living with what is …

day lily 2017 - 1

2017 day lily from my garden

If I ever believed that I had control over the circumstances of my life, that decisively ended when John Foster and I were told we would not be able to have biological children. Up until then, my life had moved forward on a seemingly known path in a given order: graduate from high school, go to college, find a job, get married, be a part of a community – then a permanent detour. Fast forward to 2002 when my life was forever divided, torn–in–two when John died suddenly at 45 while I was away on a business trip. And twelve years later, I would hear the words, “You have ovarian cancer;” followed in two short years with, “The ovarian cancer has recurred; we can treat the cancer as a chronic condition, but it will eventually kill you.”

I have no control over these circumstances. None of the situations were ones I would have chosen. I lamented and grieved the myriad of losses that came with each unexpected change. Naming losses was part of my process: cut-off in body-soul-spirit by death, the loss of shared memories, less energy to spend time with family, a diminished ability to do the work I love, and fewer options for travel to visit friends. On some days, I was dissatisfied and angry about the lack of control, each turn of life’s events, and the pain and suffering that went along with the twists of time. On other days I felt optimistic and energetic. Emotions, like circumstances, seemed to change with the clouds.

One of the things I am told directly and overhear as I sit in waiting rooms these days is to treat cancer by fighting and battling the disease. I read obituaries, “She lost her battle with cancer.” Or, “He fought hard to the end against cancer.” More generally, the culture around us supports that idea that all of life is a contest with winners and losers; it is up to us to compete and grab what we can for our families and ourselves. And, if you have cancer, just stay positive and fight to win; you can do it!

But I have come to understand that fighting and battling against reality create more suffering. I see that dissatisfaction and fighting increase my wish for things to be different, to be other than they are. When I finally stopped trying to change circumstances that I had no control over and acknowledged the reality of the present, I began to find peace. The only way forward, the only way to a calm centered heart, was to start from where I was: living with what is.

Do not confuse peace and calmness with resignation or indifference to reality. I have not turned away from life. Instead, I am choosing to fully engage with all that is present: joy and pain, laughter and sadness, light and dark, hope and fear. Rather than judging myself or my circumstances as good or bad, I ask myself, “How can I be present with what is in this moment? How can I act generatively and creatively given what is? What can I do today that is beneficial in the context of what is?”

Life is not fair. We each have life experiences that are easy and hard to varying degrees. We each experience events that are beyond our control. And, while I do not always feel like “living with what is,” I’m trying to learn what it means to engage and embrace what is with grace and the knowledge that I am surrounded by love.

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21 Responses to living with what is …

  1. Robin says:

    I love being in your present. xo♡

  2. Melanie A. Miller Garrett says:

    Thank you for these, powerful and true words. What a blessing to me, in my journey! All the best to you, in yours!

  3. So many losses, Kathleen. You may not be fighting, but you are wrestling with the angels. “I will not let you go until you grant me a blessing.” You have granted me a blessing in reading this. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Shirley. Indeed the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel has been on my mind today as I draft the next essay. Wrestling can be transforming, as Jacob allowed it to be. Peace and love to you on your own journey.

  4. Joan johnson says:

    Prayers for you and your family. I was not aware of what you shared. You will always be the sweet little girl and boy visiting my mom and dad. Love you

  5. Cathy Willis says:

    What a beautiful piece of writing. Prayers your way.

  6. Norma Diller says:

    Thank you for sewing seeds of faith, grace, vulnerability, love. May they be multiplied many times over in the lives of all who are blessed by your words. May you receive blessings beyond measure in return. Prayers abound!

  7. Kel Friesen says:

    Your spirit is amazing, Kathleen. Although I feel what happened to Miss Jane was SO unfair, she, like you, embraced the present, lived it as fully as she could as long as she could. She was a model for me that I’m unsure I’ll be able to match should I encounter the same circumstance. I was a lucky and fortunate guy to have her as my partner in life. Jon is lucky and fortunate to have you as his partner. I will continue to pray that the life you have will be full, and filled with as much joy and beauty as you can handle. Thank you for sharing the wisdom that must come with having to seriously consider circumstances in this life.

    • There are many times that I long for “just one more” talk with Jane. Her love of life and willingness to live in each moment speaks loudly to me across more than five years. I deeply appreciate your prayers and hopes for joy and beauty. Thank you.

  8. James Conrad says:

    What a wondrous essay. I feel some of what you have expressed as I have lost a wife and a daughter to cancer, both way too young. As a cancer survivor myself I have, and sometimes still do, feel the anger and resentment for the disease. But I have also learned to let “go and let God” take control, as he has all along even before I faced the fact that he is in control.. Praise his Holy Name.

    • Thank you for sharing your own story of loss and grief here, James. Yes, I too find that the experiences have ongoing ups and downs. Sending peace and blessings as you experience the changes presented by life, while trusting God.

  9. Kathryn says:

    So many, many things to respond to! I’d love to visit with you face to face and hear even more of your thoughts on your life’s journey and living with what is. Your ability to hold your own history and experiences, turn them around in your hands to get a better view, and lift them back up to the Creator is a gift to all of us.

    • I’m looking forward to our next conversation, Kathryn. Your words of reflection offer a beautiful image of the living and writing process. May you identify moments of grace as you experience living with what is in your own life.

  10. Pingback: faith and doubt: living with what is | Contemplative Photography

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