So here’s to a beginning. I have been wanting to write for a while but haven’t been able to pull together the words as to all that I have been feeling and learning. It has been on my heart to share some of my experiences that have truly shaped me to be the person I am. It has pressed on me to share about some of my darkest times and how I was carried through. This blog is dedicated to the Lord, the very one who carries my world.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Collapsed Hips and a Double Blessing: A Year in Review


 
It’s hard to believe that one year ago today I entered Griffin Hospital by wheelchair for what would unknowingly be the darkest time in our lives. I didn’t know as I entered the double doors and was wheeled through the lackluster hospital corridors that we had simultaneously entered into a time of sorrow and perpetual loss that would far extend beyond that particular day.
 

Oblivious to what was ahead and assuming the worst had already transpired in requiring a hip replacement at such a young age, we certainly couldn’t have predicted a botched replacement and the need for me to endure the same grueling surgery not one week later.

 
We couldn’t have predicted that pain relief measures would be altogether ineffective and that the pain I had been experiencing in my hips would soon be considered negligible compared to the pain I would all too soon come to know.


 
 
We hadn’t considered the possibility that my “good” hip would go on to collapse (despite assurances that it would last for years to come) a short four weeks after my other leg had been repaired.
 
Nor did we foresee a brutal fourth surgery for an infection of my newly repaired hip.
 
 

Was this real life?
Sure, we had grown accustomed to loss over the past years in battling my lupus and all that came with it. We were no strangers to too many medications, waiting rooms and IV infusions; but this hit on a whole different level.
Feeling utterly stripped of any and all possibly remnants of hope, it seemed all-consuming loss had come to stay. And destroy everything in its path.
And even as the physical pain ever so slowly began to subside, there lie an inner ache that lingered far longer than I would have liked. It was a mourning, not only for the physical loss that we had endured, but also for the loss of what we believed our lives ‘would be’.
For years I watched as others went on to grow their families. I envied those whose dinner tables were filled with the hustle and bustle of raising larger families. We had our girl, and yes, she was our whole world. Her sweet and cheerful personality more than filled our home. Even still, a small part of my heart ached.
I knew perhaps I shouldn’t feel this way. Guilt poured over me in recognizing the countless women who so struggled to have even one child. Who was I to be discontent with what God had given?
Psalm 23:1 says, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
I shall NOT want. I wrestled with those words, feeling my own heart did want. I wanted to be healed. I wanted to be free from medical problems. I wanted my pain to end. I wanted another baby!
But God was reminding me he was in fact my shepherd. My good shepherd. All I needed to do was to trust him. To trust that he actually was good. Even in unimaginable pain. He was good. Even in what felt like the dark. He was good. And he was trustable.
Charles Spurgeon says, “To trust God in the light is nothing, but trust him in the dark- that is faith.”
Numerous times we prayed for another child, knowing full well the odds were not in our favor. Three times in particular I laid in bed next to my husband, watching him while he slept, listening to the peaceful rhythm of his breathing.
I had always found the quiet of the night a good time to pray. Really pray. As the noise of the day was at last silenced, my distracted heart could finally think clearly. I began to ask God for twins. I knew it was ridiculous as soon as I prayed it. And I didn’t dare tell my husband for fear that if we were by some chance to become pregnant that he would have some sense of sadness that it was one baby and not two.
I knew there were days where I could barely handle being a mom to one! Why would God give us two? I needed to stop being selfish, I told myself. And so, as quickly as my prayers came, I let them go.
Some time passed, and to our surprise my rheumatologist informed us that even with my new artificial hips it would be okay to try for another baby. He went on to say that my lupus had stabilized to a satisfactory extent and that it would be best to try sooner rather than later in consideration for the timing of my next infusion.
Was this really happening?
Were we really going to try for another baby?
In hearing his words, it was as if a huge sorrow had been lifted from our shoulders. A sorrow we no longer had to carry, as that which we had grieved and considered lost was suddenly being given back to us. And then some.
We began to try for a short month, but it was not without much reservation and deliberation. As excited as we were to have the clearance from my rheumatologist to try for another, we couldn’t ignore our experience with my first pregnancy which had been grueling from beginning to end with many unwanted and scary complications. Were we willing to go through that again? Were we emotionally strong enough to endure another high-risk pregnancy in light of what we had just endured these past months?
We couldn’t be sure.
And the more we talked, the more we realized that perhaps the risk just wasn’t worth it. More, Matt expressed grave concerns for my health, for fear that our desire to have another baby could potentially leave our children without a mother.
I knew his fears were not something I could brush off, rationalize or ignore. I knew life with lupus meant great unpredictability, complications and sometimes poor outcomes. I knew many young girls with lupus had been taken ‘before their time’ so to speak.
And with that, we decided to pursue another avenue: Foster to Adopt. I delved into the Connecticut Child and Family Services website, learning all that I could. I spoke to social workers. I learned about classes. I learned about becoming licensed with the state. It all seemed exciting and new. I went on to sign us up for an open house where we could get the process started. And two days before we were to attend the open house, we received some news.
I was pregnant.
My hands shook as I held the white stick closer to my face, staring intently at the dark pink line. There was no mistaking it. My heart pounded in my chest as I attempted to grasp what that fully meant for my husband and I beyond that terrifying and thrilling moment.
I called him immediately, as he was away on business. There was no way I could wait another second. We both rejoiced and freaked out. And rejoiced and freaked out again.
But what would the picture look like now?
Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.”
NO sorrow. Those were words I could hang on to. As fearful as we were for another difficult pregnancy, and as fragile as we were having come through so much, we knew ultimately another pregnancy was a gift from the Lord. And with that, an unexplainable peace rested over my heart.
I knew this verse was for me.
As the days passed, I found myself utterly amazed by this body of mine that I felt had once so betrayed me, this what felt to be ’90-year-old’ encasing was now carrying NEW life. Miraculous new life. It felt as if God had set the reset button on the script to our lives, and the youthful years we had considered lost were being restored.
Deuteronomy 30:3,4 says, “God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there…”
One week later we nervously entered the obstetrician’s office for what would be our first ultrasound. We took our seats in the carpeted waiting room filled with floral pictures hung from the walls. Beside me sat a pregnant woman in a green dress who appeared ready for delivery at any moment. As we sat I found my racing heart was quickly distracted by the hustle and bustle of secretaries answering phones and women of all ages entering and leaving the office.
Five minutes later my name was called by a woman in navy scrubs carrying a thin chart. We quickly followed her down a pink hallway and into the ultrasound room. We knew today was an important ultrasound. We knew today the technician would assess for fetal heartbeat and viability.
I scooted myself onto the exam table, noting the loud crunch of white paper beneath me, anxious to begin the exam. As I laid back, I glanced over to my husband, noting his excited toothy grin which instantly put me at ease. I knew another pregnancy was an answer to prayer for him as well. And it was good to see him happy again.
A few minutes passed, and I began conversing with the blonde ultrasound technician who wore a kind smile. As we spoke I went on to ask her, “If there’s twins in there, would you be able to tell?”, to which she replied, “Oh yes!”
I exhaled deeply and watched her as she began to place the probe, studying her face carefully for any cues as to what she was seeing. We listened with nervous anticipation as she silently typed on her computer, and then suddenly her expression changed, and her eyes widened. In that instant she turned the screen 180 degrees in our direction announcing, “You’re HAVING twins!”
What?

This couldn’t be happening!
Matt and I looked at each other in shocked exuberance, both now taking deep breaths in and out while repeating to each other, “Oh my gosh!!”
I watched my husband begin to leap up and down with joy, dumb-founded by our glorious news.
Tears began to flow down my face, and a warm feeling came over me in realizing God had HEARD my prayer. AND he had answered it.

So many times over the past year I had cried out to God and pleaded with him for relief and escape. And it seemed things only worsened. There were times I wondered if God was listening to me at all. But this time. This time God had honored my prayer. This time he was showing me he had heard me all along.
He had heard every single one of my prayers.
And so, here we are today, in our twenty-third week, knowing in a few short weeks we will be entering into our third and final trimester.

There have been no complications for the babies or myself. Despite being told by physicians that “one pregnancy often mimics another with regard to autoimmune disease”, we have found this pregnancy to be entirely different.
Entirely blessed.

Entirely miraculous.
“For these children I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of him. Therefore, also I have lent them to the Lord; as long as they live, they shall be lent to the Lord.” 1 Samuel 1:27-28
 
 

Monday, July 31, 2017

The View Through a Different Lens



It was a cool Sunday morning in mid-March. The sun deceptively shone, its rays seen but not felt by its onlookers. Any warmth offered was all too quickly swept up by the lingering wintry breeze that persistently rustled through the leafless trees. We had just left church, and Matt suggested we go to a local vineyard. I was hungry and figured a glass of wine on top of an empty stomach wouldn’t bode well. Still, he persisted, telling me he had packed some cheese and crackers, stating, “It will be fine,” to which I conceded.
Thirty minutes or so later we pulled down a long dirt drive, taking in the rich sight of vines with newly sprouted buds, a promising sign of a nearing spring. Soon all would be in full bloom, succulent grapes and flashes of green leaves bursting in every direction. As we continued I noted a small and picturesque pond in the distance, its waters calm and tranquil. Nearby sat a small wooden bench positioned on a wooden deck adjacent to the pond. I wondered who had previously sat in that bench, imagining an older couple coming to sit and take in the view hand in hand year after year.
As we reached the top of the driveway I felt my eyes widen in taking in the majestic sight. A large and enchanting stone building stood before us with an attached trellis, vines elegantly hanging from above. I knew we had climbed considerably in terms of elevation, and as we exited the car I was suddenly aware that we could see for miles.
As we entered the rustic building we made our way across the room to purchase a bottle of wine, and Matt asked if I would like to go outside and walk around while we drink our wine. Feeling charmed by the warmth of the nearby fireplace, I hesitated. Still, I could see on his face that he was really up for a walk so I agreed, hoping it would be a short one.
As we made our way back outside I immediately began to regret my outfit choice earlier that morning. I closed my jean jacket as best I could against my tank top and began to parade my ballet-slippered feet across the grass. As we began walking I couldn’t help but note a large amount of goose feces sprinkled across the grass. I hopped this way and that as we made our way out in an effort to avoid soiling my now seemingly ridiculous shoes, each moment becoming more and more disgruntled.
It wasn’t long before the grumbling ensued. I was cold. And there was poop everywhere. And he needed to know it.
He just smiled and handed me his jacket, completely unbothered by my worsening attitude.
After a few more minutes of walking, he stopped and inquired if I would like some more wine. I agreed.
“Anything to warm me up!” I silently grumbled.
I quickly turned to give him my glass and to my surprise and shock instead of a wine bottle in his hands, he held up a small box. Suddenly aware he had unknowingly gotten down on one knee (and before I could pull a coherent thought together), I glanced at his glowing face, noting a smile ear-to-ear and heard him say, “Will you marry me?”
My eyes instantly widened with delight, and I felt myself put both hands over my mouth and jump three steps backward. Was this really happening? Was this really happening to me?
I suddenly felt like I was in a dream. More, I had prided myself on being a fairly good detective and generally aware of whereabouts of my partner when we were not together. When did he plan this? How did I not know?
Overjoyed, I accepted happily; and he went on to tell me that our families were going to be meeting us at a restaurant to celebrate the day.
I later learned he had met with my father to ask his permission, to which my dad happily agreed.
I had never felt more loved, cherished or excited as I did on that special day.
The following months flew by with excitement and great anticipation for our big day. I felt the cloud that had long followed me had cleared, and suddenly life was viewed through a different lens. One I had not previously seen through. This new lens was full of love and hope and giddy excitement. The kind of bursting emotions the rest of the world generally loosely tolerates when two people are newly in love.
The world, it seemed, was once again at my fingertips; and I was overjoyed to be living in it with my very best friend.
More, lupus was becoming but a distant memory.
There were days, yes, when I would stay in bed after having been out all day the day prior with him. I sometimes secretly wondered if I could keep up. Keep up with all the living there was to be done. I was bound to make it work somehow. To make the pieces fit as I believed they should.
He was careful with me, yes. Though still actively learning about the nuances of chronic disease.
The real sickness though, the months in pain and in bed were growing smaller and smaller in the distance. Perhaps I had paid my dues. Learned my lessons so to speak and put in my time. Was there such a thing?
I couldn’t be sure.
All I did know is that I had known a lot of bad days. And I was sure as heck going to hold on to these good ones for as long as they would stay.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Secrets


The following year was marked by blissful happiness with many carefree and exciting moments. A world had opened up to me that I longingly watched as an outsider for as long as I could remember. While hesitant at first, in no time at all I found myself falling head over heels for this man who I’d known but a short while. He quickly became my very best friend and my biggest supporter, cheerleader and advocate. I was cautious at first, letting him in slowly. I needed to be sure he was going to be around if I were going to open myself up again. Really open myself up.
In time, I shared with him about the hard stuff. It had been on my heart for some time to do so, and I knew if we were going to really, really make this thing fly then I was going to need to suck it up about a thing or two.
It was Good Friday evening, and we had just left the evening service and were on our way to grab some food. My heart raced frantically within me, having been rehearsing what I would say to him through the entire service. I felt my underarms begin to sweat. I needed to not panic. I needed to simply share.
“It would be what it would be,” I told myself.
I heard myself parrot the line all girls tell their girlfriends, “If he’s for you, he’ll stick around no matter what.”
Famous last words, I knew.
Still, I knew it was now or never.
I tried to make small talk as we drove, but he could sense something was up, and I knew it. He asked if I was okay. I never could have a bad moment without him somehow sensing it. I loved that about him.
Except for now.
Now it was making me more nervous than ever.
He asked a few times what was going on. I hesitated, attempting to gather my thoughts. I knew he could tell it was big. I saw the nervous anticipation as he pulled into a nearby parking lot, quickly directing all of his focus toward me.
How could I tell him? How could I share with him about my darkest moments? My best kept secret.
I knew I was risking losing him completely. But I also knew if he was in fact from God for me then it would somehow be okay. I hoped.
More, I knew in my heart it was far better to be brave and alone than to be dishonest and together. I wanted God to be near more than anything. I wanted to honor God. Even if that meant solitude.  
I swallowed hard and choked back tears, as I began to share with him of my jaded past. He had come to know bits and pieces along the way, but there was more to tell. He knew about my history with lupus to some extent, and he also knew I had made my share of mistakes when it came to dating.
He didn’t know however the color palette I had painted wasn’t all pastels with a few small grey dots mixed in. No, there were large cracks and dark spots spattered across my palette. Spots of shame and regret. There were deep streaks of depression and fear. And as much as I loathed and dreaded the idea, it was time for my unveiling.
I began by sharing with him of my visits to the oncologist’s office for a virus I had contracted a few years prior. Horrified and embarrassed, I told him of my surgeries. I waited for him to react. To somehow play it all cool, yet subtly pull away. To somehow make an excuse not to hang out again in the near future. To say something insensitive.
Anything.
I didn’t look in his direction. I just couldn’t.
I felt his eyes burning holes in me from the driver’s side. I wiped the tears from my eyes, and he leaned in giving me a hug.
To my surprise, he wasn’t put off. He didn’t run, and he didn’t condemn. His gentle words told me he accepted me, right then and there. And nothing was going to change that.
I exhaled, feeling a great weight had been lifted. How was that possible?
In that moment, I saw for the first time (in what would be many instances), the deep love of God extended to me, through him. His name, Matthew, aptly meaning “gift from God”.
He was loving me the way the Heavenly Father loved me.
And suddenly, I was free.



Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mosaic

 
A week or so later I got word of a church that held a group for college and post-college singles on Thursday evenings. I had no idea what to expect in terms of format or numbers in attendance which admittedly set me on edge. More, I knew the church was more than a few towns away. Even so, I couldn’t deny the strong pull I felt to go and check things out for myself.
 
The following Thursday I got in my car and drove all of fifty minutes to this new group called “Mosaic”. It had been the farthest I had ever traveled to a particular church, and my stomach turned as I considered the possibility of having to make the trek on a regular basis. Was I nuts in driving so far? I shuddered at the notion that my desperation could be driving this change. More, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was making some terrible mistake in leaving my other church. I couldn’t be sure.
As I pulled into the parking lot a distinguished brick building stood before me that nearly took my breath away. Its clean architecture revealed pristine windows and a cross that rested elegantly upon the roof. I had been told Sunday attendance was upwards of two thousand. Having always attended churches of two and three hundred, this felt new and exciting and yet also terrifying in realizing I was not here for a Sunday morning service. I knew I couldn’t just covertly blend in as I could for a Sunday morning.
As I entered the building, my heart began to pound nervously within me. What was I doing? I swallowed hard and told myself to put on a pleasant face. Having near always preferred to know the how’s, when’s and where’s to any given situation, a part of me trembled internally. Even so, I marched myself down the hall decidedly hoping for the best.
I made my way to a room with two large wooden doors swung wide open. The lighting was soft which instantly put a part of me at ease. The room was inviting with wooden bookshelves against the walls and couches and chairs scattered about. There was also a large coffee bar stationed at the opposite end of the rectangular room with several plates of homemade cookies laid out.
Slowly the room began to fill, and I found myself conversing with a friendly brown-haired girl about schools, careers and faith. Throughout the night I spoke to several others, relieved to meet so many who were in the same phase of life. Many had careers in medicine and business while others worked odd jobs to pay for graduate school.
A few hours passed, and the cool night air gently bristled against my skin as I made my way back to my car. As I got in I couldn’t help but pause for a moment, noting a clear sky filled with stars, radiant across a serene sky. As I started up the car I felt myself inwardly exhale, grateful for a good night.
I returned the following week. And the one after that. Thursday evenings soon turned into Sunday mornings too, and in no time at all this new group began to feel like home. It didn’t even matter so much that I was still alone. I was just thankful to be in the company of friends. And for the first time in as long as I could remember,
I felt like I belonged.
I wondered if that was why God had brought me here. To this place.
A few months passed, and a friend casually mentioned one of the guys in the group as a possibility for me. She told me he “didn’t attend regularly but seemed like a solid guy”. I couldn’t remember seeing him before, but I was sure I must have. A group of thirty or so, I figured I’d likely seen him, but I couldn’t place a face. Curious, I began to wonder what this person was like and why she had mentioned him as a possibility?
The following week I hastily got into my car, frustrated by the way my day had been going, knowing I was running behind. School work had been piling, and I was feeling the pressure. As I pulled onto the highway I let out a frustrated prayer, “Please God, let that stupid guy be there”. That was about all I could muster given my bungled dating history.
As I entered the building that night I scanned the room for a seat at one of the tables. All seemed to be full except for one. As I approached the table I noted two guys sitting there, one of which was the guy my friend had mentioned. I was stunned. Had God just heard my prayer? I certainly hadn’t known him to answer my prayers in this particular area.
Amused, I sat down, secretly thankful I had worn a particularly cute outfit that night. We began talking, and he introduced himself as “Matt”. We spoke about our families and our hobbies, and I quickly learned he was an avid runner and hockey player. As we talked I couldn’t help but notice his grey sweatpants and running sneakers. I wondered if he always dressed that way. I secretly hoped not.
Some time passed, and a friend came over asking if she could talk to me. I briefly said good bye, feeling entirely distracted throughout my conversation with her. What had just happened?
The following week I saw him again at a group party, only this time he talked only to me for the entire event. Was this turning into something? Not long after, he asked for my number. He called the following night to wish me good night. And the night after that. And the night after that.
I didn’t know it then, but he would go on to wish me good night for many years to come on the road ahead.



Monday, July 10, 2017

Diverging Emotions


I briskly cracked the driver’s side window open as I peeled out of the driveway on a chilly winter night. As the cool night air invaded my space I began to feel less suffocated, my thoughts less stifled. Driving had always been my sacred place to think. But things were feeling hazy now. And I couldn’t seem to reconcile my diverging emotions. For what felt like an unending lapse in time, my heart simultaneously believed it had achieved what I had been dreaming about since I was a little girl while also regrettably feeling more void and empty than I had yet experienced. It seemed the more successful I became in terms of my career, the more brightly shone the glaring light of truth that haunted the deepest part of me: I was alone.
My final semester was well underway, and I wasn’t sure where I would go from here. I had always found comfort in school. Set schedules. Lectures. Even exams. I liked knowing I could (if I really worked at it) succeed (for the most part- with the exception of a stingy or stubborn old professor here or there). But you get my point. Part of me was filled with wonder in postulating what my first job as a nurse practitioner would look like, curious if that would somehow bring the fulfillment I had been craving. I was intimidated and excited about the road ahead. Even still, there was an aching. I tried my best to cover it up. I knew well how to put on a good face. But something in me hurt. And it oddly was not alleviated by proximity to others. At times, the company of others served to only exacerbate my pain, further reminding me that after all these years I was still alone.

It followed me around as I watched friend after friend go on to become engaged and married. Was I being punished for my prior mistakes? In my heart of hearts I knew that was not the God knew, but I also knew I was no longer a nineteen-year-old girl. Time was passing, and I was starting to get nervous. Was this just not in the cards for me? Was I meant to remain single forever? I shuddered at the idea.
More, my frustration grew as my interactions with the few guys my age that did attend the church I was attending were nothing short of boring and/or rude. I certainly had not been used to that in past years. Why would God bring me here of all places?

As months passed, I began to feel more distant from the friends I had made. Something in me related less, and I couldn’t understand why. I began to feel older, more mature in some way I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe it was that I had finally come to realize I had always been older, given the events of my past. Maybe it was just time to move on.

A quiet confusion rested on my heart as I struggled to chime in to the worship service the following Thursday evening. I had always loved Thursday night services. They were typically packed, and the worship was boisterous and exuberant. But tonight felt different. As I glanced around the room I couldn’t help but feel like somehow things had changed. And I couldn’t understand why. For the first time since I had first walked through those front doors, I began to feel like I didn’t belong.
Where was I supposed to go from here? This was supposed to be my family. I figured I would probably grow old going to this church. How could this be happening? And what was God doing? I felt in that moment I understood absolutely nothing about the way God works. Having known him since I was a young girl, he felt like a stranger. What was he doing?
I knew I could leave the church altogether. I knew I could leave my faith at the door and just get in the car and go and never look back. A few months prior I had been contacted seemingly out of the blue in the same week by two ex-boyfriends looking to rekindle relationships. It was too big of a coincidence to brush off. But the thing of it was, I hadn’t gone on a date in over a year. And during that time God had healed a lot of my brokenness. And more than that, I had remembered who I was. I was a child of God. And I was loved. And I just wasn’t willing to give that up for anything. Including the company of some guy.
I did tell each of them to come to church if they really wanted to know me and what I was about. Neither ever showed which surprisingly brought great relief and even more healing. God had made it clear that they were not for me. Not one bit. All I needed to do was trust him.
And boy, I’m glad I did.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Not So Black and White


Before I knew it, I was waist deep in notecards and PowerPoint slides for health assessment, nursing research and pharmacology. One day per week was spent on campus attending lectures. It was a full day with little time for breaks. As much I enjoyed my schooling (and truly, I did), I found by the end of each Tuesday, my legs, involuntarily and ever so wildly, bobbed through the last ninety minutes of lecture- a likely consequence of having consumed three cups of coffee, knowing full well my body was done a long time ago. But a girl had to do what a girl had to do to get through.
Two full days per week were still spent at the hospital working as a nurse. I had been on my own in an apartment for some time, and I wasn’t willing to move back home just to complete school if I didn’t truly need to. More, I knew my experiences at the hospital would certainly enrich my growing knowledge base. It also didn’t hurt being in close proximity to those whose careers mimicked exactly what I had been striving toward. And I made certain to capitalize on such opportunities with many seemingly spontaneous (yet previously considered) questions about various roles in the profession.
Two additional days per week were spent at various clinical locations, oddly left to our own choosing and our own finding. The idea of trying different specialties on for size was invigorating. I was getting closer to actually living out what I had been dreaming of for so long. And now I could taste it.
Even still, a smart part of me couldn’t help but acknowledge the nagging thoughts that had been smoldering below the surface. I half wondered if this was all going to be too much. Full time graduate school and part time nursing. I secretly wondered if the deck of cards I had been building was going to come crashing down on me at any given moment. I didn’t know if I could do it. I wasn’t sure it would all work. After all, my body hadn’t tolerated working full time as a nurse. And truly, it was all I could do to work the hours I had been assigned. Now, to add on full time schooling. I couldn’t be sure.
But I also knew there was only one way to find out.
I began my rotations in a primary care setting, an area of particular interest, where I cared for patients with a variety of health concerns, young and old alike. As a novice, I was comforted by the idea that a challenging patient would often be referred on to a specialist. There wasn’t pressure to be the ‘know all be all’ for any given patient. Or so I thought. More, I liked the idea of building rapport with patients and being afforded the opportunity to cultivate deeper relationships over time.
I knew I would never be the practitioner to run head first into a burning building. I wasn’t leading the charge when a patient coded, nor was I the first to straddle a patient to perform lifesaving CPR. I did, however, know when to get help and when to ask for it; and I wasn’t too prideful to do so. Emergency medicine was not in the cards for me, and I was okay with that. As a nurse, I had always found emergent situations to be somewhat draining and rattling, and the last thing I needed was some external stressor to trigger a flare.
And so, I eagerly focused my efforts toward outpatient medicine. I spent my first rotation working with a young primary care physician with short brown hair and worn brown dress shoes. He wore a white coat and a warm smile. His patients liked him, and I could see why. Eager to teach as we went through the day, I found myself vigorously jotting down notes between cases, knowing I was gaining precious knowledge that I wouldn’t have otherwise extrapolated from my textbooks. Some things were just better learned in person. A lot of things actually.
My second rotation was also in a primary care setting with a physician who happened to be very aware of his appearance, frequently discussing his food intake as well as salsa dancing after work. Patient interactions felt rushed and insincere as we raced through the day, seeing upwards of forty patients per day (nearly double what I had seen in my prior rotation). I was afforded little time for questions but was instead handed several medical books to read and memorize. My workload had already reached a staggering level, and it frustrated me that he would add to that. The volume of knowledge we were expected to learn and retain was bordering ridiculous. Doctors had four years to learn what we were expected to crank out in two! Nonetheless, I sat in the back room of his office, book in hand, feebly wondering where I would fall as things shook out over the next few years.
My rotations continued. Gynecology, orthopedics and gastroenterology. As time passed I came to see the primary care glove was not the perfect fit to my hand as I had once imagined. Instead, I found myself drawn to specialty medicine, namely gastroenterology. I was intrigued by the diversity of the field in caring for everything from autoimmune conditions to gallbladder and pancreatic diseases to irritable bowel syndrome to the screening and discovery of various forms of cancer. More, I had seen and cared for a good number of GI patients on the infectious disease unit at the hospital as a nurse. Somehow, it seemed to be an area of medicine that just made sense to me. I knew I would require much on the job training, as I had been in an adult medicine program geared at nurse practitioners working in the field of primary care. More, I hadn’t attended a GI fellowship like that of my physician colleagues. Even still, something in me was up for the challenge.
A few months passed, and before I knew it my clinical rotations were drawing to a close. I couldn’t help but pause for a moment, noting there was far more gray to the medical field than I had originally anticipated. Sure, certain things would always be black and white. A hematocrit of eight would always mean anemia, and a platelet count of 75,000 would always signify thrombocytopenia (low platelets). But there seemed to be quite a bit of gray in the profession as well. This gray area transcended personality types and social skills. It included big things like decision making. There were nuances. Moments of judgment requiring critical thinking, often left to the discretion of the provider based on a given patient’s particular case. I had come to see firsthand that lines weren’t always clearly etched which was both riveting and terrifying.
See, I was always more of a rules girl. I excelled in boundaries. I liked clear-cut solutions and believed hard work should always pay off. “A” plus “B” should always equal “C” and never “D”, “E” or “Z”. But, it turns out, like many things in life, medicine just wasn’t always so black and white.
Black and white, it seems, had been the goggles I had unknowingly worn for as long as I could remember. It was how I saw my profession and even more, it was how I saw my life. This lens of cause and effect was how I, at times (too many times if we’re being honest), judgmentally viewed my friends and family. More, it was how I viewed my faith. It was why I anguished over my rejection from medical school. All the pieces fit, or so I had thought. Why wouldn’t God help me so that I could help him? I was going to be a medical missionary after all. I had been a good Christian, why wouldn’t God make me healthy? Why wouldn’t he make my father healthy? I had turned my life back to him, why wouldn’t God bring a man into my life?
But it wasn’t about me. A lesson I fear I needed on repeat for many years to come. I had much to learn regarding the sovereignty of God. Regarding his power. Regarding grace. And love.
These dreadful short-sighted goggles it turns out, revealed only what was directly in front of me, completely handicapping my vision of God and what he was doing unknowingly all around me.
Maybe, just maybe, it was time to take the goggles off. Maybe it was time to see through a different lens.
Sure seemed scary to me. And with the changes occurring in grad school coming to a close and things at church feeling less settled, I found myself clinging harder than ever to my frail illusion of control. And so I stubbornly duct- taped those bent goggles of mine and adorned them as I had so many times before.
It was going to be a while before I would come to understand what it meant to really see.
And really live free.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Director of the Fear Parade

 
 
Days soon turned into weeks, and weeks into months. My career in nursing was well on its way. But it seemed there was a growing restlessness within me that I couldn’t escape. As much as I tried, I couldn’t deny the emerging dissatisfaction I felt. I had hoped starting over at a new hospital would eradicate any and all prior discontentment. But that wasn’t the case. I found myself listlessly watching the physicians in white coats come and go throughout my shifts. Watching. Wondering what could have been. Frustration rose and fell over me, knowing I was denied a chance they received.

More, why did so many find great meaning inside these walls and yet all I found was monotony? Routine. Time clocks. Rules. Supervisors. It all felt so empty. Restricted. Unchallenging even. Most days I found I blew through my tasks in record time while others struggled to complete all necessary tasks by shift end.
I couldn’t help but wonder, “Was there more”?
The road ahead was hazy with clouds, and there were no clear signs pointing which way to go. More, I still carried scars from the roadblocks I had once encountered. Jaded and unsteady, I knew the God I thought I had once known so well was in fact far different than I had once believed. A part of me wasn’t too sure I was ready to trust him again. Really trust him. After all, I had seen some things. Some dark things. And I had experienced rejection on more than one occasion.
But where did that leave me now? Where was I to go from here?  
I couldn’t be sure.
Without much in the way of assurance or even confirmation, I began my application for nurse practitioner school. I had studied carefully the differences between that of an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) and that of a physician assistant (PA). I found myself interviewing those I worked with, any and all who would engage. I craved data. I sought personal stories told by those who had gone before me. It was exciting really, considering the possibility of working in a more autonomous role. The ability to evaluate patients, diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic tests, initiate and manage treatments including the prescribing of medications was thrilling to me. An inward stirring had begun again, and it was exhilarating.
I leaned up against the old wooden counter in the charting area one rainy afternoon. I had been talking with a PA who worked in gastroenterology, inquiring about what diagnoses she typically treats.  As she shared, I secretly pictured myself as one of the white coats.  
Would I someday round on these halls?
As I reviewed potential programs, I found the schooling to become a nurse practitioner far more doable, as I could continue working as a registered nurse while I attended school. A PA program would entail a full-time commitment. I knew the PA model would be more empirically based, leaning heavily on the sciences which was initially more attractive to me. But I came to learn that nurse practitioners were in great demand and practicing without supervision or even collaboration with physician colleagues in some states.  
And with that, I submitted my application for nurse practitioner school. I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t again be faced with more thin envelopes, so I half braced myself for impending rejection. I could no longer rely on my once held ideals that God would help get me in. He had closed the door for medical school, and I knew he could just as easily close another.
But I secretly hoped he wouldn’t.
A week later I stood outside the hospital entrance. It was a warm day, late in spring. Bees were buzzing in the distance, and my eyes soaked in the vibrant hues from a nearby garden. People appeared to be walking in all directions around me, having emerged with nature out of hibernation. The sun gently warmed my arms as I began to make my way towards the door. I hated that I needed to go in. “Just a few moments longer,” I thought.
Looking to stall for just one more moment before the start of my shift, I pulled out my phone only to note an email.
It was from Quinnipiac University.
As I stood there in my turquoise scrubs and blue sneakers, my heart began to beat a little faster.
I had not expected a reply so soon. I had applied not seven days ago. This couldn’t be good.
I cautiously braced myself for what was to come as I opened the email only to find the relieving words, “Congratulations”.
I had been accepted.
The warm spring air swept through my blonde hair, and in that hope filled moment spring had been infused not only into the air but also into my soul. I swallowed hard as I reread those words over and over, waiting for my heart to catch up with my mind. Thoughts flooded my mind as I glanced up at the large hospital building. I was going to get my chance after all. I was going to be able to practice medicine as I had dreamed so long ago.
I couldn’t believe it.
It felt like I had ‘made it’.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if this had been the plan all along? Every painful delay. Every rejection. Even, dare I say, my sickness too? I wasn’t sure I was ready to acknowledge these truths, fully embracing my brokenness as part of his plan for good  
Ann Voskamp says, “It takes courage to listen with our whole heart to the tick of God’s timing rather than march to the loud beat of our fears.”
I knew I had been leading that marching band for as long as I could remember. In fact, I was an honorary director.
Isaiah 58:11 says, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen you frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
He had been guiding me. All along. Even in what felt like the dark.
The clouds were clearing, and it was as if I could see my way again. But why had I been so reluctant to trust him in the haze? Was God only trustable when he did as I saw fit? When he obeyed all of my wishes?
2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you”. [Emphasis added]
Psalm 103:8 says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
Not only does he fulfill his promises, not only does he guide us always, but he is patient with our stubborn and slow to learn selves too. And this patience was a life-giving gentle glory that had only just begun to soften my hard and all too self-centered heart.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

HIV and a Terrible Mistake

Before I knew it, months had passed. Once cautiously guarded, I found myself begin to slowly relax into my role on the unit. I had some experience behind me now, having seen some things. Some things I will likely always remember. It’s amazing how patients come and stay for only a few days. And yet, their stories somehow live on in the minds of their caretakers long after they are gone.
The woman with advanced multiple sclerosis who could no longer move her arms and legs had a husband that came to see her and sit beside her three times per day.  He didn’t say much as he gazed at his bride covered in tubes and lines. Maybe it was because he knew she could no longer respond. Or maybe there just weren’t words to be said. But there was love there. And it was palpable and tragic all in the same beat.
The woman who had unknowingly contracted HIV from her husband who went on to develop AIDS and later AIDS dementia. She was grossly underweight and almost always requiring restraints of some kind due agitated behavior including but not limited to biting, hitting and scratching. She was surprisingly scrappy for such a small woman. I watched as staff members held her down to administer Haldol. The needle poked her emaciated arm, and I couldn’t help but feel like none of this was her fault. Her eyes were big and round and told the story of a life still fighting.
The woman who had been on respiratory precautions for possible tuberculosis. She had a bad attitude and made it clear very early on that she only wanted to be left alone. An hour passed, and a visitor came and left. I went to check on her only to find her locked in the bathroom. I knocked on the door, and she angrily told me to go away. I told her she needed to come out. As she made her way out, she began asking me about myself and my life. Had she had a sudden change of heart? Moments later I returned only to find her draped over her bed with a puddle of blood under her head, her body lifeless and purple gray. I called a code and CPR was started. But it was to no avail. We were to later find a syringe and a spoon tucked away under her clothes. She had been cooking heroine in the bathroom.
Each patient, it seemed, left an imprint of some kind on those hospital walls. The stories those walls could tell! And even more, indelible marks were being inscribed on the hearts and lives of those who looked after each patient.
Today would be no different.
I pulled the meds as I had so many times before from the med drawer and placed them next to my list of patients. I exhaled, pacing myself for the next four hours. We were short a nurse, and I had volunteered to cover. I wasn’t exactly known for coming in on my days off, but I knew they were desperate. “How bad could a four-hour shift be?” I thought to myself. I was relieved to see my list of patients didn’t appear terribly complicated.
I began to make my way around the unit, pushing my computer on wheels across the newly buffed floors. The shine put off by the floors did little to brighten the dated unit which always seemed lack luster. Nonetheless, I entered the room of each of my four patients to introduce myself.
It didn’t take long to notice my patient, admitted for observation post surgery had not yet received her flu vaccination. I inquired if she would like to receive it, and she agreed. Being an infectious disease floor, we didn’t tend to see post-operative patients. So, I gladly welcomed her to my assignment, knowing full well there was little to be done.
Moments later I donned my non-latex gloves, drawing up the vaccine from its vial into a syringe. I quickly glanced in her direction, noting big eyes intently watching me. I offered her a smile and brushed her arm with an alcohol wipe, explaining I would be injecting there. As the needle punctured her skin, she instantly shoved her arm away from me in one confusing sweep. I gasped, suddenly noting a burning feeling coming from my finger. I looked down to note the needle had punctured my glove and penetrated my skin. I stared at my thumb, which excreted a tiny bubble of blood, in disbelief. How could this happen? Why would she do that?
My face flushed in embarrassment as I exited her room, her, not even aware of what she had done. Nurses were known for being good at their jobs. There was a sense of pride that we carried. We held it together. We were smart. We did NOT mess up. This couldn’t be happening.
“Maybe I would keep this little incident to myself,” I thought as I tried to brush it off in my mind. She didn’t have much in the way of medical history. What was the harm?
A few racing moments passed, and I found myself blurting out what had happened to a fellow nurse who was more like a second mom to me. She, known for her sound judgment, recommended I file an incident report and perhaps have my blood drawn for good measure. She appeared so calm when I told her what had occurred. Perhaps it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
I made my way to the emergency department, which seemed a little extreme. Did I really need to be evaluated for something not too much larger than a papercut? Even still, it was nice to have a small break from my day.
To my surprise, I was sent right back to the unit. I was required to collect blood from the patient. This came as a shock, given my ED admission bracelet. I never dreamed I would be responsible for patient care while also being treated as a patient myself.  
As I reentered the unit, my heart began to race; and I didn’t know why. This was all routine procedure. There weren’t any red flags. Even still, my hands began to shake. I was relieved to note several nurses gather around me, one helping me get written consent for the blood test and another who volunteered to draw the patient’s blood.
Minutes later and more frazzled than I would have anticipated, I made my way back to the ED where I waited in a small white room for what felt like an unnecessarily long time. Finally, a PA entered in blue scrubs with papers in hand, asking me to describe what had happened. I shared briefly of my mishap, hoping to somehow still appear competent and perhaps even leave with some shred of dignity.
Little did I know what was coming.
His knee began to bounce up and down against the stool as I shared, and I half wondered if I were boring him. I watched his hands fidget as he looked up at me with unsettled eyes and plainly stated, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but her test came back positive for HIV”.
What?
This was not happening.
There must have been an error.
That was not in her chart!
Terror filled my mind and for a moment, I paused, wondering if this were some sort of sick joke. I had heard stories of others on the unit getting stuck by needles in the remote past. I had even learned of a nurse that had gone on to convert to HIV.
Was that going to be my story?
I swallowed hard and quickly made my exit. I needed to get out of there. I felt as if I was being suffocated indoors. I needed to catch my breath. I needed to get a handle on what was happening. Minutes later I looked down to note a prescription for an antiviral medication in my hand, but I couldn’t recall how it had even gotten there.
Everything had gone blurry.
“God, where are you”?
The next few days were a whirlwind of confusion, frustration and nervous anticipation. I stared at the bottle of pills before me. I hated them. I hated what they represented. I already had too many pills to consume. And this wasn’t helping matters.
This wasn’t giving me confidence for a hopeful future.
Over the next few days I called out of work. How could I go back? I couldn’t bear the thought of looking patients in the eyes with the very diagnosis I was trying with all I could mentally and emotionally muster to evade. I had seen too much, and I knew it. I feared it would break me.
Would I be lying in one of those beds someday?
A quiet bitterness came over me in my frustration that I don’t even think I realized at that time. Seized with fear, I left little room for faith. Little room for God. Except to do what I wanted him to do. When I wanted him to do it.
And again, he just wasn’t cooperating.
I did my best to distract my mind over the next few weeks and quite possibly went into complete denial. I was relieved to complete my antivirals, but I knew I was far from being in the clear.
There were labs to be drawn. Several sets over the next year. I knew the first draw would be the most meaningful. And I held my breath in anticipation for the result. There I sat, glaring over the large wooden desk in the occupational health office, waiting to be seen. A few minutes passed, and a stern woman with stiff brown hair entered. I began tapping my foot as I watched her and her grey pantsuit sit down at her desk. This was taking too long. My palms were starting to sweat as I studied her face for cues. She, however, appeared in no rush.
A few minutes of terrifying silence passed. And she finally made eye contact.
“Negative”, she exclaimed.
I loudly exhaled, inwardly collapsing into a pool of welcome relief. I could breathe again. I knew this wouldn’t be the last blood draw. But I also knew it was the best indicator of what the others would also reveal.
I was free.
Or was I?
I left her office that day melancholy, and I couldn’t understand why. I had received a good report. Certainly I should be celebrating. But I didn’t. I wanted to retract, feeling wounded by the entire ordeal.
John 13:7 says, “You do not realize what I am doing, but later you will understand”.
Why had I been so quick to white knuckle my way through this whole process when I could have simply left it in his capable hands?
Was my faith so weak and my heart so hard that in fact I believed he could not really be trusted? Or was my faith just all lip service, puppeting what I had heard my entire life?
Oh to have heeded the wise words of Lamentations 3:25, 28, 31-32, which says, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord…Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him…For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”
Oh, to wait quietly for him. To sit in silence before the Lord.
He will show compassion.
But it would be a while before I learned such lessons. Really learned them. Deep down in my soul learned them.
Even so, he was extending compassion.
 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Three Shuffled Steps Backwards


These past few weeks have felt like one long exhaling breath as we have searched to find ourselves and our lives again. Wondering a bit, where do we go from here? Feelings of numbness, sadness and glimpses of hope have all risen and fallen with the passing of days. A sort of listless ache has come over my heart. An inner battle that I can’t seem to get past. The trauma that we faced has left what feels like an indelible gaping hole in me. The bleeding has stopped. But now a scar remains. I want so badly for that scar to fade. To strike what has occurred from my memory.

But it still aches. And sorrow still smirks in the distance.
I want to get back to living again. Living my ‘real’ life. The way things, in my mind, were supposed to go. Before everything went so…wrong.
I can’t seem to process all the loss and come out unmarred. Even so, I try. How I foolishly try. It seems the moment the pressure lets up a bit and my feet are no longer to the fire, I find I collapse into old habits of self-focus and self-determination. I can do this. I can and will do this, even if it strangles a bit of my spirit in the process. Had I not learned anything about true strength in the past months? More, about my own engulfing weakness? And the beauty found in my own admission of weakness?
Had I so quickly forgotten, “For when I am weak, then I am strong”? [emphasis added]
But the pain has since turned to numbness, and everything that once raged red has now turned to grey. Even still, I can’t help but wonder why I feel such a need to cover to my scar? To hurry up and cover up any and all evidence of ever being broken. Why do I battle day in and day out to get fitter? Get faster. Get stronger. Get slimmer. To control my size. And my family. To control my health. And my rate of healing. To control what others think of me. And how I appear. I find myself even trying to control the exercises given to me by my physical therapist! And for what?
I can’t seem to find my way.
And it frustrates me.
Today was no exception. Trudging my three-year-old and myself to the car, we made our way to physical therapy in hopes of good news. The rain beat down on the car as we drove, and I tried my best to dismiss the growing ache in my right hip. How could this be happening again?
I had just endured not one hip replacement. Not two. But four.
Four. (Three hip replacements and one incision and drainage)
Pain just wasn’t an option I was willing to come to terms with.
Even so, I hurt.
We made our way into the waiting room, quickly sitting down as I waved familiarly at the secretary. Megan hurriedly threw her coat off in one jubilant motion, only to request I sing her favorite, “Twinkle Twinkle” while she hopped and spun about the room. Her eyes, so joy filled, as I sang. So proud of herself as she moved. Delighted to have gathered the affections of the others in the room, she let out a squeal. I watched, proudly, holding back laughter of my own. I was so thankful for this girl and her youthful ability to be fully in the moment. For her sweet joy that flowed so freely, often pulling me out of myself.
Reminding me to get out of my own way.
How I needed that reminder today.
Two minutes later the others had lost interest, and Megan hopped up on the chair next to me, putting her head on my shoulder and exclaimed, “Mom, I just love you in my heart”.
I was loved through the eyes of a child. My child. And wasn’t that enough?
Moments later we were brought back to an exam room where I was told to put on a pair of oversized shorts for exam. As my physical therapist entered, I began to share regarding my recent right hip pain. I watched as concern came over his face. I knew this wasn’t a particularly good reaction.
Over the past weeks he had cautioned me regarding pushing too much and the dangers in overdoing it, potentially leading to injury. He knew I was motivated. In fact, he had tried to temper such motivation at just about every visit, trying to get me to see what real time progress actually looked like.
I breathed in deep and exhaled, not knowing what was coming next.
He stated, “A single hip replacement typically takes six months to return to baseline (with a good amount of hard work).” He went on to say, “A double hip replacement, well those are just tough. But you, you haven’t had a double hip replacement. You’ve essentially had two major surgeries to each hip. It’s going to take some time.”
Take things slowly? Give it some time? These were not things I did well. I already believed the exercises he had given me to be somewhat feeble and in need of a good ramp up.
This was not the promise for complete healing after four months as previously stated by my surgeon, preoperatively of course.
But my gut told me he was right. Even though I hated to hear it.
A few moments passed, and he recommended I use a cane and hold on any more therapy in the interim.
A cane? I thought I was done with assistive devices! Wasn’t that the point of surgery?
Two minutes later we made our way out to the car, Megan, happily singing in the back seat while I was in another world completely in the front seat, mulling over the past hour in my mind. How long would this setback take? Would I ever be free from hip pain? Was there something wrong with my internal hardware?
And then it occurred to me that perhaps I was missing the point.
Really missing it.
Perhaps the point all along hadn’t been to spare me from any further calamity but instead to teach me the true meaning of rest. A part of me cringes even now at fully embracing this, as I have been wired from the start with the heart of a doer. Rest has never been something voluntary for me. I spent years as a pre-med major in college pushing and striving, somewhat cleverly believing God needed me and my achievements. Even after having been diagnosed with lupus, more time was spent pushing and striving towards becoming a nurse practitioner. Sacrifices were made. Anything it took to get things done. But what I didn’t recognize was that my youthful zeal wasn’t actual spiritual progress. Spiritual fervor coupled with holier than thou travel plans to some remote land- not to mention being subtlely aware of the praise that came with said travels-just didn’t amount to a whole lot. Where was God to be found in all of the ‘me’? And how has it taken me so long to recognize this disparity?
Psalm 23 says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures”. Surely, that was a verse I could relate to, having been made to lie down quite a bit over the past years. And still, I wander.
It seems the real power is found in the quiet. In the resting. In perfect trust.
That is where he shows up best.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its root by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit”.
Oh, to be like this beautiful tree! And even more, to take a lesson from my girl.
Rest, fully present and trusting in him who created us, singing to him always, “I love you in my heart”.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“But I trust in you, O Lord…My times are in your hands…” Psalm 31:14,15

Micah 7:7 says, “But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.”