The hope anchored within you

ScreenshotI spent most of Friday wrapped in hand-wringing, nail-biting, gray-cloud fear over four tiny metal pins.

The type of radiation I’ll have in a few weeks — my doctors’ attempt at making sure this tumor doesn’t recur a third time — is stereotactic radiosurgery, which, gloriously, means I only have to go in once, for a sort of extended session. As with (I think) most radiation of the brain, the radiation oncologist will fix a metal frame on my head, using four metal pins screwed into my skull, numbing the areas of insertion with a local anesthetic.

I am really. really. really not looking forward to those pins.

I spent Friday following long strings of Google results, trying to find someone who’d experienced this procedure and could tell me how much pain there was, how much the local anesthetic staved it off, how scary it was when the pins screwed in. It’s an oddly specific thing to Google, and I didn’t find much…so I just worried.

Sometimes, though, God does this thing where He speaks to you exactly where you are, in the middle of the upending of your little world, before you’ve even stopped shaking. From my daily reading of the #SRTAdvent study on Saturday, the day after all this happened:

“The comfort God provides is not an anesthetic. There’s no numbing, no loss of consciousness. He’s not a drug in your veins. He’s the Hope anchored within you.”

And then, in the other study I’m reading through, Kay Arthur’s Lord, I Want to Know You:

“The truth of God’s sovereignty makes it easier to obey those commands in the New Testament that charge us to rejoice in all circumstances of life…isn’t it easier to give thanks when you realize that your Father, El Elyon, God Most High, is in control and that nothing can happen in His universe without His permission?” 

I can’t (and, I hope, won’t) depend on numbing, on loss of consciousness. My trust is placed in the Hope anchored within me, and everything that’s about to happen was filtered through His hands.

–How You Can Pray–

For peace as I face those little pins, of course :) And for the financial stability to handle the continuing medical bills.

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Fill me up with love, God.

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I’ve been trying to seek out one thing in this experience (when I’m not seeking bland things like the next round of pain meds). You might call it love, or joy — really, just an experience of God in the circumstances I’m in, an experience that goes beyond staples that catch on the collar of my shirt and paper gowns that don’t quite fasten in the back.

You’d think love would be abundantly easy to find, and it probably would be for a better person than me, and it is, in flashes. When my dad walks into my hospital room and sees me eating Jello on my own and smiles to split the moon, when I hear that my two-year-old class at church made me a get-well banner, when my baby cousins tell me to feel better, the love comes easy and quick.

But for me, with my heart the way it is (fallen, human, dirty, in a way I can’t overstate)…I have a hard time. A hard time realizing I’m not my nurses’ only patient. Not letting my medicine metabolize into annoyance with the family sitting behind me at my brother’s guitar concert. Being kind and patient with my family, recognizing the sacrifices they’ve made. I give in too easily to self-righteousness; I forgive myself far too much, with the tumor as my all-purpose excuse.

But I want to love that way in the little moments, the annoying moments…to recognize the holiness in everyone around me, holy in that they were made by God. To me, that’s an essential tenet of this mystery we believe. You can’t believe in God and not believe in people, too.

And I want to see holiness in my life. Laughing with my mom while we wait in the ER. Making sugar cookies from scratch. Picking up my brother from school. I want to live a life drenched in gratitude and recognize these things for what they are: Not accidents, but gifts.

God, fill me up with that. Give me strength to see past my smallness.

–How You Can Pray–

We had a small scare on Sunday night. My face swelled up pretty big (way more than it was supposed to five days after surgery) and the doctor on call at my neurosurgeon’s office advised us to go to the local ER. It turned out the swelling was caused by a superficial hematoma, not bleeding in the brain — good news! Mom & I both commented later that we could feel the relief physically flow through us the second we got the word. So, please pray that the swelling continues to stay down, and pray for some pain relief, because the sting is a little more persistent this time. 

Round two, in progress.

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So…I’m home! At my parents’ house, that is. Out of the hospital, all stapled up. This will probably just be a quick update, because my brain is still fogged, and my hands are still working all wrong, and as always, I don’t remember much that happened in the hospital.

Everything I do remember is in little snippets:

Riding to the hospital with my parents on Tuesday, in the dark, all doom and gloom and nerves. Ahead of us in registration a mom was checking in her nine-month-old little girl, and my heart broke about ten times thinking about the fact that the baby didn’t know she was about to have surgery, or what surgery was.

Waking up in recovery and (this is gross, sorry) throwing up all over my nightgown, and the nurses saying “we gave her a bag…she just didn’t throw up in the bag.” (#whoops)

My best friend coming to visit me and knowing when to empathize, and when to stop talking about my brain and just start telling me which makeup of mine she’d tried on that morning at my apartment.

Getting Jello onto a spoon without help on Wednesday morning. (My dad was proud. Is it sad when you can make someone proud using Jello?)

On Tuesday I made it through the first night after surgery, which hurt as much as it always does…is it just me, or is there just no pain medicine strong enough to help on that first night?

On Thursday we met with the radiation oncologist, and it was scary, but I think the decision’s been made to proceed on radiation after this incision heals up a bit. I’m not looking forward to it, but I think it’s the smartest decision.

I hope it’ll be round two & done. I hope that so much that I’m afraid to hope it — I don’t want to hope so hard it goes away, you know?

But it might come back, and it might not, and no matter what happens I have one plan: to live the mess out of whatever life I get, sick or well.

…I plan to get a head start on that as soon as I can sleep all this medicine out of my system, and as soon as things make more sense :)

–How You Can Pray–

Please pray for energy during recovery, a clean pathology report (still stage II) next Friday, and that this will be the last recurrence! I am so, so grateful for all of you & your prayers that have lifted me through this time! 

The last day of normal

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I wanted to bring y’all an update from my last day before surgery — the last “normal” day for a while, although I’m learning that normal is really, really relative. But my thoughts are so all over the place that I don’t know which I can catch long enough to write about.

I think, more than anything, I’d like to talk about the things I’ve been grateful for throughout this process. That may sound sentimental & saccharine, but my heart feels so much healthier when I’m focusing on those little joys & gifts, instead of complaining.

So, first, I am grateful for community. Last night at church, the sweet people I serve with (leading preschool small groups) gathered around me in the center of the room, laid hands on me and on each other, and prayed for peace. The way I felt in the center of that circle is how I have felt, figuratively, since all this started. I have felt surrounded, wrapped up, by people who have reached toward me to help, to pray, to do what they can and love where they can’t. In this little group are people I know and people I don’t know, people who pray and people who don’t. God doesn’t have hands or feet on earth; he has people. And all of you who have wrapped me up in thoughts and love and cards and meals, the religious and the skeptics alike — you’ve been God on earth to me.

I’m sure they’ll bear the brunt of all my complaining in the weeks to come, so let me say now that I am endlessly grateful for family. For my aunts and uncles and grandparents who wrapped up piles of silky, filmy scarves, all ready for the half-bald days after surgery, and brought them to our Thanksgiving meal. For my brothers who have cheered me up in a million brother-y ways. For my parents, who are letting me stay on their health insurance, and letting me stay in their home for weeks after surgery, and a million things I can’t begin to list. Everything about this would be harder without them.

I’m grateful for social media. Seriously. People have left these strings of comments letting me know they’re thinking about me, and praying for me, and I can go back over those and read them again and again when I’m feeling afraid. How incredible is that? Maybe it’s self-centered, wanting to read these thoughts about me over and over, but I have felt so loved & so cared for, just being able to go back and hear what’s been said.

I’m grateful for experiencing all of this during the Advent season. I’ve been reading the She Reads Truth Advent study in the mornings, and it has, more than anything, set my heart in the right place for all that is to come. This season of waiting, of joyful expectancy for the King born in a dirty manger, reminds me that our whole time on earth is about expectancy. There is more ahead, more for us than what we experience here on earth, thanks to the coming of that baby-King.

How You Can Pray: 

My surgery is tomorrow (12/9) at 8 a.m. We’ll arrive at the hospital at 6 a.m. for a final MRI. Please pray for TONS & TONS of peace for my mom & dad, as well as a safe surgery, safe anesthesia, and limited pain afterward. 

Please also pray for my boss, Matt, and his family. He visited the ER last night & had surgery this morning to have his appendix removed. And, since we are a department of two, follow that up with a prayer for a few slow days :)

The desire to be heard

Way down deep inside of me, beneath all the real things I should be worried about, is another kind of fear.

It’s the fear that I’m overdoing it. The fear that I’m being dramatic. The fear, to put it simply, that I’m talking about all of this too much.

want to talk about it, online and in person. I want to share my heart with the people around me, even when my heart is not something kind and good and wrapped up in a neat bow.

But I’m worried that every moment of talking about it comes across as a solicitation for attention.

As an attempt to make the conversation about me.

I am worried, way deep down, that people will look back and say wow, Meghan sure did make a huge, dramatic deal out of this non-malignant tumor.

And that’s another point: Things could be so, so much worse. And I don’t want to treat this situation with an enormity that is an affront to the people who have had it so, so much worse.

But at the same time, it is enormous in my life.

And I do want to talk, and I do want to be heard.

And I’m grateful for the patience that has been shown to me — probably without me realizing it, most of the time — by people who are willing to listen.

– The update –

T minus 48 hours until surgery. I’m feeling very nervous and, at the same time, very ready to get this first step over with & out of the way. If you’d like to pray, please pray for the calm I need to soak up some normalcy tomorrow during my last day of work, as well as safe travels & lots and lots of peace for my mom & dad.

When I don’t desire God

I have been so bitter lately. Like, so bitter I don’t really want to tell you about it, because I don’t want you to know how nasty my heart has been.

I am dreading my surgery. I’m angry I have to go through it. I’m mad at people who don’t understand, madder still at well-meaning people who think they do. I am holding so tight my knuckles are white to every little inch of my recovery. My hands are working; I can almost pinch something in two fingers. I don’t want to lose that. I’ve worn my hair down every day this week, reveling in the fact that it’s all there, bitter, bitter, bitter because it’s going to be gone.

And then, on top of all that nastiness, I am bitter because I feel like I can’t be bitter. Next to others who have experienced major illness, I feel cruel and ungrateful and small. I think of all the times someone has extolled the virtues of a long-suffering patient who never once complained, only rejoiced in their pain, and I wince because I am not that person. I am angry that I’m not that person. This is how cyclical it gets.

It’s one of those times when I’ve just had to give it to God, just give it up entirely and say look, here’s what’s happening, my heart is all messed up and I can’t fix it.

So I left it in His hands. I waited. And tonight on the train, as a panhandler was offering me two for $5 scarves out of a trash bag, I cried as I came to this passage in the book I’m reading. (It’s by John Piper.)

“The fight for joy in Christ is not a fight to soften the cushion of Western comforts. It is a fight for strength to live a life of self-sacrificing love. It is a fight to join Jesus on the Calvary road and stay there with Him, no matter what. How was he sustained on that road? Hebrews 12:2 answers, ‘For the joy that was set before Him [he] endured the cross.’ 

The key to endurance in the cause of self-sacrificing love is not heroic willpower, but deep, unshakable confidence that the joy we have tasted in fellowship with Christ will not disappoint us in death. Sacrifices in the path of love were sustained in the New Testament not by willpower, but by joyful hope. ‘You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.’ [Heb. 10:34]

The aim of this book is not to salve the conscience of well-to-do Western acquisition. The aim is to sustain love’s ability to endure sacrificial losses of property and security and life, by the power of joy in the path of love. The aim is that Jesus Christ be made known in all the world as the all-powerful, all-righteous, all-merciful, all-satisfying Treasure of the universe.”

I can imagine how frustrating it might be for someone who’s not into the whole God thing to hear me talk about my experience of illness, but it’s the only way I know how to talk about it. It has been so God-centric for me.

I don’t know how to explain it, really, but it’s gone something like this: You seek Jesus, and you ask him for joy in spite of pain, and what He gives you instead is joy that is in the pain. The moments of my worst fear, my worst discomfort, my worst pain and my worst bitterness have been soaked in His goodness, and I have known His character more through these moments than anything else in my life.

We’re less than a week out from surgery now. I am very, very afraid. And I am throwing myself in His arms and, quiet, choosing to trust. I don’t know what to ask Him, don’t know what to say. I’m just here waiting, sitting still in His presence.

Again.

“‘Here I am,’ I whispered, and I waited in the dark. The answer was a sword that came down hard upon my heart. Holy is the Lord, and the Lord I will obey. Lord, help me, I don’t know the way.” 

I had an MRI scheduled for December 30, 2014, six months out from my first brain surgery. Two months before that, I started having headaches — mild ones I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t still on high alert from the first time all this happened.

I put off calling the doctor until most everyone in my life was nagging me to do so on a daily basis. When I called, he suggested bumping the MRI up to November — just for peace of mind.

At my consult, following the MRI, he told me in plain language that the tumor was back. Exponentially smaller, but then, it had only had four months to grow. I would need surgery again, then radiation following that.

So now, I’m trying to push aside the tinny headaches and the nausea that clouds around me on trains, on elevators, in unexpected moments…again.

On December 9, a little more than five months after the first time this all happened, I will tie the strings of my hospital gown, and breathe in and count backward from 100. I will not get past 97 (I never do), but my hands will be cold, because I am afraid of surgery — every time, no matter how many I have.

I’ll wake up later and it won’t feel like hours or minutes, it’ll just feel like no time at all, like time that never existed. They will tell me to lie down on the MRI table, and I will be frustrated with that through the fog — don’t they know my head hurts? 

It’ll all come again, the first night after surgery, the days practicing putting on socks and walking up stairs, the steroids, the attempts to wash my hair around the incision — and the times I mess up and the water sears in anyway.

I will learn again to work around the little deficiencies — losing sentences in midstream, forgetting how to back out of a parking space, my hands not working when I tell them to.

And as it all happens, God will be good…again.

I have been listening to this song over and over again. It’s the story of the binding of Isaac from Abraham’s perspective — if you’re not familiar with the Bible, this is a time when God asked Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Just before he did, God made another way.

I keep thinking about the way God sometimes asks us to take what is most precious to us and place it in His hands. To trust. To obey.

This is what is precious to me right now. My health. My recovery, which I fought for inch by inch, memory by memory. My life, my normal days, work and dinners with friends and my quiet life in this one-bedroom apartment.

I will give it. I am praying over and over that I will give it willingly, with joy. Because I know — bone-deep — that I will experience His holiness in this.

And that is worth it to me.

Snow Stories

It feels, this fall, like the snow has started everywhere but here. Even my South Carolina hometown, where the average temperature is vaguely reminiscent of a tropical rainforest or an oven, has gotten a few flakes.

But after going to college in the mountains, a few hours and a world away from the rest of North Carolina, snow stories live in my mind, and the slightest bite of cold can draw them out.

***

My first brush with mountain snow: It was late September, maybe early October, and the temperatures dipped fast. I could count my previous experiences with snow on one hand. Growing up, most of the kids in my neighborhood didn’t own gloves — when it snowed, once a year if we were lucky, we yanked socks onto our hands.

As the temperatures made their plunge that fall, I realized I was equipped with a pricey winter jacket and almost nothing else. I didn’t even own a scarf — I don’t think I ever had.

I trekked to the K-Mart in town for a few supplementals: a pink fleece hat and matching scarf; a pair of striped, sweater-knit mittens that would, ultimately, do little more than soak straight through and fill my 8×8 dorm, for hours, with the pungent smell of wet wool.

Transaction completed, I waited at a roadside bus stop, plastic bag crumpled in my pocket and new purchases wrapped around my throat and hands and head. And it started: fresh flakes, the fine-grained film that comes when it’s barely cold enough to snow in the first place. Backlit with the lights of town, they looked like glitter.

And not for the first time, but maybe for the strongest, I realized I was in a different place entirely, with who knew what ahead. It felt like magic.

***

Two weeks after that bus-stop glitter, we got our first real snow — big enough to blanket parking lots and roads, big enough to sink in past your ankles (but not, as it turned out, big enough to cancel class).

It was nighttime, again, when the flakes started falling, fatter and faster than any I’d ever seen. I let myself get swept up in the crowd of girls pouring out of my dorm, pulling on paisley-printed rain boots and the K-Mart scarf and hat.

We lived right next to the stadium, so that’s where we went. Hopped fences. Made snow angels. Then trooped back up to our floor, crowded into the bathroom, took hot showers that stung cold skin. We didn’t know we shouldn’t, almost all of us being new to this world of froth falling from the sky.

I was still so nervous then, so unsure of my reactions, convinced I was saying all the wrong things. That didn’t keep me from thinking, as the shower spray needled into my shoulders, that this was the kind of night you remember.

***

A few years later, when college was still sweet, but more worn-in, there was snow on the ground for a solid four months.

Snow blanketed the ground sometime in mid-fall, and didn’t melt entirely until mid-spring, late March or early April. (When it did melt, we all paraded out onto green hills and spread out blankets over the mud and, giddy with warmth, laid there for hours).

I visited home sometime in the middle of it, went for pizza with my parents, and begged them to eat outside. It was freezing cold and the patio was empty, but I sat there anyway, scraping my shoes back and forth to feel the clear pavement beneath them, head tilted back, eyes squinting up at the sun.

***

I went to college for five years. In the fifth, I lived with three roommates in a house outside town and worked an assortment of minimum-wage jobs — waitressing, handing out copies of lost dorm keys, punching tickets in a campus parking deck.

The first thick, October snow of that year, I realized I was growing up — and I realized I didn’t much like it. We didn’t live on campus or close to it, so there was no trooping through snow to fill up on “provisions” (this had never referred to anything practical, we usually meant frozen burritos and terrible movies from the campus library). I needed to pick up shifts at work, but at the time I drove a Toyota Camry that was totally unequipped to coast down four miles of ice-coated road.

We were stuck in the house, and I was worried about paying a rent bill that now seems laughably cheap, and this was adulthood and it all felt awfully grim — so disconnected from the snow days that came before, and from their magic.

***

Of course, as with all things, you settle in. You get used to being grown up, and the responsibilities stop feeling like individual, personal affronts. You learn how to keep whatever magic you can, to take it wherever you can find it, and to be — this is the trick, I think — to be a happy person who looks like an adult but has a child inside them.

Some things change, some things don’t. I still see pictures of parking-lot snow angels and ache for college snow days, but I don’t long to go back to that time in my life. I am here, not there, and I don’t want to regress.

If you’re still in that stage, though, when your snow days — any of your days — can be closed down to the world…

You should breathe it in. You should savor it. These days won’t come again.

Beautiful things I’ve read lately

The ceaseless labor is the freedom of play:

“I am 79. I’ve written many hundreds of essays, 10 times that number of misbegotten drafts both early and late, and I begin to understand that failure is its own reward. It is in the effort to close the distance between the work imagined and the work achieved wherein it is to be found that the ceaseless labor is the freedom of play, that what’s at stake isn’t a reflection in the mirror of fame but the escape from the prison of the self.” (New York Times: Old Masters at the Top of Their Game)

A world that shone so brightly: 

“Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,

A final flood of colors will live on

As my mind dies,

Burned by my vision of a world that shone

So brightly at the last, and then was gone.” (New Yorker Poetry: Japanese Maple)

If you’re good at it, people only see the shiny outcome: 

“‘She made a solid point: If you’re good at it, people only see the shiny outcome. They see the trick that you have performed and they don’t see the hours and work that go into it, and that means you’ve done a good job.’ A journalist is rarely going to admit they got a great idea from a press release. Someone who downloads an app or attends an event usually won’t pause to think, ‘How did I hear about this?’ We only notice PR work when it goes horribly awry.” (New York Magazine: Why Do We Treat PR Like a Pink Ghetto?)

The perpetually flowing quest to the horizon…next: 

“The Fountain of Youth, whatever it is, would feel like justice. Time is a liquid — it flows, unfairly, through us and past us; we ingest it without effort, without chewing — so it only makes sense that we would look for a liquid to save us. A liquid cure to a liquid curse. Generation after generation, like the mythical Ponce, has chased eternity in liquid form: the patent formula, the fish oil, the coconut water, the juice fast, the wheatgrass, the lotions. Twenty-first-century science promises to chase this myth into the very liquids of our bodies: nanocures that will flow in our blood and restore the fluid inside our cells. Ponce’s quest rages on, and perhaps this is the fountain he was pointing to: the perpetually flowing quest to the horizon — the next, next, next, next. We turn to look where he was pointing, and then suddenly we are gone. Next.” (NYT Magazine: Searching for the Fountain of Youth)

Insta-Lately

Quick car update: Turns out the timing belt snapped. It’ll be a pricey fix, but it’s a long way from “your car is ruined” — so I’m feeling cautiously better.

Also, my total lack of car knowledge is obviously written on my face, because every dad in my life is giving me advice about this situation. My own dad, yes, but also just everyone I know who happens to be a dad. If you are also a dad, please feel free to give me advice.

Now, on to an Instagram update and some happier things.

As mentioned, I spent last weekend up in western North Carolina with my best friend, Hannah. I’ve been dying for fall in the mountains, and 48 hours of tangy-sweet air and crackling leaves were enough to tide me over.

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Something I remember from living in the mountains, right in the heart of fall color and glory, was a strange kind of hurt the whole season. I knew it was going to go fastfastfast, so I tried the whole time to grab on and soak up “enough.” I spent every fall feeling glutted and hungry at the same time.

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We spent Saturday wandering around downtown Asheville, and it was everything you want a day of exploring to be. Leaning shelves in dusty bookstores, the weirdest assortment of people crowding the street, a chocolate lounge with fresh pumpkin ice cream and chocolate snickerdoodles, vegan food with a view of waving yellow trees. Atlanta has neighborhoods like this, but in Asheville it’s the whole city.

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Before I stop talking about leaves, I’ll slip in really quickly that I spent a few days in Athens for work last week and spotted this barely-turned tree against a gorgeous fall sky. I’ve been to UGA a few times before and wasn’t particularly blown away, but it was so much prettier in fall. Plus, all my previous visits were in summer, and I don’t think you can overstate the injection of life that comes with all those students wandering around.

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These pals came to Atlanta for a weekend recently (as usual). We went to the aquarium in the morning, but it was the day of the Outkast concert, so as soon as we were done with the fish it felt like time to get away from Downtown. We spent Saturday wandering around downtown Decatur and then Phipps Plaza (for some Real Housewives-style people watching), and Sunday in a food coma at Flying Biscuit, as tradition dictates.

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Mostly, lately, I’ve been soaking up little things (and counting gifts).

Like this hot sunset streaming in through my train window

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And a coffee-shop porch overflowing with gorgeous green things

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And a quiet night with a stack of things to read and a caramel apple spice. (Side note: that issue of Harper’s has a really good piece on feminism and credibility called Cassandra Among the Creeps. It’s hard-paywalled online, so you should get to a bookstore and drop the $5. Worth it, I promise.)

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And then a few scattered things…

1. I’ve been running! Pretty frequently, too. This is a big development since, until recently, I was actively avoiding exercise whenever possible. Here’s a Greenway view from a handful of weeks ago.

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2. My apartment is covered in baby pumpkins and I don’t even know how to stop.

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AND 3. I got glasses! It turns out my right eye is damaged from my surgery. Overall not the worst side effect because I got to pick these out, and I’m pretty sure they make me look a little older, which is basically the goal over here.

The girl at the eye doctor was a master salesperson — I told her I wanted the cheapest pair she had and left with these, which are Lilly Pullitzer. But I love them & I don’t even care.

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SO that’s more or less it. I’ll be back in a month or so with another stack of pictures :)

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