All Manner of Things Will Be Well

The room was nice enough, at least as far as sterile rooms go–bright and spacious with a comfortable recliner juxtaposed against the exam table. But the buttery walls were no comfort when I’d been left alone yet again to wait for The Next Step.

I have to get out of here, I panicked. Why did I come here alone? Why did I come here at all? This can’t be happening! Stunned and frantic, my insides churned while my mind darted from one bad scenario to another.

Several weeks ago, my doctor sent me to a breast surgeon for an evaluation for some unexpected and unexplained lactation. Usually it’s nothing, she told me, or maybe a benign ductal papilloma. But let’s get it checked to be sure.

Which is how I found myself being shuffled from mammogram to ultrasound, alone and coming apart while waiting for second looks and lymph node assessments and instructions on what would happen next.

Papilloma? Ectasia? Ductal Carcinoma? Surgery? Nothing?

Freeze.

 

Is it not the most millennial thing ever to take a selfie while waiting for the surgeon? lol

I walked out of the hospital that afternoon with orders for a biopsy and more questions than answers, a fact I found terribly disquieting because I went into the appointment expecting answers, expecting reassurance. The entire world felt like someone had shaken it and swirled it upside down for a while and now I had to wait for a biopsy as well as the debris to settle to know which end was up.

That’s where I’ve been. Waiting–rather inelegantly, I might add, but also terribly stifled in my emotions because I. Am. Never. Alone. Not during the day because I homeschool my kiddos, not in the evenings because I have a 14 year old who stays up later than me. Not when I go out in public because…hello. Public. There is no space to cry without it being awkward.

The evening of the first tests, I loaded myself, some books, and my emotional baggage into the van and trekked to the bookstore, my favorite place for retail therapy. Sure, it was public, but at least it would get me into reality and out of my head, or so I hoped. The gusty winds whistled eerily and rocked my old, arthritic van, the atmosphere heavy with impending rain. Everything about me felt unsettled–finally being alone, the weather, the surreal situation, and I found I couldn’t tolerate the quiet of the van, so I flipped the radio to NPR. Impeachment news has a lovely way of distracting me from my anxieties. But instead of news, it a rather unpleasant mixture of music and static. No news at all.

 

I went about my errands and stops, all the while tuned to the NPR-turned-static station. I kept twiddling with the knob like we did in the 80s to see if I could adjust it up or down a bit to get a clearer signal, but I think I was mostly on autopilot because even though nothing cleared the signal, I kept going right back to the station and listening to the jumble.

Quite suddenly, the static gave way to these crystal-clear lyrics that pierced my numb anxiety:

You are not hidden
There’s never been a moment
You were forgotten
You are not hopeless
Though you have been broken
Your innocence stolen
I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS, your SOS
I will send out an army to find you
In the middle of the darkest night
It’s true, I will rescue you
There is no distance
That cannot be covered
Over and over
You’re not defenseless
I’ll be your shelter
I’ll be your armor

During our saga with infertility, I often found myself looking for “signs” that God would give us a happy ending, a baby to love and care for and raise. When desperation took hold, everything seemed like it could be a sign–the words said to me by a stranger at the post office, a maternity dress mis-stocked amidst the racks at Target, the verse to which my Bible fell open. To be sure, there were some real “signs.” It’s easier to identify them in retrospect, and they were much rarer than I hoped they’d be.

But the longer our journey progressed, the more I began to realize that most of my fortune-seeking and signs were just a coping strategy, an unhealthy one at that, a form of magical thinking to give me the illusion of control, hope, and fulfillment in a situation where uncertainty and despair were the norm. Instead, what was happening just beneath the surface, what I miss while I fixated on the magical surface and knowing the future, was the real work of God. I’m here, Heidi. I know this is hard. Hide here, under my wing, where I can wrap you in the comfort of the infinite, the softness of my tender love for you. Tomorrow is not your guarantee, but moving gently with me through what comes is. I have set a path that rescues your heart and soul to me. This is my covenant with you.

This new situation had different details, but the desperation felt similar. God, I begged, please let me be well. I can’t bear the thought of making my babies suffer fear and grief, of leaving my babies behind. Who will remember to put lavender on their skinned knees, tell them the stories of their squishy baby days, remember to tell the hairstylist about the little cowlicks here and there? Their father will take care of them, but it won’t be the same, God! Please don’t let this come to be! These were the constant tracks playing in the background of my moments while I waited for tests and results.

Some might argue that the song on the radio was nothing more than coincidence, but I’m certain it was a message for me. Not a “magical fortune telling sign” that I didn’t have cancer, but a sign and reminder of sorts of the things God taught me the last time I was desperate and had reached the end of myself.

I’m here, Heidi. I know this is hard. Hide here, under my wing, where I can wrap you in the comfort of the infinite, the softeness of my tender love for you. Tomorrow is not your guarantee, but moving gently with me through what comes is. I have set a path that rescues your heart and soul to me. And I am now and will always be the same God to your children as I am to you. This is my covenant with you.

I tried hard to live in that truth during the interminable interim. I can’t say I was very successful, but just as the meditations teachers teach you to keep coming back to your breath if your mind wanders, I kept coming back to this truth.

But I’m not lucky! I’m often on the wrong side of the good statistics!

— I am with you.

This is too hard! I can hardly breathe!

— Your soul is safe with me.

How will I ever care for my babies in their trauma if I’m facing trauma myself?

— You only need to move gently with me through this moment.

I’m not ready to die. There’s so much more I want to do.

— You are with me on a path to rescue.

And then, eventually, the call.

Benign.

I trembled and cried and Tahd held me and I felt scared and joyful and relieved and exhausted all at once. There are too many of “ands” in that sentence, but they’re there because it was a simultaneous having of #allthefeelings, with relief topping them all.

A handful of moments in my life serve as markers, stakes in the ground significant “befores” and “afters.” This experience is one that has been added to the few. It will take me more time to unpack it’s implications, but I want to be sure to wring out all the clarification and significance so that my life is better aligned. If there is any gift nestled in stressful situations like these, it is definitely their fire of refining, allowing what’s valuable and important to shine through the fog that builds up during thee monotony and busyness of regular days.

I want to write more about this but I’m still processing all the feelings as well as some changes I want to make, so that will have to wait a little while longer. I do want to tell you more about the nuts and bolts of the biopsy, though, because a few quick google searches didn’t turn up many of the real-life accounts I wanted to read. It’s more likely that my search terms were faulty than that the blog posts just aren’t out there, but I want to contribute mine to the mix nonetheless.

It is not lost on me that others who go though this experience don’t always enjoy the same outcome. I’m carrying them in my heart a little more closely these days and am wishing them strength and complete healing. 💗

Exhausted And…

Exhausted and…

content || his blond mop-top nestles under my chin while his rhythmic breaths of sleep exhale across my chest, and if I take a deep breath I can practically smell the powder and lotion from his six-years-past baby days. He still snuggles and it is delightful.

Exhausted and…

frustrated || there. is. so. much. bickering. There is so much asking for stuff. There is SOMUCHYELLING!!!!!! Over the last year, I’ve become awakened to the unhealth of my idealism, especially how readily I resign myself to failure when my reality doesn’t match my idealistic expectations. Perhaps I should be thankful that my children’s interactions have sensitized me to an area of my life needing growth, but it is SO LOUD AND UNRELENTING and I just want some peace and quiet and maybe some knitting together around the table in candlelight while we sing kum-ba-yah and drink tea. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK??? 🙈

Exhausted and…

nervous || I’m making a visit to the breast specialist tomorrow. It’s all probably fine and I’m probably fine and all manner of things will probably be fine. But still…nervous.

Exhausted and…

trying || to be less exhausted. It’s a little haphazard, but I find myself trying to go to bed earlier and giving myself permission to be more ruthless in my prioritization. Nothing has gotten less important, but I’ve realized I have to do the most important thing first because I can’t do #allthethings. And in being perfectly honest with myself, I realized that more sleep is really one of the most important things.  I hope that with a few months of more sleep I won’t keep being chased by the monster of “Perpetually Worn Down and Depleted.”

Exhausted and…

wistful || given that it’s the end of September, it’s probably time to admit that fall is really here, isn’t it? Summer went fast for me this year. I’ll miss her and her warm breezes, open windows, and bare feet.

Exhausted and…

hopeful || I went to a counselor last year, just a trial visit. I didn’t love it—she was nice enough, but it just wasn’t the best fit. Naturally, my thought process went like this:

Me: well, that one person didn’t work so I guess I’ll just never be able to find a counselor. It’s not even worth the effort. I’m sure I’ll be able to figure out how to be fine on my own.

Announcer: Heidi could not, in fact, figure it out on her own.

In a recent 2AM fit of anxiety, I remembered the name of a second counselor someone had suggested to me last year when I was looking for the original counselor. I wonder what counselors think when they see 2AM time stamps on emails? Like…whew boy…better get this one in quick. She’s gonna have a lot to work with! 😅  Anyway, we met a few weeks ago and I looooooove her. Why did I wait???  She listened to me for A WHOLE HOUR and she didn’t interrupt me or yell at me once <hi kids>. And she didn’t make me feel like an overly crazy lunatic, which I have felt when talking to other counselors. So I’m excited about this development. I’m excited to be listened to. I’m excited to have someone help me sort out my frustrations. I’m excited to have someone who’ll help me remember who I am, just me—not me the mother or me the homeschooler or me the whatever. I’m excited to let the light in again.

 

Currently…the (mostly) ‘w’ edition (two months later…)

via GIPHY

watching || Parks & Rec reruns. Again. I finished the series earlier this year and started it over almost immediately, I think about the time of Michael Cohen’s senate testimony? The government and the state of the world just seemed too messed up right about then, and I needed a little Leslie Knope inoculation.

wondering || about selling our house. Anyone have tried-and-true tips? I’m hoping we’ll list later this summer. We really need a 4th bedroom. Poor Isla–middle child, only daughter, and she shares a room with her little brother. She really needs some space! But the decluttering and projects that need to be done before that point…whoa! (Two months later update–summer? Maybe fall. Or…gulp…spring? Someday?)

waiting || for Tahd to come home. His next few months will involve lots of chaotic comings and goings, meaning a good dose of solo parenting. Tonight, Gabe asked me if he could go outside (in 20mph winds) and fly his drone.

To which I said no. Because a) wind, and b) when the drone gets broken in the wind, I can’t fix it.

To which he said, “I hate it when one parent is gone because then when the other one says no, you don’t have a second parent you can use on the appeal.”

Hashtag eyeroll…

walking || 40 miles in April–I hope! My mom and sisters and I set a goal to walk or run at least 40 miles in April. I made the kids come for a walk today and we did 0.8 miles. We’re going to have to up our games if we have any hopes of hitting 40! (Two month later update–I did it!)

via GIPHY

worrying || about school choices for next year. I’d intended to keep right on homeschooling, but then several of my chicklets expressed an interest in “regular” school. So now I’m second-guessing myself, considering options, attempting to have meaningful conversations about it with the kids, and generally obsessing over the weight of life’s problems. (Two months later update–homeschooling it is!)

wearing || this 5 second messy bun (check it out in her pinned stories; you can see it a little in my picture above) and IT IS CHANGING MY LIFE. Which may be a slightly dramatic overstatement, but also maybe not. I’ve been trying to go longer between hair washes, and this messy bun + dry shampoo let me get to day 6 (!!!) without too much difficulty. (Two months later update–still changing my life. And she started a podcast this week. It is as delightful as is 5 second hair!)

welcoming || spring. Who remembers when the Real Feel temp was -50? Yeah, wasn’t that long ago! All our snow is gone now and the birds are out and it’s light past dinner!

and a few extras because it doesn’t seem right without them…

reading || Sweep by Jonathan Auxier. Actually, I just finished it and just loved it. Until homeschooling, I’d forgotten how much I love middle grade literature. But in my quest to find great read-alouds our whole family can enjoy, I’ve rediscovered this range, and it is delightful! Sweet, not overly complicated but not totally saccharine, inventive, and quick to finish. I’ve also loved The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (series), Beyond the Pawpaw Trees, Tuesdays at the Castle, and the Green Ember series, and I have a few others on my nightstand to dig into soon. Sweep would be too old for my littles, so I read it alone. But Gabe picked it up when I was done with it and liked it pretty well, too.

Yes, I started this post in APRIL and am just now publishing it two months later. But I’m publishing it because better late than never? Maybe? Not sure about that, but I miss writing so I might as well start somewhere. 😉

At What Point Did I Become Qualified for This?

In the past month, several friends have taken their babies to their first years of college, dropped them off in a dorm.

And another friend said a different goodbye, a farewell to her father who’d lived a long, happy life but battled cancer toward the end.

Launching adults. Burying parents. How did this become my life stage? And who deemed me qualified to enter it?

They tell you adulthood is hard. It’s not that I feel tricked. But I think I thought I’d at least feel ready for each new phase, much like I was in childhood when I was chomping at the bit for each new thing…for the chance to start staying up late, to start wearing makeup, to drive a car, to be in charge of my own self…

At what point did I switch from begging to do things because I was old enough to wishing I was younger and didn’t have to be so responsible? Wrinkles be damned—I just don’t want to have to remember to pay all the bills! 😉

Kelly Corrigan wrote a popular memoir called “The Middle Place.” I haven’t read it because, well, see above. But I don’t think I actually have to read it to know—this must be the middle place. I think I’m in it right now.

And it feels weird.

What I expected to be a peace and self-assuredness actually feels like a place in which the guitar strings are strung very, very tightly. It’s tighter and less spacious than I expected, and I hope I don’t sneeze because everything might snap (and I might leak a little…thanks, kids…)

I didn’t expect the middle place to be so tender.

This is a word I’m using a lot lately—tender. It’s how life feels. It’s how I feel. I feel tender about the speed with which time passes. I feel tender about my growing babies. I feel tender about my marriage, about the things I thought would be different by now and about the ways I regret some of my interactions even still.

I remember bringing Gabe home from the hospital and clinging to the unspoken belief—it’s hard now, but once we adjust and get it figured out, it’ll be easier.

I’m realizing that was never true in the first place.

So I’ve been thinking about what’s actually true, not just what platitudes I’ve believed all along. And I think it’s this.

What’s true is that I only have this moment. Right now. The past was the past and I can’t go back. The future will come whether I’m ready or not. All that’s true is right now.

Stay in present in the moment. Breathing through the struggles. Maybe the mess, the busyness, the confusion, the fun, the adventures, the overwhelm will all seem more manageable if I’m looking at them one moment at a time.

Layers and Layers of Stories

I’m at Panera writing tonight, a little treat on which Tahd sends me around once a week. I call it a treat, but I think he calls is “my wife needs some alone time to regain the mental health she’s losing” time. Potato, potahto, am I right?

Tonight, across the restaurant from me sits a gentleman with whom I’d love to have a conversation. He looks gritty and a little tired, wearing dirty grey jeans and an old monochromatic t-shirt. A faded ball cap and a long, straggly white beard complete his look. But he has a laptop, which just doesn’t seem to go to me, on which he types with one finger at a time. It’s so curious to me.  What is he doing? What is he writing? What did he do before he got here? Why did he come to Panera to use his laptop?

In front of him—adjacent, not with him—sits a lady of a similar vintage. She looks friendly and grandmotherly, lost in a book and wearing purple pants, a peach sweater, and a winter coat slung over the back of her chair. It was 70 degrees here today, but it’s our first warm day and I’m betting she knows Wisconsin and that a 70 degree day means zilch and the weather can change on a dime. Also, she sports a hot pink swatch that wildly stripes her crown of white hair.  Another person for whom I have questions. Is it spray-on? Is it temporary? Who did it to her? And why?

Do you ever do that—wonder about people’s stories?

I was here a year or two back, at the same table, actually, and a pair of women sitting just across the fireplace captivated me. One in particular had the most contagious smile and positively exuded joy with her laughter, so it caught me especially off guard when I realized the purpose of the dinner was to share cancer stories.

I swear I don’t usually try to eavesdrop, but on this night, I couldn’t help myself. The older, mellower woman of the two had recently completed her treatment and their prognoses was exceedingly hopeful. They talked about health and energy and families and life in general with such honesty and hope.

I have a collection of anxious fixations, and getting cancer is one of them. Seeing these women face a terrifying situation with bravery and hope inspired me, and not just about the strength I might find if I every develop cancer. No, they seemed alive with purpose, like they’d been let in on a slice of the secret of life and weren’t going to waste a drop of it.

I’ve never forgotten them. Obviously I couldn’t know much about them from a short exposure, but they were special. That was clear.

I’ve long had a favorite article about memory-keeping and storytelling within families. But lately I’ve been thinking about stories in an even broader sense. We all carry stories with us, meandering through our everyday lives without noticing how they tumble out of us at unsuspecting moment, like while we’re at church or the grocery store or at Panera. Or we’re so stuck in our own stories and our own heads that we fail to notice the stories being lived out all around us by our loved ones, friends, and even strangers.

But stories are so powerful. The very best communicators have always shared through stories. Jesus taught through stories. How do you capture the heart and mind of a young child? Read or tell them stories.

Stories enrich. Stories make sense of. Stories mirror. Stories clarify.

I want to come more alive to these stories. I want to be the kind of woman who is generous with her story so others can connect with it how they see fit. I want to be the kind of friend who listens attentively to others’ stories, not just with my ears but with my heart. I want to be the kind of wife who empowers her husband to be confident in his story and the kind of mother who is passionate about helping her children tell their own stories, not the stories that she supposes they should tell. I want to be the kind of woman who isn’t so scared or busy or distracted that I live unaffected by the stories of the strangers around me.

The pink-haired woman is putting on a nasal oxygen kit, and I see there must be another part of her story of which I wasn’t aware before this moment. Layers, really, that’s what we are. Layers and layers of stories. That’s what makes a life. And those stories have power.

(Side note ~ I wrote this story a number of months ago, and it sat, unedited, in my folder of drafts. There’s more to this story now, much more I wasn’t expecting, but at the rate I’m writing it’ll take me half a year to get it down, so I wanted to share this part now. <3)

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