Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Murmur


He holds the cold metal of the stethoscope against her chest for just a beat too long. A nearly imperceptible wrinkle forms on his brow as he leans her forward, asks her to inhale deeply and places the metal disk on her back. He returns the stethoscope to her chest and listens twice more as I feel my blood pressure rising. 

He hears a murmur, I think to myself. The idea rises quickly from deep in my subconscious, as if a memory is being dusted off from long ago. 

“She has a murmur,” the anesthesiologist breaks the silence, confirming my unconscious prediction. “You know about it, right? You’ve had it worked up?” His tone feels accusatory. This is the first time we’ve met and we are mere minutes away from him bringing a plastic mask of chemicals up to my 12-year-old’s nostrils and putting her fully under.

I stumble over my words. “I think I knew about it. I mean, I have three kids and I seem to recall our pediatrician mentioning one of them had a murmur. It was years ago. I think it was probably her.”

I sound like an idiot. He’s looking at me like I certainly am one. What kind of mother doesn’t remember this type of information? 

A young one. A tired one, perhaps? An overwhelmed one. One who is not sleeping. One with multiple kids. One who received the information more than a decade ago, when the days passed in a haze.

 “Anesthesiologists don’t like being the ones to discover murmurs,” he tells me and I suddenly feel like I owe him an apology. “Are you sure her murmur is benign?” he queries. 

“Well, umm, I think so,” I stumble. “I remember our doctor saying there was a murmur but it wasn’t worrisome. I have a murmur. My mom does too,” I offer. Panic is rising and I desperately wish that my husband were by my side.

“So you’ve never had any issues with your heart then?” he presses, now addressing my daughter. “Do you exercise?”   

The questioning continues before he finally declares, “If she were 4 years old, I would cancel the surgery. But since she’s twelve, and you’re sure the murmur is benign, it’s probably fine.”

Did I say somewhere that I was sure it was benign?, I wonder. This is coming at me too fast. I want everything to slow down for just a minute so I can think straight. 

“I am going to be OCD about it and give her a dose of antibiotics while she’s under,” he continues.

OCD about what?, I think. His use of the term OCD as a verb causes me to bristle internally, but it isn’t until later that I even realize I am upset by it. Right now I’m too lost in his commentary to process it. I’m not sure why my daughter needs antibiotics for her heart but I can’t think quickly enough to yell for everyone to please just slow down and explain what exactly is going on.

“I could call her pediatrician,” I suggest feebly, “Just to make sure they have a murmur documented in her chart from when she was a toddler?” The memory is still foggy with cobwebs but I know the child with the murmur was small when it was detected. I want to dial my husband, see if he remembers, have him weigh in on this situation.

The anesthesiologist ignores me and announces again, “Since you’re sure it’s benign, we’ll just do the antibiotics as a precautionary measure.”

Did I say it was benign again? Why is this being put on me like this? I’m her mother, not a medical expert. 

My daughter is listening intently, her own anxiety rising. She is attuned to my cues and I am trying to emit calm, which is so far from what I am actually feeling. I don’t know how to ask for what I need. It’s coming at me too fast.

The next thing I know, we’ve been ushered into the room next door and the mask is up against my daughter’s face. She is counting down, starting at the number 13, because she is who she is and declared she wanted to do things differently than the patients before her.

The oral surgeon appears in the room. He is tall and friendly, and I feel a wash of relief to see him again. We met a couple weeks ago and he won us over instantly with his kindness. He smiles and asks me how we are and his expression shows surprise when I mention the sudden wash of anxiety. The anesthesiologist relays over my head that he “discovered” a murmur that he had “not been made aware of” and that’s why I am feeling this way. 

Again, I’m a clunky piece in this puzzle, my presence in the room feels expected but not welcome. I’m asked questions, but my answers are unhelpful and therefore ignored. I don’t like this feeling. I'm overcome by the pressure to protect my daughter with every ounce of my being, yet I don’t understand enough of what is happening in this situation to know how best to be her advocate.

There isn’t time to explain all this to the surgeon, but at least I feel a small amount of relief with his presence. It’s like the ally I’ve been longing for has entered the room, finally a person who realizes this procedure might be hard for me too. He reassures me and I decide to be buoyed in the moment by his calm. 

I can tell he is distracting me from what is taking place in the chair, and I am grateful for it. My only other experience sending a child under was with my other daughter, and it was not a positive one. I felt haunted by the flashing memory of watching my three-year-old’s eyes roll back in her head as she went to sleep. I don’t ever want to see that again. 

In the chair before me, she’s counting down again. Thirteen, twelve, eleven…She makes it to zero for a second time and I’m unnerved by how long it is taking. I hear the anesthesiologist comment about how the mask is probably too small for her. The machines alarm on two separate occasions and no one tells me what it means. It’s in the middle of her 4th countdown that her voice finally falls silent. I take one quick glance at her and see that her eyes are closed before I am ushered out of the room to wait in my car. 

Hot tears sting my cheeks. I feel terrified and horrified in equal measure. I don’t even know what just happened. Should I have called off the procedure? Will she be okay? How will I live with myself if something goes wrong? I’m so stupid. How could I have let this happen? I dial my husband at work, and when the line connects, he is greeted by silence followed by a loud sob. Panic grips him as he fears the worst. I try to tell him what happened, beg him to remember a benign murmur conversation with our pediatrician from ages past. He thinks he recalls one, but it was long ago.

He has to go so I sit in the parking lot of the office alone, listening for sirens. I tell myself she is safe and okay, as long as I don’t hear sirens. I hear one wail in the distance, and I exhale with relief when I see it is a police car, not an ambulance, coming to usher my daughter away. 

A mere forty-five minutes have passed when a nurse startles me at my car window. It’s too soon. Something’s happened, I worry. She appears calm, but I’m too riled up now to not fear the worst. 

“It’s done! You can come back and see her now.” 

She's alive! It's the first conscious thought I have. Relief pours through me. The words had never sounded sweeter. She made it through! Her heart must be ok!

I practically run to her chair where she lays reclined. I grip her hand and gaze at her beautiful face, cheeks puffy and mouth overflowing with bloody gauze. I know for sure she's fully awake when she makes one of her sarcastic quips. All I feel is relief.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

I’m so happy to report that my daughter IS ok. She’s safe and healthy and all went well, procedure-wise. She had four teeth pulled. It felt like it would be fairly routine. I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, which might explain why the whole situation came upon me like a blindside. Perhaps one day I will look back and think my reaction sounds silly or extreme, but not today. As I step away from this experience, I’m able to see it clearer for what it was and I am working to extend kindness to myself. 

Yesterday was traumatizing. I felt it in my body, a practice I am working so hard to learn to do. It feels good to write it out. I was ill-prepared for the murmur curveball, and the arguably poor bedside manner of the anesthesiologist. I experienced undo pressure to make a call regarding the health of my daughter’s heart. I wasn’t foolish or stupid, a narrative that I often assign to myself. I was handed a burden that should not have been placed on me in that way.

I let myself come apart last night in my husband’s arms. The stresses of the day released like waves. I was not made to carry what I was asked to carry, and my body told me so. I'm learning to listen to it, and validate my experience. It’s a long journey and I have much more growing to do. But there’s progress.  

Friday, February 4, 2022

heartbreak to heartburst

Nobody tells you motherhood will break and rebreak your heart, hundreds of times over. That having kids is like having your heart exit your body and walk around outside of you, unprotected and vulnerable to attack. 

Nothing prepares you for the moment when you find out your child is struggling, that her "friends" are ignoring her, telling her that her ideas are stupid, and then stealing the very same idea they declared unworthy and adopting it with pride as their own. Nothing prepares you for the times she won't receive an invitation, where she will have to sit through the excited chatter on Monday morning, classmates reminiscing over the weekend gathering where she was not welcome. 

Nobody tells you to prepare yourself for the art contests they will lose, the teams they will be cut from. How you will sit with them through hard life lessons, all the while telling them that you would have voted for their masterpiece, chosen them for your team. How they will roll their eyes and declare, "You have to say that because you're my Mom."

Nothing breaks your heart like hearing she is wandering the perimeter of the playfield alone at recess. Or him telling you that he doesn't want to go to school because his friends won't play with him. There is nothing like motherhood to make you perpetually question whether you are actually really screwing them up. 

Nobody tells you that motherhood will trigger your every insecurity, that you will be forced to relive your middle school years again, this time through the eyes of your Beloveds. They will worry about how they will find their classes, who they will eat lunch with, whether they can remember their locker combination. Nobody warns you that you will lose just as much sleep over these anxieties as they will.

Nothing prepares you for the fire motherhood will light within you, the fierceness with which you will go to bat on their behalf. Sometimes this will look like emailing the teacher, calling the principal, texting the parent of the child with whom she is having the conflict. Fighting the good fight. Yet most of the time, it seems, it looks like biting the tongue, outfitting oneself in the motherhood armor of quiet presence, sitting and holding vigil while they ride life's waves. Sorting through your own triggers that are poked at right and left as they find their way in the safety net of your loving care.

And then.

Nothing prepares you for the moment someone sees your kid. When a teacher tells you, their mind is incredible. I've never seen a child do a math problem that way, but it works. When someone observes their gifting of leadership gifts and communicates it to you. When you are affirmed that moving him to a new school was absolutely the right choice for him. When a friend texts you to call out their strengths. When they remind you of the creative, kind and amazing humans you are raising. Nothing feels better than the moment they receive an unexpected invitation, how they come alive with excitement and hope. Nothing prepares you for the explosion of pride you feel when they sing the solo, score the goal, speak a word of encouragement to their sister, befriend the child who is in tears and alone.

Motherhood. It takes you from heartbreak to heartburst in three second tops. What a ride!

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Unseen


Earlier this week, I shared an article that did an accurate job of summarizing many of the challenges we as parents have endured through this arduous season of COVID-19. “COVID Parenting Has Passed the Point of Absurdity,” was it’s title and the full version can be accessed here. The decision fatigue. The ever-changing dynamics of policy and system. The lack of good options. It has all been so much. As I sit here writing this, I’m wearing the exact same outfit as yesterday (minus the underwear, which is fresh) because that felt exponentially easier than selecting new clothing for today. Yesterday’s style served me well, so why not wear it again and repeat? I don’t want to have to weigh options and decide even one more thing.  

There have been so many times over the past 23 months where I have had the desire to put some of my pandemic thoughts and struggles to the page, but stopped. What is it that gave me pause? Beyond a basic lack of time and energy was the root motivation that I didn’t want to create yet another point of contention. I didn’t want to rock a boat that was barely staying afloat to begin with. I lacked confidence that outwardly expressing my inner turmoil would result in anything more than additional hurt and pain. What if people judged me? What if they didn’t “get” it? What if they didn’t understand what I was saying? What if they couldn’t relate? Still worse, what if they disagreed with me? What if they thought I was crazy? 

The article I opened with hit on many of the “hot spots” living in a pandemic has brought to the surface. I would add to it another point of challenge that could use a little more air time. As I attempt to boil down my internal experiences of the last two years (about as simple a task as eradicating the virus itself), one word continues to come to the surface:

Unseen.

One of my deep longings is to be seen, known and understood. And when those three things are met, I’m well on my way to feeling accepted, a fourth desire that my humanity aches after. Though I have waded my way through many, many messy emotions over these past two years, I have a growing awareness that this has been a painful season of feeling unseen by many of those around me. With the severity of the divides in our nation right now, I imagine we can all relate to this feeling, though the angles from which we are experiencing it might differ. 

I looked up the definition of the word “unseen.” The dictionary describes it as not seen, noticed or perceived. Unobserved, invisible. Not known about by anyone. 

My obsession with language led me to research words that are considered nearby to the word, “unseen.” My search resulted in the following: imaginary, imagined, lurking, dark, undiscovered. “Imaginary” suggests that something is made up or unreal, which for a facts-obsessed person like myself, triggers all my insecurities about being considered crazy. But from this list it was the word “lurking” that really jumped out at me. When one is lurking, it implies they are here, but uninvited, an unwelcome presence in the shadows, one who doesn’t belong. Taken all together, when one goes unseen, a smallness is implied, which, if left unchecked, can rapidly evolve in a sense of being devalued or unworthy. 

There is no denying that COVID has changed our relationships tremendously, some for better, many for worse. Throw a bunch of humans who are just hanging on by a thread into a room for a couple of years and wish them well and they will inevitably begin clawing at each other in their desperation to make sense of the situation. How did we get here? Why are we here? How do we get out? When we aren’t mauling each other like angry caged animals, we are dividing into separate camps and turning our backs on each other, ignoring one another in frustration.

I have always been one to hold deep personal convictions and I have fought throughout this pandemic to maintain them to the best of my ability. I have a number of trusted sources that I have looked to for guidance and safety recommendations on a whole myriad of situations. I have gone to great lengths to operate by the books, sometimes obsessively, according to the best research I know to be available. The decisions have been endless. Pushing through these two years has involved weighing risk and risk tolerance on constant repeat. For a natural overthinker, this has been nothing short of sheer torture. 

My convictions, and perhaps yours as well, have required saying “no” a lot more often than “yes.” It’s no wonder relationships have suffered! Being told “no” stings, whether we are a toddler wanting a piece of cake we spy on the counter, or an adult wanting to plan a gathering like the pre-pandemic olden days. Our worlds have undergone a significant shrink. We see less people. We share tables with smaller numbers. We no longer participate in many regular activities we once held dear. And though these changes have taken place under the umbrella of safety, when it comes to relationships, it is hard to not take them personally. Whether we are on the receiving or giving end of less, when we no longer hold the space we once did, there are painful questions that rise to the surface. Do I matter, and, how much? 

I have found this to be true when my personal COVID-related convictions bump up against the convictions of those around me. Especially earlier on in the pandemic, I encountered pushback against my boundaries that surprised me. After doing years of work to find my voice, it became apparent rather quickly that, in this season, it felt far too exhausting to use it. It was full-time survival mode for all of us. 

I was ill-prepared for the new complexities I found in relationships, and after a few painful attempts at trying to explain myself, I shut down. Whether closing myself off was the best choice in a sea of not-good options, I will never know. But that's what happened. Rather than exerting more energy to defend my choices or express where I was coming from, or explore my root insecurities that were being triggered, I gave up. We were all operating in our own orbits of stress, and the tremendous gravitational pull of crisis and chaos prevented us from seeing each other and attempting to understand the places we differed. 

I choose to give us all the benefit of the doubt - if we hadn’t each been enduring our own significant shock waves of change, perhaps we would have been better able to see what those around us were walking through. But we didn’t. And couldn’t.

For me personally, rather than fighting for space to make an imprint, I accepted my seat at the table that went by the name, “Unseen.” It just felt easier.  

And yet, accepting this fate did not erase my longings. I want to make sense. I want others to know my motivations and heart. It comes down to that deep-wired desire I mentioned earlier - see me, know me, understand me. Perhaps, you can relate?

The disagreement, the tension. At times, it has made me second guess, taking yet another ride around the spin cycle. When my choices have differed from those around me, I’ve found myself asking a million times over, “Am I crazy? What is a reasonable standard to hold myself to? Someone please draw me a line. WHERE IS THE LINE!?” 

I am so very, very tired of it all. Of the awkwardness. Of the confusion. 

I remember expressing to my therapist at one point during the pandemic how I wanted someone to help make a chart for me that would divide my thoughts and perspectives into two columns: “Crazy” and “Not Crazy.” Could someone please just bring order to this madness? I have often felt like I have lost all metrics to help me make sense of where I land in this mess. 

My therapist did not oblige this request, a point I found rather vexing. Fire her! What use could she possibly be to me if she couldn’t help me categorize this chaos? Most annoyingly, she did not provide me with a one-size-fits-all pathway forward. She did not tell me what was right and what was wrong (again, fire her!) Rather, she challenged me to continue identifying my own personal convictions and stand confident in them, without looking for the affirmation and agreement of others. 

It has been a brutally painful process for me, making decisions that don’t always jive with those around me. It has meant standing out in a crowd at times (my worst favorite). Saying no when others dear to me say yes. Asking hard and uncomfortable things of others. I have hated every last minute of it. And wasted hours of my life agonizing over how my decisions might impact, disappoint, and bother those around me. 

I have to keep coming back to the fact that, at the end of the day, these hard decisions are rooted in a desire to do good by my community, look out for those at greater risk than I, protect my neighbors, and stand up for my beloved, tired, exhausted people in healthcare. “We” before “me.” Others won’t always take the time to parse out my internal motivators, and the reverse is true as well. 

I am working to connect the dots of my experience, I suspect a fairly universal experience, of sitting heads down while surrounded by people, at tables in front of place cards that read “Unseen.” As I process, the dots that once felt scattered across the page, clouded by storms of emotion, are beginning to make sense. I wonder how often our sense of value became intimately entangled where it shouldn’t have. When we feel unseen, a mere half step away is the experience of feeling unvalued. I am confident that none of us, in our modes of apparatus, set out with intent to communicate a lack of value to those orbiting around us. This was a result of our hunkering down into survival mode, doing the best we could in our own ways to push through what will likely be the greatest collective trauma our generation will face. 

Wow. It’s no wonder this season has deeply wounded us.

Feeling unseen is painful yet it is not the worst possible outcome. Where does this leave us? I imagine we could all tell our own story of the ways we have felt invisible or unnoticed during the past 23 months. What comes to mind is the old adage that the same input brings about the same output. We can’t expect a different result unless we change what we are putting in. I’ve been pondering what my pivot point might look like in order for me to break away from the pain I’m holding from feeling unseen. Others have failed to see me. I have failed to see. It’s inevitable in our world right now, is it not? 

Perhaps the movement I can make toward healing involves surrendering my desire to be seen by everyone around me. I was never promised this kind of knowing on this earth. Does this mean we should stop seeking to see each other? I should hope not. Does this make the hurt we have experienced OK? No. But we need not hold onto it forever. It isn’t serving us well. 

While many won't see us, I pray a handful will. I long for each of us to find small spaces where we are seen, known, understood, and safe. This takes hard work and showing up vulnerably, over and over, even when we’d rather just hide. And when these safe spaces let us down, as they certainly will, may we rest in the knowledge that we are known and seen and loved intimately by God. 

 “You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.”

~Psalm 139:1-3


May that be enough. 


Saturday, January 22, 2022

Finally, a word

There was a short time where I would pray for a word to surface at the beginning of each year that I would adopt as my annual theme. I would meditate on it, lean into it, and focus on developing whatever it entailed into my daily living. I took a break from this practice, as with most things I held familiar, in the year 2020. I made a couple feeble attempts to land on one, but no single word seemed fitting, and anything I was pondering in January was gone like vapor when March blew in with barreling force. 

Early on in 2021, I tried to pick the practice back up but no word was surfacing so I chose one I liked and briefly claimed my annual word would be “lavish.” It was less a word that came to me in prayer and more one I tried to coerce upon the 365 days that lay before me as I pleaded, “God please let this year feel like a lavish table after what we endured in the last.” My claim over the word endured a solid three weeks before I released it and laughed and decided that 2021 was another year that couldn’t be wrapped up neatly into a singular word. The year was anything but lavish in the way I had dreamed. 


I didn’t try to force the practice this year. Admittedly, I have felt a bit wary of calling out a word, lest I land myself in a similar space as I did these past two years. But I’m trying to hold this exercise loosely, and allow it to serve me well when it does, and let it go when it doesn’t. This year, a word bubbled up on it’s own. My word for this year is


SPARK. 


Just typing it makes me grin like I’ve got a little something up my sleeve. As a word, it’s a bit whimsy and fun, and not super serious, which basically makes it 100% my opposite. But these are all qualities I want to foster and I haven’t felt the buzz of excitement the word brings me in a really long time. I can’t wait to see what God does with it. 


So why SPARK? As I was praying over my year, I found myself longing to feel more fully alive, more joyful, and to savor this life that I’m living. Other word options that came to my mind started with “re” - revive, refresh, renew. All of them danced around the theme of coming alive again after a season of dormancy. But spark? It’s a flash, a buzz, a crackle. It seems like nothing at first, but can quickly grow into a warm blaze, or a roaring fire. Something small catches and comes alive. It’s the catalyst that brings about the revival. It’s what gets things going. It’s playful and has a mind of it’s own. It’s the fun part. It doesn’t wait to be invited. It sparks to life wherever it lands.


The dictionary defines spark as: a small fiery particle thrown off from a fire, alight in ashes, or produced by the striking together of two hard surfaces such as stone or metal. To set off in a burst of activity. A feeling or quality that causes excitement.


I think a fork in the road is coming; I feel like I am on the cusp of something new. Where life of late has felt like one, long straight path of monotony, I feel like I’m emerging from dormancy. Metal has been rubbing against stone. The hardships aren’t for naught. Finally, there it is! A spark. Let it out. Jesus, take these stirrings within me and blow them wide open. Let a gust of wind catch the tiny glow. Fan that spark and let it come ablaze. 

Monday, December 6, 2021

Though that was shorter

I’ve been working my way through a bout of anxiety that is most certainly stealing my joy, not to mention my ability to be present with anything going on in front of me. It has made it difficult to think for even a second about the season of Advent that is upon us. I’ve wanted some sort of “spot-treatment” medication to get me through this blip. I’ve been a little miffed at God for not removing this physical experience from my body when I request it.

It wasn’t Exodus, the second book in the Old Testament, that I expected would be the thing to lift my spirits today. It’s never been the book I have heard referenced as a trusted option when “looking for a word of encouragement.” It chronicles horrific plagues in the land of Egypt, frustrated Israelites enslaved in captivity, and one very stubborn and power-hungry Pharaoh who is refusing to release them. The story it tells really hasn’t been very much of an upper so far.  

I was caught off guard this morning when I picked up my Bible to complete this week’s assigned reading Exodus chapter 13. Verse 17 reads, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

It’s the last part of that first sentence that got to me, “…God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.”

Though that was shorter.

These words could have easily been left out of the text or deemed an extra detail. But the significance their presence brings to the story is so important. It’s a blatant statement that there was a shorter route out there for God’s people to follow. But it wasn’t the one God chose. I am a lover of efficiency, so this hit me hard this morning.

At first, it felt a little harsh. Some might argue feels perhaps even mean, reading how God had his people take the long way home. I was a bit annoyed myself, until I read the sentence that follows in the last part of the verse. I’m not a biblical scholar, but it becomes clear that the motivation for this indirect route was inspired by deep love and tenderness. God knew that if His people faced war, “…they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” The way by the desert road, though longer in distance, will spare them their freedom. Were they to find themselves in the midst of yet another battle with their former captors, they might to tempted to just give in. So, God, in His mercy, takes them a different way, This “long way home” is for their protection and betterment.

“…God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.

I think about all the places in my life where I long for efficiency. There are so many hurts that could have been spared, had I been taken on the more direct route. Certainly, I would be less tired if I was on a shorter path. In a world devastated by heartache, it’s easy to be tempted by the ease of the short cut or the appeal of a quick fix.

As I ponder specific instances in my life, I recognize how much richness and depth would have been lost had I taken on the more direct route that I desired. The people I would have missed. All the sites not seen. The mountain peaks and the deep valleys. The rivers I would have never had to forge and conquer. There can be a treasured richness to the lengthy journey, even if it takes more time.  

Whether it’s anxiety we want to get through faster, or some other form of personal health issue that we want to be done with. Whether it’s COVID we want to end. Or increased intimacy we desire in our marriage. Whether it’s clarity of purpose or calling we are looking for. There could be a shorter way. But efficiency often comes with a cost. The challenge I’m bumping up against today is do we trust God enough to lead us through the process? Even if we must take the long way?

Can we rest in the knowing that His path for us, full of unexpected and sometimes arduous curves and bends, is rooted in deep tenderness and great love? Sometimes, in that love, we might find ourselves doing the hard work and sitting in messy places for longer than we would prefer. We don’t need a shorter path. We need to grow our trust.