Every time there is a major shift in our lives, and in the past couple years since I was regularly posting here on Montana Ranch Girl there have been a few, we have to take control of who we will choose to be because of the shifts.  Change means reinvention.

I think myself, as well as many of us, struggle with embracing change. And it seems like the more I resist the roller coaster of change in my life, that the more change comes my way.

Dramatic changes bring with them fear, loneliness, and anxiety. While we cope the best and the only way we know how, we often isolate ourselves, when what we really need most is to be embraced by others.
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Me at chemo.
When first diagnosed with cancer, for the longest time, I refused to believe that change was in the realm of possibility. I’ve since learned that change can happen quickly and at any point, especially when it’s not convenient. Before cancer everything in my life seemed to be just about perfect and I couldn’t accept that my life soon could and would be very different.  I had to learn that acknowledging change is allowing it to happen as it unfolds instead of approaching it from a place of fight or flight, either through denial or resistance.

Like most adults I’ve reinvented myself several times before.  I’ve never been happy waiting for my future to find me.  But after cancer I had forgotten that I had to choose reinvention.

I finished chemo in January of 2014 and radiation in March and was supposed to take a pill form of chemo until September.  The pill form of chemo created other health issues, including severe blood clots and cysts.  After getting a second opinion from a dear friend of mine who happens to be an oncologist, I went against my oncologist wishes and stopped taking the drug in July.
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My beloved Zoey died of cancer June 16, 2014.
My treatments put my mind in a chemical haze making it hard to write or string sentences together.  Physically depleted I could not go back to work at the ranch so I took a job in town that made me miserable.

And then I turned 40.  I didn’t take this birthday gracefully.  I was certainly not where I wanted to be in my life at this age.

I quit my job in town and went back to work at the ranch, but still had this nagging feeling that I was not reaching my full potential and physically no longer wanted to work so hard.

Another year goes by and I’m still waiting for my future to find me, lost in my own grief, loss, confusion, and sadness.  And then after a particularly stressful spring and fall here at the ranch we had a devastating hay fire.
It was literally a baptism by fire, I had my first panic attack and realized my life had to change and change now!  I realized that I was having so much trouble moving forward because I had no idea what it was that I wanted to move towards.  I was thinking about my past, but not what I wanted for my future.
“You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” ~C. S. Lewis
I started a new business, Agri-Marketing Solutions and started working in the office at the ranch.  And what I’m really excited to announce is that I am now launching a second business Cowgirl Grit and Grace and future blog posts can be seen there.

Please bare with me, the website is not yet complete, but I promised you, my readers, that I would make this announcement this week, and it’s the last day of the week.

Reinvention is neither easy nor always smooth.  We often encounter resistance from those around us who can’t see us in new roles.  And resistance from ourselves, it’s often hard to let go of what’s familiar and comfortable, even when those things cause us pain.  We often struggle with limiting beliefs or stories about ourselves that hold us back from trying new things.

But, as John Wayne said, “courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”  I hope you choose courage instead of letting your fear choose your future for you.
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Mark and I were married January 15, 2015
 
 
I ordered my wigs before I lost my hair, with the attitude that it would be fun to try something new.  With different styles and colors, I could choose a different wig for whatever mood I was in that day.  Who knows, maybe even after cancer there may be an occasion where I want to be a sultry flaming red head.
I ordered three different wigs, two cheaper ones, a red one named Sugar Rush and brunette one named Cosabella and a more expensive blonde wig called the Scene Stealer.  I even considered ordering a blue one in a bobbed hairstyle just for fun called the Go, Go Girl.
But wearing them out in public made me feel as though I was dressing up for Halloween.  It was just as if I was wearing a rainbow colored clown wig or an Orphan Annie wig.  And physically it felt like I was wearing a mop on my head, hot, and itchy and after chemo my hair literally hurt for several days just before more of it fell out.

A few days after shaving my head we made a trip to Montana give a Precision Planting clinic.  It was my first trip off the ranch to be seen by the rest of the world without my hair and I was so excited about the opportunity the trip gave me to reconnect with one of my best friends. 

Our first night in Billings we were to have dinner with clients and I decided to don the brunette Cosabella for the occasion.  I was so uncomfortable in it that I would fidget with it creating tangles in its nylon threads and had to get up and use the restroom several times to make sure it hadn’t slipped out of place or to make sure it didn’t look like I was wearing a wig.  Each time I looked in the mirror I wondered, “Who is this person?”  I was so used to seeing the same girl staring back at me each day and it was still a shock to not recognize myself.  I ended up leaving the dinner early to go back to my hotel room with my confidence shot.
To me my hair had been a defining feature, something I considered central to my identity and a symbol of femininity that was important to me working in a career field with mostly men.  And it was finally one of the few things about my looks that I liked and was confident about. Loosing my hair was a reminder that my cancer was real and my otherwise very healthy body was sick.

Not to mention I have this huge scar across my scalp from “inappropriately” playing on the beach in California.  Normally I am proud of my scars, to me they are proof that I have taken a risk, taken a chance to fully live life, even if it at the time it was a stupid thing to do.  But they certainly weren’t beauty marks.
I purchased the wigs or ‘cranial prosthesis’ so that I wouldn’t be cancer identified because often cancer patients are made to feel it’s socially inappropriate to be a cancer patient.  You certainly don’t see many out and about donning a bald head.  We are expected to file away the reality of the situation  in some far-off emotional safe so that others can feel comfortable. 

When you tell people you have cancer everyone who loves you is freaked out.  Friendships shift.  Family roles and dynamics change.  You find out pretty quickly who you can really count on and who you can’t.  True colors begin to appear like a neon sign.

It has been extremely interesting to me to see how others react to the news.

People’s body language reveals a lot about our society’s preconceived prejudices about cancer.  You’re often treated like you have a scarlet letter C pinned to your chest. 

I was surprised by how many people needed me to make them feel better about my cancer.  I found myself comforting friends and loved ones as they processed my news which has been a good lesson to me in setting boundaries. 

For one family member it has brought up unresolved issues from their cancer treatment that often get projected onto me.  I read in one of my cancer books that “cancer patients go through the same post-traumatic stress disorder as soldiers or rape victims.  Cancer as trauma is multifaceted, includes multiple events that can cause distress, and like combat, is often characterized by extended duration with a potential for recurrence and a varying immediacy of life-threat. (Smith 1999)”

Yet, no two cancers are the same, and neither are the experiences that surround them or how we each as individuals choose to deal with them.

The worst is when others made my cancer all about themselves.  I wonder sometimes at the human urge to attack the vulnerable in order to make themselves feel better about themselves.  These people like to decide who deserves their own pain, who is owed their own suffering and are just emotional vampires.

Cancer is not a punishment because of my previous wild and crazy ways.  It’s not a disgrace.  It isn’t a curse passed down through generations.  There is nothing taboo about it and it certainly isn’t contagious.

Then there are those who I know have good intentions but come across as patronizingly pitying you. Don’t say things like oh, you poor thing.  Don’t pity me or tell me you know how I feel.  I am not a victim I am a survivor and I certainly don’t pity myself and you have no clue how I feel, nor do I expect you to. 

One of my greatest supporters has been my 18 year-old son.  When I spoke to him about shaving my head he said, “I have no doubt mom, that you of all people can rock your bald head.”  He never fails to remind me of who I truly am!

So day two of our Montana trip on our way to Ft. Benton, I made sure we stopped at one of my favorite western wear stores in Harrlowton, Ray’s.  There I purchased a new silk wild rag and a new raspberry Stormy Cromer, determined to embrace my chemo baldness with a sense of adventure and pride, cowgirl style.  And in some small way it was an empowering choice to reinvent myself.  It was one small thing I could do to prove to myself that cancer wouldn’t consume my life and hold me back.

I was shocked by the overwhelmingly positive response I got that night wearing the new wild rag, especially since I had been so consumed with anxiety and fear about losing my hair in the first place.  I was told by several people that night I was beautiful.  I was even hit on, and continue to get hit on every time we have gone out since, leading me to believe that our vulnerabilities and imperfections makes us even more approachable, more human.  I am beginning to learn that the most beautiful asset a woman can posses isn’t her hair, her breasts, or curvy figure, it’s truly her imperfections that make her unique.
I have also learned that people will take your lead.  Most people take their cues from you.  When I walk into a room thinking yes, I have cancer, I’m a survivor and I’m fabulous, others have a tendency to treat me that way too.  If I deal with it well, so will they.  Which is pretty powerful and applicable to every other area of my life cancer or not.

It has also a powerful reinforcement about the importance of authenticity.

I’m not interested in engaging with the rest of the world or connecting with others on a superficial level.  Each of us wants and needs to be seen for our uniqueness, for our unique skills and talents as well as our pains and lessons learned and the expansive capacity we have for experiencing beauty and joy. 

Setting aside our roles, masks of personality and false fronts of always being okay, being emotionally congruent, genuine and telling the truth are major components of authenticity and integrity.

The greatest gift we can bring to any relationship is being just who we are.  Giving ourselves permission to just be who we are can also have a healing influence on our relationships.  When we relax and be ourselves, people often feel much better around us than when we are rigid, nervous, repressed and pretending to be something we aren’t.  Who we are is all we can be, it’s who we were intended to be, and has always been more than good enough!

I think there comes a time in everyone’s lives when it is more painful to not be yourself than it is to be fully yourself.  It is important that we become willing and ready to take the risk of being authentic, because in order to continue to grow and live with ourselves we realize we must liberate ourselves.  We have to stop allowing ourselves to be so controlled by others, their opinions and expectations and be true to ourselves, regardless of their reactions.

The relationships that end, would have ended anyway, the relationships that don’t are nurtured by our authenticity, and it is these people who love and respect us more for taking the risk of being who we truly are and this is where real connection and intimacy begin and where we find relationships that truly work.

While scary at times, it truly is empowering to feel what you feel, say what you want, be firm about your beliefs, and value what you need – to own your power to be fully yourself.

While I have yet to fully embrace my new Styrofoam headed life, I have certainly learned some valuable lessons and am truly coming into my own in the process.  Everything in life is a process.  Change takes time as well as kindness and self-compassion.  And who knows Halloween is just around the corner.  I’m thinking of going as Lady Godiva if I have to wear a wig.  Unfortunately in this neck of the woods they won’t let me ride my horse through the bar.  (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
 

vanity

10/23/2013

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I’ve never considered myself a vain person.  I’ve always been just as comfortable with myself covered in mud and manure as I have been dressed up.  But the day my hair started falling out in clumps by the handfuls from the chemo, I became vain.  Fortunately, it was also the day that two of my wigs came in the mail, and unfortunately they arrived alongside a copy of the French edition of Marie Claire, that I am featured in. 
In June, before my cancer diagnosis, I was interviewed for an article on working cowgirls.  Reporter Catherine Castro and photographer Amelie Debray from Marie Claire magazine in Paris, France came to the ranch and spent three days with me.  We had 820 head of yearling heifers to work during their visit.  The first day it rained all day and I was a drowned rat.  The second day I went to work all dolled up, ready to be photographed and my horse and I went down in the feedlot slop five minutes into the day.  I was baptized by mud and manure.
I took great pride in not being vain.  With that many head of cows to work in two days you don’t go home and clean up, you cowgirl up and get the job done. 

The final day I got to truly be a model for a day.  I can honestly say I much prefer working cows!  I couldn’t believe how self conscious and insecure I became in front of the lens of the camera.  I kept thinking to myself that my tall, leggy, golden palomino Dutch Warmblood horse that the photographer choose for the shoot, is much sexier than me and much more of the taste of the Parisian women reading the magazine.
I think we are all a little vain and all struggle with our body image at some point in life.  Why else would we worry so much about all our physical imperfections?  On some level it’s a measure of self worth to care how I present myself to the rest of the world, but it can become unhealthy when I start comparing myself to Victoria Secret models or the model on the cover of Marie Claire or even the readers of Marie Claire France. 

Especially as women it’s impossible in our culture not to learn the lessons beauty teaches us every day.  We’ve learned that the most beautiful women in the world are the most successful, they are the best.  The images on TV and in print media declare this is the American standard, this is what you should want to look like.  This is the ideal, which is why they can appear in public nearly naked, because they have nothing to hide, because their bodies are perfect.

In my naive way, I’ve always thought of vanity as the evil queen in Snow White, gazing into her mirror, desperate and willing to kill to be the most beautiful woman in the land.  To me vanity was not hating the cellulite on my ass and thighs or being bald and feeling worthless for being overweight or ugly.  Instead it was something sad and/or embarrassing for different reasons, because I couldn’t love and accept myself as I am.
After a long conversation with one of my best friends, I cowgirled up and headed to the bathroom to shave my head.  As my long blonde hair fell to the floor, with the magazine in the other room with my photo across from a Prada ad mocking me, I couldn’t hold back the tears.  I was terrified of how others were going to react, especially terrified of how my fiancée would react.   Would he still want to marry me without hair?  Would he be so repulsed that he would no longer want to make love to me?  I had created a whole scenario in my head that was much worse than reality.  I let my mind wander down the path of self-obsession and the results were torturous.
Then the following question popped into my head – Why do we look at ourselves through this distorted lens and focus on things that are truly unimportant, such as hair?

My hair doesn’t define who I am as a person, it does make me any more or any less of a person. But that didn’t help me feel much better.  I came to understand the behind out veils of vanity lies fear.  The fear of not measuring up to our own or other people’s standards.  The fear of when we are completely stripped down to the true essence of who we are as a human being that we may be unlovable.

I then realized that I didn’t feel insecure the first two days of being photographed for the magazine article.  I was happily doing the work I love, fully engrossed in my job, concerned more with my horse and the cows and getting to know Catherine and Amelie, who have become my friends, than I was of what anyone else thought of me. 
When you are open to truly connecting to those around you (even if it’s a cow or a horse) and making this world better, you worry less about your hair or your cellulite, because you realize that what’s most important is truly seeing another as a human being, how we look or what size we are is truly insignificant.  It is from that place that we rise above the gossip, the comparisons and the fear.
Maybe the most important lesson I am learning is that the remedy for insecurity is compassion, not only for others but first and foremost for yourself.
I don’t want to look like a French Marie Claire model, it’s really hard to pull a calf, let alone saddle your own horse when you are rail thin with no muscle tone.  And maybe that is vanity, the seed of choice and personal preference.  My own stubborn personal preference for myself that gets a little stronger each day as I treat myself with compassion and clear away the self-hatred and self-doubt.  If I am vain, I choose this kind of vanity.  The kind that involves persistently, looking at myself with love and compassion, selfishly looking into the mirror until I can not only accept but love what I see.  (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
Nietzsche said vanity is “the fear of appearing original: it is thus a lack of pride, 
but not necessarily a lack of originality.”
 
 
As I headed south last week for my second round of chemo, a strange brew of love and sorrow flowed within me.  Love for the rural lifestyle I live and sorrow for the losses left in Atlas’s aftermath. The sunflower fields where I stopped and took photos in early September were absolutely decimated, fields of corn with thousands of dollars of crop sitting in them can’t be combined, yards and shelter belts looked like a tornado hit them; and then I got south of Hoover, SD and my heart truly broke open, tears rolled down my cheeks as I saw dead cows six to seven deep in the ditch, more dead cows than I could count in an icy grave of a stock dam, and then a dump truck pulled out on the highway in front of me full of dead stock and I had to pull over.
We were fortunate and lost only a few head, and were out of power for 11 days, but thankfully had generators to weather the storm, so the true impact on South Dakota ranchers hadn’t really hit me until I saw it with my own eyes.
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The main road into our ranch the afternoon of October 13, 2013.
I pulled into Rapid City, SD feeling emotionally raw like one of the down power lines snapped during the storm, lying exposed on the ground.  In town I set out to run some errands.  My first stop was the fabric store.  I choose several fabrics to make scarves for my now bald head.  While at the counter having my fabric cut, I began visiting with the woman cutting my fabric and another customer and her daughter.  We talked about what I had seen on my drive down as I tried not to burst into tears in the store and then our conversation turned to the topic of cancer.  The woman cutting my fabric shared with me and the other customer that her husband had cancer and he was losing his battle against it and that very soon they would be making a final trip to visit loved ones and say goodbye.  The other customer who was there shopping for material to make herself a Wonder Woman Halloween costume, then shared with us the scar across her neck from her battle with thyroid cancer that is non-curable.  She truly is a Wonder Woman.
I was immediately touched by their stories and the courage it took them to be vulnerable enough with a complete stranger to share a part of themselves with me.  I was also painfully aware of the meagerness of my own perceptions of most people, how little of others souls I normally allow to touch my own, how important it is to see each other as human beings first, and how often I make judgments or assumptions about others that diminish their humanity.  I have been asleep to the truth of who others really are, sleepwalking through life in the smug complacency of daily living, dumb to the better dreams and goodwill of each person.

A lot of people are often in pain.  When you are healthy, you think cancer is so far away.  But when you get sick, you realize that it’s all around, you just have to open your eyes.  I think one of the lessons of tragedy is to feel compassion for one another. Tragedy also brings to the forefront what is truly important – how precious your life is, how lucky you are to be alive and how important it is to love one another, because in the end what matters most is how much we loved.

Tragedy also calls each of us to meet the bad in the world with the good in our own hearts.  One of the great things about being a part of a ranching community is that helping our neighbor is a way of life.  The out pour of support from other ranchers is phenomenal, with ranchers in other states donating heifers and large donations to the Ranchers Relief Fund.  It makes me proud to be a part of such an amazing community and I personally hope to be able to find a way to do the same for other cancer patients, because cancer isn’t about a diagnosis; it’s about what you do with it.  (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
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Photo of sunflower fields taken in September.
 
 
It’s now been almost a week since my first chemo treatment.  Today is the first day since my treatment that I am beginning to feel like myself again.  It’s been hard to not physically feel up to doing the things I love most, like help with the fall roundup and fall cow work.  Yet the last week has taught me that often doing nothing is more productive than spending a lot of time, energy and effort doing something that leads you in the wrong direction or is simply a distraction from being present and dealing with the one thing that you try hardest to avoid and dissociate from.  Creative indolence often leads to great innovation.  Some of our greatest mind have spent time in this very same place.  Einstein wrote that some of his greatest ideas came to him so suddenly while he was shaving that he would often cut himself by surprise.  He also said, “you can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created;”  and, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Isn’t the real reason we want to accomplish more in less time, because we have other things we want to do besides work; you know those other enjoyable activities that we keep putting off?  It seems to me that leads to truly an endless pursuit of happiness.  Or just happiness postponed rather than realized?

The real problem is that somewhere along the way we managed to confuse accomplishment with happiness.  Happiness started as the inspiration for achievement, but somehow things got reversed. Happiness became conditional. When being happy gets anchored in achievement, we can easily fall into the trap of projecting that happiness into the future. We put conditions on when we will allow ourselves to be happy.  Being more productive is great. Getting more done in less time really is a good thing. But those are not legitimate reasons for missing out on happiness now.

There is no inherent conflict between being happy and being productive. Actually, the two go together very nicely. The only danger lies in getting out of balance and obsessing over productivity.  There is a healthy sense of equilibrium between living in the present and planning for the future. We fall, when we lose our balance and allow the desire to accomplish more to become an obsession; when we allow ourselves to get so caught up in compulsive accomplishment that we forget who and what is really important to us right now. Make sure to take some time to enjoy your life in the present instead of waiting for someday, because all too often, someday never comes.

What is really behind our drive for increased productivity?  Are we afraid we have no worth or value or worth if we are not productive?

The truth is our worth has nothing to do with how productive we are or how much money we earn!  Believing that it does is a devastating point of view.  If I earn $50 per hour and you earn $500, then I must be worth 90% less than you are. If I accept this premise, then I will probably develop some limiting beliefs about my worth as a person. If you agree with this value scale, then you will begin to think of yourself as superior. Both of these points of view are damaging to us as human beings and to our relationships.

Is the highly paid professional who earns a fortune pumping deadly toxins into the environment more valuable than a dedicated teacher who incites his students to reach for their dreams while maintaining personal integrity?  Is the loving, nurturing mother who gave up her career to take care of her family and children, on the bottom of the value scale?  Will our children understand why we could never be there for them because we think we are increasing our worth as a parent by working such long hours that we never get to see or spend time with them?

The value of money is tiny compared to the value of time.  When we spend our valuable time we should view it as something that far exceeds the worth of money. Yes, it takes a certain amount of money to care for our material needs and wants, but that is just one, small aspect of life.  Time is truly the currency of life.  Our precious time is the real commodity of life. Recognizing its immense value helps us spend it wisely.

It’s not every day that you face your own mortality.  One of the questions I’ve had to recently face is what happens to your life when you run out of time?  We only have so much of this valuable commodity and when it’s gone all the money in the world can’t buy you more.  When something like cancer brings knocks us to our knees, shredding apart our carefully planned lives, God is trying to get your attention to teach you that it’s not about the relentless striving but surrendering to Him, that He’s in control not you and honestly why would you want to be?  My way certainly has not worked out so well up to this point.  It’s about letting go of the old ways of being and thinking that got you to this point and discovering a new way of being, God’s way.

I am truly in a place in every aspect of my life that is a frustrating and uncomfortable limbo between letting go of the old and giving birth to the new.  It’s a process, not something you barrel through in order to not face the uncomfortable emotions of it.  It’s been a process of backing off, suspending goals and taking the time to dance with cancer mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually step by step.  It’s an uncertain path that you take moment by moment, not knowing where it will lead or where it will end.  Just as you can’t will the entire herd of cows to calve just during working hours, you can’t force this process to be over sooner just because it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient.  It requires a great amount courage to live in uncomfortable emotions, physical pain and uncertainty day in and day out.  It takes a great amount of courage to learn to fully and wholeheartedly surrender and have faith that God is recreating my life into something so much better and more amazing than I can ever imagine and accept and that it will likely require a period of focus and dedication.  It takes courage to not falling into resenting God for having the path to this new and incredible life be that of cancer.  What I can do is take care of myself, rest when tired because my immune system is weak with, get my priorities straight, enjoy each day with the people who mean the most to me, my family and friends, my horses, my dogs and Sundance kitty, keep my stress level down, continually do what I need to keep a positive frame of mind and my courage because I have no control over this situation and follow where God, my inspirations, love, enthusiasm and creativity may lead; living each day to the fullest in gratitude that I have time, life and that there are so many amazing souls in it and in awe and humility of God’s work in it all. (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
 
 
I recently saw an interview with Pastor Rick Warren, author of the “Purpose Driven Life”.  Even though it’s now been a few weeks ago, he said one thing in that interview that has stayed with me –
“God never wastes a hurt.”
If we breathe, if we live, at some point, we are going to hurt.  Everyone goes through trials in life.  There’s no avoiding it.  I don’t believe that anyone is spared of life’s painful events, and while I may not understand it or even like it, I have come to believe through my own trials that nothing in our lives is ever a mistake.

Every hurt, every trial happens for a reason.  There is always something to be learned and something to be gained, or someone else to inspire from the trials of life.  God uses the hurts in our life to help us grow in faith or to help others. Trails are used to educate, strengthen and grow us and/or others around us.  Normally it is in these hurts that we learn to trust Him and where we experience the most growth.

While God will never waste a hurt we certainly can and often do.  In times of great pain, we often look to God for understanding and answers.  We question God’s reasoning while grappling with our own emotions,  asking “why me?”  Instead of choosing to learn and grow from the experience, we often choose instead to become bitter, allowing a trial of life to overtake us, allowing the negative events to consume us and keep us in the role of a victim instead of asking how might this be used for my good.

I’m not saying that horrific things like the death of a child, cancer or rape is something that can easily be just dealt with.  There are many things in my life that have happened to me that I am still learning to forgive and heal.  While it’s often hard to not run or escape from the pain we are called to remain in it and heal through it.  I am learning that only by surrendering them to God to use as He sees fit, is the only way I can truly heal and move on with my life, and when I’m not honest about the reality of my life, pretending to  be alright when I’m really not I waste God’s offer of peace and opportunities to share with others walking a similar path.  When I try to heal my wounds of my own strength, I waste God’s offer of power.  It’s truly when I let God in that miracles start to happen.

As I look back on my own life I realize all the hurt and pain I have gone through has led me to who I am today.  This very moment, if God had taken away even on hurt or pain, then my life would be so different today.  For better or worse I simply choose to trust that God has protected me, changed the course of my life as He saw fit.  I am thankful for every hurt and every pain simply because they led me to be the person I am today.

We must remember that God is working even in our darkest hours, in our deepest pains, in the struggles we surrender to God; we will grow, we can allow it to become a gift to us, we will be strengthened and your struggle may just help someone else who needs to know that they are not alone in what they are going through.  If God never wastes a hurt, why should we?

There is always a blessing waiting once the ache and fear and grief have settled.  There is something indestructible at the center of each of us; though the pain of being transformed and rearranged while still alive often feels unbearable.

I’d love to hear your story.  How has pain produced positive things in your life or the lives of others? (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.” ― Orson F. Whitney  
 
 
Today as I embark on my first seven hour long chemo treatment I am struck by the basic duality of existence, that which resoundingly connects us to every other living being on this planet.  The treatment to me represents the dual meaning of life and death as poisons to kill cancer cells in my body, flow intravenously into my blood stream to heal me of breast cancer.
It’s not every day that you face your own mortality.  When something like cancer brings your world to a complete standstill, turning your entire reality inside out, God is definitely trying to get your attention!  I realize I have a choice as to how I dance with cancer and approach the next year of treatments.  I can either choose to be a victim of breast cancer, resisting and fighting against God’s lessons for me or I can choose to embrace the lessons, facing them head on with dignity, cowgirl grit and grace, and a grateful heart for all that truly is wonderful in my life (and there is so much to be grateful for).

My choice is to strive for a willingness to experience cancer willingly and without resistance, with the understanding that God created all things equal, and that those things which might be experienced as poison can be ingested, integrated and transmuted if one has the proper state of mind.  A complete understanding and acceptance of both dualities creates a melding of the two into one.
My body is being asked to transmute the poisons of the chemo drugs in order to heal, activating the energy of kill or cure, ultimately leading to healing.  As the chemo drugs go to work I think about what else within me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually has brought me to this point and what emotional toxicities, worn out habits, old patterns, thoughts and behaviors I need to also kill or let go of in order to heal, transform, resurrect and recreate my life.  The next year of my life will most certainly also be about transmuting the toxicities I’ve been carrying around with me for the last 39 years that no doubt also has helped to manifest this cancer, with the goal of healing my life in every area, throwing off the past and continuing to live life to it’s very fullest.

Some of the first emotions to volunteer to be released are feelings of insecurity, shame, guilt, low self-esteem and areas in my life where I have lacked integrity.  It will certainly be a process as some of these emotions have severed me well in some ways for a very long time.  And while I’m not quite sure where to begin in making these changes I know I will be lead by the grace of God through the process.  Change and rebirth are inevitable and strength is required in order to shed everything that has been holding me back.  Yet I am excited about the process of dying in order to be reborn, shedding the old and the regeneration to come through the proper direction of my life-force.  I have no doubt it will be powerful and dramatic, discovering a new way of being – physically recreating passion, desire and vitality; emotionally finding new ambition, creativity, resolution, and new dreams; mentally claiming power, charisma, and leadership; and spiritually finding a greater understanding of myself and others and a greater connection to God.
The dual nature of life and death which when united produces new life.  True healing can only come about through the represented by the union and regeneration of self.  Balancing the two polarized halves of energy into one is truly the embodiment of all potentials of a physical, material and spiritual nature, allowing anything to be possible through the transforming and transmutation of the dualities into higher levels of being, facing fears, moving on to higher goals.

I invite all my readers to take this journey with me and would love to hear about your journeys through the process of rebirth. (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)

God Bless,

Jennifer
 
 
Everything can change in a moment.  Ranching you learn firsthand that we have little control over the outer weather patterns as we make our way through the landscape of a life.  We live in a whirlwind of change and change continually lives within us.  Life is always changing and we are continually changing with it.


In the last few months my entire life has been turned upside down like a tornado coming through it flinging different aspects of my life in a variety of different directions.  I have truly experienced a vast amount of change in a short period of time – from calving in blizzard conditions in April; calving, job hunting (because the ranch I was working on in Montana lost their lease), graduating and marrying my son off, falling head over heels in love myself, and moving to a new job on a ranch in northwestern South Dakota in May; branding, being interviewed by French reporters for Marie Claire Magazine and sending my son off to Army boot camp in June; to haying, chopping silage with South Africans and being diagnosed with breast cancer in July.  In three months time everything in my life has completely changed offering much “grist for the mill” in blog posts to yet share.

With each change we are given a choice, go with the flow or fight against the currents.  After all these years of being changed by loss and love and life itself, I still resist the forces of change in my life, attached to the way things are no matter how ridiculous or destructive they have become.  I think it’s instinctual to tighten our grip when everything feels out of control.  Going with the flow can seem frightening, it’s a leap of faith because we don’t know where the currents may take us and yet resisting is even more exhausting as we struggle to try to stay in the same place.  Yet with each new change, time and time, again I am reminded that life is uncertain and that the goal is not to become more certain but to have faith, surrender to God and allow his will to unfold.
Cancer is one of those rare life changing events that Ram Dass would call “fierce grace”, when you bear the unbearable and something within you dies.  That something can either be my own ego and stubborn pride and I can turn this life changing event of misfortune into insight and healing; or I can choose to let fear take over killing the more loving and compassionate part of me and instead become bitter, more reactive, and cynical.  I’m striving for fierce grace!

We can become the masters of our own inner landscape and use what happens on the outside to change the way we function on the inside.  As a new found South African friend has reminded me – being happy is a choice and only you can make and live that decision.  Change and loss may still knock us off the horse, but soon we are back in the saddle, stronger and wiser than ever, with a greater insight, humility, strength of character and a deeper faith in the meaningfulness of life.

I look forward to having more time to write in the near future, catching you up on all the recent changes and sharing this journey with you, as often telling our story helps us feel connected to others as we go through difficult times.  When we can share with fellow wayfarers, sharing our trials and revelations and listening to theirs, our struggles seem less like personal vendettas and more like myths in the making. (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
 
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    I embrace life with passion and gratitude. I love connecting with others in meaningful ways and I share my journey with you in hopes that it will in some way inspire, encourage and as a way to grow with you!  I am truly a work in progress that has not arrived in any form of perfection and am continually learning and growing.  I hope you will share the journey with me.

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