HOME.

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When I walked in to tour my first post-grad, no-roommates apartment, I spent a few seconds inside, then walked out to the back porch and cried.

I feel like we’re telling a lot of stories about me crying lately, but the point is this: that apartment, objectively, was ugly. It smelled weird. It had reddish-brown shag carpeting. (The first time my brother saw that carpet, he asked, deadpan: Do you mow this?)

And then I moved in, and took an industrial-sized carpet cleaner to the floors, and cut paint chips into garland to hang around my room, and bought end tables and lit candles in the kitchen.

My dad helped me split the (admittedly generously sized) living area into two, so I had a little office, and I sat at that desk and paid bills and filled out job applications, so desperate to get out. I dreaded days at my job, rewarding as it ultimately was, but I cherished my time in that apartment, and I counted down to weekends there like I was counting down to Christmas. It was home.

I didn’t really know, until I started writing this, that I still miss it.

My current apartment is a step up. No one would think to suggest a lawnmower for the carpet, for one thing.

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But it still doesn’t have what you’d call good bones. Not hardly. The last tenant (or the last ten) managed to stain and scruff up the off-white, non-shag carpet all through the main living area.

There’s a lot of cheap plastic tile in inconvenient places. It’s not in a great neighborhood. Most of my furniture was handed down by family or purchased from IKEA.

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And I love it. Like, love it so much my heart swells up all big in my chest when I walk through the door.

My style has grown up here. I’ve started thinking about functionality, and how to accommodate other people in my home. It’s not a showroom, but it’s home.

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That’s partly because I’ve been here for laughter and crying, and learning how to make a steak, and washing blood out of my hair after brain surgery. It’s also because I’ve taken care to shape it and make it. It’s home because it’s the accrual of all those little efforts to make something beautiful.

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You do not have to own your home to love it.

You don’t have to buy thousand-dollar dining chairs.

You don’t have to walk on gleaming hardwood floors.

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You can make it home right now. You can thrift, and buy things at dollar stores and glue them together, and hang paintings you love on the walls, and fill it with colors and textures you love and things that remind you of the joys in your life.

Home is not something that’s waiting for you way off in the future. When you own it. When it’s perfect. When you have those hardwoods and thousand-dollar dining chairs.

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This is where you live. The future is not where you live.

Settle in. This is home. And that’s beautiful.

Radiation Postmortem + Endings.

So, let’s get the elephant out of the room first: I am a terrible blogger. I have legitimately been crazy busy with work (and doctor’s appointments and just life) but I also find it waaay easier to spend the free time I do have scrolling through other blogs or reading zillions of books or switching the rug in my living room for the tenth time.

So. There’s that :)

While I was busy being a terrible blogger, I completed the all-day, one-stop radiation treatment I spent a solid two months worrying about. The last big thing. The final blow, hopefully, for this tumor that keeps sneaking back.

I have to say — of all the things I’ve been afraid of in life, this one broke the mold. Usually reality is smoother and easier — and, you know, less painful — than your expectations. This was ten times worse.

The radiation itself was just as everyone described — no pain, no pressure, no taste, no smell. But prior to radiation, I had to have a metal frame placed on my head, and then sit in that frame for 6-7 hours.

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It took about eight shots of local anesthetic (two in each insertion site) until my head really started to numb. Needles don’t usually bother me, but those little shots burn. I don’t think I really felt the insertion of the actual pins, but all that pressure and heavy, heavy squeezing…it hurt. Actually, I think it scared me more than anything.

If all the whining above isn’t embarrassing enough, here’s the real confession: as all this was going on, I cried. And asked for my mom. In a room full of surgeons and nurses and physicists. I’d never, ever done that.

My neurosurgeon was an absolute gem, as was my oncologist. They both spoke gently and slowly the whole time, telling me I was doing great. I wasn’t, of course, but it was a very kind lie.

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The rest of the day went by in a haze. I’d brought a pile of work and it didn’t get done. There was a TV all set up for movies, but they didn’t get watched. I somehow ended up taking a nap — which I still don’t really get, given all the obstructions to moving my head. (I think we can chalk it up to the pain and anxiety meds, if we’re being honest.)

I’d expected the day to be hard and dramatic and BIG, the way the surgeries were. But it wasn’t. It just…happened.

And now it’s OVER.

I can’t quite let myself think about forever. Maybe if I have a clean six-month scan, I’ll feel comfortable saying this thing is really gone. Or maybe not. Right now, I’m just trying to live in the spaces in between.

But it’s over for now, and there’s a kind of strangeness in that. There was sweetness in this season, surprising and raw, and it’s hard to leave that…but it’s also hard to leave the bad things, and the mundane things, too. I’d gotten into routines — nothing meaningful, just things like shopping at the Target near my doctor’s office after appointments — and it’s hard to leave even that behind.

So that’s the weird space I’m in now. I’ll keep working to figure it out, and pushing through this busy season at work, and reading too many books and trying, trying, trying to be a better blogger.

And what happens next…well, it’ll happen.

Goals | 2015 (the prequel)

I still haven’t rounded up the highlights of 2014 in a post.

I still haven’t solidified (or come anywhere close to solidifying) my goals for 2015, in a post or elsewhere.

I know some broad things I’d like to work on this year, but that’s it. And January is passing by, and that’s okay.

If these goals come together by the end of the month — that’s okay. If I don’t know what I want to do until February or March, but I have goals that were developed thoughtfully and that I’m able to tackle…that’s wonderful. That’s the only thing that needs to happen.

Lara Casey said this better than I did above in the introduction to her 2015 goal-setting series:

“You can microwave some goals and have a pretty list by January 1, or you can dig deeper and set goals that matter to you…you can pray hard about them and really weigh whether or not they are the best use of your time. You can set goals that are twenty levels below the surface, where the fiery good stuff lives, or you can just make resolutions that get forgotten and tossed aside come February 1.” 

I do have three very broad goals that I’d like to shape my year around (and that Christine at The Hipster Housewife was kind enough to put them on paper for me):

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So those are my big, overarching goals for 2015. I’ll be back — maybe soon, maybe later — with more detailed lists on what I’d like to improve in the areas of health and work and finances and service and social life :)

For now, from me to you, I hope you are having a wonderful 2015!

All the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour…

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.” // C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

I live in a run-of-the-mill apartment complex, but a lucky roll of the dice put me in a unit set back in a wild tangle of trees, with big bedroom windows looking out on it all.

It was glorious in summer and dreamy in fall. I thought it would get ugly when winter blew in, but it didn’t. The limbs are tall and grey, and they arch up to the sky and they make my heart thud.

This has always been, to me, the strongest sign of a creator-God — not a proof, but a reason to search for proof. I think about the things humans make, which are sometimes beautiful, and then I think about the world, the natural world. Is it really possible that the thing created by accident is the thing with the most grace?

Men make mountains too. I see them every day on my walks in and out of the office, buildings pounding up into the sky, sparkling windows, stripes of color. They’re beautiful, they make my heart soar. But the dimmest hint of leaves changing on the worn-down Appalachian mountains puts them to shame. Put the two things up next to each other. Think about nature, about tree sap, about the smell of dirt. The things humans make cannot compete.

But there’s the problem, there’s the rub. Here’s the next part of that C.S. Lewis quote:

“For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects.”

 You have to draw the line, you have to realize that nature isn’t it. Those arching trees aren’t it. The smell of dirt’s not it.

You have to draw the line between Creator and created.

And how wonderful to think that all of this — every beautiful thing — is just a copy of a copy of a copy, just a breath of what we’ll see in the future.

“And there, in beyond Nature, we shall eat of the tree of life.” 

Back to reality.

heyMy alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. yesterday and it didn’t feel real.

I slogged through my morning in a haze. Breakfast, Bible study, car, MARTA, desk breakfast. Like the steps to a dance I’d almost forgotten.

It could have been drudgery, I guess. Maybe it could have felt like that without me being able to control it, or maybe I view things through rose-colored glasses. What I know, for sure, is that my daily routine — particularly after a long-delayed return — does not feel like drudgery.

Okay, of course, some parts of it do. But there are little pieces to cherish shot all through it. Lugging books onto the train. Making calls and getting assignments (although, of course, there’s not much of that this week after Christmas). Making the decision, even when it’s one driven by exhaustion, on what to do after work.

None of it’s exceptional. It’s the opposite, actually. But I don’t hold these moments in my hand, sifting through them like little throwaway jewels, because they’re exceptional. I do that because they’re mine. This is the life I’ve been given.

And I will rejoice in it.

Home.

B57PqNmCMAAASdlFor the first time since I waited for my parents to arrive, the night before my second brain surgery, sitting on my couch and gnawing my nails to the quick…I am alone in my little apartment.

I’m unpacking slowly, drinking out of all the familiar, too-cutesy mugs — the scratchy black “M” from Target, the one that looks like a chevron sweater — and hearing the swish of the dishwasher on my Pyrex casserole dish, which I’d left occupied in the fridge.

Soon I’ll chop smoked sausage and potatoes for a winter casserole in that dish, soon I’ll curl up under my cloudy white faux-down comforter and go to sleep. Tomorrow I’ll go for a walk in the morning cool, because I’m not allowed to run. I’ll fill out the paperwork to renew my lease here — to live somewhere for more than a year, for the first time in what feels like so long.

My heart aches because I miss my loud family and our menagerie of animals and the subtle beauty of home — only beautiful because it’s home — but that’s beauty in itself, that’s the glory of scattering your heart all over, of loving things you cannot hold in your hands at the same time.

And I’m thinking now about the way this is all grace, the bags and boxes of Christmas gifts still stacked on my worn leather couch, the plans for the weekend, for the week ahead, the life, the being alive.

Welcome home.

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.

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 :)

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