40 Year Old Pearls

After having an amazingly simple birthday without parades or “over the hill” signs, one of my twin boys came to me crying at bedtime. He sobbed and said, “what did you mean when you said that this morning?” I quickly tried to remember what I may have said in a hurried morning state of mind. My son responded, “You said you were happy you made it to 40.”

Oh. That. I still felt a bit confused as to why my tender-hearted boy couldn’t contain his sobs beside me. Through his snot and tears, he continued, “What does that mean? That you made it to 40.” I began to understand that he may have thought I had an expiration date. And I got it. I understood his worries.

One of my biggest fears as a woman and mom who has Crohn’s disease and has experienced countless surgeries, procedures and complications is that I will not live to see my boys grow up. All the way up.

I’ve been in many hospital rooms in a desperate, totally dependent state. My boys have happily visited me, sat gently on my bed, and eaten the nurse-issued hospital popsicles. Still, it tears a hole in my mothering soul not being able to care for my children when my own health takes center stage. I’m pretty certain it’s because of those difficult times that I play harder, hold on longer and love the best and most that I can. When I can.

I worked for years in the pediatric emergency department, an environment where you can’t help but learn how terrifyingly fleeting and fragile life can be. In an attempt to somehow honor those who died too soon, I try to live my life without regrets, albeit imperfectly. It’s not possible to do this every moment of every day because bills, stress, mean people and life can get loud and my inner voice doesn’t like to scream.

My youngest boy studied my pearl necklace at dinner last night. He asked, “How do you make a pearl?” My husband and I explained how a piece of sand gets into the oyster shell and how the oyster works hard to get the sand out. In the process, the oyster makes a pearl. We explained how it’s rare, but it creates a beautiful masterpiece. In the process, I’m sure the oyster isn’t stoked about the dirt in its cramped space. (As it turns out, after some five minute Wikipedia pearl research, it’s more of a microscopic parasite or tiny crab invasion that makes the mollusk work to protect itself, thus creating a pearl to envelop the invader. Still, pretty dang awesome)

One of my hopes and life goals is to find the pearls amidst the pain. I’m aware that my life and perspective has been altered time and time again by laying on too many doctor’s tables to count and waiting to get better. I fight. I grumble. I cry. Then, I guess I try my best to envelop these intruders in something beautiful. Like a mollusk. Who can forget those paper sheets and backless hospital gowns? We cannot control all that happens to us in life. Sometimes it feels like we can’t control much at all. But I do believe in the great power we hold to choose our perspective. Make our pearls.

If we can take the time to recognize the tiny moments filled with so much beauty and love, it’s impossible to deny the gift of the life we have. Our lungs. Our breaths. Our hearts beating. We get to live amongst belly-laughing, freckle-faced kids, hummingbirds and weird mushrooms. If you buy a pair of binoculars, and use them correctly, suddenly you can feel like you’re riding on the wings of a great blue heron. We live in a amazingly simple yet fascinatingly complicated world. If you look gently and persistently, you will find that beauty often surrounds the pain.

Last night, I held my ten year old boy, snuggled up to him. I apologized if I made him worry. I helped calm his fears and my own and I tried to help him understand the best I could how extremely grateful I felt to turn 40 yesterday. I let him know that I hope to live forty more years. I cannot begin to enunciate the echoes of love in my heart for the life I get to live. I am so deeply grateful for those who hear me, see me, love me and cushion the blows that sometime come my way. No matter the extent of my pain, God has always provided me with the greatest, most supportive human pain relievers, helping me create funky shaped pearls.

Here’s to a new decade of playing in the water and probably falling repeatedly on my ass. And getting back up, over and over again, whole-body laughing all the way.

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