Graduation Dinner Reflection

At our graduation dinner last night the other four Master’s in Theology graduates and I were asked to submit short reflection related to our time as students and now graduates of the Theology Master’s Program at St, Catherine University. I wound up writing mine straight from the heart, so I’m afraid it was less about my favorite class or my most uplifting experience, but at least it had the virtue of being honest.

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I must admit that last week’s graduation was bittersweet. I was thrilled to be graduating, oh my goodness, yes, especially with my family there, and with my friend Sherri (who was absolutely glowing and stunningly beautiful); but at the same time I was fighting a migraine and on some fairly heavy-duty painkillers (!) and my fibromyalgia had me so sore that we went straight home afterwards instead of going out—where I sat around in my brand-new academic robes and hood and gorged myself on takeout pizza and watched bad WWII movies on Netflix with my husband George. Okay, so that part was fun, actually, and I wish we had thought to take photos of me stuffing mushroom pizza in my face wearing my graduation regalia!
The bittersweet part is that people keep asking me what is next, and I stumble around, trying to come up with something funny to say, and I’m at a loss. The dream that has kept me going, through the myriad of chronic pain conditions that has required me to drop classes and seek numerous extensions and medical leaves of absence (thanks Bill! (our super-understanding theology department head)) has been pastoral ministry, especially the idea of chaplaincy. That’s the whole reason I entered this program. And now these chronic pain conditions are making it impossible for me to hold down even a part-time job. Or be a reliable volunteer, much less work full-time as a hospice chaplain. So there is triumph in the degree, but grief and uncertainty when i contemplate my immediate future.
Still, there are several treasures  I will take away from this outstanding program to help guide me in my coming journey. I have met so many amazing, compassionate, loving people here at St. Kate’s, both faculty and students, who I am honored to count as role models, mentors, and friends. I know that your prayers go with me, just as mine go with you, and that our journeys together do not end here, but in many ways have only just begun. I am excited to continue growing as both a scholar of theology and as a pastoral minister. My studies here have opened so many doors! I feel I have only dunked my toe in the water. And, too, I will take all of your stories with me. I have had a rough time, yes. But I am not the only one. So many of you have done battle with your own pain, and done it with immense grace and courage, and I cannot tell you how much I admire you and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Finally, I take with me the knowledge that I need to trust in the process, as Deb (my mentor and pastoral ministry prof.) told me recently. This is very difficult for me, (trust is not my strong point) but I know she is right—I need to learn to take better care of myself, and learn to trust that the Holy Spirit will lead me in the right direction, even if I don’t know where in the heck I am going now, beyond more physical therapy. After all, Someone helped me through comps!

6 Ways to Deal With Stigma

I know, here I am reblogging two times in a row. But this post contains so much of my truth–of the truth–about a lifetime of dealing with depression and PTSD and the stigma I have faced. I know that by speaking openly about it, and writing about it, I expose myself to nasty, smug, judgemental folk who assume that if I just “pulled myself up by my bootstraps” I could beat the depression.

Ha.

Depression is a biological illness. And I have fought–am fighting–back. I’m sitting in front of my light box (Seasonal Affective Disorder) at this very moment. I take an antidepressant. I see a therapist and a psychiatrist. And, thanks to the grace of God, lots of caring and supportive family and friends, and the miracle of modern medicine, I am conquering my illness. But I always remember that I am one of the lucky ones. THAT is why I share my story with anyone who will listen, and to hell with the stigma.

6 Helpful Prayers to Know

I had to add these prayers to my blog. I know I am not the only one who struggles with depression, and these prayers are simply beautiful. There is even a prayer for those contemplating suicide–by Mother Theresa, of all people. I’m not sure why, I just never thought she would understand the depths of despair depression can lead to. But judging by her prayer, she did.

too, too much

 We all reach times when we suddenly feel that we have more to bear than we can handle. Thank goodness I’ve lived long enough to know this is fact, because for many years, I thought I was all alone, that I was the only one who ever felt inadequate, or selfish, or so overwhelmed that all I could do was crawl under the covers and pray that morning would be a long time coming.

Tonight is one of those times. I tell myself I am being silly, as I sit here typing away next to our Christmas tree. I remember every single ornament: who gave it to us, or where we bought it and where and why. There were presents under the tree, until Fiona started trying to unwrap them. (They now repose in an undisclosed location until Christmas morning.) Every day more Christmas cards from friends and family arrive in the mail, reminding me that George and I are part of a whole community of friends and family.


Yet all I can do is cry. Last Friday, as we all know, a very sick young man killed 20 children and 7 teachers at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. I’ve been immersed in discussions/disputes about gun laws, treatment of the seriously mentally ill, grief for the parents and families left behind, as well as for those little darlings who will never graduate, not even from grade school, never travel, go to college, get married.

And for some reason I am having an even harder time than usual dealing with the absence of my own parents this year. My dad was like a little kid about Christmas; he and I always had so much fun together, decorating the the tree (always the day after Thanksgiving), going downtown to see all of the Christmas lights and the mechanized displays in the department store windows, especially Dayton’s. Caroling with mom and other parishioners from Incarnation. And every year, until I was 24, sitting between mom and dad at Midnight Mass, hearing the ancient words “For behold I bring you tidings of great joy…” Going up to the Creche afterwards to see the Baby Jesus lying in the manger, and in later years the Choir always sang the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah immediately after the conclusion of Mass. Holding hands with mom and dad as we prayed in the “words our Savior taught us, Our Father who art in heaven…” and most of all, singing the old, familiar carols, especially my favorite, Silent Night, Stille Nacht, written in Germany so long ago. Now there is new family, warm, loving, caring family. I have a husband, whom I love very much. But I haven’t been able to go to Midnight Mass since I lost my mom.

This is, without a doubt, the hardest time of year to be childless. We keep running into one roadblock after another with our efforts to adopt, until I have to shut myself alone in our bedroom so George doesn’t have to listen to me crying in hysteric despair. Yes, I feel selfish bringing up our loneliness for a child when I know parents out in Newtown are grieving their lost babies. But grief is grief, and it deserves to be honored and spoken of, regardless of the circumstances, or who is doing the grieving, or why.

I’m particularly overwhelmed by my upcoming neck surgery. Less than two days to go now. And I feel so alone, I guess everyone does when they are facing surgery or something similar. Because no one can experience it with you. George is spending the day with me; Friday he’s taking me over to  my Aunt Jo and cousin Melinda’s house, so they can fuss over me, and Sunday my birthmom is coming over to baby me. Plus, I am receiving the Catholic Sacrament of the Sick from one of my favorite priests tomorrow. So I have all of my ducks in a row, so to speak. but I still feel sick to my stomach every time I think about it. Part of my issue here is, yet again (this question has been popping up everywhere the last few days) is WHY. Damn it all, I am sick of being in pain every single blasted day of my life. Why do I have to endure more? Yes, I know other people have it worse. but I have have never understood why that is supposed to make me feel better. I’m supposed to be happy and grateful that at least I’m not suffering the way other people I love are? I don’t think so. 

I guess this is one of those times of, maybe not doubt, so much as feeling so desperately alone. This is why I ask for prayers, because right now I’ve lost the ability to form the words myself. I guess my tears and my writing tonight will have to be my prayers.

I guess a partial answer lies in something I told a friend the night of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, when we were struggling with the question of why, of how, an event so hideously, cosmically wrong could happen:

 You just sound upset, that’s all, hon. Don’t apologize for that. As to why this happened…can there possibly be a satisfactory answer? We live in a violent society. We can work for peace and justice. But does that help right now, at this very moment? All we know for sure is that God weeps with us, and that in the end God will wipe away all of our tears, and we will all be together again. And I always remember that Jesus wept when Lazarus died. He understands our feelings of grief and loss, because He experienced it too.

Amen.

me and my neck

I haven’t written here since September? To be honest, this entire semester has gone by in a blur. Really, I ought to say non-semester, since I’ve been on medical leave, yet again. This time, it’s mostly my neck. Apparently, my facet nerves are damaged and inflamed as a result of my car accident this summer, so as well as the physical therapy I’ve already had, I need to have an outpatient surgical procedure called a radio frequency rhizotomy. At least it sounds impressive, eh? (And of course, now the weather is being its usual crazy Minnesota self, so my fibromyalgia is kicking in.)

This is a partial description of the procedure from SpineUniverse.com:

Once you are ready, you will be given an IV with a mild sedative to keep you comfortable but awake during the procedure. A local anesthetic will be used to numb the area where the injection is to be done. An x-ray machine is then used to guide the exact placement of the needle/electrode. Once the needle is injected, a mild electrical current is used to stimulate the nerve and confirm its exact location. You may feel slight pressure or tingling during this part of the procedure. Then the electrode is heated to deaden the sensory nerves. When the procedure is completed, the needle is removed and the injection site is bandaged.

In fact, the nerves are cauterized (as in burnt, yes) so they can no longer transmit pain signals to the brain. It’s obviously a much longer-lasting fix than just having a cortisone shot, which was another option.  In my case, the doctor will cauterized my facet nerves from C-4 to C-7 (In normal English, that means four facet nerves in my cervical spine, or neck.) Apparently the procedure itself isn’t that bad, because they are going to keep me so sedated I won’t even remember the surgery! It’s the healing that is going to be the tricky part. It can be fairly agonizing, I’ve gathered, because my nerves will be raw until scar tissue has a chance to form, which takes at least a week. And it can take up to four weeks for the results from the procedure to become clear. Ugh. And I’m having it done only five days before Christmas!

I was quite busy feeling sorry for myself the other day when my friend Nadine pointed out how lucky I was. Lucky that I have a problem that medical science can actually fix! Imagine the days not so long ago when people just had to put up with this sort of (at times excruciating) neck pain. I remember thinking about that years ago, when I was seventeen years old and had my two scoliosis surgeries. I have never, ever, forgotten the first time I saw myself after the surgery, reflected in the window at the end of the hall. Even wrapped up in a cheesy hospital robe, I could see that my spine was straight. For the first time in years. I actually looked like all the other girls I knew. And boy, did the tears ever flow. I still have quite a bit of back pain from the surgeries, and have degenerative disk disease and osteoarthritis in my cervical spine as a result, but I have never once been sorry I had those surgeries.

Sure, life would be easier without the surgeries and the fibromyalgia etc., etc., but I am not powerless in the face of them. And I am so grateful to all those in medical research who care enough to invent procedures and medications that either cure what I have, or enable me to cope better. George is taking a couple of days off work to care for me and then my birthmom is coming over for a day, and she’s promised to arrive bearing her delicious manicotti! And I have Fiona to take care of me, as she does so well, lots of books (piled everywhere in our bedroom and downloaded onto my Kindle), and podcasts on my iPod I’ve been meaning to catch up on. And the house is nice and cozy, decorated for Christmas. Plus I already have several visitors lined up, whether Fiona likes it or not! So in the end, when I think about, it looks as though there will be many benefits beyond the obvious medical ones.

PS Prayers welcomed! As are lavish get-well gifts, huge flower bouquets, the works!

Image of spine from:

http://www.backandjointpain.com/injection-procedures/cervical-spine/rhizotomy

 

the little things

Yes, I’m changing my title again, for the third time. So far it has gone from “redhead report” to “gifts in the rubble” to, as of today, “the little things.”I am only 5’1” after all.

I decided to change the name because the title “gifts in the rubble” was, supposedly anyway, more about the grace we find when we are going through “the dark night of the soul.” (And that phrase comes from John of the Cross. I must have Carmelite mystics on the brain.) I have been there many, too many, times throughout my life, for various reasons. I don’t want to ignore that, but I want to emphasize that grace is everywhere, that we are surrounded by God’s grace and presence at all times and all places.

I have neglected my poor blog terribly over the last couple of years. Part of it was because I was experiencing chronic migraines–I’ve had to take two medical leaves from grad school–which have finally been cured, by Botox injections, as of the end of March!! I still have fibromyalgia, etc., to deal with, but the fibro I can cope with. Migraines just sent me straight to a dark room, literally and figuratively.

But I realized the other day that I haven’t even mentioned one of the most important and exciting events in my life: I met my birthmom! (Okay, so this is NOT a little thing, although she is!) And I totally love her; she is such a sweetheart. Warm, kind, generous, intelligent, and of course, five feet tall. And she’s a lot of fun, too. And I’ve even met my birthfather’s family, and now I know where I get my red hair and skin that refuses to tan, ever. I’ll write more about this next time, but I’ll lever you with a couple of pictures of the two of us until next time.

Mom (Judy) and me, Xmas 2010
The two of us right after we met, in August 2010,

One comment, though, before I go. My love for her does not any way change the love I still have for my adopted mom and dad. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of them, and miss them. It was my mom (Millie) who told me that hearts are infinitely expandable. As usual, mom, you were right!

 

the red thread

The Little Red-Haired Girl as seen in the tele...
The Little Red-Haired Girl as seen in the television special It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a short post, just an update on our baby situation.

To make a long story short, we are no longer trying to get pregnant. As it turned out, I simply couldn’t handle being off of my fibromyalgia medications. My muscle relaxers, Advil, Excedrin, and trazedone (a sleeping medication commonly used to treat fibromyalgia) are all, without question, definitely verboten for anyone trying to get pregnant. And without them, I’ve wound up in one of the worst fibromyalgia flares in years. I’ve been in too much pain to function: unable to dress myself, drive the car, cook, get myself to class, type on the computer. So, after talking it over with my husband and my physician, the three of us decided that, for me, pregnancy is simply not an option. (If anyone has any doubts about whether fibromyalgia is a real, debilitating chronic pain syndrome, check out the Mayo Clinic website or Web Md.)

I feel as though I have lost an actual baby, not just the hope of one. I loved this sweet, precious little child, our little red-haired girl; she dwelt firmly in my heart and mind, in my very being, and the grief of knowing that she will never come to exist is overwhelming now.

But I know that I will survive this. And George and I KNOW that there is a child out there, waiting for us, waiting to become part of our family. In a funny way, being adopted myself, adoption, rather than pregnancy, seems like a normal way of becoming a family. So that is the plan.

I’m going to close with a quote I have propped up against my keyboard as I write; it is from a good friend when she and her husband adopted a little honey from China, and I have a feeling it’s going to be my mantra for some time.

“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.”
–An ancient Chinese belief

Please keep us in your prayers, if you are so inclined.

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