best of intentions

October 8, 2018

Last month I participated in a series of daily writing prompts. Each day, Laura Tremaine would offer the beginning of a sentence and, upon inspiration, those of us joining could complete it however we felt appropriate. The final day’s prompt was, “In 3 months, will you ask me about . . .,” with the idea being something one wanted to be held accountable for. This is what I wrote:

In 3 months, will you ask me about my friends? I fear that I’ve gotten into a bad habit of doing everything “urgent” in my life, and not allowing time for the life-long, in relationships. I have grown lazy as I settle into a comfortable marriage, and live as if my husband is the only friend I need. While he is, for sure, my closest friend, I dare not sacrifice other friendships due to what feels like a lack of time. Elie Wiesel wrote that “Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.” Lord help me to give of my life, love, and possessions for my friends, as so many loyal companions have done for me.

When I wrote this post, what I was feeling was a certain amount of guilt for not living up to the standard of selfless love that I see in those around me. For much of my life, I have been blessed by truly loyal friends and, for most of that time, I have felt inadequate in my efforts to live the same way.

Today I sit in my home, in one of the three stationary posts I have manned for the past 4 days. I am in the midst of creating a new normal for myself, trying to come up with a reasonable routine that is so opposite from all my normal inclinations and habits. I have lost most of what I cling to for a sense of normalcy.
The sun, and water, are currently arch enemies of my skin. And the easy-tanning, sun-loving skin I used to have is flaking off in ugly patches, so that I literally look like a lizard in the midst of its molting process.
Thankfully, the swelling has gone down noticeably in my feet. But blisters continue to form and pop, so that my motion is halting and hesitant.
I, who do not sit still at home—like, ever!—during the day, am now housebound.

It is tempting to carry on with a laundry list of physical woes. And yes, I will claim my age here, (even though my husband and I have declared a delay to my birthday, issuing an ordinance to the universe that my celebratory day will not come until I am recovered enough to enjoy it) . . . I understand now the temptation to annoyingly complain about ones physical ailments as the years creep upwards and the body creeps . . . downwards? :-)
That said, my actual reason for the list of woes is to illustrate that I have lost the daily comforts, habits, and routines that I cling to. There is an open space in my life.

Last night a couple of good friends came to visit. We had intended to have a birthday celebration, planned ahead of time, but the reality was that I could not host a dinner party in the way that I had wanted to. We almost cancelled altogether, but the pain I was having subsided, and my friends still wanted to come, so we had them over after all.
It was a decidedly pitiful party. I could get up, but each time I did, I would have to take a break and sit down again abruptly, often in the midst of whatever it was I was trying to do. I could not offer them much of anything. But we sat, together, and we talked. Not only did we talk, but—and this was the kicker for me—we laughed. We told stories back and forth and, as I told some tales of my own shenanigans, it occurred to me that I could not remember the last time I had a good, hard laugh like that.

After they left, I texted them, saying, “You two are such a bright spot in my world—in general and, specifically, in this current state. Thank you for the true, loving friendship you have shown me—and for your inspiration to me as I strive to be a better one myself, to those of you who show me community.”
In the middle of writing that text, I paused. Whoa, I thought, wait a minute . . .

I remembered what I had written for #10ThingsToTellYou. My intention had been to will myself into better friendship. I was going to give myself a good kick in the pants, and stop being so selfish with my time, so protective of my resources, and so stuck in my own stressed-out brain. I was going to tackle my sorry friend-ability as a self-improvement project.
What has happened instead is this: I have lost everything BUT people. So all I can do right now is take joy in the presence of my community. And of that, there is no shortage.
Friends here have offered rides to the hospital, have brought meals, have sat with me without shying away from the sight of my skin. There is a great deal of uncertainty and fear. But what I wrote about a few days ago remains, in that what I have left is the ability to enjoy the present moment in a way that my planner mindset usually does not allow.
I was going to make myself into a better friend. I was forced to accept the friendship that was always there.


October 7, 2018

Our dining room table pretty accurately reflects my current state of being: piles left uncleared due to the need to shift tasks and return to a prone position … schedules of med-taking and cream-applications …appointment cards to keep track of for the week … a sense of biding time, riding out pain, and praying for the grace to do it well.
This afternoon I looked up a word in the Greek Dictionary. While taking note of the definition, I caught a glimpse of the bottom of the page. Then I took a double take, thinking I must have read it wrong. These meds are really getting to me, I thought. But, looking again, I showed the page to Peter and he verified my sanity [either that or he proved himself equally insane ;-)]. The words read, “Anna, grace”
It was given as the definition corresponding to that particular Strong’s number. But I could not help but claim a certain level of ownership over my name staring me straight in the face, there on the page of my Greek dictionary.
Thank you, Mom. And thank you Daddy, for the gift of this double name that offers hope as I strive to attain the gift that is my namesake.

Moderation has always been more a practice of willpower than something that comes naturally to me. So I suppose I could claim that, not content to rest on my laurels of celebrating 39 years with a hospital visit, I needed to complete that experience with an overnight in the ER. “How old are you?” asked the doctor, as he flipped through my files. “39. Today.” He looked up from the paperwork, regarding me quizzically. “Today?” I nodded, and enjoyed the gratification of his shared grin at the irony of my choice of celebratory locations.

I had taken the day to rest at home and attempt a no-motion day since the antibiotics had not seemed to affect the pain and swelling thus far. All things considered, I was in a generally positive mood about it, as it seemed to be the right step to take. I know my weakness as a patient, and am well aware that any hindrance to my state of perpetual motion brings out the worst in my stubborn “I don’t need to stop! I can do it!” mentality. So yesterday was an exercise in willpower, in an opposite way from my norm: the willpower to stop.

But for all those good intentions, what ended up happening was that, by the end of the day, I was worse instead of better. We tried accelerating bedtime, laying down early in my last ditch effort to “fix it.” But it did not work. I did not work. My body was severely rebelling against me and I did not know what else to do about the pain. As I lay in bed, I texted a friend, asking about what antibiotics her son had been given. I admitted to her that I was not ok, and was really scared, and she said I should go to the hospital. Now. We had intended to wait until the morning to go and, truthfully, I was ready to go by then but was under the assumption that they closed at night. Finding out they were open I reached over and grabbed Peter’s arm to wake him. “We need to go now,” I said.
Thanks to the care of a kind friend, we did not have to deal with finding a taxi, but just walked downstairs and hopped in the car. On the way there I made a few light-hearted comments about the painful swelling (I was barefoot because shoes wouldn’t go on my feet) and difficulty in dressing (I left in my nightgown), but underneath it all was a great deal of fear.

The treatment began as I expected it would, with prescriptions for two rounds of new antibiotics, and one while there for an IV and another buttock pain killer injection. I warned the nurse of my vein issues before she began but she waved me off and proceeded with two unsuccessful attempts to insert the IV. Feeling the waves of a black-out coming, I was grateful when she gave up and called for help from an anesthetist; then I lay back down for the next injection. This one was more pronounced than I remembered it being—I gasped, and gritted my teeth until she had removed the needle, then tried to focus on breathing while I recovered. By this point the anesthetist had arrived; to my teary-eyed thanks, he managed on the first try. I lay there and closed my eyes for the remainder of the IV drip, hoping that was it for the needles, but afraid to ask. It was.

We were sent out, and given an appointment for the next day with a specialist. They had given me a wheelchair, so the chair was parked right outside the door to the room. Peter had given me his hand to help me walk over there and, as I stepped, I stumbled. That’s odd, I thought. I didn’t realize I had misjudged the location of that step . . . We wheeled on out the door to the car and when I moved to get up, taking Peter’s hand, I reeled. Instead of stepping onto my left leg, it had wobbled underneath me. “It didn’t work!” I blurted. Thinking I just needed to lean more into him, Peter helped me into the car. I dropped into the seat, reliving the sensation I had just had and then, tears filling my eyes, I repeated. “It didn’t work. My leg didn’t work.” Christy stopped driving. “Do you need to be admitted?,” she asked. “We can do that. I had to stay here overnight—others have as well” I nodded, tears springing to my eyes again. “Yes. I think I do.”

We turned around and began the process of checking in for the night. Peter’s suspicion turned out to be correct: the needle used for the pain injection had deadened a major nerve in that leg so, for a few hours, not only was the pain gone but my feeling was as well.

And now we are home for the day, once more in a state of waiting. Waiting for antibiotics to take effect. Waiting for the next hospital visit. Waiting for some semblance of normalcy.

There have been moments in all this that are not, at this point, worth the gory retelling—not worth it for me to relive, and certainly not worth it for you to read about. And yet, mixed in with what has been perhaps the worst physical experience of my life, there have been moments of strange joy . . .

Last night I had an exquisite night of sleep. I would occasionally wake up just enough to be aware of how little pain I felt, and of how deeply my body had sunk into that restful state. There was the occasional sound of the infant being lulled by its mother on the other side of the curtain, but that almost blended in with the white noise of the fan.

After one round of medications, and a hot, trafficky ride home, I blacked out and woke to see Peter’s face above me. “What just happened?” I asked. “You fainted,” he said. “I caught you.” A few minutes later, he was about to go get our wash from the clothesline. I stopped him on his way out the door. “Peter?” “Yep.” “Thank you for catching me when I fall.” He shrugged, kissed me, and said, “That’s what I’m here for.”

this time this year

October 5, 2018

Today is my 39th birthday. It also happens to be the first day I’ve called in sick for the day after waking up and discovering I just could not do it. I could not manage the pain enough to carry on with work—with life—as usual. Granted, I have been doing just that, so perhaps a more precise way of saying it is that today I lost the will to just pop the pain meds and pretend that something was not seriously wrong with my body. And that something has to give.
So I alternate rooms in the house today, trying to think of the things that I usually am too rushed to do. I supervised my students by way of text, corresponded with coworkers, and took care of some virtual paperwork. But there is something else that I have to do today, and that is to make real, for myself, this current physical state. I am scared. After two weeks of increasing pain, I finally found a hospital to try and went there on Tuesday. It ended up being an all-day affair, though with little of that time being spent in treatment—most of it was in the waiting. I came away with an achey buttock, but relief from the pain thanks to that ache being caused by a pain-relief injection. The blood work showed nothing beyond what was obvious to me, which was a severe infection. I am on an antibiotic but am discouraged by the apparent lack of result thus far, and am wavering between trying to be patient and pushing for more answers.
One of the things I did while convalescing today was listen to the audio of this morning’s staff devotion. As my friend spoke, I sat here in tears, and then thanked her for speaking truth to my heart. Her theme was on the ways that God is working in your life when you do not feel His presence, and one of the quotes she shared was from John Piper: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them . . . Not only may you see a tiny fraction of what God is doing in your life; the part you do see may make no sense to you . . . You may find yourself with a painful thorn, and God may be making the power of Christ more beautiful in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:7–9)”
All I feel right now is the pain and the weakness. I see no beauty. I feel no power.
God grant me the will I have not, and the patience that is beyond me. Let me live this life without needing to control it. Let me ride out the discomfort, trusting that something good will come. Let me live in the question mark.
After I thanked her for the devotion this morning, my friend wrote back to tell me her class prayed for me. This is a class I wanted so badly to teach today. I tried to force my body to get to school and be there for these children, with the lesson I had worked on for them. But I could not do it. Somehow I have to believe that the fact that those children prayed for me in my absence had an impact beyond my own agenda.
I will close this post with a bit of an epilogue to what I wrote last Christmas. After Peter and I left Zambia, unsuccessful in our effort to find my father’s grave, the search was picked up by an old family friend. Last week I received a series of photos from her. I do not know what to think at this point. A part of me feels a loss at the no-longer-lingering life quest. Another part feels relief that the burden of the search is lifted. I do not know if we can, or should, get back there again now . . . but, here again, let me live in the question mark. For now.