Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Lessons of our Pilgrimage...


I have always wanted to be that girl who traveled the world, to visit the holy sites of the major faiths. For twenty years I have longed to walk the "El Camino de Santiago" in Spain. In English it is known as the "Way of St. James". A holy pilgrimage that dates back to the Middle Ages where thousands walk through Spain to the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela.

Pilgrims walk on multiple routes to the cathedral. Along the way they pass through villages and stay in small hotels or inns. They travel in groups or alone looking for spiritual enlightenment. When on a pilgrimage you may travel for many different reasons, but at the end you are looking for answers, enlightenment and peace.

Along the Camino, pilgrims have taken to wearing or carrying scallop shells. The tradition of the shell dates back to the legend of St. James the Apostle. There are several stories that involve St. James and the scallop shell that have become part of the tradition. One is, that the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, all ending at the same destination. The journey is epic, filled with mountain views and concludes with ocean vistas. You crisscross through towns and villages along the way, meeting new friends and also have time for self-reflection and exploration.

I loved the idea that you walk and meet fellow pilgrims and at the end of the day you find yourself in a small village drinking wine and making relationships to support you on this magnificent journey. You could make life long friendships. Imagine ancient villages with Spain's beautiful topography, the comfort of a meal, resting your tired feet, and knowing you were walking the same path that St. James had walked thousands of years before.

At the end, pilgrims discuss the physical and emotional challenges they encountered and overcame along the way. Many offering tales of life affirming and spiritual change.

I wanted to take that transformative journey.

But, I lacked two things, the financial ability to go for two months and more honestly, I don't have the physical strength to tackle such a journey. I don't have a nanny, a driver, a house manager, and I don't have a private jet. Listen if you do, God bless you, please invite me on vacation. I mean a private jet...seriously let's go! Don't get me wrong, I'm a girl with first world problems; honestly, I'm a princess and I know it.

This is a journey that wasn't going to happen for me.

I made peace with that revelation.

I realized that if I wanted that transformative experience, I was going to have to create my own. I would create my journey, listen to the pilgrims at the quiet rest stops the Divine put on my path. My path would not be in Spain, it would be in the coffee shops in my own town, the people I meet when I do public speaking, and the individuals I meet on my daily journey through this life of mine.

I would share the lessons learned openly and honestly. With the hope that my fellow Pilgrims would do the same. We would share this journey, the truth and our encounters with the Divine.

That my fellow Pilgrims is how PilgrimageGal was born. And in that process, I would create my own transformative journey.

I have always been transparent when the blog first began; I was worried about my mortality, that I wouldn't live to see my Beauties grow into adulthood. The blog was and is for them, but it's more than just a record, it's a journal of my life lessons as I transform. I won't lie and say those thoughts of my mortality don't still cross my mind deep in the darkness of night; but it's not my focus. My focus remains learning, growing in my faith and running down the path to see what the next mile marker will teach me about love. It is in that transformation that all of my fellow Pilgrims (that's you) help me grow and deepen the lessons of this journey.

The beauty of transformation is that you have no idea how you will be on the other side. That is why this journey is so meaningful, I'm learning in real time. Sure there are many things I know for-sure and I share them. But more than that, I lean that each mile marker my faith strengthens, my love expands, and I'm growing to love more deeply that person that I see in the mirror. That expanding love, makes me a better mom, lover, friend and better Kathryn walking in the world.

We all have struggles. Sometimes it's your broken down jet, other times it's laundry, crazy bosses, relationship issues, parenting troubles, your ex, money worries, dealing with doctors, stupid insurance companies and raising loving and healthy children. I don't know too many of us who have the luxury and I mean luxury to drop out of our daily life to achieve this transformation. That is why PilgrimageGal is here. We are on this sacred pilgrimage together, we bring our problems, our joys, our successes and failures on the journey. We do all of this while caring for our aging parents, our children, while we carpool, work and make Wednesday night dinner. 

We are Pilgrims in the trenches! We are familiar with the messy and the foolishness of life. That is why we are walking and laughing together, sharing our truth, our love and light, and waiting for the next mile marker for a bite to eat, a delicious glass of wine, and some time for reflection.

That is what I'm offering to you... So lace up your shoes and meet me here. When your life leads you to a mile marker on your journey. We will sort it out together and keep moving forward.

I've gotta run, the laundry basket is overflowing... 

Till we meet again.

Namaste... The Divine in me bows and honors the Divine in you always.

Much love always,
Kathryn the PilgrimageGal

PS. I love to hear from you, so don't hesitate to send me a note with an update of your journey.  You can leave a comment, or friend me on Facebook or Instagram or send me an email using the form on the right. Only my eyes will see the email, so please reach out and share your truth. I will do my best to get back in touch. 

photo credit: Scallop Shell via photopin (license)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Tips for Friendships with Chronic Disease...



My life is different from everyone in my inner circle. My closest friends and my family don't have the medical struggles that I face. I won the medical lottery, I have been diagnosed with multiple severe and at times life-threatening rare diseases. In addition to managing other conditions that have sprung up as a result. Having a rare disease means my life and that of my family is never predictable. Which could make maintaining lasting relationships difficult. But, that has not been my experience.

Over the years, I have learned how to educate my friends and family so they know all about my health.  While I never get a day off from management of my health; I don't want my relationships to be about my health.  You have to find the balance between sharing your truth and still living life. It's a fine line, I want friends and family to understand why I may not be at my best without them feeling sorry for me.  At times, I have tried to make light of some of my struggles with humor to put people at ease. I also work diligently to explain how hard it is to live in a body that has betrayed me and share that truth with honesty and love.

In October of 2014, my husband Jeffrey and I uprooted our family of four from the suburbs of Washington, DC and moved west to Santa Barbara, CA. I grew up in the DC area, my life, my family, my doctors, and my best girlfriends in the entire world live there. While moving from your support network is hard for any reason; it is especially difficult when you have developed networks of individuals that understand and love you with all of your health issues.

The move was the best decision for my immediate family. My health is better on the West Coast, more even temperatures. No more horrible cold winters and hot humid summers. Santa Barbara has less people, less traffic and a relaxed slower lifestyle which all agree with our family. The move came with sacrifices, leaving my support system and having to forge new ones. I have found that when you are honest from the start about your health it makes relationships a little easier. Everyone in this world has struggles, finding and maintaining friends will be so much easier when you up front share yours.

At a certain point, Jeffrey and I realized that we would have to tolerate the intolerable, and manage my health. I would likely never have remission and never be cured. What was essential was within this space, I needed to find tools to live the best life in my body, to make peace with this life.  I needed to strengthen the relationships with the people who could understand this. The ones that loved me at my core, not the girl who "used to" do activities with them.

I found that my "true" friends are the friends who wanted to "be with me" not "do things with me". The two are quite different.  We often forget that underneath the label of chronic illness we are still ourselves.  Each of us is still funny, smart, charming and the life of the party. Often just the party location may need to change. My life is filled with a circle of love, the best girlfriends one could ever dream. I still listen, laugh and be the best friend ever... It just means I'm on the sofa or on the phone, not drinking martinis at midnight. (I'll just add that most "healthy" mothers of two aren't doing that either!)

Here are my tips for sustaining lasting friendships while struggling with severe chronic illness.

My chronic disease is like having a perpetual toddler so plan ahead and have a back up plan. My husband and I like to joke that we have three children, our two real kids and the perpetual toddler that is my chronic disease. Everyone has seen a toddler lose it in a public place; well some mornings I wake up and realize that is exactly what my body is doing to me. For no reason my body has decided that it is not going to behave today, that means it's going to be a bad day. We all love toddlers; but we all know they can be a hot mess. You never know when she is going to have a meltdown (i.e. a "flare") and toddlers are amazing in that they are fantastically unpredictable. Toddlers have personalities, charming, delightful but one wrong look, twenty minutes overdue for a nap and you are going to pay the price. My body does the same to me, too long in the hot sun, too long on my feet when I should be resting. My body will shut down and I can be in bed for days. So be flexible, be ready to change plans and know that you will need to cancel some activities on short notice.

How about a wine and cheese party in bed: When was the last time you had your best girlfriends over for a glass of wine? When I have been in bed too long thanks to my health, I know I need to see my girls. The ones who make me laugh and will talk to me about the normal stuff--let's be honest the life gossip!  One of my favorites is when I had a cocktail party in my bedroom. You got it. We had snacks and wine on my bed. They grab the glasses, they know where to find my wine, and carry it all upstairs. My girlfriends come over climb up on my king size bed. I sipped on some tea and they have wine (always in my Waterford crystal glasses) and eat cheese and fruit.  We laughed and giggled for a couple of hours, they went home at seven happy to have been with me and I was sound asleep at 8.  Jeff may have slept on a bed with a bunch of crumbs that night, but I slept perfectly, with a smile on my face for days.

I'm the queen of text parties. How often does it happen that I feel great only to have my children come down with the dreaded stomach flu the one night in three months I'm ready to go out. My solution, text parties during movie award season. My besties and I send group texts discussing who wore what and who shouldn't have! It's the best. I have had one of my girls over and we are texting the one girl who was home with a husband traveling or a sick kiddo. It reminds us that no matter a friend's schedule or health, we can all still enjoy an evening together. You will also be shocked how often you laugh out loud when reading texts.

I still love lunch dates with my best girlfriends. How about take-out lunch on your sofa. Who needs to sit in a restaurant all dressed up when your biggest accomplishment for the day is brushing your teeth and showering. I have a favorite Thai place that has the most amazing take-out. It also tastes just as amazing on my sofa in my sweats.

Movie night, coffee or brunch, what about yoga in your home? My sister gave me a world class meditation class in the sunlight of my living room floor. Just the two of us, her voice and the best meditation warmed by the sun's healing rays. My living room has also been home to therapy sessions, impromptu yoga class and the best prayer group meetings.

Being a good friend also means being able to step outside your illness.  Being sent to bed is very different from choosing to spend the day in bed. I've lost track of how many times I have been sent to bed by my doctors.  Everyone has struggles in their life. Everyone. When you live with chronic disease it sometimes is easy to get caught up in your world of doctors and treatments and forget that your closest friends lives are still spinning too. I've been in bed countless times and taken some serious phone calls talking my friends through crisis. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that it's not always about you.

As the world's biggest type A, I love to have my make-up on, and my house perfect, but what I have learned is that no one really cares, when your best friends haven't seen you for however long. They really don't care... They really just want to be with you, to laugh, see you and to know that you are one day closer to being back up and running the world.  You don't have to leave your home when you aren't at your best.  No, you sometimes just need to make sure the key is under the door mat.

As always, the Divine in me bows to the Divine in you.--Namaste

If this post resonated with you, then I think you'll like; Chronic disease is like a bad boyfriend.

I love to hear from you, please friend me on Facebook or Instagram. Or send me an email using the form on the right.  Only my eyes will see the email, so please reach out and share your truth. I will do my best to get back in touch. I love updates from all of you, so don't hesitate to send me a note with an update of your journey.

XO
Kathryn
PilgrimageGal


Photo Credit: pixabay