What No One Tells You About Going Into the Hospital

After two and a half decades on this earth, I found myself strapped to a stretcher, my legs pinned down to keep me from kicking the cute EMT. 

Maybe an hour before that, I was in the emergency room, hurling my guts into a trashcan while precious Nurse Marco wrapped me in warm blankets and filled my IV with the medicine I so desperately need. 

Maybe four hours after the stretcher incident, I awoke to find one of my oldest Florida friends right by my side, tagging in for another friend who had previous obligations. 

For the first time in my life, I was admitted into a hospital. And my family was states away. 

But in those hours that are all now blurred together, I came out on the other side, incredibly grateful for surprising things, things no one ever told me about being in the hospital. 

1. Make sure your undergarments are comfy and breathable. I once heard you should always wear cute underwear because you never know when a firefighter will have to cut you out of a car. Three days before Christmas, I can’t tell you how many doctors saw my panties, and how grateful I am they were both cute and comfortable. 

2. Shave your legs. Sadly, it’d been about a month since I did this (it’s winter, leave me alone), and I was mortified as nurses moved about my body to clean me up. If you perpetually keep your legs shaved, it saves you the embarrassment of mumbling apologies to the kind man or woman who is keeping you alive. 

3. Count on the faith of others. Studies show patients who have faith are more likely to pull through a tough accident or illness. But I was barely coherent enough to form a prayer in my head, much less utter something out loud. But before I left for the emergency room, my coworkers laid hands on me and prayed over me. Two different pastors’ wives sat with me in the emergency room and in my hospital room. My phone was blowing up with prayers from around the world. In those fuzzy moments, I knew God had me because His body was reaching out. 

4. Man cannot live on bread alone, but a woman can manage on Jell-O and broth. Bread may have been the whole reason I was hospitalized to begin with, but Jell-O is a life saver. It’s nostalgic and delicious, surprisingly filling when you haven’t had anything to eat in a few days.

5. You don’t necessarily know the people who will show up. When I came to at one point, a new friend sat beside me. We’d hung out maybe three times prior, but she was there with a blanket and cookie pillow and socks and a coloring book. My daddy flew to me. A colleague’s husband–someone I’d never met–picked him up from the airport. My CEO called me. My friend’s mom, who is rapidly becoming a personal friend, joined me in the ER. Another colleague went to my home to feed and walk my dog. All of them I’d classify as lovely human beings, but I was incredibly touched when they stopped their lives to assist mine. 

6. God will show up. Y’all, I’ve stood on the other side of a hospital bed and watched a respirator mechanically pump my friend’s chest up and down moments before his parents pulled him from life support. I held my cousin while my family said good-bye to my great-grandmother’s lifeless body hours after her death. I know many do not equate hospital with hope. But, today, I do. God used nurses and friends and doctors and strangers to prove to me that I still matter to Him. In the pits of depression, I find myself doubtful of His goodness; but the moment I was hospitalized for chronic IBS, He was there. 

He was there in Nurse Marco who called me “my dear,” and kept my body as stable as possible in the emergency room. He was there in Mrs. Nancy, who dropped everything to sit with me. He was there in Heather, who showed up after my convoluted text. He was there in so many others, more than I even know, who lifted me up to Him. 

What no one tells you about the hospital is that it doesn’t have to be a dramatic life-or-death situation to encounter the Living God. 

What Rob and Harry Taught Me About the Power of my Words

Every relationship I’ve ever been in grew from a seed of curiosity.

An irresistible, dangerous curiosity that calls you to it like siren song. I think too much and often find myself turning past romantic encounters over and over in my mind. Just as river currents smooth out the rough edges of a rock as it turns it in its midst, it’s as if I think that if I reflect on them enough, perhaps the power of my mind can smooth out the unforgiving, snagging edges of my memories and make them into something neat and digestible. I reflect on them and think and think and then think some more, but I rarely speak about them out loud.

My therapist Jill once told me that healthy doesn’t attract unhealthy, only unhealthy does. “Hurting, broken people attract others just like them,” was the way she put it. I saw in my mind a parade of broken, passionate albeit responsible men I’ve loved throughout my story and wondered what it meant.

In the past few weeks, I’ve started to face this reality with a new willingness to ask the difficult questions about what truth might be tangled up in it. “What does it say about me that these are the kinds of men I continue to attract?” The question lingered around me like a haze. I would whisper it to myself when I was scrubbing grease off my stove, tasting the bitter weight of it on my tongue. I voiced the question over the phone to my cousin Neema this past weekend. He mulled it over for a few seconds before thoughtfully listing off a few possibilities but among them all, there was one name that he returned to again and again. “Rob.”*

It’s not often that my people say the name aloud.

The sound of it is sharp. It has the jagged echoes of a slur and refuses to be palatable when it arrives on the tongue. It’s etched itself into my spirit.

Three years ago, I lay with a man on a pile of worn Russian blankets in panels of sunlight that came through a large loft window. The window was open to the crisp, warming sun of an early New England fall. His strong, snow-colored limbs weaved their length around the curves of my frame and he wondered aloud as the sounds of Cambridge hummed five stories below us, “What were you like before it all?” I had no response. The question turned around and around in my head and I became more aware of the humming voices below and less unaware of the tugging warmth of his fingers moving through my hair. I was filled with nothing but emptiness.

What a question. I tried to imagine the girl who was, holding her up next to the one who is, comparing and contrasting the two. The girl from the past felt distant, like a stranger. Who was she? What was she like? It was an uncomfortable thing to reflect on and at the time, the answer was hard to unearth. I’d shrugged it off like an uncomfortable garment and said whatever I needed to in order to move on from it, “I don’t remember.”

Rob. I think it was hard for me to see her in my mind’s eye because the memory of him is so overpowering, occupying all of the space, creeping into all of the corners until there’s no room left for anything else.

I haven’t touched on him in my work too much, or at least not with specifics. I’ve sometimes asked myself why that might be. Maybe it’s because there seemed to be so many grey areas about what occurred in our relationship that I didn’t want to risk being wrong, destroying someone’s life because I paraded a misunderstanding as cold, hard fact. Maybe it’s because he’s still out there and I’m afraid that putting his name down in writing will call him back to me when I want mountains to stand between us, tall and strong and too dangerous for him to scale.

Finn has been encouraging me to write about it. “Being scared to say his name out loud keeps you imprisoned,” he said, “Screw him. Own your story. Say his name so many times that it ceases to have power over you.” Rob Rob Rob. I recently talked to him about how in Harry Potter people called Voldemort, “He Who Must Not Be Named”; their fear was so paralyzing that they couldn’t say his name. At the beginning, Albus Dumbledore is the only one who can and coincidentally, he’s also the one who doesn’t fear him. “Do you think Dumbledore could say Voldemort’s name because he didn’t fear him, or do you think he didn’t fear him because he was willing to say his name aloud?” I wondered.

“The words we speak have power,” was his reply. He told me that it was the reason why, in his mind, my writing was as much of a spiritual vocation as it was a creative one. “You are much more than ‘artist.’ You are also a healer and wise woman and call-up-higher.” Words have power. We see this principle at play in titles. I didn’t think that I was all of those things yet, but I gave myself permission to rest in sacred potential, praying to grow into them, instead of pushing them away and saying, “I’m not enough.”

Rob Rob Rob.

The power that words have can be seen just as much in what we choose to say as what we carefully avoid saying. As Harry’s courage grows against Voldemort, he too starts to choose truth in his words instead of fear. In the last movie, before his final fight against the darkness, he calls it out by name. Not He Who Must Not Be Named. Not even Voldemort, the name he took on after he acquired power. Instead, Harry challenges the enemy by calling him the name he had when he was a boy: “Tom.” With his choice, he strips the enemy of his immortality and turns him into a man. I plan to start doing the same thing to my own nemesis, one word at a time, with each brave decision I make to not avoid his name.

This past weekend, I hid from the chill of winter’s arrival by curling up underneath the warmth of my favorite throw; it’s all warm yellow and gold threads and makes me feel safe because my friend Nick brought it back for me from an archaeological dig in India. I drank white wine and breathed in the scent of my amber candle and listened to the Ed Sheeran love songs playing on the stereo.

There in that safe place and with a newly heightened awareness of the power of my own words, I thought back on Alexey’s question from three years ago. “What was she like? The woman you were before it all?” Neema is trying to teach me that it’s not healthy for me to dwell constantly on the past so although it’s no longer uncomfortable for me to think on, I also don’t think it’s a question I’m meant to answer. My words are meant for the present.

They’re better suited to speaking truths over and affirming who I am right here and right now, today, as I live in this God-given moment.

Who am I?

I am a dreamer. I am creative. I weave tales in my head and then tell them and I recreate the images I see in my head by taking paint to canvas.

I am extremely passionate and when I love and am loved by someone whose soul is made of the same stuff, the electricity between us can light up a city.

I am strong, stronger than I’ll ever know. I prove this to myself over and over. The intensity of my resilience makes me capable of being someone’s rock and the depth of my Love can make me into his Light because I firmly believe in the words of Abdu’l-Baha when he says, “Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time.”

It can take a lot for someone to dive into my depths. I can be emotional and moody and withdrawn but this is not a bad thing; they’re symptoms of the fact that I am all water, and to be honest, I am happy being an ocean, thank you very much.

I have been called “funny” and “vibrant.” An Irish man with eyes like the sky once told me on a date that I was a “total woman” and he added that he meant it in the best of ways.

I stand up for people and against hatred and I try to be a comforter.

I like pie and red wine and books and art galleries.

I am many things, and I am not defined by him.

I am defined by Me. 

I Want To Talk About Mourning Your Story

I cried at work.

The ugly kind of cry that makes it hard to breathe and sends mascara running in black rivers down your face.

 My boss described it as sudden, almost manifesting out of thin air. “I understand you’ve been going through a challenging time,” he said, his green eyes bright and shimmering with concern, “but it’s like it suddenly came to the surface all at once.” He then gave me time to compose myself in the women’s bathroom. “I can’t have you crying all over the Warhol,” he said. He was half-joking, yet entirely serious.

A few weeks ago, Andrew told me he was worried, “You’ve always felt things deeply and had this sense of sadness around you, but I’ve never seen you with this much of it.” He’s known me for almost ten years and within that decade, he’s been witness to all the times I dropped a plate because I was suddenly overtaken by sobbing while doing the dishes. He knows all of the restless nights spent staring at the ceiling; they’re almost as much a part of his story now as mine. Yet even with all of the broken pieces he’s been witness to throughout the past decade, he’s worried because these past few weeks feel different. 

I want to talk about mourning.

I want to talk about mourning because my soul is clothed in gray and my heart is filled with an indescribable grief and it has been for quite some time now. Sadness is my longtime companion; it wafts in the air around me like a familiar scent that lingers in the threads of your clothes no matter how often you put them through the wash.

I want to talk about mourning. But the kind of mourning I speak of isn’t the moment of silence for a horrific event that sends a violent crack through the foundation. It’s not the mourning that occurs when the doctor calls us with bad news. It’s not the mourning that occurs when we have to put someone we love in the ground.

I want to talk about mourning, and the kind of mourning I want to talk about is the mourning of our stories.

Stories are my passion and for the record, every single one of us has one. A past. A film reel of the events in our lives that stand out more significantly than the others. Lyosha once told me that there isn’t a soul in this world who doesn’t have something in their past that changed them forever, an event after which they could never return to the person they were before.

I cried at work a week ago. It seemed to come out of nowhere. It wasn’t comprised of quiet tears at the desk, easily hidden from others. It was the kind that made everyone in the office stop in the middle of their work and stare.

When my boss asked, I’d explained it away as grief over the news I’d heard at the doctor’s office. The kind of news that alters the way you plan your life and what dreams you’re allowed to even have. The truth is that the news was only 5% because I’ve been this way for a few weeks now.

The Thursday before, in the midst of a pitch black night, I was driving Andrew’s black Audi down a long stretch of empty highway when the rage hit me and I slammed on the gas and screamed. I did it because I was annoyed about being led on by a man who used me to figure out his feelings for someone else, I was bitter about finding Great Love only to have the entire Atlantic and all of Western Europe between us, and I was angry about the actions Rob committed against me and how because of them, I’m still scared to be in an elevator with a man I don’t know.

Last night, I went out running at 11 because I couldn’t sleep. My heart was pounding violently and my breathing was frantic and I ran farther than I’ve ever ran with the fastest average pace I’ve ever held, fueled by adrenaline as I saw nothing but red.

I want to talk about mourning stories because mine are resurfacing, bleeding into my present.

The stories of romances that went wrong and plot lines that unraveled without a conclusion need to be mourned just like any other tragedy or death. We need to heal from the what-could-have-been’s and those who sinned against us. If we don’t, our suffering will move through the rest of our story with us and will bleed into our present. Maybe not right away, but perhaps like mine, you will start to notice it little by little before it suddenly enters your present all at once, all at the same time.

“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said, “If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”

Suffering is the common thread that all of humanity shares.

We all know mourning and sadness and longing and rage; none of us are strangers to these experiences. However, when we simply stifle them instead of doing the hard work of healing, when we fail to properly mourn these stories, they will forever rear their ugly head and hinder our ability to live better stories in the present. Mourn your story, Beautiful Human. You were so much stronger than you should have had the necessity to be. Weep over the romances that went wrong and the stories that unraveled. Commit to living a better story in the present.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.” Rilke.

Life Changes, But God Doesn’t

I have lived a very blessed and privileged life. Don’t get me wrong I have worked hard to get to where I am, but my parents were always very supportive in giving me many opportunities to grow. Some might even say I’ve been spoiled. I grew up going to church and I attended a Christian university. Some might even push to say that I’ve been sheltered. In all honesty, I can’t say I disagree.

On the day of my college graduation, as per usual, many pictures were taken to document the important day. I hate every single one of those photos because, at the time, there was severe swelling in my face that contorted my smile into something unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. My friends kept telling me to smile normally, even though I felt like I was. My boyfriend at the time was always by my side to remind me of how “different” my smile looked. In other words, I no longer had the smile that he had fallen in love with. I no longer felt like myself. Unfortunately, within the few months to come, I would start to feel less and less like myself. My life would no longer be the same.

One week following my graduation, I went to my local hospital to further investigate why there was severe swelling in my cheek. A couple days later, what I had thought was severe swelling from grinding my teeth due to stress, I was diagnosed with cancer.

More specifically, it was a tumor in my right cheek known as a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor. You say, “That’s a pretty wild name! I’ve never heard of anything like that before!” And that makes sense because it’s an incredibly rare type of cancer. This tumor had been growing since January of 2015, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from college in May of 2015 that I was able to get the proper medical attention that I needed. I was diagnosed in June and began chemotherapy treatments one week after my diagnosis.

Once I had announced my diagnosis on Facebook and called my closest friends and family the cards, letters, baked goods, presents, and the encouraging messages came flooding in. Everyone said they were praying for me. I had visitors in the hospital. But I still felt so alone.

I was the one having drugs pumped through me. I was the one losing her hair. I was the one throwing up constantly and being stuck in the bathroom for hours. I was the one with a constant pounding headache. I was the one with such intense mouth sores that it was impossible for me to eat. I was the one crying myself to sleep at night because I didn’t know how much longer I could handle this pain.

To make matters worse, one of the people that I trusted most to stay by my side in this scary trial — my boyfriend at the time — broke up with me in July. One month after beginning treatments and the day before my birthday. I now not only felt alone but pathetic. I felt as though my life was spiraling out of control. My life was falling apart before my eyes and I felt like I was just an innocent bystander. As it is often said by those who are struggling, I too thought, “Why me?”

At this point in my walk with God, He felt more distant than He ever had in my whole life. He was a powerful enigma that was allowing my life to become a living Hell. And I was pissed.

Prayer seemed pointless. Worship seemed like a waste of time. I just needed to focus on taking care of myself because God was doing a really crappy job.

Everyone experiences pain differently and has their own unique struggles. No one can truly understand what I went through, just like I cannot understand what you may be going through right now. But there is one thing I know…

We need to keep living. There will always be pain, but we cannot let that define how we live our lives. We cannot and shall not be buried in the stresses of life such as work, failed relationships, sickness, financial stress, emotional distress, addictions. We cannot let those things defeat us because news flash: God already won. A good friend of mine just reminded me of something amazing: While there are times in our lives that we will feel very distant from God, such as I have throughout the treatment of my cancer, maybe it’s okay to not have our faith grown during the trials but after the trials. God is constantly growing and changing us, and that does not stop when life gets hard. Quite the contrary, because I believe one of the reasons God brought me through this scary season of my life to help me find my way back to Him.

So here I am, almost a year since I began treatment, a completely different person than I was before. Still just as fun-loving and spunky, but completely overwhelmed by what the future holds for me. I’m terrified and relieved, I’m confident but I’m also unsure, and most of all, I’m much more certain of the fact that God truly is in control of my life.

You know those famous Carrie Underwood lyrics, “Jesus, take the wheel”? Catchy tune, right? Well, I’ve learned that Jesus never lets go of the wheel; He’s always in control of our life. It’s just up to us to stop holding on so tightly, trying to control everything ourselves, and go along for the bumpy and beautiful ride that God already has planned for us.

Our lives are far from perfect, but that’s what makes them exciting. That’s what makes us, and our circumstances, so unique. We’re all different, and not one of us is “normal,” we’re always changing and that’s a-okay.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:9–10, whenever he began to struggle, “[God] said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So I’m not the same as I was almost a year ago, or even a few days ago; but I am stronger. I’m much more comfortable with myself, imperfections and all because I know this is where God wants me. I’m not sure where I’m going, but I know I’m not living this life on my own.

After all I’ve gone through, and will go through, it’s a blessing to be told my smile is still quite beautiful even if it is different. Life, although it may be different, is still beautiful. I promise.