attention on healing her body as she had taught me.

While mom was in surgery, we went for a drive by our old house where we created so many memories together. What an eye opening experience that was. As we pulled up in front of the house, I saw something spectacular, so amazing out of the car window. It was a clear day and the sun was shining brightly, rays of sunlight beaming through the trees. The light rays were golden at first and as I turned my head ever so slightly, I could see colors in the rays of deep blue and purple. As I moved my head an inch or two to the right or left, all I saw was the golden light on the green leaves. When I moved back, the vivid hues of blue and purple shone brightly again. Almost like an opening, a path to heaven. Definitely not something easily explainable in words. What was most amazing was the feeling in my heart, kind of like an awakening of the purest love I had ever felt.  

Mom’s surgery went well and she was only in the hospital for five days, recovering quickly as was her norm. We each slept one night with her at the hospital, caring for her needs and wrapping her in love. As she recovered, mom mastered the challenge of living with a colostomy with determination and perseverance, succeeding through trial and error day by day.  She didn’t focus on the frustrations of adapting to living with a bag. She figured out clothes that would work, what schedules and food supported her new body function, and carried on with grace. While I knew mom’s journey had more chapters yet to unfold, it was time for me to focus back home. I had put my life on hold while I traveled many times back and forth to be with mom. My babies needed my love and support and transitioning to a new job needed my attention. The time had come to get settled in our new home, unpack the boxes, and adjust to our new way of living day in and day out. I felt almost like a child myself, each step feeling like something new as I figured out how to handle each daily task by myself while attending to the needs of a five and three year old. I relied on my faith more each day and was grateful for a saying that gave me strength and calmed my heart: ‘when you come to the edge of all the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen- there will be something soft to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.’


invincible me

Mom raised each of us to believe we could master anything we put our mind to, nothing stood in our way. I took this to heart as I grew up and became a young adult. Add a little strong will and stubbornness to that confidence, and there I was. While my career followed a different path than I had planned, I ventured into the corporate world from college and achieved quick success, gained expanded responsibility and was praised for my efforts. Even after I changed careers five years later, I focused intently and succeeded in my new role, just as mom had modeled for me. As such, I grew to believe this success was easily achieved in other parts of my life.

How soon I would learn otherwise. On New Year’s Eve in 1994, I was snow skiing with my friend Stephanie. Having grown up in Texas, I had only been snow skiing a handful of times and had taken minimal lessons. I could get down the mountain but not in the prettiest of form or with much grace, Here I was, skiing with my friend, an expert skier, following her closely as we made our way across the top runs of Breckenridge. I was confident of my ability to conquer and pretended I knew what I was doing. ‘I am in good shape and can keep up with her’ -or so I thought. It was snowing so I couldn’t see very far in front of me. All of the sudden I was flying through the air, skiing off a jump and wow, I landed straight up! Shocking for sure. Quickly the confidence took over- Easy stuff I thought. I can do this! Keep going. Next thing I know I am knee deep in a mogul field, crisscrossing the bumps. I am just getting going and then on one turn, my left ski keeps turning after cresting the mogul. Then I heard it- POP. Ouch. I plopped to the ground and thought, I just needed to rest a little while. I am ok. I will be able to ski down. Boy was I wrong. Next thing I know I am riding down the bumpiest run in Breckenridge behind ski patrol. Yes, I was invincible, or so I thought. Riding down the mountain staring at the sky above, I realized- not so much. It started to sink in that maybe I had limits.

With a torn ACL and meniscus, I returned to Austin for surgery. Characterized as outpatient surgery, I would be released in 23 hours, so the doctor said. I ended up in the hospital for four days. While I am not a believer that God is responsible for bad things happening, I am grateful for the outcome as this accident altered the direction of my life- in a positive way. Mom raised me to believe that good can come from our life experiences, if we chose to see the glass as half full. This perspective has served me well so far and taught me that I could choose my response when ‘bad’ things happened. During the four days in the hospital, the care I received from the nurses was minimal at best. Here I was a young adult and guess who was at my side, mom, caring for me lovingly as if I was still a child. She stayed with me day in and day out, all four nights. Cared for me, made sure I had pain medicine, and helped me relax. It was in this moment, this turning point for me where I first felt my mom’s deep love, in my heart. She selflessly gave me her time, support and mostly unconditional love. A turning point on my journey for sure- the birth of a deep and growing relationship between us.

So in 2003, it was my time to give to mom. And how blessed I was that she wanted me to. That I had started to learn how to, by listening from my heart. Mom was in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals over the month of October. Being the obedient patient, she bravely faced the radiation and chemotherapy day in and day out, starting on November 3. Mom had 27 radiation treatments and chemo six days a week for four weeks- through a fanny-pack like bag that released the chemo slowly over the week. The doctors said her chance of survival would increase dramatically with this approach before surgery, so she agreed. Mom was ever so strong as these chemicals poisoned her body. After her treatments were finished, she had a regular dermatology appointment. Just a routine visit. Unfortunately, it was not so routine. Her doctor discovered a mole on her back that looked questionable and removed it. The results came in- melanoma. Shock once again. I started to feel a lump in my throat as I processed this news. Deep sadness of accepting reality. Her body is speaking loudly- feels like it is tired. Probably worn out from caring for everyone else. I felt paralyzed in my steps. As tears streamed down my face, I prayed- ‘Lord, fill me with peace and wrap me with love as I face this unknown, the transition I am not ready for, the biggest of limbo’s in my life’. Here it was- more news, just a few weeks after I signed my divorce papers.

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a warrior from the start

Mom came into this world a warrior. Weighing in at 4 pounds at birth on March 9, 1929, it was a miracle she lived. She was the only one of her three siblings to survive and grew up an only child. Mom was born under the sign of Pieces. In her journal, she captured some key descriptors of the sign: generous, compassionate, receptive, imaginative, and efficient. All representative of the mom I came to know growing up as the youngest of five girls.

It’s now August 28, 2003, and I feel the wall of grief hitting the hardest. A time when everything about my identity with my home, my job and my marriage continues the journey to an end. I remain amazed with the support and love that mom and dad continue to give to me. Pure unconditional love. I finally convince mom that I am stable and to go home and see her doctor. She went soon and her doctor ran several tests. Wow, what a difference a day can make. In early October, we were all stunned when the test results came back. An ulcer-like tumor the size of a grapefruit, cancer. A fast growing, atypical type of cancer. Shock and fear paralyzed me. How could this be?

My warrior mom was not a novice to cancer. She had faced the challenge of cancer once already when I was in college. Out of the blue, a call came with news. Mom had late stage breast cancer. Surgery was scheduled for the next day. 2% chance of survival – statistics her oncologist only shared with her family, not her. At that time in the mid 1980’s, mom became a quick study of the beliefs that your mind can heal your body, in part from the book Love, Medicine, and Miracles. I remember sitting in her hospital room after her radical mastectomy and her teaching me about visualizing her body being healed. She would say- ‘Imagine the cancer cells evaporating like water on a hot sunny day.’ Mom survived her breast cancer with persistence and determination as I graduated college. She survived with grace and reverence, all while she endured painful bone marrow and liver tests every six months for 15 years.

As I sat in my soon to be former home back in Boulder, I was paralyzed once again, that evil ‘c’ disease was coming back for another round, a different type of journey this time. Something felt different. As the fog started to clear and my depression of the transition I was living through started to subside, I had a feeling. Call it a dream, a gut level thought that popped in my head. Mom is not going to survive this time. I quickly dismissed it. No, God, I am REALLY not ready for this. I am not strong enough. Her clinical prognosis was not good. Through clinical research, I learned what the likely outcomes would be for someone with her pathology. In five years, less than 12% chance of survival, for patients who could withstand the entire treatment pre and post-surgery. The cancer had spread to her lymph node that was connected to all her major organs, something I learned from reading her pet scan. Mom’s body had a strong voice this time around, something I would come to learn.

With less than two weeks from moving to my new house and not fully packed yet, I called mom and offered to come to Austin to be with her. My own drama seemed so insignificant compared to this news. Mom was ‘fine’ and I did not need to come. I could come later, she said. The next morning, the phone rang. She wanted me to come now, wanted my support. I made plans and went for the weekend. Mom was not afraid, or so she said, and was not sad or didn’t need to cry. We went for a walk in the rain. A bolt of lightning struck very close to us and we heard the loud thunder reverberate through the trees. Mom said that was good- lightening brought oxygen and her body needed oxygen to fight the cancer cells. Being present for her in this moment helped me put my grief in a box; hide it away for a while. We took her to get a makeover also. Wow, how mom’s faced glowed with pure light as the joy exuded from her heart.

Our deep and growing relationship continued to expand. One experience at a time. I was grateful to be able to start to give to mom from my heart, something that was hard for me to do. Somehow through my experiences growing up I built an armor of protection around my heart. My logical mind believed my heart was safe and no one could stomp on it with this armor. Funny thing- opening up and supporting mom now from my heart felt safe. So I continued to give.


venturing into the unknown

Real or make-believe? I actually used to think purple butterflies were make-believe. Something creative and lovely but not real in nature. Funny thing, I learned I was wrong. How you might ask? Through the process of saying goodbye to my mom as she passed from this physical life. And now as I look back, I see the similarities in a purple butterfly and what this blog premise is about. If you have never ventured to push your edges or beliefs, you miss out on things and experiences that are real and lasting. A connection of the heart is one of those things. We don’t really have to say goodbye to our loved ones as they pass. They just take on the form of angels, watching over us and cheering us on through our joys and tribulations.

Why start now? I actually started a few years ago, capturing some of my experience and using entries from my journals and my mom’s writings.  I recently saw the movie Brave with my children and Princess Merida spoke to me. I was taken back to the stubborn young girl I was, determined to make my own path in life. At church this morning, our pastor talked about ‘God loves us, now what’. ‘Go out and do something’ was the message he left with us. And here I am, venturing into the unknown to share my story of how a heart can expand beyond any boundaries a mind can imagine.

It was late summer of 2003 in Boulder, Colorado and I was struggling through one of those tough life transitions, a divorce with a four year old son and two year old daughter. Changing almost everything I knew, even the type of job I held. Good news is I had some constants in my life that pulled me through. My mom and dad were some of my strongest supporters. One day, my dad asked what I needed. He was thinking I would say money. What I needed most was for my mom and dad to come help me through, be by my side, wrap my babies in their love and help us all survive the worst. Or what I thought was the worst at the time.  My dear friend Lyn says God only gives us what we can handle. A divorce with small children was more than I thought I could handle, but figured I would take each day as it came, face the fear and uncertainty and carry on. Each day felt like a wall of grief. Some moments like quick sand, others like water. How soon I would learn otherwise- that my heart would grow to handle more.

My mom and dad came to live with us and help – a trip that had no defined end until I felt stable.  As my mom was picking up toys around the house one day, I saw her taking small breaths, kind of like the breathing taught in birthing classes to prepare for having a baby. She tried to keep it to herself and kept a smile on her face.  I started to notice her do this more and more often. My mother represented the rock of Gibraltar for me. Stronger than anyone I had ever met. Quick to offer help and always loving each of us with her heart wide open.  When I asked if anything was wrong, she said she was having a little pain but nothing to worry about. I was quite distracted with my own pain and dismissed it as nothing. One day we were hiking in the open space and she opened up a little more about the quick little breaths.Mom never complained once a day in her life. What she shared told me this was a whole lot more than nothing- mom was experiencing some bleeding and having lower hip pain, a pressure-like feeling near her tail bone. As we talked more, I learned that a year and a half before, her colonoscopy revealed a small benign polyp that was removed. Her doctor recommended another test in 3 years. Nothing to worry about, he said.

My heart grew heavy each day knowing that mom was helping me while she suffered inside. That was my mother, always giving to others, very selflessly. The wall of my own grief as I transitioned out of a marriage distracted me more. One day as I packed and prepared to move to a new house, my eyes welled up with tears. I was frozen in my tracks as my reality started to settle in. Could it be another life transition starting to take shape? One more life-altering than a divorce? Oh no, God, I am not ready. I am not strong enough. I grew up as a daddy’s girl and had only opened my heart enough to feel my mother’s love just seven years earlier. A deep and growing relationship was in the nascent stages of forming. I was starting to feel whole.