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Archive for November, 2014

Misneach (MISH-nock)

November 29, 2014 1 comment

I recently came across an Irish word that is full of beauty and meaning in my life: Misneach (MISH-nock). It speaks of courage, spirit and hopefulness in pushing forward in the midst of uncertainty. I have been thinking about this word throughout this week.

I have written of some of the health struggles that I have faced this fall. This week, I met with the neurosurgeon. Much hope and anticipation had been put into this one appointment – all the specialists I have seen were deferring to this neurosurgeon and it was the appointment that promised answers and a way forward. The number of people who assured me that I was seeing the best of the best and that God’s hand is upon me is more than I can count; as is the number of people who assured me everything would be fine.

Words fail me as I think about that appointment and what the past week has meant for me. It caught me by surprise. I was prepared for the various possibilities – or so I thought. There was quite a bit explained to me during that appointment but one thing stands out: low-grade glioma. A brain tumour. in the Glial cells (supportive tissue). In the middle of my brain.

Three months ago, as I waited 8 hours in emergency with eye pain, I never ever in my wildest dreams or fears went down this road in my mind. I wasn’t expecting a tumour. In fact, I had several professionals assure me that that wasn’t going on in the waiting period – just in case I was worried about that. I wasn’t. But it was assuring.

I once was told that when a doctor gives a diagnosis of a tumour, the patient hears “blah blah blah TUMOUR blah blah blah”. And there is a lot of truth in this. There is a lot of power in that one word. Objectively, I know this doesn’t mean cancer. All we know is there looks like something that is a tumour. We don’t know if it is malignant or benign, new or always there. For all we know, it could be something that has been there my entire life, something we happened to stumble upon thanks to an MRI and it will never require any medical intervention. Or that could be wishful thinking.

For me, the struggle is around the treatment options. Because of where it is in the brain, surgery is really not an option – there are too many risks. Radiation is a possibility but the neurosurgeon wants to wait and do another MRI in 6 months before taking this route. So we wait. I’ve gradually been sharing this with friends and family members. I have debated sharing on here but some conversations with people have made me realize that God is at work, somehow, and will use this.

In September, I admit I was quite mad at God. I had cut down all my commitments so that I could enter into seminary life to the fullest. I became the missional chair in student council and signed up for a full load. And on the first day, ended up in emergency. This was not the deal I had made with God.

But conversations lately have made me wonder if I have blamed the wrong source. What if this is not God? What if this is just more evidence that as we embark on God’s will and are involved in kingdom-work, we are faced with resistance of the evil one? What if this is not a test of my faith, but a strong attack against it. To knock me down. To discourage me. To have me quit.

I have always believed in spiritual warfare. I think there is a tendency to either blame spiritual warfare too much or too little. But, in the words of one friend, never thought something so harsh would come my way as an attack. Maybe this has nothing to do with God, but with the evil one. I don’t know if that scares me or comforts me! Scripture says that we should expect and not be surprised by resistance – and I am trying to follow the call to pioneer ministry and living life among those who do not know the love of God.

Is the tumour just one way in which the evil one attempts to knock the wind from my sails? I have to admit – if this is true, the evil one picked a good way to attack. I do feel the wind taken from me and at various points this week, I have toyed with quitting – whatever that means.

A few friends are gathering tonight to pray for me and to anoint me with oil. Join us? Join us not just in the desire for healing. But in requesting Misneach – courage and hope in pressing forward into the world of the unknown as I face something I hadn’t even imagined.

More thoughts on facing serious medical issues

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Last night I went to ER yet again.

Rather reluctantly. I have seen more doctors in the past two months than in my entire life. I’m still not a fan of doctors or hospitals and will avoid them whenever possible.

But when the pain started to get worse on heavy narcotics and after talking with a couple of people in the know, I knew that I had to make another long trek. Thankfully this time I had my tablet charged with some fun computer games to distract me. I’m playing a fun strategy game that has me evolving a virus with an attempt to infect the entire world. A bit ironic that I was sitting in ER with this game. The best part though is naming the viruses – I name them after the heretics I am learning about in my History of Christianity of course. Besides the humour, it has actually been helpful to remember who’s who and what side they are on.

I am stronger medication to tie me over to the Neurosurgeon appointment in 11 days. I had some wonderfully encouraging news though – last week’s neurosurgery on call team arranged for me to have an MRI and in the midst of some challenges around it, I’m very thankful I will have it tomorrow.

But I had another dose of reality in the ER and beyond and wanted to share some of my learnings.

  • Sometimes God shows up in unexpected ways. I called someone on my way to the bus stop to let them know I was going to the ER. I have a transit pass and it’s about the same time as taking a taxi. Plus some recent unexpected expenses made a taxi unrealistic last night. While waiting, a taxi driver stopped and offered me a ride. When I explained I didn’t have any money, he said that’s ok as he is going to the subway, it’s late, I’m alone and it’s cold. When I got into the car he introduced himself and said in his country it’s not safe for women to be out at night and said that he saw a charisma in me waiting there in the cold that made him want to stop. He asked my name and where I was going so late. I told him, and his response was beautiful: “Elizabeth, I knew there was a reason I need to stop for you. God is with you. You have many people who care about you and want to help you. You help others and give generously as you can. But now I need to accept people’s care.” On reflection, it sounds a bit weird. But in the moment, I felt I had met Jesus in this man and was reminded that I do not go to the hospital alone.
  • Waiting sucks. I’m not the most patient person. However, I have always taken great comfort at the long waits in ER as that means two things: 1) It’s not urgent and 2) I’m not as sick as others. Now that I’ve had the experience of short waits and lots of medical attention, there is a part of me that while thankful for a bed, I wish I could wait in the waiting room for 5 hours. Last night I was triaged and had a bed within half an hour. Fifteen minutes later I saw a doctor.
  • Prayer works. I asked people to pray specifically for the triage nurse and the emergency doctor. Last week, when I was in emerg, I was triaged wrong and my symptoms were not taken seriously until they called a neurosurgeon 12 hours later.
  • ER is not the place for being tough. I have a high tolerance level, don’t like to complain and don’t want to be a burden. Add that to having a hard time facing how Ill I’ve been and my people-pleasing side, and I can play down my symptoms quite well. Pain rating scales are useless on me as I tend to think of 10 being someone who is dying and not “the most amount of pain you’ve been in”. I have just realized that this is a subjective measurement and playing it safe with a low number isn’t going to get the help I need.
  • I still am easily intimidated by people in positions of power. On a good day, I will struggle to stand up for myself when feeling dismissed and unheard and working with someone who does not seem to want to budge. When I’m sick, overwhelmed, or anxious this is extremely difficult for me. While this is an area of growth, I will need people to come alongside me until I grow. Many have asked how they can help, and I’ve been ok with the waiting alone but maybe this is something I can allow people to do.
  • Sometimes doctors just don’t know what to do. I’ve had multiple opinions, hypotheses, and degrees of immediate concern. It’s confusing and frustrating as they conflict and what the heck do I know?! But they really seem perplexed – it seems just as confusing and frustrating to them.
  • This is scary stuff. the unknown is scary. the symptoms are scary. being in hospitals is scary. having to prepare for different scenarios is scary. I’m scared. I don’t think I’ve felt that throughout the past few months. But I do now. Sometimes I want to just cry as life is not going the way I hoped and I have no control over it.

We must remember

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Typically, I am conflicted on this day.

We must remember. War hurts all. There are no winners, no losers in war. Children die. Mothers die. Fathers die.

Today I am particularly moved by “The Last Post” – moved to tears actually.

We must remember.

The opposite of remembering is forgetting.

Forgetting enables us to repeat the tragedies of our past.
Forgetting enables us to lose sight of the cost of war
Forgetting enables us to ignore the cries for peace

We must remember.

So we don’t forget.
So we don’t repeat.
So we don’t grow cold.

But remembering demands much more than not forgetting.
Remembering demands that we work towards peace.

You. Me.

Because war hurts all.
There are no winners, no losers.

When the flesh is weak

Over the past few months, I have thought a lot about Paul’s words that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Of course, Paul was talking about temptation in the context. But those words have taken on a greater meaning in my life now that I am wrestling with serious medical problems. It is so often the case that I desire to do what I physically cannot handle at the moment.

Last week, I spent another 30 hours in emergency with more tests and consults. This time scared me though – the left side of my body experienced numbness, muscle twitches and tingling along with chest pain. I doubted that there was cardiac reasons for this though they checked me out just in case. My greater concern was that I know the brain often works bilaterally and mot of my head pain has been concentrated on the right sight. Also, I thought it was just plain weird that my left side was impacted but not my right. Add to that vomiting and dizziness that caused me to lose my balance and I decided to get it checked out. Those who know me will know how much I hate going to see doctors and understand that it takes a lot for me to present myself.

I was hooked up to IV fluids, anti-nausea medication and morphine. I went for another CT scan which I am thankful to say did not show any changes from September. Still, given my symptoms and their inconsistencies, they think that I have a partial blockage. Since I have a neurosurgeon appointment in a couple of weeks, the stability in imaging and a few things need to be done that can be done outpatient, they discharged me. But this visit was scary as they were talking about hospitalizing me and imminent surgery for awhile. Also, everyone comments on how large my ventricles (the spaces in the brain that hold the cerebral spinal fluid) and this visit I learned what some of the reasons for this could be.

This trip to ER has made me realize a few things:

  • my life is not my own. As much as I want to believe I am in control of my own life, I’m not. I cannot will, desire, or pray these symptoms away.
  • Focus on today. I’ve been living day by day because of the inconsistent symptoms. Some days I am totally fine and can accomplish a great deal including papers that I’m proud of. Other days I am so sick that getting through the day is an accomplishment that I need to be proud of.
  • I need to listen to my body. In the past, I could ignore my symptoms. As I deal with pain and fatigue and other strange  symptoms, I need to be ok with resting.
  • Health comes first. Most of my life I have shortchanged my health in order to do what I want to do. I’ll work long hours and sleep very little, push through, and worry whenever I can’t. But right now, I’ve had to prioritize health. Interestingly, all those things that really mattered to push me to do what I could not do, really aren’t a big deal. Getting an A on a paper is something I really enjoy, but the cost of health is too much.
  • I have a wonderful community of friends. I accidentally posted that I was in the ER to all my Facebook friends instead of changing the privacy setting to my prayer support network. Before I realized this, I had numerous messages of people saying that they were thinking of me and praying for me. People who I have met, and people I only know on Facebook. People in Toronto, and people all over North America. I am really touched by this.

Speaking out

My head and heart have been distracted this past week. I have read countless articles and comments about Ghomeshi, victims of sexual crime and rape culture. I have tried to challenge and speak into what has seemed like a sad commentary on both what victims experience and people’s responses. In doing so, my story has been more public than I am used to. Yes…I write a blog and what I write is out there. But 100+ hits a day to one post is simply not what I am used to. Enough has been written on this topic and so I don’t want to say much at the moment.

But I would like to add to the discussion what speaking out is like…even for someone whose offender has been convicted.

Each time I tell a new person that I was sexually abused, I am worried that I will lose relationships. Speaking out has cost me my family and much more.

Each time I admit that I too was a victim, I worry my voice will be discounted since I am damaged … Or worse…that I am crazy as some have said.

Each time I mention the abuse by my stepfather, I wait in fear for the words of my grandmother that echo in my mind “I don’t believe you, but continue.”

Each time I tell my story, I worry what people think of me. I worry that people will consider me unfit for ministry. I worry that people will only see this side of me.

Each time I tell someone, I worry their niceness is them feeling sorry for me. I worry that silence means they don’t believe me.

I worry how this information would be used against me or used to hold me back.

This is after ten years of telling people. And the majority of them walking alongside me in the long and difficult journey towards healing and wholeness.

Dear world,
If you want more women to speak up and out, you need to know that we risk everything to do so. There is no glamour or rewards for doing so. Just shame, fear and pain. Respond tenderly. Even if you don’t believe our offenders did what we say. Even if you don’t know how to reconcile your good opinion of the person and the allegations. Choose silence over blind statements about our character. Refrain from judgment of us, just like you want to do with the offender.
Affirm our courage. Chances are, we are telling the truth and the cost of doing so is beyond what you could even begin to imagine. Affirm our pain. You do not need to know whether what we say is true in order to see that we are troubled by something.
Don’t give up on us. Whether you believe us or not, walk with us. We need you.
Respond tenderly. Affirm our courage and pain. Stick with us.
And together we will work towards a culture that does not permit sexual violence.