For Everything There Is a Season

Tuesday was the day. The much-anticipated day.

For the past few months, I’ve followed doctors’ orders. On a medical trial for the purpose of eliminating the need for breast cancer surgery, I’ve taken the endocrine therapy intended to shrink my small malignant tumor, and I’ve waited. On Tuesday, a slew of tests and appointments awaited: an ultrasound, a CT scan, an MRI, blood withdrawals, a COVID examination, and a visit with the radiation oncologist.

Sure enough, the real-time sonographic imaging measured a 20% decrease in the volume of my irregular hypoechoic mass with indistinct margins. The medicine that I’ve hated for blocking my hormones has finally done me a favor. It shrunk my tiny tumor, which means no surgery for me. Why can’t I say that with a little extra enthusiasm? This is such great news. Oh wait, my hormones. Going, going, gone. I wonder if I will ever feel like myself again.

For now, I stay the course with the medicine. I tell myself no feeling is final…words have power…God has my back. On Wednesday, I start my radiation, five rounds, every other day. The end. Over and done. And then I wait. Again. I let it all happen and just keep going.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. 

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

Cheers to Year 53

Photo by lil artsy on Pexels.com

I count my years by December 30ths. Cheers to Year 53, and Happy Birthday to Me!

In the last days of December, I like to reflect and adjust. Or try to adjust. Why not enter the New Year with my mind right? Except in recent days, the more I turned the events of ’22 over in my brain, the more I heard nothing but crickets. I drew no real conclusions. Wasn’t it Socrates who said something like “The more I learn, the less I know”?

My thoughts from a year ago:  

“In fact, there’s no better time than a new year or a birthday to let bygones be bygones and let it go. A gift to myself. Peace. I Believe our struggles strengthen us. I suppose that’s my 2021 takeaway. Strength. Perseverance. I made it. You did, too. As for 2022, I choose Hope. Maybe we’ll all be surprised.”

Crystal Byers

Perspective from my barely-younger former self, the girl who feels all the feels, but reaches for the bold.

As for 2023, I’ll stuff my pockets with the necessary ammo and wish you all the same:

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

Belief, Strength, Perseverance, Honesty, Courage, Progress, and Grace…

Happy New Year to You and Yours!

On GRACE

On January 2, I wrote, “I suppose, if I have one goal or one word for myself this year, I’m leaning toward GRACE. GRACE when I want to beat myself up. GRACE when I want to beat someone else up.”

The words “I suppose” sound half-hearted.

“If.” Noncommittal.

“I’m leaning…” Not quite there.

Perhaps, I needed a plan. Perhaps, more prayer.

Sure enough, by October, my word of the year had escaped my otherwise-preoccupied mind. I searched the blog and discovered these few lines toward the bottom of my first post of 2022.

“I’m leaning toward GRACE. GRACE when I want to beat myself up. GRACE when I want to beat someone else up.”

And what have I been doing to myself these last few days?

Beating myself up.

On housekeeping, on Christmas shopping, on my inability to move from the couch after work, on my not checking in on friends and family.

Then there are the fantasies of throwing throat punches. On the road, in the grocery store, even at school.

Then the anger melts to tears.

And suddenly, finally, I hear GRACE in the back of my head. In a velvety smooth voice, she says, “Honey Child, what would Jesus do? ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (John 13:34).”

And that’s GRACE—

Feeling the love and paying it forward, understanding we’re human and flawed, extending ourselves GRACE and love and time for honesty and patience for what we cannot control, knowing God will get us through if we just lean in.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and LOVE and GRACE and PEACE to you!

I’ll Be Okay

Not long ago, my routine mammogram came back suspicious. I examined myself repeatedly and found nothing out of the ordinary. But there was a certain sensitivity I somehow hadn’t noticed. Was it in my head? I distracted myself with a mantra: I am fearless and therefore powerful.  

Two weeks later, I endured a repeat procedure, a more thorough and painful flattening of my left boob, followed by an ultrasound, performed by a technician, and again by a doctor. The doctor told me to come back for a biopsy the following day. He scrunched his mouth to the side and locked eyes with me. He said, “I’m sorry. We caught this early. It’s tiny.”  

He didn’t say cancer. I reasoned with myself. I’ll be okayI’ll be okay…I’ll be okay…

At home, I told my husband about the biopsy and failed to mention the rest.

Kody drove me to my appointment the next day and waited. In a back room, they took the tissue they needed with a needle and inserted a tiny titanium post to mark the spot of the tiny tumor.

On the way home, I said, “It’s cancer.” There was silence in the pause. “I mean, I don’t want this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I know.” All of this happened on a Thursday.

Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. I waited for the official word.

On Tuesday, the second day of school, I received a call that went to voicemail. A call from a voice who requested a return call.  

I knew.

It’s cancer, confirmed, tiny, and we caught it early.

At my first appointment for repeat testing and a second opinion, I met a woman, three years cancer-free. Similar diagnosis and situation caught early. She had flown to Houston from South Carolina for a follow-up. I have a quick drive across town.

And I have treatment options. Not all include surgery. One of my doctors, I can’t remember which one, said, “If you had to pick a cancer, this is the one.”

So, I feel lucky.

I’m waiting for my next appointment and thinking good thoughts.

I’m thankful every day is a new day, and I’ll be okay.

Thinking Good Thoughts

Last week started with a recurring thought from Maya Angelou’s mother. She was always…

I want to be like that. Unfazed by whatever happens.

Another thought came from the Book of Proverbs…

I want to be like that. Strong and Dignified. Fearless and Joyful.

Meanwhile, I’ll name it and claim it.

When Saturday rolled around, I mindlessly scrolled Facebook when a book caught my eye:  

The post said, “Found this book in our move. Everyone could use a little more positive in their life! Ready to apply this with my family, friends, and students! If you’ve read this, what was your biggest take away?”

I read the book about five years ago and remembered the part about energy vampires. I pulled the book from my shelf and flipped to that chapter. These words jumped off the page: “If you want to be successful you have to be very careful about who is on your bus. After all there are people who increase your energy and there are people who drain your energy…Your job is to do your best to eliminate any negativity on your bus and this includes negative people.” Noted.

Charles Dickens once wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What a paradox! Our times can be both the best and the worst. Let’s choose our focus.

Alexandre Dumas once wrote: “Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.” The storms of life happen—bad weather, catastrophes, flat tires, politics, rude people, illness, death—and when storms happen, I protect my energy.

I seek out good. I redirect my thoughts. I choose faith and gratitude, peace and hope.

There’s energetic power in the thoughts we carry. And energy, good or bad, travels. It transfers into our cells and to our loved ones. I don’t know about you, but my molecular make-up, my loved ones, too, could use some good energy. So, today I’m thinking good thoughts—for you and me—strong, dignified, fearless, joyful thoughts. Pass it on.

Bleh vs. What If?

Bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh,
bleh,
bleh,
bleh.

Bleh and bleh,
worry and fear,
sad and mad,
shame and guilt
and regret.

And yet—

What if?
I have the power
to rewrite my story.

What if?
My words and thoughts
have creative power
to transform.

What if?
I think on noble things:
health, wealth, and love,
faith and gratitude,
peace and hope
and joy.

What if I believe?
Life is good and generous,
and miracles are in motion
beyond my wildest dreams.

What if I say?
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

No Feeling Is Final

June has been my least fruitful writing month in years. With bigger priorities, I didn’t care to write about bleh and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for fluff.

Then, a week ago, I attended an online workshop led by my former student Monique Mitchell.

Monique was my student in sophomore English back in 2007. I’m not sure I realized at the time that she had moved from California to Texas to live with her aunt, but I remember her as a gifted writer. We just connected and stayed connected. I never suspected she almost failed her freshman year.  

Three years ago, Monique was living in LA, working for a literary organization, freelancing, and teaching writing workshops. She invited me to lunch at the airport Marriott in Houston, where she was guest speaking at a conference. In the hotel lobby, she oozed good vibes and embraced me with love. In the hotel restaurant, she told me how a job opportunity had presented itself in Ghana. She planned on moving soon. We spoke about our wildest dreams, the power of words, and self-limiting beliefs.

As we parted ways that day, she said, “The world needs your voice,” and she told me she loved me. I said it back. Speaking of powerful words and wildest dreams, I suddenly found myself pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing.  

While scrolling Instagram not long ago, I saw that Monique has returned to LA. She had created an online workshop called “Into Existence,” a beginner’s course to speaking your dream life into being. Needing inspiration for my dream life, I signed up.

Within the first six minutes of the course, Monique said so much that resonated. I wrote down these words:

“Life is a reflection of my beliefs. It’s a reflection of my language, and it’s a reflection of my choices.”

Monique Mitchell

This idea isn’t new to me. My dad always said, “Crystal, you can choose your attitude.” And sometime along the way I discovered Dr. Wayne Dyer’s teaching.

For years, I’ve said, “You can choose hope or choose despair, and who would choose despair?” Then that time after a hurricane flooded my home, I settled on a formula for life:

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope.

But for the last year or so, after watching several of my loved ones suffer, I’ve felt justified in my anger toward God. Yes, things have gone my way, but I had chosen to wallow in worry and fear and anger and sadness. At the end of the workshop, I realized the need to uproot my toxic thoughts and plant some healthy ones—like a renewed faith and gratitude and peace and hope.  

A week passed and so did my father-in-law. He was the best dad and grandpa, kind and generous, an amazing golfer and a gifted joke-teller. Tommy fought the good fight and finished the race. Cancer sucks, and of course, I’m sad, especially for my family. Still, I’m thankful he no longer suffers. That feeling in my heart, the one that catches in my throat, means I loved him. And love is life, life is love, if we’re lucky.

Anyway, God, I’m sorry about being so angry for so long. Please forgive me and help me with that. And thanks for welcoming Tommy home. ❤️ P. S. Thanks also for your words in Jeremiah 29:11. “‘I have plans to prosper you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” I’m open to receiving miracles beyond my wildest imagination.

Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Not long ago I caught up with my cousin Patti by phone, an overdue catch-up. We talked for over an hour, and somewhere in the conversation I said, “I know I’m sensitive.” I’m not even sure why I said it or what we were talking about.

A day or two later, she texted me. “Love talking to you. Grandma felt that she was too sensitive. Think about that. She was loved unconditionally by all because she allowed herself to be sensitive, she understood. Be kind to you. Love you, Dear Crystal.”

And so I have been thinking about that. I didn’t realize this about my grandma. In my own fifty plus years, I have come to see my sensitivity as a strength, even if it’s sometimes painful.

April 30 is Grandma’s birthday. She would’ve been 103. Hard to believe she’s been gone for thirty years and funny how I feel closer to her now than ever before. When I talk to my cousins, I feel her presence, like glue, holding her family together. Of her five children, only one remains. I’m quite sure Grandma prayed for her grandchildren to carry on the importance of family—and loving each other unconditionally.  

I grew up in small town Oklahoma, a five-hour drive from where my parents grew up and my grandparents remained. Our visits were limited to weekends mostly. My family would spend Friday night with Granny and Gramps and part of Saturday, then Saturday night with Grandma and Grandpa. On Sunday after church, my grandparents’ house would fill with my aunts and uncles and cousins and buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Then Mom and Dad, my sister and brother would hop back in the car and drive the five hours home. I didn’t have much one-on-one time with my grandma, not like my cousins who lived nearby, and so I treasure my connections with those who really knew her. And the words Grandma left behind. Golden, priceless, handwritten words about being raised by her grandmother. And these about her birthday:

“There is no doubt that Grandma spoiled her “stubborn-as-a-mule” granddaughter. She would make a party of my birthday—a three-layer cake on my third birthday, four-layer cake on the fourth, five-layer cake on my fifth and that was the year Grandpa died. We would go, with the birthday cake, egg salad sandwiches with fresh lettuce out of the garden, and find the picnic spot, a natural rock table with rock chairs set just right where the best party I ever attended would be. We had such good times.”

Catherine Savage

My grandmother never had a mean thing to say. Her laugh twinkled like the brightest stars. She was the epitome of good. And today I believe she’s celebrating on high with her grandma, my grandpa and my mom, Aunt Carol, Uncle Jimmy, Uncle Joed, my much too young cousin Logan, a cake stacked 103 layers tall, and the best party ever. Love You, all of you, and Happy Birthday, Grandma!

A classy lady, my grandmother.

The Unspoken Promise vs. The Spoken One

Back in January, as other people made resolutions, I told myself I would write one blog post per week, an unspoken promise of sorts. I never told anyone until now or recorded that thought anywhere. It was just one of the many conversations I have with myself.

Instead, I issued myself a proclamation in a single word—GRACE. Sometimes life comes at you in heavy ways. Not everything must be written or even discussed. Some problems take time. The intensity of other difficulties interferes with the inevitable daily good. And while I’ve shed some recent tears, I remind myself that flowers don’t bloom every day. I remind myself of the ancient wisdom: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Good, right?

Somehow, I’ve pulled off that weekly post. Sometimes, it’s about sitting at your computer and just doing it. Sometimes, it’s about having enough GRACE for yourself to move forward differently than planned.

Chagall’s The Ukrainian Family, circa WWII, Prayers for Ukraine and Peace.

February 26

Today is my mother’s birthday. Just thinking those words makes my heart sink. She would’ve been 82.

But just now outside my window, I spied a cardinal hopping through the grass. I remembered hearing about cardinals being symbolic of angels.

I tapped cardinals and angels into the search bar of my phone.

“Cardinals mostly symbolize devotion and determination; it is the visitor from heaven.

‘Cardinals appear when angels are near,’ as Victoria McGovern said, the Cardinals are platonic, a precious message God sends to the world. The Cardinals are the messengers of God for those who hope and seek blessings for their ailing souls.

The Cardinal represents beauty in the dark times, hope in the sorrow, and renewal in the harsh winter. It is said that if you see a cardinal bird, it symbolizes your deceased loved ones are watching out for you.”

kidadl.com

My mother was always an angel. Now she has wings and a halo to prove it. And today I heard from her AND God. Happy Birthday, Dear Mama! I hope you hear me, too.

May your day be blessed.