Personal Journey

Happy Brain Surgery Anniversary to Me

April 6th, 2018. It was the Cleveland Indians’ home opener. I was at University Hospital having an opener of my own. Brain surgery.

Kumquats: Joanna Kosinska

A year later the skin on my head is still tight. I often run my fingers along the dents in my skull. They can’t be seen because my superhero surgeon managed to extract a kumquat-sized tumor without shaving my hair. My jog pace is three minutes slower and hurts worse. I mess up numbers and dates with freakish consistency (just ask my students). But thank you, God. I can write. And teach. And hug. And walk. I can have coffee with my grown daughters, watch my son graduate high school, watch my teenager swim. I live with a new perspective: life isn’t forever. Don’t waste.

Carpe diem, we’re told. Seize the day. I am a Jedi-Master at day-seizing. I climb volcanos. I sled head-first and backward. I slide down the hot metal handrail in swanky pools. I dance the Stanky Leg stone sober and the YMCA without regard for which way the “C” goes. I rock the high dive, the low dive, and any balcony or roof within ten feet of a pool.

Professional day-seizer, right? Au contraire mon frère. That is thrill seeking. To carpe diem is to hug tightly, to look someone square in the eyes, to hold hands like they’re welded together. To carpe diem is to write love letters, make meatloaf, be interruptable, do dishes, leave the dishes, serve a meal, smile, cry, all of it without vanity.

When things go south—not just hiccup south, but kamikaze-nose-dive south—God takes over. It’s magnificent.

But first comes poverty. Blessed are the poor in spirit. I remember going to church and wanting to stop my ears at the upbeat worship songs. I wanted to scream, I had this piano dropped on me! Why are we all singing like it’s standard ops? Where are the thunderclouds? Where is Mozart’s Requiem? I could not sing. Those words weren’t for me. Are you kidding me? Poor? I was destitute in my spirit.

We think we deserve a smooth road. We pray for asphalt, lay down good habits and programs to assure a wrinkle-free trip; we buy apps, sign up for accountability groups. Sometimes we sin for a toll road. And when a root trips us or a bridge is out—don’t we just howl in indignation? How could you, God? How DARE you! Fact is, the Awful with-a-capital-A moment has to come in order for the After to come. Like Jesus. His Awful was the cross. We live in his After. I’m glad he went through with it. He had a choice.

When you know something is very wrong with you, but you don’t know exactly what, or you can’t fix it with diet and exercise…you are meek. You’re at the mercy of your broken body, of doctors, nurses, health insurance policies, lab techs, maintenance personnel (did they sanitize the instruments?), high-tech computers, the unbroken flow of electricity during your surgery. You feel at the mercy of gobs of stuff. But that’s a lie. You’re at the mercy of only one thing: God.

There are no promises of healing. Only: blessed are the meek. This I experienced. I am blessed by the fact that my brain surgery was a success, but even beforehand I was blessed by the way I felt…held is the best word for it. Not alone. Not forsaken. Not punished. I was exactly where God wanted me to be. For other people, the place to be was the baseball home opener. I cannot compare myself to others. Do you think it’s possible I wasn’t jealous of those hotdog-eating fans with their perfect health? I wasn’t. That was my miracle.

In the face of no guarantees, here is my takeaway:

Love.

Love however it looks for you. Maybe it means speaking up. Or shutting up. Love can be as easy as smiling at a stranger. But it’s more fun when it’s kissing my husband. Bob taught me what love under duress looks like. The mention of 2018 gives him the willies, but I have fond memories of his arm around me, his hand in mine, his Oscar-worthy declarations of you’ll-be-fine. And he was right. Ever the optimist is my husband. He’s trying to get me to see things that way. It’s less painful to be an optimist. But see, Bob would have said, “It’s more pleasant to be an optimist.” I still have halfway to go. 😉

Today I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to try. (It’s scary and exciting and entirely legal.) What is it, you ask? I’ll let you know if I actually go through with it.

Cheers! And happy brain surgery anniversary to me.

 

 

 

 

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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

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

Personal Journey

While I’m Sleeping

Hi Husband. For me, the operation will pass in a blink. For you…well, it warms me to know you’ll be praying, that you love me, and that you’ll still think me pretty even with my red badge of courage. Since I can’t travel into the future to take a picture of our next meeting, I found this. You’re the one with hair, which is terribly inaccurate. I’m the one about to wake up and see my very best friend. Accurate.

I love that we have a rich and long history that goes back to when we were kids, how you saw me singing “Silver Bells” in fifth grade. I remember the sting of your thigh against mine, crushed as we were four-across the backseat of Tony’s mom’s car. All of twelve years old. That same year you ran next to me in my first 5K. No bib, you just did it for fun. Fun?! I knew you were crazy, even then. My dad called you Blob, and he brought you to visit me at gymnastics camp, a two-hour drive.

Almost, I pushed you off the chicken coop roof but pulled you back. Maybe that was the secret to winning you: ever after you associated me with the thrill of adrenaline and the near-miss. If my time right now—this brain tumor—is a near miss, we will count ourselves blessed. And we who know Jesus are blessed even when circumstances say otherwise. We’re blessed to know a love without fear. Blessed to know the kindness of family and friends. To know a peace that passes all understanding. To know forgiveness. God perfected our love for one another and He continues to be perfect. We wore Genesis around our necks long before we believed it. I lost my half of the mizpah, but not the man. Thank God, not the man. And now I keep Genesis in my heart where I can never lose it. It’s crowded in my heart these past few weeks. My head is like a spotlight, showing me all the things I love in the world.

As kids, we spent many nights on the phone talking until my ear hurt. Even when we were far apart traveling separate journeys, we knew a closeness that defied miles. I have a feeling that now, in the waiting room, you feel farther apart than ever before. That’s why I made you this, to bring us a little bit closer. See this picture of us? In my best, most God-trusting place, I see us here again. You’ve been God’s best gift to me, and I love the family we’ve made together. See you soon.

 

And He said to them … truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. – Matthew 17:20

 

 

Personal Journey

Stuff’s Broken Philosophy

I am living out the age-old stumbling block: how can a good God allow bad things to happen? The question becomes so much more interesting when you add two little words: …to me? God, how can You let a brain tumor happen to me? Because when it happens to someone else, we can justify it by saying perhaps somewhere deep down where only God can see, they deserved it. Or we just shake our heads and figure it’s too complex an equation. So long as our stuff’s not broken, we have neither the time nor the inclination to be philosophers.

Now I am faced with the question as to why my good God would allow me to go through this. I confess: the idea of a Sawzall going through my skull does not appeal to me. (That’s authorial minimizing. Truth is, I’m quite terrified.) People keep calling me brave, and while I think they’re kind, they are mistaken. I am a woman on a train. I can’t get off. My train is taking me to a destination I dread. While the train speeds onward, I can move about my “cabin” doing things like dishes and homeschooling. Sometimes, like yesterday, friends join me. We paint together and laugh and remember good times. I am so distracted with their love, I forget my destination. Then they leave. I look out the window. There it is again, my head.

There is no brave in things like this. There is no choice, except to trust God laid these tracks and built this train. I ask God to make me fearless. He just keeps the engine moving. He directs me to His Word. He loves me through His people. Each day I receive encouragement. Notes, flowers, verses, meals, prayers, presents—even a song. Two sweet souls gave us a pre-surgery celebration: dinner and a night away. All these acts hug me. God, He holds me. But as of today, He has not administered a spiritual barbiturate. In my present fear, I trust God loves me.

Just yesterday I had a concern. I learned that after a craniotomy, most people can only sleep sitting up. Laying flat puts too much pressure on the skull. One person wrote that she slept in her La-Z-Boy for months. I thought about how much trouble I have sleeping right now, with a whole head. A new fear began to take hold: I have no La-Z-Boy. I mentally screamed and immediately searched Craigslist. I may have prayed. I don’t remember.

Even used, recliners are pricey. I gave up on the idea of one, gave myself my usual pep talk that making do never killed a person. A few hours later, a friend showed up with a plastic bottle full of cash. “Someone was praying over this money and felt God wanted you to have it,” she told me. “I’m sure you can use it for something.”

Here was my recliner money. Arranged before I even knew I needed it.

So how can a good God allow me to go through this? He goes with me. At each step there is a small sign confirming I am not alone, that an orchestration is happening beyond my comprehension. And this morning I got another sign I’ll save for my next post. I leave you with this: plumb yourself as if stuff’s broken. Ask God to show Himself to you. We are so good at distracting ourselves from what really matters until what really matters is threatened.

 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?   Matthew 6:26