A Weight Off My Chest

(Yes, that joke was 9 months in the making).

ravitch procedure bar

Sam with his new “letter opener.”

It’s amazing how quickly the human body can become conditioned to things. Up until the last year of my life, I laughed, sneezed, even hiccuped normally. The pectus excavatum had it’s symptoms, but none that simple or obvious. But when I had the bar in these last 9 months, it wasn’t always that easy. Towards the end of the time, the bar had become quite embedded (I think this was due to a fall down the steps in April). Sneezes were pure torture once that happened; I was petrified of getting a cold. I essentially stopped sneezing, at least as far as I could help it.  Whenever I felt that recognizable tickle I’d proceed through my checklist of sneeze-preventing procedures. Hold my breath: check! Squeeze my nostrils closed: check! Push on the roof of my mouth with my tongue: check! Look like an idiot if doing these things in public: check!!!  But, that google search was productive, as those things did usually help keep the sneezes at bay. Sadly, laughing wasn’t fun either…  it especially hurt when it was a sudden fit of laughter, like when Sam would throw in a random funny comment out of no where and I would burst out laughing. In a positive note, I’ve realized how blessed I am to live a life filled with frequent laughter. 🙂

So, when I returned from the hospital just two days after having the bar removed, I felt lighter in more ways than one. Once it became clear that it didn’t hurt to laugh, Sam and I sat down and watched gag reels on YouTube for way too long, chuckling, chortling, and even guffawing together – pain free. Praise God! And, since my surgery two weeks ago, I’ve enjoyed several pain-free sneezes. (Yes, enjoyed. I actually love sneezing usually.) For the first week post-surgery my instinct was still to shut down the sneezes (No! NO!!! Initiate Anti-Sneeze Protocol!) and I had to actively think about sneezing, but this week I think I have enjoyed more carefree sneezes than I did the entire past 9 months. I even had a fit of hiccups while cooking dinner tonight and it just made me feel silly, as opposed to sore. These little things have meant more to me than you’ll probably understand, and to me they truly mark an improvement.

My general recovery after this surgery has been a breeze, especially compared to the first surgery. Now, two weeks later, I feel great! I was able to sing in the worship team on Sunday, I’ve been back to work for a week already, and I’ve even done some gentle yoga a few times. Soon I’ll begin physical therapy to begin tackling the bingo wings I’ve gained these past few months of not being able to lift anything over 15 lbs. Cardio will come soon – jogging, running, dancing – all in its time.

So, I’ll commit the next months to these worthy tasks: praising God as I laugh more, dance around my house simply because I can, and sneeze whenever the sunshine tickles my nose. 

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Surgery #2 – Looking Back

Here I sit, back “in hospital,” about 9 months after I had my first surgery to repair my pectus excavatum. What a long road it has been…

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Tomorrow I will have part two of the surgery – removing the metal bar that I’ve had in my chest since November. I read back over my posts from my diagnosis and surgery (see the links in my first sentence), and I realize how far I’ve come and how much God has taught me. I’ve told a few people that I’m actually excited about this surgery, more for what it means than the actual procedure.

On Sunday, during worship at church, I was really struck by the lyrics of the worship song “Dance Again” by Life Worship UK. You can listen to it here. The lyrics are:

Praise Him, when your heart is breaking
When your strength is almost gone
Sing out your song and praise Him, in the fire and fury
In the dark night of your soul, your God is in control

Praise Him, for His love and mercy
Praise Him, for His grace and favour
Praise Him, our God is faithful
Praise Him, He is strong and mighty
Praise Him, He is holy, holy
Praise Him, He is always in control
His love has conquered all, His love has conquered all

Your tears will dry, your heart will mend
Your scars will heal and you will dance again
And of His kingdom there will be no end, for Christ our King is coming back again

( by Matthew Hooper, Copyright © 2013 Integrity Worship Music & LIFE Worship)

As I sang those words I thought of the limitations I’ve had since the first surgery: no running, jumping or doing anything that could jostle the bar; no lifting anything over 15 lbs; limited twisting and bending; occasional chest pain when I laugh or breathe deeply; back aches as my posture changed; worry over the bar shifting, etc.

But even as I thought of that, I pictured myself teaching Zumba as I used to. Dancing, feeling alive, thanking God as I often did for giving me the health to dance. And I remembered… I will dance again. My God is faithful. His plans are far better than mine, and his timing perfect.

Looking back over my old posts from my first surgery – they act as a journal of sorts – a few things stood out to me:

  • “Hopefully when I look back at this post in a week, two weeks, a month, etc. I will see some real improvements.”  That post was from the end of November and I really have seen improvements… At that point, Sam had to help me lie down, and help me up. I couldn’t use my abs to pull myself up at all, and I was not allowed to “log roll.”  It even hurt to raise my arms above my head and shampoo my hair.  This morning, as I pulled myself out of bed and got ready for work, I remembered how much of an accomplishment that really was.

 

  • “Was this even worth it?” A day or two after the surgery, when I was in the worst pain and my thinking was clouded by nausea, I remember moaning this. Months later, even though the bar isn’t out yet, I can see the fruit of that pain and the surgery. If nothing else, God has strengthened my faith through this and built my character. He’s taught me to trust him unconditionally, even in the “dark night of your soul.”  On Sunday, my friend Rhiannon preached and delivered an encouraging and insightful message  on waiting for God, called Watching Paint Dry (you can listen to it here). She mentioned Romans 5:3-4 at one point:

    Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4, NIV)

    I realized as she spoke that hope doesn’t always come first. We must persevere in order to build our character, and that in turn gives us hope. In that painful time after my surgery I couldn’t see how God was going to use all of this – I only felt pain – but God showed me how to hand every day and circumstance over to him and persevere.

 

  • Another small thing I mentioned before was noticing the weight of the bar. I said it felt like my cell phone was sitting on my chest. Now, 9 months later, I don’t notice the weight at all. I’m hoping that means I’ll feel light and free once it’s removed. And I’m praying that my lung capacity will improve as well without that pesky bar in the way!

So, I’m about to go to bed. When I wake up, I’ll begin all of the typical pre-op procedures. Please pray for my surgery, my recovery (anesthesia and I don’t get along), and my doctors and nurses. Also please pray for my at-home nurse over the next few days (his name is Sam… and I hear he’s pretty cute). Thank you so much for your prayers – over this whole journey – and I’ll update you again after I’ve recovered.

Dublin

Sam and I returned last night from a quick trip to Dublin with his parents; our last stop on our whirlwind trip with them. We traveled all day yesterday and even though it was already past my bedtime, I sat down at my laptop, still basking in the glow of the trip, eager to tell you all about Dublin.

You can only see so much of a city in 2.5 days, but I saw enough to confirm that I want to go back and explore the beautiful, diverse country of Ireland. As soon as possible, please. Here’s what won me over…

Our time there was short, but it was marked with two of my favorite things: conversation and music (and a little bit of Guinness thrown in the mix).

We had the privilege of meeting and staying with a friend of Mike and Terry’s in Dublin. Mary is a retired American missionary living in Dublin, a joyful, gracious host, and an excellent tour guide! Upon arriving in Dublin we met up with Mary at a parking garage and immediately set out into the city! As soon as we left the parking garage I was met by the sweet sounds of a guitar and banjo streaming from a corner pub in the Temple Bar area. Sam and I were drawn in by the music and stayed for our first Irish pint of Guinness. It did not disappoint.

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The Temple Bar area is vibrant and lively. Famous for its pubs, it also offers markets, record stores, coffee shops, and even a fish & tackle shop. Every demographic was present and they seemed to be enjoying themselves! Young and old, tourist and local, many different people groups and styles. It was a visual feast if you’re a people watcher like me. We stopped in the market and I picked up some potato cakes for breakfast the next day. My MeMe used to make them all the time and they are delish. The ones we got at the market were superb!

The courtyard between Chester Beatty Library and Dublin Castle. A memorial for police officers killed in the line of duty had just concluded. We spoke with three lovely Dubliners who had known a few of the officers. They were so kind, warm and chatty that we thought Mary knew them. She said that's the Irish way, especially with the elderly. As we parted, they sent us off with a merry, "Cheerio!"

The beautiful courtyard between Chester Beatty Library and Dublin Castle. A memorial for police officers killed in the line of duty had just concluded. We spoke with three lovely Dubliners who had known a few of the officers. They were so kind, warm and chatty that we thought Mary knew them. She said that’s just the Irish way, especially with the elderly. As we parted, they sent us off with a merry, “Cheerio!”

We moved on to the Chester Beatty Library. I had never heard of him or his library, so I was not sure what to expect. I pictured an actual library in a beautiful old, building. What I found was a massive and incredibly impressive display of one man’s collection of books, manuscripts, bindings, papyrus, and more. The first level displayed the history of book making and binding with elaborate leather bindings and colorful hand-illustrated stories from many centuries and countries. The second floor held important historical texts from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, as well as beautiful and intricate copies of their major religious texts. It was powerful to see papyrus copies of Paul’s letters and the Gospel of John dating back to AD 100-250. There was one copy of 1 Corinthians 13 (you can see it here) dating from around AD 200 where the Greek was still as plain as if it had just been written; Mike pointed out a few of the several mentions of the word ‘agape’ in the text. That specific copy dated only a hundred years or so after Paul himself was killed. It was powerful to see these ancient texts that were key in spreading of the word of God!

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral

Next up we walked through Christchurch Cathedral. Parts of the cathedral date back to 1200! It was beautiful inside and had some interesting quirks. For example, when staring down the knave of the cathedral, the wall to the right visibly leans (9 degrees, if I remember correctly). The funny thing is, it was built that way, though probably not on purpose.

See the right wall leaning?

See the right wall leaning at the top?

Below the cathedral are the dark, mysterious crypts full of artifacts and sculptures. My favorite were these guys:

Cat and Mouse

Cat and Mouse – Sorry for the nightmares…

Apparently in the 1800s the cat chased the rat into the church’s organ pipes, and they both regretted it for the rest of their lives. The mummified remains were found years later. Though admittedly creepy, it was interesting (and funny!) as well… you could even still see whiskers! These are the critters James Joyce alludes to in Finnegan’s Wake: “…As stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ…”

 

Stained glass shadows in the cathedral

Stained glass shadows in the cathedral

The church's tiles were made of numerous patterns, colors, textures and originated from several different centuries.

The church’s tiles were made of numerous patterns, colors, textures and originated from several different centuries.

After a delicious dinner of Guinness Beef Stew we headed out to a local cultural center to hear some traditional Irish music. As she described the casual gathering of local musicians that we might get to see, I pictured Glen Hansard bringing Marketa Irglova to the musician’s party in Once; singing “Gold” and other heartfelt traditional choruses. My dream, basically. (If you haven’t seen that movie please please go watch it). We arrived at the cultural center only to find four musicians and two audience members. It seemed more like a practice or private lesson than a jam session. The bodhran (a type of Irish drum) player looked quite disinterested. They weren’t always in time. It wasn’t the scene from Once that I had dreamed. But I still enjoyed it. These were local Irish people who were spending their Friday night at the cultural center playing music that had been passed down to them. Things picked up a bit after a children’s concert at the center let out (that we had just missed) so there were more people popping in to play and listen. Several older ladies and gentlemen joined us in the audience, clapping and humming along. One of them Irish step danced even as she sat. Though it wasn’t what Mary had expected, nor did it match the image in my head, I felt like I got a peek into the lives of these local men and women. Just to top off the picture of Irish heritage present in modern Dublin, as we were leaving a man put down his flute and began to belt out the refrain, “Oh Danny boy…” as the old man to his right solemnly played his violin. Not a bad evening at all.

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Our next and last day in Ireland completely exceeded my expectations. The morning began at Mary’s church. Once again, music enriched our time together. I’ve had the opportunity of worshiping our great Creator in many countries with many different nationalities and it is always a moving experience. As we gathered with Irish and non-Irish alike in the gymnasium where Mary’s church meets and we sang the line “Lord of all creation…” I was reminded of how big our God is and how Jesus’ love spans the nations and his grace is for everyone who will have it. What a big and GOOD God we serve.

After lunch we gathered at the nearby pub for a carvery. Corned beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, cabbage, peas, carrots and parsnips, gravy, basically a feast.

YUM

YUM

But the best part of lunch was the conversation. We spoke with several of Mary’s friends from church and learned a bit more about the Irish culture. For example, we experienced first hand the Irish art of ‘slagging off’ a friend (giving them a hard time), we were introduced to the Irish national sport of hurling (think ice hockey and lacrosse combined), and soaked in the Irish accent. I’d say we learned a ‘ting or two. 🙂

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But we couldn’t chat for long… we were off to tour the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate, home of the Guinness Brewery.

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Some of you might think that this is not for you because you don’t drink… I understand your viewpoint; I’m not going to start a debate here. 🙂 But, just let me say two things:

1) The story of Arthur Guinness and his business model is fascinating and lesson-filled. He was a man of faith who lived out what he believed. If you’ve never read The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield, I highly recommend it!

2) Even if you’ve never had a drop of beer in your life, I think you’ll find the Storehouse interesting and fun!

The experience is very interactive, taking you through the brewing process but also the history of the company and the people who worked there. Guinness is still an important part of Dublin and the Guinness name is still contributing to society in a very positive way.

Arthur Guinness was not messing around. Because water is the most important ingredient in brewing beer, Arthur Guinness wanted to ensure he always had the best location with the purest water... So, he signed a 9,000 year land lease in 1759.

Arthur Guinness was not messing around. Because water is the most important ingredient in brewing beer, Arthur Guinness wanted to ensure he always had the best location with the purest water… So, he signed a 9,000 year land lease in 1759.

The exhibit walks you through the four ingredients of the brewing process: water, barley, hops, and yeast (the same strains originally used by Arthur himself).IMG_3917 IMG_3931IMG_3944

The exhibits lead you upwards through the storehouse. After several floors of teasing, you finally get your free pint of Guinness at the top (or a soft drink of your choice). The Sky Bar was beautiful and offered 360 degree views of the city. The bartenders estimated that they pour about 2,500 pints of Guinness there a day. That may seem like a lot until you consider that Guinness produces 3 million pints of the black stuff every day.

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By the way, if you ever tour the Storehouse, I highly recommend buying and tasting the Guinness Dark Chocolate… it didn’t last long. 🙂

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BUT, even though we had truly enjoyed our trip so far, the best part was that evening. Mary took us to Arlington Hotel to see Celtic Nights. We spent the evening listening to the very talented band Púca and were amazed by the speedy footwork of the Irish dancers. I really enjoy Irish music, so I sat with a giddy smile on my face for most of the evening. Here’s a video of one of my favorite songs they performed, Dublin City in the Rare Old Times (originally by the Dubliners):

We were already in heaven, soaking in the truly excellent music and dancing, when they asked for a few volunteers. Sam and I shot our hands up and ran to the stage. Sam was quickly whisked up on stage to dance with one of the women. He spun very very quickly. I got a quick 10-second lesson before I was spun around on stage myself. While we were reeling the dancer asked me, “Are you dizzy?” Clearly “no” was the wrong answer, because he spun me faster. I took a dizzy bow and he had to walk me down the stairs, my head still spinning from the dance and my mind buzzing with excitement! Seriously, what an experience! Not only did we get to hear an amazing Celtic band and see talented step dancers up close, but we got to DANCE WITH THEM. It was seriously one of the most fun evenings of my life. When can I go back?!

Oh, and on our walk back to the car we passed Pentatonix on the sidewalk. Some of us were a little starstruck. 😉

Terry was still feeling sick, so she stayed a home. We missed her!

Terry was still feeling sick, so she stayed a home. We missed her!

As I write this post and think back on all of the things we were able to do, I’m amazed we were only there for two days! Our busy, and sometimes tiring, sightseeing times in town were balanced by the calming, cozy hours spent in Mary’s home. Her house is beautiful and welcoming. Books, flowers, comfy couches, tea and coffee, a wonderful host, and a friendly cat. Why did we only stay two nights?? Thank you again, Mary, for having us! I hope our paths cross again. 🙂

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