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The "Wu Word" Blog

November 2018

Keep the Faith

Approximately a year ago on I am sure what was a cold and frigid day as today or these days, I was shocked to receive a letter and card from one of my long-lost penpal from Europe.  I had not heard from her in at least a year or more.  Since she became a mother herself and since I became officially biologically motherless from a medically necessary hysterectomy back in 2015, I could only imagine that our friendship would fade and fall away.  Through neither of our faults, but through life happening and having to lead and live life as it keeps on going.  This dear penpal of mine came into my life over ten years ago.  We fervently wrote long and lengthy letters on cute stationary heavily decked out in stickers and in scented strawberry pens.  We kept postal services alive and postal workers employed.  We even met face-to-face on freezing night in midtown Manhattan, chatting endlessly to match our lengthy letters. Somehow, we always connected in the cold in the warmth of our friendship. We kept our friendship going even when it was clear how vastly different we were when it came to our differences on romantic relationships, marriage, children, and, above all else, religion and faith. 
 
She was not religious out of choice, but out of upbringing.  Her mother was a seemingly devout Christian who believed in prayer, baptism, and church services and worship.  As for me and certainly due to my upbringing of a scientific father and overly religious biological mother, out of all the places in the world that I felt the most uncomfortable in, it was in any place of worship.   Growing up, the majority of my friends were Catholics.  They always welcomed me to Church services and particularly around Christmas time.  I felt immensely uncomfortable and like some traitor and sinner when I sat in the pews in Church.  I was told that I was a sinner if I did not go to Church and if I did not have Church friends, and there I was in the pews not knowing any of the prayers, scriptures, songs, psalms, and sermons.  I was a stranger in a strange land.  For the longest time when people asked me what my religion was, I said I was ‘Agnostic,’ not even truly knowing what that meant.  Then, I would switch it up and say: “Well, I’m spiritual and not religious.”  I was not an Atheist.  I always believe in God, religion, faith, miracles, and, above all else, hope.  There is always hope. 
 
Faith changed for me in 2015 when I was at one of lowest points and beckoned to go to Church to play music on an abandoned piano.  It was my time and my way of healing and helping myself.  Over time, my discomfort at going to Church slowly changed into a seeker and searcher to learn about all religions, faiths, and beliefs.   I began to go to all different types of Churches and read philosophical and spiritual works.  I even went on a couple spiritual and relaxation retreats.  I wanted to understand myself and others and what we all believed in or did not believe in and why or why not. 
 
In the letter from my long-lost penpal, it was clear that she was struggling with faith and hope because one of her children was born with a severe and rare genetic illness.  Due to the illness, her daughter could not eat on her own and her speech and physical capabilities were either non-existent or extremely delayed.  In my friend’s letter, she wrote: “I can tell you all of this because you know what it is like to struggle and fight for life, and that health is the greatest gift there is.  Some days are so hard and I am exhausted, but then I see that she has this light in her eyes.  She is so happy.”
 
Without expecting a response back because of the immense stress she was experiencing, I wrote her back.  I told her that there is always hope and do not give up.  I told her that I would pray for her daughter. 
 
A few months later, I received a letter response from her again.  She wrote to me: “I am surprised when you wrote that you would go to Church and pray for my daughter.  I was even more surprised that you now go to Church and these other places of worship to pray.  I do not even know if I believe in God anymore.  If there was a God then why would he let my daughter suffer?  How can God let a little baby suffer?” 
 
Reading her words brought me back to many painful and even life and death moments in my life when I was in my absolute lowest moments in my life and had questioned aloud and in writing: “Why me? Why do bad things happen to good people?  Did I do something in my past life to deserve this?  Why would you do this God?”  I never came up with a concrete answers.  I did not have the answer to give to my dear friend, but I told her this, “Life is full of pain and suffering to learn about gratitude, compassion, kindness, love, strength, hope, and so much beauty that comes out from ugly. Our faith is tested during these very dark times that we are all go through at some point in our lives that teach us about being grateful rather than resentful and to be better rather than bitter.  All I can say is to try to keep the faith, for if there is not hope and faith, then what is there?”    
 
When I sent out my letter to her, I found myself dumbfounded at how far my faith and spiritual journey had come and is still coming along.  The me who was uncomfortable and even fearful of being at Church has now become the me who is the very first one to go to places of worship of all different faiths and say to others: “I go to anywhere and at anytime where there is any faith.”  Spirituality is a vital part of who we are, just as our mental, emotional, and physical parts are to make the whole of entire well-being. 
 
What is your faith?  Why is this your faith?  Is it because of your upbringing?  Is it because of life experiences or some life-altering experience?  Do you think your upbringing influenced your faith? What is the difference between faith, religion, and spiritual?    What is spiritual?  Are you a seeker and searcher and what is it that you are seeking or searching for?    
 
Keep the faith, my friends.
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 

Hero

And, just like that, it is November.
 
The leaves blanket the grounds in their rich crimson and golden hues.  The air is cool and crisp.  It is my favorite time of the year—not only because of the beauty and glory all around us in Mother Nature’s pristine power, but because November is the month of gratitude.  For me, and I know you have  read it and heard it time and time again from me, everyday is a day to learn and be thankful for because as bad as it can be, it can be even worse and the best is always yet to come. 
 
Many know this little factoid about me receiving two kidney transplants, which taught me an abundance of lessons and gave me the greatest of gifts at a young age with #1 being that Life is a Gift.  Every single day, I have the privilege of opening up this gift by learning something new, getting to know the familiar, going into the unfamiliar, adventuring, and enjoying my simple routines that I savor and love the most.  Deep within this gift of life is a privilege of meeting with many organ donor families and living donors.  It is probably the best part of the gift.  I am like a star struck fan, all speechless or blubbering fool when I am around organ donor families and living donors.  I never know what to say.  I never know what to do.  I hedge on asking about their deceased loved one and take cues from them as to whether or not he or she will tell me their stories. 
 
I have had the honor to meet many organ donor families.  Some have adopted me.  Some sport photos of their loved ones that died and share their stories and memories with tears rolling down their faces.  I cried with them.  I hugged them as hard as I could.   When they share with me, I am humbled and put in a place of delicate vulnerability of thinking about my anonymous organ donor families even more.  Whenever I am blessed to meet a living organ donor or organ donor family, I feel full throttle deep within me that 1) I would not be alive if it were not for my two organ donors and their families and 2) Grief never ends and it goes in these waves—some waves crash and knock you over until you are just trying to keep your head above water and other waves are calm waters that gently wash up to tickle your toes on the shoreline. 
 
Out of all the organ donor families I have been extremely blessed to meet, there is one organ donor mother who I still think about.  I do not remember her name.  I remember her.  I met her in Houston, Texas at the 2014 Transplant Games of America.  She was of short stature and had dark cropped hair.  Her warm smile quivered at the edges that turned downward when she shared with me: “My daughter killed herself.”
 
I did not know what to say.  I did not say anything.  I think my face said it all and more than words can possibly express.
 
She continued, “She was 15-years-old.  She had bipolar nearly her whole life.  She heard voices.  She finally could not take the voices, so she killed herself.”
 
I still was speechless and wordless and could only muster: “I’m so sorry.  That’s horrible.  Can I give you a hug?”
 
I wrapped her in the tightest hug that my body could manage.  She continued, “When people hear that she committed suicide, they look at me with sadness and shame. They do not know what to say.  Most people do not know what to say when someone dies, but when someone commits suicide, it is on a whole other level.  People have no idea how your mind can play tricks on you and betray you.  You hear about cancer and, don’t get me wrong, cancer sucks and all illnesses suck, but there is still a stigmatism with mental illnesses that will never, ever really go away.  They have no idea that my daughter was suffering just like someone with cancer, but if she had cancer then she would’ve gained more sympathy than with what she suffered with.  I have nothing to be ashamed of.  Nothing can bring my daughter back, but my daughter saved lives, and this is what matters.” 
 
In a feeble voice that sounded probably even more pathetic, I said: “Well, your daughter is a hero.” 
 
She tipped her head slightly and said softly, “I meet many transplant recipients.  They want to live forever.  They will fight for life.  My daughter could not because of her illness.  She wanted to die.  Maybe there is another mother now who has their daughter alive from my daughter.  To me, it is not about heroism.  It is about doing the right thing.”
 
Recently, a donor son and donor sister both said the same thing to me that he never gave their kidneys to their mother and brother, respectively, to be recognized or to be a hero, but, as they said:  “I did not think twice. I knew it would be me.  If someone you loved needed help and you could help then you would do it.  No recognition or heroism.  It’s not rocket science.  It’s the right thing to do.” 
 
I have been thinking a lot about this organ donor mom and what she said to me.  I have been thinking about these other organ donor families and living donors I have met and about heroism and what really makes a hero.  We can know the right thing to do, but to do it can be immensely difficult and takes a courage that maybe we never knew we had within us.  I have been thinking about how the place people are in, the frame of mind, the situations, the emotions, and even more and beyond would push people to be the perpetrator and the victim all in one.  This organ donor mother is right—I could not ever imagine and cannot ever fully grasp not wanting to live and wanting to end it all because, to me and because of my organ donors and their families, life is such a gift and from this gift is hope and a fight and deep passion to live. 
 
This is my tribute to all the organ donor families and living donors I have had the absolute privilege and honor or meeting.   This is my mere attempt at gratitude in November but in every single day.  Meeting them and thinking of my organ donor families daily makes me want to be the best of me and makes me realize just how powerful love, kindness, and giving really are.  Meeting them also brings me to place of vulnerability of the struggles that each of us deal with day in and day out and to the point that a person may not want to live anymore.  As for ‘Hero,’ what does this actually mean?  How far will you go for the person you love the most?  Or for someone you do not even know?  A complete stranger?  Who do you identify as a hero?  Have you known the right thing to do but could or could not do it? 
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 
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