Friday, March 30, 2012

Scars - Part 2

The first time I played "Scar Stories" at Bryan College, I told the story about the scar on my left eyebrow (what is the deal with the left side of my body?!). My parents tell me I was about 2 or 3 years old at the time. We were on vacation at Tyler State Park (TX) and apparently I had climbed up a tall slide. Little Beks got all excited when she heard her eldest brother coming, and turned around and starting walking down the slide. Bumped, bruised, and side of the head busted open, I fell face first down a ten foot slide.

When my Mom tells the story, she always adds that while my parents saw the whole thing happen, she remained paralyzed with shock. Before she could even start running, my Dad ran and brought me back to the car. Cute story -- while I was getting stitches at the hospital (with the surgical paper over my face), my Mom remembers that I was screaming my head off. She said once she stuck her head under there so I could see her, I calmed right down. Little Beks was just a bit scared to be all alone :)

Until four weeks ago, the scar on my eyebrow was the only scar on my face. That's where Part 2 of this story comes in...

One of my New Years Resolutions was to be a responsible adult and go to all my doctors for yearly checkups. I am blessed to have a job and great health insurance, so I decided to be a good steward of the resources at hand and make those appointments. 

First was the Dentist - success! Not a single cavity, and good, healthy teeth.

Next came my annual physical with my OB/GYN. Let me take a moment and pause to encourage young women to make this particular appointment a priority. I'm not trying to scare you into going to the doctor. I'm also not intending to frighten you or stir you to be anxious about the things that could be going on in your body. On the contrary, my desire is just to encourage you to be a student of your body (be aware, know what is normal or what does and doesn't feel right) and be your own advocate by utilizing the amazing resources we have in doctors and the medical field. Ask good questions, give honest feedback, and trust that God is in sovereign, good control of your life and health. Boom - that's it. 

Whenever I go to any doctor, here's generally what happens - I give them too much information. Unlike a first date, the doctor's office is a welcome place for that! The more you tell them, the more they are able to connect your symptoms with their knowledge, and therefore put together the puzzle pieces. 

So, I gave my doctor a laundry list of observations I had noticed in my life and health over the past 18 months. From fatigue and weight gain, to changes in my work/life balance and daily routine. I probably listed 10-15 specifics for her, and somewhere between my rapid-fire list and her speed-typing, something keyed her off to get up and come over and examine my neck. If you are not familiar with the OB/GYN world (ask your Momma), necks are not their specialty :) However, within seconds, she asked me to swallow and asked, "Can you feel that lump?" 

I felt terrified and calm, all at the same time.

I certainly could feel it and had actually felt something like it before while swallowing and singing in college. Just thought I was a lumpy kind of gal and didn't realize it wasn't supposed to be there. She asked me all sorts of other questions (now, a blur in my memory), but I just remember telling her that a friend of mine at church recently asked if something was wrong with my voice. He thought I might not have been well. As soon as I told her, she said, "You'll want to tell the specialist that."

And so I left the office on a Tuesday afternoon with a referral in-hand and a million questions. 

The whole process I'm about to describe went rather quickly (God's grace to me!):

  • Monday, 1/30 - Original appointment. One lump discovered on neck.
  • Thursday, 2/2 - See specialist. Three more lumps found, all embedded within thyroid. Biopsy ordered.
  • Monday, 2/6 - Biopsy performed. Horrible. Always ask for something to numb it. It's not a "bee sting."
  • Thursday, 2/9 - Biopsy results back, abnormal. Surgery encouraged. I decide to seek second opinion. Also found out I have a family history of thyroid issues...interesting information!
  • Friday, 2/10 - Dear friend from college moves to the DC area for a 13-week contract as a traveling ICU nurse (!) and attends all my appointments with me. Gift from God!
  • Tuesday, 2/14 - Second opinion, surgery required. All questions answered about risks. Peace in my heart.
  • Monday, 2/20 - Confirm surgery date for two weeks time.
  • Friday, 3/2 - Surgery.
Total time: 31 days

The surgery and hospital experience was one that has forever changed me. In one sense this is true because I had something removed that has now been donated to science (enjoy, DC medical students!). I knew I would enter the operating room as a "whole" person, and come out with something missing, and a scar to prove it. 

But in another sense, there are layers of deeper meaning for me. When I look at my scar today, here is what floods my memory... 

I remember two friends who substituted as family for me that day. Both gave up much of their time and resources to love and care for me throughout my unanticipated hospital stay. Erica, whose sweet face I first remembered after surgery. With eyes welled up with tears, she looked down at me and gave me what I needed most -- physical touch. She was such a means of grace to me. And Kenda, a fellow CHBC member and dear friend, stayed by my side, night and day, for 5 days in fact (we only anticipated staying 1 night).

After surgery when my complications started to arise, it was Kenda who I remember held my hand, stroked my forehead, sang and prayed with me, encouraged me that soon it would be over, and read Scripture over me. When I was in and out of consciousness and would wake up in shooting pain, I would often panic and cry out for her. Most times she was already right there, holding my hand and praying over me.

Due to my complications, I was required to have regular blood tests every couple of hours. When it was time to get another sample, it was Kenda who coached me through and told me I could do it. She told me I was so strong (I have never felt weaker). So fearful of needles, and so afraid of throwing up with the pain, I clung to her, and she led me to press in to Jesus. She reassured me of His care for me.

One night in particular, it took them hours and hours to find a vein. After being stuck so many times, Kenda noticed that I was very anxious. She encouraged me to breathe and sing with my little raspy, broken voice. The hymns I Hear The Words of Love and It Is Well were ones I would often sing. It was one of the kindest things she could have suggested, and each time afterward, I would sing while getting my blood drawn and it would calm my heart. God so kindly provided Kenda for my comfort. 

I also remember my surgical team. My surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Newkirk, is by far one of the most excellent medical professionals I have ever come into contact with. His superior way of relating so personally to his patients and exhaustive medical professionalism has put my heart at ease from day one. Any doctor that studies under his leadership will be blessed, and will likely understand what it means to be a superior doctor. 

I remember being wheeled into the operating room that morning with tears rolling down my face, of course. After they attached all my monitors and buttons, I remember two things that I will never forget. The anesthesiologist was very tender, and as she wiped the tears from my eyes, she cupped my face in her hands and reassured me that everything would be okay. As I looked up and saw her smiling down at me tenderly, I also saw every single member of the surgical team standing still and touching some part of my body - arms, legs, shoulders. They all gave me such dignity and honor by waiting for me to drift off, and did so in a very tender way. It is something that will be embedded in my memory forever. 

One of the hardest and most painful parts of this whole experience was the several hours I spent in the post-operating room. But even then, God's grace was tangible.

Unable to see without my glasses on, I remember blurry visions of nurses running back and forth, and loud sounds of other patients coming out of surgery. I felt like I was on the TV show ER. I woke up praying for a friend who had lost her baby, and another dear sister from church who has terminal cancer. And then I began to pray for the guy in the curtain next to me who was groaning with severe pain from a hip replacement. Bless his heart, he was in so much pain. Strange, in that moment, how my prayers were intermixed between my own comfort and the comfort of others. i wanted both. Maybe that is what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 1?

I am certain that the anesthesiologist was trying to pull me out of sedation, but I remember waking up in excruciating pain and panic. I had a brace (that felt like a helmet) around my neck, and had the mother of all sore throats.  I felt like I was suffocating and every time I moved there was shooting pain; I was so scared. I tried to cry out and call for the doctor, but my voice was so hoarse from being intubated that it sounded like a slight whisper. She came once to give me morphine, but it was not strong enough (Dilaudid anyone?!). So, I called out again and I must have continued to call out for about 45 more minutes.

I was just crying and praying that someone would come.

She finally came over and I told her, in tears, that I felt like I was calling for her and she wasn't listening to me. She stroked my hair, reassured me that it wouldn't be long and then went away again. I was so distraught. In that very moment, I sensed the most precious peace from God. It was like He spoke directly to my heart and reassured me of His presence and care:

"I see you. 
I hear you. 
I'm not ignoring you.
 I haven't forgotten you."

Those words were more powerful to me than the pain medication. I was convinced in a real way that the Lord's presence was there with me. He never left my side and would not take His eyes off me. I am His charge and His precious child. He wound no sooner abandon me than he would his own Son.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? 
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. 
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; 
your walls are continually before me." 
Isaiah 49:15-16

"[...] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."
Ephesians 1:3-10

I could literally write a book about the visitors and the love poured out on me through my local church family, great nurses and attending physicians. God's particular care through passages like Psalm 16, 23, 73, 61-63,  Isaiah, John 11-17, and Romans 6-8, Ephesians 1, Philippians 2 rang through my mind and heart during those 5 days even as I slept.

The sweet cafeteria guy was even a kind messenger. He would always come in my room and speak in a gentle voice and give me a huge smile. And he always brought me exactly what my heart desired, which was usually beef broth and jello! There were even moments of laughter, like when the Mario Andretti-like patient did laps around our floor with his IV pole... in the middle of the night. No one could catch him!

Some friends came to sit with me in the hospital and visit, even when I was in and out of sleep. Other friends gave up their evenings to help me do laundry and spend the night when I came home from hospital, so I wouldn't lift heavy things or be alone at night.

There were meals and flowers and gifts and cards and encouraging e-mails -- more than I can even list here. One that I read days later was an e-mail from my pastor, Mark. Almost the exact time I was in pre-op, my dear pastor wrote me a note that told me he was praying for me from Brazil. I am just one of 800 members, yet God has enabled this man to love and care for us in such a special way. Another shadow of his own care for us, I am sure. I do not deserve the care and love that my church pours out on me. So grateful.

When I got home from the hospital, I reflected on all these things and read through all my e-mails. Do you know what I sensed the Lord saying to my heart? That all of this was just a sparkle. Just the smallest speck to show me a portion of His great care and love for me. I sat and wept just thinking about it. Why would he ever choose to place His love on me? I will never understand why, but I fully accept it!

So, those are just a few memories that come to mind when I think about or touch my newest scar.

This weekend I am going to a friend's wedding. I have desperately tried to find an outfit that will cover the scar. I don't want to make anyone who is squeamish feel uncomfortable (because it's not completely healed yet). And truthfully, I am a little self-conscious of it. I don't want people to just think it is a gross scar; I am learning to love my scar. I want them to know it is a mark of God's grace and mercy on my life! So I need prayer for courage - to continue to show my scar and tell the story to others. This scar is a sign that God has not withheld any good thing from me. I pray it would continue to remind me that I want my entire body and life to be a mark of his grace. 

"For the Father himself loves you, 
because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God."  
John 16:27

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield; 
the Lord bestows favor and honor. 
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. 
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!" 
Psalm 84

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Not Lacking Anything

Since the beginning of February, my pastor has been preaching a series on James. The first two sermons (February 5 & 12) have been especially meaningful to me.  I've been listening to other pastors' sermons on James, but little did I know how perfectly this series would be timed in my life. I expected to learn a lot about taming my tongue; I had no idea how James would bolster, encourage, and sustain my faith during this trial. Chapter 1 continues to be a sweet reminder to me:

"Consider it pure joy,
my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 
because you know that
  the testing of your faith produces perseverance
Let perseverance finish its work 
so that you may be mature
 and complete,
 not lacking anything.
 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault, 
and it will be given to you."
James 1:2-5

We've also been singing wonderful songs. When Trials Come has been a particular favorite of mine. Read the words below, come visit my church and sing it with us, and/or listen to it here. Verse 4 sparkles with Romans 8, which of course I love. I hope it encourages you. 

When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there His faithfulness is told
And there His faithfulness is told

Within the night I know Your peace
The breath of God brings strength to me
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow
As treasures of the darkness grow

I turn to Wisdom not my own
For every battle You have known
My confidence will rest in You
Your love endures Your ways are good
Your love endures Your ways are good

When I am weary with the cost
I see the triumph of the cross
So in it’s shadow I shall run
Till He completes the work begun
Till He completes the work begun

One day all things will be made new
I’ll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old

Scars - Part 1

My favorite communications professor in college had us do this fun exercise where we would practice short speeches by taking turns running to the front of the classroom and telling stories about the various scars we had incurred. He called it "Scar Stories."

It was always a welcome break from musing on rhetoric and Plato. Some were really serious -- like when a classmate told of the time their house burned down and they had to rescue their children.  Others were hysterical -- like when silly accidents happened like a head hitting a fan or running into a sign at summer camp (me).

One thing I didn't think about at the time (ah, the deception of youth) was that my life would probably include perpetual stories and scars. Marks of Grace, you might call them.  Two that have happened in recent years are coming to mind, and they tie in so beautifully to my life story and how God is making me into a pillar of his grace. I'll tell you one tonight and one tomorrow.

This coming May will mark the two year anniversary of one of my most meaningful scars. It's not one that is easily seen, but it is one I have remembered almost every day for the past 22 months.

Here's the story-- I flew home to Texas to spend the Memorial Day holiday weekend with my family. After a day of swimming, we put the nephews to bed and sat down to have dessert while watching a movie. Mom was in charge of dishing up the dessert, and Dad was making coffee. Hold please. T-Top-Tobler-Tone (one of my nick names for him) makes an amazing cup of coffee. But one catch -- he makes it off the boil AND doesn't add any liquid to cool it. Instead, he uses powdered creamer (another family favorite) and instant coffee, so by the time it hits your mouth, it's about 200 degrees.

Thank you for holding. So, with my Texas-sized portion of dessert in hand and blazing hot coffee in the other, I sat down on the couch and took my first couple of bites. A bit clumsy by nature, I fumbled the coffee mug while trying to switch hands.  The liquid flung out of the cup and landed directly on the middle of my upper left thigh. Then I dropped the entire mug of boiled coffee, which covered my lap and upper left thigh, and reached all the way to the back of my leg. With a blood-curdling scream, I stood up as fast as I could and ripped my pants off. [Warning- graphic] Unfortunately, as my pants came off, my skin did, too. The coffee had given me a second-degree burn.

Like most horrible situations, there are always funny moments. Shortly after this moment, my brother-in-law came out of the kitchen and saw me standing in the middle of the family room without any pants on. I'll never forget the puzzled look on his face!

Another was when we arrived at the emergency room entrance to the hospital. A nurse came out and helped me get out of the car. With one look at her, I knew she wasn't happy to be there that night. I sat in the wheelchair, and Florence Nightmare grunted with difficulty as she begrudgingly wheeled me up a *maybe* 2 degree incline. Good grief. I laughed... afterward :)

Notoriously more painful than a first or third degree burn (due to nerve exposure), the second degree burn cost me three weeks out of work and a total of six months to fully recover my energy levels. I bathed twice a day in lukewarm water and, with the aid of narcotics, scrubbed my skin off to allow new skin cells to form. I walked around sort of like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, because my skin was so tender that standing upright would pull it apart and cause tremendous pain. Going to the bathroom was also difficult, as sitting down would inevitably cause bleeding spells, as the new skin was not accustomed to stretching. I remember looking at the wound and genuinely wondering how it would ever heal back to normal.

One night is particularly stuck in my memory. It was about day 3 or 4 and, for some reason, I was fearing big time about getting in the bath. I waited too long to scrub my skin off and had to end up doing it after the pain medications wore off. I remember screaming in agony for hours, shaking, and crying out to God for his comfort and help. My parents were baffled and didn't know how to help. I can't explain to you in tangible terms, or give you some picture to help you understand from my perspective, but I can tell you that God met me right in the center of the pain that night. I prayed and cried out to him, and he reassured my heart that He was present and not ignoring the pain I was in. I am reminded of my favorite C.S. Lewis quote, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world" (The Problem of Pain).

That night was a turning point for me. For months my pastor Mark had been praying for our congregation, specifically that God would teach us to fear God alone, and that the right fear of God would eat away all less worthy fears. I really feel like God used this situation in my life to help me fear (love/respect/honor/understand) Him rightly. I distinctly remember feeling less fearful of pain, loss and death after the burn. How can you explain that, other than an answer to Mark's prayer? God replaced my fear with trust in Himself.

Who is this God who uses pain and discomfort to accomplish beautiful things? It is surely the same God who sent his Son, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross and drank (to the dregs) the punishment for my sins. The same God who was sovereign over this most horrible, painful, terrible, unexpected situation (God dying for sinful man), and caused the most beautiful flower to bud out of the most bitter bud. The greatest and most horrific scene in all of history was designated and purposed to bring the most beautiful thing ever -- forgiveness and reconciliation to God.

"Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel of the one who crushed it." Mark Twain's words are great, but it's probably better said by the author of Hebrews, "[...] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted" (12:2-3).

So, eventually my skin healed from the inside out. Each week the perimeter would get smaller as the body created and sustained new skin cells. (If you want to see a picture, I will show you by e-mail. It really is amazing that I don't have a bigger scar!) And as my skin healed, my heart was strengthened. God sustained me through what I thought, at the time, was one of my biggest trials.

Part two will prove that this was just a stepping stone.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Comfort Me

Probably the two most common prayers for myself are for comfort and protection. I've noticed that God usually answers these prayers be helping me remember the promises of the Gospel and by bringing to mind memories of God's faithfulness.

Two weeks ago, I was facing a big surgery and was non-stop praying for comfort and protection in the midst of some unknowns. I felt freedom to tell God that I was scared and fearful. More than anything, I wanted his protection from the 1% chances pre-, post, and during this season. I wanted a guarantee that my vocal nerve would be protected, that it wouldn't be cancer, and that I would be able to be a Mom one day.

One of my pastors and his wife lent me Charles Spurgeon's Beside Still Waters for my surgery and recovery time. I love reading anything by Spurgeon, but this little book of short daily selections has been a life-giver. I wanted to share in hopes of encouraging you, as well.

"If your trust is in Jesus, there is nothing in the Bible to make you afraid. Nothing in the Bible, did I say? There is nothing in heaven, nothing on earth, and nothing in hell to make you fear, if your trust is in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you" (John 14:19-20).

"In The End, Nothing To Fear," Pg. 8
Beside Still Waters 

And today's selection from Spurgeon's daily reflections. Reassurance of God's continued commitment to us because it is his same commitment to his own Son. 

"As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you." John 15:9

"You can trace the beginning of human affection; you can easily find the beginning of your love to Christ, but his love to us is a stream whose source is hidden in eternity. God the Father loves Jesus without any change. Christian, take this for your comfort, that there is no change in Jesus Christ's love to those who rest in him. [...]

Saint, thou needest not fear the loosing of the silver cord, for his love for thee will never cease. Rest confident that even down to the grave Christ will go with you, and that up again from it he will be your guide to the celestial hills."

Evening Selection reading for March 17

So grateful for these words.