Wednesday, July 18, 2018

12 Days Post-Op

I've been trying to decide what to write. For a second I thought I might just never write again.

It can be overwhelming when you share stuff.

I had surgery on July 6th, but it feels like yesterday. I'm doing well, but its not that simple.

I wish this was all simple.

Surgery takes a toll on your body, your emotions, your mind. I guess cancer does too.

We got good news- Stage 1, clear margins, benign lymph node- so I am excited about that. Many people aren't as lucky as I am to have caught it early.

But recovery sucks. Having to need help sucks. Bumps in the road suck. It all just kind of sucks.

I try not to complain though. Actually, post-op when I was on tons of morphine in the hospital I repeated three phrases:

"I love my life."

"God is so good."

"I really appreciate you. Thank you for being so good at your job."

Apparently even on heavy drugs I want everyone to know that they are great. I have trouble not trying to care for people, even when a part of my body has just been chopped off.

There is so much more to this. So many stories to tell. So much still to come.

But for now, I will just be thankful that I am healing, be thankful for all my people who have continued to love and support me in this wild year, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

This stuff takes a toll.

But hey, I love my life, God is good, and I really appreciate you.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Day Before Surgery

Tomorrow I go in for surgery.

It isn't something I can really wrap my mind around.

I know how I will wear my hair, what I will pack to come home in, and what time I am supposed to report. But all of my hospital knowledge comes from tv. I've never broken a bone, never had a surgery, never even been very sick.

Tomorrow I go in for surgery and I will come out different. The prayer is that I come out cancer free, requiring no further treatment. The prayer is that my body heals in miraculous ways because I am young and otherwise healthy.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous.

Yet it seems fitting to combine a physical scar with the less visible scars from the difficulties of the last few years. To be honest, the diagnosis didn't surprise me. Extreme and prolonged stress/trauma messes with you, no matter what the surgeon says.

I'll be honest.
Cancer is a cake walk compared to what I went through last summer.

And though I am scared of the hospital, the recovery, the changes to my everyday life in the future, I know one thing for certain.

God will heal me.

At the beginning of my diagnosis I found it written in the margin of an old notebook from graduate school.

My daughter, my daughter, by your faith you have been healed. 

I caught a vision early on of the woman who was healed by touching Jesus's cloak and I began to pray.

Jesus let me touch the hem of your cloak. 

I mentioned that prayer off-handedly to my father a few weeks later.

That is weird. He said. I've been praying the exact same phrase. 

I went to a new church this past Sunday. A liturgical church that read a Gospel Scripture, one that had nothing to do with the message but was simply the assigned Scripture for the day.

 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

It is going to be a journey. It is going to have its challenges. But in the end, I know that one way or another I will be healed and all will be made well again. 

In fact my friends just texted me and I think what she said was true. 

All has already been made well. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Baking a Post-Divorce Pie

I've started baking again.

On the surface that statement seems meaningless, but to me it holds weight and resolve. It is symbolic of restoration. Who knew a pie could be so existential? 

I've always loved baking, since I was young. When I moved to Arizona I started really cooking too- homemade sauces and meals- and I learned to love that as well. But baking has always bought me joy.

After my husband left I stopped baking. I didn't see the point. I didn't have anyone to bake for and I had lost a lot of my joy. The effort seemed pointless. I could barely lift myself out of bed, why would I bake a pie?

I can remember the first time I made a meal in that year of sadness. It seemed like a great feat, an accomplishment, a marker of my resolve to not just exist but live. I remember it being difficult. Not in a physical way, but as if I was climbing some wall in my mind and the task exhausted me. Making a pot of chili was equal to running a marathon.

Yet, I could not make myself bake. Pie and despair didn't seem to go together.

Then I moved to Texas. 

Texas has been new air, new horizons, new life. Atlanta was a holding ground. It was a year of healing, of resting, of waiting. Texas has been my new beginning. I've unpacked the boxes and decorated the apartment. I began a job that I knew was a great gift. And in the midst of it, I dusted off my pans and I made a loaf of banana bread. Today, I made a miniature coconut custard pie.

As I set my pie on the counter to cool, I felt joy. Its perfectly browned crust, its soft custard- it was delicious. And it had not felt like a feat. It was second nature, simple and fun.

You see? I've started baking again. And isn't that really symbolic of everything?

_________________________________________________________________________________

A recipe for coconut custard pie: 

2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut 

Mix all ingredients except the coconut in a blender. Add the coconut and blend for 10 seconds. Pour into a greased 9-inch pie plate. (Batter will make its own crust). Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. 

To make for one, half the ingredients and use a ramekin or small baking dish. Feel zero guilt about consuming the half pie! 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Weirdness of a New City

Moving to a new city is tough, ya'll.

I feel like I should be a pro at it by now, on the third go-round, but I still have days where I can't quite figure out how to conquer the challenges of a new place with gumption and bravado. Even the roads in a new city can be stressful. The roads in Dallas are crazy and trying to juggle directions, the pup, and the seemingly endless construction can be enough to make me a hermit.

Moving to a new city can be lonely. 

My first foray into a new city (Pasadena, California) took a lot of adjustment, but I was in graduate school so the ways to make friends were built in. I was in classes and an apartment where there were people my age, similar interests, and others looking to make friends in a new city.

When you are 29 and working its much harder to meet new people. I suppose every person in the store or at my apartment complex could be a potential friend, but I end up just making awkward eye contact or mumbling to my dog. Sometimes I try the ole' Georgia, "hello!" just to be met with weird looks and silence. Finding community simply takes time.

But moving to a new city can also be fun. 

For a few weekends I just sat at home with my dog, watching tv, bored and frustrated. I was lonely and I couldn't figure out how to make it better. I was trying so hard to save money since doctor's visits cost a pretty penny, so I had given up exploring my new city. I was trying to beat disease with my diet and hadn't eaten much other than vegetables for weeks.

I was trying to be responsible, not realizing that I was giving up all of the things that brought me joy. It turns out my attempt to be healthy was actually decreasing the health of my mind. I needed some happiness.

So I decided to have fun.

I started off with a three mile hike. It turns out the beauty of nature was only 35 minutes from my home. Was it hot? Yes. Did my dog try to give up three times and lay in the middle of the trail? Yes. Was it just what I needed? Absolutely.

Then I took myself out to lunch. Because sometimes you just need to take yourself out to lunch. I went to my new favorite place, that is healthy and fresh and has fun flavors of lemonade, reminiscent of my favorite Los Angeles spot. I put my phone away and worked on a puzzle like an old lady while eating.

As I was sitting on the patio I noticed a little bakery next door. I walked in to find freshly baked loaves of bread. I paid just $6 for a loaf of cinnamon walnut cranberry bread, which I came home and ate smothered in butter.

And you know what? For less than $20 I found myself happy.

So now I find one way to explore my city each weekend with a $20 budget. Last weekend that meant signing up for yoga and brunch at a rooftop bar. This weekend it will probably be pilates in the park or settling into a new coffee shop with a book.

Sure, moving to a new city has its challenges.
But discovering the new joys that surround you is always worth it.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Strength in Snail Mail

I was just standing on my back porch, looking out at the trees, at the sweet family teaching their daughter how to swim.

"I can do this on my own." I thought as I surveyed the world around me. "I'm ok on my own, for now. I'm happy. I'm happy with my life, with where I am. I am good doing life on my own for a bit." 

It was a bit of a declaration to my sometimes lonely heart. Perhaps I believed it, perhaps I was trying to convince myself. Perhaps I honestly don't know what it is that I want at this moment in time.

Whatever the truth of the statement was, I left it sitting in the humid Texas air as I walked back inside to take the dog out. When I opened my door, distracted by the excited pup, I was surprised to find a large box sitting on my doorstep. I picked it up and looked to see who it was from. Immediately tears began to fill my eyes.

Two of my high school best friends, who I have not seen in eleven years, had sent me a care package. 

I dropped the leash on the floor and told the dog she would have to wait as I unpacked the gifts inside.

It was a care package of beautiful proportions, filled with love and laughter, creativity and kindness. Inside was tucked a note with declarations of strength, and most importantly, a reminder of the beauty and pervasive nature of friendship. In that moment, I had never felt more loved. That two friends, despite time and distance, would care for me so well and so intentionally, made my heart swell.

I haven't cried much with the mountain I am currently overcoming. Compared to last summer, this mountain is a breeze, a walk in the park. Compared to last summer this could almost be qualified as enjoyable (though it is not, actually, enjoyable). This mountain has been filled with kind people and broken parking garages that mean I get to park for free, frank conversations, and easy commutes. It is, as I often tell my doctors, perhaps the best possible time in my life for this diagnosis.

But as I held the pieces of friendship in my hands, I cried. 

It has been these reminders- the packages and notes that I have received in the mail, that have been addressed by hand and picked out with care- that have given me what strength I possess.

It is my tribe- that has shown up for me time and time again, that has not tired of my mistakes, my challenges, or my heartaches- that pushes me forward.

I do not possess strength in adversity because I am incredible or brave. I possess a strength that is built on the people around the country and across the years that love me beyond what I deserve and care for me well beyond what I expect.

"Yes," I thought as I smiled, teary-eyed, at the package before me, "I can do this on my own . . .

. . . but what a beautiful reminder that I don't have to." 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Heartbreak, Disease, and the Whisper of the Rain

This morning I stood on my porch laughing like a mad woman.

Why?

Because it was raining. 

I know, I know, for all of you people who live in places with monsoon season or places where the rain never quits, I sound crazy. But in Texas, at least so far, it hasn't rained much. And I love rain. Like I really, really love rain.

It struck me as so amazing that it decided to rain this morning because just last night I had been talking to a friend who is on vacation in Colorado, lamenting that they were sitting in a mountain house listening to the rain, while I was sitting in an apartment listening to my skin crackle and die in the overwhelming heat.

I began to question, as we often do when we are left alone for too long, why I had made the decision to move here. "Why didn't I move to Colorado?" I thought,  "Why did I come to Texas where I have no friends except the mosquitos that think I'm the greatest snack ever invented?"

Just because it hadn't freaking rained, I began to have that moment of panic we all have when we move to a new place alone, where I suddenly felt utterly frustrated that life is not completely perfect in every way.

After all, who wants to live in a dry and barren land, where I can't even figure out HOW TO OPEN THE GATES TO THE POOL?? Ahem, I mean, why live in Texas where there is no rain?

So I feel asleep, and lo and behold when I woke up this morning. . .  it was raining. Pouring. The heavens had opened and huge drops of moisture and love soaked into my skin.

I stood on my porch with my arms stretched out and I laughed as if I had never seen the beauty of a grey and cloudy sky before. I rejoiced as if manna from heaven was falling from the sky to quench my hunger and provide for my needs.

Of course. Of course this morning it would rain.

Now I know that God didn't make it rain for me. The rain was going to come, no matter how I felt about it. But in that moment as the rain bounced across my skin like tiny happy pixies, it seemed to be a sign that whispered, "don't worry my dear. All will be well." 

I know, I know, it sounds like I was left alone in my apartment for too long this weekend, and maybe I was, but I am telling you that as the rain POURED from the sky I began to feel more confident that God will water my soul is this season of unknowns. I felt like the rain was a little reminder that God hears me, and knows me, and will provide for me. To me, the rain meant something.

In this new season of overcoming I have found that having a health issue is, to me, much easier (though still difficult) to deal with than having an issue of the heart. When Cameron left, there was no cure. There was no timeline for healing, no prescription I could take to fix the brokenness I felt inside. Over the last year I became whole again and was made well, but even still I couldn't tell you exactly how that happened. I couldn't prescribe the same remedies to someone else. It was simply a walk through darkness, hoping that light would once again appear. And light did once again appear.

But now that something is wrong with my body, there is a prescription. There is a cut and dry way to get better and there are certain dates on which I can expect to do so. I've been to countless doctor's appointments in the past month and the plan has been made. On July 6th, I will have surgery and though it sucks and its unexpected (and it sucks), I know that in a few months I will be well again.

There is already an end in sight. 
There is already hope.

The path isn't easy per se, but it is straightforward. A part of my body is unwell and I have a team of the best doctors working with me to get rid of the disease and protect the rest of me. And as I prepare for my life to once again be slightly different than I had imagined, I simply soak in the rain as it whispers to my soul,

Don't worry my dear, all will soon be well.  

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Victory of Positivity

"Why are you so happy all of the time?"

This is a question that lately I get asked more often than you would think. At doctor's appointments (of which I have been to a lot recently) they look at my quizzically as I smile, laugh, make light of serious things, and talk about my hope for God's supernatural healing. At my new job the kids make fun of my unwavering positivity, relating me to the weirdest (and most unattractive!) cartoon characters.

I told my Arizona kids about this and they replied, "Yea, you were too happy for us too. But we got used to it." 

Haha- there are worse things to be I suppose.

What people don't realize when they comment on my "eternal optimism" is how great of a victory that is for me. I was always ridiculously optimistic growing up, but seeing my students on the reservation go through so much pain, and living in an unkind marriage, made me lose that joy for a while. For a couple of years I became an extremely angry and bitter person. It might be hard for you to imagine, but it was rough. I rarely smiled. I rarely spoke positively. I was angry at the pain of the world and I became a person I did not realize. I lost all of the light within me.

But oh how our God restores!

One of my AZ high schoolers, who is wise beyond his years, gave me a great image for this. He said that if he was a glass dish and he was dropped and shattered, would I be able to put him back together? No, I said. You would be too broken.

Correct, he replied. Instead, you would have to take those broken pieces and make them into a beautiful piece of art. It wouldn't be the same, it cannot be what it was before it was shattered, but it can be made into something even more amazing. 

Y'all, the kid is a sophomore in high school and he was throwing that wisdom at me. These kids continue to amaze me!

Though God has restored my joy, I will never be who I was before I moved to Arizona. And that is ok. My pieces have been made into a work of art that shines even more brightly. The imperfections give me character. And I absolutely love the person that I am today.

I love where I have been, I love where I am now, and I love where the path is leading me. I love my students in Arizona, I love my life in Texas, and I love. . . well, I basically love everything.

What a lightness of being I feel. What a blessed life I lead. What a heart of gratitude I have for every moment I am granted here on this earth.

It doesn't get better than this my friends. It simply does not get better than this.

Even if my new students do say I remind them of this guy: