the pieces she lost and found

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the
earth gives way …”
— psalm 46:1-2a

— — — — —

one year ago, someone got to see what the inside of my brain looked like.

365 days.

five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes, to quote that song from rent.

three years ago, before i had any inkling that anything was still wrong with me physically, i wrote a poem about the first time my arterivenous malformation made its presence known. i called it “the pieces she lost and found,” because one little leaking vein changed my life.

i’m using the same title for this post because, the second time around, i also lost and gained things.

i think you’re only fearful of dying if you haven’t lived. — kenny white, the new york times, may 5, 2010

i have learned beautiful things about God — how He is our refuge and strength and is always, intensely with me whether i feel it or not.

for the past two years, through all this medical headache, i’ve been learning how to die. and die again.

now i’m also learning how to live.

some days that’s almost as hard. i’ve found sides of me i didn’t know were there. but a glass can only spill what it contains. who knew those ugly things were there in my heart?

God did. and somehow, for some reason, He loves me anyway.

because He loves me, He died — so i could live. not just exist. so i could be fully alive, just as He is fully alive and can’t be contained by death.

i thought it felt surreal to realize i was having brain surgery.

it felt surreal to have it, too. katherine heigl had 27 dresses — i had 27 staples holding my scalp together. the scab has long-since healed and the scar that arcs from the top of my head down to my ear is not angry red but white. i can rub the side of my head and feel the titanium plates clamped to my skull, though. i can feel the wider shiny spot at the beginning of my scar and the divot where they made the entry hole.

somewhere in the midst of this crazy adventure of mine i remarked, again calling it surreal, that i “don’t feel a thing.” in retrospect, i really do think i shut part of myself down so my body could deal with its stress and physical trauma. i was in the hospital for three or four days initially, and i was very sick — i inherited my grandpa’s ginger insides where anesthesia is concerned. we arrived home from rochester, minnesota, the day after my 23rd birthday. the next day, on my parents’ 24th wedding anniversary, i had a grand mal seizure and got to spend another day in the hospital, get stuck with more needles, have more tests, and get anti-seizure medication.

when all of that was over and i could finally just be at home, it still felt surreal. i think i was still shut down inside, because i was still healing physically. u2’s song “a man and a woman” has nothing to do with brain surgery, but it contains a lyric that aptly describes a good part of my year:

… the only pain is to feel nothing at all.

mom told me i’d eventually go through a mourning phase — that it was good and cathartic to cry and sort through all my feelings.

oh boy. that was rough. i knew i was sensitive as a child, but i didn’t realize i was actually an … emotional person. there have been positive as well as negative aspects of that, i suppose. i feel like i’m having to get reacquainted with myself now.

who are you, again? are you the same person who lived in my body the first 22 years of my life? 

sometimes i really can’t explain the state that i’m in. it’s getting better — as long as my eyes are looking up at Him looking back at me, it’s getting better. if i turn inward and hide away in my safe, exclusive little castle of introversion … well, not surprisingly, it gets worse.

there are things i’ve run to and things i’ve run from this past year that have not particularly helped me. but God has also done a lot of wonderful things that i honestly wouldn’t have imagined. He’s making my heart bigger — for Him and for other people. sometimes this hurts because He has to dig stuff out and i have a pretty contrary stubborn streak (something i also discovered this year). but it will be good. no, it will be mind-bogglingly good.

too much has happened over the past 365 days to describe it all here, but if there’s anything more you want to know, i’d be happy to tell you … if i remember it.

i think something one of our pastors said a couple of weeks ago (when going through a physical difficulty of his own) sums this adventure up best:

there is some beauty that can only be seen through suffering.
there is some love that can only be expressed through sacrifice.
there is some joy that can only come through pain.