the long way home

The other night on the way home, I passed my exit. My ten year old had to correct me and ask where we were going. I started to drive to the wrong house. I was tired. I just wanted to get home and into bed. Unfortunately I was headed to the wrong bed.
I moved 4 months ago.
For the last 120 days I have been driving to my new address, you think I’d have it down by now…and then I slipped I headed back to the old one.

Once, a few years ago…out of the blue I signed my maiden name on a check.  I have had this name for almost 15 years, but for a second I forgot my new name.

Even in my exhaustion this seemed important. As I made a U-turn, part of me thought I do this in other places too.
I forget who I am. That I have changed. That I have moved.
Or forwards.
Or at least somewhere else.
I go back when there is nothing left for me there anymore.

My surgery didn’t really work as well as it should have. People ask me what the next steps are. And I say I learn to deal with pain. I pay big money weekly for someone to stick dozens of needles in my face. (This really helps tons and is worth every penny). I stopped drinking caffeine (if that doesn’t scream desperate — I do not know what does). I try whatever supplements someone offers me. I order essential oils. I stop eating grains (ok, I only lasted about a week on that one). I quit running even though it is the only thing that makes my head feel clear and strong. I email and text complete strangers because I am so desperate to have someone say “me too” or to ask all my questions. I get massages. I take long baths and go to bed early.  Every day I take handfuls of pills that make me feel tired and spacey and not me. I avoid so many things that I love, because I know that they will hurt. Or they might hurt. I’m not even sure which one it is anymore.

I also started going to counseling (I know, some of you are out there thinking….long overdue). I have always said everyone should go, but I have never had the guts to do it. The pain is back and then gone and then back again. And as much as that takes a daily toll on me, it is nothing compared to the disappointment. To the struggle of not wanting to saddle any of it on my family or friends. To the doubts I suddenly have about what I can and can not do. My faith suddenly incredibly flimsy. Frustrated by my weakness physical, mental and spiritual….and the fact that I have easily met my yearly deductible I make the appointment. I thought I could go in and Brene Brown it. Say, this is what we are going to talk about….you fix that and leave all the other stuff alone. Within minutes, she is waist deep in my shit. Making eye contact that is hard to break. Leaving lots of space that I am supposed to fill. Asking hard questions. I answer truthfully-ish and go home each week and try to untangle all the thoughts in my head. Which I guess is at least a distraction from the literal pain I went in with.

Desperation will do funny things to you. 
In some ways it makes you less afraid.
Willing to do and try anything. 
I make other appointments too. Neurosurgeons, neurologists, neuromuscular specialists. If you recommend it— I will go.

I have started taking long baths which is something I haven't done in decades. 
At night I run the water hot, almost scalding and pour in the eucalyptus and spearmint. There is no wine because I have mostly given that up too. 
I read. 
and steep.
The pain stops in the heat.
Sweat runs down my neck into the bubbles.
My fingers prune. My pages swell with water damage.
Eventually I find myself praying. Although I am not even sure it is ok to call it that. 
More like being honest. 
Truth talking. 
To myself. Or my god. And I am not so sure about which one.
Sureness is a solid thing. It does not slip through your fingers or down your drain. These days all I know is that I am most comfortable here in the fluid.
It feels ok to whisper my prayers and doubts and untruths.
I dread how it will feel to get out. 
For my feet to hit the hard tiles and the pain to jolt right back through.
So I linger in my uncertainty until the water turns cold.
I haven’t made it through a full church sermon in months.
But I keep trying.

I fight this weakness.
This unsure, helpless, fear…that I can’t outrun…because I haven’t laced up my sneakers in months.
Like the other night when I missed my exit…some days it is enough to make me forget who I am. Where I am going. Who I am supposed to be.
But there is also some freedom here.
Of being willing to try anything.
Of seeking out help in any form.
Of being uncomfortably honest.

It is the opposite of being brave, but it gives me courage all the same.
Slowly everything gets a little easier and I remember which way to go.

Eventually I always make it home.

walking shoes

At my last appointment I told the PA that I was a runner. We were talking about how I felt and how much I could do and when. The running threw her, possibly because she had just written down my weight and looked at my blood pressure.  Both of which say more about my love for donuts rather than endorphins. She told me that I still had more swelling than they’d like and that I wasn’t quite ready. That I needed to focus on walking, Netflix and slowly building myself back up. To ask her again after I could make it through the day without a nap and go grocery shopping without breaking into a cold sweat. She started to give me a textbook lecture on listening to my body, going slow and not overdoing it. Clearly I wasn’t paying attention or she remembered that I was the girl who kicked the walker away in ICU and that maybe she’d have to give me some clearer boundaries. She told me to get to where I can easily and comfortably walk a 5K. Then I could start jogging. Slowly. Then get to where I can jog a 5K comfortably then I can run longer and harder. Period. The end.

I know it is crazy but I love a good long hard run. The kind where I sweat through my clothes and develop a fine layer of salt on my body.  I have rarely won any races, because it is never about winning but going further and faster than I did the last time or think I could. My brain is quiet when I run mostly because there is no energy for anything other than breathing. I feel strong when I run. Ok, that isn’t true. I feel like quitting or dying when I run. But when I get home I feel strong. I’ve written about running over and over again. Pace, finishing strong and endurance. I figure if I can find those things on the asphalt that maybe I can find them in other places in my life as well.

For the last month or so I was laced up my tennis shoes, sometimes with pajama pants and shuffle around the block or through the park. Recently I have picked up the pace (a little), the distance and at least put on shorts. I don’t even bother to make a playlist (which is usually my biggest pre-run prep) because the headphones still bother me.
These days I am a walker.
I keep to the right.
I am filled with jealousy every time someone bounds past me with their water bottle and new shoes.
I look longingly at every bench I pass and wonder if it would be ok to take a quick nap on it.
But I keep walking.
I think maybe I could try running just a little.
But I can feel my head pounding and know this is a bad idea.
Right now I walk. Damn the old lady who just blew by me.
This is as fast as I go.
My brain is still a flurry unlike when I run, even though I am exhausted.
I try to be kinder to myself.
To tell myself that I am healing.
That I need to not be in such a hurry.
That if these runners who keep passing me on my left only knew what I was healing form that they’d be high-fiving me.
That internal kindness doesn’t last too long.
I keep pressing, until I know my legs can’t handle anymore.
Today I walked four miles and it felt like I ran 40.
My face was pale. I could feel my blood sugar plummet and my muscles twitch.

Today on the trail I saw a runner wearing a tank that simply said, “rest later”.
Ironically she was walking.
Distance runners are trained to push through walls and pain and your body telling you over and over to quit. There is a time to push. To go harder and faster.
But for now, I have to do the exact opposite. I have to pay attention. I have to listen, and be patient.
I need a tank top that says “rest now”.

At the moment I have a very physical wound, but it could just as easily be an emotional one. I have a list of restrictions and a timeline from my doctor, yet I still struggle to compare myself with all the wrong people. The ones going faster and further than me. On the trail, or pretty much everywhere else in my life.

I wrote everything you just read above three weeks ago. Since then, I have tried to run a few times. Short distances at a snail’s pace. Sometimes with success, sometimes with pain. Stopping at my first hint of nerve pain. I usually don’t keep up the pace long enough to pass many walkers. But for the few I do, I see them a little differently. My smugness is gone. I notice them. I smile or say hello. The walker in me doesn’t feel quite as strong as the runner, but she is definitely kinder.

She knows that you often have no idea what someone else is healing from.


 In college I decided that I needed to do something more than drink beer, drink coffee and make out with my boyfriend now husband. That I needed to serve or volunteer somewhere. Lubbock had limited options and my skills were even more limited.  I loved teenagers. I loved soccer. So I thought I’d put my loves to good use and I called up the LSA and volunteered my mad skills to coach a junior high girls soccer team. Eventually they matched me with a team. Of 4 year olds. I can not even tell you how afraid I am of more than 3 kids in my care that can not drive. Even now that I have two of my own. Thankfully the 20 year old version of my self bought a whistle and called my first team meeting anyway. The first item on my list was to pick a team name and order uniforms.  Asking four year olds for input was only the first of many of my fails as a soccer coach. I nixed the Barbies, the Unicorns and the Princesses. Instead I named them the was Lubbock after all.  I refused to order pink jerseys but compromised on purple.  I made the mistake of trying to run actual drills the first few practices and for the life of me did not know how to teach them to not use their hands.  I think I made a few cry before I told them I would tickle them if they touched the ball with their hands.  The first game, one of my girls asked the ref to tickle an offending player which led to some pretty funny looks. At practice I made them do jumping jacks as a warm up just because it made me laugh. Every. Single. Time. (If you have never seen a toddler try to do a jumping jack -- go find one right now. 4 year olds are barely coordinated enough to pull up their own pants much less move their feet and hands at once).  These girls could not tie their own shoes, wipe their noses or go to the bathroom by themselves and it was the best birth control a college girl could have.
    I was nervous on game day and thought long and hard over my line up.  That first season the games were hilarious. There were a lot of own goals, tears, capri suns and pigtails.  Most of them ran around the field in a clump and kicked when ever a ball hit them in the foot.  Occasionally, one even went in the goal. We all signed up for the next season. It was the days of Mia Hamm and when the US won the world cup in penalty kicks and Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey …one of my now five year olds demanded that her mom buy her a sports bra.  Little Brandi never ripped off her jersey….but she was my super star on the field. She was aggressive, got the game and could out run most of the other kids. By season two we rarely lost. The rest of the girls on the team learned to let the Shannon (aka Brandi) get the ball and she kept putting it into the back of the net. My last year of coaching, also happened to be my first year of teaching and these now 4 year olds were first graders. Our field got bigger, a few of the rules changed and my team went from dominating tiny little fields to getting destroyed on a much larger one.  That season the Tumbleweeds (and their coach) learned how to lose more than just their front teeth.
      Most days my coaching days are long forgotten, but this morning felt like déjà vu. I am more than grateful that someone else’s dad coaches Tess’s team.  He is far more patient and creative than I ever was.  He has never had to resort to tickling. Most of the girls on the team have been on the same team since they were 4. This is their 5th season together. Tess is not a superstar out there and has yet to ask me for a sports bra.  Some days she has to be bribed to put on her shin guards, but at the end of every season, she asks to play again.  It probably has more to do with the end of season cupcakes and trophies, than a love for the game. These girls are good and have been playing together before they could read and were still buckled into a five point harness.  Last spring they won every single game. The season before that they only lost one.  All last year it seemed like they had outgrown their tiny little fields. Most of them could boot the ball the length of the field, do a few fancy moves and a few kids on the team could even score from the center line. As our scores creeped into the double digits I’d catch myself cheering when the opposing team managed to get one in.  Today, these first graders showed up in new jerseys, new gap toothed smiles and lined up on a field twice the size of their last one. Five minutes into the first half they were down by two goals.  Our girls probably had better ball skills, but the other team had figured out something we hadn’t.  How to pass and even more importantly the concept of extra space.  If they didn’t know what to do with the ball, they kicked it to open space on the field and then quickly another white jersey would run to it.  Over and over they did this as our star players grew more and more frustrated and tired. This field was big, and my girl was sucking wind to get back on defense. I am all for lessons in humility (as long as they are not mine), so I don’t mind losing a game from time to time. Our coach had other things in mind, and must have pulled off a halftime speech worthy of Eric Taylor or Lou Holtz, because those girls got out there and tied it up before the last whistle. However, they still struggled to pass and use empty space.

But, don’t we all.

Unlike Tess’s new field, empty space is not something I seem to have too much of. Instead it is something I have to create. To find and uncover and guard like it was the last Oreo. I rarely pass, but keep saying Yes when I should say No.  This is not a game. There is no half time or hand made tunnels to run through after a win or a loss. And no one is handing out trophies to participants or giving me a snack or letting me sub out when I am tired. However, I can still learn to create and use space better.  There are not too many perks to brain surgery (besides having a doctor’s note to not clean my house for a month), but for me it mandated lots of rest. I do not sit still well. I have always struggled with margin in every area of my life. My time is always overbooked and I rarely find a way to get it all done. I am an extrovert and hate missing out more than Mindy Kaling. This has cost me in many ways only one of which is sleep.  For months I have learned to rest, to watch Netflix, that missing out isn’t the end of the world, and to go to bed when I’m tired. That I need more nights free than filled and that almost every thing is better after a bath, a nap or reading a book that is not on the required reading list.  It is getting close to 8 weeks since I had surgery. My life is mostly back to normal. My pain levels and blood pressure are much lower than it was three months ago. I still have some restrictions, my body is still healing and more often than not am in pajama pants within five minutes of walking in the door from work. I feel less bad and less exhausted than I did a month ago, so I have been forgetting to hold that space.  I have been saying yes and running around and pushing myself probably more than I should. My old habits have easily found their way back and if this week had been a soccer game, I would have lost. Watching these girls exhaust themselves out there reminds me of the Tumbleweeds.  I wonder who those six year olds are now. If I am doing they math correctly, they are seniors in college. More importantly it reminded me the beauty and advantage of holding extra space.  I am no Brandi Chastain either, but these days I wear my pajama pants in the same celebratory fashion that she donned her black sports bra.  (Just remember that if you see me at the grocery store in them).

Getting to Know Your Child - The survey my first grader's teacher wishes she never sent home

As a teacher myself, I have been in meeting after meeting this week that I am pretty sure would make my head pound even if I didn't have a literal hole in my head. Usually this time of year, I spend every free minute I have soaking up the last of the summer sun or surfing the internet for more fun things to do in my class. This year, by 3:30 my legs feel like jelly and my head is toast. I crawl straight into bed and try to get the energy to face meet the teacher night, Tuesday for Owen, Wednesday for Tess and then tomorrow night I actually have to be the teacher. I am known for funny ids, snarky comments, laughing loudly and making the most of my lunch break. I've tried to get a little more serious over the last few years. I love me some fun, but I have learned that being the girl always laughing and telling jokes can also mean that people don't take you seriously. Finding a balance between being fun and me and not being seen as a joke is a tough line for me to figure out. I love Amy Poehler and even have a coffee cup with her quote "There is power in looking silly and not caring that you do" but have tried to grow up a little and find the time and place for silly and the time and place for not wearing the yoga pants I slept in to inservice. It is still a work in progress. One of the biggest things I have learned in the pursuit of my next degree is this: being boring is hard. Academic writing and quick wit and puns with a complete disregard for all rules of grammar do not go hand in hand. I have spent all my energy in meetings this week trying to act like a grown up (or not fall asleep) and writing boring when I got Tess's first grade "get to know you form"...I could not provide a serious answer to save my life. I used all my serious up already today, and trust me it is a limited resource.
1. What is ONE word to describe your child? not a rule follower (that was 4 words btw)
2. What are your child's strengths? smart, kind, can put away way more donuts than she seems like she can store and not a shabby whip and nae nae.
3. What does your child need help with? matching her clothes, cleaning her room, algebra
4. Is your child afraid of anything? vegetables
5. Does your child celebrate any special times of year or holidays? when they release new flavors of frozen yogurt at yogurt land
6. What kinds of activities is your child involved in outside of school? soccer, dance and she claims to be a ninja
7. Does your child like to read or be read to? She can read above grade level, but much prefers to go through this still painful process of sounding out words and asking for help when you are watching a movie or talking on the phone. She reads the texts on my phone ...especially ones I wish she hadn't...effortlessly.
8. Does your child have internet access at home? Yes. Except when AT&T is providing us less than stellar service....which is far more often than I'd like. Do you want to call customer service for me. I can not handle the wait or terrible music they play.
9. If yes, what type of electronic devices are available for your child to use? Is this a trick question to make sure we monitor screen time. We totally do. Sometimes.  When I have had enough sleep. She has no device of her own although I think a Macbook is on her Christmas list. (good thing she is most likely on the naughty list). But, yes...she came out of the womb knowing my cell phone password and we have a myriad of other devices she can hack into when we can find them and they are actually charged.
10. What are YOU most excited about for your child this year? fundraisers. I love fundraisers. 
11. What is your biggest concern or fear about this school year? homework folders and never ending pickup lines. I have nightmares about these things.
12. How can I best help your child succeed this year? She loves attention and compliments. (she totally gets that from her dad). She is easily motivated by chocolate or food. (she also gets that from her dad). She is quiet at first, but when she warms out. (ok the quiet part is actually from her dad, but everything else from me).
13. What else would you like me to know about your child? She has exactly 284 freckles. She did not pass her swimming test at camp thurman this year -- it is a sore topic-- so try not to bring it up. She loves glitter and can sniff it keep an eye on your stash. She loves crafts, music, science and the Beastie Boys so you might want to add that to your playlist. Edited of course.
14. What other questions do you have for me? Tess would like to know what day of the week the cafeteria serves chicken nuggets and which you like more: puffy cheetos or funyons? I wanted to ask what that little 3 digit code was on the back of your credit card but my husband said I couldn' please for the love of expo markers do you have a sense of humor or at least won't hold these crazy answers against my smart, kind, tender kid?

follow up

This bed is getting old.
But my head is still pounding.
Medicine bottles line the bookcase with a journal of when I took what so I don’t get confused.
I can’t remember the last time I put on pants with a zipper.
I'm pretty sure that this is a sneak peak of my life in 40 years.

I am not sure if it is the teacher in me or not…but I look at situations and try to figure out what I am supposed to learn from it. Because I think that surely things have a purpose. Although I think the verse has it the other way around.
"A time for every purpose"
Not a purpose for every time.
So maybe it isn’t my job to find it, but that doesn’t keep me from trying.

The last few weeks are a fog that I am slowly coming out of. A fog of headaches. Naps. Walks with wobbly legs. Worry. Prayer. Homework. And the doorbell ringing with food, groceries, flowers or just a friendly face. Once I had a friend who thought it would be a good idea to share with each other the three biggest things we did poorly.  (For the record this is a terrible idea). The last thing on my list was receiving. It is something I haven’t really gotten better at in the last 15 years. I’m sure like most of my sins, its root is tangled with pride and worth. But most days I open the door and receive. Because I have to. And with that comes overwhelming gratitude. For this provision. This manna. That shows up over and over again. And I think, this is what I am learning as a first hand witness to the body of Christ. Serving me. It is hard to wrap my scarred throbbing head around. And that would be enough. But it is not the only thing. I have also learned a desperate hope.

Optional brain surgery is no easy thing and I don’t just mean for me. There are living wills and powers of attorney to be signed. Large checks to be written and family and friends who have rearranged entire weeks just to help or sit by you in the hospital. You want it to be worth it. To tell them this pain and expense and fear and inconvenience were for something. To smile big and promising through the morphine. But that is not exactly how things panned out. They say on the internet, which is the last place anyone who is sick should be spending much time, that you know immediately if the surgery worked. That the pain is gone.  Or it isn’t and maybe try again later. I woke up about 5 hours later. There was oxygen up my nose and I had a sore throat from the breathing tube that had been down my throat. My head felt heavy, like I couldn’t move it. But when I smiled, I did not get shocked. I kissed my husband. I brushed my teeth. Both of those things had been excruciating before and now nothing. My husband profusely thanked the doctor. My first night in ICU was rough. No one warned me about the swelling. But the worst thing was about 24 hours later when I felt the tiniest of twinges.  I switched pain meds. I tried to be as still as possible. I barely ate. I barely talked.  And they still they came, more and more frequently. Eventually after proving to nurses and physical therapists that I could walk, breathe and remember who the president was, they pushed me in a wheelchair to the exit. I got in the car, possibly more afraid than I had gotten out 4 days before.  I laid in bed. My head pounding. Still trying to be still and quiet. I downloaded a counting app and hit the button on my phone every time I got shocked. The shocks were not as long or painful as before, but I gave up when I got to a 100 that first day.  My heart sank. I took my pain pills and prayed. I desperately asked for this to go away. I wondered what else I could do or try (acupuncture, essential oils, botox, a weird diet) or what things I needed to give up (coffee, wine, running, talking).
I wondered if this was it.
If this was my future. Pain. With very few options. Pain that would probably get worse. I’d read online about people who had this procedure up to 4 times seeking relief. And I just can’t imagine doing it again. Ever.
I prayed feverishly before going to bed. And when I woke up and every time my nerves reminded me. Desperately asking to be fixed.  Desperately hoping, praying. And suddenly I recognized the desperate hope that I know some of my own friends have felt. In the midst of crisis. Of infertility. Of cancer. Of prayers that seemed to go unanswered.

I know enough to catch myself trying to bargain with God. That He is not that kind of God. I know enough to think that maybe I should need more faith or more Joel Osteen quotes. That He is not that God either. Frustrated. Defeated. I prayed. And slept. And took sleeping pills and avoided people asking questions about how I felt or if it worked.  Things were so much better than they had been but I was so deeply disappointed. And I did not want to see that disappointment reflected on anyone else’s face. Desperately hopeful I kept praying. Because that is pretty much all you can do when you are flat on your back. But I also tried to figure out where to go from here. How long to sulk. How I didn’t deserve to. That my family did so much for this. That I can’t do it again. Not the money. Or the time. Or the fear. I remember wanting to take pain medicine just to sleep. To not think. To not have to deal with the disappointment, because that was so much harder to endure than pain. I rationed them out slowly instead. I remember laying there thinking…this is the rest of my life. That this was the hand I have been dealt. And at the time it seemed like a shitty hand.  But plenty of people get dealt bad hands. Plenty worse than mine. And Forgive the ongoing poker reference, but that…I still wanted on the table. I could choose to fold. Or to bluff. So I decided I’d have to work on my poker face.

The only hope and advice from doctors and the internet was to rest. Then rest some more.
Be still.
Be quiet.
And I assure you I must be desperate to try those two things.
And I am pretty sure God was laughing, because those are things I am even worse at than receiving or playing poker.  I have watched more TV in the last three weeks than I have in the last three years.
And slowly they have helped.
I do not know if it will last. But I keep praying that it does.
There is a small metal plate that just doesn’t feel quite right beneath my skin.
Hair that tickles as it grows back and stitches that will eventually dissolve.
And for those of you that like a happy ending, I can’t promise you one. But I do have a much happier now. The swelling has subsided. I do not take any pain medicine stronger than Tylonal and I have gone a little over an entire week without a single shock. That side of my face still feels sore and tingly after I have done more than I should, but that is easy to handle and a gentle reminder to stay in my pajamas. To talk less and listen more. My husband leans in to kiss me and my body still flinches and wants to turn my head. Someone says something funny and I tell them not to make me laugh. Because those were things that used to hurt. It will take me a while to let that sink in. That I can kiss my husband. That I can laugh. Without pain. I am more thankful for that than Netflix or pajama pants.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still”  I am reminded again.

I lay in my bed being still…which is so hard for a girl that loves a good fight.
And I think that I have learned.
Overwhelming gratitude.

Stillness. I’m starting to get used to wearing my pjs in public (ok, I did that before).

Desperate because I think that is where you actually start to truly pray and hope…when the options have run out.

Overwhelmed with the kind of thankfulness that only happens when you can not pay it back. At least not any time soon. I used to make short lists of things I was thankful for everyday (via Ann Voskamp) and in the last year or so I have forgotten this practice. The other day I figured I should write some thank you cards. For the people who brought me food. Or watched my kids. Or packed and unpacked my house.  Sent flowers or fruit. Prayed for me. For cupcakes that literally made me cry. And my list went all the way down the paper and well onto the back. And this overwhelms me in the best way.
My freezer is literally full.
Things are hanging in my closet and on my wall.
My laundry is done.
My dad even had my car detailed because he deemed it unsanitary.(he might be right). My days from the hospital and the week after are blurry and I can hardly remember most of it, but I do remember lots of people doing what I love best which is showing up.

(p.s. don’t hold your breath on those thank you cards…I still have a few seasons on Netflix to get through before school starts).