Saturday, May 27, 2017


Scars.  We all have them.  Some have amazing stories.  

Like the one on my face, just above my eyebrow:  got that one by being a genius and blindly carrying two milk jugs, tripping over the raised root of a tree, and landing my face smack-dab on the corner of a picnic table.  THAT is a story. Such grace.  

Then there's the scar I have on the back of my heel after my foot got stuck trying to enter a friend's home to teach piano lessons.  Takes REAL talent to get your foot stuck in an open door.  

Then there are the not-so-fun scars... the one I have inside my hair line where my body donated its own skin graft to complete my new eye implant.  That's a funny one that forms a weird lump on my head, and messes with the part in my hair.  For the most part, though, it's pretty hidden.  Until I get a haircut.  

....or the six, new ones I picked up this Spring when the surgeon repaired my esophagus.  Sadly, they don't even form some sort of cool shape.  It would have been nice to be sporting at least a dot-to-dot shape that at least resembled a constellation.  

....or the giant one that stretches across my abdomen.  That scar joined my body a dozen year ago today, after endometriosis decided that it wanted to literally stick around EVERYWHERE inside my body.  The pain was unbearable, and a total hysterectomy was the only viable answer, thus the 7-inch scar that runs along my pelvic bone. 

Honestly, though, it's the scars that you do NOT see on my body that are messing with my head and heart today.  Internal scars, where deep wounds have yet to heal.  Scars that come from still dealing with the griefs found within, and wrestled with each day.  Especially today.

These are the scars that aren't as easily pointed to. 
These are the scars that can't be compared with others.  
These are the scars that don't come with entertaining anecdotes.  

Scars that remind you that carrying a baby wasn't your lot in life.  
Scars that pinch your last nerve when another friend announces their pregnancy.
Scars that form lumps in your throat as you figure out how not to choke up when sadness rushes over you.  Again.  And again.  UGH.  

My heart was all over the place, especially on the anniversary of my surgery.  It's just not an easy day.  Some years, I can acknowledge this death date in my story, and grieve no deeper than on ordinary days.  This year?  Yikes.  I have a feeling it's because I'm run-down and still recovering, and have even more marks of health-scares on my body.  I just felt the loss all that much more.  Rather thankful I wasn't alone today.    

External scars give you a chance to tell your story - they almost invite the conversation.  Something is seen, something is reacted to, something is explained.  It's not that easy when the scars of your life have placed their mark on you.  Honestly, that's it:  you're marked.  You're marked forever, and your life will always be different.  You learn to live with the's just not always the best feeling.  

Now, the Child of God in me KNOWS that I'm also marked with the cross of Christ forever.  
Got it. No reminders needed there.  I'll happily take THOSE marks.

But when the little child sitting on my lap nuzzles into me....and then calls someone else "Mom", that's the scar that cuts the deepest.  

Lord, let this day be over and bring new hope tomorrow.  Amen.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Keeping the FUN in Fundoplication

Today's Phrase is:
"Laparoscopic Nissen Fundoplication"

Sounds like a great password to me...

This is the ridiculously long name of my upcoming surgery.  1:00pm PST on Monday, March 27th, 2017 here in Berkeley, CA.  Surgery will last anywhere between 2 and 4+ hours (they have to be super careful around the spleen and diaphragm), will result in 1 overnight stay at Alta Bates Hospital, and then a 1-2 week recovery.  

The lowest part of my esophagus (the esophageal sphincter) is no longer doing its job.  It's damaged and eroded, and will no longer stay squeezed shut when I have food in my stomach.  This creates the WORST acid reflux you can imagine.  I've been vomiting for months, and the acid is doing a number on my voice.  I need my acid to stay put, my voice to stay strong, and I'd like to chew food again (it's been liquid now for a while!)

When meds no longer do the job (and the acid is as misbehaving as badly as mine is), it's time for surgical intervention.  In a nutshell, the top part of my stomach (the fundus) is wrapped around the lower end of my esophagus and stitched into place, helping create a new and improved sphincter.  We hope.  We pray.  

Here's a handy LINK to an animated version
 of what they will do during surgery.  

(Trust me - it's animated - not fleshy!)  The video has been a HUGE help to me in understanding the procedure.  Still boggles my mind that doctors can do this sort of thing (to me, it looks like I'm getting my very own, internal football!), although this isn't any more boggling than when they gave me a coral eye implant HERE...but that's a different story.

I need to eat slowly and in small amounts immediately after surgery (no Ted's buffalo burgers for me for a while...) and will need to be careful how much air I get into my stomach, so no straws or gum.  (The things I'm learning!)

As chance would have it, Spring Break begins on Monday, March 27th, which is the day of my surgery.  I'm quite relieved to not be missing more class than I need to.  And Susan, who was toying with coming out for Spring Break in the first place, is now definitely coming out to help with my healing and care.  Heaven knows my spirit will be full with her by my side.  

My thanks for your prayers - it's been a crazy Spring (isn't it always), and I've appreciated the support BIGTIME!  I'm up to speed with all of my classes (even a little bit ahead on the readings), so I pray that I can stay on track with my classes.  Profs have been great and prayerful themselves, my friends and family have been supportive and loving, and my church pals near and far have offered anything and everything.  I am blessed to be so loved.  

Perhaps it's because we're in the season of Lent, perhaps it's because I'm a Seminarian, perhaps it's because we just visited the Holy Land, but the five puncture wounds/scars that will remain on my body have been on my mind.  Not because I'm scared - I've had multiple laparoscopic procedures before, and that part doesn't concern me.  All I can think of are the five wounds of Christ:  the two nails in His wrists, the two nails in His feet, and the final wound in His side.  Or the nails in His hands, the nail in His feet, the wound in His side, and the thorns on His head. No matter where the wounds, the pain and agony of Christ was and continues to be real.  

Please don't hear that I'm somehow comparing myself to Christ.  Certainly NOT my point.  My focus, however, has been crystal clear in the connection of these wounds and the season we are in.  It brings me right back to the moment during the Sunrise Service, early in the darkness of Easter Morning, when we would go out to the courtyard to light the Paschal candle.  A new, pure candle, representing the true Light of the World, Christ, would be lit each Easter.  

As we gathered in the darkness of morning yet to come, with the mighty Rockies behind us and the open sky before us, the fire would be lit, and the candle would be ignited with the new flame of the Resurrection.  The candle displayed the Alpha and Omega (Christ is the beginning and the end) and the numbers of the current year.  It would then be pierced with five, wax nails:  five pins that represent those five, wounds of Christ.  Watching those nails enter that perfect wax is a powerful reminder of the terror of Good Friday.

As someone who has held this candle for years, the moment of piercing can take your breath away.  At that moment, you are holding the only light that can be seen, as the fire behind you is now dying.  All that is before you is a sea of darkness.

But then.  Oh, but then:  It would be selfish to keep such a light to yourself.  What comes next always, ALWAYS filled me with joy:  I would take my one, pierced and flaming candle, and share the light with all those who had gathered.  One, two, ten, twenty flames now flickered in the standing congregation, often shivering in the early morning wind.  What was once darkened shadows slowly become glowing faces, reflecting in the light that has now been shared.  It's as exciting as if I were one of the women returning from the tomb with the good news of Christ being Resurrected.  No longer dark, no longer cold, but filled with light.  "Never dimmed by the sharing of this light..."

That, my friends, is what is on my mind these days.  

Not the pain, 
not the worries, 
not even the recovery... 

...but the LIGHT.  

The light I cannot help but share,  
the light that is in each one of us, 
the light of the world to come!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Oliver & Company

This tiny bundle of happiness.  
This ten-toed darling, full of DELIGHT!

O l i v e r   J o s h u a,
my tiny Godson.

Our birthdays are exactly a half of a year apart...
Oliver, August 16, Brenda, February 16.

That grin.

 Obviously, he's a talented little piano player already,
just like his mama, Kathleen.

 Seriously.  He sat on my lap and had a BLAST!

Sitting up like a CHAMP.

 Great at celebrating birthdays already.

 Crazy, little duck-lips.

 When you can't really eat anything, you find a sweet treat that will work!
That makes TWO birthdays with candles in the ice cream!  :)  
(Josh and Kathleen were awesome!)

 HA!  The boy got to taste his first ice cream
at my birthday party!  Enjoy, little buddy!


 It does NOT get better than those little toes.

 Not too thrilled about all of these medical appointments,
but it DOES help to FaceTime with the cutie-pie.

 And DEFINITELY helps to have him come and visit
with his mama in the evenings.  

Oh, sweet Oliver.
Even you, dear Child of God, will return to dust someday.

 Post-nap snuggles are THE BEST.

If I make a popping sound with my mouth,
this little man will LOSE IT!  :)   

 Something about a baby in a hoodie.

Love that boy!

 HA!  Even Oliver has a copy of our Lenten Bulletin
(we lost years off of our lives completing that thing.)

Study break with the little football.

 I mean I knew they were big before, but WOW.

Quite possibly my (new) favorite pic of Oliver.

 Turns out, the boy loves "The Chicken Dance".
Honest to goodness, cracks up every time!

 7 months old today.  
LOVE that boy!

"I'll just quasi-sleep right here, if you could just go on 
holding the bottle I'm chewing on, that would be great.  Thanks."

"You talkin' to me!?"

 He always places his little palm near mine.  

 SOOOO sweet.

Kathleen came home and found us all tuckered out.  
Comfy and cozy, hearts full.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Patient Belongings

Well, after LAST week's fiasco involving the fire hose up the nose, I imagine ANYTHING would be easier to take, medically speaking!  I headed to my pre-op appointment today, thankfully right here in Berkeley.  No hoses, no saline, and nothing to do with my nose!

Good thing they have ROOFTOP parking, 
or I would probably have to abandon my car!

Now, if they could only install a Zipline over to the hospital...

I had to fill out the STOP BANG paper to see if I had any sort of risk for using anesthesia.  The nurse had to laugh when I knew my exact neck measurement... when you're a Pastor, and you're fitted for a collar, you just happen to know these kinds of random things!

Again, an A for effort goes to the grounds crews
 for enhancing the visual appearances of these medical centers.  
It was a lovely view as I waited for my appointment.  

Gulp.  The first moment of pain...but one of the heart.

These are the pneumatic tube machines that allow 
you to send medicine, paperwork, etc, within the building.  

I had to use one of these this summer, 
each and every time a baby had been miscarried.  

All the paperwork about where the baby would eventually go (cremation or funeral home) would have to be filled out and sent via this kind of tube to the Registrar who logged the data.  It was the last step of a very painful process, and always involved tears.  Today was no exception.  

My pre-op Nurse was awesome, and answered any question I had regarding my upcoming surgery.   I was also relieved that, for once, my medical records were up to date, with all of the recent tests uploaded in true, digital fashion.  We are FINALLY catching up in the medical records field!

She gave me an Incentive Spirometer so that I can practice deep breathing before and after this surgery.  I developed pleurisy (ouch, ouch, ouch) after my hysterectomy, so I'm definitely wanting to avoid that experience again!  I'm pretty sure the incentive is to avoid repeating that pain!

They even give you a special soap you are to use the night before and day of your surgery to wash away any and all of the germs you might be carrying.  It's a skin cleanser and antiseptic wrapped into one.  DIE, bacteria, DIE!

See?  It will be ok...I keep praying... 

....and then I lost it.  UGH.

I was doing SO well.  I really was.

With all of the other major surgeries (the hysterectomy and the removal of my little eye), there was always an aspect of LOSS.  Losing the chance to bear children.  Losing the eye that was always mine.  Lose, lose, lose.  

THIS surgery, however, is all about repair, so my general attitude and demeanor toward it has been more positive and upbeat.  Less fear, more trust.  Less worry, more courage.  

But then, the nurse puts all of my things in this bag, 
and the tears flowed.  

"It's just a bag!" she exclaims.

Oh, kind nurse, it is more than just a bag.

As a Chaplain, this bag was the last thing I'd hand the family
 before they left the hospital...right after their loved one had died.  

Ugh.  This is so much more than a bag.  This is a reminder of all of the heartbroken people that we would walk to the parking lot or to the elevators, embrace, and then send on their way.  With a bag.  THIS bag.  A bag full of the clothing or jewelry that their loved one had been wearing.   

It wrenched your heart to watch them clutch this bag and its contents.
Clinging to pieces of their loved one.
Usually, still in shock. 

This is SO much more than just a bag.  

Personal Belongings, it says.  
Nothing personal about this sterile, plastic bag.

If there had been a medical emergency, 
the bag is thrown in a corner by one of the EMTs.
Tossed on a chair, to be grabbed at a later time.  

If the hospital stay had been longer, the bag was often nearby,
 filled with a change of clothes, or extra socks.  
Sometimes a book or a blanket their loved one might use.  

But so often, the bag just sat there on the countertop, a plastic example of hope lost.  
The items in that bag wouldn't be used by the patient in the ICU.  
The books wouldn't be read by the man in the coma.  
No amount of extra socks could warm the dying grandmother.  

And then the moment of death would come.  

Before, no one cared about the plastic bag in the corner or on the counter.  It was the furthest thing from their minds...right up until they gathered themselves together, and decided it was time to head home.  Suddenly, that bag held the last known items that provided a direct, tangible connection to their loved one.  That bag became the most important piece of plastic in the room.

Where's my wife's wedding ring?  Where's the belt he was wearing?  Here.  In the bag.  

Pieces of a life they knew, gathered together, 
and placed into a crinkly, plastic bag.  

Personal Belongings.

How can our belongings be..............personal?  

To what do we belong?  To WHOM do we belong?

For me, the answer will always be my Creator, my God.  

THE personal of all personals.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Esophageal Manometry...UGH!

You're thinking this is pretty, aren't you?

That the test to reveal these gorgeous colors 

couldn't have been all that bad.  

Well, it was awful.  

If people say that this is an easy procedure, 
they are LYING, have NEVER had it actually done,
 or they somehow enjoy having a garden hose showed into their nose, 
down their throat, and literally into their stomach.  

Good grief.  Never again, I pray.  UGH.  

Surgery date is Monday, March 27, 2017.  
More about that later.  

I was thankful to see that the weather over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge matched my mood.  A little creepy to not be able to see the city nor the Golden Gate Bridge...

 Much better....the bridge that goes to the heavens.  Sheesh.  
Couldn't be back on land soon enough. 

 It's a lovely view from the Hospital, even if they are about to shove a large hose down my throat to measure my swallows.  There's a LITTLE bit of blue sky peeking through...

It helped to know that there were people praying for me when the kind nurse began explaining the procedure.  She informed me that I would be given saline to swallow in small amounts (saline has a positive charge, thus it can interact with the copper in the giant aqueduct she was able to insert into my nose).  I was to swallow the liquid, and then breathe. Riiiiiight.   

No more swallowing allowed after each dose was given.  I thought I could handle this, no problem.  WRONG.  When you have something lodged in your sinus cavity that continues down the back of your throat, trust me, you are going to swallow.  No choice.  

Aside from the obvious pain of having a fire hose showed into your delicate nose (honestly, the nose has to be one of the wimpiest most tender parts of our body), you can FEEEEEEL the tube heading down, down, down.  I was thrilled when I thought she was done....only to find out she was only half-way there.  There is NOTHING like the trapped feeling of knowing a very long, very painful tube is lodged in your body.  You have to decide right then and there to either endure or freak out.  Somehow, I endured.  Prayers, people.  Prayers.  

I spent the next 42 minutes drooling and crying (it hurt!) as she'd give me each saline dose.  In order NOT to swallow, I let the saliva accumulating in my mouth leak out onto the towel I held up to my mouth.  My nose was dripping, my mouth was leaking....this HAD to be one of my more glamorous moments in life.

If I accidentally swallowed (which happened, no matter what willpower I brought to the table), I had to have another dose and try it again.  JOY.  Dose after dose after dose...  Watching the clock to make the magic 20 seconds of no swallowing mark was of no help - I swear the clock in the room was stuck in slow-motion.  

I stared at the metal coat hook on the back of the door of the surgical suite.  Stared THROUGH that hook as I breathed in and out, setting my jaw so I wouldn't gag or accidentally swallow and have to start that blasted 20 seconds over again.  I focused, I pleaded, I BESEECHED my mind to go to a pleasant place - I would picture floating on the tubes at Elkhart Lake, as Brad and I would do as kids.  I pictured resting with Susan in the Rocky Mountains.  ANYTHING to keep my mind off of trying not to choke to death during this procedure.  

For once, my favorite color (purple)
is working against me.  :(  

The TOP of the picture, where the burst of red is located denotes my initial swallow.  The purple at the very BOTTOM of the screen is my stomach and all of its glorious acid.  In the very MIDDLE of the picture is a deep, blue line running horizontally across the screen.  Any purple that seeps UP from the bottom of the picture is BAD news, which as you can see, happened with every, flipping swallow.  Stupid stomach acid, STAY where you BELONG. :(  

I was delighted to find a labyrinth located ON the campus of the Medical Complex.  Right there, just outside of admitting.  Nice.  Mind you, I walked this AFTER my test, so I may not have been in the best of moods.  And I may or may not have told the loudly, yapping lady on her cell phone to get off of the prayer circle as she was impeding my religious practice.  Clearly, not my best moment of ministry.  

 I have to give it to this Complex - they really do try and make things rather zen.  Of course ZEN in the middle of San Francisco -- accompanied by taxis constantly dropping off passengers, construction workers filing down the sidewalks with screaming, steel machines, and pedestrians and bicyclists everywhere -- is not exactly ZEN.  No labyrinth or charming little water fixture is going to take away the pain and discomfort of having a fuel hose shoved into your already sore and hurting stomach.  

Oh, this just gets better.  The Parking Garage attendants solution for Valet Parking is to park the valets cars IN FRONT OF ALREADY PARKED CARS.  I was in a perfectly allowable zone for parking, two floors up from the designated Valet area, so this solution was BEYOND lame-brained.   

As I held my hands over my ears from the HORRIBLE construction worker sounds below, I literally stepped in front of the next valet driver that drove past me.  I told him my car was parked-IN, and that it needed to be moved ASAP.  

Thinking this was going to take forever, I prepared myself to endure the screech steel-cutting from below.  Instead, the driver goes over the vehicle, opens the door, and drives the vehicle away!  The keys for these valet vehicles are left IN THE IGNITION!  Well, heck, I could have done that myself!  (And note to self about hospital valet parking!)  

After slooooowly making my back BACK through San Francisco (still a ton of traffic, even in the middle of the day, so ONE car gets through each red light), I pulled over to sit at the Marina for a moment.  
Hungry.  Sad.  Relieved.  Exhausted.  Pained.  Grateful.  All of it spilled out at the water.  

Something told me I wasn't going to be making my Christian History class this afternoon (my apologies, dear Kirsi...17th century reformists were far from my mind) - my voice was so ragged and my stomach so disturbed.  

My official surgery date is Monday, March 27th, 2017.  It was the first Monday my surgeon has available, and lines up with my Spring Break.  Nothing says vacation like a gastro-intestinal surgery!  

MANY thanks for all the prayers today
 and all the other painful days. 

I am SO looking forward to repairing this

 and happily going about my life again!