Monday, May 29, 2023

Does God Really Love Everyone?

 I normally do okay in the MRI machines, but during my last set of scans—when l’d been in the MRI machine for almost two hours—I started freaking out pretty bad.

I knew I needed to think of a good memory, and thoughts of when I played the violin in Rough Stock came to mind. We opened for a lot of big-name bands, and had a really great time jamming at private parties and corporate events. Those years felt magical, but the more I thought about it, my memory turned to performing at a certain farmers’ convention. We’d played our intro songs and sat down so the guest speaker could talk.

A very well-respected farmer got up and began his speech by telling a strange story about a man named Zeke. 

“Zeke had a really bad year,” he said. “All of his crops died. And at one point during the season, he finally asked God, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ Well, the next year, not only did his crops die but his wife left him and his kids stopped talking to him too. He again asked God, ‘What is going on?’”

The speaker paused for effect, looking around, and a lot of the farmers leaned forward, listening. “Well, the next year, Zeke got really sick and doctors told him it was terminal. He finally screamed, ‘God! Why are you doing this to me?’ At that point, the clouds opened up, and a booming voice said, ‘It’s because I hate you, and I just wanna see ya suffer.’”

Everybody in the audience broke out laughing. But I just stood there, timidly holding my fiddle offstage. This joke shook me to the core, and I thought, “Oh, my gosh. Does God really hate certain people? And if He does—well, I’m no better than anyone else—does that mean He might hate me too?”

Now, that I’m older (and not much wiser) I do believe that God loves everyone. At least I really, really hope He does. Despite my convictions, this story has always stuck with me. (Zeke is actually the name of my son who died, and this joke fed my fears.) 

Anyway, while in the MRI machine this last time, thinking about the farmers’ convention and poor, troubled Zeke, I started crying and hyperventilating. No matter how unfounded it seemed outside of that claustrophobia-inducing contraption, unrealistic thoughts poured through my brain in the moment: Does God hate me? Could it be true? 

A tech must’ve seen me in the camera they use for brain MRIs because her voice shot over the intercom, and she asked if I was okay.

“No!” I sobbed. “Can I come out? Pa-pa-please. My hurt leg is shaking. I’m in so much pain.”

“You can, but you’ve almost made it two hours. And if I bring you out, we’ll have to start all over again.”

“No.” I took three long breaths. “I…I can do this.” I had to calm myself down. Plus, Mike and my parents were out in the waiting room and they’d been there long enough already. 

Looking back, I’m so glad I found the strength to stay because something unforgettable happened.

We’re all taught that God loves us—to the point that it was actually the punchline of a farmer’s joke: the idea that God wouldn’t love someone. But while amid whirring machines on that rock-hard imaging table, I started thinking, “Why do people suffer? Why do we go through such terrible things? Why am I going through such hardships with this new brain tumor?” and I suddenly thought about the Hebrew word for love.

There are a lot of different words to describe love in Hebrew. This can be romantic or platonic. They even have a word specifically for the kind of love that God has for each of us. The root of THAT kind of love actually means… “loyalty.”

I can’t tell you how powerful this realization has seemed because loyalty isn’t about preventing hardships or stopping pain; it’s about sticking by somebody’s side even when it’s tough and loving them through it all.

As I thought about this, I felt that God somehow seemed to be with me, even though I’m so flawed and I can be an angel with one wing in the fire. I calmed down and actually made it through the rest of the scan. And to think, I also learned something along the way. 

I know that God does love us, but maybe it’s not always about intervening in our lives and stunting growth. I guess I just realized that maybe God’s love is much better than I imagined. He’s loyal, and I’m glad He’s there, sticking by our sides for whenever we need Him the most.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

A Mocha a Day Keeps Negativity Away

This has been one of the oddest months of my entire life. Several weeks ago, doctors discovered a new tumor in my brain. Then, just hours before the radiation, the tumor board called the entire thing off. Forget that my insurance just paid $60,000 for a mask to be made—the same one they'd bolt to the table, covering my entire face to ensure up to 1mm of accuracy. And the reason they called it off? Well, the possibility is much worse than radiation, and just the idea of surgery has me shaking. But I'm trying not to worry too much. We all know where they've said this road is leading. Why quibble about the attractions along the way?


Anyway, I decided to share my story online through videos this time as a way of coping, and the first video quickly garnered over half a million views! To put this in perspective, years ago a local news station featured my blog when it hit a million views—after 10 YEARS.  So, to see these new numbers in a few short hours, well, it felt flabbergasting. 


The comments began rolling in by the thousands: most nice and a few mean. On top of that, my views for overall content is at 4 million today—something I once hoped and prayed for. But now, that seems unimportant. I pray for many different things than I did years ago: I pray to see each of my children reach adulthood. I pray for a few more years with Mike. I pray for my friends who are dying from terminal illnesses. I pray for people to be out of pain. Views ... what silly things I used to hope for.


My one concession is that in the main video, I urged people to "visit their dermatologist," and many of the comments claim viewers are doing just that. Other than being a mother and Mike's wife, I feel like I’ve accomplished something now. If people really are seeing their dermatologists, maybe they won't suffer my harrowing fate. Perhaps that was the point of my life, to help other people avoid sunburns, tanning beds, and an unchecked mole that could ruin their future. How insignificant that mole once seemed.


After getting off the phone with an oncologist last week, I pondered his words. He gave me 2 ½–3 years to live. Doesn't that sound cruelly familiar?! After all, I did write "Two More Years" following the first two-year diagnosis—IN 2020. Is that just their go-to? 

Doc #1: "This chick's insides are crap. Let's give 'er two years."

Doc #2: "Sounds about right. That IS standard protocol."


The three rudest comments on my "almost viral" video probably go as follows:

#1 "Who cares about this woman? Everyone has cancer these days."

#2 "I've heard she doesn't like Trump. At least that's one less liberal."

Last, and also least, #3 someone said they had terminal cancer once (like it’s something you get from the store), and they couldn't believe my "hubris" in posting my journey.


"You can't listen to these people," one of my daughters said. "You're getting to the point that you can't read all of the comments anyway—but you really shouldn't waste your time on the bad ones."


"I want to read what people say, though, because so many other cancer patients ask me to pray for them. And most people are so nice."


"Well, then," she paused, "you need to find a way to deal with this, so it doesn't drain you emotionally. You have enough to worry about, Mom. We need you to get better."


I thought for a minute and then started giggling. "I have it! I just need to make this fun."


"Okay?" She raised a brow.


"You know how I love mochas?"


She nodded.


"I don't get THAT many bad comments. So, the solution is easy. Every time someone says something mean, I'll go buy myself a mocha."


"This could be a very good or a very bad idea," she said before bursting with laughter. 


So, we're doing the best we can. We're adjusting to bad news and good news, kind people and the few mean ones. And we're about to potentially drink a ton of mochas. Life couldn't get any better, right? That's what I'll keep telling myself.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

The Kindness of Shaun Buck from Newsletter Pro

My phone rang and I froze. “Shaun Buck’s” name paraded across the screen, but it took a moment to answer. How do you possibly say “thank you” to someone who’s moved mountains in your life?

“Hello, Shaun?” I finally said, answering the call.
“Elisa! I’m so glad we can talk.”
But my voice faltered, and I found myself back in that horrid hospital room in 2020. A doctor unceremoniously told me I would die soon. Family could hardly visit (one hour a day, one person at a time) because of COVID-19. That particular day—when doctors relayed my fate—I sat staring out a sterile window, stressing about bills. Mike had taken a month off—unpaid—to help the kids with school, emotions, and pretty much everything. I worked remotely from my hospital room, but I couldn’t possibly edit 40 hours a week, not after getting a cancerous vertebra removed! Mike returned to work and even took on side jobs, but we couldn’t seem to catch up, and I didn’t think I could continue treatments let alone pay regular bills.
My hours dropped to between 20–30 a week. Nurses would laugh when they came in to get my vitals. “Are you seriously working from your hospital room?” one lady asked. I’d donned a fancy shirt over my hospital gown and IVs, so coworkers wouldn’t suspect my true attire—or location—on Zoom calls.
“I …” A deep breath of air gave me courage and brought me back to the moment. “I … wanted to say thank you, Shaun. I’m gonna try not to cry. But what you did for my family, well, it changed our lives.”
“It wasn’t anything,” he said.
I scoffed. “You have no idea how stressed I was. I tried working full time, but I couldn’t, not with my health. We needed the money so badly. And then … you swooped in and paid me for full time—for months and months—even though you knew I could never pay it back. I tried, just because I wanted to be worth it, but God knows I couldn’t. And then, you didn’t even care. Management said you just did it to help, even though I’m sure times were hard for everyone during the peak of COVID.”
“It’s just money,” he said. “And I wanted to help. Really. People told me about you and your family. They said you’re really good people. They said YOU are a good person.”
I’d never spoken to Shaun directly before that call. I messaged him once, thanking him in 2021, but I didn’t dare call. Shaun is a big deal. He’s extremely successful with amazing connections and the kind of marketing skills any entrepreneur would envy. I guess that’s why people hire him to help grow businesses through magazines and newsletters. He uses personalized stories to help customers become fully invested not just in products, brands, and services but also in the people behind them.
I shook my head. I couldn’t believe this benevolent man had called ME a good person. I didn’t even land on the scale compared to him.
“Why did you do it?” I finally blurted.
“Well, I still remember where I was when I heard about your diagnosis. You’d started working for the company in June, and you found out about the cancer in October. I was going through a pretty hard time myself. It was … really rough—but nothing compared to what happened to you.”
I knew Shaun had gotten divorced, but I didn’t know the details except he loves his boys more than life itself. It’s true that divorce is hard; it can feel daunting for even the most capable of people. His story fully captivated me, and I couldn’t help but gasp. “I’m so sorry you went through that,” I said.
“Hey, it’s okay. But like I said, it was bad, but then I heard about you. Even though I didn’t know you, I pretty much did—because other people had told me about you. And I wanted to help.” Then he paused, and I felt a shift in the conversation. “Elisa, you just have to get better. I can’t wait to talk with you in two years and hear how you’re cancer free and able to walk well. You’ve gotta believe it.” So much emotion filled his words that I found tears brimming my eyes.
“It wasn’t just money to us,” I sobbed. “It helped us keep a semblance of normalcy for the kids. I’ll be forever grateful for what you did.”
After the call ended, I thought about what a blessing it’s been to work for Newsletter Pro for the past three years. I reveled in perfecting articles about history, current events, life hacks, food—and almost anything you can imagine!
“I loved my job,” I told Amber, the director of client operations, “because NLP has the best employees—and editing every day gave me an added purpose. It’s so hard giving up this part of my life.”
“We all love you,” she said, and I knew she really felt empathy for what my family and I are experiencing with the advent of this new tumor. “We’ve been honored to have you as a team member. And I wanted to let you know that Shaun has decided to give you the work laptop.”
“What?! Why—I mean … What?!” Had I heard her right? I rested my hands on the keyboard and stared at it. It’s a top-of-the-line MacBook Air with fancy editing programs and fonts! It’s so fast and new that it makes my personal computer look like a 100-year-old with a walker, dentures, cataracts, AND a diaper!
“I’ve gotta pay for this!”
“Just enjoy it.” She laughed. “You being a part of the team—and bringing positivity to all of us—has been more than enough payment.”
So, I had my last official day of work on Monday, just in time to prepare for my new radiation journey that has followed. I’m writing this on my beautiful, flawless, AMAZING laptop, and my soul is filled with such gratitude right now. I still don’t fully understand why Shaun decided to do these kind things for me and my family, but I do know that every time I use this computer, I’ll think of the good people in this world and be grateful to still be alive, experiencing the joy and wonder of a life well lived. I really am the luckiest.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Light from a Lighthouse

 When doctors first gave me two years to live, my medical chart showed “Christianity” as my denomination. This dates back to when my first son passed away. I still remember selecting a religion when staff boasted a pastor who could instantaneously come pray for my baby. But my son didn’t live—no matter how many preachers begged God. I guess Heaven needed him more. 

That happened nearly two decades ago, and now doctors have told me it’s my turn to die … 

Seeing the shock on my face after this initial diagnosis, specialists sent a parson to my room.

I twiddled my thumbs as the on-site pastor doomed my soul to hell. “What do you mean, you don’t believe Jesus was the son of God?”

“I knew I should’ve lied,” I said because condemnation—especially when you’re facing an expiration date—feels markedly worse than lying to a pastor. 

I remained hospitalized for nearly a month, and over that time several Christian clerics spoke with me. Each voiced concerns about eternal torment, but despite their urgings, I couldn’t force myself to believe in Christianity.

After finally getting discharged from the hospital, I had a strange new view on life and death—so close I could almost feel it creeping up on me. I knew how I would die; I just didn’t know when. This left me in doubt about my past regrets along with future goals, but I did know one thing for certain, I didn’t want to spend my final days shackled to condemnation over a difference of beliefs. 

Over the next two years, I visited various places of worship for different religions. I sought prayers from Buddhists, spiritualists, monks, and so-called heathens. I especially reveled in time at synagogues with newfound Jewish friends who became like family and showed me joy in simplicities—and food. Although I found a peace among Jewish culture and something that finally satiated my desire to feel even closer to my creator, the whole time, I kept wanting to visit a spiritual healer named Dixie Nowell.

Dixie takes a holistic approach to healing, wielding oils, music, and books that detail information from ancient texts. A dear friend, paid for me to see her after my divorce, and I genuinely couldn’t believe how much better I felt about life after talking with her.

“Can I come see you?” I asked her. “I’d also like to bring one of my daughters, Sky.”

My relationship with Sky has deepened in a way that is truly astounding. I’m not sure if it’s the terminal diagnosis, the woman she’s grown to be, or both, but we’ve gotten so close in the past year, and I find myself extra grateful to be living on “bonus time.” I’ve already made it five months longer than doctors expected, and although I’m still fighting for more years above ground, I can’t imagine missing these recent months with my loved ones. They’ve held some of the most profound experiences of my entire lifetime.

Dixie quickly responded to my query. “Yes! And come stay with me.”

I’ve had so many people altruistically offer for me to spend the night at their homes—which are close to the cancer center in Utah—but I rarely do it, not wanting to impose. Yet, for some reason I agreed, feeling almost like we needed to stay with Dixie. This might sound hokey or ridiculous, but the night before we left for more cancer treatments and to see Dixie in Eden, I dreamed about a beautiful lighthouse with a blinding light shooting through the windows. It left me feeling pure and flawless despite illness, something I haven’t felt since long before this whole ordeal began.

What Dixie gave me and Sky is hard to put into words. She spoke with both of us for hours and hours, and with each moment that passed, I somehow felt my load lighten. “You’re changing so many lives,” she said to me. “I read your posts. And I love how you write.”

“That—well, that means so much.” Tears filled my eyes when she shared this sentiment about me—but especially when she spoke to Sky. I watched as my beautiful, vibrant 18-year-old transformed from carrying worries about losing her mom to appearing hopeful that everything will end the way it’s supposed to. There’s nothing more important to a mother than seeing that her children are okay. And, I think half of Dixie’s gift is being a life coach; the other half is building others up to the brim with positivity and kindness.

We finally went into the healing room, and as Sky and I closed our eyes to meditate, I felt so much joy beating from my heart. Sure, I don’t know how much longer I truly have or how excruciating my cancerous death may ultimately be, but I am trying my hardest to remain present and hopeful. I’m enjoying every minute, taking opportunities to experience new things and cherishing time with the people I love the most. The longer I sat meditating, it almost seemed as if my dream about the lighthouse had been for this moment, that the sun shone through MY soul and God really filled me with such light and love. I so hoped Sky and Dixie felt the same.

After the session ended, Sky practically glowed and hugged me. “Thank you for bringing me here, Mama. I’m so glad I got to meet Dixie and to experience this with you.”

Dixie smiled, and I realized she must’ve heard similar words a thousand times.

“Let me show you to your room.”

I gingerly walked down the stairs, while Sky and Dixie’s inspiring son brought our luggage down. “Here it is!” Dixie beamed.

I gaped at the wall, completely dumbfounded and momentarily unable to speak because in the corner—large and impressive—hung a striking picture of a lighthouse with light shining directly through the upper windows.

“Is everything okay?” Dixie asked, taking a step closer to me. 

“Ye—yes. I’m just so … grateful for your generosity. And … your friendship.” I paused, willing her to know how much it all meant to me and Sky. “Thank you for letting us stay here, Dixie.” I forced my voice to remain steady and strong. “Your kindness … means far more than you might know.”

The next day, I received test results from earlier that week. They showed a new tumor.

“This tells us once again, that unless there is some freak accident, you will die from melanoma.”

I sighed and wracked my thoughts from something positive to say since I’ve made it my personal vendetta to try shocking the hell out of my doctor. “At least that gives me a good excuse to buy a new dress,” I finally blurted. “How can my husband get mad when I tell him I got a new dress AND a tumor.” 

The line stayed quiet, and I didn’t mean to, but I actually broke out laughing. 

“You’re taking this news awfully well,” the doctor said, dumbfounded.

Yes. I’d done it again! Bwa-ha-ha! “I had the most amazing experience this week,” I admitted. “It put everything in perspective, and I’m grateful to be here at all. I can’t believe I actually exist. It’s hard to even fathom that I’ve lived longer than expected. I can’t believe I got to have a family, experience love, see the beauty of our world. Death is just part of the bargain.” I sighed. 

“You … Elisa … Sometimes you amaze me,” she said. 

“Same to you. Thank you for extending my life,” I replied. And after I hung up the phone, my thoughts returned to that unforgettable lighthouse, the one with the light shooting straight through the upper windows. 

“Dear God,” I silently prayed. “I hope you love me. If you do and you can find the time, can you please give me strength to get through the next leg of this journey.” And then I sat down … and thinking about the future, I cried.