We’re all helpless. Sometimes it’s more obvious. I am Obvious, capital “O.” How I usually fool myself about helplessness is by doing hard things. Doing hard things makes me feel strong. I can overcome the next hard thing and the next…but with my tumor, there is no amount of running, no HIIT routine, no weightlifting regime I can do. There is no strong enough, here.
Somebody smarter than me will have my life in his hands. In fact, (and this DOES make me nervous), a whole lot of somebodies will be swarming all over me tomorrow. I hope they ate a good breakfast. That they washed their hands. I hope their partners were nice to them, that traffic was light, that…
You see the problem? I must only hope in God. There are too many details, even for an overzealous imagination like mine.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5,6
I keep hearing this phrase from family and friends: I can’t imagine what it must be like.
The following are pieces of my journal. I was hesitant to publish them because they’re not combed over a thousand times by my internal editor. They’re my jagged thoughts. What it’s like.
March 9. [first day after the news] Last night I had trouble sleeping. My usual morning schedule is out the window, except the Bible reading and praying part. That got longer. I cried a bunch. I prayed out loud, read the Bible out loud. I paid a whole lot more attention to the words I was reading. For my regular reading, I’m in the middle of Ezekiel. Nope. I wanted to hear from King David. I turned to the Psalms, and the one that fell open was Psalm 118. To explain why this particular Psalm comforted me would probably not make sense, but as so often happens, God gives a word to afflicted people. Afflicted. How I loathe that adjective.
My daughter is freaking out because she has to run long today, seventeen miles. It’s snowing and the ground is covered. She can’t find the thing that covers her ears. Seventeen miles is a long way to run with uncovered ears. I haven’t told her yet. [about the tumor] I don’t like telling people. This is how I’m selfish: I don’t want to deal with the reactions and hold myself together. I have enough to deal with. I wish I had a manager who could give press releases for me.
I don’t know what to do with myself. I will probably walk my dog. I will clean the kitchen and make food. When I heard I’m not ok, one of the first things I thought was that I want to be nice to people. God, help me be nice to people when I’m feeling afflicted, when the gut response is to curl into a ball and focus on myself and the “unfairness” of it all.
March 10. I’m getting “used” to the idea that my life will drastically change. Some people really wouldn’t worry. I’m not one of those people. I have already imagined what I’ll look like with no hair. I imagined myself coming out of surgery incapable of speech (like a relative who suffered a stroke and could only say “four-four” ever after). I imagine many other scenarios too. I start to remind myself of who is already dead, so I don’t feel so bad when I join them.
Why am I getting derailed like this? Yesterday after my post, I called my neurosurgeon’s office and did some online research. From those two sources, I inferred: My calcified meningioma has turned on and grown and is now too complex a surgery for my usual neurosurgeon to handle, so he passed me along to the specialist neurosurgeon. Part of me feels good that I’ve got the best assigned to me, and part of me is petrified that I need the best. My hands shake as I type and I tear up when fears slam into me.
I hold tightly to God’s promises, and sometimes I even have peace. I think those are moments when other people are praying for me. I did tell some people, though not many and no one knows how serious I believe it is except Bob. I can hold this inside until I have exact answers. That’s why these posts are not getting published either. I’m not sure when I’ll start publishing, if ever. But I wanted to document this fearful road. And writing has always been cathartic. If I wasn’t set to paint the house today and get ready for a teen boy sleepover, I’d write a story. What I keep wanting to do is grab onto my husband and melt into his arms. I want to hug and kiss my kids. I want to give compliments and smile at people.
I did take my dog for a walk yesterday. I also walked with Bob in the evening. I did school with Gabe and went grocery shopping. When people greet me with the usual How are you? I am tempted to unload on them that I am most unusual right now. But I smile and tell them I’m fine. I wonder how many other people are unintentionally lying when they answer that question.
March 12. I have to wait three more days until I hear anything [more concrete]. I’ve told people. That’s hard. Speaking the words makes them real, and I’m trying to be brave, but I just cry. I don’t want to cry. I’d love to be strong and unflappable, but my imagination and cynical nature keep ribbing me. Here’s the thing. I trust God to take care of me and my family. I’ve seen Him do it before. Sometimes God comes into a circumstance and heals everything. Sometimes God doesn’t, but He is always God, whether or not my future is the one I want. Jesus asked God to take the cup of suffering away, and we’re all better for the fact that God did not take it away. Because if He had, Jesus wouldn’t have gone to the cross. So…I don’t know if I’m to suffer or be healed, but I pray I can do either for God’s glory.
I am asking God to take this cup of suffering from me, and I know He could say yes and He could say no. And I know my job is to trust Him in either answer. Trust is a funny thing though. It is slippery. One minute I feel ok and the next the ground under me is shaking. Friends have given me wonderful verses and they’re praying for me. I know that. My beloved husband has told me a hundred times how much he loves me. I can’t stop hugging him. If nothing else, this reminded me how much I love my childhood sweetheart. He has always been my best friend and better half. I cling to him at night, and he’s there for me. He rubs my hair and makes me know I am as un-alone as a person can be, that I am most loved. My husband cherishes me like no other, and if nothing else, this valley shows me how blessed I am to have my husband.
…and my friends and kids and extended family. So many have written me notes and prayed for me or offered help. I am grateful and awed, and each act has been a hug to me. Nothing matters to me right now, except being good to people, doing good for the people I love.
March 13. I think I’m going crazy. I can’t stand the waiting, and my thoughts have not been lovely. I just finished Bible, and God is good. I chant this to myself and then I think a thought that is not kind toward someone, and especially right now, I don’t want to think unkind thoughts toward anyone. It occurs to me, this should be my MO all the time. God, forgive me. I hear a duck quacking away outside, most likely hanging out in the pool. It’s terrible when they nest there because we have to kick them out…
It was hard waking up alone. He [my husband] would never want me to feel lonely, and I know I could call him right now and ask him to come home. He would. But we both know that would not be responsible. Still, I wish I could hug him right now.
As I read my Bible, I kept asking God to wrap His arms around me, that I might feel His comfort. That mysterious peace that passes all understanding. I must admit I don’t feel a blanket of peace. I feel afraid and alone. I don’t want to do much anything right now, which is why as soon as I was done with Bible, I started writing. There are things I should be doing. Perhaps if I write them, I’ll get motivated. I need to paint the walls downstairs, grade the book reports, read the workshop stories, fill out L’s financial aid application, and work out.
There is so much I type out and delete. I’m realizing I don’t want a complete snapshot of this mind, this fearful, paralyzed mind that rips back the trust from God the way a child rips a toy. Forgive me my lack of faith.
It was at that point Dr. Goel called me and told me more specifically what is going on. I felt relief and great sadness at my lack of faith in God’s provision. I wracked with sobs because I finally had an answer. Would that I could stand better without answers. What a doubting Thomas I am! God forgive me. I face brain surgery and I am relieved. Relieved! God knew, it took scaring me to get me to thank Him for this result. Things can always, always be worse. But with God, things are always, always better than they would be without Him. Every good gift I have is from Him. Even and most especially the people in my life who love me and are praying for me. I know I am loved by God’s people, His arms of flesh who surround me and care for me. I am so thankful that God led me to Psalm 118. It will become my favorite, no doubt. Just as I said on the day I asked Jesus to be Lord of my life, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” So I still say it today. Help my unbelief. Forgive me for worrying.
March 19. Today’s message at church was about having faith in tough times. Tough times. Interesting timing. My church has a membership in the thousands, so this message was not crafted with me in mind. Except it was because God knew. He knows. God knows I don’t like going forward to pray. God can hear me from my seat. I knew it would be ridiculous and prideful not to go forward and make an outward sign of the inward picture of my heart. It would only be self-consciousness that would keep me in my seat. Bob was doing his ushering duties. The song was playing and I knew I had to go. Nervous. I was nervous like I was giving a speech or something. I believe God wants us to push through our nervousness, that the sacrifice is a heart that cares more for closeness with God than that I be seen as strong. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Bob finally came and I was so relieved. A friend came and put her hand on mine as we were praying. Her kindness touched me deeply.
So many things have touched me since I heard the news. My eyes, every time I think they’re bone dry, I find I can cry some more. And it is exhausting, all this crying. I’m just glad I don’t have to hold it inside anymore, like when I first knew but didn’t know and I didn’t feel I could tell people.
“How are you, Mrs. Griffiths?” asked my student thirty minutes after I got the news.
“Oh, I’m ok, Mikey,” I replied. What can I say? “Not so good. I have a…”
Just yesterday I walked Abbott, and my neighbor put his window down and asked how I was. I was surprised because he doesn’t do that usually. We just wave, kind of a program we’ve got going. When he asked me, I choked out that I was fine, thank you, and how are you? He smiled. I smiled. I said, “God bless you” because the smallest act of kindness slays me. I cried for the next fifteen minutes of my walk. Good thing I had sunglasses on. Abbott distracted me by pooping in large quantities. There is a trash can at the halfway mark. He dumps fifty yards into our walk and again fifty yards after the trash can, ensuring I carry a plastic bag of molten stench the entire time.
“Beautiful dog,” called a teen boy. People often comment on my rockstar dog. He’s a German Shepherd Collie mix, so he has the legs of a figure skater and the nose of Queen Elizabeth I.
Ducks are swimming in the pool as I write this. One of them quacks incessantly. Like he’s yelling at someone. I love the sound, but they can’t stay there permanently. Kind of like us on this earth…there. Another analogy.
I never explained why I was so afraid initially. Well I did. Poorly. Fear has a way of making me incoherent. My regular neurosurgeon called me the day before my appointment with his teacher. I had been stalking his office to get more information, but when I did that, rather than getting some comforting news, I got more scared. The receptionist used the word critical and told me my doctor read my scan at home. At. home. Everybody knows that’s not good tidings. The fact that I couldn’t get into the Jedi Master brain surgeon until Thursday, I figured maybe he didn’t even read my scan. I mean, what if I was a ticking time bomb, what was it to him? Realistically, can a neurosurgeon wipe his calendar every time somebody has a critical scan? Doesn’t it make more sense to hope they make it until Thursday?
So I began marking my children, loving them. I wrote a little love note to Bob before I went to sleep. Just in case I didn’t wake up. In my humanness, I could see no road but the one in which I had a tumor that was so intricate, my own neurosurgeon referred me up. That it was so critical, he put down his golf club to read it. Honestly, I don’t know exactly how “sticky” my tumor is. They won’t know until they get in there. Love the idea of that: get in there. The there being my brain. When it’s quiet and no one is distracting me, I get uncomfortable. I think of God. I love him and remind myself of how good He’s been to me. Every good gift comes from Him. How can I not accept trials as well?
March 20. I walked Abbott again yesterday. It was the only exercise I got, really. After emailing about my situation and doing things around here, I got so tired in the afternoon. The crying, it saps me. This keeps happening. And my chest gets tight. I’m sure it’s stress. But I burrow into my blankets and cover my head with pillows…right as rain in just an hour or two. I thank you, God, that I can take a nap. I feel bad for people who are going through something like this and still have to sit at their desk and work. Bob was to continue to work, and in fact, is working more hours. Help him, Lord.
March 22. Oh Lord. The cry of my heart is to come through this well and whole and able to enjoy life with Bob. Help me see a path. My heart hurts lately. I think it’s stress.
I wonder about the kindness of people. It is a balm. If there is a scale and fear is on one side and the encouragement of people is on the other…is that what’s happening here? Like all the kindnesses of my friends and family counteract the event on my horizon. Like a tidal wave that’s heading straight for me and each prayer or word or act of kindness is a sandbag placed in front of me. I watch as it grows taller, taller. And honestly, I wonder if, when the wave hits me on April 6th, when I go into that room and before they pump me full of forgetfulness, will I feel, finally, the peace that passes all understanding? You know I want to feel it, Lord. I want to feel it so I can tell people it’s real. I know You’re real. I know You can give it. I also know You don’t always choose to. Yes. Jesus knows my suffering and far, far worse. He knows what it’s like to feel, FEEL forsaken. Not to be forsaken. Because none of us ever is. We are all loved by God.
Whether or not it’s unrequited love is up to us.
God, may I love You well through this. If I can love You half as well as I have been loved by people, people made in Your image, then I will be satisfied. If it’s Your will, may I come through this whole and be able to pass on the blessing to others who will travel a valley.
That’s it. My other journal entries eventually got made into posts.
Here’s what I wanted to share with you. During the writing of my last published post, I got a whiff of something. I can only describe it like a smell. You think you smell bread baking or chocolate or coffee brewing. You suck in, and…where’d it go? That’s how I felt with the fearlessness. I could sense it was possible, that it was close. That I was on the heels of catching it. Now, the day before my surgery, I have a peace that passes all understanding. I will be ok. Either way. I’ll be ok. There are, of course, outcomes that are better than others. I hope for the best outcome. But. If God chooses the worst road, (in my imagination the one where the neuro-oncologist comes to my room and introduces himself and says we’re going to be friends) …do I have any choice but to take it? When the sea is calm I can delude myself into thinking I’m the captain of my soul, that I can sculpt myself into stone. But a storm comes along (Psalm 107) and I’m corrected.
Whenever my kids had a fear, I’d use lightning imagery. I’d say, “Your chances of X (or a brain tumor) happening are like your chances of getting struck by lightning.” This was how I’d pet them. How ironic I’ve been struck by my own figurative lightning. God’s storms are intense.
And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. – Matthew 8:24-26