Recovery is not what this mom needs right now

Confession time: I have squandered the majority of this year.

Not in the mom-guilt, I-should’ve-done-more-with-my-kids sort of way (though there have been plenty of internal battles about that, I assure you). 

I look back at the last several months, filled with some of my most challenging times as a mother thus far, and realize now what I wasted was my perspective.

It’s taken a long time to write about what’s been going on lately, but not for lack of trying. I have started and stopped dozens of attempts in my head. Truth is, I couldn’t write. I didn’t have it in me, mentally or physically. Which only added to my personal frustrations. A writer who can’t write is like a caged animal, repressed and tortured.

It was back in December when the first signs surfaced that something was wrong. By January, things had gotten so bad that I picked up the phone to make an appointment with my doctor.

I wasn’t myself. I woke each day with pressure headaches, some so severe that I couldn’t leave my bed all day, and my migraine medicine wouldn’t touch them. I was shaky despite constantly eating. My arms ached as if I had moved heavy boxes for hours. I had no energy. At times, I was nauseous and dizzy. I struggled to think clearly, and I was irritationally irritable (and irritable is a kind way of putting it). 

Since I was only about four months postpartum, I thought it was most likely something askew with my hormones. My primary doctor initially agreed and thought I may start feeling better the further out I got from my pregnancy. Nevertheless, he ordered a full panel of blood tests, acknowledging that my symptoms were not normal. 

Those results were the start of my seemingly endless quest for answers. Soon, my calendar filled with appointments, tests, and specialist visits. By this point, it was April, and I was not feeling any better. In fact, I was worse. I’ve had migraines since I was 12, and these were not anything like my “normal” migraines–nothing seemed to help them, and they felt very different. My doctor sent me to the ER for one headache that lasted over two days, where I received the generic diagnosis of “complex migraine” and heavy painkillers to get through the worst of it. He also ordered an MRI. 

He called with results the day after I had it to tell me that it showed what was thought to be a cyst about the size of a penny, deep in the middle of my brain, and due to its size in that area, it could be the source of my headaches. After a disappointing visit to a neurologist who clearly didn’t know much about them, he referred me to one of the top neurosurgeons in our area.

It felt a bit ominous walking down a long, dark corridor in what must be one of the oldest sections of the hospital to the office of a man who cuts into people’s brains for a living. David and I listened as he explained that the MRI I had did not show enough views of the area, and he couldn’t say with certainty if the mass was solid or cystic. I tried my best to follow along as he shared how if additional imaging showed solid portions, I would need to have a lumbar puncture to see if it was secreting any hormonal markers to better tell what type of tumor it was and that radiation was usually the first course of treatment for tumors in this difficult-to-reach location. Surgery, he warned, would bring many risks due to its “delicate” location, as he put it–but he said sometimes surgery is necessary. 

My new MRI was set for 9:30 p.m. the Wednesday before the long Fourth of July weekend. I asked the tech to stream my favorite Pandora station, and I breathed in deeply as comforting words of Truth filled the tube as the machine began its work.

“Be still, my soul, The Lord is on thy side …”

The hours between the MRI and the call from my doctor seemed to infinitely suspend in time. I think waiting to hear important news you know is coming, especially related to health, is one of the hardest things for the human mind to process. You try not to think about it–yet then you only think about it more. I can honestly say I did not fear the outcome, but that did not stop the screams of “I JUST WANT TO KNOW!” pounding inside my head.

The radiologist and neurosurgeon agreed: the lesion inside my head was fluid-filled. 

Exhale.

However, the neurosurgeon went on to say, this could still be the source of my headaches, and there are times when even a cyst of this size and in this location can pose life-threatening symptoms, and sometimes surgery is still required. So he told me what to watch for, and he ordered a new MRI in six months to check for any changes. 

brain MRI cyst

The “friend” inside my head, as David calls it.


So now, I return to waiting. 

And it’s in this twisted journey of waiting wrapped in pain where I recently realized all that I’ve wasted over the past nine months.

Yes, I’ve not been my normal self. 

Yes, I’ve not been able to do as much as I would like. 

It dawned on me though that during this time, my singular focus has been on “when this is over, then I can …” and “when I feel better, then I will …” and nothing else. The light at the end of the tunnel. The sure diagnosis. The treatment that will eliminate the pain. The capability to pick life back up where I left it. 

But what if the “when this is over” never comes? 

Then what?

And how will I account for my time spent?

I have been waiting for my “life” to start again, but, I realized, I am living my life right now.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded a copy of a book written by my college friend, an award-winning journalist turned pastor, released earlier this year. “I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments,” by John S. Dickerson, answers the questions of “why does God allow bad things to happen?” and “where is God during my pain?” by chronicling the journey of the apostle Paul and his “thorn in the flesh,” and through John’s own discovery of Truth as he deals with debilitating, stroke-like migraines.

Though Scripture never tells us what exactly the “thorn” was that afflicted Paul, a missionary dedicated to telling people about Christ despite many obstacles, we know it was awful enough that he begged God to take it away three separate times. And the answer God gave this man who poured his whole life into serving Him was “No.”

“No,” it is My will that you function with this pain.

“No,” it is My will that you serve Me with this pain.

“No,” it is My will that I have more good for you than you can imagine with this pain.

It was not with cruelty that God gave this answer; it was with a loving care that an all-knowing Power provides. It doesn’t make sense to us, but He sees how He could use His infinite strength to do more with our weakness than we could ever do without it, if we allow Him.

As I digested this Truth, I realized God’s will for my life doesn’t pick back up again with a yet-to-be-determined start date in the future that is free from pain. God’s will is to use my surrendered pain to complete His perfect work in me.

And when surrendered, I will accomplish more for eternal good through Him. 

Over the months of pain, especially on the days when I had no ability to get out of bed, I had been so consumed by the thoughts of how I wasn’t doing enough with my girls, how I had nothing left for my husband, how I couldn’t serve at my church the way I wanted to, and how I was prevented from fulfilling my personal hopes and dreams. And I was missing it. 

It wasn’t recovery I needed to be able to be fulfilled and joyful and satisfied again. 
It was a deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ. It was a surrendering of self to trust that God knows better than I do. That it is part of my journey, not something to get past.

It was the realization that, as John writes, my “greatest contribution in life may result from [my] greatest pain or weakness, surrendered.”

Mind. Blown.

I was telling a friend recently how I know through experience and God’s promises in His Word that He uses the challenges and trials in my life for His good. I have seen it, time and time again. And yet, for some reason, I still find myself kicking and screaming when pushed down a painful path. When I could be allowing myself to be picked up and carried by Him. 

This morning–a “good” day health-wise–my eldest daughter and I were dancing and running around to music, and my younger daughter was crawling around as fast as she could, desperately trying to keep up. I noticed her frantic attempts to join in on our fun, so I reached down and scooped her up. She squealed as I bounced her on my hip, a smile stretched across her face as we zoomed through the house. In my arms, she found abundant joy.

It wasn’t that all of a sudden she was physically able to fly past her own limits. It was that, in my arms, she could. 

In our Father’s arms, whatever our pain, we can too. His strength can lift us up. 

baby in Daddy's arms

Life is always better when held in a father’s arms. I am learning to let my Heavenly Father carry me.


I don’t know how many reminders it will take for me to keep my focus fixed on Him when the days here on Earth get tough, instead of when the painful part of this journey will end. Because I know I have hope and assurance that it WILL indeed end, dropping me off in the arms of my loving Savior. And it should be my goal to spend this ever-so-brief time in the dark pursuing Him in a way that when I see Him, and He pulls me tightly in to His secure embrace, He whispers gently in my ear, “Well done.”


“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9-10‬)

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What to do when waiting robs your joy

It’s amazing how quickly you can turn to despair when you are physically spent.

After about a week’s reprieve from the nausea and vomiting that returned at the 32-week mark of pregnancy, I was completely caught off guard when it came roaring back yesterday. Add this on top of my already-depleted energy from 3- to 4-hour stretches of contractions less than 5 minutes apart for the past few days, and I rapidly spiraled downward.

I have just two weeks left at most in this pregnancy, and yet, it’s as if time was standing still. And it’s like the lack of physical strength in my body also drained any mental capacity I had to cast reason and perspective on my present circumstances.

My thoughts grew increasingly dark and hopeless as the hours dragged on, knowing that it’s not exactly going to get any easier dealing with a newborn, toddler, and c-section recovery once this uncomfortable gestational period was over. While I knew I had many things to be grateful for–an incredibly helpful husband, a generally easy-going toddler, a healthy baby growing inside me, and the end of pregnancy just around the corner–it was like I could only focus on what I couldn’t do. That I couldn’t get off the couch and play “get you” with my girl. That I couldn’t muster enough strength to make it to the grocery store. That I couldn’t enjoy our last days as a family of three the way I wanted. That I couldn’t make the clock go faster.

Behind the smile, I’ve been masking my despair.

As I laid there wishing away each overwhelming hour, desperately wanting to be done with this miserable stage of limbo, I knew I was being short-sighted … and yet, too exhausted and numb to change my thoughts. Even that seemed like too much.

But I also knew my despair, anxiety, and impatience was destroying any ability to see the joys of each day. I never have cared too much for the well-meaning phrases of “it’s just a season” and “this too shall pass,” because I know that when you’re focused on simply speeding to the end destination, you can miss many moments of wonderful along the journey.

So I started to pray for The Lord to renew my thoughts, instead of just replenish my strength, and I knew others were praying too. This morning, I woke in a haze after a night of intermittent sleep to find this Scripture someone had shared on Facebook as encouragement, and it was just what I needed.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.” (‭Psalms‬ ‭62‬:‭5-8‬)

As I meditated on His Truth, I prayed that God would help me wait quietly during this time of turbulence and calm my soul enough to see all that is praiseworthy. I got up, turned on the bathroom faucet, and immediately the lyrics of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” filled my mind: “strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.” Yes, Lord. You promise that. And I can cling to it.

Pretty much all I want to do these days …

Instead of solely focusing on how tired I felt and how much I wanted to crawl back in bed and for the day to already be over, I decided to write down every time I encountered a blessing, starting with the fact that the sun was shining on this first day of September, the month we would welcome our new daughter into this world. I didn’t want the moments of wonderful to pass me by, unseen and uncherished. As my list quickly grew, I saw just how much I had to be thankful for.

  • A toddler who slept in
  • Coffee
  • Greetings of “mommy, up?” when I entered her room, her invitation to come snuggle in bed and read a book
  • Her sweet request to read “Sister,” and how she talked about the different ways she can help with baby after we read each page
  • Her polite, sing-songy “all done” when she finished with breakfast, followed by a request for a “cloth cloth” to wipe her crumbs
  • Daniel Tiger (!!!)
  • Her eagerness to help me make banana bread and the feeling of her small, soft hands wrapped in mine as we stir, stir, stir
  • The songs that bubble freely and tenderly from her tiny voice
  • Feeling baby girl stretch inside, despite the discomfort it brings
  • Her spontaneous chorus of “clean up, clean up” as she puts the Play-Doh back into the container
  • Her quiet, steady breathing as she concentrates on transferring popcorn from one cup to another
  • Witnessing her imagination at work as she mixes and bakes in her play kitchen 
  • Opportunities for me to learn patience and show grace when I instruct her after she throws her toys on the ground in frustration
  • The way she crosses her ankles while she eats peanut butter and jelly in her booster seat
  • When she goes potty without any protest before nap (over a month now without an accident, though I may’ve just jinxed that … )
  • Carrying her to the bed with her head cradled on my shoulder as I hum a verse of a lullaby and rub her back
  • The privilege to read her a story from God’s Word (today about the boy king Josiah)
  • Kissing her soft, smooth forehead and thanking The Lord she goes down for a nap easily 
  • A long shower while streaming my favorite Getty hymns station on Pandora and praising God for helping me get through another morning 

Clearly, my blessings were bountiful, and this day was only halfway done. I knew I would long for mornings of these magical moments in the years to come. How could I wish this away? 

She can’t wait to meet her baby sister.

Yes, this month may get harder. And I imagine it will, with sleepless nights, and surging hormones, and cries that won’t easily be comforted. But I’m praying that God will not help me survive it–that He’ll instead show me His goodness and sustain me with His grace. That He’ll quiet my heart enough to see His beauty and blessings. That I won’t be able to deny the waiting was all worthwhile.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.” (‭Psalms‬ ‭73‬:‭26‬)