on writing, Personal Journey

A Letter to Gigi*

Dear Gigi,

I chose you after giving it about thirty seconds’ thought. You’re right up there with Hitler and Jesus and the young me, which is a rather strange party, I admit. Can you imagine the four of us playing Peanut? I just played that game for the first time, by the way. Never played solitaire before, never played cards really. Apparently I don’t hold them right. Apparently, I’m mentally challenged when it comes to numbers and shapes and slamming cards down in ascending or descending order, black then white, all one suit, not all one suit.

I know, let’s play Scrabble instead. Or how about Chess?

I digress. I picked you, Gigi, because you’re often on my mind when “big” things happen and you’re not here to share them over coffee. I miss you when I see pictures of your sisters with their nieces and children and grand-babies, and I tell myself you’re having coffee with Jesus which is far better. That you’re having coffee on Mount Everest and breathing isn’t a problem and the view is spectacular.

When I thought I might die from a brain tumor I thought of you, having walked that road to its completion. Mine veered back into health, and I find I’m so grateful but also sad when I think of you. I want you to see Bob especially, see the amazing man you helped form. I’d love to tell you how happy he makes me, what a servant’s heart he has, how he learned how to take care of his wife by being sweet to his mom all those years ago. I know, I know…he went through a rough patch. Teenage years. We have some of our own now. My own mom used to say through clenched teeth and with all the vitriol of sulfuric acid, “I hope you get a daughter just like you someday.”

What a fantastic curse.

If you were here, Gigi, I’d ask your advice. I’d tell you how impactful Carol Ann was in shaping our family’s journey toward Jesus, how we love to spend time with Harry and Carol Ann, how we wish we could see John and Kim more often. I’d tell you I did get daughters like me, but better. Sons like Bob, but better as well. Not perfect. We struggle. Those I’d share with you. I’d tell you I have entirely too much stock placed in excellence and not enough in faith, that I handle emergencies with the calm of Florence Nightengale and then for days after am egg-thin and weepy, my own version of PTSD.

I could tell you so many things about our family, but I know you know. Someday I’ll get that cup of coffee with you. All my uptown problems will be over. My mom-worries will be done. My dreams, either accomplished or deserted. When I finally get to see you, I imagine we’ll laugh about the days when you were a young mom trying to figure out a teenage boy, and I was all of eleven, trying to figure out your teenage boy. I no longer zip my jeans with a can opener. I don’t even wear those awful, scratchy things. I’d tell you about yoga pants and long tunics that hide all sorts of imperfections. We’d laugh. I’d hug you.

Harry, Kim, Gigi, John, Bob

*This is the first of the creative writing assignments I’m giving to my 5000 Words Class. I’ve committed to writing and posting each assignment I give them because I’m crazy and/or stupid and I like writing so much, and with all the reading that goes along with teaching, my own writing can fall by the wayside, and in my convalescence from brain surgery I’ve lapsed in the creative field…and gotten wordy and pukey with my ideas. I’m sure it’s hardly noticeable.

The assignment was to write a letter to someone from the past, anyone at all. It just has to be a real person. (That’s where the Hitler reference came from…and a letter I found from Gandhi to him while both were very much alive.) Tell the person 1. why you chose them and 2. what you hope they’ll take to heart.

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on writing, Personal Journey

This Happens to be an Excuse

…as to why I’d temporarily abandon my blog. Something happens when you don’t write regularly: you get stiff-brain. You believe you don’t have anything worthy to say, even though your friends are posting about their new moisture-repelling socks and how potty training’s going with the puppy (with pictures). Things, big things, happen, but you neglect to write them down. Poof. What was that thing I was soooo keen to write about?

I now have an idea how my students feel when they walk into my living room, clutching their 3-ring binders to their chests, telling me they have absolutely NOTHING to write, that no words exist in the folds of grey matter, snug inside their still-growing skulls. (Incidentally, a skull continues growing as long as a person ages. It’s the only bone that does that, say the folks at Duke University, and it accounts for elderly droop-face too.)

Big as my brain is getting, the space left by my recently-removed brain tumor has proven to be a bit of a chasm for my synapses or whatever things jump around in there, keeping me on track. I can write a post, but sometimes I forget simple things, like my schedule or the sentence just spoken. Eh? What was that again?

The unsettledness of moving got me out of the habit of writing, and I’m just now getting back into it. My soul itches to create something, but so far all I’ve been able to do is tweak my WIP and query a few more agents. I’m still bereft of a rejection letter, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been rejected. Many agents don’t even bother with a rejection email. I just have to wait until so much time elapses, then assume I’m rejected.

Confession: I have an agent I really want. He was the first person to whom I sent my manuscript because he represents authors I adore. He always replies, and I should hear from him soon. I’ve been Twitter-stalking him and am ready to be devastated if he rejects my manuscript. All I want is a request for more. Then, if he doesn’t take me on after that, I can lick my wounds and keep going. What am I saying? I’ll lick my wounds and keep going no matter what. Because that’s what writers do. Just today, I re-fell in love with my novel while editing it for the millionth time.

Meanwhile, I’ve had some neat acceptances on my shorter works. One, an edgy and controversial piece, will be coming out in October. It’s a science fiction story influenced by C.S. Lewis and Harriet Beecher Stowe. If nothing else, you should read it to find out how that mix of inspiration is possible.

Wishing you well until the next woefully overdue post.

Personal Journey

Unexpected Kindnesses

It’s been 2+ months since my brain surgery, and I’m clawing my way back to the level of energy I once enjoyed—happy to be thus clawing. When I am tired and things don’t get done, I smile and thank God I’m alive, that I’m here to sink into the couch after pulling a bit of weeds, here to forget my bank account number or the time of an appointment or to hit submit (oops). Everyone assures me they also forget such things, so who knows what’s to blame? My skull has a funny little dent, but with some finesse I can cover it with my hair.

Today I had an appointment with an oral surgeon. Before I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I had this lesion in my mouth that wouldn’t go away. I’d searched Google and was certain I’d be dying of mouth cancer. I was just about to make an appointment with my dentist when I had another, more pressing issue…pressing on my brain. I remember Bob coming home from work one day and I was having a fit about the unfairness of it all, of having imminent brain surgery, of having to paint the uncooperative stair rails, and of then dying from mouth cancer.

I got over myself and purposed to trust God. In fact, every time I ran my tongue over the lesion I would pray and ask God to increase my trust in Him. And He humbled me again, even in this “little” mouth issue (everything is little now).

Setting: The oral surgeon’s office. First, he looks in my mouth and pronounces that it doesn’t even need to be biopsied. Yay! —no waiting to know if it’s benign. (I’ve waited quite a bit this year.) And then he asks if he should cut if off. I tell him: not if it doesn’t need to be. You know me, the minimalist. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke and all. But he says it’ll be quick and easy, and I figure I should let him since I’m in the chair already. He numbs my mouth and does his thing, which is easier than getting a cavity filled. Then he says, “That’s it. No charge today.” And out he walks.

What?! Who does that? His assistant did tell me he was nice. I’d heard good things about him, but this…this brought tears to my eyes. I had walked into the office feeling anxious and praying, and I walked out in tears, thanking God for the kindness shown me.

The other unexpected blessing came from dear friends who want to bless us with a place to live while we’re between houses. What are the chances their rental would be available exactly the two weeks we’re homeless? Over tea, my friends told me God clearly aligned the dates so we can use the house, that I should thank Him, not them.

So much is going on, and I’ve neglected my blog. Sorry! But I’ve been focused on getting my manuscript agent-ready. I finally began submitting it and am in the wonderful bubble of no-response, the one where I don’t even have one rejection under my belt and am free to dream great big dreams of getting an agent with titanic clout, of seeing the movie-version of my book. I remind myself that the greats were rejected, and I will be too.

Just before my surgery, a piece of mine was accepted by The Forge Literary Magazine. It was a great feeling, especially because I had been rejected by The Forge back in 2016. It’s my own try, try again story, and I hope it will buoy me during the soul-crush of agent rejections. If you are a writer, do keep at it. Keep submitting. Every day you read and write is a day your writing’s improving. The Forge interviewed me about the piece, and I found that analyzing my writing was just as hard as writing in the first place! But it was a good exercise, and I look forward to sharing the story with you when it goes live in July.

 

 

Personal Journey

Post Brain Surgery: 75%

Today is exactly one month since I had my surgery, and I’m getting better every day. I nap most days, and I tire easily. Pre brain surgery, a favorite activity was walking our German Shepherd mix. I’m still not up for a stroll, even around the block. You can imagine how fat my dog is getting. I still spend lots of time in my recliner chair, but I try also to sit on the couch. Imagine feeling accomplished after sitting on a couch for your morning tea. Or after a shower for that matter. A shower’s right up there with HIIT routines. I only recently stopped needing to lay down immediately after, which is good because the sheets got all wet.

Another accomplishment is not getting sick every time I ride in a car. Even after getting the green light to drive, the motion made me feel queasy. That’s gone, and I can do errands with Gabe. I drive; he gets out and does the errands.

People always want to know if my head hurts. Believe it or not, it often feels fine. Tight is the adjective I use to describe the feeling at my wound site. Tory pointed out that tight is better than loose. Yes. Must keep that stuff inside. So long as I don’t bend over (no yoga for a while and I can’t even imagine headstands), I’m ok. Pain and/or exhaustion tell me when to stop.

Speaking of exhaustion, yesterday I got to attend my daughter’s graduation from Youngstown University. As a homeschool mom, I get super proud when my kiddos accomplish academic feats. Tory’s ceremony was special because she’s the first one of my children to “walk.” I love that we could celebrate this achievement with her. The ceremony was delightful; the bleacher seats, not so much. I almost caved and went to the car, where I had a comfy pillow and blanket. Staying for the ceremony: HIIT routine. And so worth it.

Last weekend we had a delightful visit with our PA family, and though I wasn’t up for joining them at the Cheesecake Factory, they brought back cheesecake. This weekend I can sit in Panera and write this post. See the progress! Gabe is at church and we live too far to go home, thus the sitting in Panera with a ginger mint tea.

I even went to church this morning. A gentleman commented that Bob left me at the top of the parking hill. It was a beautiful day, so why weren’t we walking together? This tells me I don’t look like 75% of a person, which is good. I explained that Bob didn’t want me to walk down the Incan temple stairs that connect the church with the lower parking level because I had a… you know. Then I told him.

What I really have to share with you (again) is how grateful I am for God’s care during this time. I had the best brain tumor experience a person can possibly have. I have beautiful friends and family who loved me extravagantly. We receive meals almost every day, which is the hugest help ever. My family has enjoyed some amazing food. They’re glad I’m on my way to well, but no doubt they’ll miss the culinary talent of our meal train.

So that’s my update. Thank you for praying!

Though [a man] may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand. – Psalm 37:24

 

 

 

Personal Journey

My Lightning

There once was a woman, a wife, a mother, a teacher, a writer, a child of God. In that order.

She was interrupted. It was a lightning strike.

(Your chances of that happening are like your chances of being stru—)

Lightning: March 8th, in the middle of teaching a class.

A brain tumor.

After the strike and in the singed landscape, the woman noted what remained:

the woman

a child of God

a wife

a mother

a teacher, who sometimes wrote about the lightning.

In that order.

29 days she waited for them to cut open her head. Sometimes she joked about the doctors taking her unwritten stories; mostly she cried and reached for the strong arms of her husband and the stronger arms of God. Kindnesses settled on her like quilts: her family and friends, the prayers of strangers.

45 days she waited to hear the word.

Benign.

Thank you, LORD.

April 23, 2018, Benign.

Personal Journey

Post Brain Surgery Update

I had brain surgery on April 6th. I spent four days in the hospital, and have been pretty much fused to my recliner since my return home. I sleep there, day and night.

I know God held me together as Bob drove to the hospital. At 5:45 it was still dark. Not many cars were on the road as we passed through the city, but the lights of the baseball stadium were on. My surgery day was also the Indians home opener. It reminded me that life goes on, even when my personal world is having an earthquake. I squeezed Bob’s hand and felt the prayers of my family and friends settle on me. This is happening was a recurring thought. God help me, this is actually going to happen. I was thankful too, that soon it would be over. I wanted it to be over, but I didn’t want it to happen, but it had to happen, so I wanted it to be over…if that makes any sense.

Alone in my curtained pre-op room, I prayed. I will be forever able to visualize that room, that curtain, the scratchy way the overlapping gowns felt against my skin, how the instant I put on a hospital gown, I got brittle inside. I lay in bed and hoped they’d let Bob come back soon. I was glad for the distraction of nurses and the various people who came to put on my compression socks or get my information. My anesthesiologist looked like Clark Kent. Even Bob said so. Dr. Plant radiated confidence, which is a really nice attribute if you’re going to put someone in a near-death state. In order to go to sleep this way, the first thing that happens is you’re given medication to send your blood pressure plummeting. Sometimes it proves difficult to place the breathing tube, which is important since the body won’t be doing any breathing on its own. Then there’s the disquieting statistic that, although operating table anesthesia deaths are rare, 1 out of 20 people die within one year of having general anesthesia, often due to post-operation complications and the trauma inflicted on the body. And I’m not talking about old people, either. For those over age 65, the chances are 1 in 10 you’ll be dead within one year of having general anesthesia.

Of course, I hadn’t looked into those statistics before my surgery. The less I knew about what was going to happen to me, the better. If you don’t mind blood and are curious about how really smart folks dig into skulls, you can watch this craniotomy video.

Whew! Glad to have that part over. Thank you, God, for a successful surgery with no complications. And my scar? I’ve got just about the prettiest brain surgery scar ever. Thank you, Dr. Bambakidis.

During my post-op recovery, I felt a deep body trembling, so in addition to the narcotics I was already getting, they put me on valium. Every so often my drugs would cross over just right and I’d be in my hospital bed saying how wonderful everything was, how groovy…and wasn’t the world just the greatest place? I’d smile lazily and one of my eyes would close while the other stayed at half mast. Other times, when my drugs were running low, things got ugly.

There were so many blessings relating to my brain tumor. One of them was that my missionary sister from Tanzania flew home to be here for my operation. Her presence was absolutely necessary and God-ordained. We didn’t know we needed her, but we really needed her. And I can never thank her enough for making that sacrifice. She was able to visit some supporters and family and was our hands and feet in those critical post-surgery days.

Unfortunately, for most of my hospital visitors I was not good company. I’d be in one of those drug crossover moments and excitedly text friends and family to come. Then, between the time they received the text and the time they actually arrived, I was feeling awful. After that, I tried to be more careful about scheduling visitors, even at home. I’ve been so blessed by friends and family. I’m tempted to start naming people who’ve loved on me in crazy-generous ways, who made this difficult time as sweet as it could possibly be…but I don’t trust myself not to leave someone out, and the outpouring of love has been so overwhelming. I could write a book of kindnesses. And the fact that they abound makes me no less thankful for each one. I lay in bed and remember each kind letter, email, flower, or gift. I think of how God loved me and showed Himself to me in the goodness of people.

My husband was chief in this goodness. He stayed by my side the entire time I was at the hospital. After the first sleepless night spent on that bench, they gave him a cot of his own. His being there gave me great comfort. How I do love this man!

I was reading and came across this quote: “…it is important to know of pain… It destroys our self-pride, our arrogance, our indifference toward others. It makes us aware of how frail and tiny we are and of how much we depend on [God].” – The Chosen

I would not change one thing that happened to me; I would not un-live one moment of it. But it was painful, and my over-and-over prayer is that I will learn the lesson of pain. My brain tumor was my full-on collision with God. I remember praying: You have my full attention now. These days spent in my recliner and, as I get better, ambling about the house, they are slow and quiet. I can read or pray or listen to friends. I have no excuse for not drawing near to God and man because I can do nothing else, go no place else. How can I not be grateful for this time? I must be careful to spend it wisely. Pray I do.

I appreciate you reading my update. It’s been hard for me to think too deeply about the specifics of my surgery, which is why I’m focusing more on how it affected me spiritually. But I welcome any questions about how the process went for me.

Personal Journey

Hello again!

For my blogging friends, I wanted to let you know my tumor was removed. I await news on whether or not it’s benign, but I am hopeful. Next to me is my best friend and newly-appointed nurse. I felt held by God and the love of family and friends. Will post when I feel up to it. xoxo