defining moments: an invitation to surgery
It was the fall of 2017 when I first heard the words “brain tumor” applied to me. I was standing in someone else’s driveway when I got the call. I still remember the feel of the gravel under my feet, my ears straining to hear and comprehend the words my soft-spoken endocrinologist was saying, my brain rebelling against the idea that it could be the host of such a vile thing. I slowly began to understand that my recent MRI had revealed that I had a tumor about a quarter of an inch in size that was slowly pushing on my pituitary as it grew, thus disrupting my hormones. In that moment of shock, I can’t even tell you if I prayed more than two words: “God, no.”
I kept it together for the next twenty minutes, ignoring the question on my mom’s face as I walked over to where she was standing. I told her quietly as we drove away, and my father once he returned home sometime later. As I went to bed that night, all I knew is that I had to get bloodwork in order to determine the next steps. My semi-predictable future had suddenly become incredibly murky.
How does God show up in the midst of such pain? Where is he when the world suddenly shatters in the span of a single breath? One moment, I am having a normal evening and the next everything breaks apart and I am left to face a sudden, unexpected vulnerability that would have seemed laughable just moments before. Of course, in hindsight the truth is more obvious. It turns out that I am always that vulnerable and my diagnosis just required me to face it differently. I had a choice: do I ignore and try to avoid this thing, or do I walk towards it with a willingness to dependently lean on God when that did not promise a specific outcome? My path ultimately lay somewhere between those two.
Over the next months I spent significant time in doctors’ offices and the hospital. I had two brain surgeries and then spent several months slowly recovering at home. I will not lie to you, it was hard. Incredibly so. I was in great pain and felt intensely alone throughout my experience. However, there were also some gifts along the way. This level of pain has a way of silencing everything else. My world shrank to the room I was in and to the people who were there with me. As I returned to myself, I had a newfound appreciation for the small things. A comfortable blanket, a conversation with a loved one, the sound of my mother’s voice reading a much-loved book, good music, and the soft and gentle presence of God.
So what do we do when we face this type of pain? I was vulnerable, unable to control my health, not able to pray away the pain I knew was coming. This was especially odd given that my symptoms pre-surgery were mostly non-existent. This meant that I got to walk into the hospital on the morning of my surgery and surrender myself to the blade of my surgeon knowing that it would cause more pain than I currently felt. In the span of ten hours I went from feeling normal to being in such pain and nausea that I couldn’t move or speak. And I had to do this willingly.
Sometimes God invites us to the surgeon’s table without telling us why. While I am just now beginning to find words to describe my journey and the impact it has had on my life, I can see God’s provision and kindness even in the hardest places of my story. I can’t explain the reason I went through this, but I believe now more than ever that God is out for my good. In the midst of the pain and sorrow, he met me and spoke gently to my heart reminding me of his love for me and his deep concern for my life. It was not an easy road and I certainly had many emotion-filled conversations with God along the way. But, by the grace of God, his presence was enough for the journey.
Noelle Bondy has been a counselor at The Barnabas Center in Charlotte since May of 2018. She has her Bachelor of Arts from Berry College in Georgia and a Master of Science in Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is passionate about working with individuals and couples as they face the inevitable struggles that come with living in a broken world. A native Charlottean, she enjoys reading, the occasional run, and the great outdoors.