Archive for ‘Health and Illness’

September 14, 2015

Thoughts on Life’s Little Ironies

Well, friends, I finally updated my “About” page. In the process, I finally admitted to the world something I’ve been wrestling with for some time now. With a blog like this, I’m finding it hard to fess up, but I owe it to you, gentle readers. So here it goes.

I don’t really wear heels anymore.

{massive exhalation}

It all started when I was really sick (June 2012-August 2013). I mean, I really did balance better in heels back in the old days, but I barely walked for a long time. Flats were my jam, man. I think originally I balanced better in heels because my brain had to concentrate a little harder on what was happening at the end of my legs. True fact: the time I gave up heels for Lent I wiped out like 5 times. It was sad. But when I was sick, even when I could walk a reasonable distance I had to move slow and was in a lot of pain – I couldn’t afford to concentrate on anything extra. I guess you could say my brain was reprogrammed when it came to walking.

THEN, y’all, I met this really amazing, attractive, godly man who pursued me and we fell in love and the fact that I am three inches taller than he is didn’t bother us at all. And the incentive to wear heels diminished even more – it was indubitably in my best interest to remain within kissing distance. It’s not like I was making any kind of sacrifice; it just kind of happened. I didn’t squash down a facet of myself. I didn’t change myself to please him.* [My husband likes for me to wear heels – he likes for me to wear whatever I want.] I’m just not in the heel-wearing season of my life anymore.

When I was trying to come up with names for my blog originally (back in 2010), I was just smitten with this name a friend of mine came up with. I had a WordPress theme made on Fivrr specially for it. (It was super-scandalous originally, y’all – I had to ask the graphic designer to scale back the sexy-factor about 60%.) So naturally half of it would become kind of irrelevant. Naturally.

I am about to get rid of most of my high heels (which was the majority of my shoes for a long time) because I just never wear them. So if you wear a women’s 11 or 12, hit me up and I’ll let you know what I’ve got to give away.

___________________
*There’s nothing wrong with changing some things about yourself for your spouse or a friend. For example, thanks to my friend and former roommate Nancy, I now make the effort to consciously put the toilet paper on the holder the *right* way.

July 27, 2014

How many of us have said and sung with all our hearts ‘Anywhere with Jesus,’ but at the same time we did not realize all that it meant for us. Indeed at home, and surrounded by all that home means, we could not know. When the test comes we must not forget that ‘anywhere’ means for missionaries something different from life in England, and let us take very good care not to make a misery of anything ‘anywhere’ brings us.

To us in Algeria it must mean sometime or other, Arab food. Do we object to it? And mice, do we mind them? And mosquitoes, do we think them dreadful? In some parts it means close contact with dirt and repulsive disease. Yet if Jesus is there, what have we possibly to complain of? It means living among a stiff-necked and untrue people and struggling with a strange and difficult language. And yet let us evermore write over all our miseries, big, and for the most part very little, these transforming words ‘With Jesus.’ And then the very breath of Heaven will breathe upon our whole being and we shall be glad. 

– Lilias Trotter, as quoted in Noel Piper’s Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God, 66 (emphasis mine)

This quote has brought me great comfort as I’ve been struggling with severe pain of late.

June 25, 2014

God does not promise to rid your life of affliction and difficulty. He does, however, offer to give you the grace needed to suffer well, and through grace to discover the riches and beauty of the gospel. It isn’t wrong to ask God to relieve you of your pain, but it is more important that in the midst of the pain you rely on the promise of God to work such experiences for his glory and your good – to use these times as a means of perfecting your faith, strengthening your spirit, and transforming your life in such a way that you are becoming more like Jesus.

– Joe Thorn, as quoted by Matt Chandler in To Live Is Christ. To Die is Gain.

April 6, 2014

Playing a Long Game (or, Finally, A Post That Isn’t about Books)

History, literature, and sports. are full of stories that extol the virtue of expending oneself completely for a great and noble cause. The best example of this is, of course, a Greek story. The first guy to ever run a marathon ran from a battle to report his army’s loss to Athens 26.2 miles away. Upon the delivery of his message, the poor fellow died. (Incidentally, this is a decent argument for not running marathons.) But then there’s Kerri Strug – y’all remember her? – who secured the gold medal for the Magnificent 7 by successfully completing a vault on a screwed up ankle, after which she collapsed. From stories like this, I grew up with the impression that “doing my best” meant doing everything physically possible, completely exhausting all my resources if necessary, in order to accomplish something.

My body and my heart and my mind and my spirit and all that stuff are very mushed together. I like to explain it this way: I am really really really all one thing. And while there are definite perks to being built that way, there are some downsides. I don’t handle stress well, and because of how incredibly corporeal I am, my body bears the brunt of my stress. Ever since I first got a glimpse of how this connection works in me, I’ve been trying to sever, or at least diminish, it. Instead, the effects of my stress change. It’s like stress is charging my body a toll, and when I figure out that I’ve (unbeknownst to myself) been paying in rubles, I yell, “Cut that out!” and the sneaky toll payer in me starts paying in euros instead. Case in point: I was so stressed my senior year of high school I started throwing up every Wednesday, like clockwork. It stopped when I went to college, but recurred periodically. I was thinking surely I had some sort of stomach problem, but my doctor eventually convinced me it was stress. And just like that, I stopped stress-vomiting… and started storing my stress more profoundly in my shoulders. This sort of shifting seems to occur regularly – and means that I am not dealing with my stress problem, just burying it under a different rug until it again becomes undeniable and overwhelming.

So I’ve been rethinking a lot of things. While it might be a bad idea for someone else to take on a stressful job, for me it can mean becoming completely debilitated. The stakes are really high. And I am a driven person, who really enjoys high-energy situations – but I am also a person with a body that is broken in such a way that high-energy situations can be really dangerous for my health. Thinking “Yeah, I’m not doing so well, but I can keep this up for the next 3 weeks before it completely lays me out flat” does not lead to a healthy lifestyle.

This whole idea that we are supposed to constantly be giving 100% does have some merit. The one thing we are commanded to do at 100% is love God – with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And, as His sons and daughters, we ought to be loving God this way in everything we do. But as we love Him, as we serve Him, part of our job is to be good stewards. Sometimes we have a calling or person for which/whom we are to, like Paul, pour ourselves out like drink offerings (2 Tim 4:6) – like this woman. But notice Paul’s context – he is dying. I’m starting to think that kind of push-yourself-to-the-last-inch-and-then-a-little-more might belong in contexts with a definite finish line. Like death.

My Greek professor in seminary tried to help us come to terms with this phenomenon, telling us that we’re incapable of doing it all, and that we had to prioritize our goals and responsibilities – and allocate our efforts in a way appropriate to those priorities. For the next three weeks, he told us, our full attention was to be on Greek I. “So,” he told my married classmates, “tell your wives you love them and kiss them goodbye for the next three weeks. Because to do this well, to lay the foundation you’ll need for Greek II, you need to immerse yourselves as much as possible in studying the language.” But he went on to explain that we could not expect to give A-effort to everything in seminary – or in life. “You may need to decide that you’re going to be satisfied with a B in a class because you need to be spending more time with your wife and kids. You may need to give one class C effort so you can work harder in a class that’s harder for you to bring up your grade.” Rocket science, this is not… so why does it seem so hard to do?

The aftermath of my most recent bout with endometriosis (and the coinciding fungal disaster) has meant piecing together what it means to have a body with these limitations and this pain, what it means to play a long game instead of pushing myself to the breaking point time and again. And I think I’m starting to get an idea of what the puzzle’s going to look like put together.

Freedom in Christ means a lot of things. One of them is that I am free to say no. For a driven person like me, this has been a hard thing. I’ve been keeping the Sabbath for the last 18 years or so has helped tremendously, because I am used to practicing the fact that it is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, not my own, that makes me holy. That has been a huge encouragement and help to my faith. God is using the disciplined living out of the truth to change my heart and life – and to equip me to handle bigger, more uncomfortable truths I need to learn.

February 1, 2014

The One-Year Mark

Exactly 366 days ago I was in the San Francisco Bay Area recovering from my third surgery (in less than 4 years) for endometriosis. The 364 days between that day and this haven’t been a cakewalk – recovering from surgery was hard and long – but boy, it sure has been better than it was before. These days, I’m fully functional most of the time, and pain is the exception, rather than the rule. I can work, and go to church, and hang out with friends – it’s lovely!

But when you’ve become suddenly, incapacitatingly ill more than once in a few years, you start to feel a little paranoid. You start to think that the bottom could drop out any moment – which of course it could, for anyone. For me, this turned into a distrust and squelching of hope.

From where I’m sitting, it seems the most important thing I have learned in the last year is how to hope again, about major life stuff (not just that the new Doctor will be awesome, as nice as that would be). Hope is a profoundly Christian thing. I recently read Paul Miller’s A Praying Life (from which I posted several quotes in December), and found great encouragement in this area. He writes about the abundance of hope for the Christian:

Many of us believe in the Christian hope of ultimate redemption, but we breathe the cynical spirit of our age and miss the heart of God. This was brought home to me when I discovered from a widow that her husband’s philosophy of life went like this: ‘Expect nothing. Then if something good happens, be thankful.’ He had been a dear friend and godly counselor to me, but I was so surprised that I blurted out to his wife a confused mix of Romans 15:13 and Hebrews 13:20 – ‘Sue, that sure sounds so different from “May the God of hope, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”‘ Paul and the writer of Hebrews were bursting with the goodness of God. It spilled out of their hearts.”

I have done this try-to-expect-nothing-so-that-my-hopes-aren’t-dashed thing. I’m not very good at it, and then I feel like a sucker for thinking things might turn out differently. But that attitude makes me hard, and I don’t like what my heart is like when it gets hard. A hard heart is spoken of as a bad thing in Scripture (see Pharaoh, the Israel of Ezekiel’s day, the natural fallen state of man), something to be avoided (see the Penteteuch, the histories, the psalms), to be replaced with a heart that lives and beats, a “heart of flesh.” And of course, there’s that famous C.S. Lewis quote from The Four Loves, which I think says a lot about hope even though it’s about love. (I think hope is as much a heart thing as it is a will thing.)

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

That self-protective instinct, while not all bad, has to be held in check if we are going to run the risk of love, of hope. And you know what? Suppose my hopes do get dashed. This is not the worst thing that could happen, shockingly. After all, Christ “binds up the brokenhearted;” “a bruised reed he will not break.” He totally knows what to do with people who are a mess. 

Putting all this understanding into practice – incarnating it, if you will – can be hard work for me. My friend Sarah wrote a great piece about hoping for marriage. It does such a great job of connecting the dots – taking hope all the way from concept to life. 

I could not say all this if not for Jesus, if not for the Big Hope that will be realized. This strange time we live in, the already-but-not-yet, is marked by 1) restoration beginning, brokenness being healed, sinners being sanctified, God dwelling in the hearts of His people; and yet 2) brokenness  evil scoring points, saints who are still hot messes, God seeming to be far away sometimes. The kingdom has come, but not all the way. My understanding of the kind of days we inhabit informs – even empowers – my hope.

I mean, let’s face it – if ALL my hope is invested in things I don’t get, or that don’t satisfy me like I thought they would when I do get them, that makes for a sad, sad story. But because of the Gospel, I know – KNOW – that my story ends like The Taming of the Shrew, not Romeo and Juliet. History, it turns out, is a comedy! There is an ultimate “happy ending” for everyone who is united with Christ. That ending won’t happen until Jesus returns and makes all things fully, really new – and the ending turns out to be a new beginning.

This frees us, friends, to hope, because our joy and happiness and prosperity and health and wisdom and riches and relationships and holiness are all ultimately guaranteed – our fulfillment is a sure thing. We can love people who treat us poorly, or who are throwing up on us at 2 am, or who drive us nuts. We can hope to see someone change who seems completely set in her ways, or that our sickness will be cured or treated effectively, or for a godly spouse. Because we have an unshakeable foundation, we can hope without putting our whole selves into the hope.

Hope itself is not the goal. The goal is glory. The goal is being with Christ, face-to-face. The goal is the new heavens and the new earth. The goal is fully living as a child of the King of the universe, forever. One day, as that awesome hymn reminds us, “hope shall change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise.” We’ll get to put hope on the shelf. But until then, we need its pointing us toward that day, when

…the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the LORD, we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’ (Isaiah 25:6-9)

Friends, I am counting on it. In hope.

May 19, 2013

Things Get Better

Three-ish weeks ago one of my doctors decided to start me on a medicine often prescribed for mysterious pelvic pain. Guess what. It worked overnight.

I cannot tell you what a massive turn my life has taken. I am pain-free most of the time. I can drive. I can take my dog on walks. I can carry heavy things. I can make plans and actually expect to show up for them.

And y’all, I can think. My brain is back.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that I knew my brain had come back online. It was about a week and a half after I started the new medicine. I was playing SpellTower on my phone, and I managed  to get a score over 9000. And then another one. And then another one. Pretty soon, I had beaten my previous (pre-illness) top score, somewhere north of 14000.  (You are probably thinking that this is a really boring story. But I promise you, it felt like magic and Christmas and snow on Christmas in Texas.)

In addition to all that, we determined that I am not sensitive to gluten after all.

I’m just gonna let that sink in a minute.

(For the record, it took three days for it to sink in for me.)

Apparently, the massive allergy test I did is not conclusive, and needed to be verified by, you know, trying foods out. I scored the worst level of sensitivity for gluten, so I was certain I would be somehow be reactive. (I’m not. At all.) However, until the pain went away three weeks ago, I wasn’t confident enough to test it. How would I even know I was having a bad reaction?

So now, in addition to feeling well, I can drink beer, and eat anywhere. Oh, and I’m looking for a job. Because, like I said, I can finally make plans and expect to show up for them.

I’ve still got more physical therapy ahead of me, and stamina to win back, and shape to get back into. But I think I’m finally out a really, really long tunnel. God’s timing in healing me might not have been mine, but here it is.

Hallelujah.

April 26, 2013

So, the dog and I haven’t turned into giant mushrooms….

I thought I’d drop in and say “Hi,” since it’s been awhile. The dog is doing really well – had a bit of a rough patch in the beginning, but we seem to have things under control thanks to some expert help. Westley is great fun and very reassuring to have around. He is the most patient dog I can think up that isn’t a stuffed animal. And he is so soft!

I have had some unpleasant set backs in my pain levels. For a few weeks I was seeing continuous progress – I started driving myself places and making it through days without napping. But then about a month ago I hit a rough patch that has lingered for about a month now and been very painful.

I’ve started physical therapy, but, holy cow, it is slow going.

So I’ve been doing this whole waiting/healing/recovering/pain thing for 10 months now, (more like 11 if you are counting the rather dreadfully painful June of 2012). It is tough work, waiting. It rubs against my desire to produce, to succeed, to progress. You know how everybody talks about “being” rather than “doing” in evangelical circles? Well, try being bedridden for 3 months and tell me that being without doing doesn’t suck.

Of course, unless you are a rock, it’s quite impossible to be without doing, and there is doing to be done in my life as it is. There is thankfulness to cultivate and express, a dog to feed and train, a bunch of books to read, sins to sort through, personal patterns to analyze, wrongs to confess. Most of these things don’t satisfy my desire to accomplish, but they are important, and I am trying to appreciate them for their worth and be faithful with the little bit I have before me.

February 8, 2013

The Whole (Surgery) Story

The morning of the surgery, I woke up with “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music inexplicably stuck in my head. It was a good little boost.

Upon reporting at the hospital, I was taken to my recovery room, which was kinda like a hotel room, except for the monitors and medical equipment. I was in surgery for about two hours, and then in the recovery room for an hour, but it seemed like they drugged me to sleep and then there was a 30 second stop at the recovery room before I went into my room and passed out. My dad stayed overnight with me on this awful pullout chair that was basically half a twin. If you know my dad, you are probably laughing right now. Poor guy probably didn’t sleep much, but he sure didn’t complain.

The incredible Dr. Cook found endometriosis. Dude, like way more than anyone found before. It was in a lot of places, and a good bit of it was vesicular endometriosis. Apparently, there’s this clear stuff that wraps around your abdominal muscles, kinda like shrink wrap. “Vesicular” means the endo was on that “shrink wrap.” Another place that some endometriosis popped up was my appendix, which we had decided before the surgery to remove anyway.

As for recovery, y’all, this is unparalleled. I am doing really well. This time last surgery, I was still mostly unconscious and in a lot of pain; this go-round, I am definitely taking my pain meds, but I feel zero of the pre-op pain (!), and I am walking around, getting everything ready for the dog’s move in day (Saturday!), reorganizing my stuff, etc. I am not in very much pain most of the time. It’s EXCELLENT.

Recovery from the surgery should take about a month. The fact that I feel so well is a good sign; the fact that I have none of the pain I had before is a great sign. So… we’ll see, but it’s looking good. 😀

February 3, 2013

Post-Op Update

The surgery went well! Dr. California found quite a bit of endo and got rid of it. He said it was clear why I was in so much pain for so long – let me just tell you, it’s nice to have someone say my pain actually makes sense! I am still really out of it, but am in minimal pain, so that’s nice. I’ll be sharing more details on prognosis, etc. when I have them. (Not surprisingly, I don’t remember much from after the surgery. The appointment on Monday should clear things up.)

January 30, 2013

A Little Bit of Everything

I’m writing from the way-colder-than-I-expected town of Belmont, California, a mere 35 minutes from the doctor’s office in Los Gatos and also about 35 minutes from San Francisco. I should have packed 4 pairs of pants and 1 skirt instead of 3 pairs of pants and 2 skirts. At least I brought a pair of cowboy boots. Brrrr!

We got to drive around this area today – Half Moon Bay to Sausalito with lots of ocean views.

IMG_0583

This is my first time to see the Pacific, and to see anything like the landscape along the ocean – mountains coming right up to the beaches, or, more often, up to the ocean itself. It was gorgeous, as you can see.

So far everything has gone according to plan. Yesterday I had a long pre-op appointment with Dr. Cook, and I have another one tomorrow. Hospital check-in is at 6 am PST, with the surgery scheduled to start at 7 and run two hours. I found out last night that I am staying overnight in the hospital, which I have never done before. I’m a bit nervous about it, particularly since I’m a tummy-sleeper (more so right after surgery) and I can’t imagine I will be allowed to sleep anyway but on my back, which might mean I don’t sleep at all. I deem this a bad thing.

Today I was on a restricted diet – no red meat, no fruit, no dairy, etc. – and tomorrow I go to a clear-liquid diet. We are trying to figure out what broth we can get that I should drink to keep me from going nuts on water and apple juice alone. Plain stuff, quite a contrast to Julia Child’s cooking, which I’ve been reading about the past couple of days in My Life in France. The book made me all kinds of pumped about cooking (this happens fairly frequently), but also saddened me because, well, being gluten-free has its drawbacks.

One thing I am doing this year is working through daily readings from the Book of Common Prayer, many of which are passages of Scripture. For whatever reason, the editors saw fit to put a bunch  of passages right around this time that relate to God surrounding, being near to, or protecting His people. These are the sorts of passages I need to be reading right now, and the Lord is making it easy for me. Of course, it also helps that I am reading through the Psalms at the moment – I knew it was likely I would need comfort, and that the Psalms are a great place to voice that need and to find the material required to preach to myself the true comfort of knowing God, of being His child.