Remembering Norma Choosing Hope

“I will only surround myself with positive speaking people,” said a young woman
wearing a pink scarf tied around her head that matched her sweat shirt. It was the first day of my Expressive Writing class at the Center when Norma introduced herself. Both of us were new to the Center For Building Hope. 
Over the last five years I’ve learned a lot from Norma especially about the power of positive thinking that she shared and encouraged all of us to practice.  She was passionate about life and was a monument of intelligence, compassion, determination, courage and humor.  She amazed me with her knowledge of just about everything and how to work all mechanical things especially related to the computer.  “I’ll show you.  I’ll help you,” she often said to me when I didn’t understand how to do something with my Mac.  “You’ve got to do more with your Facebook page or people won’t look at it”, she admonished me just recently.   Right of course, as she often was, and I have tried, stubborn as I am, and bumped it up to about 30 on my list of have-to-do things. 
As in all things she was passionate about she loved to write. She’s one of the only students I had over twenty three years who was able to complete a short story in five minutes at one of our classroom spontaneous writing activities. Her creative mind was fertile and fiction stories popped out with believable plots and even end punch lines. The tragedies of her loss of father, mother husband and children in the same year she was diagnosed with fourth stage cancer was written in her memoir book of that period that she worked on tirelessly the first and second years she was in class. 
I read it and told her it was publishable and do self publish, but she wanted to wait for a specific publisher to buy it.  It was not only her tragic story, but one of encouragement and spiritual faith and inspiration.  Her own words from the Preface of her book bring Norma back to us, as writer’s words will and Norma was a writer with a clear view and sense of character and plot. She had always dreamed of being a writer and did have the pleasure of seeing her word in print with articles published  in newsletters and journals in these last years. Her voice was always present in her work as if she was speaking to you directly. 
The following are her words from the Preface of her book, still a manuscript that may still lie among her possessions or on her computer: 
     I wonder what people think of my attitude sometimes. I wonder if they think I’m some sort of Pollyanna thinking everything is going to be ok or if they like my complete faith. I’ve been told I’m an inspiration… and I guess that’s true since I’ve heard it from so many so many times.
     I’ve been told by longtime Christians that I was being “punished” by God. Others have asked how it was that I wasn’t mad at God for all I’ve been through, and all I’d lost.  I don’t know how people can think that I could be mad at God. 
     Did he cause any of what happened to me in 2010 to happen? No.  
    Was I being punished? No.  What could I have done so horrible to have deserved that kind of punishment? 
    Did I blame God for that? No.  Did I blame him for taking my parents, my husband & children and my health? No.  No of course I didn’t, but it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility for me to have done so. It would’ve been totally predictable for me to have lost faith, to have been scared, and devastated by my diagnosis and being alone to deal with it all. But I didn’t lose faith, I wasn’t scared and I wasn’t alone.
But… was I scared? I suppose at some level I was, but not about what you might think. After getting a stage 4 Cancer diagnosis I wasn’t afraid I would die. I have never had that fear, because I have never believed in that possibility. Have I been afraid of my future with the disease? Yes I think I may have been somewhat worried about how I would live, if I’d be able to work & support myself, cook for myself, even walk…  I might have even been apprehensive about the treatment; would it hurt? Make me sick? How was I going to get over my lifelong fear of needles to get through this? Would I need surgery? How long before this was over? Would I go into remission? Would it come back? Would insurance pay for it all?
     But none of these things brought on the kind of fear and anguish you would expect. The questions were there but a sense of peace came over me and wrapped me up – this feeling continues to this day and I know I will be fine. I know I will survive this as I survived so much that happened that year, and I know that God is in control of everything that happens to me. That I had lessons to learn, and an inner strength to develop with His help so that I could with my story help others to cope with whatever they were dealing with.
     I saw myself writing this book to get my story out to everyone who has fear, who is lost or depressed, or anyone just ready to give up hope. To show them that maybe if I can get through all I’ve been through and still have hope then perhaps they could too.  I saw myself becoming a motivational speaker to further deliver my story and my message of hope and positive thought, and as with the book to bring glory to God.  I who had always been painfully shy, especially as a child was now thinking; “I can speak to large groups, I can do it easily, and since its God’s idea, He will give me the strength, the courage and the words to say.”  Of this I have no doubt, and equally no fear.  
     My story and experiences of 2010 are both a long story and yet can be summed up in one long sentence. I lost everything I held dear, everyone I loved, a 20 yr career, and lastly my own sense of self and wellbeing so I went from a 5’8”, 150 pound muscular “athlete” to a 97 pound, 5’2” tall frail little thing who could barely walk much less run.  That in a nutshell is what happened, but there is so much more to it. So much more that has to do with faith, and maintaining a positive attitude and outlook. So much more that has to do with hope.  
     After all I’d endured, all the pain and sadness I could&
rsquo;ve chosen to give up, I could’ve chosen to lay down, not try, be negative, worry and be scared about everything, and just wait to die.  I could’ve done all that; it would’ve been completely understandable to most anyone. No one would’ve thought less of me… except that I would’ve thought I was a total gutless failure. 
     And I didn’t do that. Because to do that wasn’t me – it wasn’t who I was and I wasn’t ready to die. This cancer wasn’t bigger than me or my will. My mother instilled in me to never give up, to be strong and to fight for myself.  I heard her. I believed her, and in the end I did the only thing I could.
I chose hope. 
Norma has only left us in body.  Her spirit and inspiration lives on in my heart and mind as I know it will for all of us. 
Ronni Miller


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