Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Sublime Strength of a Simple Smile

For the past two weeks I have woken up and found myself in tears shortly after I realize that my body is strangely glued to my bed. Glued in the sense that I find it incredibly hard to move. Muscles are sore, bones hurt, and I have had flu like symptoms for awhile too. Every morning I get out of bed just to eat a couple of slices of bread with tea and then take my medicines and I wait for their magical effect. Antihistamines and pain relief meds keep me going through the day. I don't feel up to going anywhere or doing anything and I am beginning to feel like a social recluse.

Happily though, in the midst of all this, my blood work shows that the Crohn's is under control. Humira is helping me and I am so glad for that. But Humira also causes side effects such as flu-like symptoms etc. So I wonder if I am just having a prolonged flu or if I am having a reaction to the Humira. My doctor says that my liver enzymes are on the rise and if they continue to rise I may have to discontinue Humira. I feel deep despair at the thought because I have tried everything else there is and Humira actually works for me. One step at a time, I guess. Time enough to see how things are in due course. No point worrying away now, best to save some worrying for later :)

Tears are so close that I cry a few times a day. I feel fragile. Very fragile. Small things cause me to cry. Something sad on tv and I cry. Some sad news in the papers, and I cry. One of my kids is gruff with me and I feel it in my heart, and I cry. My dear hubby says something sweet to me, and... you guessed it, I cry. I am crying as I write this! Oh dear me. Reduced to tears just by life itself. How can this be? I do know that the flu can be depressive. I am sure on some physiological level that is borne out somehow. Yah, like maybe dopamine levels are severely reduced because white blood cells need it to stay happy while fighting off infections! (what would I know? Nothing much obviously!)

I try my very best to be cheerful when the kids come home. I dish out hugs and smiles aplenty and listen to the debriefing of the day's events from the more loquacious younger ones and squeeze out monosyllabic details from the reticent older kids. I tell myself that I am well, it's just the flu, I am not in any major pain, I will make their time at home as pleasant as possible, and so I smile. Not incessantly like the Cheshire Cat or my kids would be worried for me, but just small smiles here and there to convey joy, love, acceptance, understanding etc. In fact a whole myriad of emotions and states can be conveyed by a simple smile.

There are so many cliches about smiles. I don't want to repeat them here. But I do want to acknowledge that smiles are powerful. There is latent strength in a smile. It blesses the one who smiles and the recipient of the smile. It empowers the smiler to rise above their situation and to be more than what they feel. I find that when I tell myself I have to be pleasant and I smile even if I don't feel like smiling, I ultimately feel more pleasant myself. In fact, smiling is to be recommended especially when you don't feel like smiling because of its transforming power. Even if the smile doesn't quite reach your eyes, it's getting there slowly. It's almost a process, if you like. Eventually, with sufficient usage, the smile will reflect a sense of wholeheartedness, starting from the heart and radiating through the eyes. My mantra through this flu-like phase is to "Cry Less, Smile More". It's retraining the heart and the eyes and basically the mind to get through some tough times with the twofold methods available to me... Crying and Laughing (Smiling gone crazy). I hope to cry a lot less, and smile and laugh so much more.

Of course, it's very hard, in fact, it's positively impossible to smile when you are in a lot of pain. I don't remember smiling when I have been in the throes of a terrible painful episode of colitis... in fact all I have ever wanted to do was to curl up and cry and be left alone and not have to talk to a single soul. Yes, sometimes pain is so overwhelming the body cannot bring itself to do anything except curl up and try to get through the pain. Smiling then would be ridiculous as well as impossible, really. No, there are moments of intense pain and grief etc when smiling is out of place indeed.

But on average, my life is not filled with intense pain or grief. It's filled with many good moments and wonderful things. Yes, this wretched flu has got me down. Maybe it's here to stay as long as I'm on Humira. Maybe not. But I can smile now. I must smile now. For my own soul. So I can be all I need to be to the ones who depend on me but also so I can be a better me. I am so much nicer when I smile. I know I am and folks have said I have a lovely smile. I believe them :) Anyway, all those muscles droop and make you look jowly and old if you don't use them and smile enough. Sometimes you look at photos of older people and you can tell if they've been happy by the look in their eyes and the lines on their faces. I want to grow old with a happy face. I want people to look at my photo and say,"Ahh, there's a face that shows she was happy. All those smiling lines and crow's feet, and that irrepressible twinkle in her eye!". Either that or they will say "What a grouch!". Oooh, I best get working on those smiling muscles. I'll lose them if I don't use them!

Smile so I can be transformed on the inside, smile so I can age well on the outside. Smiling is good for my body and my soul. That's what a simple smile can do. Here's sending you a smile today. Send it on to someone who needs it. Bless, and be blessed!

Thanks for reading,


Monday, March 12, 2012

The Perils of Perfection

Today I feel tired. Muscles hurt and my bones feel weary. I don't know why. My guts are doing fairly well but I did have a busier than usual weekend. After a long time we managed to get everyone off to church and off to a family meal afterwards like we used to do many months ago. Events intervened health wise and I got so weary of going anywhere for awhile and so I spent weekends like I spent my week days, mostly resting at home.

My choir mate's daughter passed away last Sunday after a long struggle with brain cancer. I left the sanctuary of home to attend her wake and I sang with the choir at her funeral. It was a meaningful funeral tinged with sadness as she was only 18 years old. I cried tears of sadness for her life cut short and the sorrow of her family, especially her parents. It was a privilege to sing at the funeral, and I also got to meet some of the members of the Youth Choir from church who sang with us. A seed of an idea planted itself in my mind. Perhaps my daughter might like to join the Youth Choir?

My daughter loves music and singing and drama and anything to do with performing. I asked her if she would like to join the Youth Choir on Sundays at noon, and she was very, very keen. So we all trooped off to church to support her, and to have lunch afterwards. It was a good time. Some of us went more willingly than others, some needed minimal prodding, some went only because of the hope of a promised lunch. :)

As I sat there tears filled my eyes at one point. The point where the priest asked us to pray silently. I prayed for my children. I thanked God for each of them and I asked that He would draw them close to Him and work in their lives. I felt I had to ask that because I know in my heart of hearts that something as personal as faith has to be a gift from God. It isn't something I can pass on, or force onto my children. I'm constantly plagued by the thought that because I have been unwell for all of my children's lives that I must be to blame for any shortcomings in our family, though when I think deeply about this I do feel I am being too harsh on myself.

Living with chronic illness means that it can be difficult to be consistent. I find it very hard. I always felt going to church every week was the right and perfect thing to do. I wish I could be on that pew in church with my children all scrubbed and shiny every weekend and looking like they really loved going :) I have found it so hard to keep going anywhere week in and week out. It's exhausting. It's tiring. Is it even necessary? Does God understand? Will others?

I am only too aware of my own weaknesses, and those of my children. I know what we all need to work on. I know what we all need more of, and what we need to prune from our lives. More love, more generosity, more kindness, more charity. Less selfishness, less meanness, less unkindness, less squabbling. Basically take out the negative aspects and fill your life with the positive opposites. :) It sounds so easy but it isn't really, and it's a lifetime's work.

I have finally outgrown the need to be perfect... I used to think my kids were the ultimate reflection of me, and so if I was perfect then they too would be perfect. But who judges the perfection in us, and how can our fellow man judge when they themselves struggle? As I sat in church I thought of my children and their different personalities, the different journeys each must take in life, the different career paths they might pursue, their different giftings and talents, and I realized that in actual fact, it's largely beyond me. It isn't up to me at all. They have their own lives to live and the more I try to force them into a mould that reflects me, the more likely I am to push them away, and derail them from becoming who they are meant to be. It isn't about me. It's up to them to make the most of every opportunity given to them, to decide on their futures, to explore beliefs and take ownership of their faith, and to find their path in life.

I wish that I could easily cut loose from the myriad of expectations that I perceive to be important. I expect a lot of myself, and I think I expect the same of others. When I am too tired to do much I get overwhelmed by guilt sometimes and I feel I am to blame for many things. I see failings and weaknesses and I think that if only I had been well, and more actively involved and doing so much more this particular weakness in this child, or this imperfection in myself would not exist. And so guilt eats at me, leading to self blame. Guilt and blame born out of some need to be perfect. But I push them away. I must, otherwise it would be hard to carry on, and carry on I must!

I told my dear husband how I felt and he said to me that it's not about blame, and that we can only do the best we can. I have told myself the same. Don't blame myself. Do the best I can. If it's just a tiny effort, then so be it. Do better next time. It is the heart that matters. I could sit on a pew every weekend and never be touched and never know the goodness of God if my heart was hardened. I could take my children there everyday but if God doesn't speak to them then it's a pointless exercise. And God makes all things beautiful in His time. Not mine.

I don't believe in coincidences. From the sadness of a funeral something beautiful was born. I think I met the members of the Youth Choir quite by divine appointment. The Youth Choir is exactly what my daughter needs at this point in her life to keep her faith meaningful to her. It's given us a fresh approach to something very central to my heart : functioning as a family that supports each other, and loves God.

One of the things I remembered from church yesterday was this : "When God calls us to do something He doesn't expect us to always succeed, but He does expect us never to quit." I like that. I do what I can. If I succeed, super! If not, keep going. Never give up. Certainly motherhood and chronic illness make for a dramatic ride... but I'm allowing myself to fail, I'm not expecting perfection, and I'm not giving up.

Thanks for reading