Saturday, July 25, 2015

Over My Head: Introducing Junior

I don't know how often I'll write an Over My Head piece. It's taken me three weeks to work out this one. But as I process and struggle and find Jesus's perfect peace through this, I want a place for me to write out the thing, to nail it to a tree for anyone else to find hope in. I don't ask you to pass this along as a blanket prayer request for healing; I hope it will serve as an instigator for you, and for those around you. What is God calling you to? What waves are you afraid even to watch? What might we see if we did?

I thought the big news story of my year would be the church change I've mentioned before. I thought, looking back on 2015, that March would be where everything shifted over, and the rest of the year would prove to be buildup and denouement. As has always been the case, Chandra should not pursue a career in palm reading or tarot cards, because she is totally terrible at this predicting the future thing.

On July 7, I'd been reading and journaling before bed. Caught up with a new song I'd stumbled on, I wrote out lyrics in green marker in my prayer journal:
Come and do whatever You want to.
Further and further, my heart moves away from the shore.
Whatever it looks like, whatever may come
I am Yours.
Whether I sink, whether I swim,
It makes no difference when
I'm beautifully in over my head.

Some local friends and I joke that you should be careful what you pray for, because God listens and loves to show off.

I finished writing, and I turned off the light, and as I rolled over the world slowed down. Even in the dark, things were too loud, too bright, too much. The closest to this experience I've had in the past was over a thoroughly spiritual thing, and so I lay quietly and breathed the name of Jesus until I felt it pass, and fell asleep.

The next day, this episode forgotten in a rush out the door after oversleeping my alarm, I used my lunch break to head to my friend Wanda's for a hair appointment. I sat down in the chair, pulled the photo up on my phone of what I wanted for a cut, and felt it again: the slowing down, the overmuchness of everything. As Wanda came over, she could see something was wrong, and my efforts to speak gradually became a knowing that the words were sitting in the back of my brain but were unable to find my tongue.

This is the last thing I knew until I gradually came to my senses in the ER, repeating to my dear local family, "It's been a really weird day." (I remember saying this about three times. Tim assures me it was five times that.)

I don't remember starting to seize in Wanda's chair. I don't remember her holding me down and calling for an ambulance. I don't remember chewing on my tongue, though it was hard to swallow for a couple days for its swelling. I only vaguely remember the adhesive pads for the EKG, but I remember the nurse smiling and saying, "Your heart works great, so there's some good news." I remember texting various friends and family, but a day or two later I would read those texts and not remember choosing those words (and, in some cases, I'd be mildly appalled by them).

I remember being taken in for the CT and then the MRI, but most clearly I remember the young, friendly doctor walking in with papers in his hands. "You see this little circle?" he asked in a harmless voice. "That's your brain tumor."

I think he left after that. In any case, I don't remember anything until my surgeon--this man I would come to know as my surgeon, my neurosurgeon, because I need one of those now--came in the room, his scrubs wrinkled and his hair wild from the recent removal of a cap. He spoke with authority and kindness, and humor, of all things. Wonderful soothing humor. And he said some words, and then frowned a little, and drew his finger across the paper, two inches out from what the first doctor had pointed to. "No, this. This is your tumor."

Since then, there have been days of processing, of cycling through, at a guess, 20% of the emotions that will hit me sometime in the next few months. There have been daily meds, and a consult, and scheduling a second MRI and a biopsy. There has also been a cross-country trip to our largest show, and getting angrier at St. Louis humidity than unscheduled cranial growths, and MamaLowe hugs and college roommate visits, and a Facebook purge, and a thousand conversations with dear friends and awkward acquaintances and everyone in between involving words I've never used seriously:
Seizure. Tumor. Cancer. Chemo. Radiation.

That's about the end of the clinical stuff. I know you have a friend who went through this, but I don't actually need to know their experience. I know you want to know all the details, but I don't have that many yet and I don't need to share all that I do have. I know we've all seen too many Grey's Anatomy episodes, but I don't actually want Patrick Dempsey for a second opinion. It's weird, it's crazy, this is not how I planned my summer, but this was never outside the reach of God.

I wasn't in Maine last weekend, but at the urging of a friend I listened to my pastor's sermon via podcast when I got home, and Jesus and I had a good cry during and after. (You can listen to Eric preach here.) The sermon was on one of my favorite moments in the gospels: the boys are stuck in a boat in a crazy storm, and from out of the dark, the Savior of the World comes climbing up the waves. Eric spoke not of some over-shiny, unrealistic leaping for joy in a storm, but of keeping your eyes open for what you've never known. A day later, Kelly Minter (thoroughly unrelatedly) commented on Facebook, "When in the boat, Peter hears from John, 'It is the Lord,' and hurls himself into the water to swim to Jesus. That sums up the gospel for me." (Peter's plan was to swim--something he likely couldn't do, or couldn't do well. Instead, he walked.) This is my prayer for this process, this storm: Not blanket healing--I wouldn't pass it up, but I just don't feel like that's what's coming--but God being glorified in me, and by me, so others would know Him more. So I would know Him deeper. So I would be in over my head.

One last piece: Hospitality is my jam, and the other night I was reading a quick devotional because I was too tired for anything more. "Let brotherly love continue," says the writer of Hebrews, "Don't neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them..." (13:1-3). I share my fridge, my table, my couch. I spread board games across my living room floor and bring families spreads of food and send cards. But the root of hospitality is sharing life. Even when it's a mess, even when my emotions are going sixteen directions and chemo has worn me ragged and my hair is suffering from more than a cut. Even then, I share and give myself till I'm empty. Not out of obligation or guilt. Not because I'll feel better. But because there are angels to entertain, and there are prisoners out there, trapped in a life that doesn't let hope in through the bars.

To listen (and see all the lyrics) to Jenn Johnson's (Bethel's) "In Over My Head (Crash Over Me)," click here.
And as long as we're on the subject, this too. "So let go, my soul, and trust in Him: the waves and wind still know His Name."

My tumor's name is Junior because the first thing I heard in my scatterbrained head in the aftermath of scans and announcements was my brother's Schwarzenegger impression: "Id's nod a TOOMAH!" Except it is. And I thought it was from the movie Junior, and while it is in fact from Kindergarten Cop, it's far too late to rename him, so Junior stays. 


  1. You are as good a writer as you are a human being, and I am grateful to know Junior because s/he is part of a person whom I'm delighted to call my friend, as well as my colleague. Thank you for sharing some of your emotions here because I can't begin to know how this has affected you. I know you've heard this over and over, but I'll add anew: You are an amazing woman, and I'm confident that we'll have many more years to laugh together, drink exotically, and eat spectacular food together until I am too old and boring to be with. Love and huge hug. Holly

    1. Thanks, doll! :) Love & hug back!

    2. Thanks for including me in this facebook message Chandra. I heard from Jane about junior and have been wating for the right time to contact you. I can feel God's presence in and around you as I read your mesage and respond. I imagine my form of prayer is different from yours and I know it is flowing out to you and God from me, I believe prayer is prayer. Love, Joan

    3. Thanks so much, Joan. I'm so glad Jane told you--I'd thought of you several times, but always when I was exhausted from talking about it.

  2. I love your writing--hate your situation but love the God who is holding you and carrying you.