hope

On 2018

I am currently recovering from a month-long sinus infection, which caused me to leave the office early on Friday and head home to rest. While at home, I took my convalescence as an opportunity to re-watch Disney’s 2015 animated feature Inside Out. (**Spoilers ahead; just stop here and go watch it. You won’t regret it.**)

Inside Out is one of those movies you can watch a dozen times, and each time you will realize something new. This time, I particularly related to the incidents when Sadness touches old memories and core memories, and they change color from yellow (Joy), to blue (Sadness). At the end of the movie, all the core memories have changed from solid, bright yellow, to a swirl of colors. Memories which were once pure joy, have now become more complicated and contain many layers of meaningful feelings.

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Looking back at 2018, nothing has ever seemed so real to me. The year was not pure sadness, depression, or anger. I shared countless laugh-filled days with my family and particularly my ever-learning and growing son. We heard Theodore’s first words, saw his first steps, and celebrated his first birthday. Our house became a home in this, our first year there, as we improved, decorated, renovated, pruned, and grew its beauty. The photo files on my camera are stocked with shot after shot of smiles and love and also meaningless moments that nonetheless were part of my year, and represented the good parts, at that.

The year was not pure joy, either. I’ll admit, to prepare to write this post, I looked through my photo folder and tried to remember what happened the first quarter of the year. The year before April 13 seems like a lifetime ago, and certainly lived by entirely different people.

But I looked, and sure enough there were pictures of things: playing games with family, petting dogs, upgrading and decorating our home, feeding Theo his first foods, planting seeds, and clearing many feet of snow. These things all happened, but even these memories have a different color over them. They are no longer what they were, they have been tainted. Not just yellow, they are colored in a swirl of yellow, blue, and purple.

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I have been putting it off as long as I can. I usually try to use a word or two to describe the year’s events, the overall feeling I have of the past 365 days. I have been searching and pushing down this word, trying to find another. But the word isn’t going anywhere, so I’ll just admit it so we can move on.

To describe 2018 in one word – the word that will not leave me – I have to say death. Death was everywhere this year. Other years have been stressful, or challenging, but this year the inhuman Death seemed to be waiting around every corner.

[Note: I was considering whether Death was a male or female, and I realized I did not imagine Death as a person at all. After all, how can Death, the end of physical life itself, be alive? It would have to be a god, and you know I’m not okay with that. So I think Death is a force, or a characteristic. It is like light or shadows or sleep or gravity. It is something non-human. Calling it a person would give it too much power, I think. And it does not need any more power than it already has.]

I attended more funerals this year than I ever have (six). I can provide a list to you of six drug-related deaths that impacted me this year. And I can name four other people I knew of who died sudden, unexpected deaths, though I was not able to attend their funerals.

Of course, the deaths of my Grandmother, brother-in-law, and Grandfather stand out among the rest. I think if this whole year was just all the other deaths and funerals, it would not have impacted me the way this year has. After losing these family members, the pain of other losses only magnified. When I heard of another family burying their loved one, my heart broke – again. I was instantly in their shoes, carrying the same lump in their throat, wiping the same tears from their eyes. I knew the pain they were going through, and it made the other losses all the more difficult to hear.

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Although I have been riding the wheels of grief, sometimes, I am right back at anger again. I wrongly accuse God of doing something we didn’t deserve this year. I get jealous that God gets to spend his days with Johnny and we don’t. I think, “How on earth could this be a good thing? Who would ever, ever write this into the Plan?”

And it’s all wrong, I know. I know the answers. The answers are that we don’t deserve anything, not even one single day. The answer is God is always with all of us, and we’ll see Johnny again someday. The answer is that the only Good thing is God sacrificing His own son so that we could be saved from eternal death. The answer is that God does not love to watch us suffer, but He’s bigger and how dare we expect to have the inside scoop on all his plans?

I know the answers. But my feelings are still there and they take some time to work through and a whole lot of Grace.

I was thinking on Sunday, as our Church members were sharing things God has taught them or brought them through this year, that maybe one reason for all this is empathy and compassion. If I never went through what we have gone through, we wouldn’t have the empathy to help someone else going through it. I know this is important because every time I meet another person who is affected by an addict or has lost an addict, I feel a small sense of peace and understanding. We don’t even have to say anything to each other, we just kind of feel a little safer knowing the other person gets it, in a small way. Now, with this chapter in my story, I know Death a lot better than I ever have. I also know Grief and Denial and Anger and Faith. We have all spent a lot of time together, and have swirled some new colors into my memories and thoughts.

I am almost done with this long post, I promise. But I want you to know that there is a second word for 2018. It is not all Death. The other word is hope.

After Johnny died, people asked me how to pray for me. I told them to pray that I would have hope. At the time, I felt completely hopeless in the fight against drugs. I felt like no one could survive being an addict for long, and I should be considered a fool for even being surprised at Johnny’s overdose death. The bird inside my soul stopped singing. It even seemed to have left altogether.

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And slowly, Hope began to make her way into my heart. It started small at first. But there were several moments I can think of when it distinctly grew. One was when I read a sorrowful story about a fellow IUGR mom who lost her baby. It was a heart-breaking story to read, but somehow, in the midst of it, I had an overwhelming (certainly not from me) sense of peace and hope. I remember thinking perfectly clearly, “This woman is going to be okay. She and her husband will be very upset for a while, and that’s fine. And then someday they will try again and have a healthy baby and this pain will get a little less over time. She’s going to live.” I used to hear stories like her’s and think, “How could anyone survive something like that? I don’t know what I would do!” But now I know. I had been through previously unimaginable things, and yet I have survived. I know what the next day will feel like, and then weeks later, and months later, and I know she will survive. I have hope.

Another moment was when a very good friend at church told us that our bad dreams and inability to sleep was a spiritual issue. He rebuked it and we prayed against it, and suddenly we could sleep again. After months of bad sleep and fear of going to bed, we had hope in a good night’s rest again.

Another was in church listening to a sermon about the Lord’s prayer, when I heard very clearly that the Lord wants to pull us from our sin (deliver us from evil), but that we have to be willing to accept the help and stay away from the temptations. I was strongly convicted that I needed to allow myself to get through the sadness and anger and resist the temptation to wallow in these dark places. I resolved to allow myself to get close to God and that I could cry in church. After months of feeling distant and distracted at church, I could finally hear and feel again. I had hope in feeling close to God once more.

I could tell you countless stories like this, stories of moments in the last eight months where I started to breath again, and hear singing again, and smile again. I will simply tell you that in the desert, in the middle of the mad midnight moment, there is only one thing that remained. God gave me Hope. After that, the other two things could flow: Faith, and Love. And from these three things, all else is built.

I hope you have a very happy new year, and that 2019 brings you these three things and more. God bless you.

***By the way, this post happens to be my 100th on this blog and that is pretty crazy to me! I want to say thank you to everyone who has looked at this little blog, read the posts, and left comments and likes. It means so, so much to me that you guys care to spend a few minutes of your day listening to my ramblings. I look forward to 100 more posts in the future!***

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“Bring that down to a one.”

After shaking our hands and introducing himself, the surgeon sat down, clipboard in hand and light-heartedly asked, “So how nervous are you right now?”

I ran through a quick self-evaluation. How nervous was I? Up until just a few minutes ago, when I sat down in this cold, hideously yellow exam room, with its thin table/bed that looked like it could have been recovered from the ruins at Chernobyl, I have been surprisingly calm. But now, alert and slightly shaking, I was admittedly anxious.

“Probably like a six, on a scale of one to ten.” I answer.

“Okay, let’s bring that down to about a one,” he jokes. This comment would set the tone for the rest of the appointment: comments that were slightly comedic, mildly dark (“I could have cancer, he could have cancer, but I don’t think that you have breast cancer in that spot.”), and a whole lot of casual C.Y.A. At more than one moment in the appointment, I thought to myself, “Was this a waste of our time and money?” But I never said it out loud, and was able to justify that if I had not come here, I would have worried and wondered for months.

In March, I had to make the call to Massimo that my doctor had found a lump in my breast during my annual exam. Between that day and my appointment with the comedic surgeon, I had gone through a weeks of visits from a series of mental roommates – some welcome, others not.

The first to stop by after we learned that this lump existed was called Faith. She was, as she always is, wise and free-spirited. Faith assured us that all we needed to do was invite her over, and she would happily stay with us. She said we didn’t need anyone else besides her to get through this. I politely declined, assuring her we would get through this.

Next to come over when I said goodbye to Faith was Pride, who introduced himself as Responsibility. Of course, true Responsibility calls himself “Humility,” so I should have known better. Nonetheless, I spent some time at home and at work with Pride, who constantly reminded me that this could cost us a fortune. “You have a high deductible plan,” he said. “And your emergency fund was really not for tests, surgeries, and treatments, was it? You always said that was in case of a ‘car accident,’ Deborah, you didn’t plan for this! What if this is bad?”

Pride was relentless. I admit I should have shooed him away quickly, but he made some excellent points. Massimo and my mom assured me time and again that this is not the time for financial decisions; this is the time for health care decisions – the two should not be mixed. I eventually told Pride to leave, but before he left, he apparently called his friend, Fear, to stop by.

Fear came by for just a little bit at first, but his real power came after the ultrasound, when he teamed up with his sister, Self-Pity, and their friend, Logic. When this mass first came to our attention, I could easily brush it away as “probably nothing.” Logic, at that time, seemed my friend. Logic told me that most of the time, for someone my age, a lump was just a cyst or just plain tissue. “This is more of a hassle than cause for concern,” Logic told me. I let him stay on the couch for a week.

The day of the ultrasound, Logic sent me off on a great foot. The whole thing went very quickly. In fact, maybe too quickly. The tech took her pictures, left to speak to the doctor, and came back with him. He took more pictures, spoke for about 30 seconds, and left. I looked at the technician with confusion, hoping my face would convey my inner voice screaming, “What do I do now?”

She smiled at me and said, “You’re all set.” That’s not really an answer, lady.

The doctor said a few words that stood out to me: “Your age,” “Not a cyst,” and “most likely a fibroadenoma, which is benign.” That’s really all I had. He mentioned something about a surgeon, or biopsy, but it went very quickly. I walked out feeling like a two out of ten on the worry scale: pretty good.

We went home happy, and it wasn’t until a few days later, when my doctor got the report and decided to refer me to a surgeon for a consult that the visitors showed up again.

This time, Logic seemed to get along better with Fear than he had gotten along with me before. Logic explained very clearly the following facts: 25-year-olds, statistically, are just about as low-risk as one can be. But if a 25-year-old did get cancer, it would (statistically) be breast cancer. And if a 25-year-old did get breast cancer, it would be bad (physically and financially), and even if she survived, it may affect the safety of her having children some day.

Then Self-Pity chimed in and expressed her concern that of course I deserve a long, healthy life with my husband, and that I deserve to have children and raise a family and et cetera et cetera. I knew she couldn’t be right, and after a couple days of that malarky, Massimo set her straight and she packed her bags.

Massimo, of course, was amazing through all of this. I don’t know if he didn’t notice our unwelcome guests, or he was just better at ignoring them than I was, but I told him time and again that if there was a description of how I would like my spouse to act in these circumstances, I would base it off of him. He was amazing. His strength and support – both silent and spoken – were amazing.

When we finally acknowledged the roommates that we both hated: Fear, Logic, Pride, and Self-Pity, we got on a united front and kicked them out once and for all. With them gone, we had room to invite Faith over to spend the week with use before the surgeon appointment. Faith also brought over her friends Joy and Hope, and we all got along splendidly. Sure, in the back of our minds we were always wondering what would happen, but it was more of an intangible, almost (stress the almost) weightless thought, than an unbearable burden.

The only small frustration in those days shared with Faith, Joy, and Hope was planning. There was always a “what if” factored in to making plans and spending money. “What if I need a biopsy? What if this drains our account?” But Hope would chime in and say, “Even still, it is well.”

The day of my appointment went by in a flash. When the comedic doctor left after a brief exam, we couldn’t stop grinning and holding hands. I felt every breath come in and out of my through with such clarity. Joy rode in the back seat with us on the way home from the surgeon’s office, grinning just as wide.

Now, almost six months later, my follow-up appointment next month is practically routine. I learned a lot from those weeks between discovering the lump and being dismissed from the yellow office. I learned that worrying does one hundred percent nothing. I learned that no matter how much good I think it does, the sick feeling in my stomach, a result of fear and concern over things I can’t control, really sucks the joy out of every day.

I’m extremely thankful for all the Lord did for us in those weeks and since. Even though we got an excellent outcome from out tests and appointments, if it had been less than that, we still would have been safe and secure in our Savior’s arms.

A Letter to My Grandmother

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I talk to my grandmother all the time – events, in church, just  when I’m alone. But I wanted to publish this letter to be read by whomever so desires because I want everyone to know how amazing she was. I want her to live on. 

Dear Grandma,

I miss you. I missed you yesterday and I’ll miss you again tomorrow. We learned about Heaven again this week in church. I love imagining you up there, worshiping God. I bet you’re helping all the kids up there, too. They are probably getting distracted and you are helping them pay attention and have fun. You had this amazing way of walking on stage in front of 200 excited, sweaty kids and getting them to listen while you tell them all about what’s happening the next day at VBS. I have no idea how you did that. I wish I did.

I keep asking God to tell you how much we miss you and love you. I hope he’s giving you my messages.

William got married last weekend. You would have loved it. He married a beautiful girl named Mayra. She loves the Lord, just like you would have  wanted. She and William are hoping to return to Peru to be missionaries, helping teenagers learn about Jesus. You would be so proud. Remember how excited you were when Uncle Stephen and Aunt Holly went to Guinea Bissau as missionaries? Yeah, it’s like that. I can still hear your voice talking about it.

They are staying at your house for a little while, which is really good because Grandpa just had heart surgery. He’s doing really well, you would be proud of him for that, too. He misses you a lot. It’s been almost eight years. A lot has happened in that time. You have more grandchildren, more grand-nieces and nephews, and even a new daughter-in-law.

I got married almost a year ago. His name is Massimiliano, but I call him Massimo. He’s truly wonderful. He loves me so much, sometimes I think my heart is going to explode. He went to eighth grade in East Haddam, so I like to hope that you’ve seen him before. He’s changed a lot since then, but I tell him about you all the time. You would have liked our wedding. We got married at Camp Bethel, just like mom and dad. Nana even made it, trying to steal the show, as always.

Susannah graduated from Hale-Ray last week. She’s going to Nyack and wants to be a teacher or a librarian, like you. She’s so smart and beautiful and kind- all your grandchildren are. I don’t think you have a bad apple in the bunch! How does that happen? You must be watching out for us. I hope you are.

I’ll keep thinking of you. Every once in a while someone brings you up. They talk about how you changed their life, and what they remember most about you. I think that you might have changed everyone you ever met.

I really wish you could know my husband, and Mayra, and Anthony’s soon-to-be wife, Bekah. We’ll always wish you were still here, but we also have the hope of meeting you again. We have hope because death is not the end. I hope you still smell the same way when I see you again. I love you, Grandma.

love,

Deborah