God’s Timing and Riding the Storm

Life has gone full rollercoaster lately.

My brother returned from his intensive brain therapy changed. What a rocky time it was for him to be exhausted in every way to try to make better neural connections for concussion recovery! The imaging and testing from when he started to when he finished the week long therapy had measurable differences in many areas while showing the need for drastic improvement in certain functions. It was a time of intense prayer and empathic distress. We are so joyful in the progress he made as a family, but still know he has a ways to go.

I was scheduled to have sinus surgery last Thursday. For some reason, despite pre-registering, I was admitted and put through 2 gruesome hours of hearing medical staff chatter behind the curtain about me, and finally having the anesthesiologist come to tell me the outpatient center had a policy that discriminated against people of my weight and BMI. He told me he felt confident administering anesthesia to me but couldn’t go against the facility’s policy and the board of directors finally put their firm “no” in. For some reason, I had this anxiety I couldn’t quite shake while preparing. Something felt off, but I also wanted to lean fully on God. When that happened, I was shaken, but also grateful for God’s peace knowing He is ultimately in control.

My dad has been in a lot of pain lately. We first thought it was his meniscus. It was hard to hear him cry out in pain, and see my once very able-bodied father go from a brace to a cane to a walker. They discovered with imaging that he is dealing with spontaneous necrosis of part of his femur. Umm. Whoa! His bone is dying off. That’s serious and absurd, and so not what we anticipated! He’s been ordered to avoid being on his feet and bearing weight on it for 2 months.

My sweet art friend has been a big cheerleader and prayer warrior for my surgery. I called her Thursday and her hospice care person said she was tired and sleeping. I called Friday and Saturday and no reply. Finally, on Sunday, I called and her son picked up. He told me she could have hours left and that she adores me and please come out if I can to see her one last time. I rushed over there and saw my friend, so fragile, laying in a hospital type bed in her living room. Her son and girlfriend were there and we let her sleep and watched TV together. They showed me her last chart update from the LVN and it said “actively dying” “pain 10/10, crying and moaning” He woke her up for some medicine around 9 and she woke up and we prayed together and she cupped my face and told me she loved me. Her voice was gone, a raspy low whisper is all she can muster. Her body so overwhelmed, we had to remind her to close her mouth and suck from the straw to take a drink of water. Her daughter flew out Monday and we think she is holding out to spend a little more time with all 3 children. I’m so grateful I got to see her one last time, and am continuing to pray as her kids come together for these last moments.

I’m currently calling other surgery centers and my ENT and insurance trying to sort out a rescheduling, while taking on some extra work to help my dad out, while dreading a call from one of Rosina’s kids to say she has passed. It’s Tuesday and I’m exhausted and I’ve cried two days in a row. I’m a mess. This little slice of life is currently riding out the storms and waiting on God’s perfect timing.

What I’ve Learned from my Friend in Hospice

I should title this “What I’m learning” I suppose, as my dear friend is still here with us today, as far as I know. But I’m afraid her time is drawing near, and she desperately desires heaven over her cancer-ridden, pain-filled body.

We became friends in a very special way. She was a painting instructor at Michaels and I was an art enthusiast who had no formal painting knowledge and too many canvases. I stopped by her promotional booth and chatted quickly but knew I couldn’t afford lessons. I had just moved out and into my first apartment months ago and there was no way I could fit art lessons into my budget. We met a second time in the paint aisle, chatted some more, and as fate would have it, she offered to trade fine art lessons for digital art lessons and our friendship grew from there.

When we met, she had been cancer free for a few years. I didn’t know this right away, but she had survived staged IV lung cancer when she only had a 5% survival diagnosis. She’s very spirited and told her doctors God let her know she’d make it through. And so she did, to their astonishment.

But we are beautiful souls trapped in bodies that malfunction and age, and even with her prior miracle, she found herself hospitalized with pneumonia about 4-5 years later, and that is when they found nodes of cancer sprouting in her body, in her bones this time.

She was given until Winter 2017, and by God’s grace, is still here, and may see another birthday very soon. But all this time she’s been in hospice, and grows weaker, thinner, and lives in more pain.

Here’s what I’ve learned in this year and a half of her slowly dying:

1. Cancer is a horrible, horrible thing…
I would not wish cancer on my worst enemy. This deterioration I’ve witnessed is heartbreaking. My friend is a spirited, spunky, opinionated, lovely Italian lady. She was very high energy, and now needs to gather strength to speak. 

2. It is important to let your friend have what independence she has left.
Sometimes there is victory in the struggle. I vocalize my want to help in the beginning, and wait for her to ask for assistance unless it’s relayed through body language. If I feel she might be at risk, I’m by her side to keep her from falling, or I ask specifically to give a hand then. Letting her feel able-bodied is very important. When someone grows weak and is unable to do many things on their own, they take pride in what they can do. Don’t take that away from them.

3. There will be tears and conflicted feelings.
We’ve cried together a lot. In the earlier parts of hospice there were dark days with crying and regret for a life snuffed short, and other days were infused with hope for another healing to take place. I wept when she wept, and I laughed when she laughed. And while the spectrum of feelings was hard on me, I felt honored to share those moments with her of absolute despair or wonderful hope.

4. Don’t disrespect their vocal wishes to die.
This is particularly hard on me. No one wants a friend to die. It hurts to hear them want death. I wanted to bawl every time she mentioned it. And I was there when other friends were present, and reacted by saying, “Oh don’t say that!” or “You’ll get better, I know it.” I can’t blame them. Those responses are almost default. But you know what that does? It disrespects my friend’s raw honesty and discounts her feelings. As much as it hurt me to stifle my desires to react the same, I try to reply. “I know. I’m sorry this feels unbearable.” I know there is solace for her in confiding the desire to die with someone else. I don’t want to take that away from her.

5. There is a de-nesting period.
There was a point where the cancer spread and more pain medicine was required and my friend knew chances were very slim for recovery. At this point, she began to think about end of life tasks. This was also hard. She would look around a room and try to note who she would pass things too. She didn’t want to burden her kids. Many times I visited she’d give me little things, useful things, that she wanted to clear but knew others could use. Packs of pens, office supplies, very appreciated paint brushes, and little crafting odds and ends. Sometimes if it was a larger item I’d politely let her know I didn’t have room for it, but for things she didn’t ask if I wanted and just gave, I accepted it graciously. We worked on gathering photos for a slideshow at her future memorial. Things that seemed morbid to me were just preparation for the future, and I had to learn to see it that way.

6. There is a unique intimacy.
This intimacy is two-fold. One is practical, as in, they may show you what is wrong or feel comfortable with you being the room when nurses or aids are helping them. She has lifted her nightgown to show me the way cancer has affected her, with the nodes and bumps all over her back, the way her ribs poke through so prominently now. The other is a deep sense of connection and friendship. We don’t know if this meeting is our last, so we enjoy each other’s company that much more.

7. Visitation is hard. You will leave depleted.
Visiting her leaves me tired. Sometimes it leaves me pretending to be stronger than I am emotionally around her, and crying the entire drive home. It is not easy seeing a friend grow weaker knowing she could go at any moment. I feel very drained. But I do not regret our weekly meeting. It is always worth it. 

8. There is hope in heaven.
I know that one day, whenever her last breath is breathed, that there is hope in heaven. She is a devout Catholic, and I am a Christian, and while some of our doctrine does not align, we both have our hope and salvation in what Jesus Christ did for us by living a perfect life as God and a human man, dying on the cross, and resurrecting three days later. I have hope that she will be in the presence of our savior. And that is beautiful, to know her body will be cancer free and she will never be sick again. I wish that hope for everyone I know.

Her birthday is next Monday, and I know she doesn’t want to be around for it. I have peace knowing whether or not she is granted heaven before her birthday, that she feels ready and we’ve shared many Mondays over the last few years together. 

Praying without Pessimism

Wow. What a whirlwind of a week. My brother is currently in a treatment facility for an intensive week-long study and rehabilitation for his concussion. This is the home of last resorts. Most people who end up there have sustained a long term brain injury or have battled atypical effects and have pretty much exhausted every other resource out there.

I can’t even put a number out here for you, but I’m guessing the medical costs these last two years have exceeded my income earned the last two years. All because he was rear-ended by a careless teen who had no idea he was wrecking someone’s life. This has changed his life, his quality of life, his everything.

At first, doctors said give it a month. That became two. That became six. That became a year. Now, we stand at nearly two years with minimal progress. Life has been hard. Damn hard. Mostly for my brother and his little family, but trickled down to my parents and I, and all those around him too.

I bought a CD from Target about a year ago and played it as I was driving. The song below drove me to absolute bawling. I parked and let it cycle three or four times, as the lyrics and the beautiful violin cathartically gave me release.

“We’re sailing
We’re sailing aren’t we?
Its hard to tell the water from my tears
Don’t worry
Have faith they told me
It was easier than in my younger years
Now than I’m older, now that it’s colder
Life keeps on crashing
Day after day, like a wave after wave
We did everything right and now I’m asking
Where do we go? oh
When our prayers are answered
Where do we go? oh
When our prayers are answered but the answer is no

For once, a song finally addressed something my heart had tried to untangle for so long.

What if my brother isn’t meant to get total and complete healing? What if the answer to prayer is no? 

I can be so pessimistic in my prayer life. I can pray God’s will but still not deliver a heart cry. And I don’t know if that is the best most faithful way to pray. I am working on coming before the throne of grace boldly. I want to pray with the faith for God to work something incredible, but understand the limits and not make expectations for God.

I haven’t wrestled with prayer this badly in a long time. I can only hope that the Holy Spirit is uttering what I can’t fathom but feel, and that God is gracious on my messy pleas.

Do I have the faith to pray big? Do I have the faith to do so?

I’m working on it.  I’m also working on accepting that God’s plans are not mine, and trying to find balance in that. But I don’t want to just decide God is done with him either.

I reached out and asked specifically for 20 people to commit to praying for him with me, for 8 days of continuous prayer for him. Thankfully, I am not in this alone. There are people more firmly rooted, more seasoned in prayer and petitioning, that have come alongside me, to lift him up in prayer. The outpouring of love and support during this time has helped me so much.

God, help me to trust you in the yes, no, or not yet.

I am Strong/I am Humbled : What Weight Training has Shown Me.

Guys. It’s my 5th anniversary on WordPress! I’ve been blogging here half a decade!

I’ve decided to go dark on weight loss updates because I feel like my progress is personal, and speaking about it sometimes sets me up for lofty expectations. I will just continue to work on it in silence, and let any success be the noise.

This past month and a half, I’ve added weight training to my exercise regiment. I’ve done some in the past, but just weight machines I was familiar with. Now I’m adding free weights and exercise moves I’ve never done before. Planks. Goblin box squats. Romanian dead lifts. Those terms were all Greek to me just a month and a half ago!

I used to devote 45 minutes to an hour like a hamster on a wheel on a cardio machine. While I still think cardio is a healthy part of working out, weight training has been more challenging and fun, especially since my calories are in control and I don’t necessarily need a cardio burn calorie deficit. I’ve cut down cardio to 10-20 minutes and upped my weight training game, with thanks to my cousin who developed a plan for me.

I am strong: Nothing feels more exhilarating than handling a newer, heavier weight, and knowing your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is changing.

I am humbled: Kinesthetic learning is one of my weakest areas and weight training is something I am not naturally gifted at.

My first workout with weight training was a mind game. I’m at a good place with who I am at the gym. I know I’m obese, and I’m not jealous or afraid of the buff guys or the fitness model looking girls. I’m not ashamed of my oversized form next to theirs. I can acknowledge they’ve worked hard to get where they are, or have an advantage in this realm and I don’t. However, I didn’t want to look stupid, or be perceived as not knowing things. I had to bring up some YouTube videos to confirm form and motion because I don’t process kinetic movements well. I felt so awkward trying to not flail my dumbbells in the air as I moved them them upwards for a chest press. I realized one of the things I needed to work on was a pride issue. I was afraid of looking dumb and was frustrated with not getting things right off the bat. Lifting heavy is so different from the things I pride myself in being good at, and that was mentally really hard for me! I have a natural inclination and knack for cooking and art. I just am pretty good at those things. And in school, even if I wasn’t particularly good at a subject, I was able to study my butt off and get pretty much straight A’s. But this? This was a whole new world, and one I found difficulty in. That’s been good for me. 

Each subsequent workout has been better for me, and it’s really fulfilling to see progress. I am so glad it brought to light a pride issue so I can work on it too. Tackling the “I’m not good at it and am afraid to feel dumb” aspect in fitness can also be applied to life in general, and I really think bringing that area to light will help me get past mental blocks I’ve chained myself to over the years.

Do you lift weights? Have you recently done something that has helped you with a mental block?