I’m Back!

I’m Back!.

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I’m Back!

There is a scene in one of my favorite movies, “Long Kiss Goodnight,” where Geena Davis, the star who has forgotten her identity as a feared assassin, is being tortured underwater to see if she really remembers all that she is capable of doing.
Her arms and legs bound to a torture wheel, she is slowly lowered into the depths of the frigid water and held there to see what she can handle. Under the physical and emotional duress, the alternate but necessary world she created for herself falls away and she remembers her fierceness. When the enemy pulls her up out of the water for a second time, her old self is present and unleashed with a fury.

I love action movies. Especially when the women are strong and fierce and multidimensional; the spy’s alternate character is a soft-spoken loving mother and wife.

Over the last few years I have lived an alternate life. No, I am not a spy. I went from being an independent retired journalist to grieving my sister Connie’s sudden death from swine flu in 2009, to becoming full-time caregiver for my beautiful mother who developed bone marrow cancer and was given a diagnosis of six months to live in 2012.

My mother is one of those fierce women. As she watched the chemotherapy drugs enter her body intravenously, she sat in the hospital at the Lacks Cancer Center and said “ hmmph, just because they say I’ve got cancer, doesn’t mean I’ve got cancer.”
I danced around her singing the refrain to Adele’s “Rumor Has It” while the nurses queried, who is that woman?

The chemotherapy was not a good fit for my mother. It weakened her immune system opening her up to that most vile of opportunistic viruses – shingles. The devastatingly painful virus, coupled with the bone marrow cancer, was so excruciating that for two months my mother was crying out “Jesus take me home,” as I treated the blisters covering her body with oral and ointment medicines. There is nothing so horribly soul-wrenching as hearing your mother crying in pain and not being able to bring her relief. After two months, when the virus subsided and she was well enough to renew chemotherapy treatments, she looked at me and said, “no more.” That was all I needed to hear. We stopped treatment and looked for alternatives with hospice.

This was the winter of 2012. When I was scheduled to have my second total knee replacement surgery. Doctors had already replaced my left knee in 2011 and I knew what to expect with this second surgery for my right knee. But doctors decided they wanted me to lose my extra 30 pounds of frustration weight at a time when I could barely walk, much less exercise it away.

In action hero movies, and in life, there is always another obstacle thrown in the mix to test your mettle. In some of those films the trials are over the top. Just when you think the movie is over, here comes another monster.  While the sheroes usually use superhuman strength and a pretty amazing arsenal of weapons and firepower, the rest of  us have to use what’s inside and surround ourselves with a community of superheroes.

I was blessed with an amazingly strong mother who gave her three daughters gifts of character, strength and integrity – emphasis on the grit. So I introduced us to unlimited fruit and vegetables and  kale smoothies which prompted mama to politely decline my  green liquid creations offered to her daily. “I’ll try it tomorrow,” she’d say.

I had prayer partners and swear partners and both were important to get us through. We had a wonderful team of in-home hospice care workers who sometimes worried more about me than mom as I dragged through the house with my bad knee, trying my best to keep her comfortable as she tried her best to hide her pain.

Many days were good, some were awesome and others amazingly bad. But we got through them with humor and laughter, prayer, healthy food and honesty. No more trying to protect the other from pain. I told her she could moan on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I got Tuesday and the weekends to cry. Finally, by the summer of 2013, I’d lost enough weight for knee surgery and called a friend to care for my mom during my hospital stay.

But multiple complications following surgery and three hospital stays in less than two weeks left me unable to communicate Labor Day weekend. There were so many obstacles that one former acquaintance opined, “the universe has turned against you girl.”

I didn’t buy it. Just one more river to cross. A special community of friends rallied around us until my  out-of-state sister Vanessa could arrive. I had reached my limit, admitted I was not superwoman and needed help. Vanessa, stayed and took care of me for a month which also allowed my mama to go into caregiver mode as well. Though she couldn’t do much, she missed hovering over her babies and she seemed to thrive.  Eventually Vanessa  brought mama home to Houston with her while I remained in Michigan and concentrated on getting well. Then I went South and could physically see cancer’s toll. Mama had lost 100 pounds. I called her my pocket mama. I decided to stay. I figured it would take a month to pack up my Michigan home and oh yeah, complete the rest of my training as a certified health coach. There were obstacles but I got it done. Then I found a light-filled two-bedroom townhouse and planned to find a writing job or some kind of communications job in Houston while caring for her. But after months of searching with no bites, I realized Spirit was showing me I was supposed to be here to just focus on mama. We had picnics in bed. We ate out often. Eventually movies and visitors no longer interested her. She was going inward. it was time to move the hospital bed into her room.

There is a peacefulness that comes with a life well lived but it still hurts when it ends. Mama was given six months to live. She took two years and 10 months because she was surrounded by love and light and all that life has to offer, including the obstacles, toil and trauma. I held mama’s hand as she passed while Vanessa was back at work ushering a new life into the world. Even after her death there were obstacles that tore at our emotions. We rose above them. When you are vulnerable, opportunistic germs emerge.  While grieving mama’s passing, her old friend shingles came to visit me at the same time my health insurance was cut. Cue the music, another monster in the bushes, the movie is not over.

Depressed, overwhelmed, unable to write or sing and sometimes even pray, covered with blisters on the right side of my body, alone, in pain and unable to physically connect with my sister who brings new life into this world and can’t risk contamination, I cocooned and let the mean frigid waters of the last few years rush over me and I wept and I raged and I wept some more.

After 10 days I remembered who I am, whose I am  and who  I am meant to be. I remembered that God didn’t bring me this far to leave me. I remembered that after Connie’s sudden death in 2009, I vowed to become a health advocate. Despite all the health obstacles thrown my way since then, even while overwhelmed, I knew how to take the small steps that would lead to more steps to give me and others a strong and healthy mind, body and soul.  I went to my computer and began this column.

I can feel myself rising out of the frigid waters.  I’m back.


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There is always Spirit!

I love my new doctor.  To go along with the move, I now have a new HMO insurance, which brings its own frustrations, and a new primary physician.

First she ran blood tests to get a baseline of health and surprise, surprise my body is showing signs of stress.  So this visit was to discuss the results. Cholesterol jumped back up. Gained 10 pounds. Blood pressure up.

Did I just throw all my health training out the window?  Well in a word, yes.

She gently touched my arm. “What’s going on?”

I took a deep breath and spilled. Mom is in Hospice and having increased days of pain and it feels like she’s being asked to choose between pain free and brain free. The drugs make her confused.

I still don’t have a job here or a renter there so I’m juggling two house payments.  Tried to rob Peter to pay Paul and learned Paul is a thug and not having it.

I’m a writer and a health coach – two creative fields  that don’t thrive in fear.  But I found myself spiraling  out of control down the fear well with emotional eating, not exercising, missing spiritual and social events that would sustain me. So I had to sit myself down, get still and listen for Spirit to get me back on the path.

That was the night before the doctor’s appointment.

I could already feel in my body that I wasn’t headed the right direction so I vowed to get back on track while acknowledging and addressing these overwhelming circumstance.  It’s one thing to hear your situation in your head, giving voice to them seemingly gives them power.  Or maybe just puts them in perspective.  So you can make a plan.

I planned to tell my doctor that stress was getting in the way of my health.  She already knew from the numbers.

“Well I don’t want to start off with a lot of pills,” she said. “I want to try natural ways first.”  I was in heaven. I used to have a big bowl with 26 different vials of medicine that I took daily. I felt like a walking pharmacy. It’s part of what sent me on this natural wellness journey.

We talked about daily exercise, increasing my water and fiber.  Things I go into detail with my clients.  Then she touched my arm again, “do you pray?  Good!”

Thank you God, I have been blessed with a doctor who is on the same page.  A gentle reminder from Spirit that, “I got you.”

I told the nurse practitioner earlier that I walked an extra block because parking across the street from her office was $5 an hour but only $5 a day a block further. I did it for the exercise but more for the money saved as this visit could last at least a couple hours with testing. We laughed at how money motivates us. She relayed that she has a friend with cancer in Houston’s Medical Center where parking can be $12 an hour.

She was going to visit and pray with her friend in the facility and saw the parking prices.  “I had to have a little talk with Jesus. This prayer is gonna be just as good at home as it is in the hospital right? It’s still gonna reach her, right?”  She opted to park at the facility and pray with her friend in person and even made her friend laugh at the story.

Be it the trivial, or the overwhelming, Spirit is always just a prayer away.

This is not where I say that because of prayer I now have a job or money overflowing. That will come, I believe it will. But I have released the fear which allows creativity to return.  Which in turn allows me to see Spirit walking with me in the valley and the hills.

So I decided to visit my health coaching website  www.TheresaHealthySoul.com on my desktop computer so I could soak in all the peaceful and nurturing images that can’t be seen on my tablet.  Like a visual mantra, I allowed the images to wash over me as I remembered feeling guided by Spirit when I initially created the site. Welcome to the new you. Wellness is natural.  Listen, be gentle with yourself.

I needed to embrace the message I was giving away. And so I did. It felt good.  Stress will always be lurking in the darkness. The trick is to not let it derail you and get you off track of being all that you are meant to be.

And if you get derailed, put on the brakes. Stop. Listen. Breathe. Pray. Listen.  Spirit has a way of guiding you back to your path.



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Baby Steps

This is when I get serious about my New Year resolutions.

I know this about me.  The first three weeks of January I am still adjusting to the new year. I am still living in the past – 2014 – and still nurturing old habits that no longer serve me.  But by the third week of January I really get serious and consistent.

Steady baby steps to keep me on track:

Find a 24-hour gym with weights and a pool to address my crazy schedule.  Check.

Buy two new journals, one of which has to fit in my purse.  Check.

Buy a calendar/journal to keep track of my writing submissions, contests and ideas.  OK, OK and to replace the one I will inevitably lose in my purse.  Check.

Buy a larger desk calendar to break down into small bites how I am going to meet the deadlines for those contests, submissions and ideas.  Check.

Isn’t it funny how it all comes back to honoring your process and taking small bites?

I get grand ideas of what I want to happen in my life.  But if I don’t break them into bite-sized action steps -just three a day – nothing gets accomplished.  Three months from now, without baby steps, I could be looking at half-finished  stories, songs, recipes and projects and start thinking to myself, “Dang girl, you blew that opportunity.”

This is what comes from knowing yourself.  Being gentle with yourself. And coming up with a plan of action to address your process.

With my clients I start with listening to know their process. Some have never slowed down enough to know their process or ever been asked: when have you been successful? How can we re-create that?

That is what I like about starting where you are.

We are all on a journey to be the best we are meant to be.  I know my process, how about you?  What tools are you packing or releasing so you can be all you are meant to be?

If you need help on your journey let’s talk.

Let’s work together to make this our happy New Year.

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A Full Plate

Just because I’ve learned to eat better doesn’t mean I don’t overload my plate.

It’s been a few months since I’ve last written here – 10 to be exact so if I were a baby I’d be overdue.  That sounds like me. Over deliver.

I had big plans to walk the Mackinac Bridge for Labor Day 2014 as a reward for my healthy year.  But life – or rather praying for extension of life – took priority.  News flash. Prayer works.

My mother has been in an in-home hospice program since 2012 with bone marrow cancer and last November I moved her to Houston to live with my sister and beat the frigid Michigan winters as I recovered from knee replacement surgery.

The plan was that she would come back with me to Michigan in the spring of 2014.  I’d hoped to walk the bridge and see her smiling face at the end of the bridge urging me on to victory. But mom grew sicker over the summer, took a bad fall and landed in the hospital. We thought we were going to lose her and I wasn’t ready.

She went from 175 pounds in 2013 to 95 pounds in 2014.  She is so small now I call her my “pocket mama.”

But a funny thing happened in the hospital.  Doctors said she was on way too many medications and during her four day stay, she stopped taking many of them.  She still has bone marrow cancer, but her pain is not as severe.  Also gone are her swollen limbs and her delirium.

That was in August, my birthday month; when my only prayer was that my mama remember my name. That was a tough prayer.  Even though we were in my sister’s Houston area home, mama thought I was just one of the workers who came to see her.  It hurt to see her give me that same sweet but non-committal smile that she offered to strangers.

Then three days after my birthday, something clicked and mama look at me with eyes full of memory.  Her arms opened wide and she gave me that big grin.  Her eyes sparkled as she said “Oh Theresa” and pulled me in for a hug.  My heart was full.

Mama was touch and go for several months so I returned to Houston in May.  She has stabilized now.  She is back at home with my sister Vanessa’s family, her grandson and my dog Daisy, who I brought with me in an emotionally intense two-day 22 hour drive.

You see, I’m a three-hour gal. Anything after three hours on the road I’m looking for a plane.  But I had just rescued this beautiful 9-year-old Brittany Spaniel mix. Actually, we rescued one another when I agreed to take her into my home so a spirited feisty stranger could concentrate on battling her own cancers.  I had just lost my dog of 16 years when this opportunity came.

After agreeing to share my life with this beautiful dog, there was no way I would risk putting my 75-pound Daisy on a plane.  So I drove south.  And yes, I was driving Miss Daisy.

We took long walking breaks in fields and neighborhoods as we made our way through Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas Tennessee and finally Texas.  I felt physically strong and proud of myself for pushing past that fear of long distance driving alone.

I knew my mama was non-communicative and not eating. The mantra in Houston was “mama don’t die, Resa’s coming with her dog Daisy.”   That made her smile but all mama could muster was a quizzical “Daisy???” She’d seen pictures of my four-legged friend and was excited to see the real thing.  She would nod and quietly say “ok” and repeat Daisy’s name in a sing-song voice prompting her Hospice nurses to join her in song.

When I arrived she rallied.  She loved Daisy and seemed to blossom and that lasted for a month.  While her legs and feet were bloated, she seemed to grow thinner and sicker until she fell and landed in the hospital.

But you see how God works, that fall proved to be a blessing because the hospice workers couldn’t explain why her limbs were swelling and she showed signs of delirium. We learned in the hospital she had an infection and was dehydrated.

Fast forward to October. Mama is alert, eating and drinking  again and walking around with her cane or walker. She balls up her little fists and says “lets go” as she takes off marching for the car in anticipation of an adventure. We’ll go for drives, but her energy doesn’t last and she falls asleep before reaching any destination. But she is a fighter and she knows my name.

I know my family is in transition and I had to ask God what to do. Since she seems to be her old self right now,  I decided it was a safe time to return to Michigan and close down the house. I left Daisy with mom and the family and flew back to Michigan. I gave myself the month of October to lay the groundwork to take care of myself.

This is where my full plate comes into play. After much prayer, I asked God what path do I take?  Order my steps, I said. I realized I had one more exam to take before graduating from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a Certified Health Coach and I’d fallen behind during the four months of helping to take care of mom in Texas.

It’s funny the things we tell ourselves when we live in fear.  I can’t do this.  I’m not organized.  I’m too old to start a new career.  This is too hard.  I am too far behind.  I’ve never done this before.  I’m too scared.

It’s amazing how mountains move when we get out of the way and rely on Spirit. I prayed. I got still. I listened. Then I developed a plan to divide my days into classwork and physical moving prep work. Slowly, deliberately, consistently it got done. I passed my last test. I overcame my apprehension of technical work and created a Facebook page and through IIN I developed my website called TheresaHealthySoul.com.

Today, I graduate from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a Certified Health Coach.   I am still working on my house.

In November I return to Texas to care for my mother and be her health advocate as I grow my business supporting and guiding clients on their journey to wellness.

As a wee one I was always taught to pray over my full plate. My plate is definitely full but God is clearing a path. I am all prayed up and ready for my journey. Walk with me.

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A Full Plate

A Full Plate.

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God’s Got This!

In this year of being the best that I am meant to be, not only will I focus on my physical and mental health, but my spiritual health as well. My strong sense of faith and my strong connection to God has buoyed me when the valley seemed to rise to greet me and drag me back down. That connection to Spirit recently brought me through the multiple health crises that rocked my family and caused me to stop working as the first Faith Advocacy Coordinator for GIFT (Gays In Faith Together).

I left that position,in the fall of 2012, in the capable hands of spiritual powerhouse Lauren Busman who will continue and expand the work. In the process I realized that when I am in the midst of crisis, it’s hard to see the “why” of it much less God’s hand on it. But in this year of discovery and examination, I have also realized that throughout my life, every encounter with darkness has polished me into a stronger being; as long as I remember, God’s got this.

As the new Faith Advocacy Coordinator, Ms. Busman is asking for coming out stories and stories on why the “Gay Christian? Yes!” campaign is important for allies and for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. So last week I wrote an essay for the GayChristianYes.org website on why we proclaim the “Gay Christian? Yes!” message and why it still remains important. I would like to share it with you here:

I used to say with a certain smugness: “I’m the kind of Christian who follows Christ,” when confronted by someone who did not think as I did on matters of Christian living.

I usually gave this response when talking to those who called themselves Christian in one breath while feeling perfectly comfortable and completely justified in speaking words of contempt about God’s children in their next breath.

I still say I am the kind of Christian who follows Christ. Even though I have moved on as GIFT’s first Faith Advocacy Coordinator, I will advocate with every breath for all God’s children especially the LGBT community which continues to be targeted by some in the faith community.

When readers of the Bible use selected segments to incite violence, encourage separation and create harmful laws to diminish others, it is clear to me that this is not the full message of Christ.

This is why GIFT’s “Gay Christian? Yes!” campaign was and still remains an important part of this community.
Without a strong, steady voice from allies, gay Christians and area churches about a loving and welcoming Christ, the overwhelming sound of dismissal, or worse – silence – could turn others away from God.

This is why I cringe over recent events where attention seekers use specific Bible passages to condemn and dismiss and tell outright lies about those who do not love as they do. The Christ message is being diminished.

The Bible has been used to condone slavery, inhibit women, destroy difference and encourage war. But through prayerful Christ-filled eyes, the Bible can be used to uplift the downtrodden, embrace the poor, and show the love that God has for all that God created.

As an openly gay Christian, as an African-American lesbian, it pains me when those who are in the church, draw a line showing who is in and who is out of God’s embrace.

It is especially painful because I know that not everyone will challenge that view as I did when I came out to my pastor in my early 30s. I was in love with my best friend and was sharing the news with my pastor who was like a brother to me. When he told me my relationship with this woman was “not of God” I was initially crushed.

I realize now God was using that moment to help me to learn my calling as an advocate. I prayed to God and did not believe the pastor’s rejection was of God. I challenged and questioned and stayed in prayerful conversation with him for months. Before he left the church to his next assignment, I remember the pastor holding up the Bible and telling the congregation, “this is a book of love. Do not use this as a weapon.”

Flash forward to 2009. After retiring from my 28-year gig as a reporter with the Grand Rapids Press I learned of the position of GIFT’s first Faith Advocacy Coordinator. The Rev. Jim Lucas had a dream of the “Gay Christian? Yes!” campaign where the message would be bold and encouraging.

We knew that there were other members of the LGBT community who were hearing messages of rejection in their churches or schools or even their home.
We wanted to have places in every denomination where LGBT people of faith could come and be nourished by the Spirit of Christ. I envisioned expanding this model to all faiths that have used their beliefs to dismiss and reject the LGBT community.

We hoped that community conversations would spring forth, safe places would be created where all are welcome to learn, grow and see one another through God’s eyes.
With the creation of our first billboard in the spring of 2012 there was an excitement in the air as more voices came to the forefront through essays, videos and church programming.
But for me, by the summer of 2012, personal health issues and my mother’s cancer diagnosis took center stage and by October, I left GIFT.

Today my health issues are in check. But my mother’s diagnosis is terminal. So when not focused on her, I am studying to become a health coach and advocate.

We need the “Gay Christian? Yes!” message even more today. Just read the news and see continuous instances where people of faith make it clear that it is still not safe to be all God has made you to be.

During a recent trip to Texas, where my mother is now living with my sister for the winter in an in-hospice program, I engaged in conversation with the driver during the hour-long ride from the airport to my sister’s house.

She had an opinion on everything from “Obamacare” to gays where she repeated the outrageous lies that have been made against gays all being diseased pedophiles who will never get to heaven.

Now my first reaction was to knock some sense into her with a slap upside the back of the head. But I knew that was not right so I took a deep breath, said aloud “Jesus help me,” and engaged in conversation.

She told me she didn’t hate gays, she even knows one and prays for him everyday. “I pray that he become enlightened and turns away from his sinful path.”she said.

I asked when she decided to become attracted to men since she believed gay is a choice. Explained that criminal sexual acts against children has nothing to do with loving relationship between consenting adults. Finally I asked how she became so arrogant to think that God’s creations could be limited by her tiny vision.

From her rear view mirror I watched the smugness leave her face and the rest of the ride home was quiet.

As we pulled into my drive I touched her shoulder and told her, “I am going to pray for your enlightenment tonight.” She said she would do the same for me.

I never told her I was gay. I told her that I am a Christian who is weary of other Christians trying to narrow God’s message of love. It didn’t feel safe to share all of me. And that was the first time I’d ever felt unsafe as a lesbian.

As I flew back to Grand Rapids I thought of the youths and all LGBT Christians who sit trapped in their pews feeling unsafe because of a certain smugness that comes with the arrogance of those who think they are speaking for God when they oppress.

When I tell people I am the kind of Christian who follows the words of Christ, my own smugness is gone for I see what arrogance can bring. So now I pray for everyone’s enlightenment and I speak in humility. And I still say, “Gay Christian? Yes!”

Theresa D. McClellan was GIFT’s first Faith Advocacy Coordinator. She is studying with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a certified health coach advocate.

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