Friday, October 17, 2014

October Fall

For the second year in a row, Eric and I have been able to take about a week of October to visit fall. We left the aftermath of a recent SoCal heat wave and drought inspired water restrictions for a few days in America's rain soaked and lake spattered Midwest. We've sampled many variants of Wisconsin cheese, reconnected with old friends from the seminary, tucked in a couple local tourist spots, enjoyed work and play with dear friends also collected from around the country, and eaten more sausages and brats than any human needs to ingest in such a short time span. All while feeling like we have been able to cheat an extra week from the cadence of chemo - it has been beautiful.  

And it has carried some hard. As much as I don't want to dwell in the mist of the past or the imaginings of the future, I remember last year's fall in New York and how blissfully carefree we played through the city. I wonder if we will have the same ability to frolic next fall, when we plan to return to the city that never sleeps. The shape of this coming year is still so unknown, although I do know that in reality, that is true of every year, every month, every single day. There is both a beauty and a hard to recognizing this unknown more frequently than before.

I am currently on a tiny puddle jump of an airplane connecting my way from Madison, Wisconsin to St. Louis, Missouri to speak for a seminary wives retreat. I am so excited to meet and spend time with the women there! And yet every time I have an engagement to speak, in the days immediately preceding the event I get caught in a period of rough. Yesterday morning it arrived with a vengeance.

What is silly is I often forget about this bout until it is quite on top of me. Or, maybe even more silly, I think I have conquered whatever shape or form it has previously taken, and therefore must finally be immune. In previous shades it has appeared as "I have absolutely NO idea what I am doing!!", or, "I cannot stand in front of everyone looking like THIS!", and, "I have zero credentials to be telling anyone anything...what am I thinking!?!"

But yesterday it was a bit different. It started as a niggling discontent that quickly blossomed into agitation. I put on praise music, to connect with God and begin to localize the source of my ire, but my usual feed had been replaced with a recorded baptism service. I listened, a tad annoyed (ok, I was in the shower and couldn't get to it to turn it off and grew increasingly annoyed), for a short while as one by one a stage full of individuals declared their love for the One True God, until I huffily dripped my way across the room to shut it off. This was not what I wanted - how can a girl connect with God which all this talking going on!!

My heart felt just under the very surface of my skin, and a few pesky tears fell as I applied my makeup. I was focused on everything that still needed to be done that day (our conference, finalizing my Power Point, and a very important fifth step sit down with a sponsee), the impossibility of the timing of it all, and I ultimately landed most heavily on the fact that I would be missing Eric's next chemo due to travel arrangements. Eric returned from his morning coffee run to a teary me,  hugged me tight and falteringly offered "Do you just want to stay in the hotel this morning and miss the session?"

But I didn't...I wanted to be with the precious people we were about to return to. "Good mornings" were exchanged, "How are you's" answered honestly, and more tears fell. I was enveloped in love and prayer. And during one specific prayer, asking for protection and peace, I felt my entire spirit drench with peace. Simple, extravagant, beyond understanding peace. I adjusted plans and released a vital item from the day's to do list, and received grace from the individual I was not going to get to. And the day went beautifully on.

And now I'm on my way, hurtling through the sky over the pastoral fall Midwest toward expectant ladies, bringing only what has been prepared through our mess and what I can testify has been done in me.

And God. Not that I'm bringing Him, per-say, but He will be there.

The thing is, God has only ever exceeded expectations. As broken, messy and doubt filled as I am, He always meets his kids when we call to fact He was there all along. And however  He uses this weekend, my part is to go, to be, to speak what He has done and release all of the rest. And every single time I have been privileged to do those simple things in the past, He has transformed them into outright amazing things.

If you are a pray-er, please cover us this weekend. Please pray for the incredible not-yet-friends that I am about to meet. For our loved ones, theirs and mine, in whatever circumstances surround them, that they are well at home. That these brave women who are about to be launched out into ministry are met exactly where they need to be in Holy Spirit Power. And that by that same Power I am able to stand and speak Truth, in full peace and love.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The "c" Word (Part One)

I had absolutely no way of knowing what the winds of change would blow in to my contented euphoria within the next short 48 hours...a gale force that made the possibility of moving to New Jersey meekly sigh in comparison.

What had already seemed to be a stormy summer, wherein the planned was repeatedly usurped by the urgent, was really only harmless preamble.

I asked, begged, that every possible outlier misconception could be true. A freak infection, paired with post alcohol induced cirrhosis. Even, as was kindly suggested (by someone for whom this WAS the case) rare liver "freckling".

I see now, in hindsight, that they knew on sight.

Let me back up a little...

This year I have been grappling with a diagnosis that has carried with it some unwanted change. I have Hashimoto's. It is an autoimmune disorder that wreaks havoc on the thyroid, which in turn affects every single cell of your body. It expresses itself in lovely ways that include excessive weight gain (and the inability to lose it), extreme fatigue, cystic acne, hair loss, mild to debilitating joint pain, brain fog and memory issues, hormonal fluctuations, and a myriad of other fun symptoms.

In February I finally met a doctor who listened to me and did not simply assume or flat out claim that I was lying to her about what I was eating - one previous actually told me "You really only just needed to stop sneaking bites of macaroni from your children's plates!" Really. I have in the last five years COMPLETELY overhauled nearly every single item that is ingested or applied to my body, run rounds with HCG, cut sugar, carbs, altered exercise regimes and even changed our cookware and storage to eliminate hormone influencers. To seemingly no avail.

Then I met Dr. Sarah Dalhoumi, who after drawing a nearly infusion necessitating amount of blood, was able - no, willing to look further into what exactly was going on. And a nearly 17 year battle with Hashimotos was the culprit. The good thing was, much of what I had already changed was what would best fight it (which in part, had helped mask and thankfully prevented some of the symptoms). The bad thing, in my opinion at the time, was that I needed to eliminate gluten entirely, as it mimics the antibodies that cause the autoimmune flare ups. I also started to take natural dissected thyroid medication, as well as maca supplements, a special supplement for a MTHFR genetic mutation, and a heavy hitting probiotic.

I immediately left that appointment and ate an entire box of Girl Scout Cookies. Actually, two. (In case you were wondering, Samoas and the peanut butter chocolate ones - I think they are called Tag-a-longs now.)

But the next day, I was on it. Back on it, with the new inclusions. Even gluten free. (I have not had "real" bread since February!!) Follow up bloodwork some months later showed progress, but the MTHFR mutation (which affects each cell's ability to metabolize and understand basic necessary nutrients) had room for improvement. And the next step was to add injections.

Self injections.

And I'm, admittedly, a needle wanny.

It was the end of July, the summer had been less than smooth, and I had to start stabbing myself in the buttock with a needle every three days. I wanted to see the results of balancing and reversing what my body had been fighting, within itself, for so many years, but it felt extremely dramatic.

Or maybe I am a bit dramatic.

I watched videos on YouTube for hours about how to properly prepare the injection site, painlessly (yeah, right) administer the injection, read what sites (either buttock) were most effective in receiving this medication...etc., etc., etc. I finally worked up the nerve to try the first shot, and when I had finally done it I felt such a surge of adrenaline (in part from the first dosing of the medication, in part from my accomplishment) that I literally burst out of my room, tripped and stubbed my toe on the carpet in the hallway. After...kind of...shoving my mother into the linen closet. (Sorry, Mama.) But, I did it!! And then I three days I would have to do this again.

During this entire time, God was reminding me of how He had told me, a VERY long time ago, to write through all of this. Through the years, every time I asked for miraculous healing and deliverance from especially the weight, he would answer "No, you have to participate in your healing. And I want you to write about it. But when you do, you will be blessed." I still argued, and didn't want to explore, in any way that could be even remotely public, all of this.

A few shots into my new regime, about a day after our family's explorative evening out, my husband came home from church with a mild stomach ache. There had been a potluck that afternoon, which newly gluten free me had skipped, and I teased him about whose food he must have eaten. He went to bed fairly early, which is not entirely uncharacteristic of him for a Sunday night  as his introverted self needs much refueling after the full expense of extroverted energy his "on" day requires.

Our daughter came to me that evening with a vision she had...we have this summer been exploring the Gifts of the Spirit in Children's Church, and she described to me in great detail what she had been shown.

I thought she was being a bit dramatic.  I wonder where she gets it.

I told her, however, to share with Daddy how she saw Holy Spirit near his belly - present, comforting, and healing. He smiled, thanked her, and sorely rolled over to try to get some rest. Around four something, he woke me up and asked if we could go to urgent care. Our family Sabbaths on Mondays, and he wanted to see what they had that could ease the pain to allow for a restful and fun day. The thought was run in early, get out quickly in time for maybe some Sabbath donuts on the way home.
Our "Super Quick" run into Urgent Care
But as that fateful Monday morning wore painfully on into a ploddingly difficult week, our daughter's vision took on an even more significant meaning than I could have ever imagined. Eric didn't really have careless coleslaw food poisoning after all.

Cancer. Stage Four. Metastatic throughout his liver. And all too quickly, the entire world as we knew it was turned completely upside down.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Poised on the Precipice of Change

Those six words have run through my mind for a few months now. You see, this summer has been one of a series of urgencies. As summer approached, I had in mind a litany of lazy days filled with audio books, water parks, beach days, "real" books, a giant garage cleaning/organizing project, and restful Sabbaths. In my intent these would be peppered with a handful of events we were specifically looking forward to - the kids' week of theater camp, a couple of almost-on-the-field baseball games, a Broadway show, Confirmation (and a beachside celebration to go with it), and tickets to a Cowboys game. I was also hoping to insert a meandering trip across the country in there, somewhere, to spend some time with my family.    

But, other things were in store.

My Grandfather's funeral prompted the cross country trip a little earlier than planned, after which GG, our old Golden Girl of a minivan, decided it was time to turn it in, allowing us to turn the page on the minivan years of our life. The children did get confirmed, but I hadn't returned home in time to plan the imagined seaside party. Thankfully Mimi and Papa joined us in California to celebrate, and Nana and Poppie were, of course, there too.

It was during all of this that Eric received a phone call feeling out his willingness to consider pastoring a church in New Jersey.

New Jersey!!

Now, here's the thing. I adore New York. Well, New York City - I haven't seen very much of the rest. Around this same time I had been having very vivid dreams about New York. (One in particular about looking for a specific leopard print pashmina that I neglected to buy while Eric and I were there last October, and in each rendition we would run into various individuals and would have an adventure...but I digress.) This church was in a bedroom community of The City.

But I have always wanted to live in California. Every single pore of my body responds with relaxation to the California beaches, breezes, palm trees and seemingly contradictory combination of laid back breakneck pace. I LOVE it here. I love being from here. I am crazy about the people we are with here - from our church family, extended Body of Christ family, 12 Step/AA family, school family, friends, neighbors, Starbucks name it, we are surrounded with some pretty special people. And none of them are in New Jersey.

When Eric first told me of this conversation, he asked me what I thought, and all I wanted to say was "No Way!!!" New Jersey evoked, in my unacquainted mind, the Saturday Night Live sketch where Fred Armisen derisively jeers "New Juuuurseey...", drunken air-headed escapades on the Shore, leopard print everything, and giant hair. (Although, considering the dream pashmina, in measured doses I do like a good leopard print.) But at the same time as "Nooooo!!" ran through my mind, an undercurrent of "What if...?" emerged as well.

And then the questions - Do I really trust that God has good plans for us? Do I need specific circumstances to experience joy?  Even specific people? Whose plans am I more intimately allied to, His or mine? Am I going to choose to perceive the unknown as negative, or potential adventure? Does the radical change that has been worked in our family's lives have purpose and legs beyond our current range of influence? I felt prompted to open my hands and release the stronghold on my ideas of what (and where!) we were to do, and began to open myself to the great unknown that lay ahead.

You see, one of the things that I have learned, although likely not definitively, but at least to a larger degree than I had embraced before, is that the only place that I will be fully free to move in power and peace is where I am Purposed to be. When I say "Yes!" to God's prompting Word and direction, I know that His provision will be there - even if from my vantage point I cannot yet fathom how. I also know that spending (wasting) time ignoring, arguing, or complaining about a clear path or directive only breeds discontent and covetousness in me, which have repeatedly proven to come out in the most un-lovely of ways.

So I said "Wherever God has planned is where we need to be. Let's see what happens." And internally I began to release MY plans to what was about to be revealed.

I felt quietly Poised on the Precipice of Change.

I saw increasing beauty as I moved through the SoCal summer days. I relished the palm tree lined, sunset view as I waited in the drive-thru line for In-N-Out. I breathed the balmy, salty sea air and dug my toes into the soft California sand, collecting shell treasures and my favorite white rocks with my children. I ever so tightly hugged the people we got to see regularly with precious release, knowing that this imminent and unknown change could number our otherwise frequent and unremarkable touch points. I prayed for clear and specific wisdom to recognize direction as it came, and was reminded minute by minute to rest, trust, and release. I loved and perceived for the minutia of what they were tiny moments of pleasure in the everyday activities of life here and now.

On one such night, late in July, our family took a walk to explore the brand new high school campus adjacent to our neighborhood. I relished the pause in our urgent summer, and looked forward to August - fresh with possibility, and from the heart work that had been happening impregnated with potential change. I thought we could salvage August, rest well, finish a few preparations and projects, and arrive ready for whatever lay ahead in a healthy mind frame.

But on this night, every detail seemed imbued with beauty. We walked through the perfect San Diego climate in an alternating four person jumble of hand holding, laughter, and teasing. The sky was a brilliant blue, streaked with pinky orange as the sun progressively set. Thalassa and Eric sang songs in preparation for their Joseph auditions, and begged for more stories of "when you guys were kids!" As we walked I tested and tried many campus doors and gates but to Eric's relief did not, technically, trespass. Eric, to my relief, continued to eagerly walk further into the campus, engaged in exploring as well. We then found a place to get some dessert, and headed happily home. I felt a sense of awe at how perfectly content a relatively unremarkable evening could feel, but at the same time knew that what was remarkable was how relatively new the ability to embrace content, in any situation, was for Eric and I.

If change was coming, we could weather it.