On the Piano Bench

By Casey Brady

“Many people lose the small joys in hope for the big happiness.”

– Pearl Buck

            Note after note, sound after sound, the grand piano echoes my movements, reverberating with the resonance of eighty-eight unique singular noises, all combining and mixing in ways unseen to create whatever piece my heart desires. The pedal squeaks beneath my toe, and the blend is increased to a smooth weave of quieter sounds, the grand piano relaxing as I allow it to slow. My body relaxes, and I am at peace on the piano bench.

My eyes close, and I allow my fingers to play on their own, dispelling the last stresses of a long day. A sad, minor sound creeps into the recesses of the humming music as I recall the depressing times of my day, and I feel my hands slide to a higher point on the keys, creating an almost bubbly sound, as I remember my happy moments. My left hand falls deep to the bottom notes and a loud, angry minor sound echoes as I remember my worst moments, yet then I shift back up to a quieter sound, releasing myself into the piano, enjoying the wonderful bliss of nothingness and contentment on the piano bench.

I vaguely acknowledge that my dad has come to sit and listen, but I refuse myself the leisure of performing for him. Right now I am not performing, but letting the sounds created by my fingers wash away all my stressed parts and thoughts. Perhaps my father is enjoying the musical cleansing himself, but he cannot have reached full contentment simply by listening. The only way to truly listen is to be on the piano bench.

Now a shout breaks the reverie, and my fingers miss a note. The call for dinner slices apart the hum of the keys, and I finally allow my fingers to come to rest. My dad has gotten up and left, yet I cannot leave until the piano is finished. The final sounds echo to silence, flushing the last bits of tension from my body, and I stare for a second into the convex reflection of the polished, hardened wood. Releasing the pedal, I stand, and the piano bench creaks in protest. I know I will return tomorrow. The contentment held for me inside this magical instrument continually draws me back, and there is no way to resist the happiness I enjoy on the piano bench.


My oldest son, Casey, wrote the above essay for his college applications last summer. His writing transferred the emotions of “the bench” so well, I hate to add anything here that would subtract from the reader’s ambience. 

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! 

Terri Brady

piano boy 2

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Guest Blogger Casey Brady is a senior at Wake Christian Academy, heading to North Greenville University this fall to study Sports Management (business). His soccer abilities can been seen on the current North Carolina state champion team, TFCA 96Boys. Though he enjoys music and blesses others through it, he plans to keep it as a hobby as opposed to a profession. He is a wonderful big brother, piano teacher to the young (including his sister!), friend to many, and recently became a National Merit Scholarship Finalist. I am blessed to call him my son, because of the way he lives out his life verse, Proverbs 1:7.

A special thanks to Casey for letting me share his talents!

The following video was his last recital with his Michigan teacher four years ago (age 14-ish). My! How he’s grown since then – on and off “the bench”!

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Don’t Waste It

(Your Cancer, Your Tragedy, Your Problems)

 

The goal of life is not to live long, live healthy, get wealthy and leave all of it to great-great-grandchildren. But isn’t that easy to forget in our busy, goal-oriented lives?

Tragedy close to home

The school buses behind the hearse were a sobering sight. Though the vehicles from Wake Christian Academy said “activity bus,” the funeral was not an “activity” anyone had anticipated. The gravity of the situation stifled the noise on those buses to a Raleigh's Finestsilence they had never known. Even cars unaffected by the buses’ path pulled over in reverence to let the entourage pass. At each stoplight, Raleigh’s finest stood at attention, saluting the grieving students and the hundreds of cars’ drivers in the line that went for miles en route to the cemetery where Madison’s grave awaited.

My son’s classmate, Madison Pearce, did not survive when her car crossed the centerline and hit a truck head-on last Saturday, seven weeks before her seventeenth birthday. Being a small class of 2015 with only seventy-seven students, there was not one who did not know Madison: her smile; her unconditional love; her ability to light up a room. She was the captain of the cheerleaders – whether on the sidelines or just in life. She seemed to personify letting Christ shine.

“Things can change in the blink of an eye,” one of her last Tweets had said. Every student and parent from the school couldn’t agree more…now.

The pastor who spoke at the funeral was Madison’s uncle, Reverend Ben Pearce. He fought the tears just like everyone in the room. I loved what he shared in what must have been the most difficult speech he has ever made, “Don’t let her death be in vain.”

I think in a way, he was saying, “Don’t waste this tragedy.” John Piper had similar sentiments in his sermon, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” which I summarized in the post-script below.

Go ahead and think about what happens when we die, because, we all are dying.

Now is a good time to recognize that we are sinners and deserve Hell, but receiveHope Parkway forgiveness when we ask through Christ alone.

“Mom, it just makes me realize that you never know when you say goodbye if it will be the last time you see someone,” my fourteen-year-old said he learned.

“She is the lucky one; she is in heaven with no more tears, no more pain,” my seventeen-year-old resolved.

As I watched Madison’s parents in the visitation line, I saw them hug each person. They comforted the long line of teenagers whose hearts were broken like their own. “She was so excited to have you singing in Chorale with her again,” the mom comforted when she saw my son. “Oh, I remember your name! You are the ‘smart’ one,” she said to another, repeating words to the teens that Madison must have told her.

The scheduled visitation hours were from 6-8pm, but people stayed – even the grieving family – until well past midnight. They gave as much comfort as they received while the crowd grieved together. Pastor Doug Bookman often says that God does His best work when we are at the end of ourselves. As I saw strength in that family to stand for so many hours: smile, cry, smile, cry and still have something to give to the next person in line, I couldn’t help but see God at work. They were at the “end of themselves” long before the line had even formed.

A friend recently mentioned how wrong it is that people quote, “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle,” because of course He does! He knows we can’t handle it – except through Him. When we cry, “I can’t handle it!” maybe it is just our final battle getting to the “end of ourselves.”

“My tears have fed me day and night; while men have said, ‘Where is your God?’” David wrote in Psalm 42. How real. Tears are real. Grieving is real. It’s what we do with it that could “waste” its purpose.

Bitterness knocks at the door. Answer with trust.

Resentment and anger take their shots. Kick them with praise.

Depression tries to check-in; Tell it that gratitude has already taken that room.

Drugs and alcohol invite to numb the pain; Remind them they only prolong it.

Despair tries to suck us into the black hole, but we can remember what even Madison knew, as her Twitter account quoted a song earlier this year:

“All I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.”

Heaven is not the consolation prize; it’s the destination. Don’t waste the journey.

in love,

Terri

Related Posts

P.S.  John Piper in his article Don’t Waste Your Cancer, was quoted by a guest pastor, Scott Kellum, at a small church near our lake house. The words were too good not to take notes. The notes were too good not to share. Whether it is cancer, death of a dearly loved one, or another form of storm that hits our lives, the words aptly apply: “Don’t waste it.”

The below list was originally posted as Don’t Waste Your Cancer, but it could be, “Don’t waste your problems,”  “Don’t waste your tragedy,” “Don’t waste your hurt,” or “Don’t waste your today.”

When we truly believe that there’s nothing outside of God’s hands that happens in a believer’s life, this list is incredibly poignant.

Don’t Waste Your Cancer (from John Piper)

  1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.th-1
  2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift. (The blessing comes in what God does for us, with us, and through us.)
  3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your “odds” rather than from your God.
  4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.
  5. You will waste your cancer if you think that beating cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ
  6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.
  7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepening your loving relationships with others. (Some dig a hole and start pulling in dirt on top of themselves, blocking everyone out.)
  8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope. (Grieving is perfectly legitimate, but not as if we have no victory.)
  9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before. (Today’s the day to make it right with God.)
  10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.

Feel free to go back and read that list again, making the substitution of the deepest struggle in your own life, which may not be cancer. “You will waste your…[past hurt] if you…”

Good Grief

Dear Lindsey,

Two new holes were left in my heart this past winter, and last weekend represented the first events where these loved ones “would have been there.”  I had been dreading the events without them.

First, I lost my 42-year-old brother, Mike, (from Colorado) completely unexpectedly, after his medication cocktail (due to back pain) proved lethal. Weeks later, my dear friend Jackie Lewis (from Michigan)– also unexpectedly – went to be with the Lord at age 32 after a short week’s illness.

When my uncle, Buck Seitz, received France’s Legion of Honor medal in Denver, CO, last week it was the first time that I was at a family event…without Mike. Afterward, I flew out of Denver, directly to Florida, for a business event. It was at this business convention where Jackie and I would have shared the stage at night, sat together by the pool during the day, or been boating in the ocean together as in past years.

It brought to me an irony of grief: “good grief,” I guess you could call it.

Beginning (every day) with the end in mind has been an effort of mine for years. Physical

Mike Estes …...1971 - 2014

Mike Estes ……1971 – 2014

death is not “unexpected,” as no one has avoided it as of yet. And when I know heaven awaits for those who trust solely in the Lord Jesus, I would want it to hasten its call for believers. That is the “good” part of the grief. But oh, how it aches to have that hole in my heart of one that once was here…not here anymore. To know my lifetime ahead will happen absent of these loved ones cuts deeply into me, and even more deeply when I look at the children and spouses, and those closer to the deceased than I.

The degree of grief has taken so many different forms within me. I am no psychology major, but I know that what I experienced is probably not unique to me alone.

Sadness:

The depth of raw heartache cannot be described. What once was…no longer is. There is nothing I can do to change it for the future. There is nothing I can do to change any past, although with these two, there was nothing I would have changed. If my mind ever wanders from the sorrow, something comes to remind me of it: a waiter named Mike, a bookmark bearing Jackie’s signature, a song that instigates a flash flood of tears. It is amazing to me how I see the resemblance of their faces in SO many people – like a mirage due to a deep longing to see them again.  My heart skips a beat when I see a red head. (They both were.)

Pure Joy:

I say, “pure,” because it is the true sense of the word.  Joy: that despises

Jackie Lewis 1981- 2014

Jackie Lewis 1981- 2014

circumstances. My pure joy: in knowing that Jackie is with her Savior in heaven. There is no more crying, no more pain, no need to wait for a sun to brighten her day, because the eternal Light is always there.  There is such pure joy in knowing that she finished her life at such a peak. Her husband raves about their marriage  –which gives me joy to thank God for the timing of her death to be at such a high! She was a speaker on stages across the country, and her desire for excellence was an influence on thousands of lives to live better.  The wrinkle fairy had not yet waved her wand in Jackie’s direction. Haha! She was beautiful, so beautiful. Her love for the Lord exuded her being in all that she did, and her testimony video was recorded just this year. What a high! I have a joy in knowing that although the dash between her birth-date and her death-date was too short for my liking, its brevity is what interested tens of thousands to watch her story, which could have eternally impacted them. I have joy in knowing that though 32 years seems so short, and I wish she had lived to be 105, I can look at the grand scheme of tens of thousands of years in eternity, and the difference in a few decades on earth is so, so small.

timelineGuilt:

I know some experience guilt after the death of someone due to words that were said, or not said… Visits that were not made… Time that had passed taking for granted the love and friendship of the newly deceased. Those feelings hopefully spur us to be reminded of the preciousness and finiteness of time with loved ones.  But my guilt was different. It was as though every smile I gave brought with it a weight. Wasn’t I sad? Does my brother know I miss him? If I smile, will he think I don’t? What about other friends and family – am I offending them if I smile when they are not? I know it’s a strange subliminal guilt – my brother cannot “think” anything anymore. He is gone. But inside me, there is a pang, like a weight from below that feels good and right being sad, and guilty being happy. This “guilt” is probably most dangerous, because it is not from God. He is the one who allowed a weight to lift…and probably listened to the prayers of many to give me that moment of lifted weight…and yet I sometimes regretfully have given the unfounded guilt power in my day. I tend to think I need to “justify” my happiness, “Well, Jackie would have loved that I can laugh at this video now.” Or “Mike would have been laughing with me at this.” That justification may be true, but I just don’t want to miss the opportunity to say instead, “Thank you, God, for making the sun rise on my life again, because that night was long.”

Wanting to hide/avoid:

This part of grief seemed to have an undaunted allure. Do I have to attend that event? Everyone will be looking at me to see how I am handling it. What if there are expectations of how I am supposed to “look” and “act” in mourning? There will be others there grieving; I hate to look at others and see the pain I know will be in their eyes from their loss.   Events with people who didn’t know the deceased were even more difficult: it seemed disrespectful to be with people who didn’t even know or care about the ones I miss so deeply. My local church family didn’t know or love my brother. Couldn’t I use a few more hours of sleep? Couldn’t the world just turn without me for a while? I am hurting.

Doubt (with a capital “D”):

Have you ever prayed so intensely that it hurt? Physically, hurt? Have you ever lost entire nights of sleep or days of meals while praying for someone’s life to be saved? Have you ever visualized the victory so deeply, that you almost forgot whether the prayers had been answered yet or not, because you trusted that much that victory was imminent? Have you ever felt like you sweat blood?

Have you ever prayed that much and God still answered, “no.”

And that was His “final answer.”

Not, “No, check back with me next week.”

Not, “Wait… I like how you are depending on Me. Keep depending on Me. Let Me work on it.”

Just, “No.”

“She’s gone.”

Or “We lost him.”

Did you ever go back and doubt that your hours upon hours of fervent prayers were even heard?

I have.

Is doubt sin?  YES

Am I proud?  NO

The Bible talks about doubt:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. James 1:5-8”

But there was a time a few years ago when I doubted my prayers were heard, and I am ashamed. I have to tell you a little secret though:

I told God about it.

A. Weatherell Johnson, in her autobiography, Created for Commitment had this to say about a time of doubt in her life:

“I went to God and bluntly said, ‘God, I’m sorry but I don’t believe You always answer prayer.’ Immediately after I had spoken those words aloud, I corrected them. ‘God, I do believe but I don’t understand.’ God then gave me His loving assurance. He said, ‘My child, wait for Me. I have not finished.’ My very voicing of unbelief (to God alone) delivered me. I started to praise Him.”

Reading that, I remembered my own gut-wrenching tearful surrender that was so similar.

However, since answers to prayers do not always take the same shape of the mirages I have created, I believe we have to have the attitude my friend Diana had when she admittedly felt like prayers bounced off the ceiling back to the sickbed where she lay.

“I don’t understand, but I trust.”

The truth of the matter is that we cannot be afraid to speak out our doubts honestly, and immediately to the Lord. The very voicing of the sin can deliver us from it. How can a drowning victim be saved if she won’t admit she’s drowning? Besides, do we think He doesn’t already know our heart?  Do we think He doesn’t see behind the fig leaves with which we cover?  Are we surprised when He asks, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:11) He already knows.

Jesus, Himself, prayed for His circumstances to change so earnestly that His sweat was like drops of blood, (Luke 22:44) yet He humbly submitted when God said, “no,” so His life was used to save mine.

The Lord holds our tears in a bottle. (Ps 56:8)

If we can just …hold on to Him a little while longer. (Haggai 2:6-7)

When God Says, “No”

Just recently, Pastor Stephen Davey shared about the topic, “When the Answer is No.” (I love it when I have a blog half-written and someone else covers the exact topic!) You can read his message: here or listen to the audio here.

He taught five components to our response to God when He answers “no” to our fervent prayers. We should respond with humility, gratitude, surrender, praise and readiness.

The Bible is clear that there is a time for mourning, a time for tears. (Ecc 3:4) Even Jesus wept at the loss of his friend.  (John 11:35)

And yet, the fact that Ecclesiastes says, “there is a time,” to me, says that the time is finite. It ends. Yes, I will miss these loved ones, but there is more.  There is more to come in this life than mourning….when I respond with humility – recognizing that my desires do not include the whole world like God’s desires do. When I respond with gratitude – recognizing that the fact I miss these loved ones means I have some memories for which to be thankful. When I respond with surrender – recognizing that I am not in control…and really never was. When I respond with praise – recognizing that I do LOVE the One who IS in control. And when I respond with readiness – recognizing that there is more to come. This is not the end.  I want to be ready to serve the Lord as Jackie was, to spread laughter as Mike would have done.

Just wait, there’s more.

I once heard it said, “Everything will be all right in the end; and if it is not all right, it is not the end.”

Girlfriend, it is not the end. Last weekend as I lived without these two was a sort of victory for me. It wasn’t the end! Yes, I cried again… at the loss… and the change… and the grief of continuing life without them. (I even held my brother’s newborn granddaughter, whom he never met.)  But the victory was in the ability to say, “I am ready, God.  I don’t understand, but I trust.”  I guess that is the good that gets squeezed out of the grief.

“Good” grief!  I couldn’t have said those words together a few short weeks ago. But God knew the day would come.

The world still turns, even though there was a time when its turning seemed impossible.  As I shared at Jackie’s funeral, I feel like God is holding on to my heart, saying, “Just wait. There’s more…”

May we heal through worshipping Him in a real relationship, no holds barred, no doubts hidden, in real communion, as we wait on His “more” to come.

“The difference between waiting on God and wrestling with God is worship.” – Stephen Davey in Nehemiah: Memoirs of an Ordinary Man

 

– Terri Brady

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Books

Psalm 42:3-4 says:  My tears have been my food

day and night,

while people say to me all day long,

“Where is your God?”

These things I remember

as I pour out my soul:

how I used to go to the house of God

under the protection of the Mighty Oned

with shouts of joy and praise

among the festive throng.

“Overparenting:” a Leading Cause of Busyness

Dear Lindsey,

I have been meaning to write for weeks, but I have been…umm…busy!

In his book, Crazy Busy, Kevin DeYoung lists several diagnoses causing busyness:

      • Trying to look good, instead of actually doing good. (and its close cousins: pride, people pleasing and perfectionism),
      • Trying to do more than what God expects me to do.
      • Not setting priorities…even in serving others.
      • “Kinderarchy”:  Freaking out about my kids
      • Being addicted to technology
      • Not resting enough

The Kindergarchy chapter hit too close to home for me, as I find myself SO wrapped up with my children’s (now ages 16, 13, 10 and 8) schedules. Kindergarchy could probably be defined as overparenting, and I dance with it daily. I want what’s best for my kids. I don’t take lightly the responsibility of raising them for the glory of the Lord, and sometimes (as said in my last Letter), my attempts at “better” have only left me more flustered or frustrated, and not the kind of mom I want to be for my children.

But sometimes, it is simply “overparenting” that causes us to be overbusy.

For Our Kids

At a recent neighborhood event, one mom said her chief regret in raising her kids was their playing travel soccer. Not knowing that I was the proverbial travel-soccer mom, she was simply lamenting how busy she had been when her kids were young, just rushing from one city to the next for… soccer.

I took her words straight to my heart. Will I regret being a soccer mom? It was a great moment of reflection for me, as I aligned my priorities and analyzed my busyness.

I believe the busyness  of “Kinderarchy” to which Kevin DeYoung refers in his book could be summarized by:

  1. Our kids are doing too much.
  2. We’re doing too much for our kids.
  3. We think our kids’ future lies too much in our responsibility.

Kids today have opportunities that didn’t exist in our youth – much less our parents’. My parents were both raised on farms. After starting his day milking cows at 4am, before feeding the hogs, or getting ice from the pond in the valley to carry to the icebox (yep…pre-refrigeration), then walking uphill (both ways, barefoot…in the snow) to the one-room-schoolhouse in Kansas, my father hardly came home to ask if he could join the travel soccer team!  But my dad grew up to be pretty awesome, and I wouldn’t mind if any of my kids turned out just like him!

Since I don’t have cows to milk, hogs nor an icebox, we have time for activities outside of those! But that doesn’t mean we need all of the activities that are offered. As my neighbor aptly pointed out, travel soccer is time-consuming! Our kids only have one childhood, and I only get one shot at providing for its growth toward excellence. For two of my boys, it has been travel soccer. They have dreams of going big in the sport, and my telling them, “Your chances are slim,” would only solidify that in their minds – for not only soccer, but also any other dream they chase. When they put the mental toughness, physical training, and immense effort into their goals, Chris and I want to reciprocate –even if it means sacrificing some time for travel soccer.

However, if I were about to invest a percentage of my income in something, the investment would be prayed about and researched regarding: return on investment, ability to reach goals, cost to invest, comparison to competitor investments, etc. Investments in time should be considered under the same scrutiny.

Too often, I hear of people getting tutoring for their 6-yr-old, or putting their 4-yr-old in travel-hockey, or paying big bucks for swim-lessons for the 6-month-old, without considering if the outcome is really worth the investment of time and money. (Yes, I did some of that!) Our kids could end up being pushed right out of the activity that was intended for their good. In my busyness case, I get burnt out of the motherhood I was intending for God’s good. Sometimes our kids are simply doing too much.

For Our Kids

Other times, we are busy because we are doing too much for our kids.  For example, I overheard a woman behind me at a high school sporting event talking about a history project her son (a junior in high school) was doing. She was exasperated at the amount of work it entailed. She didn’t know when he could possibly get it all done. She wasn’t quite sure what the teacher wanted, and whether the entire project was due on such-and-such date, or whether that was just the draft. Wondering if it was biographical, or if it could be an opinionated project, she debated into her friend’s ear on whether the project should be during World War I, or maybe during the aftermath.  She talked and talked… and talked. Then, she turned to her friend and said, “How is your son going to get it done?!”

“Oh, I don’t know what he’s doing for that class. That’s up to him,” her friend replied.

If I had been sipping a drink at that moment, it would have been one of those – spray the back of the head of the person sitting in front of me on the bleachers – moments. It was funny to me, that while one woman was giving a discourse on the project, debating the intricacies of the due dates, pondering the eras about which to write and discussing her stress level on the sidelines, the other simply said, “That’s not my job; it’s my son’s class.”

Can’t we see that doing too much for our children not only hinders their ability to handle responsibility, but also creates “freaked out” moms who look too busy for the very kids they are trying to help?

But being a mom who holds the “It’s not my job; it’s his job,” mentality risks a multitude of embarrassing moments, because our pride is on the line when we allow our children to fail. When they don’t complete a project, I can be embarrassed – but it is worth the short-term embarrassment for the long-term lessons he learns. Failing to bring his soccer equipment at age eight makes less failures at age sixteen.  Doing it for our children instead, only takes away their opportunity to learn the lesson.  Whether it is because he forgot part of the soccer uniform, didn’t get the intricacies of the history assignment or in some other way missed the bar, I know failure can be the best teacher for the future.  Imagine if instead of nagging with a soccer checklist every time, I trusted that he had it. (Once he forgets a cleat, it is never done again.) What if instead of bugging a teacher for assignment details, we let the “to-do list” be in his head instead of ours?  We would be left to focus on our own to-do list – to be a mom!

Doing too much for them – only makes me busy and takes away from their ability to gain responsibility.

For “Our”? Kids 

Lastly, and definitely my favorite point of the Kindergarchy chapter, we often think our kids’ future lies too much in our responsibility.  We try to be the perfect parents: feeding the perfect meals every meal, running to tutors, lessons, leagues, and friends to make the perfect combination of fertilizer for the garden where our children grow.

But we have less to do with their growth than we think. Don’t we believe God knitted them together before they were born? (Ps 139:13) Don’t we know that God has a plan for them to prosper, not to harm them? (Jer 29:11) Can’t we  trust in Him and lean not on our own understanding?  (Prov 3:5)

One of my favorite lines from the Crazy Busy book was this:

“There are ways to screw up kids for life but thankfully the Happy Meal is not one of them.” (p. 73)

Ha! He is not saying, “Give up on feeding them healthy food;” he is saying we would be better if we stopped freaking out!

Usurping God’s Role

I try to avoid using these Letters to brag about my kids; I really do. But this lesson I recently learned is too good to skip, although the ending shows I am a bit proud of my daughter (age ten).

Let me begin with this:  admittedly, I often suffer with the “I stink at being a mom,” syndrome. It’s a sinful, self-centered, lacking-of-faith and lacking-of-gratitude “sin-drome” that requires my refocus on God and His wondrous gifts.  One particular day, I was having those negative “I am a failure” thoughts about my mothering my daughter. Her hair was messy…as usual. Her room was too. With the sweetest heart in the world, she runs around loving on everyone, and leaves a path of evidential mess in every room she touches. Her brothers have called her the “tornado,” because you always know where she has been.

And then it happened.

The violin lessons paid off….NOT.

The soccer league she left tried to recruit her back…NOT.

The gymnastics lessons she had when she was seven saved her life…NOPE.

I unwrapped my birthday present and it was this:

turtle

THAT is a turtle.

I cannot draw a turtle. (You never want to be my partner in Pictionary.)  I cannot describe shading, much less do it with watercolors.

My daughter created that artwork, because, thank God, she was not in a sports league to follow her brothers. She was not in gymnastics because it was what the neighbors were doing. She drew that because she was not too busy to notice the details of a creature, capture them with her God-given eye and express it as a gift of love to me.

She made the painting, because God knows her more than I do, and He gave her talents to use for His glory, not mine.  I think He can make her the best she can be if I let go enough of who I think she should be.  Maybe for her to be the best daughter she can be, her mom needs to be the best daughter (of God) she can be, instead of being the freaked-out-lunatic parent trying to make perfect children.

So if I am letting go of “Kindergarchy,” then what do I consider to be most important for being a good mom?

Be a good me.

    • They need to see my trust in Jesus… for my life and theirs.
    • They need to see my love for their father, (yes – my husband)…and his love for me.
    • They need to see me sane.

The busyness disease can leave “freaked out” parents eclipsing what is most important for their children’s future.

No amount of “perfect parenting,” vegan dieting-without-Happy-Meals, travel-soccer momming, music lessons, sports leagues, or homework-“helping” can make up for a lacking in me. Too much busyness can take the life of any priorities in a heartbeat, taking our beating hearts along with it.

Delight yourself in the Lord (Ps 37:4)…and let the busyness drown like the Wicked Witch of the West melting under a bucket of water*.

In love,

Terri Brady

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* reference: Wizard of Oz

Letters to Lindsey is now available in book form.

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A Disease Called Busyness

Dear Lindsey,

Having lunch with my 13-yr-old last week, I asked him a question of where he wanted to be in five years. What kind of person was he aiming to become?  Did he have goals for himself?

His answer surprised me, since he said that he wanted to be more like his older brother:

“Everyone likes Casey.  My [12-yr-old] friend, Zarec, said it best: ‘The reason Casey is so much fun is because he seems like he is really having fun when he is with you!’ Most teenagers aren’t like that. I guess I want people to feel that fun from me.”

He wasn’t envying his brother, but admiring a trait he’d like to emulate. I like it when my kids think. I don’t know if he realized that his thinking convicted me, but I realized how “not fun” I live some days of my life.

The culprit?

A Disease called Busyness.

I think it is amusing when I ask my kids a question like, “How many times have you flossed this week?” and my eight-year-old will say, “I haven’t had time.”

Haha!! If you don’t have time when you are eight?…

Don’t we each feel that way though – whatever we are doing seems important enough to feel BUSY?

As an engineer (before motherhood), I

  • drove 50 miles each way to work
  • worked in three plant locations involving travel
  • volunteered at church directing the children’s choir
  • sang in the adult choir, and filled in as accompanist at times
  • taught piano lessons on the side
  • picked up kids who needed a ride to church
  • played on a softball team 30 minutes from my house (part way to work)
  • played in a county band
  • made meals from scratch
  • worked out every day
  • flossed my teeth 🙂
  • stayed involved in elections, attended weddings and baby showers, traveled to out-of-state family, practiced instruments and other things that happened on a non-daily routine

I am sure you could make this list for yourself.

“It is not enough to be industrious, so too are the ants,” said Henry David Thoreau, “but what are you industrious about?”

For me, I have LOVED to be busy my whole life.   In highschool, my mother would continuously say (to my back as I was leaving the house), “You are burning the candle at both ends; it cannot last!”

I wore it like a badge.

My highschool yearbook looked like I was trying to be Jan Brady (or was it Marsha?) with all of my activities: Shakespeare Club, high school musical, jazz band, church plays, babysitting, softball teams, marching band, (county, district and state bands), Science Fair competitions, indoor drumline, National Honor Society, nursing home visitation, and winter ski club.

I could have sung the Veggie Tales song to any friend who asked for time, “I’m busy busy! Frightfully busy! You’ve no idea what I’ve got to do!”

But there are so many pitfalls to busyness!  A book, Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung inspired the following:

Pitfalls of BusynessPitfall3

  1. Makes us lose sight of direction.
  2. Robs our happiness.
  3. Masks our growing further from whom we were meant to be.

1.  Busyness makes us lose sight of  the direction we intended.

I like to list those activities of my engineering days, because it is clearly eclectic, and pointless for where I am today.  What was my goal?  We have twenty-four hours in our checking account to spend, 365 days a year. We cannot add to that number in any way. My eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Romberger, taught me a valuable lesson on busyness, when she had us actually keep an account ledger of our time. We took a lined piece of paper, and labeled each line with fifteen-minute intervals of time. Then for one week, we were supposed to stop every fifteen minutes and write down what we were doing. I remember being shocked – even at that young age – of things which I had no intention of doing that took my time! (Maybe I should do this today? I cannot figure out what happened to my 11am to 2pm yesterday!!!) If we could look back at our account ledger for the last six months of time, we would likely be able to predict where we will be in five years!  Our hourly account ledger tells where we are headed. Does it have the direction we intended? It is “what we are industrious about” that matters.

2.  Busyness robs our happiness.

OffCliffRecently I had a day when I got miserably tired. You know the kind? Once my daughter, exhausted and teary at age seven said, “I am so tired, my heart has been at the edge of a cliff, and it just went over. Wah hah hah”– That kind of tired.

.

.

When my heart, “went over the edge,” I analyzed the day I had had:

  • I had gotten up early for a good workout and Bible time,
  • Then went to have coffee with a friend in need, arriving a little late.
  • I came home shortly and did some homeschooling work with the kids, then let them work on their own assignments while I
  • Volunteered playing piano at the high school where my oldest son attends.
  • I came home and paid the cleaning lady quickly before leaving in a hurry,
  • To drive my daughter to homeschool youth theatre practice, while eating lunch out of my lap.
  • I volunteered with music for that group for 2 hours
  • I came home in time to say hello to my teens before dropping them at the soccer carpool.
  • Making the family dinner took a little longer than expected, so I didn’t get to sit down.
  • I ate dinner from my lap while driving to an evening orchestra practice at church which I had been looking forward to.
  • I came home and the younger kids wanted me to read to them before bed, but
    • It was late
      • And I was tired.
        • Chris wanted to tell me about his ideas, and spend quality husband/wife time, but my body had had it!

I felt like saying, “Do you know the kind of day I have had?!!!”

Then I actually thought about the kind of day I had had:

  • I had started with exercise and quiet time in prayer.
  • I had spent time with my kids.
  • I had given of my time and talents in volunteer work.
  • I had played in an orchestra at church – a kind of worship for me, cleansing of my soul, once a week when my schedule allows.
  • I had eaten healthy – even from my lap – since I had prepared the meals.

That day would have been called “rest” back in my engineering days (and most of my “normal days” now), but clearly, the happiness had been robbed.

I ended too tired to read to my kids.

Volunteering had become a chore when it affected my meals!

Any of these events taken separately would have been a blessing, but all together, they were a strain.

A thief came in to rob my happiness through the door of my calendar.

The sad part is that most people have busyness robbing their happiness and they do not recognize the cause, only its effect.

3.  Busyness masks our decay.  

If we are not growing right, we are growing wrong!! There is no staying the same.

Growth in a specific direction takes specific intent for growth.   Growth in a bad direction takes no work at all.

If I want to be a healthy weight, it takes massive intent and work.

If I want to gain weight, it’s a piece of cake! (Pun intended! 🙂 )

Growing in a right direction requires tending to the calendar, not just riding along in an “unattended car”Keeping ourselves busy disguises itself as productivity, when in actuality it is often masking decay.

I believe this decay due to busyness is very evident in marriages:

Nobody plans for a marriage to decline to a status of “acquaintance management,” but lack of HappyCakeplanning is the root of the rot.   Personal busyness usually does not involve the spouse…who frankly has his/her own reason to be busy, leading him/her in different directions.  Our busyness often is exclusive of those who are closest to us, leaving what matters most in our hearts, out of our mind while we RUSH – often trying to serve the very ones we ignore. While we think we are working to get things done, things are becoming undone within us…as individuals and in our relationships.

Rest is not the antithesis of productivity.

“Tending” to our growth, personally or professionally, means we know when we need rest, too.  Rest can actually halt the decay cycle.  My husband wrote a whole book on the importance of rest! (Maybe I should rest from writing and read it again!  He says, “Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.” A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation.)  Rest allows time to think. Unscheduled time allows planning for the future.

If we have every minute filled with who we are, it will be difficult to find time to become who we are meant to be!

Leave space!!  Just because there is a blank in the calendar does not mean it needs to be filled!  (Okay, I am screaming, “Preach it, sister!” to myself in my head – because I am SO preaching to myself. I suppose I better close this letter before my “self” starts answering.)

One last note: According to author Bryan Caplan, secondhand stress is a leading complaint among kids.  In an “Ask the Children” survey, researcher Ellen Galinsky interviewed more than 1000 kids in grades 3-12, asking, “If you were granted one wish to change the way that your mother’s/father’s work affects your life, what would that wish be?”  Who could have guessed the kids’ answer would have involved their parents’ attitude?! When asked to “grade” their parents for “appreciating me for who I am, “ or “making me feel loved,” or even, “attending important events in my life,” the parents scored well. But “controlling his/her temper when I do something that makes him/her angry” got the worst marks on the parents’ report card! They feel our stress!

Okay, I do not remember that lady interviewing my kids, but wow! She might have been here. It’s not that I “blow up” at my kids. I have even worked on many systems to avoid the repetitive nagging. But, I often wonder if my kids are going to say my most commonly said word was, “hurry!”

I don’t want them to remember me as the “hurry!” mom. I want them to feel the fun I have with them.  I want them to remember me as the mom who loves them and who loves Jesus, and who stresses only in things eternal. I think my infliction with the Disease called Busyness may be masking my most important message…to my kids, to my husband and to myself.

To be continued,

Terri

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Tumor Humor, Out of My Mind (with a Brain Tumor) Part IV

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Dear Lindsey,

After a week of letters (I, II and III) of my brain surgery story’s drama, I have to tell you how

Laugh

much laughing Chris and I did before, during and especially after the surgery was successful. If you are in the middle of a health battle, I hope humor can help take weight off. I never mean to offend.

God knew we needed a laugh to ease the nerves as I checked into the hospital on October 14. After fasting 15 hours, driving 2 to the hospital, going through the extensive check-in process, having IV’s started, and then sitting for hours waiting for the arterial scope the day before brain surgery was a good time for some distraction! Chris and I began going through text messages on our phones that we had not had time to read the week before. Many of them had scriptural references, so I had a Bible ready to look up the verses, while Chris read both of our phones.

A friend texted: Psalms 71:21. So I looked it up: “You shall increase my greatness and comfort me on every side.”

Another was Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

We continued, one after another, until one stopped me in my tracks: Our Florida pastor, Tom Ascol, had sent Chris a text referring to Romans 8:32, so I anxiously read the verse from my Bible,

“… He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth.”

What?! I read it again silently.

“… He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth.”

A lamb to a shearer? Right before they shave part of my head? A sheep to slaughter? Before brain surgery? Why would Tom send such a note today? I don’t think that’s a funny joke. Tom has a fantastic sense of humor, but his timing is really off on this one; there must be a mistake.

“What was that reference again?” I asked, hoping Chris had read the reference wrong or something.

“8:32,” Chris said.

Yep, that’s where I was and I couldn’t believe it was true.

“Romans?” Chris asked, hoping he was getting his friend Tom out of hot water.

OHHHHH I thankfully realized that I was in the wrong book: I was reading Acts 8:32.

(I laugh now when I see that I pridefully assigned blame everywhere but myself. I laugh harder to think I would EVER have thought Pastor Tom would have texted such a verse. ha!)

We went on to read Romans 8:32, “ He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

Much better.

We called the Ascols in Florida right then from the hospital bed to share the story. We laughed and praised God for the humor to relieve the stress.

In previous letters, I alluded to some of the lingo we used on purpose during this time. It’s more fun to laugh than cry, and these colloquialisms have different meanings for brain surgery patients:

– I gave the doctors a piece of my mind.

– I am no longer in my right mind.

– I am a little out of my mind.

– They had to take a piece of my brain, so I would be back on level with my husband.

– I need to have my head examined.

– I thought something was wrong, but it was all in my head.

– I needed to have the head surgeon present. (from Part II)

– This brings the urgency of life to a head (from Part III – did you catch it?)

– I think I have a screw loose. (My skull was “put back together” with titanium screws.)

– And my friend, Jen, just texted, “Your blog will really help some people, but don’t let that ‘go to your head’.” Love!

Thank You

Although I know this letter is titled “Humor with the Tumor,” I have to get a little more serious for an acknowledgement section:

There were many heroes and heroines in this story, and I wanted to take some time for acknowledging them. I did not even know the definition of the word, “serve,” until God put these people in my life. I recognize that they did not do it for me, but to serve the Lord; I was blessed by them, anyway.

I must begin by saying that if friendship is like a bank account – and love is the currency of deposits (and unfortunately withdrawals)– then the year previous to the surgery, I had bankrupted all of my friends. In my survival mode, I felt like I had nothing left to give, and had even inadvertently offended many friends by not returning calls or asking them to pick up my slack, without explaining why. I am indebted to these heroines, since they loved me anyway, and served as only Jesus could. Of course, I can’t name everyone – especially the number of strangers who visited the surgery-update blog, or sent prayers and cards that began with, “You don’t know me, but…” and took time to encourage. What a blessing they were!

First, thank you to my hero and husband, Chris. My loving knight in shining armor read the recount in these Letters to Lindsey last week and had a whirlwind of emotions again. He regretted that he didn’t do more during the year of pain, but I don’t know what more he could have done. He took over chores and diminished expectations, knowing I was going down. I think maybe God was teaching me to swim, and restricted use of lifejackets – even from my husband. His love for me then and now is irreplaceable. I kept saying his job was much harder than my own in the hospital bed – all I had to do was go to sleep.

Thank you to my brother, Tim, who traveled from Colorado to be with Chris during the surgery days. All three of my brothers returned my calls within minutes when I left them voicemail. That love cannot be duplicated.

My friend, Anna Huber taught not just me, but all of the other heroines in the story just what the word, “serve” means. Since 2008, I have often been in a position when I didn’t know what to do to help someone and I thought, “What would Anna do?!” However, many of the other ladies listed here have told me that they now ask the same question – after having experience working with Anna! She sent me cards every day leading up to the surgery, organized food for those staying in the hotel near the hospital, arranged rides for my kids for weeks after the surgery, arranged food to come to my house in the boondocks for weeks after surgery, and at one point when I texted and asked her if someone was coming to get one of the kids, she replied, “You are not supposed to be thinking! Let me do that!” Anna and her husband Mark drove the four hour round trip and visited with Chris during my less conscious moments.

My great friend and confidante, Tracey Avereyn sent me countless scriptures via text. She was the shoulder on which I could cry. She updated the blog when I was unable. In the weeks after surgery, when I required 24 hour care, she stayed with me more than her share of shifts, and made extra meals without milk and beef to be sure my son could eat as well. Of course the 6lb jar of peanutbutter delivered to my hotel room in Louisville was a favorite love note from her.

Thanks to Laurie Woodward for practically begging me to get the second MRI. How God used her! Woodwards sent flowers to Christine for her 5th birthday, a thoughtful gift the day before my admission. Laurie also flew to Michigan from Florida for a surprise visit seven days post-op. She and I could hardly visit, because the kids kept saying, “Can I play with Mrs. Woodward now?”

Nancy Jones was an immeasurable friend. Her physical therapist background combined with a caring heart provided for incredible help in my time of need. She voluntarily made the trip to the distant hospital, and massaged my horrendously sore neck (the muscles had much involvement in the surgery). On her birthday, (which I forgot in my ill condition), she helped Chris bring me into the house from the hospital discharge. She insisted on staying with me for “a shift” of nursing a week or two later, just to make sure I was really doing as well as she had heard.

Susie Hallstrand was incredible. From many phone calls before, advice on local hospitals, to voluntarily staying with me in ICU (which was a huge fear for me), her nursing background was the cherry on top of our friendship. Her faith was unwavering and a great stronghold for me. Her selflessness in keeping one of my children for the week – the one with food allergies no less – as well as making the four-hour round trip to the hospital is a quality I hope to emulate.

Shirley Barker was used by God when she “randomly” texted a friend to see if I needed muscular help, since she had a cancellation in her massage therapy schedule. She drove from Indiana to use her gifted hands on my neck muscles and really shot the starting gun for my road to recovery.

Friends and business partners, Bob and Nancy Frazzini, approached me at a meeting and asked if they could can my garden – a task that had clearly left my list of things to do that fall. It was so sweet of them to 1.) remember I had a garden and 2.) offer the service I would never have thought to ask. Every soup I had that winter reminded me of the Frazzinis’ gift and I asked myself the question, “How can I serve people like that?”

Wow. This list gets so long, but I am SO grateful to all!

Thank you, God, for sending my in-laws, Jim and Gayle Brady. One memory I have from the hospital was Chris’s mom in a heated discussion with the hospital staff. I was barely conscious to hear, “This woman has given birth four times! If she says she’s in pain, SHE’S IN PAIN!!! NOW!” She has taught me a lot about having an advocate to stand up for you in a hospital setting – especially if you will be unconscious. Being a retired hospital nurse herself, she knows how busy the setting can be for hospital staff and that it doesn’t hurt to have another eye on the situation.

Thank you to people who made the long drive to visit us in the hospital: Eric and Lori Stewart, Norm Walworth, Pastor and Mary Dickie, Chris’s brother, Pat and Jenny Brady, his parents and Mark and Anna Huber, who stayed all night with Chris.

Thanks to Tim and Amy Marks who sent food to feed the entire waiting room, probably for a year. 🙂

My parents, Ron and Sue Estes, came 1300 miles and stayed with me for three weeks, about two weeks post-op, to help me ease my way back into motherhood, which took time. It was helpful having parents who would let me do some things, and then also let me crash for lots of napping. My dad and I had some special walks outside, arm in arm, on the driveway in the cold fall air to ease my cabin fever.

Who can you trust to take your kids from you when you are having serious surgery – knowing that if things don’t go well, they will be the only buffer between your kids and the news? Four families volunteered – one for each child. What a blessing! Thanks to John and Tammy Sonnenberg, Rob and Susie Hallstrand, Doug and Tiffany Huber and Don and Chris Freeze.

Girlfriends stayed with me for eight-hour shifts, 24 hours-a-day for the first 10 days. Apparently this was needed due to my short hospital stay, and my risk for falling. At one point JR (who was 3) told me he would help me walk so I wouldn’t fall. So precious! But God sent other angels to keep me upright: Jackie Lewis, Cassie Birtles, Marsie VanBuskirk, Mallory Purdy, Tracie Clouse, Beth Morgan, Heidi Smith (who pulled an all-nighter when I was having pain-control issues, despite the fact she was working the next day), Tina Jacklyn, Meredith Cordes, and Corrie Jones – in addition to the others already mentioned. These ladies really saw me at my worst – after their love tanks were probably emptied by me the previous year – and they loved me anyway. What true friends and gifts from Above. May they hear, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant!” one day.

I know I have missed someone – but please know your reward is in heaven! I am so grateful that God allowed you to help in such a time of need.

Ladies groups made quilts and crocheted blankets, praying at the corner stitches. These afghans still reside in my house as a reminder of my leper experience. Thank you!

Val Brimsmade sent a note I still remember, and it often brings myself to right thinking. She said, “We are commanded, not requested, but commanded in Joshua 1:9 to be strong and courageous in His name.” I believe Martin Lloyd Jones says that we are abusing the gospel if we do not approach the crossing into eternity with JOY.

Thank you to the pharmacy and hospital staff: nurses Sarah, Wendy, Michael, Robin, Heather, Jackie, Keyonna and hospital executive VP, Patti who was so kind to the family.

Thank you

Thank you to people who brought or sent food and or gifts:

  • Randy and Rusti Spence – Thanks for reminding me to dance in the rain!
  • Kelly Johnson – The homemade card shower that lasted for months after surgery! (and still does today!)
  • Brenda Overman
  • Paul and Lois Nobels
  • Sarah Kingsbury
  • Mary Ann Markel
  • Sheri Stroh
  • Jen Golden
  • Ed and Lynette Zentner
  • Billy and Peggy Florence
  • Val Taylor
  • Dallin and Karree Larsen
  • Hugh and Karin Pobur
  • Brigg and Lita Hart
  • Guzzardo Team
  • Jerry and Sherry Daniels
  • Dave and Claudia Walker
  • Manase and Lisa Fotu
  • DarkAngelos
  • Manteises
  • Gertslers
  • Rhodes
  • McGlinchys
  • Nancy Deats
  • Holger and Lindsey Spiewak
  • Mike and Vi Gowen
  • Jamie and Lisa Cirello
  • Dave and Tracy McDade
  • Charlie and Polly Ballmer
  • and so many more that did not get written in Chris’s notebook during the surgery dates.

As I look back to the “leprosy” days, (referring to Luke 17 where Jesus healed ten lepers, and one came back to say thank you), I really believe that to truly say, “thank you,” to the Lord, we must also say, “thank you,” to the people He sent.

Summary

In summary, let me recall a poem I wrote years ago regarding the Luke 17 story:

THANKS AGAIN

Ten lepers were healed

By Christ’s words that day.

He said, “You are new,”

And sent them away.

They danced and they sang

With their limbs now anew.

Showed friends their new health

And all they could do

One returned thanks,

The others took for granted;

But Jesus gave freely

His gifts not recanted.

Lord, help me to be

The one of the ten

Who thinks to come back

and say, “thank you,” again.

-Terri Brady

May God bless you with much, and may you bless Him with thanks.

– Terri

Out of My Mind (with a Brain Tumor) Part III

For those who are just joining, it may be helpful to READ FIRST:

Out of My Mind (with a Brain Tumor) Part I and

Out of My Mind (with a Brain Tumor) Part II

Dear Lindsey,

In some ways, 2008 seems like yesterday, but as I recall my history, it seems like a whole different lifetime. As I said in part I and II of this letter, headaches led to MRI’s which revealed a tumor. Although the tumor seemed unrelated to the location of the pain, its speed of growth required surgical removal. When it rains it pours, and so did other “unrelated” health issues of skin cancer, a noise in my ear and swallowing problems which led to coughing issues…but the brain surgery took priority.

My story continues…

The Two Weeks

For the two weeks before surgery, anxiety woke me daily before my alarm.  My 5am quiet times would finish with the Lord’s arms around me like a warm blanket on a frosty morning. (Thanks, Alice Doan, a woman of our church for praying that to happen.)

I was already scheduled to speak in Phoenix, AZ and Louisville, KY those two weekends. I know anyone would have understood if I had decided to cancel due to impending brain surgery, but what happened in those two weeks was a wonderful alignment of priorities.

What is important now?” dominated my thinking.

If I were truly given only two weeks left to live, what would I do? The song says, “I’d go skydiving; Rocky Mountain climbing; ride a bull…” but none of that came to mind.

Although I think the chances of handicapping my voice were greater than the chance of death (The surgeon had said he wouldn’t come close to the life-threatening vein.), it brought the urgency of life to a head, as well as the momentousness of the ability to use my voice.  I wanted to live my life on purpose, and I felt like my message to the stadiums those two weekends was my purpose, or I would never have scheduled to leave my children, even before the diagnosis.

Each weekend, I changed my originally planned speech and told of the upcoming surgery and the heaven that awaited for those who have faith in Jesus Christ – whether the finish line would be October 15 or any time before or after.

During this time, the news of a fatal car accident jarred me to remember that we are all dying. EVERY day is a day that may be the end of our “dash”, and priorities should be lived as such, impending surgery or not.

Telling the Kids

The moment I dreaded had arrived: we needed to tell the kids.  We knew we had one promise we could make: not “Mom will be ok,” nor, “It will be just like always,” but that God is in control.

Pride of being a mother is a difficult thing to fight. Feeling the heavy weight of responsibility yet keeping perspective that if God chooses, it will be relinquished in a moment can only be accomplished by surrender. I surrendered (again) that I was not the one taking care of my children; God was.  If He chose for me to reach my finish line during brain surgery, my children would still be in His care.

True surrender is the most humble act.  I would have told you I surrendered when I was led to Christ at the age of thirteen. Again, a deeper surrender occurred when I “lost control” (which of course was never mine to begin with!) during infertility challenges.  I have often surrendered during my battles with pride.  But I had never before completely surrendered to the thought that the world would just keep turning in my absence. After a funeral and time, hearts who may have missed me would heal, and life would continue as it was…without me.  The church would find another musician; friends would get back to laughing; business would grow. I am the proverbial pea in the ocean. God’s ocean. Removing me was not a big deal. I suppose that is the humility with which we should live at all times, but nothing brought this to realization like a life-threatening storm.

We told the kids the good news: they would get to stay with friends, and then we told them the bad news. Chris grimly went through the recovery information, and the risk, and we prayed as a family. Within ten seconds of the word, “amen,” Nathaniel (8) said, “Can I tell you about the Scooby Doo movie now?!”

I know his comment frustrated my husband who wanted more concern, but the child’s words were a little note from Above: the kids would be fine.

To the Hospital

After a party for my daughter’s 5th birthday the day before, I wrote a little post on a blog my brother Tim had set up to give friends and family updates during my surgery. (The blog has since been deleted (after we printed it), because it wasn’t renewed.  There were more prayers/ comments in 10 days of that blog, than there have been on Letters to Lindsey since it began 15 months ago!)

I had indescribable peace as we made the two-hour trek to the hospital.  I was no longer preparing a basket with pitch and hyssop (from my Basket Case letter), but like baby Moses, I was riding inside, waiting to see where the Lord would have the water take me.  I decided everyone’s prayers were like a river on which I floated. So many prayers were said for the surgery, I bet Chris could have performed it! (but I opted for the surgeons instead.)

I believe PEACE comes from knowing that in all outcomes: God is in control. Thoughts at the time, while reading Trusting God (Bridges) were:

      • God is in control if I am healed completely.
      • God is still in control if I have nerve damage and live a life as handicapped. (Ask Joni Eareckson Tada if she agrees.)
      • God is still in control if I have reached my finish line; it would be heaven. Heaven is the finish line no matter what happens to my today.

First Surgery and a Friend’s Call, October 14

The first surgery on the 14th went better than planned; the arterial scope revealed there was no need for embolization to stave bleeding…answered prayer! Because of that, I was able to stay in a regular room and have one less night of ICU.

That night, while lying flat in bed as directed, I received a call from a friend who could hardly speak as she cried, “I don’t know if I know how to pray, but I just need to know, Terri, if I pray for you tonight, will God save you?”

Seeing her in her humble state, asking of the Lord for possibly the first time, I replied, “I don’t know if He will save me here, but I know if you pray to Him tonight, He will save YOU for eternity.”

She and I prayed together on the phone from my hospital bed, as I felt her come to the knowledge of what it means to be a sinner who is completely forgiven and saved by Christ.

Chris and my brother Tim visited with me before heading to their hotel, and I waited for the morning. I glowed with the joy that only comes from knowing a soul will be with me in eternity.

TT bed

Today’s the Day, October 15th

The morning of surgery, I sat up in bed and posted a favorite hymn on the surgery blog:

Day by day and with each passing moment

Strength I find to meet my trials here

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

When rolling my bed to surgery that morning, one of the medical students said to me, “I can’t believe you have such peace about this!”

It was ironic that this guy who was probably used to trying to calm people’s nerves was trying to figure out mine. “I need not worry about tomorrow, God is already there,” I quoted a favorite saying. I knew I was in my proverbial “basket floating down the river,” – two IV’s, arterial lines, tubes coming out of every angle and all. Like baby Moses, I was secured by God’s plan, waiting to wake up 2 to 14 hours later, to see either Chris, or Christ:  completely surrendered to His will.  Oh! How I pray I live that way out of the hospital bed!

Post Surgery News

I guess the 15th was quite an exciting day full of drama, according to the surgery blog, which I was able to read weeks later.

The summary:

    • The tumor was surrounded by a sheath, which protected any nerves from being touched. No nerves to my mouth were damaged!
    • The tumor had “fingers” that went into my right ear, so, unpredicted by the MRI’s view, several bones from my ear were “eaten through” and were removed.  In one of my few memories of recovery, the brain surgeon motioned “YES!” with a clenched fist when I reacted positively to noise in that ear. Although hearing was lost for several weeks due to swelling, the nerves were not severed, and hearing was restored by 4 months post-op.
    • The surgery went as well as it possibly could. I stayed in ICU only one night, and a regular room one night and then went home! (I stayed longer for an emergency appendectomy a year later!) Although I have virtually no memory of that week, my husband tells me that I was in a lot of pain, and he was sure I would get meds in a more timely fashion in our house. (He cholerically took over.) Friends stayed with me 24/7 for ten days post-op, giving me medication and stabilization from falling. I learned what it means to serve one another in love.  I only wish I could erase some of those shower moments from their memories. (yuk!)
    • Although unable to get what the medical world calls “clear boundaries,” due to the tumor’s proximity to the main vein, the brain surgeon had confidence he got all he could see through his microscope. This has been confirmed by four years of clear MRI’s. (Praise God!)
    • I found out a couple years after the surgery (probably because my memory of the events was tainted) that there had been a 24-hour prayer chain during October 14-15, 2008. Apparently, all through the night, every 15 minutes, people were assigned to pray – on the phone with one another- in Michigan, Florida, Phoenix, Salt Lake, Louisville, etc. Wow. I learned what it means to be part of the body of Christ.
    • The headaches, the swallowing problem and the ear noise were all healed.  By January 2009, Chris was forgetting I was recovering and asked me to go snowmobiling! (I said, “no,” and reminded him the helmet would not feel good.) Really, less than three months after surgery, I felt better than I had felt in years. Chris said, “I feel like I got my wife back!” I still stand in awe.
    • I never before 2008 thanked God for a reflex like swallowing, but it still comes to mind. I learned that I have taken the body’s involuntary reflexes for granted.

When Bad Turns to Good:

I feel extra-blessed if I get a glimpse of God’s plan, when something I perceived as bad turns through a winding trail to be better for me after all.

    • My brother’s melanoma was such bad news, but if he had not called me, I may not have had the skin exams – which led to my recognizing the skin-healing problem. I cannot imagine I would have survived brain surgery lacking the ability to heal.
    • The rejection from the insurance company was a disappointment the day I received it; however, that rejection (along with Laurie Woodward’s encouragement) is what spurred me to get the second MRI. God’s thoughts are always higher than my own, and He meant it for my good. (Is 55:8)
    • The physical pain was bad, but it was good because it forced the solution. Without the substantial physical pain, I may not have sought help as fervently, and the tumor would have grown inoperable. (It reminds me of sin! But I will save that for another letter.)
    • I believe my friend (who prayed on the phone with me from the hospital bed) was changed for eternity. Heaven instead of hell… when my illness caused her to humbly reach for a Savior  (John 3:16). There is no greater joy for those who ask.

Despite whether we see the good coming from bad, we can be thankful for the struggles, because they promise to give us perseverance, character and hope (Rom 5:3-5) and increase our pain tolerance, too!

During a horrible storm that was tossing a fishermen’s boat in the billowing waves, Jesus said, “Peace be still,” and the winds and waves obeyed His command. (Mark 4:35-41)

The old hymn says, “the winds and waves still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.”

Although He may not remove you from the water, may you experience His peace as He calms the storm within.

In Christ,

Terri Brady (See below for Frequently Asked Questions)

FAQ:

1.  Will the tumor come back? – I was told there is a documented average 20% chance of return when they get clear boundaries around the tumor’s location. Since they did not get clear boundaries, the chances would normally be considered greater, but my surgeon was very confident that he got every cell, so any return would be due to its ripe environment for growth. At the five-year mark, the chances of its return decrease significantly.

2. Were there residual effects on me? – Yes. The biggest effect is that I am more grateful for pain-free days than ever. The other effects are minimal in comparison, and I don’t like to talk about medical things. 🙂

3. Do you still have headaches? – Yes. I am back to “normal”. In October this year, I was even speaking in front of a crowd – lights and all- with a migraine. To me, it was a testimony of increased pain tolerance. The occasional headache now comes as a blessing, reminding me of my past as “the leper” who comes back to say thank you.

4. Was the brain tumor caused by cell phone use? – I have read probably too much information on this topic. Although evidence is still questionable, it can’t hurt to hold cell phones far from the ear, and limit children from holding phones to their heads. (Their skulls are softer and the radiation has been measured much further into their brains.) My guess is that a cancer survivor who thought it had nothing to do with smoking could probably have written a letter like this in 1950, but of course my guess could be wrong.

5. Do you think your healing was a miracle? – I don’t feel worthy of the term, “miracle,” considering the miracle of a virgin’s birth or raising of a Man from the dead. However, I don’t take from God that He provided answers that the doctors were unable to predict. To God be all glory.

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Out of My Mind (with a Brain Tumor) Part II

“Compassion is showing our scars to those with open wounds.” –Gary Hallquist

Dear Lindsey,

In my last letter, I gave Part I to this story. I originally hesitated from sharing this brain tumor journey: Was I afraid of dwelling in the past? Was I afraid I would scare readers into getting themselves checked for brain tumors? Or was it that my heart aches for so many people still in their “Holland,” with worse problems, bigger tumors, cancer in multiple family members, unrelenting back pain, life-changing car accidents, addictions, etc., but they are still living through them today? A friend reminded me that suffering is not a competition. If showing our scars can be helpful to those with open wounds, then sharing the past is celebrating God’s victories. So I continue to write:

When we last left the story, my insurance application had been rejected unless I would get another brain MRI.

September 6, 2008

I had the MRI early in the morning. I “checkmarked the box” so I could get the new insurance. The diagnostic center gave me the normal line about how I would hear from my doctor within two weeks to review the results. I knew from booking this appointment that the neurosurgeon was on vacation that week, so my follow-up appointment to review the MRI was scheduled for September 22. I was not worried, just like she had told me not to be at my previous appointment, months earlier.

The following week, the caller ID revealed the hospital’s number on a phone call. The kind woman told me that they needed to get another scan for clarity.

“I am flying to Salt Lake City in the morning,” I told her and we booked a time for the following Monday and ended our call. I figured my brain must have moved during its photo shoot, and blurred their view. (smile) It’s hard to hold still for 45 minutes – even if your head IS clamped.

The phone rang again within minutes. “I spoke with your doctor, and she said you should not get on the plane.”

“Is something wrong?” The dumb question escaped my mouth as my nerves escalated, realizing they had called that doctor on vacation –obviously, something was wrong.

“No, we just need a better view. It is actually not an MRI, but a VRI we will be taking,” she said as if that was a logical answer to my panicked question.

“So why can’t I fly? Is it the plane pressure? I am supposed to leave at 10am.”

“Well you could come in at 7am, and if the radiologist clears you, you could be out in plenty of time to make your plane.”

The following morning, I went back on the cold table into the tube. It screamed a sound similar to the old dot-matrix printer, seemingly through a microphone directly into my ears. Halfway through the test, the young (and obviously naïve) technician started my IV as normal and asked,

“So how long have you known about this?”

Known about what?! Went through my head, but I played it cool: “A while,” I said, not sure if we were talking about the same thing.

“Can they operate?” she asked, curious.

Oh. My. Word. Am I in a Twilight Zone? Did I miss a phone call somewhere? Last I had heard, this kind of tumor is common and no big deal… “Uh, I don’t know yet. I think that’s why I’m here,” my heart began to race as my mind wandered in “what ifs,” but exteriorly, I was calm.

“Is it cancer?” she asked me.

“I hope not,” I said quickly, as if the speed of my answer would bat that chance away.

“Well, you must be scared,” she said as she rolled the table with me on it back into the tube.

I lay on the hard, skinny table surrounded by my own cocoon for the second 20-30 minutes of the test. I thanked God that the technician was talking to me and not to some little old lady who didn’t know my God of peace. I knew the tech wasn’t supposed to talk to me like that, but regardless, the cat was out of the bag!

The radiologist released me, I guess, because I made the plane to Salt Lake City… with a headache.

In Salt Lake, we met with close friends and business partners. I told a small few, trying not to initiate panic, but asking for prayer and still hoping it would all blow over.

The following Monday, the 22nd, I saw the neurosurgeon, and she was less jovial than our first meeting months before.

“Your tumor has grown over 50%. This is a much more serious situation than I originally thought. It is compressing one of the two main veins to the brain. If it continues to grow at this pace, it is life threatening. It is unclear, but it looks like it is close to pushing your right brain to the left, which will cause seizures, so this is becoming an urgent situation. I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. I am sending you to a specialist a few hours south of here. I assume surgery is your only option. We made you an appointment for next Monday. Bring your husband. You will want him with you.”

She handed me 2ft x 3ft films to hand-carry to the specialist neurosurgeon in the Detroit area. It felt like the entire office staff was looking at me with a, “poor girl,” glance as I walked out, but it was probably just in my head. (“Just in my head” began a whirlwind of puns, humor which Chris and I enjoyed to relieve the weight of the situation.)

I got to the car, dumfounded. Opening the humongous envelope that held the films

Not my brain, but similar tumor, opposite side.

Not my brain, but similar tumor, opposite side.

and spreading them across steering wheel, I could see a lot of gray matter – like any picture of a brain- except one big difference, the white, oblong golf ball on the side. It looked big for my small brain. I searched for my name and date to be sure they were really pictures of my brain.

As I drove home, my mind was silent. The chatter of “things to do today” was gone. The bother of the other drivers wasn’t registering on my new Richter scale.

.

Really? This could be IT?! The finish line is sooner than I thought?

But,… my “dash”?!

I remembered hearing Lou Holtz read the poem, “The Dash,” about the symbol on a tombstone between the birth date and the death date. The dash represented what was done with the life during the time on earth.

My dash may be done?! But I was going to make a difference in this world; I was going to raise my kids to be difference-makers; I was going to spread the Gospel: I was going to…

I drove past an abortion clinic, and I was reminded of how many in there didn’t have a chance to even start their dash. Life is not fair. I don’t deserve more than they.

What would I do differently? Ironically, that week I had just read the account of Hezekiah in 2Kings 20, where Hezekiah was granted another 15 years of life, after he was told he was dying. What would I do now if God chose to continue my dash?

In my quiet car that day, my priorities aligned, as if seeing a ghost of Christmas future and being pleased. What?! PLEASED? Yes, pleased. I did not think about where I could have been in the work place had I only held on to my position in engineering. I didn’t think of patents I could have owned or promotions I might have possessed. I realized more than ever that I was blessed to have invested the time of my dash (so far) into being a mom and wife and encouraging other moms and wives. I recognized the GIFT my husband gave me in being a stay-at-home mom! If God’s plan was that I would never speak again, I had no regrets of missed words with my children. I wish that for every woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mom! If it were all over, I had no regrets.

I called Chris to let him know the doctor’s news, and by the time I arrived home 30 minutes later, he had a dozen coral roses on the kitchen counter, accompanied by his warm embrace.

As the week progressed to the appointment with the specialist neurosurgeon, my quiet times with the Lord progressed to depth. It is always during storms, when I seek the Son most.

Chris and I kept our secret, trying to protect our children, then ages 11, 8, 4 and 3 from fear. The night before the next neurosurgeon appointment, we decided to tell our parents of the impending days.

I had difficulty spitting the words out to my mother and father in Colorado, imagining they would feel helpless 1300 miles away, and fighting their own medical battles.

My mother immediately reacted as if packing her suitcase, “We will leave within the hour, and drive all night.”

I could barely keep her from hanging up the phone to pack, when I told them it was just a doctor’s appointment, and I would let them know if indeed surgery was scheduled.

Skull-base Neurosurgeon, September 29

“The fast growth rate of the tumor tells us it is likely NOT cancer; less than 4% chance.”

The appointment gained speed as the skull-base-meningioma specialist went through the options of treatment. “The brain surgery where the child is outside playing later in the day as seen in some commercial is not an option. The size of the tumor (3.6cm) exceeds the limits of our non-invasive radiation treatments. Waiting longer to see how the tumor acts [if it would shrink] is getting to a dangerous point, and we have zero data of a tumor that has ever grown at this rate and then stopped. In view of what lies ahead for you, if you have always wanted to go to Hawaii or something, now is a good time to go.”

I had never had to endure such a speech, and yet it continued.

“At your age and health, your body will handle the surgery well. However, due to the proximity to the vein, I don’t know that we will be able to get it all. I will use scissors so small that the tips can only be seen under magnification, but if even one cell is left, the tumor will grow back. Regular MRI’s will hopefully allow us to catch it small enough to use a radiation “knife” or other noninvasive options next time.”

He laid out a plan for future surgeries and radiation treatments dependent on my age at the time of diagnosis and size and growth rate of the tumor. This diagnosis did not look like it was ending… ever.

His informatory speech continued with how he would enter the cranial cavity (my head!) by cutting a football shaped piece, extract the tumor and then create a seal to replace the missing skull. The location of the tumor seemed to him far enough from the ear to be able to avoid hearing damage, but it looked like it was directly on the nerves of my mouth; one nick of a nerve would cause permanent paralysis and inability to use my mouth, so he would have a feeding tube team standing by for insertion.

“Is this why I have been choking?” I asked, grimly.

“The location could definitely cause swallowing problems.”

He continued to talk about the tumor’s location, also pressing on the main vein, as he gave us an anatomy lesson of the sinus vein and its relation to the body.

“I will not get close to touching that vein. I will get every cell I can –as long as it is not touching that vein. If it is nicked, bad things happen.”

My heart sank, knowing the tumor was visibly pushing on the vein in the MRI.

Chris excused himself, and I noticed that he, too, was going green in the face.

His absence didn’t stop the doctor’s progression.

“It is a two part surgery. The first is done by a vascular surgeon, who will go through an artery in your leg all the way to your brain, to put a “super glue” (for lack of a better word) into the tumor, to stave off bleeding. This pre-surgery often avoids the need of a blood transfusion. The second surgery is by my team, the following day. The head surgeon here [no pun intended] will want to be involved, due to the nature of your case, so we will schedule a day for both of us, although I am hoping only one will be needed.

You will be our only patient for the day. This second surgery will take 2-14 hours. You will be in ICU one night after the arterial procedure, then 1-2 more nights of ICU after the brain surgery, and 3-5 days in regular room. It usually takes two-three months to feel 80% healed and a year before patients feel 100%.”

It had been so long since I felt “100%,” a year didn’t seem like a long wait.

“So do you think this will take care of my headaches?” I asked, hoping he would give me a different answer than the last neurosurgeon.

“It’s hard to say, but the location of your headaches does not look related to where this tumor is. Unfortunately, I hate to say, but sometimes it can make headaches worse.”

I held the tears until Chris and I were alone in the car.

So let me get this straight:

If I leave the tumor alone, its growth will likely lead to seizures, paralyze me and end in death;

If I have surgery, there is a chance of paralysis or death.

If I go through the two surgeries and a hospital week, and IF I survive and happen to get myself back without paralysis, the chances are high, that I will not feel any better than I have for a year, and I may even feel worse.

– And this is likely not the last time to have to go through all this.

Surgeries were scheduled for October 14 and 15.

As I called my friends, it felt like I was dropping a bomb on each one. I hated to make the call, and yet, I found through their tears, the love of Christ in our friendships was shining. When talking with my friend, Tracey Avereyn, I was the one who broke down. Through tears, I tried to master the language of cry-talking. I said, “I know that all things work together for good, but is it sinful that I dread this SO much?!”

Being a sister in Christ, she didn’t hesitate to sharpen as iron sharpens iron, “Terri, even Christ went to Gethsemane.” In other words, even Christ asked that the cup be taken from Him, but yet He conceded to God’s will being done.

The Son of God does not shine so bright as when our world is in its darkest state.

I knew Jesus had been through worse.

…..……...to be continued…….

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Out of My Mind (with a Brain Tumor) Part I

Dear Lindsey,

Hearing the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus healed (and only one came back to say “thanks,”) reminded me to say thank you, Jesus. Thank you for every day, every sunrise, every received smile from my child, every swallow, and every breath.  I hope to always live in gratitude, but 2007-2009 marked years for which my “thank You, Jesus!” gained weight.

As I reminisced in writing this story, many of the emotions came back to me –the tears, the stress and the gratitude for friends. I need an acknowledgement section in a future letter!!

Here’s the story…

The Headache Journal, December 2007

The arrows that stuck in my husband’s back seemed to attract more arrows from other angles.  I felt myself crumbling with stress, and yet, crumbling with guilt for feeling stressed. Didn’t I trust that God already had this battle for us?!

To my right, the “friend” who stole our Jeep would be in jail, but the broken trust cut deeply.

At my left, I could see the addiction was destroying everything she had known, yet her blindness made her plow forward not recognizing the monster sleeping within her hobby.

Behind me, I felt the pressure of those Michigan neighbors whose jobs were tanked with the economy. Their children were yanked from my children’s teams, as payments for activities got cut with the family budget.

My headaches began so subtly, it seemed I could assign the cause to anything – and thus, “the headache dance” began.  I could blame it on stress, lack of sleep, hormones, too much sugar, not enough sugar, too much fake sugar, caffeine, not enough caffeine, not exercising, wrong exercising, not enough water, not enough vitamins, busyness of homeschooling two children while entertaining my 2 and 4-year-olds, all while adapting to a new house in the boondocks of Michigan.  My list of reasons for the headaches was enough to give me one.

The scientist in me eventually began a journal – a simple calendar with a note each day, labeling the pain between 1 and 10. Were headaches really ruling me as much as it seemed? The journal began in December 2007.  headache journal

The grid told the story: five days in a row of level 2 pain, spiking to level 8, then a day or two off. Then blindness, followed by a 24-hour migraine. Then bliss. Then a couple days of level 4 pain, ended by forcing myself to bed at level 6. There were some days I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be without pain, and other days when the pain was so distant, I would forget the underlying worry.

In Hiding, January 2008

To stay focused on others, I don’t like to talk about medical conditions.  Besides, stating, “I have a headache,” only reminded people to tell me about their headaches, and did nothing to relieve my pain, much less bring glory to God. Because my husband frequently travels, I knew if he knew my pain he would feel worse about leaving. But in the hot-tub, as I scrunched down, trying to heat the nape of my neck, through tears, I put up the white flag of surrender and told Chris I couldn’t handle my life.

Aside: We can’t handle it. God does. When we forget, He’ll remind us – sometimes gently, sometimes more painfully.

They were not “headaches”, they were truly “head-pains,” I told him, not sure what I wanted him to say or do about it.

We wintered in Florida that year, and I had hoped the climate change would bring relief, but it only got worse.

The Florida sunshine became a nuisance; the glare seemed to light a fire in my brain. My vision seemed “off,” so I began the headache dance in the medical world:

  • “80% of women complain of headaches with no known cause,” the urgent care doctor deflated my hope, after I drove myself there for immediate relief once when Chris could stay home with the kids.
  • “Eyesight causing headaches is a rarity,” said the eye doctor after an extensive exam.
  • “Hormonal headaches are something many women just have to deal with post hysterectomy,” the OBGyn told me before changing my HRT prescription.
  • “I have taken care of 90% of the headaches of which people complain,” the chiropractor said caringly, “I really don’t know what the deal is.”

I waited months and drove hours to see highly recommended holistic specialists.

My prayer journal was filled with prayers for ME.

My prayers grew depressed:

  • “God, how can this possibly bring You glory if I am in bed?!”
  • “Lord, my 2-yr-old turned 3, and I feel like I am only hiding from him.”
  • “God, I want to raise my children to be readers, to be disciplined, yet I have virtually locked them inside for months, often in front of a movie so I can lie down with heat on my neck and ice on my forehead.  My head can’t handle their squabbles, much less lead them biblically through it.”

God brought friends who randomly offered to take my kids without truly knowing the extent of my situation.  In March, I finally poured out my heart to my friend Donna Ascol, and asked for prayer. Matthew 18:19 in action.

Under Pressure…flying

A flight to Atlanta and then a subsequent flight to Canada that April put me over the top. I was sure my head would burst from the pressure changes; I prayed I would lose consciousness.

Wow. Tears flow today – just in remembrance of trying to keep my world turning that year. My responsibilities didn’t stop – and I didn’t call “May-day!” because it felt like we all have headaches or some other issue we have to push through. However, I promised myself to continue the medical search for a solution, once we returned to our regular doctors in Michigan at the end of April.

In the mean time, a noise began in my head. I researched “ringing in the ears,” on the mighty online doctor, who of course told me there was no cure.

The “ringing” turned into a chain saw.  A grinding. Daily. Sometimes it was louder, sometimes quieter, sometimes silent. I never noticed it starting, so it must have been gradual (or I was too distracted by head pains to notice), but I never noticed when it stopped. It just came and went, and eventually I would notice its presence or lacking. “Grrrrrrrrr” went between a whisper and a scream in my right ear.

After a brain MRI that month, the general practitioner in Michigan let me know there was a “meningioma on the left side. They’re harmless; you may have had it since you were a child, but since you seem symptomatic, you should see a neuro.”

The neurosurgeon was not much older than I, and had apparently seen more brain MRI’s than the general practitioner, because she told me the tumor was actually on my right side.

March head“Is THAT why I have this noise in my ear?!” I blurted, for the first time telling a doctor about the noise, because I hadn’t wanted to mention it to the family doctor; I was surely toying with the psych ward already.

“No,” she said confidently.  “Your headaches are not related to this thing either. This kind of tumor can come and go on people.” (I remembered my dad had had a water cyst found on his brain after a fall a few years back. They said it was not related to the fall, and had been there since he was born, and would be until he died. I assumed this was similar.)

“I wouldn’t worry about it. Come back in a few months and we’ll do another MRI to make sure it’s not growing.”

I went home depressed, yet not surprised. I knew the chances of finding the cause were slim. I was hopeful, however, because a new hormone replacement was lessening the headaches and the ear noise had virtually disappeared by summer.

Melanoma

My older brother had been diagnosed with a rare colorless Melanoma (dangerous skin cancer) that winter. After several surgeries, they were able to get clear boundaries. (Thank you, God!)

“Siblings are the most at risk,” he warned me. Of course it reminded me that I had been meaning to get that spot on my leg checked. The dermatologist said it looked fine, but wanted to biopsy a different one. Diagnosis: “a-typical pre-melanoma.” All clear. But when I went back to the general practitioner to have the stitches removed, I asked him about the other spot on my leg that still had my attention. He said, “If it’s worrying you, let’s take it.”

Diagnosis: Basal cell skin cancer. (I use the term “cancer” lightly, since it is not the dangerous kind.)

“I must admit,” the general practitioner said, “I really agreed with the dermatologist that it didn’t look like anything.”

He removed several more spots between June and August that year.

Each time I had the stitches removed, the wound would pop open within a day. The lack-of-healing revealed a pharmacy error. Apparently, my hormone replacement prescription had changed dispensers and been halved, but they forgot to mention to me that I was supposed to take double. The lack of estrogen meant lack of healing, (along with other symptoms) until we figured out the solution.

Choking, September 2008

On the way home from an Ohio soccer tournament, I choked on coffee. I know. Who chokes on pure liquid?! Me, that’s who! I poured hot liquid directly into my lungs…and then coughed and sputtered until Chris almost pulled the car off the highway to try to save me. It felt like more and more often, things were going “down the wrong pipe”! We had friends over for a cookout on Labor Day. I was thrilled it lined up to a day without a headache, but unfortunately, laughing was painful. As the day continued, I felt like something was wrong in my lungs. My whole mid-section hurt.  It’s funny how I didn’t like to talk about medical issues, and the Lord kept having me in places where it was impossible to hide. I couldn’t breathe without pain. Laughing: not. I spoke shallowly, with much effort. I finally took aside my friend, Susie Hallstrand, an RN and life-saver many times over, and told her what was wrong. She did an assessment and decided maybe not holiday-emergency-room material, but I should see a doctor the following day.

Is this what it’s like getting old? I lamented, as my calendar kept filling with doctor appointments: skin, head, eyes, hormones….BLECH! Back at the family doctor, he named the chest condition- something like sore muscles, usually following severe coughing, like pneumonia.

“Or choking?” I asked.

“Sure, that would do it,” he said, and I recalled my wrong-pipe incidents that must have led to my painful breathing.

Health Insurance Decline

My insurance company went bankrupt. (It WASN’T MY FAULT! REALLY! At least notAug head yet.) As I applied for more insurance, I was turned down. What?! Healthy me? Water-drinking, exercising, prayerful ME?!

Reason: skin cancer? Breathing issues? Headaches? What?!

The insurance quote got my attention:  “impending brain surgery.”

I had never seen or heard those words before, so I really thought there was an error. I happened to be talking to my Florida friend, Laurie Woodward that week, who practically begged me to go back for another MRI, despite how I was resisting it. Really, I had all these other problems to deal with – who has time to go spend thousands of dollars on another MRI to check something which they said was not dangerous and unrelated to these other issues at hand anyway?!!

I scheduled an MRI for September 6, 2008, a Saturday, knowing my doctor would be on vacation until September 22, the date of my follow-up appointment.

Like the Brady Bunch episode in Hawaii with the totem pole guy and tarantula:…..……...to be continued…….

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From Nate: Milking Allergies For All They’re Worth

Dear Lindsey,

My son, Nate, is my guest author today! My second born, he is known as a soccer player extraordinaire. He is full of personality and a spitting image of his father, in looks as well as scores on the Personality Plus test, which makes him extra lovable! You may know him for his license plate aiming, “reverse adult psychology” at age 3, and of course, his injured knee that took him out of soccer for the season last spring.  Nate is the one who has severe food allergies. (Humor story on that here.)  We have tried all of the doctor’s recommendations, as well as hours and hours and thousands of dollars into holistic methods, and there has not been relief.  Once on a long drive to see a “specialist,” he claimed he didn’t want to go, because he “liked his allergies.” I kept driving thinking he was just saying that to try to get back home to play, but his words below enlightened me to see his heart.

He wrote a paper last year, at age 11, for an online writing class through The Potter’s School.  The assignment was to write pros and cons of an issue. He chose the issue, made a list of pros and cons and put it into the essay below. I was surprised at what he saw from “his side of the story,” and I’m grateful that God has given him such insight! I pray it encourages anyone who deals with food allergies, (or any “thorn in a side” that won’t go away), as Nate shows admirable reframing of thoughts.

In his words (unedited…mostly):

After my sixth bite of the hamburger, I knew something was wrong. My throat felt weird and I felt like it was getting smaller. Then my eyesight went blurry and my face puffed up. I cried out looking for my parents, but they were nowhere to be seen!

I’m still waking up nine years later, having the same dream. I know that one false ingredient could cost me my life.  On the outside no one would guess that a sports fanatic kid like me could puff up and stop breathing after a couple bites of McDonalds burgers, but it’s true.  I mean it’s not bad. For instance I can’t eat most junk foods so I don’t have to worry about diets or anything. Although that can also be a bad thing, because junk food is awesome!  At least the junk food I can eat.  Since I’m allergic to milk and beef, most candy goes down the drain. 

.

My favorite part of allergies is that I feel that God made me a different unique creature. My worst favorite part is I’m always causing trouble for my mom. But it shows me that she loves me enough to go through what she does for me.  Folks might say that allergies are horrible, but to me, they’re a magnificent blessing.

No chocolate cake? No ice cream? How can you live? People say. It doesn’t matter to me because I’ve never tasted that stuff, so I’m fine without it.  I can’t say that at some dinners when my family is eating special desserts (while I’m eating strawberries) I don’t get a little jealous, but hey, who wouldn’t? It is very frustrating when some restaurants don’t try to cooperate with my mom about what I am going to eat. It causes my mom a lot of trouble, and usually we have to go to a different restaurant.  I’ve had my little brother and sister thank me before because we go to a restaurant that they don’t want to go to, and then I can’t eat anything there, so we go somewhere else -where they would rather go anyway.

 

Nate's Allergy testing.

Nate’s Allergy testing.

It makes me feel weird at parties when I can’t have the cake. Usually my mom gives me cupcakes to take. Unfortunately for my mouth, those cakes look good! I know though, that my mom made those cupcakes for me, and that makes them better than any cake could be.  I think that my allergies have made me come closer to my family. Because I know that they sacrifice a lot for my allergies. Sure I’d love to have a hamburger every once and awhile, and sure I want to be able to be normal at my friend’s birthday parties just once. Although if I had to choose one for a lifetime, It would undoubtedly be allergies.

My dad loves to go to Italy every summer and look at the historical buildings that were made hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately we still have to eat. If it was hard when we could speak the same language as the waiters and waitresses, it was even harder when we couldn’t speak their language. But after a lot of Italian learning, they can order me a meal!

I have passed on many birthday cakes, and I guess I will never taste ice-cream. Sometimes our family can’t even go out to eat for family dinners! I have never been able to get a kids meal at McDonalds. But  through my life I have seen that allergies aren’t all about what foods a person can’t eat; it’s about being who God created me to be and being thankful for my family who is willing to sacrifice for me.

What a special young man! I can honestly say that I had not seen the issue in the light that he shows in that essay. He is choosing to take the higher road of thinking like a champion.

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he talks about a physical ailment, a thorn in his side that doesn’t go away. Paul says: ( 2 Corinthians 12: 8-9)   “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

By God’s grace, may we, like Nate (and Apostle Paul), rejoice in our weaknesses as the Lord’s power is made perfect.

Blessings,

Terri

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