A suburban trek of faith
Today I will undergo laparoscopic surgery. Yes, April Fools' Day. It gets even better: my surgeon's name is Dr. Mangal, pronounced "mangle." I've often wondered if God has a sense of humor, and though I haven't pinpointed that theological premise in the Bible, I now believe He does.
Last I wrote, I had been diagnosed with a systemic candida (yeast) overgrowth and hormone im-balances—still fighting for health, yet marveling in the bounty of dietary simplicity. But about a month later, new and disturbing symptoms appeared.
As I showered one afternoon, I could suddenly barely stand upright. Walking across the house was wobbly, and as I stood at the kitchen sink to rinse my dishes, I had to shift from one leg to the other to stay balanced. Being merely thirty-five years old and still looking forward to motherhood, I was obviously frightened by the loss of normal mobility. My nurses' and doctor's suggestions did not help. The weakness became worse, and as I celebrated my birthday over Thanksgiving with family, my muscles started twitching all over my body with unnerving rapidity.
With a coach's daughter's resolve, I decided that my muscles would not get used to this invalid business. Johnny and I walked 'round and 'round my parents' neighbourhood down to the lake with The Swell Season playing on my iPhone in my coat pocket; I did stretches in their home as if it were a gym. None of it felt comfortable, but I kept walking, at my wits' end and scared.
The health clinic helped me with many problems for two years, so I don't point a finger of negligence at all. But as my husband, family, friends and I prayed over these new problems, we all heard that still, small Voice that Elijah heard. I do believe the Lord whispered to us, "I have a new way." That all sounds spiritual and beautiful and everything, but no epiphanies popped up in our dreams or anything—at least not right away.
There is a large retention pond right behind our street with a one-mile circumference. It's not much to look at, but we're thankful for protection from flooding and an oval concrete track for exercise. During Hurricane Ike, my Godson and his parents stayed with us for a week, and that track allowed our little one to run with reckless abandon down to the small red playground, excited to be free from the confines of our house.
When we arrived home from Thanksgiving festivities, we continued walking with dogged intent. We walked one lap a day. At times I'd fall onto a park bench, exhausted. I'd look to the sky, silently asking the Lord, Why? After two years of bewildering suffering, why this? Many of those days were gray and overcast with stormy doom, but I remember looking upward on a rare day to see one of Texas's famous big, blue skies. The clouds were cinematographic. And then I spied a great white egret standing with regal posture in the midst of this non-photogenic recession in the ground. Honest to God, the bird took my breath away. He stood so still. He gracefully craned his neck in our direction, and I couldn't help but think of a favourite book—The Son of Laughter by Frederick Buechner, where the Theophany appeared to Abraham with birds' heads. Now, I'm not claiming that same manifestation, but peace did stream from the top of my head to my weak, tired legs. That egret spread his white, snowy wings, took flight, and hope grabbed me my surprise.
Shortly after my birthday, a Facebook friend asked me to call her, my symptoms all too familiar. She thought I had endometriosis, which was odd to me because I didn't have stabbing pains in my abdomen or anything like that. But could her doctor be the new way? By this time, I had to pull a chair to our bathroom counter to apply makeup, so with the same desperation of certain Biblical saints, we asked God for a real, live sign. Should we stay at the clinic, accept my new crippled state, or try a new doctor? Long story short (some prayers to God are best kept hidden within), we beheld our sign and made an appointment with my friend's doctor.
He ran some tests and said, "Yep, you have endometriosis on your bowels, which causes insulin sensitivity." My enteric nervous system was spasming, confusing my central nervous system. He prescribed two medications, minerals, vitamins and a whole new diet, which in a way is a partial restoration of my upturned banquet table. Some of my favourite things have been returned to me: goat, Feta, and Gouda cheese; white wine, oatmeal, brown rice, Greek yogurt, low sugar strawberry jam and so on. My new doctor did take away other favourites—anything containing the chemical tyramine, which excites the nervous system. The most tragic loss is coffee. I still mourn that elixir, but it's careful mourning, lest I forget gratitude for strength.
Within a week or two of this treatment, I felt much stronger, the twitches lessened, and I walked across the house with a silly grin. I prayed in the shower—maybe odd, but unavoidable. And we kept walking around our homely, charming retention pond, our eyes opened anew to beauty and life. Spring is currently whispering in Houston's ear, so spindly, barren trees are bursting forth with pink and white blossoms. Cardinals often perch on the branches, gone quick as the Flash. Red wildflower buds are doing their best to spruce up the dead winter grass. Lone great blue herons also stand in all their motionless majesty. Johnny has an eye for turtles, and tries to convince me that nutria are cute, but I'm not buying it.
We've upgraded to two or three laps around the retention pond, then a circle around two favourite streets in our neighbourhood, one front yard sporting a beautiful arrangement of kale.
Sometimes we listen to our own iPods and hold hands. Lately, my playlist includes Sandra McCracken's In Feast or Fallow pre-release sampler. One of those songs—"Can't Help Myself"—could be a prayer of my own as I gaze upward at clouds that often look like dragons:
I confess the things I am afraid of,
thorns and danger just around the bend.
I pray for tongues of fire and bands of angels
to come and circle 'round me like a fence.
I lift my eyes
to the hills.
Where comes my help?
I lift my hands, empty hands.
I can't help myself,
I can't help myself,
no I can't help myself.
Another song in constant rotation is Sigur Rós's cinematic "Glósóli," and at any minute, I expect to see a band of towheaded children flying overhead.
In early evening, when there's still a hint of sunlight, groups of Canadian geese race through the air as if playing a lively match of Quidditch. We spied the biggest spider spinning the biggest web on a lamppost, which made me think of Charlotte. If you can't tell already, a lifting of some of my suffering has my poetic imagination firing on all synapses. It's like Kathleen Norris said in The Quotidian Mysteries:
My everyday experience of walking confirms the poet Donald Hall's theory that poetic meter originates in the bodily rhythm of arms and legs in motion. Walking certainly loosens up more than my leg muscles. The simple, repetitive movements also free my mind to brainstorm.
We prefer the sunshine, but while walking one night, a neighbor said, "Hey, did you know the space station is about to fly overhead?"
"Like where we can see it?" we asked. And lo and behold, a tiny dot of light moved swiftly across the dark sky and our jaws dropped.
Since then, my doctor referred me to a surgeon who will perform laparoscopic surgery on April 1st. Yes, April Fools' Day. It gets even better: my surgeon's name is Dr. Mangal, pronounced "mangle." I've often wondered if God has a sense of humor, and though I haven't pinpointed that theological premise in the Bible, I now believe He does.
However, April 1st is also Maundy Thursday, a much more redemptive way to think of my very first surgery. I'm disappointed that I'll most likely miss church that night where Johnny and I wash each other's feet—such a beautiful representation of our marriage, too. But I will do my best to hobble into the Good Friday service the next night and for sure, without a doubt, the Easter Sunday morning service. Easter is the best day of the year, celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ who has paved for us a new way through his suffering. By his stripes I am healed.
It is no coincidence that the Author and Finisher of my faith arranged my surgery to fit into such a lovely metaphor. In November, we begged and pleaded for answers and he stilled our souls with a promise of a new way; he provided the path for us to find these doctors and these solutions. And after I'm fully recovered from surgery, you'll find me walking every day—I actually schedule it in my TeuxDeux calendar. I walk around our 'hood for exercise; to see evidence of health; for glimpses of hope and to tread my sense of place. Suburban architecture lacks welcoming front porches, so I walk and greet our neighbors. Pet their dogs. Pass by that little playground where our own children will play. Each step is one of faith in the beauty I see, and in what I cannot see. I walk forward, press on—and won't look back.