The Binder.

“The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability and the most dangerous. When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on. We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting and appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability we let our fear and discomfort become judgment and criticism…Our rejection of vulnerability often stems from our associating it with dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment – emotions that we don’t want to discuss, even when they profoundly affect the way we live, love, work, and even lead. What most of us fail to understand and what took me a decade of research to learn is that vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions and the experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of home, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
– Brené Brown, ‘Daring Greatly’

 

In the spirit of vulnerability, let’s begin. And just so you know, its gonna get real.

I had surgery two months ago.

THE BACKGROUND.

I definitely didn’t see the need for surgery coming. For the last 9 or so months, I thought I was just stressed. There were so many things happening – friendships blossoming, team developing, hard work paying off, doors shutting, windows slamming, patience trying, relationship testing, health failing, and the list goes on. Yes, I was absolutely stressed, but my body was also telling me something was wrong and I wasn’t listening. Therefore, most of this year I have been sick, lethargic, and uncomfortable.

It wasn’t until late April that I decided it was time to go see a doctor. Thank you, stubbornness. I assumed she would say, “Take this pill with food every day and drink more water.” Instead she said, “You need to have surgery and soon would be good.”

Come again? You know I don’t speak Spanish, in English please.

“You need to have surgery and soon would be good.”

Apparently, I wasn’t just stressed…I also had a series of tumors growing in and around of my organs. There were so many that the first word from the lady doing the ultrasound was “Wow”. I learned a lot that day. I learned that these types of tumors are usually not cancerous (Thank Jesus). I learned they have no known trigger other than one’s genes. I learned there is nothing one can do to prevent them. I learned that most women have at least one develop in their lifetime and never know it. I learned the kind they were most concerned with were the rarest form and they were growing inside the wall of one of my organs. I learned that I will probably struggle with this the rest of my life unless this organ gets taken out. I learned that I had a whole lot of praying and surrendering to do.

There were three options:

Live with the pain. I have been living with the pain – for months! It was debilitating, exhausting, frustrating, and did not sound like an acceptable option.

Minor surgery. This doesn’t sound so bad – I mean it seems like a simple procedure, right? Plus, the doctor said my energy should return and I should get back to feeling normal fairly quickly.

Remove the organ. If an organ has the ability to be removed, it sounds like a relatively simple decision – just remove it and get on with it. But for a woman, if this organ was to be removed, so was her hope to have children.

Removing the uterus (there…I finally said it) is heavy. For someone who isn’t dating anyone, entering into her mid-thirties, and hasn’t even remotely thought about having kids – I wasn’t quite sure how to begin processing that information. So I opted for the minor surgery. The minor one was also the temporary one: carve out the larger tumors (aka fibroids…which is a horrible word by the way and there are plenty of those types of words as you continue to read. Enjoy!) and hope it provides relief until the time comes where I needed to again decide to live with the pain, do the same minor surgery, or take ‘er out.

No matter the outcome, I was sure the Lord would provide strength, healing, and peace.

I had surgery 2 weeks later. It was outpatient and went really well with no signs of issues. I had an amazing group of people who were praying for me and over me…and still do! That evening, my whole family came over and had dinner together. From what I remember, I was looking at everyone from my spot on the couch and was so overwhelmingly grateful for these people I get to call my family. My sister-in-law, who happens to be a nurse, stayed with me a few days to make sure I was out of the woods, especially since my body has a history of not responding well to general anesthesia. My brothers and nephew provided comic relief. My parents are all-stars – they were present daily with electrolytes, applesauce, medicine, company, encouragement, and prayers. My friends dropped off food, made frequent stops, and sent daily check-up texts. And I had the best nurse-dog around: Milo. He didn’t leave my side.

I was so relieved, thankful, and hopeful that things were going to get back to “normal”. I was told that if things went well, which they did, I should be back on my feet in 3-4 days. Praise the Lord! I could go back to work, finally go to a concert, paint walls, pull weeds, plant flowers, get back to the treadmill, go boating, and enjoy the best season in Indiana: summer.

Then things started falling apart. I had migraines, extreme nausea, dizziness, stomach pains, and so much discomfort in my abdominal area. I was having severe reactions to the post-operation prescriptions and my only comfortable position was laying in a ball on the couch. I decided pain was better than all that junk, so Extra Strength Tylenol it was. Once I assumed I had mostly recovered, half days at work the next week sounded like a great idea. It didn’t pan out too well as I was back on the couch the following day. I was so frustrated that it had been 6 days, not 3 or 4, so I called the doctor for answers. They said with how large of fibroids they removed, it would be strange that I was able to back at work full-time and mobile. I needed to get a surgical binder to help with my swelling and I needed to take it easy.

What in the heck does that mean – “take it easy”?! For someone who needs to multitask while watching a movie, this was torture. What am I supposed to do all day?!

I also learned throughout this time that I struggle with stillness and I struggle with vulnerability.

I struggle with stillness because I like being active. I like being challenged. I like problem-solving. I like being productive. I like doing stuff – is that so bad?! What I realized is that I get uncomfortable when I am not producing. I can measure my worth or value by how much I get done.

  • There is a weed epidemic occurring on the back patio: Pull the weeds and transform the space.
  • There are people who have asked me to create artwork for them: Sit down, sketch, send for approval, and execute the final project.
  • There is a communication problem at work causing difficulties for my team: Start a conversation, come up with and implement a solution, and things will work smoothly.
  • There are unanswered emails in my inbox: Make sure each of those senders has a quick response so they know they are valued…and reduce my inbox size at the same time.
  • There is a room at work I find appalling: Create an interior paint color board for the building, write a pitch to present to the “powers at be” to remodel the room, repurpose the current décor as to save money, and staff will rejoice.

And then it hit me – sometimes I get so busy DOING things that I forget to just BE STILL with Jesus. I measure my value and walk with Christ by all the things I DO. There is something wrong with that because I forget to love God and love others when I am so busy “doing” things. There is a balance. Like is says in James 2, I want my faith and actions to work together, not independently of each other.

I struggle with vulnerability because I don’t want people to see that I am not totally together, I am not strong all of the time, or that I actually need others. My boss even called me out on this – “For someone who is in charge of a department that promotes service, you do a horrible job at letting people serve and minister to you in your time of need.” Ouch! Why is that exactly? Here is part of that list:

  • I am independent.
  • I am self-sufficient.
  • I am stubborn.
  • I am tough.
  • I am resilient.
  • I live by myself.
  • I have lived by myself for 11.5 years.
  • If I don’t know how to do something, I will ask or teach myself how…with the exception of technology then I don’t care.
  • I am a firstborn child.
  • I own power tools.
  • I give firm handshakes.
  • I can carry 50lb. bags of water softener salt down the stairs…most of the time.
  • I do not scare easily, unless you slither on the ground or have 8 legs…or like to jump out at me to startle me on purpose. Okay, let me rephrase – there are more things that do not scare me than things that scare me.

That’s all great, but what does that have to do with vulnerability? I think a lot of it comes down to pride – I am or can do all these things and more. Therefore, exhibiting vulnerability only shows weakness or that I am not enough. In addition to those reasons is the fear that I won’t be accepted if someone really knew who I was…or once I open up, it is only a matter of time before they leave. So why do it?

After processing stillness and vulnerability, I realized I didn’t care if people knew I was having surgery, but I did care if they knew why I was having it. It wasn’t like I was having surgery on my knee. I was having surgery on something that has a tendency to define me as a woman. I was embarrassed. I felt like damaged goods. I began to believe I wasn’t ever going to be enough because of my “rich” health history. Who in the world would want to hear all that?! I mean – I sure didn’t! So the stillness thing didn’t last long and either did the desire to be vulnerable.

Because my body (and God) has a unique way of slowing me down, after my attempt to plant flowers and frame art – I was back on the couch and forced to be still, which then forced me to look at vulnerability. I started reading this ‘Daring Greatly’ book by Brené Brown. It has kicked my butt. Although I already included this excerpt at the top of the blog, you should read this again:

“The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability and the most dangerous. When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on. We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting and appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability we let our fear and discomfort become judgment and criticism…Our rejection of vulnerability often stems from our associating it with dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment – emotions that we don’t want to discuss, even when they profoundly affect the way we live, love, work, and even lead. What most of us fail to understand and what took me a decade of research to learn is that vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions and the experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of home, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
– Brené Brown, ‘Daring Greatly’

What if God wanted to use this time to develop me and restore me? What if I couldn’t control things I thought I could control? What if I was to use this time to appreciate the moments of stillness in the midst of a crazy life? What if I was to view vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness? What if I needed something I couldn’t provide for or produce myself? What if I had to trust that He was in control of this? What if I had to trust the people He put on my team at work to carry my load while I was gone? What if my priorities were whack? What if my life was being held back by my fear of letting people truly know me?

Over the course of the next week, my attitude and approach to this season of recovery was totally different. I was excited and welcomed those challenges, epiphanies, and insights. Instead of this time being a total drag – maybe it could be exactly what I needed to get out of my own head and follow the Lord’s leading and the Spirit’s prompting. Maybe I needed to look at my life and see where He was calling for uncomfortable change.

My supposed 3-4 days of recovery time actually turned into over 2 weeks at home. That time was and still is a blessing. I was able to pray through my response to the outcome of my surgery. I was able to trust God in a new way due to new circumstances. I was able to see areas in my life that needed truth and light shed on them. So much has happened in the last 9 months that He needed 2 weeks to get my attention that HE is the reason I am alive. HE is the reason I get up in the morning. HE is the reason I have purpose. HE is the reason.

Although my heart was in a totally new place, my body was still uncomfortable and weak. I couldn’t sit certain ways, tolerate long car rides, walk for large stints at a time, or sleep on my back. I still wore that fashionable surgical binder every evening and had so much energy but my body shut down daily around 3PM.

I had reported back weekly via email to the doctor’s office about said problems and nothing seemed urgent enough to need to come in until my post-surgery appointment, which happened about a month ago. After examining me, she was shocked I was still having these issues. Her conclusion was that the surgery agitated the other tumors enough where the “dormant” ones are now actively causing problems, my organs are still fighting on who gets to claim the newly-freed space, my blood isn’t circulating correctly because my organs have shifted, the issue isn’t resolved, or all of the above.

This was kind of a depressing response. I was once again hoping for the solution, “Take this pill with food and drink more water.” Instead, if my problems weren’t alleviated by August – we needed to circle back to what my options are: live with the pain, do the same surgery again, or remove the organ. I asked her to be totally frank with me – how bad are things and what do I need to be considering? Things weren’t great. The biopsies showed the fibroids weren’t cancerous (again, Praise the Lord!), but it wasn’t as promising as the conversation we had a month ago. I should be better by now and she’s never seen a patient’s body respond like this. She reiterated that my body would tell me when I needed to make a decision about what comes next.

Not even a week after my appointment, I had a quasi-emergency visit to her office due to crazy pains/spasms/contraction-like feelings. My body was yelling at me that this wasn’t how to live. I was in considerable pain and discomfort (like a daily average of 6-7 on the pain scale), I kept cancelling plans, I could only put in half-days at the office (thank goodness for a job I can do at home!), and I couldn’t get on the boat without spending the next day in bed. I wasn’t living my life. I was miserable.

THE REALITY.

This is where things get gross. Consider yourselves warned!

In the first surgery, they carved out large submucosal fibroids (I have pictures if you want to see! Barf, I know.), but I have so many others, they stopped counting once they identified the removable “problem causers”. Most of the remaining ones are not able to be taken out unless they take out the uterus. My uterus is nearly 4 times larger than it should be, weighing in at about 250ish grams and the same size as someone who is 20 weeks pregnant. That nasty. It will not shrink in size even with the last surgery. She is just gonna be large and in charge.

My reality is that my current physical ailments will not go away without a hysterectomy.

My current reality is that I am not living life. I am in constant pain, always exhausted, and consistently having to say “No” to things and people I love because my body can’t keep up.

For an almost 34-year-old who is not obese, a smoker, and has never had kids – this is rare. But let’s be real, I am always the exception to the rule. I don’t say that sharply or negatively, I say that with confidence! Not much about my life is normal. I mean, a little miniature horse just ran down my street, through my front yard, around the driveway, and back to whence it came while I was writing this on my front porch. Yesterday, a hammer somehow fell off the table and landed on my pinky toe without me even touching it. Last month, I threw my keys away in the City Market trash can and only realized it hours after the fact. This list could go on and on and on. And I love it.

But having my lady parts removed wasn’t on the “Reasons Why I Am Different” list. This one was new.

THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE.

My removal surgery is scheduled for August 17th.

I am told recovery time should be 4 weeks, but I could go either way: my determination shortens it or my weird body prolongs it. Time will tell.

THE DISTANT FUTURE.

I have never been the girl or the adult woman who couldn’t wait to have kids. It was never an interest. It was an assumption that maybe when I met the right person, my heart would change. Even if I was in a season of my life where pregnancy was possible, my womb most likely could not carry a baby with all these fibroids.

For years I have wondered if the desire to have kids was never placed on my heart because the Lord knew I couldn’t have them anyway. I always felt guilty for thinking this let alone saying it. It is surreal to reflect that maybe that was true – that the Lord knew I would not be able to physically carry a child in utero and perhaps not having that desire prevented so much potential heartbreak.

My mom made some great insights when I told her I was at peace with the decision to take the organ out. She reminded me of how much my heart was softened by the orphans I saw and ministered to in Russia a few years ago. That one of my dearest friends was undoubtedly created to be the mom of her husband’s little girl from a previous relationship. That adoption is one of the most beautiful examples of how Christ has adopted us as sons and daughters. That motherhood comes in so many different forms and this does not define my womanhood.

I don’t want to make light of this serious and permanent decision, as it was not one that was easy to make. But I am confident that God has been preparing me for this for a long time. Those words from my mom and prayers of my family & friends made the path to get to this decision one of peace, hope, and confidence that the Lord provides.

THE FEARS & EXPECTATIONS.

  • Nothing in my medical history tells me that my recovery from this surgery will be easy. Nothing. I don’t say this to complain, but just stating the facts! I may have peace about the surgery, I am just nervous about the recovery.
    • Lacerated tendons surgery: Post-operative extreme nausea and I still do not have full mobility in my toes.
    • Russian parasite: Digestive issues for w-e-e-k-s and my GI track has never been the same.
    • Brain injury: Spent 2 years going to a neurologist and still have lasting effects of the fall.
    • Initial lady parts surgery: Worse than I was before!
  • How in the world am I going to get everything done at work? Besides Drumstick Dash season, which is totally around the corner, this is the busiest summer we have ever had in my department: implementing a state-of-the-art interactive website, teaching people how to use said website, learning how to use the website and database coordinator ourselves, developing a department for locations that are an hour away, going through the final approval stages of long-awaited manuals & handbooks, etc. I get a little paralyzed thinking through how to prioritize needs and accomplish them.
  • Who is going to water my flowers?! Pull the weeds? Clean my house? I know it is just four weeks, but these are things I still do even when I not feeling good now!
  • What am I going to miss? I already missed my nephew tubing for the first time – what else?!
  • Does my body not know that August is my birthday month? I celebrate all month long and this year, half of the celebration will be spent at home. Wah waaaaah.
  • I have always had high expectations for myself, others, and situations. Being a perfectionist, this is normal. This has also kicked me in my rear end a time or two…or countless times. As I have gotten older, I would like to believe my high expectations were more of realistic expectations. But even those are expectations. I had simple expectations to have the best summer ever, to enjoy our family’s new lakehouse, to go to concerts, to go on trips, to sit outside and soak in the sun, and to live a normal life. Expectations that I would heal in 3-4 days. Expectations that the first surgery would work. Expectations that I could go to work and get pending huge projects accomplished. Expectations that certain people would be there for me. Expectations that these people would know they needed to be there for me. Expectations that these people who would know they needed to be there for me could read my mind. Expectations that soon led me to question my entitlement. Ouch. That will probably be a blog entry of its own.

THE PRAYERS & PRAISES.

  • God is faithful and God is good. Those are two attributes I have seen even more clearly and evidently. I look back over the last year and am blown away by His care and shepherding. A year ago, a friend passed away suddenly and that really motivated me to get with the program and not live so nonchalantly, but with intention. That spurred on a great season of rich growth, which prepared me for the next season of hardship. That season of hardship would prepare me for a season of wilderness. That season of wilderness would prepare me for this season of total surrender and trust that the Lord was protecting me, keeping me, refining me, healing me, and loving me.
  • While I was “down and out” for those two weeks back in May, the Lord was whispering to rely on Him for all of this. Remember the forced season of stillness I mentioned? I fully believe the first surgery and its outcome led me to the place of acceptance, peace, and readiness for the second. He revealed so many things to prepare my heart for what was to come and identified areas of my life that needed attention (see The List.). The last month and a half has been a journey to find joy each day and begin to process what He revealed. The upcoming time is where we address, tackle, and surrender. Be still and let God. My prayer throughout this is that God is glorified and that people see Jesus in me. My hope has been that my vulnerability and intent to find daily joy through my Instagram ‘#thisistheday’ photo journey has been a witness and encouragement to those around me.
  • The support I have had from my friends and family has been really humbling. People pouring out of the woodworks to bring me meals, send encouraging texts or messages, call my phone to ask how I was doing and if I needed help, and come keep me company. I even had friends that drove 3 hours to see me.
    • On the day of my urgent appointment, my sister-in-law’s plans for the day got cancelled and she was able to go with me. She was there to ask questions. She was there to support me as I made the decision to proceed with scheduling a hysterectomy. She was there to help me process that change was coming.
    • One day I was have a really rough day and that was the day I received the most encouraging and timely snail mail card. My friend reminded me that God is in charge, He’s got this, and I have an army of people praying for me. It was what I needed to hear at the moment I needed to hear it.
    • I have the best family ever. I know they are praying for me. I know they are there in a moment’s notice. I know they love me even when I am being a turd. For not being able to pick them, things turned out pretty well! :)
    • This list could go on and on and on. God is so good!

THE BINDER.

Although I despise this surgical binder, it has taught me a lot. It taught me how much stuff I try to bury or not talk about, even when I am bursting at the seams. It taught me that things I usually keep inside have no chance for improvement unless they are brought into plain sight. It taught me that I am most comfortable when I am still. It taught me that vulnerability isn’t exposing myself to shame and weakness, but opening myself up to growth and strength. It made me question why corsets are a thing.

I don’t share this part of my story because I want attention or pity (prayers are welcome though!). I share this part of my story because this is who I am and where God is taking me. It isn’t what I expected. It is more than that.

I have seen His faithfulness in a whole new way…and that is what has kept me together in this season.

What is holding you together?

Seriously though, what is holding us/you together? I believe my generation (and those preceding and proceeding) longs to be known but are afraid of being rejected, misunderstood, different, or normal. I have been reminded that this life was not meant to be lived alone. Nor was it meant for aimless wandering. I love wandering, but I want to be intentional with my wandering – living this adventure fully confident that Lord will lead me into and out of uncharted waters. We were also created for relationship with others and we need other people. We need to be honest. We need to be vulnerable. We need to be full of truth. We need to be full of love. We need to be full of grace. We need to be full of understanding. We need to find moments to be still. In a world where things seem to keep falling into deeper despair, what are we doing about it? Who are we talking to? Who are we helping? Who are we becoming?

I have been left speechless many times in the last few months about what happens when it is the Lord holding me together. In those moments of stillness and vulnerability – He has done amazing things in my relationship with Him and with others. Let’s allow Him to lead us and change our hearts in this season when we need it most…when our country and world need it the most.

THE PROMISES.

My emotions have been all of the place in the last two months. I have gone through the various stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. What has been so cool about this is that the first four stages didn’t last long. God got me to a place of acceptance quickly. Although my emotions (and probably hormones) have been up and down, those down times are so momentary because the Lord has continually reminded me to choose joy. There are days I totally suck at joy. But then I am reminded of grace and that I need to extend it to myself.  Easier said than done but I’m working on it.

I am incredibly grateful for this journey. I am humbled to be on it and that God chose me to walk in such a time as this. I wouldn’t trade what I am learning for a healthy uterus, because I know He is using this to take me places I never thought I’d go. Most importantly, He is using this to make Himself known.

Romans 8:18: For I consider that the sufferings of the this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Philippians 2:1-18: Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Matthew 11:28-29: Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

1 Peter 5:7: Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.

Isaiah 40:29-31: He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Philippians 4:19: And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:37-39: No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.