Who I Am (pt. 2)

Oh man.  TGIF.  I love teaching, but man is it exhausting sometimes.  Today was rough around the edges, but that’s a post for another day.  If you haven’t read pt. 1 you’re gonna want to.

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After Christmas of 2013, my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, and their dog came to our apartment in January for my mother’s birthday.  We went to bed the night they got there expecting to wake up the next morning and spend the day together.  

I was woken up in the middle of the night by mom asking for our address.  Thank goodness Taylor had a clear mind at 1am.  He spit out our address and quickly followed up with, “what’s wrong?”  Dad was having a seizure and it was not his usual quick, short-lasting seizures that he only had to let his doctor know about the next day.  This one had been going on long enough for mom to wonder and to worry and then decide to call 911, come to our room and ask for our address.  We all put clothes on, the ambulance got there, came up, got Dad, and we all followed them to the hospital in our own car.  When we got to the hospital, they began all the tests and procedures.  It lasted all night.  They eventually transferred him to a bigger, better equipped hospital in Charlotte.  We all followed the ambulance and settled down there for the day.  We each took turns going back home, letting the dogs out, and going back to the hospital.  At this point, we were each running on about 3 hours of sleep.  Looking back and thinking about my sister who was 8-9 months pregnant at the time… good heavens.  I’m not sure how she stayed on her feet that day.  God bless you Lauren.  

Eventually, after some scary moments, humorous moments thanks to Dad being able to use sign language, and some lovely supporting people… the doctors decided Dad was stable enough to be transferred back home to Duke hospital.  Mom followed the ambulance and Taylor and I went back home and said we’d wait until Mom had heard more from Dad’s doctor.  This last seizure had messed with Dad’s speech as well as the mobility on one side of his body.  His doctor said he would need lots of speech therapy as well as therapy to be able to walk, but that it seemed highly unlikely that he’d gain back full mobility.  At this point, my idea of church and faith was gone.  I mean, what was the point?  I went to church consistently for the first 20 years of my life.  I loved church.  I loved the Bible.  I loved God.  I loved sharing all of those things with other people.  My own father had taught Sunday School for years, hosted Bible Study in his home for years, been on countless mission trips, spent so much time studying the Bible and furthering his relationship with God, dedicated his life to helping others and look where it got him.  I did not understand how someone so dedicated to serving Christ could end up with such a bad deal.  

Now, looking back, I see so many things that had gone in our favor.  We were told in 2011 that he had brain cancer.  He knew, although he did not tell us, that it could be months.  We were given 3 more years.  For this last seizure, we were all there together.  All of us, in the same house, so we could all deal with it together and support each other.  Our apartment was literally half a block from the hospital.  It took the ambulance 2 minutes to get there and 2 more minutes to get Dad to the hospital where they stopped the seizure.  They saved his life and gave us a few more months.  There were so many times I thought… what if this had happened at his home?  How would they have gotten him to the hospital on time?  

After Dad went home, they moved his bedroom downstairs.  My mom promised to call me if something happened or if I needed to come home.  At some point a few weeks later, I got that call.  I left work, packed my bag, and came home.  One of my best friends that laid in the nursery with me was getting married while I was home.  I was a bridesmaid in her wedding.  I was there for a couple more days when my sister went into labor.  My precious nephew was born at the perfect time.   He brought such joy and excitement into our house.  Dad was continuing to try to talk with us and make jokes like always.  His hospice nurses would let us know a general time frame, as well as let us know they were praying for us.  Dad always charmed his nurses.  He was kind and sincere and I think people were drawn to that.  He wasn’t two-faced at all.  He was an honest and giving person.  One day, it was time to call Taylor and he came to my parents house as soon as he could get there.  We had another day or two and that was it.  Dad was gone.  I remember sitting there, holding his hand, not wanting to be anywhere else and simultaneously wishing to be anywhere else, but here.  After a few minutes of his light breathing it slowed and eventually got so light that I couldn’t hear it.  Mom signaled for the nurse to come in, she checked his pulse and shook her head.  As much as I loved my Dad, I immediately felt disconnected from that room.  He wasn’t there.  He was where he wanted to be.  He was where he could speak clearly and move freely.  He was where he had always wanted to be.  “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” became a motto in our house.  They sang “This is My Father’s World” at his funeral and I still can’t hear that hymn without crying.   

Taylor and I, at this point, had returned to the church we went to together in college.  I was struggling emotionally.  I would hear a song on the radio and cry.  I would listen to my students sing and cry.  I would look at my dog and cry.  I had never been an emotional person.  I didn’t cry a whole lot growing up, but I knew something was wrong.  I wasn’t allowing myself to grieve.  I sat down and had a talk with our pastor and through this conversation I realized a few things.  The most important one was this… If I don’t allow myself to feel the things that I need to, I cannot be honest with myself. I grew up with this mentality of “it’s no use to cry over spilt milk.”  When I said this to the pastor, he responded with something I will never forget.  “Well, okay.  Let’s take that analogy and use it.  Sarah, you’ve spilled milk on the table and not only are you not crying over it, but you’re not even acknowledging that it happened.  When you spill milk on the table and choose not only to not cry over it, but to even acknowledge that it’s been spilled… it ends up just sitting there.  It drips on the floor and possibly on you.  Then after a while, that milk begins to dry and sour.  You can ignore it if you want to, but at some point that milk is going to stink and you won’t be able to do anything without being bothered by the smell of that milk.  Now, would it be better to completely ignore the milk or to acknowledge that milk has been spilled, cry if you must, and then clean it up and take care of the problem before it becomes worse?”  I remember sitting on his couch and just sobbing.  I finally understood.  I had spilled milk.  It was everywhere and my heart was starting to sour.  I had chosen to ignore the problem completely.  I was jaded with church, I was distrusting of religion, I was bitter about what had happened to my Dad.  Rather than dealing with these emotions, I ignored them.  That was a turning point for me.  I began to try and let myself cry whenever it came up.  I tried to actually feel the feelings that I had pushed down for so long.  It was like I had opened floodgates.  Everything was heightened.  If I was happy, I was ecstatic.  If I was sad, I was inconsolable.  It has been a slow change and it is something I still struggle with today.  

Talking with Taylor helps tremendously, but I am hoping that this blog will also give me an outlet to let go of those emotions.  I can feel myself healing slowly.  Every once in awhile I have a day where I just want to forget about everything and harden myself up again.  Then I glance at Selah while she’s sleeping and my heart just melts.  In some ways, not acknowledging my feelings was so much easier, but I recognize that that’s not healthy.  My time at my school in Texas was perfect healing.  The teachers there were just amazing.  They were so friendly and accepting.  They made me laugh every day and made me fall in love with teaching again.  I went to Christ Lutheran Church while in Dallas and I from the moment I walked into the church, it felt warm and inviting.  Their choir became like family for me and I will always be grateful for them.  I am grateful to be in a church now and in a job where I am supported.  Every time I open myself up to someone, I can feel healing take place.  Anyways, I could go on for a while… like I said, floodgates.  For now, I rest knowing that I can find family anywhere as long as I am willing to open my heart.  For now, I know that healing comes in building relationships with others.  For now, I rest knowing that God can heal physical pain, emotional pain, and spiritual pain.  For now, I rest on the promise that GOD provides.  

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Who I Am (pt. 1)

While I sit here eating my post-run bag of popcorn and drinking some cranberry juice, I figure it’s about time to post something on here rather than reading over and over again what I’ve already written.  To start this blog off I’d like to say… I am NO writer.  I am horrible with grammar.  I will not be super perfect with punctuation.  Spelling…yeah, I’ll be pretty good with that, but everything else… out the window.  So, if you’re expecting to come here and read something written as beautifully as C.S. Lewis … I apologize ahead of time.

I decided to start this blog as a way to record some thoughts that I have throughout the day.  I want to be able to look back and see where I’ve been.  I also want some kind of record of these early days with Selah.  Things happen so fast these days and I don’t want to forget anything.

I guess I should start out by giving a little bit of background for those of you who don’t know me.  I hope this post also helps you understand who I am a bit better.  This first post will be in parts since it’s a bit long… but well… here we go.

Anyone who really knows me knows that I don’t like sharing a whole lot.  If I share something with you, it means I trust you (or that I’m desperate for help), but I am trying to push myself out of my comfort zone this year and this seems like a good way to do it.  I was born on September 6, 1988.  I was born around 1:30pm.  I was 3 weeks early.  My parents used to joke… “She was early.  It was the first and last time she was early to anything.”  Everyone always laughed although I never found it very funny.  

(my sister on the left, me on the right)

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I grew up in a house where we attended church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.  On Monday nights, my parents hosted a youth Bible study at their house.  I grew up sitting at the top of the stairs listening to high schoolers read the Bible and having discussions about what it meant for them.  I loved listening to my dad’s voice explain something about the verse they were reading.  He would use the Hebrew or Greek translation of a word and all of a sudden that verse would take on a whole new meaning.  His voice was passionate and his passion was the seed that was planted in my heart.  I never told him that, partially because I never realized it until right now, but also because I’m a private person.  Like I said, I’m not one that easily shares my feelings or thoughts.  

My mother has an incredible reading voice.  She used to do radio commercials for the continuing care community she worked at.  Hearing her read from the Bible was a soothing experience.  The room would always get quiet when she read.  She never taught the room like my dad did, but when she opened her mouth, people listened.  

As I grew up, I was steeped in the Bible and church culture.  Not only did my Dad lead a Monday night Bible study, but he also taught Sunday School to the youth on Sunday mornings.  We had to be at church 30 minutes early so that he could set up.  Sunday mornings in our house were always fun.  My sister and I would wake up, go to our parents room and crawl in bed with them.  Mom had gotten up before everyone else and made breakfast.  She would bring it upstairs and wake us up.  We’d sit on the end of their bed and eat groggily while Dad would tell us once again how we needed to leave on time this Sunday… like this Sunday would be different from every other Sunday we were late.  We’d then go through the process of taking the socks out of our hair that we used to curl it overnight.  Forty-five minutes later, I’d be running out the door with makeup, shoes, and a Bible in my hands while I listened to Dad get onto us about leaving the lights on, leaving the hair dryer plugged in, and leaving our shoes everywhere.  Nevertheless, we always made it to church on time. (This is probably not true.)

For the first 18 years of my life, church was a haven.  I absolutely loved going.  Part of that is because my parents never made it a choice.  We went to church as a family and that was that.  If the doors were open, we were there.  I learned to love it and eventually, truly did love it.  Youth group was exciting and fun.  I was always able to be myself.  I had a love for life and was excited about everything.  Reading the Bible brought such joy and discussing it with friends was a natural high.  I felt safe, passionate about life, untouchable as if nothing bad could happen.  Then I went off to college and things started to change.  Dad had always talked about how college seemed to shake people’s beliefs.  It’s the first time you’re on your own.  It’s the first time you’ve got to figure out why you believe what you believe.  It’s the first time your parents won’t wake you up and force you out the door with curlers in your hair.    

I got to college and visited 2-3 different churches my freshman year.  I still went to church semi-regularly, but I never found a church that felt right.  They were too big, or didn’t try to connect with the congregation, or tried to connect but simply couldn’t because there was no way of keeping track of all the visitors on any given Sunday.  I had a few different roommates my first year or two of college.  The first semester my roommate wanted me to switch with the girl across the hall because they got along better.  The other girl’s roommate was quiet and kept to herself so I didn’t see any problem with that.  Then, during my sophomore year, a senior wanted to live in the apartments on campus and wanted me to be one of the 4 girls in the apartment.  So, I moved in.  That girl graduated early in December, so we had another girl move in.  All in all, I had 7 different roommates my first 2 years.  Towards the end of my second year, a girl I had become good friends with told me about a baptist church in the area that she thought I would like.  I visited the church with her on a Wednesday night and immediately fell in love.  The people were kind and outgoing.  It felt warm and lively and like home.  That was the last Wednesday night before I went home for the summer.  I went home promising myself that when I got back in August, I would attend that church.  I did and for a while, I fell back in love with church and found that passion again.  

Things started to change.  At this point, I was working as an intern at the church.  For the first time in my life, I saw the politics that can sometimes happen in church and it really confused me.  It was a new side of church I had never seen.  While other people saw this as part of everyday “church business” I was confused.  I felt disappointed and hurt.  After a few more negative events at church and a lot of change, my attendance slowly lessened to 2-3 times a month.  Maybe.  

At this point, I had graduated college and begun to work at my first school.  I was living in a rented house with my best friend.  In February of 2011, the numbers at church had dwindled.  It didn’t feel as lively or as welcoming as it once had.  The church was trying to mend, but it had taken a toll on me.  I was slightly jaded.  While grappling with my inner turmoil about faith and the church, I got a phone call from my Dad.  I will never forget this.  I was standing in the kitchen, making quesadillas with Taylor (T-money to Dad).  He had come over since it was Valentine’s Day.  Dad called and the conversation went a little something like this…

Dad: Hey, sweetheart.  How was school today?

Me: Eh, you know.  Middle schoolers will be middle schoolers.  It was fine, I’m just tired.  

Dad:  Okay, well… is Taylor there? Are you by yourself?  

Me: Yup!  We’re making dinner.

Dad: Good.  Well, look.  I went to the doctor this week because I’ve been sick and just haven’t been able to get over this cold.  

Me: yeah…

Dad:  I’ve had a headache, so they did a few scans.  Turns out, I’ve got a brain tumor… It is malignant, but we’re talking about my options.  Possibly surgery, chemo, treatment… we’re not really sure yet, but I wanted to let you know.  We’ll keep you updated after we’ve met back with the doctor.  

Me: Okay.

Dad:  Okay?  Well, I’ll let you get back to dinner with Taylor.  Tell T-money I said hey.  

Me: yeah, I will.  

Dad: Okay.  love you.  Bye.

Me: Bye.

That was probably the shortest phone call I’ve ever had with my Dad.  We always talked a ton on the phone, but I could not get off that phone call fast enough.  I hung up the phone and just stared at the floor for a few seconds.  Taylor looked at me and asked what was wrong.  I simply said, “Dad has a brain tumor,” went into my room and sat down on the bed.  I don’t remember much after that night.  Dad called back at some point to say that they were going to do surgery and treatment.  I went home for his surgery.  It went smoothly and he recovered relatively quickly.  I vaguely remember it because my brain and emotions kind of shut down during those few months.  Everything was fine.  Dad was fine.  The surgery went fine.  Treatment was fine.  I was fine.  It would be fine.  I became unfeeling towards any of it, unfeeling towards church, towards Dad having a brain tumor, and towards my own struggle.  I focused on my students and I focused on work.  Later that year, I became engaged and focused on a wedding and moving in with Taylor.  Dad seemed to be doing fine from a distance, but now looking back he was slowing down a bit.  

One thing that I didn’t know until much later was the seriousness of his brain tumor.  At some point in the fall after I was engaged, Dad and I were driving in a car together, just us two, and he let me know how serious it was.  His doctor had told him that every person who had this particular kind of cancer, always dies from the cancer.  It could be 5 months or it could be 15 years, but that it was always the cancer that got them.  He could continue to do treatment as long as it worked, but that he didn’t have to.  Looking back, I know Dad told me this while I was driving the car for a reason.  He knew that I wouldn’t want to look him in the eye anyways.  He knew that it would give me something else to do to keep my mind occupied.  My hands were on the wheel and my eyes were on the road and that gave me an “out” to not be emotional.  I could nod and say okay without having to face anything until I was ready.  I will always be grateful for this moment and I will always be grateful that I had a father who knew me that well.  

After this, Dad slowed down a lot.  Over the next couple of years, he would begin to have small seizures, use a cane, use a walker, be in a wheelchair, etc… The treatment wasn’t working fast enough.  In Christmas of 2013, Taylor and I went home to visit my parents and I specifically remember sitting on the couch watching everyone open presents and hearing a small voice whisper, “This is your last Christmas together.  Enjoy this.  Look around the room.”  It startled me.  I physically jumped on the couch and looked around for a second wondering if anyone else had heard what I did.  Obviously, no one did.  I don’t know what exactly I believe about audibly hearing God or the Holy Spirit, but I can tell you this: I have never heard a voice like that as clearly as I did that day.  Dad gave my sister and I necklaces with our childhood nicknames on them that year.  I put it on that day and didn’t take it off for over a year.  

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That same Christmas, my whole family decided to come to mine and Taylor’s apartment for the first few days of the New Year.  My pregnant sister, her husband, their dog, mom, and dad all came to visit.  They got there in the evening and we all hung out for a bit and soon after decided to go to bed saying that we would walk around downtown the next day and go out to eat.  I went to bed excited and feeling at peace that we were all there together.

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This seems like an okay place to stop for tonight.  I’ll try to post part 2 tomorrow as long as precious Selah decides to sleep 🙂 Feel free to leave a comment or share this.  Don’t hesitate to reach out or contact me in any way.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this much and I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for part 2!