In the late summer of 2003, a vicious forest fire ripped through central Oregon. When it was finally contained after 34 days of incredible battle, the B&B Complex fire had left a devastating mark on over 90,000 acres of pristine woodland. That summer, I spent a week teaching at a music camp in Sisters, Oregon. I’ll never forget the feeling of being so close to such a massive and powerful fire. The air was thick and smoky, and it felt like you could cut it with a knife. Large forest fires often create their own weather patterns, and the atmosphere felt volatile and unpredictable, as storms would rage through for several minutes at a time. The little mountain town that is usually crawling with tourists all summer long was dead, except for the thousands of woodland firefighters who were camped nearby.
Fifteen years later, the Santiam Pass still shows the deep scars of that fire. Since my medical team is in Bend, I drive that stretch of highway often, and in all seasons. With any long drive that you make repeatedly, you start to get the rhythm of the mile markers. I know exactly where the cell phone and satellite radio signal coverage cuts in and out, where all the passing lanes are, and the precise point at which you feel like you’ve left the Willamette Valley and officially made it to the mountains. The thing that I love the most about the drive from Salem to Bend is the way the terrain changes so much along the way. From the farm fields and orchards in the valley, to the lakes and huge evergreen trees in the mountains, no matter what time of year you make the drive the scenery always breathtaking. Then when you get up onto the pass, and you see the acres and acres of land still affected by that incredible fire, it’s shocking. Thousands of burned trees stand like charred scarecrows, with their arms stretched to the sky. In the winter months, when the snow is on the ground and the skies are gray, the 10 miles or so of skeleton trees seem more eerie.
Last weekend as I drove over to my neuro appointment, I suddenly noticed how much regrowth has started to happen in the pass. It has taken a long time, but the ground cover is vibrant and healthy… bright green against the blue sky, with summer wild flowers scattered among the trees. The mountains stand solid, strong, and unchanged, and the burned trees create a charcoal picture frame for all of this natural beauty. As I drove, it dawned on me that this regrowth is a perfect metaphor for life after challenges. I often speak about the power and peace that comes with accepting the fact that you are going to be different and changed on the other side of major life events – whether that is a new diagnosis, brain surgery, or a relationship change. Sometimes those events leave us feeling like this forest land – devastated and burned out. But faith is the confidence in things unseen-- the belief that eventually the landscape will grow and flourish again, if we simply keep standing tall – reaching for the sky with everything we have left.
Pain is going to change you.
You’re going to be different on the other side, and that’s ok.
We’re ok. We are HEALING.
The storms pass, and the wildfires die.
The soul remains, and the heart will stay strong if we will it to do so.
Find beauty in the broken.
Dear Friends & Family, Supporters and fellow Hydro Warriors,
I’ve taken a step back from active blogging the past couple months, while I have been working hard on some exciting projects I have coming in 2018. Even though it’s been a quiet period for me, I’ve had it on my heart to write a year-end post. I’ve wrestled a little bit with how to address these past 12 months, and all the shifting and shaking that’s gone on - both publicly and privately. Honestly, this year has completely changed me. It’s pulled me from my comfort zones, and pushed me into vast deserts of vulnerability. I’ve had to rely greatly on my faith in God, and examine my priorities like never before. I’ve become closer to my siblings, and spent more time with my parents. I’m learning to trust a precious few souls who have been unafraid to stand in the trenches with me. In light of all these things, the way I experience life every day has changed, and I wanted to share a few closing thoughts for 2017 with you all.
By all accounts, the past year of my life has been a roller coaster of change and challenge. It’s been kind of like living directly on an active earthquake fault line… the once seemingly solid ground of my personal life, health, and relationships trembling and moving, buckling with uncertainty, again and again.
And with each aftershock, the landscape is left a little different.
Not necessarily worse… just different.
Here’s the thing. In a society where tragedy is glorified by the media, and insecurity is magnified by social media, it’s easy to get caught up in a pattern of self pity and hyper focus on the negative.
"Why do bad things happen to good people?"
“Everyone you see is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
In my case, these were very real losses— painful hits, that just kept coming. Divorce, multiple brain surgeries and significant health challenges, the loss of my dog, changes in my medical team, etc. etc. So, it would be perfectly acceptable to take some time to wallow in my self pity, and reset.
But, what if it’s not all about me?
What if the events of every day are part of a greater plan… something I can’t grasp unless I focus more on others, and not on myself? What if the losses are actually opportunities, and what if the people who are in my life now are the ones I’m supposed to focus on right now? I know it’s hard to understand, but I am determined to make my best effort to live each day in a space that allows me to make unique and true connections with other people. And more importantly, I have accepted that I don’t need to understand it fully.
In my advocacy work for hydrocephalus, I’ve often explained to people that I wholeheartedly believe that I don’t have to question God, or be angry for the things that I’ve gone through. I simply don’t believe that God owes me an answer. I do, however, believe that if I am willing to take that pain and use it to help other people, it turns into purpose. This is why I have chosen to share my hydrocephalus story with the world, and especially why I continue to focus on connecting and supporting families of young hydro warriors. But, what if this same pain/purpose idea applies to all areas of life? Regardless of your belief system, when you consider the life events that have brought you to this point, what purpose have you found for your pain? Can you use those experiences to better the lives of others?
In closing, I want to acknowledge one more thing. When I found the ability to let go of me, my fears, and the focus on my own problems, I started to see this incredible beauty in the people around me. I can honestly say I have never felt more blessed and safe, even as the battle between my brain and body rages, and my life has been turned upside down by all societal standards.
It’s not all about me.
It’s not even all about you.
It’s about “we”…. sharing the weight of love, life, and struggle— together. Unified and fortified by the strength we offer each other.
Each day is a unique opportunity to move forward, be grateful for one another, and live with loyalty and compassion.
Our choice is in whether we stay… particularly when the road of life becomes difficult.
Definition of the word “stay”:
Happy New Year, friends. Be safe, and be well.
Here’s to the relentless pursuit of everything that’s important.
My name is Amy but friends and family call me Am. I am a lover of dogs, good whiskey, and strength training. I'm a brain surgery survivor (x21), a fiddle player, a construction designer, and a boxing enthusiast. I have six real siblings, and five fake brothers. I love deeply, and consider my close friends to be family.