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Broken wings

February 19, 2015 1 comment

Photo on 2015-02-17 at 4.01 PM

Somethings are harder to talk about than others.

I have often claimed that it would be easier to talk about physical health problems than depression, abuse and various ways of coping with the inner and invisible pain that so many of us carry on a daily basis. I thought some words are more acceptable to say, that some struggles are more acceptable to acknowledge and that people would find it easier to respond to certain types of suffering that are more physical.

I was wrong.

physical health problems are not easier. just different.

In December, I was diagnosed with a low grade glioma (Brain tumour) deep in the brain. There were a few weeks when it was easier to talk about it. A diagnosis made my symptoms legit – I’m not making it up. It was so shocking to me that I needed to tell others.  I also wanted to invite others to pray.

but now people express concern and understanding and I want to talk about anything but physical stuff. I don’t want to accept my limitations. I struggle with chronic pain and exhaustion – but I want to keep up a pace that I’ve always known. I don’t mind people praying, but lately I’ve not wanted to talk about it.

this week I received copies of my MRI reports. The second one talked about increased problems though thankfully not an increase in hydrocephalus or the glioma.

but it also didn’t say that the glioma and hydrocephalus decreased or even disappeared.

Many people have prayed for that – many people including myself. I’ve had people say that as they pray they visualize it decreasing and others say they know that God wants to heal me. I’m typically skeptical of those remarks. But deep down, I hoped for this too. I’ve known miracles. I remember praying for one of my unborn siblings with our church community when a rather negative report came through the prenatal ultrasound. The next ultrasound astounded the physicians as nothing was wrong and a perfectly healthy looking baby presented himself. I know a number of cases in which people “got their miracle”. Many people praying and prayers answered in amazing ways.

But that didn’t happen for me. At least not yet and with God, there’s always a possibility that a miracle could happen when we least expect it. This is not new in my life – the hard way seems to be the path I must travel. I do believe strongly that God is not finished with me yet and so somehow the story is not over. Which means the glioma doesn’t win the day. But it’s still there. And a miracle has not happened to remove or shrink it.

I’ve been really bummed out about this.

Tonight, I was reminded of butterflies and how delicate their wings are. As they emerge from a cocoon, they struggle but you can’t take the struggle away and fix it for them because they will most likely die with interference. But even after they’ve emerged from the struggle, their wings remain delicate and damage to them would render them unable to fly in all their glory.

Martyn Joseph (one of my favourite singer/songwriters) has a way of speaking into my soul with words and melodies that carry healing and hold the inner parts of me.

I’m not very strong when it comes to this/ Deep in my heart I know it’s here/ Guess I’d rather wait until the morning/ Hope that it would bring a brighter sun/ Time has had a chance to do good healing/ I must take these pieces as they lie/ Offer them to You in my sadness/ I guess broken wings aren’t always meant to fly.

Oh I need you – more than I ever did before/ Oh how I need to hear Your voiceI will if I will listen to the lesson that you’re whispering/ Life is a painful journey/ But you knew so you took it for me long ago.

(Broken Wings)

I’m not very strong when it comes to what is happening in my brain – from depression to extra fluid to strange masses and cysts. I must take these pieces as they lie. And offer them to the One who laid down his life, knowing life is a painful journey.

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.

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.

Resounding Chorus of my Life

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Today’s been one of those days.

I awoke way too early to call it a good night’s sleep thanks to the blaring sound of my alarm clock. My head has been hurting almost constantly for a few days now and this morning, my head was rather noisy in letting me know that it exists. I’ve been trying to pretend that everything is fine though and I was prepared to go to class. Until I stood up and realized how dizzy I was. I also was experiencing new symptoms – numbness and tingling, both very strange experiences to have. The combination led me to opt into staying home for self care rather than go to my class about self care. Problem is – I’ve missed a few too many of this class and I’m faced with the reality that I might have to drop it as it’s not the type of class I can complete in the comfort of my home.

I visited my GP even though I felt like a total hypochondriac – I think I’ve been in her office more over the past month than in the whole time I’ve known her! She was wonderful though and there isn’t really much I can do until I see the specialists in a few weeks. Thankfully, there are no huge warning signs that the hydrocephalus is getting worse or causing further complications. As for the tingling – it could be neurological, it could be nothing  – or anxiety is enough to throw things off kilter.

“You have a lot going on.”

I left the office relieved about nothing urgent going on. Yet, I am frustrated at what I have called the resounding chorus of my life: “You have a lot going on.” I think chaos is merely a part of my life and I almost welcome it at times as it is a known entity. But it is frustrating to hear those six words –  especially in a time when I have intentionally pulled back from commitments in order to simplify and de-stress so that I can focus on studies.

This evening I found everything possible to avoid the paper that I am supposed to be writing. Went walking with a friend, went grocery shopping, played the guitar, cooked dinner, hung out with my housemates. I have tried to pick up the guitar a few times in my life, but for the past couple of weeks I have been regularly practicing and can now play and sing songs with some ease. I sang evening prayer and some praise and worship songs.

As I was playing, I was reminded of how much I am enjoying learning to play the guitar. It is still so new to me that it requires all of my concentration. For a moment, all the noise and pain in my head seems to quiet down long enough for me to make a beautiful sound from six strings. I reflected on the martyrdom of Perpetua (topic of my paper) and how God reminded her of her presence in multiple ways – through visions, prayer and deep physical sensations. As I played the guitar, I began to wonder if there is another ‘chorus’ in my life on repeat beyond “You have a lot going on”

Yes…

… I am loved.

… God is before, behind, beside and inside me

… God will provide for my needs

… God has and will continue to use me, my story, my gifts for his glory

Perhaps, I will be able to let these statements drown out and replace the noise of having a chaotic life.

Courage is not the absence of fear

September 7, 2014 1 comment

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“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear” – Nelson Mandela

This past week, I have attended many social events for Wycliffe’s orientation and there is indeed much to write about. An incredible concert by Martyn Joseph, whose music is prophetic and pastoral; and a sense of homecoming as it turned out to be a meeting place for all sorts of longtime friends from various places that I have travelled over the years. A bbq and chance to reunite with alumni who I know, students from last year and to meet some of my cohort. Over the weekend, we went on a retreat – and there are many happy moments that I am recalling to mind – especially the campfire singing and drama last night that had me in pain for laughing so darn hard. It’s been truly wonderful and I’m very thankful for a wonderful few days.

But – I am an introvert who has lived the extraverted life the past few days. I welcomed the opportunity to take my cat outside on a leash with one of my textbooks and immerse myself in reading. When one friend heard about my weekend, her response was “Elizabeth, I am so proud of you.” I love coffee or walking dates. The intimate conversation between two friends. I can sometimes chat more than my extraverted friends. Introversion is not equivalent to shyness necessarily. I am often most confident when I am leading events with lots of people – my role is defined, I’ve thought about how the event is going to go, and largely, I am prepared and am not met with too many surprises. Yet, if I attend an event with lots of people – whether I know them or not – it is usually true that a lot of anxiety has been present before I get there. The conversation is not predictable and I am not in my element. I back out of events due to the fear I feel. My cave with my cat, books and cds are far more ‘safe’ than a weekend full of people I don’t know and social encounters.

I am reminded once again that courage is not the absence of fear. I met everyone on this retreat – students, faculty, staff, spouses. I introduced myself if I didn’t know them, I pushed myself to chat with people I had not met instead of sticking with the comfortable person I found. I also took care of the kids during some of the time, and I have to say – that provided a much needed haven from the anxiety-provoking chatter. And it was awesome! Awesome people with awesome gifts and stories. I loved it – it was hard for me, but I was happy that I had each conversation. I feel connected with the various people in a way that I hadn’t through orientation sessions. I’m ready to start classes and feel apart of the community!

There was one particular conversation that I would not have had if I had let the fear overtake me. I felt God lead me to a table of people I had not conversed with yet. I reluctantly sat down and peered over to the other tables full of people I already had met and wondered why I had just dived into the deep-end. Someone else joined our table and sat across from me. Our conversation led to opportunities to explore my giftings and calling in ways that I had not anticipated. Things are shifting and happening fast – and it’s exciting.

Courage is not the absence of fear – but the ability to feel the fear and do it anyways. I’m thankful for a God who pushes me out of my comfort zone to blessings that do what I naturally would hesitate to do. There is joy on the other side of courage.