Peaks and Valleys

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It’s 2 am and a jolting spasm curves up my legs to the lumbar region of my spine. Painful is not how I would describe the sensation, but is certainly uncomfortable. My room is spilling over with an abundance of pillows. Body pillows, wedge pillows, foam pillows, small pillows, big pillows, flat pillows, fat pillows; if it’s on the market I own it. As I turn over my stomach gnaws at me urging me upright. Saltine crackers and anti-nausea medication have become a staple in my diet. I’m constantly fluctuating between a state of feeling ill and running low-grade temperatures and not being “ill “per say but not feeling like myself. I definitely do not feel like myself. My body has a vast list of symptoms and my emotional state is far from what would be typical for me. Some may call it PTSD, or post surgical depression, generalized anxiety, etc. Label it what you want, I am simply in a place where my mind and emotions have now caught up to my body, and it is a tough place to be. Everyone tells you it will be great to be on the other side of it, and I know what they are trying to say…but being on the other side is the time you finally have a moment to breathe and internalize what has happened. For anyone who has gone through a major medical challenge, you know what I’m preaching and you know how tough it truly is. Grateful to be healing, but struggling to let your emotions run their course

As physical healing increases my emotional and spiritual health is challenged. I’ve gone through the fight, I’ve gone through the trauma and now “the dust settles”. It’s kind of like this:

  • Pre-Tumor – What is wrong with me? Am I overly concerned about how I feel? I know something is wrong with my body but 3 Doctors have told me I’m fine. It’s anxiety, or a pinched nerve. It will pass.
  • Doctors Office– Okay I have a tumor. SHIT I have a tumor. In my spinal column? I didn’t even know that was possible. I have to have surgery. I have to have it in less than 2 weeks. I have to tell my family. I don’t know if it’s cancerous. I don’t know where it came from. I should have listened to myself sooner. I should have known I had a tumor. How could I not know?
  • Surgeons Office- You have no medical options. You are at risk for paralysis, death, spinal fluid leaking, and permanent nerve damage. We need to do an emergency surgery. Those are the only words I heard.
  • Post-Surgery– Primarily terrifying for the first 3 days. Pain beyond belief the 7 days following.
  • Home Recovery– After a few tough days I made a steady increase of improvement and I still am. Physically I began healing extremely well. Now we are at week 4 and I’m just beginning to internalize some of the more difficult emotional aspects of what has happened. It’s as if my body said…okay…we can only take care of one trauma at a time so all of our resources are going to be toward healing your body to a place of stabilization. Now that I’ve reached that foundation my emotions have kicked in and are running ramped. So, what is next?

First and foremost I will not make myself to believe I shouldn’t be feeling these things. I’ve I’m withdrawn and processing the experience it is okay. If I don’t face the emotions and memories now I will not find peace. I will not “just” pray about it. I will feel it. There is no shame in being in a relationship with a living God, receiving his grace, being grateful for his mercy, and STILL not being “Okay.” Too often we tell people who are going through something traumatic to “just pray about it” or instead of saying “what can I do for you?” Granted, not everyone can do something, and often times even if you reach out the person processing a trauma will not really know how to receive help, but the actual act of REACHING OUT is what is important. It is another example of the strength that comes with community. It says, I see you, I hear you, I care about you, and helping you in some way no matter how small is a priority.

If you’re wondering if I’m saying this because I feel somehow that my friends have not reached out, just know, that is not the case. I’m saying this specifically because I now know that had the people in my life not reached out in community I would not be where I am in recovery. My friends in the area here and beyond have been so attentive and receptive to my needs, and for that I am more grateful than they know. I’m also communicating this because often when we are the one wishing to reach out and not the person/family in trauma it feels awkward and uncertain. What can I do? What do I say? Will I bother them if I call? What is their greatest need?

Call. Ask. Be uncomfortable. It is important.

 Being in authentic community with one another takes work. It does not always fit our schedule and we have to be resourceful with our time, energy, and even funds at times. Authentic community breeds on our willingness to admit that we need each other’s encouragement, honesty, joy, and occasional tough love. I think there are too many people skimming through life in surface relationships that leave little room for personal and spiritual growth. Instead of “just saying it” whatever “it” may be, we skate around and try to figure out how to be in the relationship without being vulnerable to rejection and/or discomfort.

My journey through this trial has been a series of peaks and valleys. I’ve had moments of profound gratefulness and I’ve had moments of resentment coupled with a handful of self- pity. I’ve had days where God’s Grace overwhelmed me and I’ve had days where I’ve been angry with God that this had to happen, and of course I’ve felt shame for feeling that way. After all, have I not had my prayers answered? Can I not here and testify God’s faithfulness? Am I not an example of his love? Sure I am. But, as I said before, I will still allow myself to process, to feel, and to be. However that may look, it is okay. God has taken me through the valleys and he’s asked me to wait on his timing, and if I’ve learned anything from this it is that HIS timing IS perfect. Had it been even a month later I would not likely be where I am. I certainly would not be healing the way that I am. I would not have had the surgeon I did, nor the wonderful nurses. God’s timing is perfect. He does not bring the pain but he will pull you through it. All we have to do is show up, walk with him through the peaks and valleys, and breathe. Everyday. Thank you for your love and for being in community with me. We are Christ to one another.

Depression: Why We Stay Stuck

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The silence isn’t quiet, nor is it innocent. It’s not the type of silence you relish as in nature. Contrarily the silence carries with it chaos so insistent you cannot begin to organize yourself in such a way as to address it. Depression is not something you are but rather something that is. A spirit so dense it consumes, fogs, and corrupts even the brightest of minds. Depression is not the overgeneralized commercials during primetime television. Depression runs deep, and it’s dark, and it is so lonely. In fact, I think that what penetrates depression above all else is the feeling of loneliness that completely engulfs your state of being. I hear a lot of chatter about “breaking the stigma” of mental illness. Is this necessary and is it true? Absolutely. Is medication appropriate in treating depression? Absolutely. Granted, medication may not be for everyone, and I don’t think it is meant to sustain us, but there is of course irrefutable evidence that depression is impacted to various degrees by serotonin levels in our brain. Here are some aspects of depression I think we sometimes fail to talk about that are (in my mind) relevant. Mental illness is a touchy subject because you don’t want to be “that insensitive jerk” who “just doesn’t get it”. Most likely, we can all say we have experienced depression, but that does not mean we all experience or respond to depression the same way. Therefore, every person to some degree has his or her own definition of depression.

For me, college was a time of what felt like never ending trials. Particularly in my second year of school I had made some poor choices in relationships. School was time consuming but it wasn’t challenging, and I wanted a challenge. Being away from my friends and family who were familiar became a bit of a strain, at this time, mostly because I had not met who would be my true friends yet. Instead I found myself in one of those “it will never happen to me” situations. The details of that situation are not explicitly the point here, but rather, the depression that followed. As I attempted to “manage” my situation, my situation managed me. Everything that I thought I knew about myself shifted, and I entered crisis mode. My spirit was resting on a bed of emotions I had not welcomed willingly. In a sense it is safe to say that this situation was imposed upon me. This is not to say I did everything right, but, I certainly did not consciously invite the pain. Regularly I felt a combination of the following emotions, as I believe most who have suffered depression do.

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Grief
  • Shame
  • Loneliness
  • Self-Pity
  • Sadness

 

Depression: Finding Myself Again

 When I was severely depression I was detached from my family, my friends, and myself. No one could help me, no god could save me, and no amount of coursework could distract me from the darkness I dwelled in. Above all, I was angry. My anger and anxiety raged in a way that made me unrecognizable to myself. I played and endless game of “What if?” and “Why me” with myself. Had it not been for the mentorship of one of my professors I would have made the choice to drop out and head for the hills, leaving behind a full academic scholarship. I had zero appreciation for anything or anyone and all I really wanted was to take sleeping pills earlier in the evening than I should have. I began to resent life itself, I was tired of jumping through emotional hoops everyday, all day, just to get by. Let’s skip ahead about 8 months, because I don’t have time to write about it and you don’t have time to read about it. Down the road I began to resent myself, instead of my situation. Everything I thought I was projecting outward and was the victim to I was actually taking in. The situation I had been dealing with had greatly altered my state of being, yes…but…the truth is I had not done anything to help myself. I suppose you could say I accepted the “victim role.” I had to begin to be honest with myself. After months and months of just surviving I came up for air long enough to look at the situation differently. Instead of being angry, I could use the pain to gain wisdom. Instead of shaming myself for what had happened, I could be gracious toward myself for eventually putting an end to the chaos. Instead of living in a cycle of self-sabotage I could use the trial to propel me in pursuit of academic/professional goals. Instead of being lonely, I could reach out to relationships I trusted. I did have options. Depression was no longer something I could take anymore of. True emotional rock bottom is not depression, it is when depression becomes so paralyzing that you are compelled to get up and move toward healing.

Why We Stay Stuck

The last statement in the above paragraph is the premise of this answer. I believe both from personal experience and from the testimony of others that people who never come out of a depression stay stuck for this reason; they begin to claim themselves as such. Instead of saying “I’m suffering with depression” it becomes a constant state of “I am depressed.” It becomes easier to identify with the emotion(s) or state of depression as opposed to acknowledging the depression without identifying with it. In other words, do not become friends with your depression. I realize to some that may sound asinine, after all, why would you want to befriend depression? Well, you wouldn’t. That much is obvious. What I am implying is that when we stay stuck for so long it becomes easier to stay stuck. Instead of being vulnerable with others and trusting the process of testifying to our emotions we keep them “safe” inside where they are in fact festering, multiplying, and slowly bringing us closer to seeing a “normalcy” to depression. Depression is not normal and is not something we are. It is, however, a very real struggle with very real debilitating symptoms. I am in no way undermining the severity of depression but I am suggesting something that a Doctor would not tell you to be true, has some truth. Keep in mind, I am telling you as much as I am reminding myself. I had in essence become so comfortable with being depressed that I enabled my own fall. Naturally as I began to slowly leave the fog of depression and recognize some of these patters (not alone mind you, I did reach out to an older mentor) I was able to process some of the emotions that were overwhelming me. Nothing happened over night. Truthfully the depression became worse at first, because it was now fighting for a place in my soul. One part of me was trying to rise up, while one part of me wanted to stay down. One part of me knew what the victim looked like, while the other part of me wondered what the more mature version of myself on the other side might look like. Nonetheless I’ll tell you what I did, and how I recovered, again I’ll note…very slowly.

Recovery

In an effort to make a long story short I can sum it up this way: God orchestrated a relationship that arrived in perfect timing. I am to this day very close to the individual who took me in and helped me recover. She has a family, a very active and busy family at that. Yet, she recognized something in me I could not see at the time. Her and her husband took me in, insisted on it actually. I slept on the couch, or in the guest room. I came and went at my leisure. I did my best to hold it together around her kids, but overall I was a wreck. She showed me a love like Christ just as I was. She did not expect anything from me expect that I work on getting better. To this day, I’m not sure that had I not put a step of faith forward to engage in that opportunity for relationship I wouldn’t still be depressed. Let me be clear: She didn’t “Cure” my depression, but she did facilitate an environment/support system that enabled me to safely address my depression. I realize not everyone, probably not even most people, will be blessed with that. However, at the end of the day I had to stand up for myself. I had to choose where I would lean, and I chose to lean into my faith. Instead of trying to “manage” I began to (slowly) let Christ fight for me. It may sound dumb, but it is so true. If you can’t relate to or take away anything else from this blog for yourself remember this; you will either become comfortable being a victim or you won’t. There is no in between. I’m not suggesting you don’t go through the depression, but I am insisting that you reach out and let someone help you get to the place of not becoming a friend of depression. For me, I believe that the relationship I had was Christ’s way of using my friend as an instrument to do just that; help me say goodbye to the friend depression had become. In my experience it became another example of God’s Grace to me; his never ending pursuit of me, and his willingness to meet me in a way I could receive him at that time. My story is just one of many stories. Whatever your story may be, do not give up hope, and do not befriend the darkness that buries your spirit. Be strong, be present, and expect Grace to guide you to a new season

A Personal Note on Faith: Control, Brokenness, and the Role of Relationships.

faith-header.jpgHypothetically speaking, if someone were to approach you with an outline of your life, how would you respond? IF there ever was a way to know exactly when life would throttle us through peaks, valleys, and wide turns would there be any purpose in faith? If someone had told me 10 years ago that in 2014 I would graduate college and in 2016 I would have a life threatening tumor what would I have likely done? I would have worried for 2 years, perhaps not finished school, and it would all be over something that God already had handled. Our human nature, and the biggest complaint I hear from friends is the lack of control that comes with being a human in this crazy world. Nothing is promised, yet amidst it all I see people fight through hardships. See, we think that what we need is answers, but in my life it has always been true that what I needed more than anything was faith.

On that note I want to clarify a few things both for the readers who do not know my personal background and for those who do not know me well on a personal level: I have not always been a believing, faith filled individual. I have not had unwavering faith, and in fact, I do not encourage it because I do not believe it exists. There is no shame in questioning the existence of Jesus Christ. You should explore faith and your spiritual relationship to the father outside of religion, outside of a building, and outside of “unwavering” Christian friends. You should put it to the test and against trials. Doing so does not weaken your faith, it strengthens it, and that is because Christ is faithful. He will meet you wherever you are, even if it is in the midst of fleeing him.

I was, as many of you know, raised in a Christian home. Sure, we went to church as a family, and I was introduced to Christ, but those are not the years I remember. I remember the years my parents stopped going to church because it was then that I truly understood that being the church was more important than going to church. It was then that I understood that watching my parents give their time, money, and love to others was church. So, when I say that I have not always been a believer I am simply saying that I have many times stepped away from my faith. I’ve questioned God, I’ve questioned what Church looks like at in its most ideal structure and I’ve questioned what being a “Christian” really means. Here is what I have found out; Christ was clear…we are to love one another. Churches can build the biggest buildings with the most members and the most sheik furniture but unless people are connecting with one another on an authentic level it is all a waste of money. What’s more, and this is a question you can answer for yourself, if Church is a place for community and connection is it set in stone that this requires a building with formal schedules/events? Another line of thought, what does your relationship with Christ look like without the Church as it is currently? In all honesty I think a fair amount of well-intentioned believers would really struggle to answer that question. Anyways, I can go to Church, and I can believe in Christ, but unless I am out in my community (wherever that may be at the time) being Christ- Like to others, my faith begins and ends with me.

Moving along, hopefully with a better understanding of how I view spirituality and relationship I want to return to the original statement about calling into question our quest for control amidst life’s uncertainties. Most of us approach our relationship with Christ one of two ways.

  • We live primarily dependent on our relationships, our accomplishments, and ourselves. We take life on constantly bracing for impact and hoping we can skim by day-to-day doing it “our way” because at least “our way” feels in control. Christ becomes secondary to our need for control and it isn’t until our efforts fail that we reach out to him in desperation.
  • We lead a pretty disciplined spiritual life, but tend to still feel “stuck”. It seems like we do the right things, and we stay present to Christ call on our life, yet…we fall short of feeling like we have done much of anything that matters. We wonder if and when and how God will use us. Sometimes life feels pretty good, but all too often it can seem like a few days of even plain followed by weeks of going uphill.

 Notice there is no option that says, “Everything is perfect, God is good, I am using my gifts. My kids are on point, my spouse loves me wholly, and my Church is flawless. I have friends in every corner of the world, I love my body, my mind is at ease, and work is a breeze.”

Now, I have heard Christians “talk at” me this way. You will typically spot these individuals, because they talk at you not to you. They are trying to meet their needs by impressing upon you their version of what is most likely an extremely chaotic spiritual life. More likely, they live in an illusion where they are Christ to themselves and by God, you will know it by the time they leave.

Instead however let’s say that you’re reading this and you’re thinking…I’m definitely some version of option 1 and 2. Let me tell you something that I have come to learn in the last 3 months specifically. Jesus Christ is the author of my life. My story as already been written. Sure, I have the free will to throw the book down and pout or live outside of my calling, but in the end…the book will still be there where I left it. Christ is not asking us to put our Faith in something that has not already been promised. I almost hate to even say that because it sounds like such a Christian Cliché where you’re like “Umm where the hell are these promises, my life is hard.” Here is the unpopular truth of God’s promises; We live in a world where people use their free will against one another instead of for one another, and as a result we experience pain that truthfully could often be avoided. Life is unfair, and it is painful, but it is important to remember that God did not create or facilitate these problems, but he did promise to give us what we need to subside the noise amidst these problems. So often we are waiting on God. Waiting on his voice in prayer. Waiting on him to make a move in our favor. Waiting for the finances to come in. Waiting for the job to arrive. Waiting for the spouse. Waiting for the kids to grow up make us proud. We are always waiting. We wait so much that we miss it most of the time. See, God is always in pursuit of us. He will fulfill the desires of your heart, he will speak to you, he will bring the money in, and he will give your children the grace they need to grow…but why would he do anything if we are simply waiting on him like a Genie? As if to say; listen I know we don’t know each other real well but here’s what I need. This is where it breakdowns and this is where I think we have failed to be honest with one another. A checklist does not determine your faith, nor does Church attendance, or by what others say about you. Faith is not a set of doctrine, a fancy worship song that just “moves you”. Faith is hard. Faith is uncomfortable. Faith is contrary to human nature. Faith is out of control.

Let me leave you with this; a statement about when I knew my life went from being a Christian to being Christ-Centered, and how I went from being faithless to faithful.

I knew I went from being a Christian to being Christ-Centered when I stopped going to Church. For me it was necessary to evaluate my faith, and my relationship to God outside of a structure I felt was familiar but not satisfying to me at the time. I spent my mornings with God and I found God in places no one had ever told me to look. Then I realized it wasn’t about where I “looked” but by the eagerness in my heart to seek him. If where you are right now doesn’t get you excited about your spiritual life, reroute.

I knew I was faithless when I sat at the top of my stairs in college, smoking a cigarette and downing a beer one Sunday morning after being hung-over from the night before. Here there was no one to “show up” for. I could drown myself in self-pity. I was angry because college had presented me with some pretty harsh trials. I felt as though God was not just absent, but intentionally hurting me. Everything in my spirit lay deep with depression. I was disconnected from almost everyone, and I ran as far away from God as I could. One night I had decided to take a drive. It was and always has been one of many ways I like to shake off emotions and zone in on music. On this particular night I drove past a man who appeared to be homeless. It was about 2 in the morning, dead of winter, and I could not help but feel this deep-seated urgency to tend to him. As I drove back around the block, and approached him, I could see that he was crying. I offered him a cigarette and asked him to get in my car to warm up. He gratefully accepted my offer and as I sat there with a homeless man in my car I felt like I was staring down the state of my insides; Cold, alone, in pain, sad, and unworthy of love. After a long silence the man proclaimed, “You know, God is good. After all, here you are.” I nearly cried right in front of him. Christ is in us and we are Christ to one another. Faith is being faithful. Faith is being out of control. Faith is not knowing where you’re going to sleep or when you’re going to eat but knowing that someone will be Christ to you. I’ll say it again; FAITH is being OUT of control.

Much Love and Many Blessings,

Anna Marie

 

 

Why I write

Lately I find myself making valiant efforts to grow my library. My tendency is to consume as much literature as possible in the seasons of life where it is plausible. Furthermore, I have never been interested in any one genre. I tend to stay away from “self help” books because, well, I rarely find them helpful. In fact I think they are incredibly biased and often rooted and written out of shame. That’s a blog for another time, perhaps. My driving point here is that despite my urge to want to read, it often ends with me wanting to put the book down and write. Something shifts in me and I feel compelled to write. Here is what I find interesting though; up until recently my writing has been almost entirely private. Many of you reading this blog have reached out to me and complimented these little pieces of my worded. Little do you know I am typing these up on my cell phone with little to no attention to the overall framework of what I would consider organized writing resembles. This is not to belittle myself or disregard your praise, but it does reveal what I already believed to be true. Writing does not matter unless it connects. It doesn’t matter if you write sentences that flow flawlessly, have perfect punctuation, or the most refined vocabulary. If you write without transparency your words will fall on deaf ears. The truth is that I am okay if no one ever reads what I write, because writing is therapeutic to me; a way that I can sort the shuffle in my mind. Regardless of this truth, these are the reasons I will share my writing with you, should you care to know.

-I think we live in a culture that says a lot without saying anything at all. Everyone is posting, tweeting, and perfecting the face of their social media networks, but most often we are speaking at each other, not to one another. Don’t misunderstand me, I think social networks have there place, but they should never replace relationship. It is important that we think more about being meaningful and intentional in our pursuit to lead relationships in “real time.” When I write I feel as though I am able to have conversations with the reader, in ways that give you a clear vision of who I am or aspire to be. It opens doors for new conversations and even new relationships. By giving you my words I give you a piece of who I am.

-We all have a testimony. Every single person reading this blog has faced trials and overcome personal hardships. There are a few hundred of you reading each post. Some of you message me or email me. Some of you are fighting. Some of you are hurting. Some of you have reached the point of wanting to end it all. You may not feel able to, or want to put those testimonies in writing but, I will, and the reason I will is because you don’t feel able to. My encouragement to you is to never stop allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Be vulnerable. Our vulnerability can be really frightening but it can also be the most direct line to one another. Don’t go bearing your heart to the gossip queen of your crew, but slowly ease out of the gate and test people. See who they are and what they are about. My hope is that in an effort to be somewhat vulnerable with you I can be a blessing to your journey. I won’t tell you everything, not everything is to be told, but I promise to tell you what I believe matters and applies to most, if not all of us.

-Writing to me is the equivalent of a personal history book of sorts. The other day I found a notebook I’ve been hoarding for years. It’s just a silly notebook full of Middle School poetry that truly means nothing to me now other than a good laugh and a sigh of disbelief. So why would I be reluctant to toss it? It feels like a part of my personal history book. Dumb as it may seem to me now, it was at one point the height of my emotional processing poured out onto paper. Writing keeps me accountable to the times in my life that drive me toward growth. For that reason, I consider this little side hobby worth continuing.

This little blog has already opened up a lot of conversation with individuals I would not have expected would reach out to me. To those of you who have, thank you. Sincerely. You can and will overcome your present situations. Lean into Christ. Don’t over analyze your relationship to him. He is always in pursuit of you, you just need to slow down enough to hear him. I will write if you will listen and if you ever need someone to talk to I will give you my attention. This is why I write. I write because it connects people to one another and to emotions that get lost in the shuffle of everyday life. I write for the people I love, and I love A LOT of people. In conclusion l ask that you state your preference of he’s my next blog entry should be based on the titles below…

“Day 6: A body in motion”
“Sugarcoated Faith”
“Pedestals of Shame”

The courage and compassion found in a complete stranger.

 

imageAmong the many challenges of recovery I am discovering that my mental capacity for addressing adversity is crucial. Cognitively speaking, adhering to an emotional state of mind essentially equates to a diversion of progress. For instance, this morning I woke up feeling restless in mind, body, and spirit. Instead of addressing my emotions, regrouping, and moving forward I convinced myself that in light of vast alternatives these feelings were invalid. In an effort to be “strong” I retreated all shame resilience and completely forwent any opportunity for allowing self compassion. Often times, when we face trials and others tell us we are “strong” or “courageous” what they mean and what we hear are entirely different. To put it simply; we draw strength from one another’s trials by being a witness to the testimony of one another’s embracing of ourselves. When people say, “Anna you are so strong, keep your head up” what they are really saying, cognizant of it or not, is this: I see you owning your story, just as it is, and for that reason you are strong. So why is it that more often than not when we face a trial it takes us longer than everyone else to see the triumph? Why is it that I resonate deep compassion for others but struggle to allow myself compassion? What will it take to own my story, each and every day, even if it means accepting emotions I perceive as “invalid.” Grace. I refer to the word Grace insensately. I am well aware of this…but…the power of Grace is so irrefutable. Nothing and no one can paralyze my spirit when I receive Grace in my most vulnerable moments. To illustrate a picture of Grace as it was demonstrated to me today, I want to share with you what I encountered.

Late this afternoon I decided to leave the house with my parents. Today has been particularly exhausting, which is another blog in itself. The point is that at this point my pain was high, my morale low, and my legs weak. Despite my current state, cabin fever has been fervent lately and I could not pass up an opportunity to venture out. One of the stops on the list was of course, Wal-Mart. Originally I had planned on using one of the mobile karts, but upon entering the store I witnessed a young woman maybe five years older than myself in a wheelchair. She was paralyzed from the waist down. Now normally my compassion would kick into high drive and I would strike up easy conversation with her. I would want to interject the stares encroaching her. I would intend on serving as a reminder of the goodness of human kind. I would want her to know, foremost, that she is not an issue. She is a soul and she is a spirit and she is loved. Unfortunately that is not how the situation played out. Upon seeing her there, unable to move her lower extremities I lost my breath. My heart sank and my eyes filled with tears. Promptly, I asked my mother to bring me back to the car. Understandably, my mother was concerned that I was hurt or in extreme pain. Neither was true. I explained that I needed to get to the car, and once I did, I lost it. Call it PTSD, triggered, or shocked. Call it whatever you want. I was heaving for air for two reasons.

1.) I realized that could have been me. It was a very plausible outcome has I not had surgery in time and it was a risk with surgery. I have seen people in her situation time and time again, but it today it felt like I had seen it for the first time.

2.) My compassion for her was overwhelming. Perhaps to the point of ignorance I wanted to DO something for her. I wanted to lift her up and carry her out of the store and away from the gaze of strangers. I wanted to stand her up and let her lean into me. I wanted to befriend her if only for a moment.

I was not just crying for myself but also for her…because to even have been given a dose of what is her lifelong condition bereaved me. Some may say that this blog sounds overly sympathetic, maybe even offensive…perhaps she was a confident and strong minded young lady? For the record I am sure she is; I could sense it. I don’t want you to hear that I felt she was inadequate. I want you to hear that for me seeing her reminded me of the immense Grace I’ve been resting in. But Anna you’ve said it yourself, there is fear and shame and frustration. Yes, but with those emotions comes incredibly present weakness. Yet, instead of drowning in my weakness I have a relationship with an ever present father who makes himself so known to me amidst the chaos. His Grace doesn’t just suffice, it generates life. Grace has the power to stare humanity in the face and say…sweetheart I see you. I see that your body failed you but that your spirit is something of a warrior. Grace leaves you in a parking lot crying for a stranger; both because you feel extreme gratefulness that it ended differently for you, and you feel extreme shame that it ended differently for you.

Here’s where maturity matters. I can dwell in this place. I can be shamed and triggered…or I can simply open myself to the wound. In doing so I will make myself available to the next person who needs what I have to offer in reaching out. Not necessarily someone of physical disability, just…anyone. If I curl up in a ball and feel sorry for myself or shame myself for my story I will disservice myself AND those who need the gifts inside me. So, whether the emotions are fleeting or familiar I will face them. Day by day, week by week. Being courageous is owning your story. As I take on new journeys with courage I encourage you to do the same. No matter the trial, do not stand on a foundation of guilt or shame. You will not grow there and your feet will be without direction. Ground yourself in Grace, settle into compassion, and be humble. Grasp onto opportunities to be a light to others. Rid yourself of the rigidness of religion, for therein lies entitlement. Love others without contingency, and take in people of all venues. Our stories are meant to intersect, our compassion toward one another is peace, and courage will always come in moments of owning our stories. Be blessed and be a blessing.

Day 5: Desperation

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Desperation; also known as one of the most humbling words in the vocabulary of human nature. It goes against every barricade that is our illusive sense of “Control.” Desperation is intolerable, leaving us with little or no hope for rejuvenation. Desperation is the spiritual “high point”. A realm where we can give and receive all things without fighting flaws of flesh we latch to. In the fullest extent of irony I yearn for the next opportunity for the kind of desperation I felt not only on Day 5, but also, throughout the week. As painful and uncomfortable and even maddening as it was at times, it provided a window of clarity that simply does not come in the comfort of everyday life. In the evening of Day 4 I was informed that my status was considered stable enough to move to an intermediate care floor. As I was wheeled through the hallways of the Hospital life met me. Though it had only been a few days in the ICU, it felt like a lifetime. Thomas wheeled me, smiling big as life. “Anna you are going down a floor which means you don’t need my expertise anymore. I’m not going to lie, everyone else may take a close 2nd to me, but you will definitely receive good care.” Now that the drugs were lessening I told Thomas what I really had wanted to say for some time. “Thank you Thomas. You should know that you helped me feel safe. That means more than you will ever know. I know you probably have days where you are tired of giving but try to remember that you are one of the few who aren’t afraid to look humanity in the face in the darkest of moments. Thank you for everything.” We had arrived on my new floor. Thomas spun me around quickly upon entering my new room and told me to hang tight. I looked around. The room was simple, peaceful, and far more comfortable. The far side of the room where a fourth wall would have been was an open wall made up of window from ceiling to floor. A change of scenery was something I did not take lightly at this point. Thomas flew around the corner, hugged me gently from behind, and handed me a flower. “Now I am not going to lie, I may have a friend in the florist department who tossed me an ‘at risk’ rose…but kind of like you… it’s ‘at risk’ but making a real comeback.” My eyes filled with tears and my heart sped with gratefulness. I’m not sure how many Disney movies Thomas watched as a young boy but he had this whole prince charming thing DOWN. Now for those of you wondering no I don’t have a crush on Thomas. After everything I’ve told you, trust me, I would tell you if I did. The reason he is so central to these blogs is merely because in many ways he was Christ to me. He was a safe place. He was a smile. He was a laugh…and…he didn’t judge my tornado of a hairdo. Instead he acted as if it was all normal and to him it probably was. As Thomas left I gathered myself and took in the new environment. My parents followed closely behind and let out a sigh of relief similar to mine at the significance of being in a new place. “Oh Honey, this is beautiful and what a view!” My mother would no longer be crammed in the corner. In true fashion my father carefully examined my new room, particularly intrigued that my view was in sight diagonally. While I wanted to be in high spirits my body had other plans. Grimacing I searched for the nurse call button. A few minutes later a small woman of Indian decent arrived smiling from ear to ear. After introducing herself she, along with my parents, helped me stand. Instantly I felt discouraged. My legs buckled slightly. Eyes blurry and back searing with pain it remains a mystery to me how my body stayed up. It’s fascinating really, how much our bodies fight for us. We are walking, talking, resilient beings. My father supports me as I sit on the edge of the bed. His face looks worn. In my 25 years of being their daughter, I’ve never witnessed the strain of their faces quite like i had this week. The nurse, in her sincerest attempt to help me get comfortable lying down, failed miserably. Correction: it was damn near impossible for anyone to make me comfortable. Before she could grab pillow 1 of 8 I was screaming in agony, begging for help, and ready for whatever medication may come next. About that, bad news; I no longer had a “push button” for pain control. Instead I would be on a strict 4 hour regimen of Oxycodone , Valium, Stool Softeners, and Anti-Nausea. Since I know you’re all wondering, no I have not pooped yet, and yes I did have a 6’2 nurse tower over me and proudly exclaim they were not afraid to bring out the “big guns” in the event I didn’t poop. Let me tell you, there is nothing weirder than being given an allotted “poop time” OR ELSE. Also since I know you now want to know, I stepped up and performed. No “big guns” came out. Like i said, prayers do matter. “Anna I need you to try breathing and relaxing”. If I heard ONE more person tell me that I was going to freak. My patience was wearing thin and the lack of control I have undergone was beginning to send me into an emotional tailspin. I would like to tell you a spiritual intervention happened here, but that isn’t so. Not because Christ has stopped pursuing me but because I had stopped pursuing him. I was in fact approaching stage one of desperation. Desperate, but not desperate enough to not be angry, and anger….well….anger is actually a product of fear. Consider a moment in your life when you have been terrified. I guarantee you’re emotions made waves. I called a good friend of mine, who answered the phone at all hours of the night God love her, and I told her I “couldn’t do it”. Not only was that unacceptable but I kind of felt afraid by her comeback. Not in an actual “I’m scared” kind of way but in an “oh wow this lady must love me, she’s speaking TRUTH kind of way.” She may have felt at the time that her words fell on deaf ears but little did she know her words served as a mental redirection. My roller coaster was off the rails and she picked the whole thing up and tossed it right back on. What a blessing it is to have friends liken that. As we hung up I decided to pray. I told God I was angry. I didn’t understand why this had happen. I essentially went into “pity party” mode and could have kicked I would have. Instead I just screamed. Then it happened, you know, IT. My father came in, took my hand and said “I hate seeing you in so much pain. I’m so sorry you are going through this. I’m going to stay with you until I know you’re okay.” This is why earthly fathers matter. I am convinced that my earthly father has time and time again treated me with as much grace and love as a human can deliver. My father, right there in the flesh, was my Gods best effort in that moment to show himself. It is important to realize, that God cannot be confined. If you put him in a box you will never get the actual gift. He is in CONSTANT pursuit of us. No church, no ritual, and no deed can undo his desire for our heart. In fact, I believe it is arrogant to believe otherwise. I believe that we are not to be motivated by what “Christians” are “supposed” to do but by WHO Christ is and what HE promised. So as I lay there, a 25 year old adult, crippled with fear…my father met me. He came to me and he promised that he would not leave me until my fear subsided. That is gods grace. Though my pride and pity had me undone and angry at my Heavenly Father, so God sent me an Earthly Father to persist in the place that in that moment I would not. I am undeserving but my father is unrelenting. If you had any shadow of a doubt I am here to tell you that MY God IS unrelenting. Call on him and he will come. It may not be in spirit as we are not always willing, but he will make his way to us. Somehow, some way…he will make his way to us.

Desperation; also known as one of the most humbling words in the vocabulary of human nature. It goes against every barricade that is our illusive sense of “Control.” Desperation is intolerable, leaving us with little or no hope for rejuvenation. Desperation is the spiritual “high point”. A realm where we can give and receive all things without fighting flaws of flesh we latch to. In the fullest extent of irony I yearn for the next opportunity for the kind of desperation I felt not only on Day 5, but also, throughout the week. As painful and uncomfortable and even maddening as it was at times, it provided a window of clarity that simply does not come in the comfort of everyday life. In the evening of Day 4 I was informed that my status was considered stable enough to move to an intermediate care floor. As I was wheeled through the hallways of the Hospital life met me. Though it had only been a few days in the ICU, it felt like a lifetime. Thomas wheeled me, smiling big as life. “Anna you are going down a floor which means you don’t need my expertise anymore. I’m not going to lie, everyone else may take a close 2nd to me, but you will definitely receive good care.” Now that the drugs were lessening I told Thomas what I really had wanted to say for some time. “Thank you Thomas. You should know that you helped me feel safe. That means more than you will ever know. I know you probably have days where you are tired of giving but try to remember that you are one of the few who aren’t afraid to look humanity in the face in the darkest of moments. Thank you for everything.” We had arrived on my new floor. Thomas spun me around quickly upon entering my new room and told me to hang tight. I looked around. The room was simple, peaceful, and far more comfortable. The far side of the room where a fourth wall would have been was an open wall made up of window from ceiling to floor. A change of scenery was something I did not take lightly at this point. Thomas flew around the corner, hugged me gently from behind, and handed me a flower. “Now I am not going to lie, I may have a friend in the florist department who tossed me an ‘at risk’ rose…but kind of like you… it’s ‘at risk’ but making a real comeback.” My eyes filled with tears and my heart sped with gratefulness. I’m not sure how many Disney movies Thomas watched as a young boy but he had this whole prince charming thing DOWN. Now for those of you wondering no I don’t have a crush on Thomas. After everything I’ve told you, trust me, I would tell you if I did. The reason he is so central to these blogs is merely because in many ways he was Christ to me. He was a safe place. He was a smile. He was a laugh…and…he didn’t judge my tornado of a hairdo. Instead he acted as if it was all normal and to him it probably was. As Thomas left I gathered myself and took in the new environment. My parents followed closely behind and let out a sigh of relief similar to mine at the significance of being in a new place. “Oh Honey, this is beautiful and what a view!” My mother would no longer be crammed in the corner. In true fashion my father carefully examined my new room, particularly intrigued that my view was in sight diagonally. While I wanted to be in high spirits my body had other plans. Grimacing I searched for the nurse call button. A few minutes later a small woman of Indian decent arrived smiling from ear to ear. After introducing herself she, along with my parents, helped me stand. Instantly I felt discouraged. My legs buckled slightly. Eyes blurry and back searing with pain it remains a mystery to me how my body stayed up. It’s fascinating really, how much our bodies fight for us. We are walking, talking, resilient beings. My father supports me as I sit on the edge of the bed. His face looks worn. In my 25 years of being their daughter, I’ve never witnessed the strain of their faces quite like i had this week. The nurse, in her sincerest attempt to help me get comfortable lying down, failed miserably. Correction: it was damn near impossible for anyone to make me comfortable. Before she could grab pillow 1 of 8 I was screaming in agony, begging for help, and ready for whatever medication may come next. About that, bad news; I no longer had a “push button” for pain control. Instead I would be on a strict 4 hour regimen of Oxycodone , Valium, Stool Softeners, and Anti-Nausea. Since I know you’re all wondering, no I have not pooped yet, and yes I did have a 6’2 nurse tower over me and proudly exclaim they were not afraid to bring out the “big guns” in the event I didn’t poop. Let me tell you, there is nothing weirder than being given an allotted “poop time” OR ELSE. Also since I know you now want to know, I stepped up and performed. No “big guns” came out. Like i said, prayers do matter. “Anna I need you to try breathing and relaxing”. If I heard ONE more person tell me that I was going to freak. My patience was wearing thin and the lack of control I have undergone was beginning to send me into an emotional tailspin. I would like to tell you a spiritual intervention happened here, but that isn’t so. Not because Christ has stopped pursuing me but because I had stopped pursuing him. I was in fact approaching stage one of desperation. Desperate, but not desperate enough to not be angry, and anger….well….anger is actually a product of fear. Consider a moment in your life when you have been terrified. I guarantee you’re emotions made waves. I called a good friend of mine, who answered the phone at all hours of the night God love her, and I told her I “couldn’t do it”. Not only was that unacceptable but I kind of felt afraid by her comeback. Not in an actual “I’m scared” kind of way but in an “oh wow this lady must love me, she’s speaking TRUTH kind of way.” She may have felt at the time that her words fell on deaf ears but little did she know her words served as a mental redirection. My roller coaster was off the rails and she picked the whole thing up and tossed it right back on. What a blessing it is to have friends liken that. As we hung up I decided to pray. I told God I was angry. I didn’t understand why this had happen. I essentially went into “pity party” mode and could have kicked I would have. Instead I just screamed. Then it happened, you know, IT. My father came in, took my hand and said “I hate seeing you in so much pain. I’m so sorry you are going through this. I’m going to stay with you until I know you’re okay.” This is why earthly fathers matter. I am convinced that my earthly father has time and time again treated me with as much grace and love as a human can deliver. My father, right there in the flesh, was my Gods best effort in that moment to show himself. It is important to realize, that God cannot be confined. If you put him in a box you will never get the actual gift. He is in CONSTANT pursuit of us. No church, no ritual, and no deed can undo his desire for our heart. In fact, I believe it is arrogant to believe otherwise. I believe that we are not to be motivated by what “Christians” are “supposed” to do but by WHO Christ is and what HE promised. So as I lay there, a 25 year old adult, crippled with fear…my father met me. He came to me and he promised that he would not leave me until my fear subsided. That is gods grace. Though my pride and pity had me undone and angry at my Heavenly Father, so God sent me an Earthly Father to persist in the place that in that moment I would not. I am undeserving but my father is unrelenting. If you had any shadow of a doubt I am here to tell you that MY God IS unrelenting. Call on him and he will come. It may not be in spirit as we are not always willing, but he will make his way to us. Somehow, some way…he will make his way to us.

Day 4: First Steps

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The clock reads 9am. I am unbelievably grateful to have slept through the surgeons 5am rounds. If they asked me anything, I was in fact “sleep talking”. Finally rest had made its arrival, and with it, mental restoration. Even in the dreariness of the ICU something refreshing was in store for today. I leaned slightly to the side and asked my neighbor how he slept. His response came with a high pitch laughed of “Like a baby”. His condition was no longer critical and after only 24 hours he would be discharged from the ICU, and perhaps even sent home the next day. He explained that anyone 60 plus gets thrown in ICU “just in case”. That gave me a belly laugh that rippled with agony through every inch of my back. I followed with asking him about his return to the 2020 Olympics and he assured me, I would see him there; Track and Field of course. Thomas comes skipping around the corner and exclaims “Anna did I just hear you laugh?My goodness you’re laugh is infectious!” Thomas looked more handsome on a full nights rest; I found myself blushing. “Annnnnnnnnnnnnna it’s me your favorite surgeon.” I was starting to feel like I had awoke to some kind of musical where everyone was singing my name. “Dr.Hitchon you will only be my favorite if you promise to let me out of this bed today, I cannot take one more day here, I must get up.” Completely un-phased by my dramatic edge he promptly responds with “The more you ask the longer you lay.” I know, I know, he sounds like a drill sergeant, but he isn’t. He’s just profoundly skilled at knowing how to handle people for who they really are, and my manipulation was not a new tactic. Annoyed by his disdain for my plea, I simply shot him “a look.” “Listen” he said; ” I will meet with the physical therapist and she will examine you. If she gives the green light, we will get you up.” My smile must have said it all. He leaned in, grazed my hair gently, gave me a light hug, and told me that he was confident my stubbornness would serve me well in recovery. As he was leaving my mom leaped into the room with a size of Starbucks I didn’t know they sold. She hugged the surgeon tightly and he asked if she wanted to see pictures of my surgery. Being the never ending learner that she is, she accepted his offer without hesitation. Meanwhile I lay daydreaming of using my legs. Then I begin to do what I do best; think. What if they don’t work? What if I’m numb upon standing, what will it feel like? Why is everyone so hesitant to let me up? Why do they behave as if it’s the hardest thing I will ever do? What if I fall? Okay, Anna stop. Stop it. You are going to be fine. You are strong. You are not going to entertain fear and you certainly will not hold its hand. You will be UPHELD by the righteous right hand of your father. His strength is your strength and his peace is your peace. “Anna, I’m the lead physical therapist for the neurology department. I hear you are anxious to get up.” Distracted by her awesome scrubs I fail to respond initially. “Sorry, yes. Yes I’m ready.” A few “squeeze here squeeze there, push here, push there” tests and she agreed to give it a try. “Now push your pain button. I’m not going to lie Anna, this is going to hurt and it may scare you but I will be right here and between Thomas and I we won’t let you fall. First we are just going to focus on sitting up in bed.” I nod, glance at my mother, and take a deep breath. Finally my mom was in her element; cheerleader and coach, ready to do some encouraging. I grab Thomas hand, and I feel her support the top of my back. Unsure of where to start I am wiggle my legs as if I were bracing for what was next. Gripping their hands I rely on the strength of my arms. My biceps strain and my neck pushes me upright with no more momentum than that of a molasses. Every inch I say up felt like someone was tearing into me all over again. The pain kicked my body into “fight or flight” and thankfully the “fight” mechanism geared a new energy that ended with me in an upright position, legs dangling from my bed. The room spun slightly and my breath shortened. Nothing felt particularly good, but the adrenaline of being upright made me want to stand. “I’m ready to stand.” Thomas and the physical therapist look at one another, nod, and instruct my ever move. “Okay Anna, we aren’t going to let go. You’re next goal is to make it to that recliner.” I glance at my mother once again. She stood straight as a board. She was as nervous as I was. I knew I had to make this move with confidence. I knew any hesitation would send my body into “flight” mode. I knew it was time to put my game face on. I put one foot on the ground and then the other. Using my calves against the bed I stand upright. Pain shoots up from my toes to my head and I gasp. The room is spinning, my head is light, and I feel as though my legs may buckle. “Anna, Anna stay with…..I try desperately to keep my eyes on the chair but black spots cloud my view and I’m sure this is going to end with me on the floor. All of a sudden I feel a pinch. “Anna stay with us, move your foot. Move your foot.” I take a step, and I cry. I take another step, and I cry. I moan, I weep, and I struggle to breath. The chair gets closer and I get stronger. Thomas is cheering me on and though my mother is out of sight I feel her eyes on me. I make it to the chair and they sit me down. A wave of relief from the pain comes, but my body is convulsing from shock and my breath is shallow. They give me a blanket and put my oxygen on. My mother walks toward me. “You know when you were little and you took your first steps. I feel like I just witnessed that moment all over again. I’m so proud of you.” I focused on breathing and the longer I stayed upright the stronger I felt. The physical therapist leaned into me. “Anna, you did incredible. I’m not just saying so either. Ask anyone around here I’m hard to impress but you know what the difference is between you and most people? You WANT to walk and you aren’t afraid of the pain. That takes real courage. I’ll be back later.” Truth be told I had never considered myself to be “courageous” or “tough” but in that moment I did. I really did. Only minutes out from my victory my mother asked earnestly if she could put shampoo cap on and brush out my hair. Now, if you know anything about extreme pain you know the last thing you want is 4 days of uncombed hair being brushed out. But this was more than that; this was my mother finally having a chance to do something for me. This was about more than just me. She was going through a battle too. “Sure mom, I would like that.” It was good to see her smile, and as she put the cap on she expressed how amazing it was to see me sitting up. “Did you feel everything? Do you think you’ll be able to go again today? Could you tell if there was any numbness?” Clearly, we were approaching what for my mother was a long overdue Q&A. “I’m not sure mom. It was too intense to really say for sure, but it sure felt like I felt everything.” Without missing a beat she says ” It’s going to be great. You’re doing great.” All at once it occurred to me how much this had affected my family. Unable to communicate with anyone yet, she was encouraging me to make a few calls. “Mom, I just kind of want to sit here and enjoy this for awhile. It kind of feels like a time I need to process.” She smiled big. “Okay well you process, stay sitting up, and I’m going to find some lunch.” With that she was off and I was staring down Thomas from an entirely new angle. “Anna, you’re a badass.” Smiling I respond with “I think my god is a badass.” Thomas laughs and says “What do you suppose God thinks of you calling him a badass?” ….”Thomas God has a sense of humor, but he would probably humbly respond and remind me that walking today is about much more than my physical strength.” Thomas seemed pleased with my answer. “You know I used to be pretty unsure about God, but Anna I’ve seen miracles in this hospital and you are one of them. No bluff, you really are. When Dr. Hitchon gave us your report I would have never dreamed you would be out of bed before a week at least.” There were no preachers or pews here. There was no worship music or lights. Yet here I sat with more of Christ and less of me. Here God made himself known in the heart of a nurse, in the mouth of a neighbor and in the love of a mother. Here Christ carried me, all the way to a recliner. Here Grace thrived. I could not create it, and I did not ask for it; it just was. Almost like the air, it kept my spirit in an embrace unlike anything I’ve known. Almost as if I had been found for the first time. I was wrapped in scarlet kindness and breathing the air of heaven. All I want is you; bind my heart to you. Every breath I take is a breath to say, I am yours forever.

Day 3

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“Anna…I’m Thomas. I’ll be taking care of you today. You look beautiful this morning. Thomas was everything I would sum up on the street as what would appear to be a typical “bro”. He stood tall and broad with a bit of spike to his hair and a cheesy glim in his eyes followed by a grin bigger than any smile I’ve ever seen. Maybe it was the drugs, or maybe I was caught in my own moment of judgment. It may also be import to mention that what would end up being the only rough nurse I had, I had on Day 2. I was hesitant to get my hopes with this guy, but something about him struck me as so genuine. “Anna can I get you anything, would you like to try eating something yet?” My response a weak “No, I- I can’t.” He chuckles softly and says “Hey I get it, they cut you through 4 layers of muscle, took out some bones on your spine and removed what I heard was a feisty tumor. I wouldn’t want to eat shit either.” I smile slightly and he seems pleased. “Thomas, maybe I could try a saltine.” He jumps with joy and asks if I want the whole box in back or just one. I suppose my silence was my answer. He comes back and opens the daunting little cracker for me. “Hey check this out I’ll even feed you, like a queen or whatever.” I open my mouth, chew, and think to myself ….how the hell can chewing hurt? I get it down with a big gulp of water, but not for long. My knight and shining armor grabs the puke bag faster than Mr. Magi from The Karate Kid and sighs. “Maybe we should do Valium instead of saltines.” What a way to meet an unexpectedly great male nurse who I had assumed would be lame. Needless to say Thomas was a huge help Day 3. Naturally, he couldn’t just hang with me as the ICU is a busy place. It was about 9am…I had finally caught a couple hours of sleep during the night. Yet, I was only about halfway through my “lay flat and don’t move” stage. The day ahead felt more than just discouraging, it felt impossible. I was sweating buckets, my throat felt like I had swallowed sandpaper, my stomach turned with nausea, and my neck begged for a break from the mere two positions it could manage. Everyone told me – “Just watch a bunch of Netflix, play on your phone, or read.” No one told me I would be too miserable to do any of those things. And not being able to do those things, that wasn’t really the mountain. Sure, I was bored…but…being bored never killed anyone. The problem was and often is this; I have one of the most active minds of anyone you will ever meet. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a room full of people, all alone, busy, bored, or working. I will think, and think, and think, and think. My mind is constantly in a state that varies from the 14,000 dinner combinations I could cook to various but thorough visions for the next 25 years of my life. Furthermore, I’m not planning, I’m creating. Creativity is an area that has long since my childhood provided a balance in the relentless corridors of my mind.” I love to channel writing, photography, and musicianship as well and as often as life allows. Here there are no guitars or pianos. There is no scenery and the people move to quickly to capture. The words I would write are running together and my body begs for rest. I’m tired. So, so, so…tired. Yet somehow I still crave stimulation. Even if it just means sitting up. These wires feel like prison and the walls look like depression. When will Thomas come back? If I push my button too much will I annoy him? I should be stronger than this? Where’s my mother? Oh god, my poor mother. I miss my brothers, they always help me feel safe. I want to call someone, where’s my phone? No I don’t want my phone. I don’t want to talk to anyone. What’s on TV? I can’t see the TV. My thoughts are interrupted by the wheels of another bed. I was getting a roommate. Every selfish bone in my body resented this stranger. Not because I didn’t want to share my room. Hell, i only needed about 10 feet. The truth is I was just scared. Would he be a screamer? Would he code? Would he want to talk to me? His family followed close behind and I heard his wife crying, holding him. I quickly gathered they were both in their mid 60s and he had just finished a cyst removal. Unfortunately, this wasn’t his first back surgery. It would turn out that later that day I would be the screamer and he would be the poor fellow listening in on it all. I’ll skip through every detail and jump to about 2 in the afternoon. Even after its all said and done I can’t identify exactly what triggered it, but I know I will never forget it. Instead of tapping into Christ I let my head run for hours on end with no break. I called for my mother, and told her I felt like I was dying. For the record, just, don’t say that to your mother. She called for the nurse as my heart rate sped up. I could see her glancing at my 5 machines. “Anna breathe, breathe in. You’re okay, I’m here. Anna please you have to calm down.” My heart surged from my chest. I felt every beat like I was holding my heart in my hands. Then I started skipping beats. My machine rang with fury and a Doctor rushed in. Where was Thomas? Maybe he could calm me down. “Okay she’s at 190, we have to get something in her now.” Not even seconds later I was injected with a cocktail of drugs, surrounded by nurses, and staring down an exasperated mom. “Mom I don’t want to die here!” I wish I hadn’t gone there, but I did. I knew I wasn’t being myself and that the heavy meds were part of it…but fear overtook me. I had apparently landed somewhere between shock and grueling panic. My mind still ran but the numbers on the screens lowered. I saw my mother leave the room for a bit. I didn’t blame her. Hours passed and I essentially laid there in a zombie like state. My father was on his way back up with my grandmother. The very idea of my grandma seeing me this way made my heart turn. After my later afternoon spell, my body could not take anymore. I would instead end up primarily unresponsive the duration of Day 3. I remember my father holding my hand and my grandmother saying in disbelief “That’s not my Anna.” She was right, Anna was gone on Day 3. My hero of a dad nicely asked to stay after hours until midnight to help me relax, and they allowed it. I stirred at 2am moaning in pain. It was then that I heard a voice from across the room. “Anna–Anna is that your name.” It was my roommate. “Yes, I am Anna….” I had no idea what he would want to talk about at 2am but I was thankful he sounded like a very sweet man. “Anna please don’t give up. You just have to take this one day at a time Hun. You will get better Hun. I just prayed for you and I want you to know that God loves you in a very special way. He has given you extremely important gifts that are going to bless so many people. I don’t have to ask if you’re a believer because I hear God in you even at your worst. Just hold tight okay? You can do this and I promise you, God is here with us both. Okay Anna?” I respond through tears…”Thank you so much, I know you’re right and I know I will make it. Your words mean more than you know. It takes courage to tell a stranger those things.” He laughs softly…”Anna there are no strangers in the spirit. You young lady have the holly spirit all over you. And me, well, gods been working on my 3 times as long as you so I know we are sharing his spirit even if you don’t.” My heart leaps, this time in a good way. Once again, the Grace of God showers me with divine compassion from a stranger. My body relaxes and my mind turns off. I let my eyes grow heavy and my heart beat slow. I started Day 3 alone, but I ended Day 3 feeling as though I had gained a chest of treasures no one in the world has ever encountered before. None of it made much sense at the time, but in my last big breath before a rhythm of sleep it was one of the spirit. My heart was stolen; not by Thomas, not by my precious neighbor, but by Jesus all over again. It’s 3am and heaven has never felt so close.

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Day 2

“Anna we are going to …” His voice fades. Ripples surge on every side of my throat and I feel movement. Sliding, crunching, slipping, rippling, and rotating through every inch of my esophageal lining I gain awareness that my breathing tube is being removed. Uncomfortable hardly begins to explain the feeling, but before its fully out vomit lurks close behind. “Hold her down, get…hand …move…” I only gather parts of sentences. My parents later explained surgeons were concerned with my puking and dry heaving due to risks of spinal fluid leaking from the dura. Lights flicker in and out between a slight breeze of what I assume was the bed being wheeled to the Intensive Care Unit. An hour later I wake to 4 nurses working on getting me “all set” for ICU monitoring. It seemed as though there were cords coming out of every limb and from places/ directions to where I could not calculate their beginnings. My legs were wrapped with sleeves that pressed in and out of my calves rhythmically. Everything was unfamiliar and the limited view from the position of lying flat felt like a tease. After multiple requests my parents were allowed in. They looked much better, I’m sure, than I. Undoubtedly exhausted, yet at peace to see me awake and speaking. What words were exchanged are a bit blurry to me, but, I could see them and that was all that mattered. The doctor arrived shortly after. “Push against my hand, wiggle your toes, can you feel this? Is your toe being moved up or down?” I must have performed well as I watched my mother take a deep breath and tell me I had done well. It was almost 11 already so my parents were asked to come back in the morning. My gut dropped when they had to leave. They were the only familiar part of my present challenge. I told the nurse with urgency I was afraid. He assured me I was being monitored extremely closely. As he left and I lay alone unable to move I tried desperately to not dwell on the surgeons orders of a minimum 48 hours laying flat. Instead, I prayed. I thanked God for what had already been accomplished and for the small victories I would experience along the way in the next few days. I prayed for my parents, that they would rest and know I’m okay. I thanked God for the gifts of the surgeon who was purposed by Christ to do spinal surgeries. I thanked God that the surgeon himself was humble enough to admit he too, is amazed at what humans can accomplish against such delicate threats to life. I thanked God not because it was on a religious checklist barred by guilt and shame had I not; I prayed because in the cold, unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and lifeless walls of the ICU unit I had never felt so close to heaven. Sure, the trauma was present, but Christ was in control…and I being completely out of control came without pride, arrogance, and things of the flesh graciously. Never before had I been so aware how much our basic freedoms of flesh distinguish our ability to encounter the most basic freedoms of our soul and spirit. The night dragged on, slowly. I pushed my pain button and took prescribed medications every couple hours. Now on my side I stare at the wall, exhausted yet unable to rest. The ICU was so loud and hectic. I could hear that other patients were coding and/or experiencing emergencies. Whoever Mark is, I so hope he made it. The stress of being human and not wanting to hear others in pain yet in critical condition myself wore on my spirit. I knew my body was pumped full of everything from lexapro to morphine, but I could not find rest in the chaos. Whatever I was being given, sweat and nausea befriended each dose. Somewhere around dose 3 I dosed off for an hour where I awoke to the resident surgeon who helped with my operation and about 20 students. More of the same questions, more of the same tests; I answered honestly and tried to sound ….well….not how I felt. Shortly after, they continued rounds and my parents arrived. I was disappointed to see that they didn’t appear rested. I was on enough drugs to keep the pain in control, but too many to speak with my family. Everything felt unbelievably difficult. All I asked is that someone occasionally hold my hand, and of course, they were happy to do so. Something about human contact made everything feel a bit safer. I glanced at the clock. 8am. No. 48 hours…..God no. Panic struck and I begged to be let up. It was way too dangerous, and the answer would always be NO. Distant hums of politicians on TV create a small distraction. Every bone in my body hurts and I quickly become mad at how much so. Those hums in the background are such idiots I think to myself. While most of the world is on social media right now bitching about which one is dumber than the other there are thousands of people in this hospital alone clinging on small strings of hope. Instead of being on their phones or in front of their TVs, they could be volunteering in the community, visiting people without families in hospitals and nursing homes. They could do anything, but instead, they’re bugs to the light of argumentative spirits, self righteousness, and hatred. I’m not saying I haven’t been their or have lived without being guilty of just that; what I am saying is that once I can walk freely my time will be spent differently. I will go to the hurting and the lonely and the ones with only the mere hum of talking heads on tv who know nothing about true compassion. 11….nothing has changed. What choice to I have but to “just be”. I won’t eat. I won’t drink. It’s too hard. I will just think. I’ll think and I’ll be grateful for the presence of my mother coloring in the corner. I will be afraid but I will not be forgotten. I will make it to tomorrow. I will. God will. We will.

Day 1

imageJuly 27, 2016

7am pierces from my phones speakers naggingly, urging me up. Sleep and I never did come to an agreement during the night, nonetheless, I stir begrudgingly out of bed, forced into the reality of the day ahead. I watch as my lovely parents work tirelessly to make sure we “have everything.” My father seems content, pleased even; it’s evident his relief comes from Doctors having identified the cause of my unexplainable falls, lack of sensation and difficulty walking. It is clear to me, that he is resolved simply in the realm of knowing. His trust in God and in the surgeons resounds with me, calms me, and reminds me that his strength has always been a part of my internal compass. Similarly, I observe my mother as her mood fluctuates between excited and apprehensive. She would do anything for me within her control, but this, this is something she can’t do for me. Her tension is noticeable but her bravery extends from a place of choosing to trust that I will rest safely in the hands of Christ. On the way to the hospital the car is quiet with only the echoes of my phone singing alerts of well wishes from friends and family. I clutch my phone anxiously, overwhelmed by the magnitude of my support. I want their words to reside within me, but my soul longs for something else. Something more tangible, present, and peaceful. I begin to pray, simply yet earnestly. Grace meets me and the promises God made me leading up to this day penetrate my fear. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and remind myself that this is my reality. I am not afforded the luxury of choice. Not taking action would result in paralysis or death…and grateful as I may be for the hard work of brilliant hands it saddens me how many times and in how many ways they have to remind me that death and paralysis are risks of this surgery. I know the chances aren’t terribly high, but it weakens my spirit a bit every time they repeat it. No sooner do I catch my breath and gather my thoughts do I arrive at the Hospital. We pull up and they wheel me through the corridors, periodically speaking cheerfully about how incredible Dr. Hitchon is; and let’s be clear, he is, incredible. His resume stands tall with national awards, success stories, and research publications in elite magazines such as TIME. Important as those qualifications are they aren’t what give me confidence. Instead I find his compassion, attention, and humble reverence for human life not only inspiring but essential. I have no doubts that he cares as much or more as me about how my 7 hours in surgery effect my future. We move to pre surgery where I change, give vitals, meet the team, and discuss what will happen next. Every 10 minutes feels like an eternity, and as my time to begin grows closer my  anxiety steepens. Tears fall and my breath shortens. Then an incredible thing happened. The nurse who had put in my IV, kneels down, takes my hand and begins to pray with me. A stranger to me, in that moment became someone I will never forget. Just as she finishes the surgical table is wheeled in and I stand, trying to avoid eye contact with my parents. The tears fall harder and my chest grows heavier. I’m surprised at my own level of fear. It’s as if all at once, it clicked. They are going to cut along my spinal column 10 inches, remove 3 vertebrae, and remove a tumor surrounded by spinal tissue that if damaged is irreversible. I get on the table. It is cold and unfamiliar. My parents pray with me and my words fall short. I’m sure in that moment they felt a bit helpless. Soon I was surrounded by my team in a room that looked like something out of the  X Files. They ask me more questions and ask that I sign for consent to be a case study. There would be 20 people in the room and about 80 watching. Apparently, I found out later, I am considered a “rare case”. A male nurse came and gently injected my arm with anesthesia. Instantly all was calm, and I asked the team to pray for me. The same nurse that had been in my pre surgery room came in and assured me, she would pray the entire time. I know to some who don’t share my beliefs they may believe that prayer is stupid, naive, and unnecessary. In my next blog I want to delve further into what I believe about prayer and why it matters. For now, I sleep soundly, unaware, and unconcerned as to what lies ahead. For now the lights fade, and I let what is, be. For now, I trust in my God, creator of heaven and earth, who made me in his image and loves me more than anyone I know on earth. For now, I just rest in knowing that this is my reality.