Dear Body,

The Letter I want to write:

Dear Body,

I hate you.  First you go and grow some odd-ball tumor that half of the doctors we go to see don’t even know how to spell–while I was pregnant, I might add, which was just down-right frightening.

Then when all of that was buttoned up and taken care of you had to go and herniate a disc causing pain not just in the back but shooting all the way down the leg.  And despite the fact that Dr. Google assured us that 90% of disc herniations resolved themselves within six months, you just had to stick around.  So now we’re facing another surgery unless the last-ditch effort of putting a big old needle in our spine and injecting pain killers and steroids magically does the trick.

I’m 31 years old and feel like I’m twice that.  I’ve got stuff to do.  Heal.  And behave yourself.

Val

The letter I need to write:

Dear Body,

So the Psalms tell me I am fearfully and wonderfully made, that God knows the number of the hairs on my head.  You are mine.

We’ve been through a lot in our 31 years and this last decade has been a doozy.

You’ve birthed three gorgeous girls, supported their pregnancies and brought them all into the world.  When Lainey was born I remember being a little bit proud when one of the residents commented that I had “A very strong uterus.”  You are complex in ways I will never fully realize.  You are sensitive and pick up on changes within and without before I do often.

Toes, you find a lush patch of grass a delicious wonder to behold and you sink down deep when we see one.  I’ve always admired that freckle on my right middle toe too.

Feet, you carry me still.  How many summers did we go barefoot working up callouses walking on the gravel?  Walking has helped to stretch me out these last few months and we ran some happy endorphin-filled miles too once upon a time.  Hopefully we’ll get to do that again soon.

Legs–remember how proud we were when that girl at summer camp complimented your muscle definition? Those days are long over and you hobble and gimp from sciatica at the moment, but you still propel me forward in water like a knife slicing through butter.

Hips and butt–I’m supposed to hate you.  Before I had babies even I called you ‘birthing hips’ and you’ve certainly served that purpose.  You are round and ample, and babies snuggle in secure on top of you.

Back, oh, back…  You hurt right now.  And you know I wish it wasn’t the case.  In all we’ve been through the last few years I guess one of us was bound to show some wear and tear and I’m sorry it had to be you.  Still, you carry me though it.  This challenge has at last brought us better posture and some good bonding time with the living room floor. Even with that herniation, we carry babies, lift laundry baskets, and oh yeah…  We rocked doing the lion share of the move this summer, even with you not at your best.  If I’m in pain, it’s because you’re trying to tell me something important.  I’m going to venture a guess that it’s that I need to spend some more time on self-care and supporting myself through stress.

Arms and shoulders, you hold the world in your arms when you hold your family.  You are a soft place for the  heads of babes to nuzzle and rest.  You hug tight.  You welcome people close to our heart.

Hands, oh my hands.  You write, and you type.  You bake.  Sometimes you get wild and break out the pastels and play with color.  You create.  Through you the ideas and feelings and thoughts that bang around in my brain all day long find their release.  You really are beautiful hands.

There at the pulse in my neck is where the tumor lurked, but the artery it housed itself on never faltered. During the surgery it stayed intact so that my life could stay intact.  Those fragile nerves were stretched but bounced back.  We don’t think about it much but even a neck is a wondrous thing.

Brain you think and think and think never turning off, always analyzing.  And you feel…  Oh how you feel–so much deeper than you want to let on even to me.  You work overtime…  I say you are screwy a lot.  You are.  But you are also unique and intricate.  You hold memories most precious…  a snowy morning, and two spring ones when babes were born… the way Andrew’s eyes looked when he first fell in love with me…  Daddy ice-skating, baking with Mama. You are a treasure trove of who I am and where I came from.

And face…  You meet the world placid in the face of some really scary stuff.  You empathize before the rest of the body completely knows why.  Husband says you are lovely and the babes recognize it as home.

Body, we’re going through some tough things right now. We’ve been through some before, and there’ll be more.  But, we have to be allies.  I want to care for you rather than curse you. I want to see the wonders you house instead of the pain you harbor.  I want to listen to what you tell me.  You’ve been quick to alert me of things that I haven’t always picked up on so quickly.  If God’s word says I am fearfully and wonderfully made I have to believe it.  Let me take care of you until we’re both feeling better.

Love,

Me

Coming Into Focus

Stealing some time for Five Minute Friday.

This summer rained down on us so fast, so furious that all the lines have been blurred and out of focus.

Hubby’s return from deployment, a trip to Houston and the death of his grandfather, a trip to NIH that loomed daunting on the horizon, first time buying a house, the move, the induction.  It didn’t seem so much like a summer as it did a frantic run from one VERY URGENT MATTER to another.

I haven’t been able to walk in a straight line for months.  I can’t bring things into focus.  It’s all happened so fast.  It down-right flattened me some days.   I’d cocoon up and stay still and watch it whirl around me, and even though I wasn’t the one moving I’d have to fight to catch my breath.

The chill of autumn has come.  The ending of the induction journey has come with it.  The house isn’t unpacked, but the boxes wait, and the promise of a more regular schedule with more time to stretch our legs in the togetherness of our family whispering at the edges.

Slowly the adjustments will be made, the breathing will come easier, the every-day disciplines will come with less struggle, the walls will be painted, the wood chopped, and the boxes put away.

The lines will become more crisp, and more in focus.  And I will be able to breathe.

 

Moses, Three Words, and an Ebenezer

Three little words and a Bible story re-inacted on felt boards the world over have kept my head above water over the last six weeks.

The three words?  Grace.  Mercy.  Peace.

For his final sermon at our church early in the summer our pastor once again knocked it out of the ball park.  He spoke of how God whisper-yells these words, “Grace…  Mercy…  Peace….” over us every day.  Even on the days we can’t hear it.  The days where we’re up to our neck in muck or mundanity or overwhelmedness.  It never stops.

When diagnoses are handed down, when jobs are lost, when babies are born, when the bills are due and there’s not enough money….

“Grace…  Mercy…  Peace…”

In our lives, when parents died, when a tumor was found, when trips to hospitals on the other side of the country were needed…

“Grace…  Mercy…  Peace…”

So, when it came to pass that Husband was promoted to chief and started the intense, intense process of Induction, and we closed on a house and had to move into it, and my back screamed, screamed, screamed….

We listened hard and sure enough if we listened, we heard it…

“Grace…  Mercy… Peace…”

Andy has whispered it to himself in ‘resting position’ (think the most uncomfortable plank you’ve ever held).  He’s said them in his head while doing sit-ups and push-ups in the frigid waters of Baker Lake.

I’ve carried boxes in the door and up the steps…  Looked at the empty house that was mine to unpack, watched my husband come home at 8 or 9 or 10 or 11 o’clock after leaving at 5 in the morning weary, tired, and near his breaking point, and discussed spinal surgery, and listened hard for them.

And the story?

Moses parting the red sea and walking through on dry land.

On a whim I bought The Prince of Egypt in the $5 bin at Wal-mart for a special movie night for the girls.  As I watched it with them I saw the Israelites–who’d just witnessed all ten of the awe-inspiring plagues and been delivered out of Pharoah’s hand approach that body of water and wonder if God had led them that far only to be drowned or be cornered by Pharoah’s army.  And just at the last second, there was Moses raising the staff and the water stacking itself on either side of them, and the people passing through on dry land.

I read it again, to see it with fresh eyes.

A friend sent a private message on Facebook reminding me of God’s power displayed in that moment.

I read a blogpost or two that just happened to be about the same story.

And today the girls’ devotion was about, you guessed it,’ the parting of the Red Sea.

I remembered over and over and over again to look back and see the things that God has brought us through and to look forward knowing that a way will be provided.

Six weeks ago all that stood in front of us looked absolutely insurmountable.  It was bigger than us.  It was more than I could do or handle and all power had been stripped out of Andrew’s hands.  Good things had happened–amazing and exciting things.  Being promoted to Chief is the proudest moment of an enlisted sailor’s career, and purchasing one’s first house is nothing to sniff out either.

But how were we going to do it all?

Oh yeah…  The God who can stack the waters of the sea up like walls and allow his people to walk by on bone dry sand is with us, and within us.

He has spoken Grace, Mercy, and Peace over us in all circumstances.  He has provided a wide path beneath our feet on paths full of tears, and fear.  Words like, “Andrew, your Dad died,” and “Val, your Mom has terminal cancer, and “You have a very, very rare tumor.”

One of my favorite words is “Ebenezer.”  A stone of remembrance:  “Here by thy great help I’m come.”

Today is an Ebenezer day.  A day of seeing strong just how much we are surrounded by God’s breath kissing us with the words, “Grace, Mercy, Peace.”  It’s a day of seeing how he leads us through insurmountable seas of circumstances on dry land.

Husband is wrapping up induction.  This last day isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s a culminating challenge meant to be a proving ground, a place to test his limits.

As he goes through this next 24 hours, he’ll whisper those words.  I’m praying them over him.

Tomorrow, I’ll pin an anchor on his collar, and he’ll be called Chief from now on.

He’ll come home and sleep, and then start helping me with the unpacking that still needs done, the painting that’s been waiting, the home improvement projects we wanted to get done straight out of the gate but couldn’t.  And we’ll keep leaning into Grace, Mercy, and Peace.

Haunted

The story about the 21-year-old air force mama of three and her baby girl (who is my youngest’s age) dying of neglect keeps circling around in my brain. The response it’s gotten from people, especially military spouses, does too. How messed up is it that in our little MilSpouse microcosm culture we have both the message of, “Put on your big girl panties and deal with it [the unspoken part is on your own, you whiner],” AND also the message of, “Well we have all these resources why didn’t YOU reach out and grab onto them?” How does, “Deal with it yourself!” work on one side of the equation and, “You should have asked for help!” work on the other?

Never mind the fact that there are SO MANY resources it’s hard to know where to start. There are so many MEDIOCRE resources that it’s hard to know what will really help. And there are so many mixed messages about needing help and getting help out there that it makes one afraid to take a step.

I don’t know why this one has hit me so hard. They all do to one extent or another–these stories, I mean. Volunteering with PSI, every month or two I’m on the phone with a Mom who is depressed, has a baby, and doesn’t know what to do and I worry that this is one of my ladies. Even more I grieve that maybe this is someone who didn’t know there was help to be had and what if they’d just found an email address or a phone number to reach out to. Maybe it’s because she has three kids and that baby’s age hits me hard. Or maybe it’s because I’ve felt the beginning of the slow spiral myself these last couple of months of feeling so freaking overwhelmed again. When she says, “I was just so tired of changing the sheets,” I don’t cringe with outrage and self-righteousness. I cringe with recognition of the emotion (thank God I’ve not sunk to the point of the actions).

I just keep thinking something needs to shift so this doesn’t happen anymore or at least as often. I keep wondering if she could have just had someone, someone who had been through it all, or come through something similar, to put her arms around her and hug her tight and say, “You’re NOT alone, you’re not to blame, and with help you can be well,” and then to help her sift through the resources to find ONE that might help.

I keep thinking that we need to purge out the resources that do nothing, and focus on the ones that do what they do well and make it easier for everyone to get to those.

And more than that I keep thinking that we (military spousedom) HAVE to stop eating one another alive. Telling people to suck it up when they are in profound pain to the point that they can’t function well enough to care for themselves or their babies doesn’t work. Shaming people who are brave enough to tell the world that these things are hard and are sometimes more than they can bare on their own has to stop. Telling smug anecdotal stories about how you came through similar circumstances just fine and that other wives in your particular historical era did too does nothing to help (and just makes me want to ask you, “Ok. Fine, but what about the ones who DIDN’T make it through, who succumbed to something like this or equally as tragic?”). If we can’t make our community a safe place to fall, then people are going to keep falling through the cracks and dying from the shards of glass we’ve stabbed into their backs in the process.

Most of all, I want to rewind the clock by a month or so and move next door to this woman… And then have the fortitude to get to know her instead of being a hermit like I so often do. And I want to put my arms around her, and help her sift through the resources, and tell her she is not alone. I want to move one of the incredible women I’ve encountered who have come alongside me and done life with me and seen me and heard me-whichever one of us would have been able to reach through the fog to help her–right down the block from her and I as well.

And that really means that I need to be the person on my own block right now, looking for the Mom who is overwhelmed, the kids who are just a little too hungry and needy. I need to be the kind of spouse that I want around when the bottom seems to be falling out and all of the “ANDs” of life pile up. I might not be able to fix this, and I can’t save anyone–it’s not my job. But I can be a good friend, and sometimes that is an incredible lifeline.

Change Me

I didn’t want it to be, but it is.  Or at least it is partly.

The pain isn’t going anywhere.  I didn’t want my next big ‘thing’ to be learning how to deal with pain.

But clearly that is at least one of the lessons that has landed in my lap this summer.

So yes, I have a herniated disc.  I’ve tried to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t a big deal.  I’ve tried to push through it.  I’ve been forced to take on lots of big life stuff–like executing a move mostly by myself–anyway.

I never thought I’d do pain well.  I really never did.  When I had Tomas, I didn’t have symptoms except a lump in my neck until I had the surgery and then the infection.  Those things hurt, but the pain was temporary and meds for the most part, made things livable.

I can’t get away from this pain.

I don’t want life to be about this, but as I process this and as it becomes clear that the pain isn’t going to go away any time soon, it’s equally clear that I have to figure out how to find a place for this thing that …  is persistent and gets in the way of life in general.

My husband, who isn’t around much anyway thanks to Chief Induction, and my close friends–the ones I trust with my whining–are tired of hearing about it already.  I’m not doing this well.

I really have been whiny.  And grumpy.  And sad.  And mad.  I just want it to go away.  Instead, it seems like every week brings about a new adventure in pain-land.  New ways that pain interferes with things (lack of sleep anyone?), new things I realize I can’t do (exercises that I love, being carefree and easy and physical with my kids).

I’m 31.  I never thought I’d feel this old, or this broken at 31.

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this.  I just am.  Thankfully it’s not a mysterious diagnosis or one that evokes fear and trembling in anyone.

But even so, the pain is always there.  And I have to figure out how to process that.

I’m moving forward with spinal specialists finally.  The next step is an MRI, an epidural injection, and then we’ll see from there if surgery is necessary.  All of that, as medical things normally go, will happen slowly as the appointments are made and the doctor’s schedules dictate.  Physical therapy has helped some, and yet, the pain continues to intensify and change even when improvements occur.

That leaves me…  trying to figure out what coping in a situation like this looks like.

I’ve pretty much sucked at it so far.

This weekend though, a light bulb came on.

The pain has been intense enough to distract and upset me for six months or more.  This situation has been here for a while, and the odds are it isn’t going to change anytime soon…  Or at least as soon as I’d like.

The only thing  that can change in the equation is me.

So starting this weekend I stopped asking God to take the pain away (well…  not entirely…  I’d still be plenty happy if that would just happen).  Instead, I started focusing on the changing of my heart and mind about the situation.

If this situation won’t change, change me.

He doesn’t waste our pain and our suffering.  I have no doubt he won’t waste this.  Now I guess I’ll just hold on tight and ride out this new adventure.