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Woman at the Well

On the 3rd Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading was about the Samaritan Woman at the Well.  I’m reflecting on being that woman. I’ve been a lector at my new parish for two years and Eucharistic minister for almost a year. I think about do I deserve to be in front of all these people?

My involvement in parish ministry began during the darkest period of my life. There were times when I wondered if the church building wouldn’t collapse on my head. It didn’t. I found that the parish priests I worked with, no matter where they were on the spectrum of conservativeness, were always merciful, kind, compassionate, and patient. Over a decade later, I’m still on that journey to be spiritually healthy.  When I proclaim the Word or share the Body and Blood of Christ, I feel like I’m getting closer to achieving peace. I feel like He’s working through me. I feel like I’m the very best person I could possibly be when I’m in that sacred time and space.

I’m well aware that I’m a sinful person. But I’ve been accepted, welcomed, and embraced. I won’t walk away from that. Even when my faith falters and I’m filled with doubt about the choices I’ve made in my life, even when I wonder  if I’m worthy, I can’t walk away from what saved my life.

Yes, it’s living water!  Yes, it changes people. So as long as I can, I will serve God in small ways and I won’t ashamed. It’s not me that’s up there speaking aloud. It’s not me serving. It’s Someone greater. Yes, how great Thou art!

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Art by Liz Lemon Swindle 

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Best Laugh

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An old opponent resurfaced last week in a serendipitous way. This person misbehaved in typical fashion. I had to laugh. There’s comedy in someone intentionally acting spiteful to no avail.

In the moments that I experienced with this person, I felt great fear. (Lessons from The Exorcist) It was the deep intense fear of the devil I felt as a six year old watching The Exorcist. (Boy, bye)But I can now discuss my experiences and even find them humorous.  It could be the beginning of feeling at peace with what happened. Someday I may forgive the actions taken.  Life shaped this person into who they are; I often wonder if the behavior can be helped. This is someone in great need of prayer so, despite my history, I offer prayers.

ede47e0b262582d8c554c67c61c55b56I have to be able to laugh at my past trials. I have withstood physical, mental, and emotional health challenges. Now I’m pushing myself to be physically stronger. When I’m sweating and panting during my workouts, I am empowered by that struggle. I laugh because I’m joyful. I have often prayed to God to soften my heart and the hearts of others. We have to be inspired to open ourselves to light, love, and laughter. We have to be willing and brave. I was a very different person internally ten, twenty, thirty years ago. We all age and mature. I made the effort to change. I opened myself to becoming a better person. I pray that this person find the strength. It’s transformative.

I laugh because I came back from the dead. I laugh because I continue to look evil in the face and stand, possibly not as tall or as strong as I would like, but I stand. I feel indebted to God for being my shield in those awful moments when I wanted to run or hide. I laugh, despite my enemy. I laugh because I survived.

Magic Bullet discovered!

For years, I have sought the solution to that extra ten (occasionally, twenty) pounds I’ve been carrying around since I left college. Like Oprah, I have slimmed down and blown up, from guapa to gordita and back again. I have exercised, kept a food diary, juice cleansed, and cooked farm to table meals but pero nunca gone on an actual diet (because it has the word “die” in it). Depending on the consistency and intensity of my workouts and the kind of meals I am making, I am closer to a healthy weight than I have been in years.  But I have found the magic bullet!  Hallelujah! I now know how to lose excess weight in a week without any sit-ups or crunches, without grocery lists or expensive trips to the farmer’s market, without pills or powders or any other chemicals.  Cholecystectomy!  Say it with me. Call a sis tech to me! You too can be slim and trim with a simple gall bladder removal.
As planned, I had my gall bladder removed last week. After choosing to wait a few months, it was time to check into the hospital at 6 in the morning. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long before I met with my anesthesiologist(a handsome brother with a wry sense of humor; ladies I meant to ask if he wanted to come out to my samba school and meet some of my girls but I ran out of time) and my surgeon. After botching the first attempt at setting me up with an IV, the nurse got an IV going on my left arm and wired me up like the Bionic Woman. Then I was taken into the OR and I was strapped down like they expected to perform an exorcism on me.  The doc struck up a convo about the grammatical skills of high school students and before I could bring up Samba Funk, I was out. As predicted, I woke up in recovery to the nurse saying all had gone well.
My love joined me and he told me the surgeon said they wouldn’t be sending anything to pathology. There were no polyps or cysts; I had gallstones. No waiting for results!  But before I could respond, the fun, as in not, began. I haven’t been that sick since I was pregnant with M. I couldn’t even keep down water. I spent the day in a heap on the bed. 
Each day has brought improvements.  Last year’s extensive recovery had prepared me for the frustration of the physical and emotional challenges and the small victories. Taking a shower, eating a meal, walking around the block are all small miracles I know to not take for granted. Being able to take deep cleansing breaths and laughing, without pain, showed my progress.  I still wake up nauseous. The incision sites still ache. But I am definitely recovering.

While it’s true that I have lost some pounds, I don’t recommend this method of weight loss. What I do recommend is prevention. The research is divided on what causes gallstones; however, being overweight is a contributing factor. Most people choose to continue living/eating status quo after a month of recovery. I have decided to modify my eating habits for life. I am giving up alcohol and processed foods and I will be committing to being mostly vegetarian.  As my Team in Training coach used to always say, health is wealth. I would like to be wealthy for many more years to come. 

More than a parade

Last year, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, I rose before sunrise and began to get dressed for Carnaval.  I had asked to be able to sit on the float in full costume, my Wound-Vac covered in our theme colors.  I began the long process of applying my makeup.  As I applied the beautiful shades of color to my face, I began to feel sad. I had wanted so badly to be off the Wound-Vac.  True, I had never finished learning all the choreography. But the best part of performing in Carnaval is feeling a part of a body, a body of alegria and axe, a body which exudes grace, strength, and pure joy.  With the little machine literally attached to my body, I knew I exuded pain and weakness. I burst into tears and called my mom. “No puedo hacerlo. (I can’t do it.)”  She understood and plan B, which was to sit in the grandstand with M and my mom, went into effect. I took off my beautiful gown and donned my samba school tee.   I stopped crying, grabbed my camera, and headed to the parade.
The morning of SF Carnaval 2014

I cheered loudly for SambaFunk; they were magnificent.  I also cried. I consider it one of the more painful moments during my recovery from surgery. That was nearly a year ago.

I came to SambaFunk through a lovely woman I met on Dance Party. A brilliant dancer, she had asked me to check out her samba community sometime. I expressed mild interest; I had taken two samba classes prior to my difficult pregnancy and had always wished I continued.  A few months passed before I finally took initiative and asked when I could join her in class. On a cold January evening, I walked into the second floor studio of the Malonga and within two hours, I had found a second home. King Theo’s wisdom, love, and positive energy inspired me to take on this new creative and physical challenge.
After my first SambaFunk class in January 2013. Photo by Elise Evans
At exactly this time, I was preparing for a job interview. I would be competing for a vice principal position in a different district. I am convinced the energy I received through my dance class helped boost my confidence. I got the job. I was learning how to be a carnavalesco at the same time I was learning to succeed in a new work environment.  SambaFunk has been more than a dance class. The energia it provides has been a blessing.
Taking part in Carnaval has tapped into so many aspects of my personality.  I rediscovered the superhero in me as a Funky Gogo Love Bomber. I also learned half-marathons are nothing compared to parading nearly two miles in 6-inch platform boots.
GoGo Bombers doing their thing, SF Carnaval 2013. Photo by Yvel Sagaille.
As I struggled with illness, I reexamined the grace and power that is inherent in being a woman, beautifully heralded in my incarnation as a regal Star Mother.  While I didn’t get to parade in Carnaval last year, I was able to take part in the San Diego Brazilian Day parade.
SambaFunk, Brazilian Day San Diego 2014. Photo by Soul Brasil.
My mother and M traveled with me and stood proudly on the sidelines cheering for us.  With each Carnaval, I learn more about costuming and parading.  I also realize it is more than a parade.

Obrigado SambaFunk for welcoming my little family into your embrace.

Rambo and M, Pan-African Film Fest 2014
w M on the red carpet at the Pan-African Film Fest 2014
Thank you for the prayers and love you gave me when I feared the worst about my health and for your loyalty and support during my recovery. Thank you for helping me become the best version of myself.
Preparing for SF Carnaval 2015, M’s first Carnaval

Emancipation

“…The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the Soul…” Walt Whitman
“No tears, no time to cry
Just makin’ the most of life” As sung by Mariah Carey
“I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free…” Civilla Martin and Charles Gabriel 
Lately, I have received good news about my health with little fanfare. No jumping and down. No shouting. No fist-pumping or high-fiving or end zone-dancing.  I think about it.  Instead, I take it in and breathe.   All that training in mindfulness is put into practice for several moments of serenity.  It has made these milestones sweeter somehow. 
In the last two weeks, I took on a new role.   While resuming my professional duties, I also became my own nurse. My morning routine once again shifted to include a wound care session.  Every day, I gathered my supplies: mirror, scissors, gauze pads, wound cleanser spray, and a Muppets bag M got at Subway containing skin protectant film, swabs, large Band-Aids, and Aquacel dressing.  I would remove the previous day’s bandage and shower (oh the joy of a real, warm shower without the incessant beeping alarm or the soggy plastic bags). Then I’d pack my own wound and tell my body to heal, heal so I can be cleared to travel and cleared to exercise. Once a week, I would take measurements as my home health nurses used to do and I began to see rapid progress.  Even before yesterday’s appointment, I knew I would hear good news.  Still, it was nice to hear my nurse say, “You’re free.” 
Of course, this journey is far from over. I will continue to dress my wound with topical ointment. My wound will close in a week or two. The scar from my surgery won’t heal for several months. I will have to be aware of any changes in my body, to see if the IGM is responding to my daily medication. In the immediate future, I will resume exercise to regain muscle and cardiovascular fitness.
I know I could have tied on my new running sneakers last night and gone out for my first run since February’s Superbowl Sunday 5k.  I know I could have worked out this morning.  But as with the removal of the Wound-Vac, the removal of the wound packing felt odd.  As before, I felt vulnerable and exhausted.  I slept better than I have in a few weeks.
 This morning, Rambo and I watched a movie about the end of the world and how one family faced it with serenity and with love.  Because along with wound care technology and the quality medical professionals I am fortunate to work with, I know I have made it through this experience  because of my will, the love of my family and friends, and the serenity that comes with accepting God’s grace. 

All is blessing.  

Being put to the test

Seven days ago, I was a whirling dervish of activity. I began to live this way years ago in an effort to survive.  Too much time on my hands meant too much time in my head.  So I found ways to fill my time and my mind. These days I rush about from home to work to my daughter’s activities to my dance classes and dance community to family gatherings to me time to volunteering to church. It’s not always the least stressful life but it’s a good life. 
It is a good life. I am awake. I can walk. I can talk. I don’t have a life-threatening disease. I have a job, a home, a family, and the greatest friends a person could desire. But this week has tested me greatly.  In addition to the physical challenges of my recovery, there are mental and emotional challenges. I must relearn to sit quietly, do nothing, and wait.  I wait for myself to become comfortable again with the gift of time and space, the blessing of a calendar and schedule wiped clean.  I wait to trust my thoughts, to stand firm in the knowledge that never again will I allow negativity to cloud my life. I know I have learned so much through life experience, that my will to live and to change continues to be strong. I wait for healing.

When I was younger, I used to ponder becoming a contemplative, if only as an oblate to a certain Order or monastery. I used to ponder going on a desert retreat or a silent week-long retreat. Perhaps this time is meant to be that opportunity. May I trust it and seek peace.   

Choosing sides


“Well there’s a dark and troubled side to life
There’s a bright and a sunny side, too
Though we meet with the darkness and strife, 
The sunny side we also may view”  From “Keep on the Sunny Side” 
“That crazy needs to stay on the other side of the room from this kind of crazy.” Me, in conversation with Blues, circa 2012

Happiness is hard work.  Life doesn’t turn into the finale from Hair in which everyone sings and dances to “Let the Sunshine In” simply out of personal desire. I spent a significant part of my life unhappy, both because of my choices and because of my nature.  My journey towards my present state of happiness took effort, emotion, time, and, yes, lots of money.  So I fight to stay happy. 

Blues says I am a chameleon. I can blend into my surroundings.  I adapt to different situations. He says these qualities make me likable and appealing to all kinds of people.  He also says it renders me rather passive and complacent.  I argue that I may be non-confrontational but that, first and foremost, I will focus on survival.  Analogies aside, I will stop being congenial and approachable as needed for my own safety. 

I have lost a few friends in recent years. Once I would have loyally hung in there through someone’s failed attempts at recovery or someone’s refusal to take personal responsibility to seek healing. I would have rationalized or ignored my own feelings and fears.  Eventually I would be dragged down with my loved one, my own battles exacerbated, intensified, and deepened, theirs never fully resolved. Thankfully, and with great pain, I learned to value myself over others. I accepted that I could walk away from unhealthy behaviors and situations and still be a person of integrity. I took responsibility for my own illness and chose to be healed. 

The birth of my daughter cemented my commitment to happiness. My child is a constant reminder of all the beauty and joy in the universe. Through a hug from her little arms or the lullabies sung in her thin little voice, she is the embodiment of grateful mindfulness that I aspire to and also enjoy.  She teaches me that a life of happiness is truly living. 

Happiness can be ephemeral, fleeting, and tenuous.  Daily life has its complications. I cannot control anything but my own response to what happens. So I choose happiness.