This is a picture of the dock I always try to envision when I'm getting scans. This is from our honeymoon.
Monday, May 30, 2022
This is a picture of the dock I always try to envision when I'm getting scans. This is from our honeymoon.
I spotted the same dock where Mike and I had spent quite a bit of time on our honeymoon. The Jamaican waters shone so clear you could watch colorful fish for yards in all directions. The weather felt perfect, and the winds danced playfully across the water's surface every time it flitted past. I could hardly wait to reach the end of the pier, but when I finally drew closer, instead of seeing Mike, a little girl sat there, kicking her feet in the water.
I thought about turning back, but she motioned me forward and pointed to a raft bobbing expectantly with a Viking sail that fluttered, opening and closing. "Come on, silly" she hollered. "I've been wanting to show you something."
So, I edged forward. And even though just a dream, I kept thinking how it felt all wrong this time. It's true that I usually picture this place when I’m getting procedures, radiation, cancer treatments, or scans. After all, this location holds one of my most beautiful memories.
On that dock, God gave me a sign.
A year before I first saw that place during my honeymoon, Mike and I actually broke up. At the time, I worked as a single mom with four kids. Mike didn't have any children of his own, and I didn’t think it seemed fair to marry him and rob him of his right to have a biological child. So, after quite a while of dating, I broke up with him as cleanly as possible, and told him he needed to find someone to have kids with.
We both cried. The thought of not being with him romantically, or otherwise, seemed almost unfathomable. But I needed to give him that chance, time to really process things and decide if my kids and I were the right choice for him.
I brought a mason jar along with a notebook and pens. I pulled them from my bag, and we both sat on a cement sidewalk near a park and wrote a letter to each other. It was all of the things we hadn’t been able to say during our relationship and wished we would have. We also laid out our hopes and dreams. Then we put the notes in the mason jar, brought them to a place we both loved, and buried the jar. "We'll meet up a year from today, catch up, and dig up the mason jar together?" Mike asked.
"Yes," I said, "and then I can hear all about how amazing your new life is."
"And I can hear all about yours." He nodded.
"A lot can happen in a year," I said, and we went our separate ways.
But as fate would have it, we ended up getting back together, and a few months before our wedding day approached, we went and dug up the mason jar and decided to open it on our honeymoon at the end of a dock in Jamaica.
I’d never expected our letters to be so similar, to relay the exact same things. It felt like a confirmation from God that we'd done the right thing. That's probably why I cried on the dock and hugged Mike after we read our own words to each other. Then I promptly jumped into the water and pulled him in after me. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
Here a pic of the day we dug it back up:
So, that’s why I picture the place frequently because despite pain and hardship and cancer, that memory always makes me realize that I still have the best life ever. Plus, it brings with it a semblance of peace, that God does have a plan. Mike is always there when I picture it though, not this little girl. And hearing her high-pitched voice, instead of his baritone one, really took me off-guard.
"It’s only a little farther," she said. "You can do it." With the pain in my back, the dock seemed much longer than ever before. My gait had slowed to a molasses pace, and I struggled forward until I gingerly lowered my body a few feet away from hers.
"What’s with the raft?" I finally asked.
"I'll tell you in a minute. But isn't there something else more important that you wanted to talk about, something that's been bothering you?"
“Not really,” I said.
She suddenly looked much older and wiser. Her black hair swirled in the wind, and her beautiful brown eyes reflected the ageless crests of the waves.
“Yes, you have questions about sin,” she said, and I wondered who I was really talking to. "Elisa, isn’t that why you think you got sick? Why do you think you got cancer?”
“Not because of sin, not really.”
“It’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes,” she said. I glanced at the Viking flag still fluttering from the raft next to us. “Do you think this is karma? Even a little piece of you?”
I turned toward her and felt my back spasm in pain. I realized then that I wore a leather pack tightly against my back, and it wasn’t very comfortable.
"Do you think you got sick because you sinned?" she probed, practically interrogating me.
Okay, I'll have to write the rest of this later. I am sooo tired from treatments last week. Please don't think that I'm still worried about getting cancer because of my sins. It'll make a lot more sense in the next post :)
A pic from our honeymoon:
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
The tech strapped me in and placed a cage over my face. “Wait…please.” My breath came out haltingly. “I have to close my eyes first, before you put that on,” I said. I wanted to move, but my arms strained under the Velcro straps, and I couldn’t pull the cage from my face. “Please!”
He unfastened the cage and studied my eyes. “You get claustrophobic?”
I’d begun to hyperventilate.
“Okay. Okay! We’ll do what we need to, but I’ve never understood what makes some people claustrophobic and others not—especially when someone gets scans as much as you do.”
I had to get my mind off things, so I talked mindlessly. “I got locked in a tiny trailer closet—totally my fault—when I played around as a kid. It took my family quite a while to find me. And I got locked in another tight place. Because of a maintenance malfunction at one of my old jobs. I was in the dark for almost 15 minutes, unable to move. I thought I’d die.” His eyes went wide as he listened.
“Let’s get you a pillow for under your knees,” he said.
I bit my lip. That was so nice of him. Those MRI tables are as hard as a linoleum floor, and they feel especially terrible when you have a partially fused back and tumors up your spine and neck.
He’d already put my IV in, and he moved a lot slower as he handled me this time. “You ready?”
I closed my eyes. “How long is this scan?”
“Just over two hours,” he said.
“Can you check in with me every half hour?” I asked, hearing the cage click into place.
“Thank you! I got so scared once when a tech couldn’t hear me shouting, that I actually climbed out of the MRI machine.”
“No way!” he said.
“Yeah, I almost fell on the floor when I pulled myself out. I guess that’s why you strap people in here?”
“Yeah, just to remind them not to move. Hey, Mrs. Magagna, do you picture anything when you keep your eyes closed?”
“Sometimes I pretend I’m on a dock in Jamaica. Other times I pretend to be lying on the grass up in the mountains. Anywhere that’s big and open.”
“Well I hope you’ll see something good this time,” he said.
And fortunately, I did. In fact, when I went into the machine, I had another dream about God.
To be continued …
Wednesday, May 18, 2022
I have a temper, and I wanted to go right up to her window and say, "All right, Amber Heard." But I didn't. (Plus, I think both Johnny and Amber are a mess.) Despite THAT drama, the poor man in the car just sat silently, red-faced as his wife continued berating him.
"Hurry, Mama," Indiana said as we shared a look that meant, "That woman is crazy--soda IS awesome!"
But when I turned the key in the ignition, the car tha-whumped, sounding like a helicopter taking off. The man in the car next to us just looked over as we sat there. I didn't know what to say. He realized we'd heard the whole d*mn thing. And the lady finally darted into the store as her husband waited with the devasted little boy. I wondered what that high heeled woman would get--it obviously wasn't soda. And I wished I had the words for that man and the kid. But, I came up lacking.
So instead, I took action with my own problems. "Mike, something's wrong with the car," I told him over the phone. "Can you come pick us up?"
He arrived shortly after. "It's something with the heater," he said. And after we got the car home, Mike turned a bit sad, "I'm so sorry everything keeps breaking down. And we're already going through so much."
"Are you kidding? Cancer has taught me to be extra grateful for people. Who cares about the car. We'll figure it out. Plus, I'm just so thankful you're nice to me and the kids. And that we all love each other. And...I always want to be so nice to you."
So, Mike took the car apart yesterday. It had started to smell really bad, and it turns out that while Indy and I shopped, a mouse got up in the car--and when I turned it on, the mouse took its last breath.
Mike brought the little carcass in. Blood streaked several car parts, and its tiny paws were bent at terribly unnatural angles.
"OH, my gosh," I wailed. "I. Killed It. The tha-whumping was its body!" I sobbed. And sobbed. AND sobbed.
Animals love me and Indy. "This poor mouse must've ran from his cushy home in the bread section at the grocery store, out into the parking lot, and into the carriage of the car." My breathing faltered. "I lured it--to," my voice dropped an octave, "its death!!!"
Mike snorted. "If that's true, we are never shopping in that bread section again." His eyes widened. "You're really shook up over this? Is it...all about the mouse? Or death? Or what?"
"It's just that...that I killed the poor thing. And to add insult to injury, the last thing he heard was that woman yelling at her husband over soda. Talk about a terrible death! It could've been any one of us who died. Imagine if it would've been someone in that car. Would that woman have felt bad those were her final words? People need to think before they speak."
Mike pinched the bridge of his nose and obviously tried to keep from laughing. "Let's just be glad that if anyone had to die, it was the mouse."
I sniffled. "I guess that's looking at the glass half full. But, Mike! What if he had a little family?! They probably thought he got abducted."
Mike thinks I'm incredibly silly, but life is life. I still feel terrible about the mouse, but I guess it's nice that the car doesn't wreak anymore. C'est la vie!
“God, why am I sick?” I asked.
I dreamt about God again….
I sat at a stream, near a mountainous location I can no longer traverse in real life. I’ve struggled to exercise and build stamina, but I can’t walk more than a quarter of a mile without experiencing such extreme pain and fatigue. This area—my favorite spot up Slate Mountain Trail—is unfortunately, 3 miles in.
“God,” I repeated, “why am I sick? Why do I have terminal cancer? And why are we here, up Slate Mountain Trail?” It’s the most magical place on earth. Sometimes, when I’ve gotten radiation or scans, I’ve closed my eyes and imagined walking in that water with Mike and the kids, listening for sage hens, or looking for moose tracks like we used to. It’s just…so beautiful.
“You wanted to come here.” The voice echoed behind me.
“I did…but not in a dream.” Anger lit my words. Then I tried tempering my emotions because I felt as if some strange, animalistic being hovered behind me—and if I turned around, He’d kill me. And fearing this wild animal, I suddenly feared God. He was in control. He could end my life in a moment…or spare me.
“Sometimes my answer to prayer isn’t exactly what you want,” He said. “People want all of the good things. They want youth, knowledge, hindsight without the suffering. Elisa, you asked for refinement. You asked for growth.”
“I didn’t ask for cancer. I did NOT ask to leave before my kids could grow up and have families.” With my back still facing Him, I took off my sandals and dipped my toes into the stream’s water. It seemed a bit disrespectful, but I didn’t care. I no longer feared suffering. Doctors have already said my time is limited. This animal would do with me as He saw fit.
“The point of life is to learn and love. Learn to love others. Learn who you are and then learn to love yourself,” His voice soothed. “Understand faults and see them as opportunities to learn. Strive to live without harsh judgement of others or yourself. It’s about acceptance. Accepting life. Accepting death. Seeing nature for what it is. It’s quite comforting for most people when they finally ‘see’ it.”
I kicked some water and watched it move over my feet and far down the trail. Constant change showed in the bubbling stream. “I’m dying, God. This…THIS is hard to process. I feel like I’m getting ready for a huge vacation that I’ll never come back from. But I don’t want to go. They said I could have up to ten more years. I just want to know. I want to plan.”
“Elisa, no living human knows for certain the exact time that they’ll die. That’s unnatural. Enjoy what you can. Accept the moment.”
“Just accept my fate? It isn’t that easy.” I paused, finally asking something I’ve wondered since the dreams began. “Are you even God?”
“Does it matter?”
I thought about it and decided I wasn’t sure.
“You prayed for refinement. If this situation helps you grow, doesn’t that make you feel better, like there’s a reason?”
I remained obstinately silent.
“YOU want there to be a reason, Elisa.”
“No… Well, maybe. IS there a reason?”
“You’d have a hard time accepting if there isn’t. Maybe you’re not a pantheist after all.”
The being stepped closer to my back. I knew because I felt the heat of him on my neck, and his shadow, wavering in the stream, looked suspiciously like a massive bear—a deadly grizzly….
After I woke up, as I prepared to get more scans at the hospital last week, I kept wondering why I dreamed that God took the form of a bear and why it’s so damn important for me to feel like there’s a reason I’m sick. Would God making me sick really be better than me getting sick for no reason? I’m still not sure.
But regardless, I still have faith that there’s some sort of plan. I need to know there’s a reason my son died at the exact moment he did. I need to believe God is watching out for me. I guess I do NEED to believe there’s a reason I’m sick. Maybe I can use this to help people appreciate their health and their lives. Appreciate their ability to visit places like my Slate Mountain Trail.
Grizzly, cancer, weird dreams, and philosophy aside, I’ll make it through this somehow. What’s the worst that can happen? Yeah… Let’s not go there.
Right now I’m grateful for the dreams—and glad I’m writing them down. Thank you for letting me share them with you. I probably need to study them and their representation in my dream book. I’m dealing with a lot here.
Monday, May 16, 2022
Mike is so busy taking care of me and the kids that he doesn’t get out much. I don’t have the stamina that I did before cancer, and Mike has often stepped up to cook, clean, go grocery shopping, and do anything else that I might not be able to do after treatments.
Luckily, he got to hang out with one of his best friends a few weeks ago—and something unforgettable happened. They had a couple of beers and some pizza. Knowing they couldn’t finish off the last two pieces, Mike asked a few people at the bar if they wanted a slice. “I do,” one man said with quite a bit of enthusiasm.
Mike brought the last slice around, and when no one wanted it, he offered it to the man who sat eating the first piece. “Are you serious?” the man asked, even more excited than before.
“Call it a two-for-one,” Mike joked before sitting at the other side of the counter with his friend.
And even though they sat several seats away, they could hear the man, so jazzed over that second slice of pizza. “Hell yeah,” he said, then took another bite. “Hell…YEAH!”
Mike came home that night and told me the story. We both chuckled and grinned. “I’ll never forget how happy he was,” Mike said.
I thought about his words a lot because I want to be that appreciative—so even a small gesture could create the best moment ever. I guess the fact remains that even with cancer, every day DOES seem to hold something magical and fun. I just never know what it will be or exactly when it will happen. And despite the pain of cancer and the sadness of a terminal illness, each morning when I wake up, I can hardly wait to find out what’s in store.
The “hell yeah” guy must see life the same way that I do. For him, the magical moment was getting the free pizza, for me it was seeing Mike’s eyes light up as he told me about the “hell yeah” guy and the gratitude he’d experienced at a bar in downtown Pocatello. I wonder if that man even realizes what a gem he is. I sure hope he does.
Sunday, May 15, 2022
The room ran so high with violins that I spotted a rolling ladder similar to those used in old libraries. A whimsical-looking woman slid down one of the closest ladders and grinned at me. "Well, you're finally here! You're one of those humans who's always trying to earn God's love," the Master Luthier said. "What a silly concept! God's love exists just like He does. It just is. It always was. Always will be. Nothing can change it. But you've heard all of this before. I guess you need to see it to fully understand."
Her curly hair stuck out sporadically from her head like she'd suffered an electrocution, and the huge apron she wore made her tiny frame look even smaller. "Take your time. Find the violin that calls to you."
"But there must be thousands of violins here," I argued. "How can I possibly—"
"It won't be that hard. Trust me. I've even placed your violin on a bottom row."
I walked down row after row feeling like Indiana Jones searching for the Holy Grail. All of the violins seemed interesting, but how would I find the right one? Finally, I closed my eyes and gingerly turned before grabbing the violin directly in front of me. "It’s beautiful," I squealed after opening my eyes.
"Well, I didn't expect you to find that one," the Master Luthier said. "I guess it actually makes sense though. Why don't you go ahead and play it."
I took both the violin and bow from a hanger, and as I played, a wind swept through the place. It was perfectly in tune, so rich and full. This instrument had an impeccable range, but especially resonated on the lower D and G strings. My fingers wandered over each section growing with curiosity and passion until I finally stopped and held it at my side. "I've never, ever experienced something like that. It felt…alive."
"Every violin in here represents a soul. I'd hoped you'd find your own, but you found the violin that represents…your husband."
I sighed in disbelief! "You're kidding!" I wanted to play again, just to feel his passion and love for life. I had felt existence through his eyes—and it was breathtaking, empowering. I suddenly sensed other violins around me. Some felt sad and depleted. Others felt old and wise or young and innocent, free and kind, angry and vengeful.
"Maybe it worked out best this way. Instead of playing Mike's violin again, I want you to play this one." She pointed to a cherry fiddle next to it. That one looked worse for wear. It had dents and scratches. Scars in all the same places where I would imagine my scars from surgeries and even bad decisions from adventures in my youth. The bridge looked a bit skewed, and the bow seriously needed to be rehaired.
"But that violin looks terrible." I scrunched my nose in disgust. "Please don't tell me that violin is me."
"Who else! Would you mind playing it?"
I picked up the pathetic excuse for an instrument. It wouldn't stay in tune. And I couldn't even play two strings at the same time because one would go flat while the other stayed in perfect pitch. "This is chaos," I finally said, defeated.
"You wanted to learn about God's love," she said. If you made both of these violins, would you think that one is better than the other?"
"Absolutely!" I said.
"And that's where you're wrong. Experiences don't ruin people—these scratches and scars; God can use things to make people better. Imperfections can simply give violins a different sound." She brought the fiddle over to a fading workbench and began making minor adjustments. "Most people would have no idea what would need to be altered on this violin, but I do because I'm the Master Luthier. I've created stringed instruments for centuries! I love each violin, putting a part of myself into every instrument. Yes, some appear to have been through more than others; they've suffered terrible situations that have led to even more terrible decisions, but I can't help loving each violin. I know their current capabilities and their true potential. I know what they were meant for and what they could've been if life were fair."
"You don't think life is fair?"
She continued "fixing" the violin.
"A rabbi once said that 'we must spend our time judging ourselves, rather than others,'" I said. "Would that make life fair?"
"But, what if you judge even yourself too harshly?" She handed me the violin that represented my soul. "Your idea of perfection is unattainable."
"I don't want to play it again. You've made minor adjustments, nothing can fix this violin—or who I am."
"Just try it, Elisa."
I held the violin at the ready, and the thing took control. I played, and as I did, I remembered some of the most beautiful moments from my life: the day I married Mike, the days each of my children were born, all of the love I've felt from family and friends… And in that moment, I saw how God must see me, just how I suddenly saw this violin. It felt much different than playing Mike's violin. This one was part of me—and although just a dream, it seemed one of the most magical moments of my life.
Tears streamed down my face. "Oh… Thank you. Thank you for this. I wish I could come back here always and play the violins. Just feeling the love God has for each of us."
"And you thought you were broken. Often, all we need are some improvements, and we'll be perfectly in tune with who we're supposed to be, so we can reach our true potential."
I stared at my violin before hanging it up. The thing with instruments is that after you've played one for so long, it becomes somehow seasoned. The violin I own has grooves from my exact fingers and grip. That makes it easy to shift to various positions became my hand automatically stops at the grooves I've made, like water washing over rock for decades. This violin seemed the same; it wasn't perfect in the usual sense, but it did suddenly feel perfect to me. "Will I ever get to see you again? I'd love to come back here over and over." I didn't mean to be a voyeur but feeling other people's souls was quite incredible.
"Maybe, when your time on earth is done," she said. And that was the last time I saw the Master Luthier.
I think this dream was inspired by the poem "The Touch of the Master's Hand." If you haven't read that, it's definitely worth finding.
For more of my writing, please check out my latest book here: https://www.amazon.com/Two-More-Years-EC-Stilson-ebook/dp/B09Z2ZG269