It’s taken me almost a year to write this one blog post. Over 300 very long days. I’ve tried, don’t get me wrong. And yet, every time I’ve attempted to hammer out the first sentence, the tears roll, mascara burns my eyes and I turn into a blubbering emotional mess who wonders if her Prozac is really just a placebo.
Let me preface by saying that although I appreciate the kind comments from former students and friends who seem to think I live a life tied with a big pink bow, you have been sorely misled. Don’t be offended, but you are being naive if you believe that life seems to have fallen perfectly into place for one Angie Spady. There’s one common thread that many of you may have failed to see: PAIN. And quite a bit of it.
You read correctly. It’s not the luck of the Irish (or Scotch-Irish, which is 99% of my heritage and explains my stubborn temper) that landed me in many of these situations. It’s been personal and physical pain that landed me in this mountainous but flower-filled life.
Yes, God grants us free will and some of my own stupid choices rocked me to my very core. I might as well put it out there. Perhaps you can relate?But there’s also those life events which come out of left field and leave us screaming up at God, “WHY?!!”
Will I have some questions for God when I get to Heaven? I have a feeling I’m not alone.
There’s one painful event, in particular, of why I couldn’t write this blog post until now. I wasn’t healthy enough to do it earlier. Who knows, perhaps I’m still not ready. But I have to try, as I hope it will help other women.
I often get questions like “You write books, right? Why are you doing this jewelry thing?"
So to those of you who are curious, look closely at your smartphone or computer screen to find the answer: I DID IT TO SURVIVE INTENSE PAIN AND IMMEASURABLE GRIEF. I DID IT TO LIVE.
There. The cat is out of the bag. It wasn’t to express my endless creativity, make money, or fill my immense amount of leisure hours. (those things don't exist, by the way) It was to survive, as last year I lost the closest sister-in-Christ who's ever been in my life. In fact, she’s been in my life since the day I was born. Carolyn wasn’t just a cousin, my art teacher, and mentor, she was my soul sister. As long as I can remember, she’d taken me under her wing, given me one on one attention, and exposed me to art of every kind. She, too, was a creative spirit and fostered that trait in a freckle-faced little blonde who was a question box from the time she could put sentences together. Whether it was allowing me to use her acrylic paints at age five or urging me to use my imagination and complete drawings she’d start on paper, Carolyn fostered creativity in me that I never knew existed.
In high school, I learned rather quickly that math and science weren’t my thing. I did well enough and made good grades, but I should have known it wasn’t normal to get queasy every time I was asked to balance a chemistry equation. But I could walk into Carolyn’s art room and life became calm. Suddenly, all was right with the world. When I was bullied by girls and wanted to quit school, the art room became my refuge. I could go there, pull out a National Geographic and be inspired to paint. I’d gaze at beautiful photographs of some faraway country and I escaped, if only for an hour. I was secure in my quiet space and Carolyn would whisper, “Angie, it’s okay. Don’t let them upset you. You’re safe here. “
And I knew that I was.
As I became older, got married and things got harder, my sweet Carolyn, in her Christian wisdom, was still that same refuge. Had she gone through her own hardships like divorce and pain of her own? Most definitely. But still, her faith kept her strong. I hadn’t developed that faith yet.I didn’t know Him.I cannot tell you the countless times I’d drive to her home in tears, morning and night, not knowing what to do or where to turn. But I knew I needed her prayers and simply her calming presence. Ol’ Angie had royally messed up or had been messed over. I felt as if I was coming apart at the seams. And yet, Carolyn was always there. Unconditionally. Over the years of personal trials, she prayed with me and taught me about faith. In fact, she taught countless people about faith. Dear readers, I hope and pray you have a friend like that. All you need is one. If you don’t have, I’m going to pray as I write this that you find that special friend.
I’ll never forget every detail about that day which forever will be seared into my brain. I remember what I was wearing, what she was wearing and even the colors of the bedding—- when Carolyn uttered the words, “Angie, it's cancer and they didn’t get it all. It was just too large and they didn’t get it all!”
And she sobbed, and I held her. And then I sobbed, and she held me. I’d been on vacation when the nightmare occurred, and my Mom called to inform me Carolyn had been rushed to surgery to remove the mass. It was stage 3B ovarian cancer. That was bad. Really bad. The mass had been huge. How on earth could anyone have missed this?? But ovarian cancer is easily missed, until it’s too late. But how? “How?!!!” I looked up at God and screamed.
As a drug rep, I drove around for weeks in a fog of disillusionment. How could a God so supposedly loving allow this to happen to one of the most amazing Christian women I’d ever known? I was angry. There’s a part of me that still is. I asked every physician I called upon what they thought of her chances. Almost all of them said, “Six months, maximum. Angie. Just prepare to say goodbye. It’s just too advanced.” I couldn’t deal with it. And more importantly, Carolyn wouldn’t accept it.
Or perhaps I should rephrase that. Carolyn’s words were, “Well, the doctors may say one thing, but our God has the final word. I guess this is what I’m to go through and I’ll remain on this earth as long as it’s God’s will. I’ll try to have joy, for He is good. He is always good.“ How on earth she could be so positive baffled me.
My friends, Carolyn didn’t live six months…….
She lived over 10 years.
That’s not a typo. She shocked every single health care professional that God brought into her path. They all were left shaking their heads. Of course, it didn’t shock Carolyn, for she knew very intimately the God she served and the power only He had. But know this: she would have accepted her circumstances had it been 10 days or 10 weeks. She proudly proclaimed her steadfast faith and that should be a lesson to all of us. I cannot count the number of people she led to Christ while still teaching, getting chemo, delivering art supplies to the children’s hospital and singing at churches. I just didn’t understand it.
The cancer came back repeatedly and in different places. And with that came more hair loss, nausea, more treatments and more wigs. Carolyn would even joke, “God has allowed me to amass quite a collection of these things!” or in rhyme, “Well, when it comes to me and chemo in 2010, I’ll do it again!”
How on earth? And year after year she’d deal with this sick, horrific disease. She faced it and I hated it. I despised it. Every time I heard it was back, I got angry. I took it out on my family, my friends and anyone in my path. It wasn't fair to them, but I’d clearly come to the conclusion that life wasn’t fair. I’d get angry at my church when Carolyn and I (along with her dedicated boyfriend, Glenn) decorated the sanctuary at Christmas and she was near exhaustion. Sweat would drip from her wig and she’d have to sit down and rest every 30 minutes or so.
“Why is SHE the one volunteering to DO this?! Can’t they see, this woman is sick?!” I’d ask in disgust. But my church had already figured out what I hadn’t: Carolyn wanted to do it. It meant so much to her, as it was her creative way to shower beauty on her Lord’s house. I failed to see so much, because I was clouded with so much pain and anger.
Last winter Carolyn’s cancer came back with a vengeance—around her aorta and in her brain. I quickly flew back to KY from New Mexico. During one visit, she was so disoriented and I saw a Carolyn I didn’t recognize. The lesions had clearly affected her mind. She tried eating with a knife, was consumed with only eating oranges and was so confused. I was scheduled to go to India that month and knew there was no way I could leave her. But Carolyn's reply astounded me. “Angie, just because cancer is my path doesn’t mean it’s yours. Go to that Christian school in India and bring me back a list of the children’s names. I want to put it in my Bible and pray for them.” It was all I could do to hold it together. I truly didn’t think I’d ever see her again until we got to Heaven.
But God had other plans. I went to India and the kids from the slums prayed for Carolyn.
I brought back their names for her Bible and Carolyn prayed for them. I couldn’t help but think about the first time I fell in love with India. It was in her art room when she handed me that National Geographic. “It’s okay, Angie. You’re safe here. “
Carolyn was such a fighter. She held on longer, endured intensive radiation on her brain, and began thinking clearer. We’d talk on the phone, text when she was able, and she'd even planned to visit me in New Mexico. I couldn’t wait to take her to Georgia O’Keefe’s home, as without Carolyn I would have never been taught about one of my favorite artists.
But the cancer was relentless, filling her lungs with fluid by spring. We knew the end was near when they recommended hospice care last May. Once again, I flew back to KY to be with her. I fell apart in front of my soul sister, something I vowed I’d never do. But she kept assuring me on the phone and especially in person, “Angie, stop it. I taught you better than this. Why are you crying when you know you’ll see me again? You hang on to those words. You will see me again. Okay?! Turn to God and to your art. They will both get your through this.”
To be honest, I didn’t want to hear her advise. I wanted to hear, “I’m going to beat this again,” or “Just be patient, my little grasshopper,” as she’d told me before as a child. But those words didn’t come. Carolyn went to be with Jesus on June 6, 2016.
I’d never felt so alone.
There were days I felt so lost that I barely made it without the help of a few close friends. I shut everyone out and would text just enough to let them know I was hanging on. My RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy) reared its ugly head and I experienced pain so horrific that I prayed my arm could be amputated. I remained in the bed covered in pain patches or kept my arm under cold water until it went numb. My body hurt and my heart hurt even worse. I wanted to become invisible—-so invisible that I didn’t care if I even existed anymore. It was at that point that I knew I needed help, as my daughters deserved more than a shell of a mother. Thankfully, I wasn’t too proud to seek it.
A grief counselor had been suggested by a dear friend, and yet on the day I was scheduled to see him, I suddenly became hesitant. Perhaps I was just stressed with life in general? I was bone tired from flying back and forth between KY and New Mexico. I tried to remind myself that I had so much to be thankful for. After all, I’d just been asked by Guideposts to be a contributing author for a new book for women (coming out July 2017) and would soon be receiving my assigned verses on which to write devotions.
Dear friends, isn’t it terrible when we try to talk ourselves out of seeing the writing on the wall? Whether it’s pride, fear of failure, or the refusal to allow others to see our vulnerabilities, the sooner we get a grip on who we really are, the healthier relationships we’ll have.
Luckily, counselor Ted Waird understands grief. I won’t go into his story, as you must read it for yourself. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jens-erik-gould/teds-story-from-tragedy-t_b_4577268.html But in a nutshell, he reminded me, “just because your grief is different than mine, doesn’t mean you’re not grieving.” I had to face that I was grieving over lots of things: the loss of Carolyn, my children had flown the nest, I’d left family behind and was starting over in a new home, in a new state, I wasn’t working anymore, and I’d also lost another key individual in my life that I’ll reserve for another blog post. There. Was. A. Lot. Of. Grief. And there in that office, I started a long journey back with help and love from my own little village: my counselor, my best friends in Taos and KY, my family, lots and lots of prayer to my Savior, and last but not least… you guessed it….MY ART. I remembered Carolyn’s words that she’d kept repeating: “You will see me again, Angie. Hang on to God and to your art. They will get you through this. I promise. Remember, you will see me again.”
And then it happened.
God spoke to me in a quiet and profound way that won’t shock those who believe. I know it certainly wouldn’t have shocked Carolyn, had she been there the day I opened my computer. The editor at Guideposts had finally sent the Bible verses on which I was supposed to write devotionals for women. I wasn’t sure I was ready to write again, but I knew I needed to dip my toe, not to mention my raw and exposed heart, back into the writing pool.
And there it was. Of the over 30,000 verses in the Bible in which the editor could have chosen for me, the very first verse assigned was John 16:22 So you may have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.
Dear readers, with God, there are no such things as coincidences.
I had been divinely assigned the very words Carolyn had reminded me and in which I’d repeated to myself hundreds of times to maintain my sanity. I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN.Tears flowed down my face because I knew without a doubt that I was being reminded, through our ever-loving Father’s words, that once again, I need not feel sorrow, for I would see her AND our Father in Heaven someday.
I hang on to that promise every day of my life. And if you’re hurting and have lost someone in your life, you hang on to that too.
Turn to His Word and may I suggest, as Carolyn did with me, find a fun hobby or volunteer with friends as a means to help get through these trials. That’s exactly what I did.
I began working with Roberto Lavadie, the wood master who created the altarpiece at St. Francis Cathedral, and he encouraged me to create a jewelry line.
Sure, I think about Carolyn every week as I dream up pendants and hope she'd approve. My family assures me she would. For they know what this jewelry really represents: friendship, healing, love and perseverance. I know that I still have a purpose. So do you.
New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment, referring to how the skies, sunsets, and all of nature practically entice everyone that visits. I see it's famous moniker in an entirely different way: it is here that I found my way back to God, in the very woods that surround me. Sweet friend, you can try to out run Him, out think him, or out reason Him, but know this: one way or another, you will find your way back to Him. Better yet, be willing to allow Him to find you….
As the old saying goes, “I never had enough faith to be an atheist.” That way of thinking is much harder, let me assure you. It takes a LOT of faith to look around this complex and intricate world and fail and see the power of an amazing Creator. And because of Carolyn’s reminder, His Word (definitely the book of John,) and the hundreds of people that witnessed Christ’s ascension into Heaven, I have steadfast faith that I will see Jesus and Carolyn again someday. For all that I know, she and Georgia O’Keefe may be painting together as I type these very words.
I’m sure I have friends and family who wonder why on earth a woman would reveal their most personal, vulnerable, and yes, flabby underbelly, for the whole world wide web to see. But if this grief-filled post helps just one person, then I am happy to do so. I don’t want another Christian sister to experience the heartache and hopelessness that filled not only my heart but my entire household. For when we grieve, regardless of the circumstances, we forget it touches so very many.
For those who see me in Taos and notice my chipped nail-polished hands, kindly look over them. Most likely I’ve been in the wood shop. And if you’ve purchased a pendant from my website, you know now what it really symbolizes: a long painful, but hope-filled journey. I still get teary-eyed when I think about that long dusty trek of grief. I’m sure I always will. But they’re good, grateful tears. And I’m thankful you like my work. Oh, how incredibly thankful I am that you keep my little mind busy…..
God Bless you as you go on your own journey. Lace up your sneakers and get going. And don’t forget, I’ll be here cheering for you along the way. I’ll even wear a pendant for good luck. Have faith, my readers, for He is good. As Carolyn always reminded me, He is always, always good.