Hindsight

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It’s hard to go back and read essays I wrote years ago. Before the divorce. Back when I was making dinner and singing songs and baking bread. I shake my head at how naive I was. How sheltered I was. How ridiculous of me to make that much bread. The world as I knew it fell beneath me like a molten floor, and I simply crumpled in the melting.

It’s hard to dig even deeper, to when I was first diagnosed with cancer. When they told me they’d probably take out my eye, and it would ruin a perfectly fine legal career. I’d be filled with radioactivity and wonder every six months whether that melanoma would permeate my liver with death and have to look like a pirate with a patch on a Tuesday. I had needles shoved in my eye to relieve the pressure and later it was filled with oil just to hold up my stupid retina. Imagine, I told my mother. An eyeball filled with oil.

You know what else is hard? To have been strapped down to a table before surgery, because your baby is seven months along and you feel his heart beating strong. To feel his kicks and his little hands and to know you are his sole and undivided protector. And they tell you they have to operate and remove the cataract or your eye will explode but you refuse anesthesia because of him, inside of you, living. So you sweat and you can hardly breathe but for the tube and you are covered in plastic and iodine. “Whatever you do,” the surgeon said, “you cannot move.” “Oh God,” I thought. “Here we go again.”

And oh, my first born. She exploded out of me as a brilliant fire. And yet the staph infection set in, and my gut raged, and I was in and out of being present, and the pain hurt so much I didn’t even feel it anymore. They cracked me open and took out all my organs, and then put them back again, freshly flushed with a saline rinse and Vancomycin. For a month I lay there, turning and searing and begging God to someday let me see my baby. I put my lipstick on despite the raging fevers. I tried to pretend I didn’t feel the stabbing pain of pumping with a ripped-up gut in a delirious drug-induced belief that I’d go home and breastfeed my child. I cracked bad jokes to the nurses, thinking it would earn me freedom.

It’s hard to go back. To take a moment to stare at the burned parts, the ones seared into the fabric of my life. I have not just waded, but tore my boots off and plunged head-first into some very troubled waters. And each time, I asked. “God? Are you there?” All those Bible stories I learned just seemed to fade away. All the times I sat with my gloves on in church on Sunday just seemed like fools gold. Oh, God. I am too young to die like this.

There was no still, small voice. There was no Charlton Heston voice either. There were no words at all. But God spoke straight into me. I was fully loved. He was present. I did not have to handle this. And although I didn’t hear this last part, he was probably also like “take deep breaths” and “so when we are done here let’s not have any more children, K?” and “girl, that bread just goes straight to your hips so for the love of heaven eat more kale.”

Sometimes it’s okay to remember. Because in the hurt you see all the healing that’s taken place over a lifetime. You take note of the way in which it’s formed you. You recognize the power of vision – in hindsight – even with one eye.

You see for the first time how far you’ve really come.

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/mind_scratch/2434031231/in/photolist-4H63FH-9HmR8k-r3TnFb-4Tp2di-iWrphM-qeGoqt-ri7PkJ-6f2FxK-rhNm52-8UoM6P-vSxh7V-omYNZ-r3ZD2Z-5wSNM4-cuEJzf-4XUFCv-7ibUj9-5W5zEW-4R2jHH-4gzf2p-53sKUX-byzF4r-hMoJcN-36wjrG-accrur-9Hs5Ki-6NL6bf-xVeWa-AKpJxG-gaJ6hP-6tjjRP-AS1q-gaHyhA-9G9yBa-92DtyB-92cKEW-7xLSK-gaHoQi-b7snfx-6TALYJ-7f7etw-CGFz6-b8LCmk-oANj62-4n6mBG-axhGdL-bQKvVr-xTFgSz-xTFe9i-dPfVV

Yin and Yang

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Our church has a sister church in Africa, and my pastor was asking the pastor there what he thought after his recent visit to America.  Oh it’s glorious, he said. Americans are full of excess and riches, but there was this one tiny thing. . .

 

We lack a theology of suffering.  It’s not that Americans don’t suffer. We might not watch feces float down the street or feed only rice to our children and we are not forced to hide from revolutionary warriors on a bloody stretch toward hell.  But we still have pain.

 

Men are sitting in offices right this minute ridden with anxiety and depression and shame.  Women are barely breathing and sneaking gin and wondering why they can’t love their own offspring.  Just one moment ago someone was eating a turkey sandwich and then they got into a car wreck or came down with lung cancer and their life is forever changed. People get laid off and laid in the ground and lay with the wrong person at the wrong time.  And yet what do we do about it? Do we see it as part of the yin and the yang, like the seasons or opposites on the continuum of energy or the way one cannot live without the other?

 

At best, I think our society feels like suffering is just an unfortunate inconvenience that in time will improve, like divorce sucks or cancer sucks and it’s an excuse to buy a card with a little picture of a steaming cup of tea and a statement about coping skills.  At worst, we feel suffering as an indication that God is absent or that faith isn’t real and provides a perfect excuse to be angry and bitter at the hand we’re dealt.

 

But are we capable of recognizing that suffering is a necessary part of things?  Not just because the Bible says it or because we all love to be martyrs and wallow in self-pity, jealous of those who seem to escape its grasp, but because it’s important to have both sides in our life to make it rich and full?

 

Our life cycle on this planet full of death and eating young and dying old and road kill and global warming and bliss and mountaintops and sleeping children who take your breath away and doldrums and laundry and shock and laughter and Tuesday taco nights and moments that hurt so bad your whole body burns.  And it doesn’t come in any form of natural order, like well this is a sucky Winter, but alas – Spring is comin. It’s all jumbled up like dancing bingo balls in a hopper.  Good, good, good. Oh crap. Really really bad.

 

But without the trip through the dark there is no blessing of lightness. Without the bleeding and the dying and vinegar on our lips, there is no rising from the dead.  When at times the bad hits long and hard, and when you just want to scream to the sky to quit with the freaking hail and the torrential wall of hurt, remember that when the sun shines again you will rest more soundly.  You will hear music with new ears, and feel love with a fresh heartbeat, and have the benefit of one who has aged and grown up with both fear and grace, hate and apathy, and the yin and the yang will balance.  One day, in the not-so-distant future, all those bouncing balls will settle.

 

Only then will we see the fullness of God’s restoration, and have a true appreciation for opposites, and know in our hearts that despite the long heavy winter, Spring will eventually come again. Thank God for suffering, and perspective, and for valleys and mountains alike.  It gives us an insight into true perseverance – the long haul – and provides us with a modicum of hope.

 

Yes, the buoyant saplings of Spring will someday come again.  It just may be a while, with a few scorching summers in between.

 

photo:

(three w’s): flickr.com/photos/raymaclean/4283897275/sizes/m/in/photolist-7wy6pR-5Lb6Zr-757xF9-f8hQzE-4jzRSF-4h2wLe-dFBxb3-6ujUy8-9g3E1T-dMHAMY-8LLZA1-951YsT-bTBg8-c4MZhY-9iUKCp-b1EQNg-aLCEQt-dBgC7p-5LfmBC-8jXH6G-9uy2fw-7AMsTi-7yuR56-aPsrgX-6SXHK9-8ZMuKm-asmYq8-52fHX7-azfsHf-egqXyX-dVB9Dv-8ay91y-6ujUGM-e7Aym4-4sS58x-6te1-8akjeS-arbis-7AMsTR-HCexn-4h6zTf-pruhx-ek4Mw-97WSHi-8ZGiB7-vzH3G-55ZnMm-eDjvKi-fMmZN-7QAYtY-6ed32D/

The Trouble I’ve Seen

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Eleven years ago today, a ruddy-faced doctor in a white coat took off his glasses and informed me that there was a raging tumor living inside my eyeball.  News so strange I had to ask for it to be repeated, the words cancer and melanoma all jumbling up inside my head with other strange words like success rate and surgery and I found myself sitting with my hands folded calmly asking for a tissue.

From there, I headed straight into a CT scan full of beeping red dots and IVs pumping toxins.  My wrap-around shirt landed with a soft thud on the floor while I bore my gown of misery like a soldier, trudging forward to get a mammogram before my thirties had even dawned.  My lungs and my liver and my brain and my breasts were all needled and raped, but it was all in the name of progress because melanoma’s a devil’s son.

A week later, my husband and I headed to the world-renowned expert in Philadelphia, eating cheese steak while hearing bullets zinging around in the distance.  We huddled together waiting to for what seemed like hours to see the doctor, in a room filled with foreign languages and travel-weary patients.  We earned ten precious minutes where I rapid-fired questions to the doctor that I had saved in a three-ring notebook.  Year after year we trekked back through sleet and blizzards and pouring rain, cobbling over stones and bricks toward the end of Walnut Street, crossing our fingers for the joyous refrain that life’s tentacles were still strong, holding us together in times such as these.

But radiation is a sniper that shoots to kill, taking down tissue and muscles and solid respectable youth.  I sat in the waiting room with the grey-haired diabetics waiting for lasers and four-inch needles and news that my retina was simply too weak to stand. It just needed a wheelchair like an old war hero with a slug in the shoulder, so they filled my eyeball up with oil like a slab of wood puddy in an empty, hollowed-out hole.  When I was pregnant with my son, I got a cataract so thick my eye almost exploded with pressure and I endured three hours of surgery without anesthesia, which I would never ever recommend to anyone in a million years of Sundays.  What we do for our children, and concurrently to save our own lives.  Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, I sang to the old people, and they nodded like honey child, I hear you.

I carry stress in my eye, drooping like Friday before lunch, weary of being held together with ribbons. I go back every year praying that a rogue cell won’t burst like a terrorist out of hiding, since it’s fatal and the success rates are hopeless and my oncologist tells me it’s useless for me to come see him anymore since a metastasis only buys me a year, maybe two.  He reminded me of that again today as I asked for another appointment.  What do they know, these doctors. No one wants to stare mortality down like a cobra wondering if it will strike or just slither off into the ether, and the difference between one year and two is hundreds of more days.  It matters, you doctors who count years like pebbles.

Those years, they are diamonds to me.

I think about all the happy times since then – babies and birthdays and laughter like bubbles floating large and fat over the driveway.  It’s been a lovely ride, hollowed-out and plugged, with one eye that’s crippled and propped up like the old man in Weekend at Bernie’s.  But despite it all, beauty abounds. Every day I stumble into God’s masterpiece with a depth perception so poor I can’t even thread a needle, and yet somehow I survive, and see, and have vision beyond my own present darkness.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, I sing to our babies, rocking and shushing and rubbing their backs until their eyes droop.  But you see, Father.  God and son and spirit and healer, master of this worn-out veteran life.  You plug up this eye and this hollowed-out heart and you never have failed me.  All these years.  All this sorrow.  Nobody but you, Jesus.

Glory Halleluiah.   

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If you want to hear this song sung the way I like it sung, you need to hear it by Mahalia Jackson:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdavA_2QA0c

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Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/supersonicphotos/4312101907/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Role Play

It’s no surprise that I went into health law. Being a natural control freak, it has been nice over the past dozen years to be the one in charge. To say to a surgeon, who is so incredibly skilled and calm under pressure, it’s okay. Let me explain how this works. Even though inside, I’m probably laughing a bit, like “this is only a deposition!  If it ends badly, what’s a half-day mediation among friends?” And yet I’m a lawyer, and this is what I know. Surgeons tell me colonoscopies are easy, but you stick me in front of some sleeping guy with a probe, I’d faint on his anesthesia-filled abdomen like a Victorian bride.

I think I’ve worked with doctors long enough to know how to relate to them. They know how to deduce and diagnose and empirically treat.  We lawyers know how to protect and defend and watch over them.  We each play an important role.  And, if my legal knowledge fails to impress a physician, I simply need to sit for an hour listening to their drug-seeking patients explain how they flushed their Norco pills down the toilet by accident while the doctor gets back on schedule.  That wins them over every time.

If you are a drug-seeking patient, by the way, let’s all just agree to come up with more creative stories.  How many times does one actually lean over and inadvertently dump an entire bottle of pills into the toilet?  Pills that are allegedly so vital to your daily survival as a human being?  If this really does happen, you should (1) create some other story that sounds more plausible, maybe one involving aliens; (2) “I left them in my friend’s car in Las Vegas” is never an acceptable substitute; and (3) try to go without your pain medication for a day so you won’t fall asleep or feely loopy while you are learning basic life skills like “hand stability” and “how to open child-safety locks without spraying pills all about the dang place.”   

But whether you’re a doctor or lawyer or rocket scientist, it’s never fun looking at life from the vantage point of a patient.   When I was lying there in a hospital bed in a paper-thin gown so many times, staring at water-stained ceiling tiles, I felt helpless. I hung onto my physician’s every word.  I tried to understand the things they were all collectively telling me, but it all sounded so strange.  You have a detached retina.  You have an unexplainable infection.  Your heart stopped. You have cancer. Those statements were harsh and foreign to my ears.  I wasn’t trained at this.  I was out of my comfort zone. All I saw was a doctor’s mouth moving, throwing my entire world around like balls in the air.  Cataracts and cancer.   Bleeding incisions and scars.  Bouncing up and down, up and down, up and down.  Crazy words I couldn’t control.

Then I realized we are most scared of what we don’t understand. I understand how to be a lawyer.  Pediatricians understand why children get sick.  Surgeons know how to cut. But put a doctor on the witness stand, or try to explain a complex Rule 11 agreement, or why a counter-claim is necessary, and a doctor looks more like a patient who has been told they have a tumor.  What?  Come again?  I’ve not researched that.  I’m not trained in this area.  For this, I am not prepared.  And that’s terrifying.

We all want to feel comfortable.  Some are experts at making an Americano with two raw sugars and a dash of steamed milk.  Others can peel cysts off an ovary with their bare hands.  Others still can argue a case in front of a Federal Judge and an impaneled jury.  But put any one of them in different shoes, and there would be mass hysteria.  Vascular surgeons building houses?  Internists writing contracts? Lawyers fixing air conditioning units?  Unacceptable.  Type A people like us need to be in control.  That’s why we chose a career that only some can attain.  Multiple degrees somehow shield us from failure.   From attack.  From fear.

But to be a child of God, we must strip off the titles.  It doesn’t really matter whether you pour coffee or set broken bones.  God doesn’t give you more points for writing contracts than for fixing sewer lines.  We all simply have a role to play in this world.  Trust me – if a thoracic surgeon is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he is no better off than a gardener or a street sweeper.   Titles nor residency nor a thousand letters of reference matter.  They all just float like dead leaves to the ground.  People crunch atop them on the way to their office buildings and news stands and subway stops.  Student loans and years of education are useless, ready to be bagged up and thrown away, never to be thought of again.

Self-importance has no role to play in a Christian’s life.  We aren’t meant to find our worth in a material world.  Through our titles or careers.   Through our lineage or trust or years of service.  We are simply designed to serve.  To seek God’s truth and wisdom as vigorously as we pursue our degrees, and when we feel that we know enough, realize that we have so much left to learn.  After all – we all have scars, and bleeding incisions, and cancer that invades our purest intentions.  We are all drug-seekers of some kind, although our drug is power and control and feeling too comfortable rather than something we abuse in pill form.

Someday, in the blink of an eye, it will all be over.  On that day, we walk in tandem. The drug seekers.  The doctors.  The lawyers.  The latte makers.  We are all on the same level field, playing a role until the curtain comes down.

A decade of milestones

Yesterday was my ten-year cancer anniversary.  Those who have been in my shoes understand that it’s a day of reflection.  A day where you review all the milestones that have occurred in the last decade and wonder what will happen next.

A few to mention:

(1) I was on national television.

(2) I got to live in New York for a while.  I survived the subway and tag sales and bad Mexican food.

(3) I have been to many cancer screens, visits, and appointments, but my cancer has not metastasized.  Survival is just as good as the next test.  So far I’m hanging in there.

(4) I had many interactions with Martha Stewart.

(5) Got to eat at a fancy NYC restaurant with Donald Trump

(6) I wrote a children’s book on contract for a company in California

(7) We had a baby girl, who is so precious

(8) I had a life-threatening infection after the birth of our little girl.  I was in the hospital for a month.  I survived.

(9) I wrote a novel about the extraordinary friendship between two women.  One woman undergoes a battle with cancer, which was cathartic and memorable to write about.  Part of it’s very funny, and I like funny.   After tears and late nights and edits and hundreds of pages thrown out, I did it.  I survived the novel-writing process.

(10)                I got on facebook and connected with old friends I hadn’t heard from in years

(11)               We had a baby boy. So love that little guy.

(12)               My heart stopped right before the c-section when my son was born, as I was lying on the table. They had to do resuscitation measures.  Miraculously, I survived.

(13)               My husband and I went to Maine, and as we were on a yacht off the coastline, I was so glad he married me so many years ago

(14)               I worked as General Counsel to a large medical group, a job I never thought I’d attain and was so thrilled to have.  Being a lawyer is quite fun.

(15)               I quit said wonderful job as described above to stay home

(16)               We moved into a wonderful limestone house.  We have a garden and land to roam.  Next up is chickens.

(17)               I started a blog

(18)               Our house was struck by lightening.  We survived.

(20)               My novel is not yet published, but I’m still trying

By His mercy and grace, I keep surviving.  Here’s to the next decade.   Let it be as rich and wonderful as this one.  Let me live every day with compassion and curiosity.  After all, I want to do more than survive.  I want to sing.  I want to write.  I want to thrive.

Rising

Every Monday, I take off my wedding ring and pull my hair back in order to mix, pound, and watch bread rise through the dark oven door.  I always need to control something, and my two-year-old never listens.  So bread has become my new muse since leaving the corporate world.  Watch out, Julia.  Here I come with this hard crust and soft center business, all up in your junk about how Parisians do it best. So says the woman who used muffin mixes and bought canned biscuits.  I shudder now at the thought of my former self.

The old me wore heels and rushed off to the office, saying things like “well that’s a bifurcated approach” and “I hope we don’t bust our E&O deductible.”  I never used yeast packets except for holidays, and couldn’t understood why things never looked like magazine photos.  I was harried, and short-tempered, and wondered why my husband didn’t pitch in more with the kids.  I was juggling a career and a novel and small children and, well, I didn’t have time to wait hours for things to rise, for goodness sakes. I scratch my head at that woman now.  I pity her a bit, running around and around the wheel at a dizzying pace.

My life is simpler now.  I am settling into a new routine.  I complain less.  I sigh less.  I try to hug my children more.  But most of all, I’m grateful.

I used to think staying home was akin to bondage, where men secured all the power and the women were forced to perform menial tasks.  Who is John Galt? was framed on my desk, as if to remind myself to keep fighting against the machine. Stay-at-home mommies wrung their hands about potty training and play dates and had nothing interesting to talk about.  They wore flip-flops and gym shorts and all went to Starbucks after carpool talking about reality television.  I went to law school.  I defended the Federal Government.  I’m a fighter.  Women before me forged a rugged trail for me to blaze through.  Plus – it was good for my daughter to watch me working, so she could witness first-hand one who could do it all.  I could buy bread at the grocery store.  Right?  Anyone give me a hell yeah?

But one day, I quit running.  I realized that my life was out of balance, and I longed for peace.  So I quit my job, and bake day firmly settled over our house like a bad coat of dust. Maybe it was to fill the house with an aroma of warm wheat.  Maybe it was so my daughter had memories of always having fresh bread.  But when I really dig down deep, I think it was just my way of working things out.  To put my frustrations into tangible form.  I punched and kneaded and watched the first few batches bubble up or not rise at all and wondered how I’d make it in this new life.  But I kept trying.  There was always next Monday, after all.

I’m so very thankful these days.  I piddle around the house.  Sometimes I take a bubble bath after I drop off the kids.  I take long walks and pray for wisdom.  I make up songs with my daughter and let my son pick me flowers on a Tuesday afternoon. I used to laugh at those mothers.  I used to think they were crazy.   I was built for more than this, I thought.  While waiting for a new batch of bread to rise the other day, I took a walk in a wooded area around our house.  I heard the snort of a deer not ten feet away before she went running off at breakneck speed.  I laughed out loud, scared to death of a deer.  As it turns out, this is enough. I’m finally hitting my life’s stride.  I finally feel ready to stretch myself in ways I never did before.

I’ve learned that one has to feel bread dough to know whether it will turn out okay, regardless of what the recipe says.  You have to pat and form and squeeze it beneath your fingers.  You have to knead and pull and give it time to grow. To let the yeast mix with the warm water and sugar.  To rise.

Sometimes you just have to push the pause button and take it all in.  Long measured breaths.  One ingredient at a time.  Then, you’ll start to see how God is working all around you.  How he softly calls you to do something greater, and bigger, and more glorious.

A friend told me to cover my dough bowl with hot tea towels, which was an excellent tip, and I rub risen loaves with water to form a harder crust.  Just for looks, I sprinkle the top with oats.  I love every part of baking bread, from the smell of the yeast granules to the way the molasses runs down the heap of sticky dough like dark rivers, to the moment I pull it out of the oven and my family comes rushing over, asking for butter.

I am so grateful for this moment in time to walk slowly with my hands behind my back.  I am allowing my words and thoughts and the meditations of my heart to slowly expand, growing into myself with each passing day.  I am praying.  I am listening. I am rising.

diamond dust

I am no stranger to eye surgery.  I’ve had so many of them you’d think it would be easier just to rip the thing out and replace it with wood puddy.  I’m sure all eye cancer survivors are familiar with this feeling. But the last one was different.  It could have been because I was at a different place.  Or used a different surgeon.  Or, quite possibly, it could have been the fact that I was awake the entire time.

It all happened in a blur – the doctors telling me that I had a cataract that simply must be removed, that my eye was dangerously close to exploding with excess pressure, that my retina would forever be damaged.   The procedure had to be done sooner rather than later or face rather ugly consequences.  But I was pregnant – over six months so – and I didn’t want to do it.  But there I was, faced with the choice of having surgery while pregnant, IV drugs and anesthesia seeping into my son’s developing little brain, or waiting as each long day stretched on to see if my eye would blow up like a defective bomb.  Did they think I’d risk anesthesia drugs when I wouldn’t even eat feta cheese for fear my unborn child might get botulism? That’s crazy talk.

So I asked the logical question.  Can I do it without anesthesia? After all, Lidocaine would numb up the eye so I couldn’t feel any pain.  Right?  “Uh, I guess,” the doctor said.  He said he had a heart patient once that couldn’t have anesthesia or his heart would stop, and that guy lived.  This was his one eclectic example.  Awesome.

But on the day of surgery, it wasn’t a joking matter. A much older nurse walked in and repeated that I was to have eye surgery with only a small amount of IV anesthesia.  “You are mistaken,” I said loudly (how did I know she wasn’t actually hard of hearing?).  “No anesthesia,” I said.  “None at all.”

Another nurse came in to start an IV, which is apparently a requirement whether you have drugs or not, and we all listened with a fetal heart rate monitor to my little boy, kicking and spinning happily in my belly, oblivious to the word outside the womb. Finally, I saw the surgeon.  But instead of assuring me that this would be fine and my decision to go IV-free was a noble one – he thought it might be wise to let me know that moving, even a slight bit, could have disastrous consequences.  I didn’t find this little lecture particularly comforting.  Does one tell an astronaut that one false move might mean he’s forever thrust into the abyss of space, never to return to the life and family he knew?  Not helpful.  But there he goes, telling me to be still.  Like moving during awake surgery would be something I planned on doing.  “Can’t you tape my head down with duct tape?” I asked.  He snickered at that, which I thought was a perfectly reasonable request.  “Won’t do any good,” he replied.  “If you were going to move, no tape would hold you.”

Then, as my face turned to the color of copy paper, he told me that since my eye was full of oil (to hold up my tired and radiation-damaged retina), which is “not like normal folks,” it was also possible that his incision might cause the oil to come rushing out like slicing a hole in a water balloon, running into places it shouldn’t.  “That would be a real emergency,” he said.  He waits until now to tell me this? “Well let’s try to avoid that,” I said, seeing my husband out of the corner of my good eye kicking the floor.

Finally, I was wheeled to the OR.  Along the way, I was lectured by the anesthesiologist that at any time he would start IV anesthesia if I couldn’t handle the pressure, or got too anxious.  “I’ll be just fine,” I lied, thinking about oil oozing out of my eye and into my brain, laughing and dancing with freedom.

The temperature in the OR felt something like Alaska in the dead of winter, so they covered me with warm blankets.  They began to strap probes to my chest and someone stuck a breathing tube in my nose.  “What the heck’s that for?” I asked, but everyone was so busy they didn’t answer.  Then, I realized why.  After wiping half my head down with iodine, they stuck a piece of plastic down around my face with a hole in it in the center to expose the surgical field.  The rest seemed to cling like saran wrap and came down on all sides.  It now made perfect sense why all the nurses were asking me if I had claustrophobia.  I think perhaps I do, just a bit, when my face is covered in plastic so that the only way I can breathe is to assume oxygen is coming in through the tube in my nose.  Huh. Didn’t see that one coming.

 

So there I was, sucking down oxygen, my arms secured to my side with Velcro straps, waiting.  Dear Lord.  I just can’t do this on my own.  Finally, after a few shots of a numbing agent, the surgeon went to work.  I tried to imagine I was lying on the beach in Aruba the summer my husband passed his bar exam, the night we sat on the sand and watched the moon edge into the night sky.  I used those tips they gave you in yoga and childbirthing classes, relaxing and breathing in deeply.  I told God that this effort was for my unborn child, which should count for double, so maybe this thing could just hurry-on-up.

Then, I heard my surgeon ask the nurse for an instrument (I’m making up the words of the instruments since I don’t remember the exact medical terms).

“I need a 2.75 septical,” he ordered.  Pause.

“We have a 2.8 septical, Dr. Walters,” she said clearly in response.

“I actually need the 2.75,” he replied.  Suddenly I’m ripped from Aruba and I’m back in an operating room, feeling like I’m participating in my own nightmare.  I wanted to yell at the nurse.  “He wants a 2.75!  Give him what he wants, damnit!”  I was screaming on the inside. I thought I might be shaking. Suddenly, the nurse’s voice reappeared.

“Here it is, doctor,” she said, as she must have been attempting to hand it to him.  Another pause.

“Actually,” he said, “I don’t trust your instruments.  Can you rip open my emergency kit?” he asked someone in the distance.  “That one there, right by the door?  Reach in and grab by 2.75 septical.”

Of course, the emergency kit.  During surgery where I can’t move or my eye oil will come oozing out and bad things will happen.  And I’m freaking pregnant.  Does any of this shock me?  Of course not.  That’s exactly my luck. But I am usually not awake to hear about it.

Annnnnd, he was in my eye again, doing something important.  Suddenly, I was sweating.  Why was I covered with so many blazing hot blankets?  I couldn’t find the moon anymore. And my nose had a sudden itch that couldn’t be scratched.  After what felt like an hour, I tried to speak.  Being fearful that talking might make me somehow move, it sounded more like “whaddadon.”

“Well right here, I’ve got an instrument with diamond dust on the bottom,” he said, emphasizing the word diamond like it was supposed to be really impressive.  “I’m just doing a little scrubbing.  You’ve got lots of debris in here I’m trying to get rid of.”

“I sure like diamons,” I muttered through my clenched jaw.  He snickered at that one.

Eventually, it was over.  They ripped the plastic off my face, unhooked my arms, and let me breathe good ‘ol OR air without a breathing tube.  As I was wheeled back to the post-op room, where my husband was waiting, I felt strangely normal.  “Pretty easy,” I lied.

My son is two years old now, full of energy and strength.  He is a wanderer, my boy.  He likes to be outside, exploring and running and feeling the dirt in his hands. He is strong.  He is healthy.  He is perfect.  I use my eye to wink at him, my precious son, as he runs around the back yard with disheveled hair.  I have my hand on my hip, about to stir up a batch of brownies.

“Ya’ll be careful on that slide,” I’ll yell through the open window.  My heart is filled with a surge of love as I see him.

Diamond, or no diamond, I am so incredibly rich.  I am filled with so many blessings I feel like my soul might burst instead of mere oil.  I am lucky to survive.  I am lucky to be linked with such a strong, beautiful man.  I am lucky to have two children who take my breath away on a daily basis.

But truth be told, it’s not really luck.  I’d have run out by now given the comedies of my life.  I think instead it’s grace, and a love greater than one I’ve ever known. God was there then.  He is there now.  Guiding and holding me still when my body is full of tremors and doubt and fear.

Sometimes that love is too overwhelming for me to take in, like a basket full of diamonds twinkling in the light of the afternoon sun.  I sure like diamonds.  They remind me of things that are pure, and unchanging.  Things that last forever.

pork chops for breakfast

While the rest of the Western world is baking muffins, chomping on triskets, and sucking on popsicles, I’m at home gnawing on a boiled egg.  It’s not because I particularly love eggs.  It’s just that I’m on a low-carb diet, which is the one thing I know works.  I have to start running to hasten the effects of weight loss because I can’t stand eating tortillas that taste like cardboard.

All our kids eat is carbohydrates, wrapped in bar form, or rolled into the size of a cereal pellet, or hardened into the shape of pasta.  I bake it and toast it and wallow in it, and yet I can’t eat a bite.  Our pantry really is a diabetic nightmare.  Oatmeal.  Buttery crackers.  Muffin Mix.  Cookies.  Oh, the cookies.  Sometimes I peek around the onion soup mix to see if the chocolate chips are still there, waiting for me to come to my senses. They are sitting there on the top shelf like a stoic friend, patient and still.

The worst is breakfast.  After a week of eating scrambled eggs, or peanut butter on a flatbread, or a processed low-carb bar, you’re a little tapped out.  I went online to try and find low-carb breakfast ideas.  It was packed with helpful information, like “why do you have to eat sweets for breakfast?  Try tuna!” and the always helpful “if you get sick of eggs, just add extra cheese.”  There were fifteen recipes for frittatas and a mock pancake recipe made from cottage cheese.  One recommended left over pork chops.

I don’t know about you, but when I get out of bed in the morning, after scrubbing away stale breath and sipping on hot coffee, all I can think of is tuna.  And pork chops.  And cottage cheese pancakes with no syrup.  Stop it.  My mouth is watering.

This is why no one can stay on a low-carb diet forever.  There has to be some wiggle room.  I punched down the bread dough I was making this afternoon (now that I quit my job I declared Monday “Bake Day.”  I’ve also declared Wednesday Spa Day and Friday Drinking-and-Gambling Day, so it all evens out), and realized I’d never eat a bite.  Who bakes bread and then fails to eat one single bite?

People who need to lose ten pounds.  That’s who.  They are over in the corner with a bad attitude eating a handful of almonds and a cheese stick.  Don’t go near those people.  They are bound to crack. Or pass out.  Or start stuffing tortilla chips down their pie hole whilst laughing eerily.

Soon, I’ll ease those lovely carbs back into my life.  Until then, I’ll just be here.  Quietly eating pork chops for breakfast but dreaming of thick, sweet oatmeal.

no regrets

I’ve been thinking of the concept of fairness.   About how we human beings have a certain timeline in our heads about what is right and just.

You are born.  You struggle and climb and claw your way out of, well, something.  You find the perfect mate with good teeth.  You have children, who you set up little college accounts for.   They grow up going to church and wearing plaid jumpers.  They study and play monopoly.  You clasp your hands over your mouth when they make the deans list. Someday, they take you out to brunch and thank you for all your hard work over a chai tea latte and scones.  They get married, all white and blushing and beautiful. Then, you’ll start babysitting chubby little grandchildren while your offspring jet off to their medical practices or CPA offices.  Satisfied, you and the better half drive off into the sunset on an RV retirement adventure.  You slowly grow old and can’t remember to turn off the toaster. Finally, you die.  Everyone grieves and brings casseroles.  It’s cool. You lived a full life.  Death happens.

This, my friends, is fairness.  It’s the natural order of things. Anything less is not open to discussion.  And yet despite this view of life, unfair things happen all the time.  A young mother dies of cancer leaving two small children confused and broken.  Her husband prayed.  Her mother prayed.  But survival was not to be.  She was just fine one day, and then she wasn’t.  What about the plan?  She was only 32 years old.  What about the brunch and the scones and the chubby grandchildren?  What if your spouse died and left only a pile of dirty laundry behind? There is no love letter or made-for-television novel or some grand exit.  He was just there, and then he wasn’t.  Where is God? Why did this happen?  How will the children make it? Your fairness timetable is all screwed up.

So in order to protect ourselves, and not end up heavily medicated, we ignore reality.  We draw a circle around us and stay in close.   Like if we are home on a Saturday afternoon doing laundry, ill fate will not befall us.  Like we can somehow escape death.  After all, we aren’t those people.  We aren’t that family.  The end will come to us at a more appropriate time.  Like when our children are all grown or our minds start to fade.  We’ll bite the dust watching reruns in housedresses and slippers, screaming into the phone while our kids tell us to turn up our hearing aids.

“The race is not to the swift. . .” the Bible says, “nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”  Ecclesiastes 9:11.  This explains why the Kardashian sisters are walking around in nine-hundred-dollar shoes while children are starving in Africa.  Or why Hugh Hefner is still bouncing around the Playboy mansion with a fake tan.  Because life, my friends, is not at all fair.  It doesn’t follow our rules. “For man does not know his time.  Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.”  Ecclesiastes 9:12.

I hate it when people say “it was his time” or “it was all God’s plan” when someone dies.  Really? A seven-year-old chose to die? God planned for a young mother to come down with cancer, leaving two kids behind?  I hope that’s not the case.  I think we just get caught in snares, and can’t weave our way out.

So you wake up tomorrow.  Victory! It’s true that you still must scrub toilets and go to work and suffer from headaches.  You still get annoyed when your kids scream, and sometimes you pour cereal only to realize you are out of milk.  Those stupid allergies make you crazy and you feel overwhelmed at work.  You go out to eat and get fat and don’t have any energy and are the only one who unloads the dishwasher.

Stop complaining.

Re-evaluate your life to see what really matters.  Be thankful you have children to raise and friends to talk to.  Get your head out of the television and start seeing what’s around you. You have the unique perspective that others don’t.  You actually have some element of control over your decisions and the words you speak and what do you with the hours in your day. This weekend, I started to watch an online movie preview of some stupid movie I knew I wouldn’t like.  I thought to myself – that’s three minutes of time on this earth wasted.

Think of your days as numbered, and your hours having value. You just might start to change some habits.  And then, you’ll really start living with no regrets.

lucky one

I remember the marble being such a pretty color, peachy with ribbons of coral running through it.  It was everywhere.  Marble tub.  Marble sink.  Marble floor. “That’s a lot of stinkin marble,” I thought to myself as I was lying there, half-naked, face-down on the floor with a nose that might be broken. I was only sixteen.  When it happened– the familiar burning and surging and cramping in my abdomen– I’d carry pillows with me to the toilet.  I figured that if I passed out, they would break the fall.   It never worked, and I never learned.

Once, after waking up on the floor in a public stall, I simply wiped my face off and headed back to Chemistry class.  My friends in college all freaked out in that dramatic, ohmygodshe’stotallygoingtodie way, as supportive as newly formed friends who share a common dormitory can possibly be.  The doctors never figured out why the pain caused me to pass out.  The neurologist ruled out epilepsy, although according to some probe-strapping test, something was definitely a “bit off” with my brainwaves.  That explains a lot.  But one day, I had a beautiful little girl and I never passed out again.

My life doesn’t exactly follow the odds.  I guess you could say I’m lucky.

▪               Ten years ago, an oncologist told me I had a chunk of melanoma living in my eye socket.  Eye cancer is very rare, as it turns out.  One in a million.  Who knew I’d get to travel to Philadelphia and have surgery in one of America’s oldest cities?  As it turns out, I love cheesesteak and Thomas Jefferson.

▪               When I was in the hospital after the birth of my daughter, first a week and extending to three and then four, undergoing multiple surgeries and stabbing myself with blood-thinner injections, I was told it wasn’t exactly normal.  I tried to put on lipstick to make it all better, but with a four-week-old child at home I’d barely begun to hold, Chanel can only do so much.  Don’t get me wrong – it can do a lot. But there are limits.

▪               Most people don’t pass out after having their wisdom teeth extracted and have CPR performed in the oral surgeon’s office lobby because they had some extreme reaction to Demerol. Lucky for me, they had some sort of anti-Demorol agent locked away someplace they stuck in my arm.  I remember getting to drink juice when I woke up. But then again, I’ve woken up from loads of surgeries, so I might be getting them all confused.

▪               Before the birth of my son, right after the spinal tap was placed and the medicine was slowly crawling through my veins toward the arteries of my heart, it stopped. The monitor would just so naturally flatline, because that’s what luck I have.   But like I arose from the marble floor, so too would my heart begin to beat.  After, of course, the chest compressions, the stabbing of epinephrine, and some other medication that apparently gives you dry mouth.

So it wasn’t all that surprising that our house was struck by lightning.  And instead of killing us or burning our house to the ground, it instead wiped out all our plumbing.  “That’s very rare,” the fireman said.   Yeah.  Welcome to my life.  Things happen to me.  Things that don’t happen to normal people.

I can’t help but think God has some grand scheme behind all of this, like there is some grand point to be made.  In response, I’m actively searching for what that is.  What role I need to play in the universe in return for my good fortune.  I’m open, as they say, to change.

I am truly grateful for the moments in which we are tested.  To see what’s most important.  I am grateful for a faith, true and honest, despite all reason to the contrary.  I am grateful for this body, as battered and broken as my insides might be.  I am grateful that I’m not married to some boring widget of a man, but a man bursting at the seams with heart.  I’m grateful for my children, deep in character and beauty.  I’m grateful that we are living in a rental, with Goodwill furniture and mice in the garage, because we are together. And laughing.  Last night, I fell asleep holding my husband’s hand.  And today, my daughter told me she’d give me hugs and kisses even when love got so sweet it turned rotten.   I’m a lucky, lucky girl.

I think I’m going to buy a lottery ticket.  I’d probably lose.  Just my luck.