Beyond September

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” 

-Jimmy Dean

Life has a way of giving us things we never expected. Moments that cause us to stop dead in our tracks and challenges how we think.

Although it may sound weird to some to memorialize such an event,  22 years ago yesterday was the day I became physically disabled. Technically it was the first of many days I started to experience severe side effects from radiation treatments that caused me to become physically disabled. It’s amazing to think back on how life has changed since then, in good ways and in some not so great ways.

Growing up, I never imagined becoming disabled but I honestly cannot imagine life without my disabilities. They have strengthened my faith, my character, and every little part of me. They have given me opportunities I never dreamed of. Being disabled has taught me many things including the true meaning of perseverance and humility. That sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone, take a look from a different angle, and readjust your plans in order to fully embrace change. That there will be moments when all you can do is dust off your hands, say “okay God, I give up” and hope for the best.

But above all some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years are to always look for the simple things, to have an attitude of gratitude and to know that God may not always be fair but He is generous. There are times in life where nothing seems to make sense, things don’t work out how you expected them to, and everything feels like it’s going wrong. But if you sit back and take the time to notice the tiniest of blessings in life like the sunset or the moon at night, you’d be surprised at how much you have to be thankful for. To realize how generous God is even when things aren’t going as you planned.

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One of my slightly embarrassing childhood dreams was to be an Olympic gymnast and to go on to compete at gymnastics at a college level. After watching the Olympics one summer, I fell in love with gymnastics and immediately begged my mom to enroll me in a local gym. It is such an exhilarating feeling to be on the uneven bars, flipping through the air. Obviously once I got sick with cancer and became disabled, plans changed. However, years later, after re-teaching myself to walk and when physical therapy started to become repetitive, I quit therapy and picked up gymnastics again. This time though they were one-on-one sessions with my coach and everything we did was specially modified to fit my needs. I wasn’t on a team and didn’t compete but that didn’t matter. I was just happy to be back at doing something I loved and never thought I’d be able to do again.

Life is not what I planned as a child but it has brought me so many wonderful adventures that I never even imagined existed. 

“Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.”

-Richelle Goodrich

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Humble but also courageous

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. “
-C. S. Lewis

Growing up with three older brothers and a dad that was a referee for high school and college football, I think it’s safe to say sports have always been part of my life. From knowing each position, anticipating the play calls, and even memorizing the roster just in case, I was raised to know football.

As I watched my brother coach his team earlier this week, a thought crossed my mind. If I had to guess how many hours in my life I’ve spent watching football games and practices, it would probably come out to some ridiculous number. I totally enjoy watching a good football game and seeing both of my brothers coach but how many times have I’ve been on the other side of the fence watching someone else play the game? How many times have I chosen to just sit back and not actually participate? And not just in sports but rather in life? To confuse selflessness with self-denial.

To live life selflessly, putting others before ourselves is truly noble. There is nothing more beautiful than someone who forgets themselves, their own personal agenda, and desires in order to make life better for others. But at the same time, I feel like there’s a fine line between selflessness and self-denial. That sometimes we become content in watching others play and worrying about those around us that we never really put ourselves out there. So often we think by putting ourselves first we are being selfish or lacking in humility but that’s not necessarily the case. Rather, we are actually helping those around us by becoming who we are truly meant to be. It takes courage to be selfless but it also takes courage to step outside of our box or follow our dreams instead of those around us.

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Watching my brothers coach and listening to them talk about their teams, it’s obvious they were meant to coach. They are both passionate about the game and care about their players as though they are family. Although I love watching football, I am in no way meant to be a coach. We all have our own different interests and different abilities. We each are created to fulfill a specific role in life. It is by denying ourselves and ignoring our unique talents that we act selfishly. By just watching someone play at life and always standing on the other side of the fence.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak,
courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. “
-Winston Churchill

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Simple Joy

“The more you have, the more you are occupied. The less you have, the more free you are.”
-Mother Teresa

Something I’ve been trying to work on lately is the idea of living simply. Not just by being more conscious of the things I own and getting rid of unnecessary junk but in making better decisions for myself. Being aware of what makes me happy and at peace. Knowing what is best for me doesn’t always have to be what’s best for everyone else. Recognizing the relationships that tend to tear me down and choosing to be around people who build me up instead. Being grateful for the present moment, content with what I have. And taking time each day to stop and listen to God.

This past weekend, my family got together for an early birthday celebration. Although my brothers wanted to do something big and special, I was content just hanging out at home with family and of course lots of good food and drinks. Sounds simple and basic but it turns out, I really like simple. I don’t need a huge celebration or some extravagant thing to remind me how wonderful life is or how loved I am. I see it in the sunrise, in the people that cross my path everyday, or in staring at the moon at night.

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Life and the world around us can be so complicated, full of constant noise and busyness. It’s so easy to start comparing ourselves to others, to get caught up in worrying about the “what ifs”, and all the other issues we face on a daily basis. When we live simply, we start to prioritize what really matters to us. We are able to live in the present moment, to be more open and receptive. To be filled with gratitude and appreciative of the world around us.

“Remain humble. Remain simple. The more you are so, the more good you will do.”

-St. John Vianney

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Random ponderings

“If you judge others, you have no time to love them”

-Mother Teresa

One of my biggest pet peeves in life is people who judge others. Nothing bothers me more than someone who judges a person without knowing the whole story or at least trying to put themselves in that person’s shoes. As much as I try not to, I’m definitely guilty of judging others. It is part of human nature and is almost impossible to avoid.

Since Easter of this past year, I have felt particularly drawn to Mary Magdalene. After reading the gospel of John (20: 11-18) , when Jesus appeared to just her after the Resurrection, I was so struck by her femine genius. I was struck by her desire to believe but to also need personal reassurance. To be receptive but also sensitive like most females, and even men, tend to be. Personally I can relate to wanting one more moment with someone I care about or desiring that personal friendship in order to feel welcome.

Over the past few months, I’ve tried to understand Mary Magdalene better. Society and most Christians tend to give her a bad rep but I like to believe otherwise. Maybe we would have even been friends?! But in my random thinking, I started to ponder, what do you think Mary the Mother, the Blessed Virgin, thought of Mary Magdalene? Most mothers would probably not want their son hanging out with a former prostitute or even tax collectors but Jesus did anyways. And I’m sure being without sin as she was, Mary didn’t judge her son’s choice of friends but the thought led me to another important point. If Mary was fully human and didn’t judge Mary Magdalene for who she was then why do we judge?

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As Christians and for all people, we are taught to treat others the way we want to be treated, to love our neighbor as you love yourself. We are taught to love not to judge. I don’t know anyone who truly appreciates being judged all the time, constantly picking out all their flaws. And if we don’t appreciate bring treated that way, why do it to someone you love?

“Let God be the judge, you’re job today is to be a witness”

-Warren Wiersbe

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24 years

“Go through life like a little child, always trusting, always full of simplicity and humility, content in everything, happy in every circumstance.”

-St. Faustina

Tomorrow marks 24 years since my first surgery to remove a brain tumor. It marks the beginning of an interesting adventure and my struggle with cancer.

Thinking about where I was at that time compared to where I am now brings back so many memories and emotions. Feelings of uncertainty, being scared, realizing how quickly life can change. Trying to be brave, courageous, and fearless because that’s the only option you have. To having feelings of gratitude for every moment, constantly hoping and trusting that the best is yet to come.

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Being diagnosed with brain cancer at age 5 and immediately undergoing surgery seems unfair and wrong to most people. Like why does someone that young have to go through something so difficult?! But looking back I truly believe it was a blessing in disguise. It taught me how to be resilent in all siuations, to have courage when everything seems terrifying, and to remain calm yet determined. To know that I am not always in control. To find joy in the smallest things like being able to stand up on my own or being able to walk outside instead of being stuck in a hospital bed. Above all, it laid the foundation for me to learn how to trust in God and in those around me, to hope for the best, and to always have childlike faith. 

Shortly after being diagnosed, I remember a social worker came in that day to my room and gave me a cloth doll that was completely blank. The worker told me to pretend the doll was me and to draw on it how I was feeling. When I handed it back to the social worker, she just gave me a look of shock or disgust. I guess she expected me to draw someone in pain with needles sticking into the arms but instead I drew a smiling, happy girl dressed in a cute pink top with purple shorts. Maybe that was a representation of how I felt; a girl who was smiling, completely fearless, and had faith that everything would be okay. 

Thinking back to 24 years ago, it wasn’t the best part of my life but thankfully it wasn’t the end either. Experiencing something like cancer at such a young age may not seem fair but the life lessons I learned are irreplacable. Even now, I sometimes have to remind the adult version of me to let things go and remember those lessons from the past. To embrace the younger version of myself full of wonder, fearlessness, and childlike faith.

“Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers and were glad when you found them. Become that child again.”

-C.S. Lewis. 

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Falling with style

“If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies, how very different our ideals of beauty would be”

-Anonymous

Beauty, what is truly the definition of beauty and beautiful?

I feel like so many times, the meaning of beauty differs with each person and often changes with perspective. For example, what I may see as beautiful, my friend might disagree based on her personal preference or opinions. Over time, our society has created a distorted view of beauty and social media really hasn’t helped this. We have a tendency to place an emphasis on only physical beauty, always looking good, and fitting that perfect mold.

A couple of weeks ago while volunteering with a high school youth group, I fell head first into a chair. It was one of my less than graceful moments where my feet just didn’t want to cooperate with the rest of my body. Somehow my head was fine and missed the majority of the chair. However, I hit my face and got a nice little cut above my eyebrow which ended up needing a few stitches. Although the stitches were barely noticeable, I felt like someone straight out of the movie Nightmare Before Christmas with black stitching right above my eye. It could have been way more worse than it was but I definitely wasn’t happy with this new facial accessory.

Thankfully, besides my face I didn’t get hurt physically, but it was a blow to my self-esteem. Here I was trying to be a good volunteer and role model and I stupidly trip over my feet, busting my face open. Okay that’s a bit dramatic but I felt like an idiot.

The thing is whenever I have a serious fall like that, my mind instantly starts to focus on every little insecure feeling inside of me. I immediately start doubting and second guessing myself. Thinking I’m a failure, that I’m ugly, a burden, and completely worthless. Something I struggle with and everyone does at some point is having self-worth, having confidence in myself, and knowing that I’m beautiful in my own unique way. Moments like that fall immediately take me to the days when I didn’t have facial movement, when I was embarrassed to go into public because of my looks. They remind me of my disabilities, of how different I am from others and causes me to feel inadequate.

It’s only two weeks later, stitches are gone and my face is healing very quickly. Already the scar has pretty much disappeared! My self-esteem has not yet completely recovered from the fall but I’m trying to remind myself everyday that I am beautiful in my own unique way and that I am not worthless. That I play a role in life which was made just for me. And that what makes me different is what makes me beautiful.

“No matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and honesty are written across her face, she will be beautiful.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

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A simple smile

“We shall never know the good a simple smile can do”

-Mother Teresa

While searching for quotes for this blog, I came across this cute and very true saying that captured the idea of this post.

“Smile. Have you ever noticed how easily puppies make human friends? Yet all they do is wag their tails and fall over.”

-Walter Anderson

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May 20, Victoria Day in Canada, reminds me to be grateful for my smile and how a simple smile is a beautiful gift. It marks the day my mom and I drove home from Toronto after undergoing two surgeries to restore facial movement in my face and most importantly, be able to smile again!

After being overdosed with radiation when I was 7 years old to destroy my brain cancer, a million different things went wrong. I was no longer able to walk or function on my own but the one thing that was the most devastating to me was that I had lost total facial movement. I could no longer smile, frown, or even give someone a dirty look. My face stayed expressionless and my cheeks became puffy and full almost like chipmunk cheeks. As a result of this, I also drooled all the time which was really lovely.

I spent six years of my life without a smile or any facial movement which is crazy to think of now. It was always an adventure going out in public because people would stare at me or make rude comments. It’s human nature to stare and I know sometimes the stares were more out curiosity but needless to say, going shopping was not always fun. During those years, I underwent two surgeries to try and restore movement but unfortunately neither were very successful. 

Thankfully though, two years after that failed attempt, I was able to get an appointment with a doctor in Canada who specialized in restoring facial movement in children and those born cleft palates. After a very long conversation and talking with other doctors, he agreed to help get my smile back!

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It has now been 15 years since those surgeries to restore facial movement. I remember the first time my muscle twitched in my cheek and the feeling of really smiling again instead of just smiling in my heart. It was an incredible feeling, something I had missed for so many years. Every now and then, my face still twitches which I remember the doctor saying would be normal and just a sign that everything is working correctly.  And not only do I have my smile, my face is starting to become more defined. Did I mention it’s been 15 years later and I’m still seeing the effects of the surgery?! There are things in life that make you beyond grateful, this is definitely one.

I think we often forget the joy a simple smile can have. I try not to take my smile for granted but some days I do. It’s so easy to frown, to be negative, or just have a cold look on our face. But smile instead because you never know what good it can do!

 “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

–Thich Nhat Hanh

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