I was a few months late coming in for my follow-up x-ray, but as soon as the technician began speaking, it was clear I was right on time.
“How long have you had the pain?” she asked, ready to jot down my response on the form in hand.
“Over a year,” I said matter-of-factly, sounding oblivious to the fact that a year was a long time for such a thing.
She stopped writing on her clipboard and looked up. “Oh honey. I am sorry,” she said like a dear friend would to another.
I wasn’t expecting that—that human response in this sterile room with ominous machines and cold floors and exposing gowns that made me feel small and scared.
“Do you think you need a new doctor?” she asked.
“I’ve been to many doctors and there have been many tests and scans… but everyone keeps saying they can’t find anything wrong,” I explained. “We were hoping that once my body recovered from the two kidney surgeries I had last July, things would go back to normal … but they haven’t. Lately, it’s been getting worse,” I admitted.
I thought she would give me that look – the disconnected one that said “on to the next patient, there’s nothing to be done here.” Instead her voice got strong and feisty, and she leaned in a little. “Keep searching until you get answers,” she said adamantly. “Don’t give up on this, okay? This is not over. You can’t live like this.”
“Okay,” I promised. “I won't give up.” I detected a hint of determination in my voice that I hadn’t heard in awhile. I was certain I was being fueled by this woman’s unexpected support. In all my past scans, this had never happened before. It felt providential, like divine oxygen to my lungs, like an added boost of confidence to my shaky soul. “Thank you,” I said as I laid back and held my breath.
My pain is real. It’s time to gear up for the fight. I am not done. I thought to myself for the first time in many months.
Back in December, my doctor performed a cystoscopy in an attempt to figure out what was amiss. Unfortunately, I came home from the hospital that day with more questions than answers. After careful consideration, I decided it was time to surrender, at least for a bit. I’d experienced many months of hospitals, scans, tests, unanswered questions, and hopeless faces. I decided the best thing to do next was gather myself, be still, and trust that in time I would know what to do next.
And now, in the confines of a small, dark room, I was given an empowering message: It was time for a comeback. I was not finished yet.
As I drove home from the hospital I thought about an exquisite piece of writing, perhaps one of the most powerful I’d ever read, entitled, “She Was Done,” by Adrienne Pieroth. When I shared it on The Hands Free Revolution Facebook page, I asked members of our community to use comment boxes to identify which line in the piece most resonated with them. That’s when the piece rose to a whole new level. As I read each reader’s highlighted line, the selected declaration became a masterpiece of its own. Some lines made me breathe easier. Some lines took my breath away. Some made me nod in agreement and feel less alone. Some made me feel like celebrating. But all of them made me feel like living, as opposed to simply existing. And it was clear I wasn’t alone.
As lines were posted and readers liked and shared, I could see people rising up … I could feel ah-ha moments happening … I could sense weary souls being resuscitated. A few of the most shared lines from Adrienne’s piece were these:
“She was done beating herself up and being so hard on herself as if either of these things led to changes or made her feel better. She realized kindness and compassion towards herself and others accomplished more.”
“She was done seeing hurt as something to be avoided, foreseen or somehow her fault. She realized hurt shaped her as much as joy and she needed both to learn and grow.”
“She was done trying to figure it all out, know the answers, plan everything and see all the possibilities before she began. She realized life was unfolding and that the detours and unexpected moments were some of the best parts.”
“She was done with regrets. She realized if she'd known better, she would of done better.”
“She was done being tired. She realized it came from spending her time doing things that didn’t bring her joy or feed her soul.”
“She was done not following the desires that yelled out in her soul every day. She realized if she did nothing about them, they died a quiet death that took a piece of her soul with them.”
“She was done being something she was not. She realized the purpose of life was to be truly, happily who she was born to be…and if she paused long enough to remember, she recognized herself.”
The sheer volume of comments magnified the hope of the piece. It was as if someone gave the readers lyrics to the song of their hearts and they all began singing in unison, voices strong and triumphant.
“She Was Done” was an anthem for renewal … recovery … rejuvenation … and revival.
“She Was Done” was a comeback anthem for life.
And I felt I had stumbled on it at just the right time.
I got home from my x-ray to find a hot meal prepared by my husband waiting for me. Sitting around the table with my three favorite people was just what I needed. My daughter Avery said grace. As per the last 22 days, her prayer involved cats.
“Dear God, thank you for helping Natalie write the note that made Daddy say yes to us adopting little Paisley. Thank you for letting us save the lives of all 6 kittens. Please let us find homes for the remaining 5. Please don’t let them have to go into the PetSmart shelter. And please let Mama be okay.”
“Thank you,” I said to her.
“I am not done,” I said to myself.
After dinner my daughters and I prepared six tiny syringes of medication for the kittens. I was quite the pro by now. I held up little Lacie first. She had not been with us originally. When the mother cat and her kittens were rescued, Lacie was so weak and unresponsive that she needed immediate medical treatment.
I then lifted Madras and Clover, the nearly indistinguishable two who I found lifeless one night shortly after their arrival. I remember crying as the two kittens drug themselves across the floor to get to the food I’d set out. I remember how the cat shelter owner came immediately to take all the kittens to the emergency vet. I remember her warning me that those two probably wouldn’t make it through the night. Something told me they would survive. I could see they were fighters.
And now here we are, watching all six of the kittens run, jump, and play … so full of life.
I don't think it’s any coincidence my family has spent the first month of our summer giving life to these amazing little beings. At just the right time, they’re serving as a powerful reminder of the lesson I most often forget. I must care for myself as I care for the ones I love. What this means is, I need nourishment. I need rest. I need playtime. I need love. I need medical attention if something’s not right. We all do. And sometimes this critical reminder is given to us through the words of a kind stranger working in an imagining center or through an author on the Internet. And somehow these words become an anthem of renewal … recovery … rejuvenation … and revival.
These words become a comeback anthem for life.
My anthem sounds like this:
I’m not done. I have so much yet to do. There are things I have not seen. There are moments in my children’s lives I want to witness. I want to grow old with my husband. I want to write more books that help people. But I must fight. I must refuse to accept there is nothing wrong. I must be my own advocate. I am determined to find someone who can help me get past the pain so I can truly live.
As I reflect back on our time ministering to these precious kittens, something stands out. Oftentimes Avery would just sit with kittens and sing. Apparently they had a favorite tune: “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. Quietly, yet fiercely, Avery would sing these lyrics over and over to the kittens:
“This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now, I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me.”
Perhaps the kittens took those lyrics to heart. Perhaps there’s a little something in that song for all of us. Perhaps if you don’t have an anthem, you can start with Fight Song. Avery sings it so beautifully here.
My friends, if today finds you weary, confused, burdened, joyless, hurting, or empty, I have a message for you:
Don’t give up. You are not done. There is so much life yet to experience. Start by giving yourself some nourishment—perhaps a decent meal, a short nap, a walk around the block, or a chat with a trusted friend. Seek professional help if that’s what you need. Put yourself first on the priority list. Your people want you to be well and happy. They want you around for a long time. You must care for yourself as you care for them. Come back to life. Come back to joy. It’s time to run and jump and play like you once did.
You’re a fighter. I can sense it. Hold my hand. I’m a fighter too.
Together we’ll lift our voices high, and let the world know we are not done.
My friends, you may have noticed in some of the photos I'm wearing beautiful metal cuffs that read “only love today” and “come as you are.” These phrases and metal cuffs were suggested by YOU as items you hoped to see in the Hands Free Shop. I can't tell you how grateful and strengthened I feel when I look down and see these anthems on my wrist. Although “see flowers not weeds” quickly sold out when I showed it on the Facebook page, it is back in stock today (quantities limited). The following three phrases on copper and aluminum cuffs can be pre-ordered now and will ship to you in mid-July:
ONLY LOVE TODAY
COME AS YOU ARE
TODAY MATTERS MORE THAN YESTERDAY
One final note: Beginning tomorrow, this blog and The Hands Free Revolution Facebook page will be quiet for the month of July as I care for myself and spend time with my family. I would be so delighted if you might choose to join me in a media break so you can quiet the noise of the world and hear the anthem in your heart. I leave you with a photo of the newest member of our family: Paisley Stafford. As Natalie said in her letter to her daddy: “I knew I loved her from the moment I saw her.” My friends, I love you all and cherish your hand in mine as we fight to grasp what matters most in this precious life. See you in August.