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.

 

 

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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

Pray for Me

I don’t know how to start this, but I’ve always been a fan of the snapshot of the mind. Here is the snapshot of my mind.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, this is not going to be funny. Some of you I know in life, and some are my friends through this blog. Either way, I am blessed by so many of you and want to share some tough news I got last week.

I have a brain tumor. Had it a while, actually, and it didn’t give me much trouble until now. In fact, what we affectionately referred to as my “marble” was a convenient scapegoat anytime I forgot something or said something dumb. My kids would invoke its presence whenever it helped their argument. Your tumor’s showing, Mom, you never told me to do the dishes…

Today I go to see the doctor who taught my neurosurgeon. You read that right. Taught. My. Neurosurgeon. Not today, but soon a man will have his hands inside my skull. Or more specifically, his hands on fabulous microscopic instruments inside my skull. I will have a fantastic haircut, and I will cry right up until the moment they put some happiness elixir in my veins.

While I am frightened, I trust God loves me and has already taught me through this. Only because of God could I face this surgery and feel blessed. Here’s how it went down.

I am a homeschool mom. I teach cozy creative writing classes in my living room. During my class break, I returned the call from my neurosurgeon’s office. I am supposed to have my head checked every now and again, in case my tumor decides to “turn on.” How it works is I get an MRI. It goes to my neurosurgeon. He calls me in. I pay the co-pay. He tells me I’m fine and to come back next year.

I wouldn’t have called in the middle of class if I thought it would be anything unusual. But, not only was it not your tumor hasn’t changed. It was here’s the name of the specialist neurosurgeon at the Neurological Institute, the director of the institute. Go see him today. To. day.

“Today? I’m in the middle of teaching a class,” I said.

“Well, tomorrow’s fine then. Just don’t wait.”

I’m serious. That’s how it went down, word for word. I had all these little people, aged ten through thirteen zigging around my house, giggling and cavorting. My own son was buzzing by on his new hoverboard blasting the Russian National Anthem so loudly I couldn’t hear to make the appointment.

“How do you feel,” asked the gal on the line.

“Fine, except I’m scared to death.”

This I said from the privacy of my bathroom. My students were waiting for me to finish the lesson, and I was numb in my hands and feet, probably due to the fact that my galloping heart stole all the oxygen. Fight or flight reflex, thank you, and now we’ll write some stories together…

God got me through my classes. When Bob walked in the door, he remarked that his day was rotten. But now that there was meatloaf for dinner, everything was going to be alright. You see how wonderful Bob is—it wasn’t even steak. Then I told Bob my news and the meatloaf and a whole host of other things were forgotten. Pretty much everything, actually.

I tell you, the hardest part was waiting to know what was going on. I believe in God, that He loves me and has a plan for my life. I know where I come from, what I ought to do and not do, and where I’m going when I die. Still, my faith doesn’t mean I never fear. I’ve been feeling a whole lot of fear this week. I’ve been doing a lot of hugging, especially my husband. I want to crawl inside my husband’s body and not be me. Since that’s not possible, I just crush him to me. Often. When I am afraid, I turn to God and ask Him to help me take another step, write another word, smile when I feel like crying.

I’ve been asking friends and family to pray for me, and I am so grateful for each of you. You know who you are and I love you. LOVE. You.

The first thing I did on hearing the news was to halt a writing project I was going to cram into my weekend.  Not because I don’t love writing, but the idea of cramming anything was overwhelming. The next thing I did was be present for the class I was in the middle of teaching. I purposed to mark the moment, to love my students, and be thankful for God’s blessings.

Even as I waited to hear more news from my neurosurgeon, we had trivial things to do like take the van to the shop, paint the walls (we’re about to put our house on the market haha), and grade book reports. I would be doing these things and stop and wish I could hug people. I hugged Bob a hundred times. I actually felt like cooking because it was a tangible way to show my love, which explains the meatloaf. But above all, I wanted to feel I was in the refuge of God’s arms. I wanted the peace that passes all understanding to guard my heart and my mind against the fearful what-if’s that slammed into my consciousness with tidal regularity.  Thank you to James who prayed with us at church through the most agony I have ever felt. And to Nancy, whose “random” email telling me to stop procrastinating set this all in motion. God loves me through you.

I’d be grateful if you who read me would think of me today and say a prayer for me and for my family, especially Bob, as we get our marching orders for the surgery. Parting thought. We are always as close to God as we wish to be. Trials make us desperate for Him. That’s the snapshot of this mind: desperate to be in God’s arms.

Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns–and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Matthew 6:26

 

Personal Journey

Dear Diary…

Some people can’t think of anything to write. I don’t have that problem. I can always, ALWAYS throw some words down on a page. Probably a result of hours spent freewriting with my students, if you put on a timer and tell me to write, I’ll fill pages and pages of stream-of-consciousness. Some people start describing things. Some start telling stories. I just sling my thoughts at the page like Jackson Pollack on Starbucks.

Trouble is, I’d like to give you something other than mind puke, but I’m busy with my WIP and some flash and my 5000 Words classes. Oh, and the fridge broke, which meant I had to clean twelve years of spilled pickle juice, gelatinized meat blood, broccoli bitties, milk flakes, and unnameable other foodstuffs off the walls and shelves. My husband had to tell me to do it, that’s how possible it was that I wouldn’t take the opportunity to clean the fridge, even though it was empty, off, and every shelf was tossed onto the floor. See, my husband knows I’d rather write than do just about anything else. And we pay, especially when company comes over and I scurry around trying to make up for being a writer. It doesn’t work. I see all the dust I normally don’t see, and…despair, my friends. Despair.

In my defense, one can’t be great at everything. I’ve chosen housewifery to suck at. I mean, whoever stood over a coffin and complimented the corpse on her dust-free hutches and shiny stove top?

I used to be a neat freak like my mom, who still keeps in an inhumanly clean home. You could lick her floor and be entirely safe from germs. You could ladle a cup of cold water straight from her toilet bowl and think it Perrier. I wish there was a way to measure the number of dust motes in a given home. My mother would have exactly none. There has never been one single crumb in her silverware drawer. I have enough to recreate a loaf of bread. Just add water.

So the fridge broke and my husband will fix it. HE WILL. He fixes everything against all odds. Our furnace was declared legally dead over ten years ago by a grimy, GED-wielding twenty-something from Furnaces-R-Us. He charged me the $75 cleaning fee (though he didn’t clean it) and assured me we could apply the fee to our new furnace which would cost a jillion dollars. Bob came home and fired up that sucker in three minutes. And, like the dad from A Christmas Story, he’s been keeping it alive ever since. Ish. Did I mention we have a wood burner as well?

My point is, Bob keeps our appliances alive-ish far longer than I would have thought possible, so when he says he’s going to fix our 17-year-old fridge with a $14 part he got from Amazon (same one at Sears, $60), I believe him. Our food is on the back porch, thank you Cleveland weather. And I spent two hours cleaning the fridge (since he asked). Some people would feel a sense of satisfaction at a pristinely white fridge. Not me. I got bleach on my black pants and the nagging thought that it’s going to get dirty again, so why bother? That’s a really dangerous way to think. I’m pretty sure hoarders and people who get social services called on them think that way.

How did I go from a Mama’s-girl-neat-freak to the life’s-too-short-to-clean-your-house woman I am today?

That’s too long of a story to tell, and I’ve probably mentioned it somewhere in my blog. It has to do with four kids and homeschooling and having the joy sucked out of my life with the force of a Dyson and a decision to be relational first, let the crumbs fall as they may. And lay there, as they may. They’ll be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Or until I have company over, which thankfully is every week. My 5000 Words class is a good excuse to shine up.

 

 

 

Personal Journey

P is for Paul, Katae’s Paul

Eccentric at a formal dinner.

I used to think I was open-minded. Then I had teenagers. And they were… let’s just say their tastes veered into the eccentric. My kids, my first two, simply would not play by the rules. And by rules I meant wearing dresses and liking it, using utensils at formal dinners, begging to sing in the church choir or at least running the soundboard…

I believed with all my heart I was completely nonjudgmental. Book covers meant nothing. It was the inside that counted. I was so avant-garde and educated and free thinking–

Enter my daughter’s boyfriend, Paul.

Paul was a walking Picasso painting: you weren’t exactly sure how to take him. The first time I met him was homeschool theater class. Paul was ten years old and a holy terror with a ton of talent– that’s what I remember.

In his teens Paul dressed in loosely fitting black clothing that hung off him like his many silver chains. He was funny, flamboyant, sassy, rebellious, creepy… That’s him in the middle.

… and he came to church at 7AM on Sundays to make enough coffee to fill the Boston Harbor. (That’s what it took to slake the thirst of Grace Churchgoers every Sunday.) So here’s the grim reaper barista and he’s in love with my firstborn daughter. Turns out I wasn’t as open-minded as I thought.

One day I was trundling around my homeschool book sale, chatting with moms and feeling all righteous and Rocky Balboa about my calling to educate my children… like I had holy dust scattered in my hair, so homschool-proud. I was talking to an ultra-conservative friend whose tastes (I thought) ran Amish, when who should sally up to us? Jack Sparrow/my son-in-law.

Love those moments when a freight train full of my own self-righteousness runs me down. Jack’s scream there, that’s how I felt upon seeing Paul, dressed for Halloween in June, at my homeschool book sale. My “Amish” friend thought Paul’s theatrics fun and creative and, hadn’t I better loosen up?

Those who know me, know I have.

Katae and Paul live in a lovely house they make lovelier by the day. Paul’s a visionary and super-handy, and Katae has an artful sense of style. They’re living happy-ever-after with their five cats, two dogs, one lovebird, and lots of love.

Paul

This goes out to Justin Smith, by request. “P” is not for PERFECTIOSIS. P is for Paul.

Posts about my other children: Katae, Tory, Luke, Gabe.

Homeschool Life, Personal Journey

Fearful, Tearful, Weirdful, and Rise

Fear. I wish I could cut it from my soul with a scissors. I wish I could lay on a comfy couch, talk its existence into oblivion, then charge myself $100/hour. I’d collect my fees and go on a vacation to the beach.

I have an active imagination, so I fear things most people haven’t even thought of. Example: Swings and Things. Everybody else just dons the batting helmets. Me, I think What is the probability there’s lice in there? I mean, how many scraggly heads have been inside that thing today alone? And everybody knows you’re not supposed to share headgear…

How about door handles. Am I the only one who considers the millions of invisible germs crawling all over those suckers? Or speaking engagements. Truly. Frightening. Or posting my innermost thoughts for the world–

You get my point. But I try very hard not to let fear stop me from doing anything. I charge it. Get it over with. The hardest thing is the waiting. A hard thing looms on the horizon and I just want to compress time so I can face it and put it in the rear-view mirror.

My kids have to live with this philosophy. I homeschool them, which you’d think is inherently insulating. And in some ways, it is. Or it can be. Who hasn’t met the socially backward, jumper-wearing, yellow-toothed homeschooler who hasn’t seen a hairbrush since 1995? That’s what I’m working against. I can conjure up all sorts of uncomfortable hard, fearful, tearful, engagements where my little ones’ homeschoolness will be showing, oh yes, and in those fearful, tearful, weirdful moments when they want to crawl into a hole and die (or at least crawl back home into their fuzzy blankets where math problems are their only problems)– in that moment, they get a glorious chance to rise. Rise and face whatever “horror” I set in front of them. Today it was meeting the herd of cross country kids at the stadium, all of whom came from class while my guy stands outside the locked gate (an apt image, as it were) waiting to be let in. “I wish there was just one other homeschooler, so I wouldn’t have to be alone,” he says. Inside I sigh and understand completely. With my outside voice I tell him to embrace this because he’ll be stronger for it.

I’m not a tiger mom, contrary to the opinion of my family. But I am driven to certain opportunities: fearful, tearful, weirdful opportunities at which they can rise and overcome. God help us.

Child: “I hate this. Why do you force me to do x?”

Me: “To prepare you to face a world that doesn’t care about you, without me.”