Monday, January 27, 2014

To Fear, or Not to Fear...


A few nights ago, I was awakened by my youngest son.  He had had a bad dream and was too scared to go back to sleep.  So he crawled into bed with me and snuggled up close.  Within minutes, he was sound asleep…

Every Friday night in our house is Family Movie Night.  With a house full of boys, more often than not, we choose an adventure movie.  When the action gets intense, my younger ones will jump up and run to my husband and me, curl up under our arms, hide their faces and peak out through their fingers.  Only then do they feel safe enough to watch and see what happens next…

I have always been terrified of heights.  As a child I could not go up stairs or cross wooden bridges that had gaps in them.  Even if the gaps were clearly too small for me to slip through (some were only an inch wide), fear would paralyze me.  I would cry out for my mother to pick me up and carry me across the fearsome obstacle.  As long as she had her arms around me, I felt safe…

As a small child, your fears feel so big…but the trust you have in your parents’ presence and protection is so much bigger.  More often than not, just being in their arms eases your anxieties.

Then you grow up.   

Gradually you become aware of more frightening things than bad dreams and “scary” movies.  The realities of life in this fallen world come crashing in.  When you are awakened to the fact that bad things happen to good people, it can become very difficult to keep your fears in check.

My first recollection of deep, crippling fear was in January of my senior year in high school.  I was 17.  I came home from a friend’s house to find my mom sitting in my room.  She proceeded to tell me that one of my close friends had died suddenly.  He was sick with cold symptoms one week and dead the next.  I was overwhelmed with emotions.  Denial.  Sorrow.  Anger.  The pain I felt from my loss paled in comparison to the pain I felt for his family.  They were like family to me and the thought of what they were going through pierced me to the core. The pain was so intense, my heart physically hurt.  And to top it all off, a nagging sense of fear began to pour over me.  All I could think about was calling my brother, hearing his voice, making sure he was ok.  I must have called his number at college fifty times trying to get through, trying desperately to find him.  I was so scared that something might have happened to him as well.  It was an irrational fear, but no less real to me at the time.

Years later, something did happen to my brother.  He was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  I can’t really explain what it is like to get news like that.  Unfortunately, many of you know what I am talking about.  The unwanted diagnosis.  The unknown future.  The grim possibilities.  How quickly life can change.  After surgery, chemo and radiation, he was declared tumor-free.  Less than a year later, another one appeared.  More chemo.  More radiation.  This time, he was living with me and I was his care-giver.  I learned nursing skills I never wanted to learn.  One corner of my apartment was converted into our medical supply area.  Despite all I did to try to keep him strong and help him fight, he had complications and had to be rushed to the hospital.  I cried and begged God to heal him and bring him home to us.  For days I was useless.  Fear of losing him overwhelmed me.  This time, my fear was rational.  We could have lost him.  Thankfully, my fear was not realized.

Fast forward a few years.  My boys and I were on our yearly summer visit to Texas, lounging by the pool, swimming with a friend and her girls, when she got the phone call no one ever wants to get.  Her husband, a police officer, had been killed in the line of duty.  Her greatest fear was realized.  I was by her side 24/7 for the next week and a half.  I watched her go through every emotion imaginable.  I watched her as she tried to wrap her mind around this new, unwanted life as a widowed mother of two.  

When we got back home from our trip, a subtle undertone of fear began to invade my life.  Each day that my husband put on his uniform and walked out our front door, my fear grew.  I had always known the risks he faced each day, but it hadn’t been real to me before then.  It all came to a head one year later, when a major political event came to town.  The city was expecting massive protests.  Groups were threatening extreme violence against the police.  All officers were told to anticipate working long hours in riot gear for days on end.   

That was one of the longest weeks of my life.  I sat on my couch all day, every day, flipping from one news channel to the next, desperately trying to find news coverage of the event.  I only stepped away from the television long enough to see if the internet had any new information or pictures of the thousands of angry protestors.  I had no way to contact him.  I never knew what time he would be home.  I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t function.  I was paralyzed with fear…fear that I knew could so easily become a reality.  How incredibly grateful I was when that week came to an end!

Over the course of my adult life, especially since marrying a cop, I have thought a lot about fear.  I have spent hours pondering the “what if’s” of life.  What if my husband dies?  What if something happens to one of my children?  What if my health rapidly declines?  What if I lose someone I love dearly?  What if tragedy strikes?  We all like to live in our happy world of “that will never happen to me,” but the reality is it will at some point.  We are not promised an easy life.  Jesus tells us as much in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

At first, in the face of seemingly insurmountable fears, this verse didn’t have a comforting effect on me.  I knew that Jesus had overcome the world.  I knew that my Father loved me more than I could fathom.  I knew that the Creator of the universe knew my future.  What scared me was the possibility that my future might not be the one I wanted.  My fears have always seemed to be centered on the fact that there are things in my future that will be heart-breaking.  There will be unbearably difficult times.  There will be sorrow and pain.  There will be unspeakable losses.  I know this because I have lived long enough to experience such things and see many others do so as well.  Bad things happen to good people.   That is a fact of life on this earth.

So how do we keep the fear from consuming us?  I found the answer in God’s truth.

The phrases “do not fear” and “fear not” are found frequently in the Bible.  But try as we might, we simply cannot will ourselves to not be afraid.  Trust me, I’ve tried.   As I studied the various verses trying to figure out how to rid my life of fear, I noticed something significant.  It is not just that He knows what the future holds.  It is not just that God can and has conquered evil, although that plays a very important part.  It is that He is here with us.  Time and again God tells us this.

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  ~Isaiah 43:5

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  ~Deuteronomy 31:6

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  ~ Isaiah 41:10

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”   ~ Isaiah 41:13

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;”   ~ Psalm 23:4

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you,
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”   ~Isaiah 43:2

This is one of my personal favorites.  It doesn’t gloss over the difficulties we will face.  But it does give us the reason for hope: God will be with us.  

The fact is that we will have to face many heart-wrenching things in this life.  The TRUTH is that God will be with us every step of the way. 

Just like a child runs to his mother’s arms for safety and comfort, just as baby birds will seek shelter under their mother’s wing, so we should rest in the arms of our Heavenly Father.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  ~1 Peter 5:7

Whatever it is that you are facing, He is with you.  He loves you and promises to never leave you.  I witnessed this firsthand when my friend was forced to live out her worst fear.  Looking back on those two weeks that summer, I can see God’s fingerprints everywhere…from the fact that I was with her when she found out, to the overwhelming generosity of hundreds of people, many of whom were strangers.  I got to see God’s Provision for her and her girls.  I got to see His love displayed through so many people.  Yes, it was a horrible tragedy for her family.  But in the midst of her darkest days, God was there. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  ~Philippians 4:6-7
 
One year ago tonight I was trying desperately to get all my boys in bed.  During the "just one more drink of water" and the "I have a question" routines, my phone began ringing.  There was no hurrying the boys along, so I let the call go to voicemail.  Immediately, it began ringing again.  I figured it was my husband, as he usually called me on his way home from work.  When I finally got the kids settled, I went to answer the phone that was still ringing non-stop.  Indeed, it was my husband’s number on the caller id.  When I answered it, however, it was not my husband on the other end.  It was another police officer telling me that my husband had been badly injured at work and was in the ER.  What I had feared had come true.  They sent a car for me and I spent the night sitting next to my bruised and swollen husband in the ER, praying that he would be ok.  But despite all the time I had spent worrying about this day, I felt an overwhelming calm.  I could feel God there in that room with me.  I knew that no matter what the future held, God would not leave my side.  I knew in the depths of my soul that I would be ok.  I have never felt so peaceful in my life.  Peace that passes all understanding, indeed.

So when you find yourself overcome with fear and focusing on the “what ifs” of life, my advice to you is to sit in His presence. 

Snuggle up to your Father.   

Then you will have the strength--and peace--to face whatever may come your way.

 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thanks Giving

November is upon us.  We are less than two weeks away from the day we have set aside as a time to give thanks.  Rather than posting one item a day that I am thankful for, as many are doing, I decided to take a day and really ponder the topic...to think back on all that has transpired over the past year or so and let it really seep in.  So, for anyone who may be interested, here is my list.

I am thankful for:

1. the abundant blessings God has poured out in my life... 
There are too many to list them all, so I will just try to elaborate on a few below.

2. the difficult trials God has graciously brought me through...not just this year, but all my life.  The mountain-tops of life have been great, but it is the valleys that have truly shaped me and refined me.  For that, I am truly grateful.

3. 35 years with a loving, gentle father who lived out his faith daily...who fully embraced the role of a servant-leader...who loved me no matter what, even when I was living a life of self-destruction...who was a quiet man that had the best laugh when you really got him going...who never seemed to understand why I always have a pile of dirty dishes in my sink...who debated me and frustrated me on a regular basis...who would do anything for those he loved...who could be a very difficult man...who I miss terribly.

4. my mother, who not only has been a great mom, but also a dear friend...who has listened to my drama patiently throughout the years and shared wisdom with me...who taught me how to crochet, how to play Liverpool Rummy (I swear she makes up the rules as she goes!), and how to be a mom...who has been such a support to me in the difficult times and a companion in the good times...whose strength over the past year and a half has astounded me...who is so much a part of who I am that I could never properly express to her how much she means to me.

5. growing up with a large, close family.  The older I get and the more people's stories I hear, the more I realize how rare it is to have grown up with so many aunts and uncles and cousins close-by.  We spent weekends together, took vacations together...we were involved in one another's lives.  We were raised with the idea that family takes care of family, that you show up when it counts.  This legacy lives on with my siblings and I, as was evidenced last year in the weeks leading up to my father's death...what a sacred time that was...  I pray that we can instill these same values in our children.

6. an amazing husband, who has loved and put up with me for over a decade...who is a phenomenal father...who sees me at my worst and still thinks I'm sexy...who works long hours at a difficult job six days a week to provide above and beyond what we need...who makes me laugh daily...who loves to serve in creative and unconventional ways...who supports me and my aspirations...who is all I ever dreamed of and more than I could have ever imagined!

7. three unique, smart, funny, noisy, awesome hooligans who call me mommy...who daily make my head nearly explode with frustration...who often make my heart physically ache with the overflowing of love...who are growing into incredible young men right before my eyes.

8. my friends! Friends that are more like family to me...friends that get me...friends that see the ugly and love me anyway...friends that challenge me...friends that take care of me...friends that make me a better person...friends that have changed my life.  Man, I have some amazing friends!

9. seasons.  Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall.  The beauty that each season brings.  The newness.  The crisp air.  The bright, shimmering white of winter.  The hundreds of bold colors of spring.  The warm greens of summer.  The rich, golden hues of fall.  The activities and traditions of each.  The familiar rhythm of life on earth.

10. seasons in my life.  Each season of my life has brought its own mix of joys and sorrows, blessings and trials.  Even the most difficult seasons I can look back upon with gratitude.  Sometimes it is gratitude for the lessons learned, sometimes it is gratitude that I survived it, but usually it is a balance of both.  Last year was a particularly difficult season.  But even in the midst of all that was happening, I knew it was merely a season.  I knew that even though it was cold and gray out, spring WAS coming!  The beautiful, complex, familiar rhythm of life on earth.

11. the peace that comes from saying no.  I spent a few years saying yes to everything.  Yes, I will do that for you.  Yes, I can work there.  Yes, I can join that group.  Yes, I can watch your kids.  Yes, I can. Yes. Yes. Yes... But, I learned that I am not that good.  I cannot do 100 things well.  I cannot do 50 things well.  In fact, when I try, I end up unable to do anything at all.  I learned, albeit a difficult and exhausting lesson, that I MUST say no to many good things.  I have found a comfortable balance for my family and I.  That balance shifts constantly.  But I have learned that for the sake of my family and my sanity, I can only do so much.  Being able to say no to some things allows me to say yes to some other things and brings so much peace to our home.

12. the opportunities in front of me...The opportunity to serve.  The opportunity to make a difference.  The opportunity to love on others.  The opportunity to show my children how to serve and practically love others.

13. the ability to homeschool.  I am so grateful that I get to do this, that I get to teach my children and guide my children...that I get to have some awesome real-life conversations with my kids during our day...that I get to challenge them daily...that they are challenging me daily...that homeschooling is the sandpaper that is smoothing out my rough edges.  This is a crazy, wild, exciting, challenging, wonderful ride that I wouldn't trade for the world.

14. memory foam mattress toppers.  It's like sleeping on a cloud!

15. my kitchen and all its gadgets that allow me to cook.  I love cooking and baking.  I love it.  Few things are better than a delicious, homemade dessert...or warm loaf of fresh-ground wheat bread...or a pot roast with veggies that have been slow-roasting all day long...or a spicy, cheesy chicken enchilada casserole...or stuffed poblano peppers...or a big pot of steaming-hot chili...or some good ol' fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy and fried okra...or biscuits and gravy...or some flavorful red beans and rice...or huge pan of paella... Just to name a few.    

16.  the healing properties of food.  I am grateful that God has provided us with so many different fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs and spices...that he has filled those foods with the nutrients our bodies need to not only sustain life, but to heal our sicknesses.

17.  my garden.  My beautiful garden.  My wonderful husband spent days, weeks even, building me the most wonderful garden.  Throughout this past year, it has served as my therapy.  Digging in the rich soil.  Planting tiny seeds.  Watering and nurturing them daily.  Watching those seeds sprout into a beautiful variety of plants...plants that nourish us.  I don't know that words can possibly do justice to the beauty of that process.  So many lessons and analogies.  So many gentle whispers from the Creator.  I LOVE my garden.

18.  Colorado.  I spent every spare moment of the first year I lived here gazing at the gorgeous mountains.  I'm surprised I didn't crash every day on my way to work!  I am still in awe of their majestic beauty.  Since then, I have fallen in love with all of this state.  I love the weather.  I love the outdoor lifestyle, no matter the season.  I love the character of the state.  I love the Colorado style.  I feel so at home, like I was always meant to be here...like I have always been here.  I grew up in Texas.  But I AM a Coloradan!  I am so very grateful that the rollercoaster of life led me here.

19.  scars.  An odd thing to be grateful for, I know.  But I am grateful for all the scars I have, because each one represents a wound that has been healed.  Some wounds in life are deeper than others.  But I know from experience that God WILL bring healing.
"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." ~Ps 147:3

20.  getting older.  Apparently, not many people agree with me on this one.  Aging is seen as a horrible disease in our culture.  Whether it is the 20-30 somethings that refuse to behave like adults or the mid-lifers that fight back with surgery and botox, it seems that no one wants to face the most basic fact about life:  You are growing older from the moment of conception till the moment of death.  It is what it is.  I choose to embrace it, rather than fight it.  With age comes wisdom and peace, comfort with your scars and with who you are, and an appreciation of life.  Those all sound like great things to me!  (You might want to check back in 10 years...hopefully, I will still say the same thing!)

21.  modern medicine.  With the physical issues my family and I have had over the past year or so, I am incredibly grateful that there are medicines that can help.  I am grateful for medicines that have cured and rid our society of diseases.  I am grateful for medicines that allow babies to live and adults to thrive.  

22.  "alternative" medicine.  I am oh-so grateful for what most consider "alternative" medicine, but I prefer to call "traditional" medicine...the healing qualities of herbs and water and massage and physical therapy and exercise...the methods of healing used from the beginning of time.  

23.   doctors.  I am grateful for doctors who treat you like a person, not a number...doctors who listen to your concerns, not just look at your chart...doctors who truly care about you and want to help you... I have been blessed with some spectacular doctors, and I am grateful.  

24.  good samaritans.  I am grateful for those who go out of their way or out of their comfort-zone to help someone in need.  When you are on the receiving end of the good-deed, it warms your heart.  (The giving end is even better, though!)

25.  the fact that my husband is alive.  I know that may seem like a very odd statement.  But you have no idea how grateful I am.  My husband is a police officer.  Every day that he comes home is a good day.  And I am not just saying that.  I was with a friend when she was told her husband would never come home.  I have been to numerous funerals of husbands that will never come home.  In January of this year, my husband came very close to never coming home.  Week after week of his recovery, as I watched him sleeping I cried and prayed, "Thank you, LORD, for bringing him home to me."  Every night now, almost a year later, I still pray that prayer.

26.  the many freedoms in this country that most people do not have.   We are blessed to live in a place where we can worship as we choose, where we can speak out for or against anything, where we can raise our children by our values...and so can everyone else.  It is a complex freedom that could be lost at any moment.  We need to not only appreciate it, but fiercely protect it as well.

27.   music.  I love music.  Good, bouncy bluegrass that makes you dance a jig... Soft, gentle piano music to soothe your nerves... Soulful, mournful words that pierce your heart... Bold praise songs to boost your spirit... So many options.  So much medicine to a weary soul.

28.  quiet time.  Now that my kids are a bit older, I get to have this much more often.  And boy, do I appreciate it!  Time to sit and think.  Time to read a book.  Time to study.  Time to listen to some good music.  Time to just rest and rejuvenate.

29.  the Bible.  The older I get, the more I appreciate and realize my deep need for God's Word.  I am weak.  Left to my own devices, I will watch tv all day long.  I will snap at my kids and be rude to my husband.  I am not a "saint".  But I know that the more time I spend with God in His Word, the less I am those things.  I am grateful for the refining powers of His Word and His Spirit.  I am grateful for the Truth that is not always comfortable.  I am grateful for the Bible that is full of stories of broken people whom God loves and uses.  I am grateful that those words of love and comfort and hope are readily available to me.  I am grateful that I have free access to numerous translations of the Bible...that I can carry it always with me and read it any time, any where.  

30.  grace.  "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.  'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I hope in Him.'"  Lamentations 3:22-24

I am grateful.


"It is not the happy people who are thankful.  
It is the thankful people who are happy." 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Such a time as this

The beginning of the end came a month ago.

That's when my father began to rapidly fade from this life. We had pursued every treatment option from radiation and chemo to dietary changes and supplements to drugs still in the trial phases; no stone was left unturned.

After four years, we finally had to face the fact that the time had come for him to leave this life.

Our hearts began to break.

For the next few weeks, friends and family came to visit, to pay their respects and say goodbye. Stories of good times were swapped with dear friends; childhood memories shared between siblings.



 With each story shared, the crack in our hearts grew bigger.

We watched as each morning brought with it a drastic change in his abilities and comfort. We found ourselves getting an education we never wanted in hospice care and nursing. Large hospital equipment filled the home. Meds lined the countertop and filled the fridge. Papers stacked everywhere: spreadsheets to keep track of medicines, lists of doctors' contact info.

We adjusted to the steady hum and click of the oxygen machine.  Days quickly became an endless job of figuring out how to keep him the most comfortable. He spent less time in the living room recliner each day and more time in bed.  Our time was spent doling out meds, peeking in on him regularly, and trying to keep our hands busy and minds distracted.

Each day brought a new development and more heartache.

Our strong, healthy patriarch was now a frail shell struggling just to breathe.  Each night we went to bed knowing we may wake up to find him gone.  Day after day, we sat watching his chest rise and fall, filled with an overwhelming sense of helplessness.

That last week of his life was very difficult for us all.  But at the same time, it was a tremendous blessing.  The time we spent together, my mom and sisters and brother and I, was irreplacable.  I can't remember a time when all of us were together as we were then: talking, sharing, supporting one another, just walking through it together as a family.  Each of us has our own struggles in life right now, but that week we were together for the mere sake of being together, being a family, loving one another, and honoring our father and all he has meant to us.

There are so many moments that I will forever treasure:

~Seeing my 8 year old son handle that week with so much maturity and grace, as he insisted on staying there with me.

~Watching him hold his grandpa's hand and tell him that he loves him.

~Hearing my husband tearfully thank my father for all he was and all he gave to his family.

~My mom, sisters, brother and I all kneeling around my dad's bed in prayer.

~As soon as we said "Amen," my dad speaking up and praying for each of us.

~The time we spent as a family reminiscing as we thumbed through boxes of old pictures.

The outpouring of love and support from friends and family was overwhelming:

~My mom's sister coming from Texas, taking time away from her family and job to just be there with us.

~A dear friend of mine packing up her three kids and driving all the way from Georgia to stay at my house and take care of my kids so that I could be free to stay at my parents' house that week.

~My circle of friends here in town joining together with her to help care for my kids and house.

~All the delicious meals that were lovingly made and brought to us so that we didn't have to use what little brain-power we had trying to figure out what to fix for dinner.

~All the calls and visits from loved ones near and far.

So many blessings to treasure...

It helps to remember those, as I try to process through the difficult memories as well:

~Seeing each new piece of medical equipment and each new, stronger medication, knowing that each one led us one step closer to the end.

~Watching my father drift in and out of consciousness and delirium.

~The sound of him gasping for air and moaning with each breath.

~The speed with which he seemed to deteriorate, even as each day passed agonizingly slowly.

~The contradiction of praying for his suffering to end soon while wishing we had more time with him.

~The permeating feeling of being stuck in limbo, unable to begin the mourning process, unable to move on, unable to do anything but wait for the inevitable.

And then, the inevitable came.  Sunday evening around 6 o'clock, my mom went in to check on him before we sat down for dinner.

He was gone.

Calls were made.  Tears were shed, tears of utter sorrow for us, tears of relief for him.  We watched as the hospice nurse went through her routine of verification and paperwork.  We watched as the morticians wheeled his body out to their van.  We stood on the front porch, holding each other up as they drove away, feeling the reality of the fact that he would never be coming home again.  We went inside and sat in silence.  The moment we all had been anticipating for what seemed like forever had finally come, and it was surreal.

Our hearts were broken.

Then, in the midst of the shock we all felt, my amazingly strong mother gathered us into a circle, and with hands joined, she prayed and thanked our Heavenly Father.  In the midst of exhaustion and sorrow and the myriad of other emotions we all felt, she wanted the first step we took to be one of gratitude to God.

After a long restless night, what had been life in slow-motion quickly became days filled with appointments and arrangements and people and plans.

God provided us with a beautiful day that Wednesday to say goodbye and lay our father to rest.







As we look back on those days and weeks, words cannot do justice to the gratitude and love we feel for all of our friends and family who helped us through them.  We will never be able to repay you all for your gifts of kindness and love.  Many of you said you wish you could have done more.  I want you to know that what you did was such an incredible blessing to us...no matter how little or insignificant you felt it was.  Each phone call, each meal, each card, each prayer, each visit, each card game and coloring page, each moment you spent caring for us in every small way meant the world to us.

So now we embark on the journey of walking through our grief and discovering our new normal, of processing all we experienced and readjusting to life without our father and husband.  We said goodbye to his body two weeks ago...each in our own way.
"Dear Grandpa, We're so happy that all of your pain is gone. But the sad part about it is that we will miss you for our life.
By: Christian Parks"




And we continue to say goodbye to his presence each day.  Each time we are in a situation where he would have been, each time we are faced with the emptiness of something he would have said or done, we must say goodbye again.

It is going to be a long road.

But we have the strength of Jesus to get us through.

And we have each other, the family God gave us for such a time as this.






We love you, Dad.

You will always be a part of us.

Till we see you again...




Saturday, September 8, 2012

How do you say goodbye?

How do you say goodbye to a piece of who you are?

How do you let go of someone so dear?

Over the past few months, I have watched my father slowly decline.

Over the past few weeks, I have seen him wither away.

I have watched as so many family and friends have come to visit him and taken photos with him.  I admit, I have avoided doing that.  I want to remember him as he was a year ago.  Still strong.  Still energetic.  Still smiling. 
 

Still looking like my Daddy.

Our hearts are breaking slowly as we watch him fade away.  If only we could hold onto him longer.  If only we could breathe new life into him.  Revive him.  Strengthen him.

I always just assumed we had another decade or more with him.  After all, his parents were much older when they passed on.  But, I suppose even if we did have 10 more years, it would be too soon then as well.  The reality is, we will never be ready to say goodbye.

So we leave it in God's hands.

We trust in His sovereignty and His timing, even though we are filled with sorrow.

Soon, we will place our beloved father into his Father's loving arms. 

Until then, please pray that peace will surround us all during these difficult days.


"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." 

~Philippians 4:6-7



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Spoon Theory

After sharing my story today, a dear friend sent this article to me.  It is from a great website entitled "But You Don't Look Sick".  I had never heard of it before and am so glad she introduced me.

As their website says, "The mission of ButYouDontLookSick.com is to help everyone with a chronic illness or invisible disability, in order for them to live their lives to the fullest and not feel isolated and alone."

If you are living with a chronic illness or invisible disability, grab a cup of coffee and sit awhile.  Read through this site.  It will make you laugh and cry, give tips on managing life and mostly make you feel truly understood.
 
I especially love "The Spoon Theory".  Whether you are the "sick" person or you know someone who is, you owe it to yourself to read this and pass it on.

It is very difficult to explain an unseen illness.  I often feel as if people think I am just lazy and faking it, or exaggerating it, at best.  Christine paints such a beautiful picture of what it is really like.  I could not explain it this well no matter how hard I tried.  So I will stop trying and just let you read her story.



written by Christine Miserandino

My best friend and I were in the diner, talking. As usual, it was very late and we were eating French fries with gravy. Like normal girls our age, we spent a lot of time in the diner while in college, and most of the time we spent talking about boys, music or trivial things, that seemed very important at the time. We never got serious about anything in particular and spent most of our time laughing.
As I went to take some of my medicine with a snack as I usually did, she watched me with an awkward kind of stare, instead of continuing the conversation. She then asked me out of the blue what it felt like to have Lupus and be sick. I was shocked not only because she asked the random question, but also because I assumed she knew all there was to know about Lupus. She came to doctors with me, she saw me walk with a cane, and throw up in the bathroom. She had seen me cry in pain, what else was there to know?
I started to ramble on about pills, and aches and pains, but she kept pursuing, and didn’t seem satisfied with my answers. I was a little surprised as being my roommate in college and friend for years; I thought she already knew the medical definition of Lupus. Then she looked at me with a face every sick person knows well, the face of pure curiosity about something no one healthy can truly understand. She asked what it felt like, not physically, but what it felt like to be me, to be sick.
As I tried to gain my composure, I glanced around the table for help or guidance, or at least stall for time to think. I was trying to find the right words. How do I answer a question I never was able to answer for myself? How do I explain every detail of every day being effected, and give the emotions a sick person goes through with clarity. I could have given up, cracked a joke like I usually do, and changed the subject, but I remember thinking if I don’t try to explain this, how could I ever expect her to understand. If I can’t explain this to my best friend, how could I explain my world to anyone else? I had to at least try.
At that moment, the spoon theory was born. I quickly grabbed every spoon on the table; hell I grabbed spoons off of the other tables. I looked at her in the eyes and said “Here you go, you have Lupus”. She looked at me slightly confused, as anyone would when they are being handed a bouquet of spoons. The cold metal spoons clanked in my hands, as I grouped them together and shoved them into her hands.
I explained that the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.
Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.
She grabbed the spoons with excitement. She didn’t understand what I was doing, but she is always up for a good time, so I guess she thought I was cracking a joke of some kind like I usually do when talking about touchy topics. Little did she know how serious I would become?
I asked her to count her spoons. She asked why, and I explained that when you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of “spoons”. But when you have to now plan your day, you need to know exactly how many “spoons” you are starting with. It doesn’t guarantee that you might not lose some along the way, but at least it helps to know where you are starting. She counted out 12 spoons. She laughed and said she wanted more. I said no, and I knew right away that this little game would work, when she looked disappointed, and we hadn’t even started yet. I’ve wanted more “spoons” for years and haven’t found a way yet to get more, why should she? I also told her to always be conscious of how many she had, and not to drop them because she can never forget she has Lupus.
I asked her to list off the tasks of her day, including the most simple. As, she rattled off daily chores, or just fun things to do; I explained how each one would cost her a spoon. When she jumped right into getting ready for work as her first task of the morning, I cut her off and took away a spoon. I practically jumped down her throat. I said ” No! You don’t just get up. You have to crack open your eyes, and then realize you are late. You didn’t sleep well the night before. You have to crawl out of bed, and then you have to make your self something to eat before you can do anything else, because if you don’t, you can’t take your medicine, and if you don’t take your medicine you might as well give up all your spoons for today and tomorrow too.” I quickly took away a spoon and she realized she hasn’t even gotten dressed yet. Showering cost her spoon, just for washing her hair and shaving her legs. Reaching high and low that early in the morning could actually cost more than one spoon, but I figured I would give her a break; I didn’t want to scare her right away. Getting dressed was worth another spoon. I stopped her and broke down every task to show her how every little detail needs to be thought about. You cannot simply just throw clothes on when you are sick. I explained that I have to see what clothes I can physically put on, if my hands hurt that day buttons are out of the question. If I have bruises that day, I need to wear long sleeves, and if I have a fever I need a sweater to stay warm and so on. If my hair is falling out I need to spend more time to look presentable, and then you need to factor in another 5 minutes for feeling badly that it took you 2 hours to do all this.
I think she was starting to understand when she theoretically didn’t even get to work, and she was left with 6 spoons. I then explained to her that she needed to choose the rest of her day wisely, since when your “spoons” are gone, they are gone. Sometimes you can borrow against tomorrow’s “spoons”, but just think how hard tomorrow will be with less “spoons”. I also needed to explain that a person who is sick always lives with the looming thought that tomorrow may be the day that a cold comes, or an infection, or any number of things that could be very dangerous. So you do not want to run low on “spoons”, because you never know when you truly will need them. I didn’t want to depress her, but I needed to be realistic, and unfortunately being prepared for the worst is part of a real day for me.
We went through the rest of the day, and she slowly learned that skipping lunch would cost her a spoon, as well as standing on a train, or even typing at her computer too long. She was forced to make choices and think about things differently. Hypothetically, she had to choose not to run errands, so that she could eat dinner that night.
When we got to the end of her pretend day, she said she was hungry. I summarized that she had to eat dinner but she only had one spoon left. If she cooked, she wouldn’t have enough energy to clean the pots. If she went out for dinner, she might be too tired to drive home safely. Then I also explained, that I didn’t even bother to add into this game, that she was so nauseous, that cooking was probably out of the question anyway. So she decided to make soup, it was easy. I then said it is only 7pm, you have the rest of the night but maybe end up with one spoon, so you can do something fun, or clean your apartment, or do chores, but you can’t do it all.
I rarely see her emotional, so when I saw her upset I knew maybe I was getting through to her. I didn’t want my friend to be upset, but at the same time I was happy to think finally maybe someone understood me a little bit. She had tears in her eyes and asked quietly “Christine, How do you do it? Do you really do this everyday?” I explained that some days were worse then others; some days I have more spoons then most. But I can never make it go away and I can’t forget about it, I always have to think about it. I handed her a spoon I had been holding in reserve. I said simply, “I have learned to live life with an extra spoon in my pocket, in reserve. You need to always be prepared.”
Its hard, the hardest thing I ever had to learn is to slow down, and not do everything. I fight this to this day. I hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to. I wanted her to feel that frustration. I wanted her to understand, that everything everyone else does comes so easy, but for me it is one hundred little jobs in one. I need to think about the weather, my temperature that day, and the whole day’s plans before I can attack any one given thing. When other people can simply do things, I have to attack it and make a plan like I am strategizing a war. It is in that lifestyle, the difference between being sick and healthy. It is the beautiful ability to not think and just do. I miss that freedom. I miss never having to count “spoons”.
After we were emotional and talked about this for a little while longer, I sensed she was sad. Maybe she finally understood. Maybe she realized that she never could truly and honestly say she understands. But at least now she might not complain so much when I can’t go out for dinner some nights, or when I never seem to make it to her house and she always has to drive to mine. I gave her a hug when we walked out of the diner. I had the one spoon in my hand and I said “Don’t worry. I see this as a blessing. I have been forced to think about everything I do. Do you know how many spoons people waste everyday? I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted “spoons” and I chose to spend this time with you.”
Ever since this night, I have used the spoon theory to explain my life to many people. In fact, my family and friends refer to spoons all the time. It has been a code word for what I can and cannot do. Once people understand the spoon theory they seem to understand me better, but I also think they live their life a little differently too. I think it isn’t just good for understanding Lupus, but anyone dealing with any disability or illness. Hopefully, they don’t take so much for granted or their life in general. I give a piece of myself, in every sense of the word when I do anything. It has become an inside joke. I have become famous for saying to people jokingly that they should feel special when I spend time with them, because they have one of my “spoons”.

Doctors, doctors everywhere...

Spring was crazy this year.  Due to various uncontrollable circumstances, we had to take a few extra breaks from school in the fall and winter.  So, spring was spent plowing through our school-work so that we could finish by the end of May.  After what seemed like life-times of painfully long school-days, we finally made it.

Ahhh, summer!  How happy we were to see you!  Endless days of no obligations, no to-do lists, no stress. 

Well, that was the plan, anyway.  But then June came raging in.

My father has been battling cancer off and on for the past three years.  Cancer was found.  A few rounds of chemo and radiation later, the cancer was gone.  A few months later, more cancer was found.  This cycle repeated itself a few times.  Fortunately, the treatments were always successful at getting the cancer down to undetectable levels.  That is until this year.

Nothing they tried seemed to do any good.  At the beginning of the summer, his doctor told us there was nothing more he could do.

So we found a new doctor.

The new doctor was a blessing from Above!  He immediately started my dad on a type of chemo that had been successful in the past.  We had to attack this cancer quickly because within one month of no treatment what-so-ever, my dad's tumor had tripled in size.  Had he continued to go without treatment, we were told it would be a matter of weeks.

So we waited and prayed.  We worried and cried and prayed some more.  

 We had to wait six weeks for his next CAT-scan to see if the chemo was doing anything at all.  That was a difficult six weeks.  If the chemo wasn't working, he might not even live long enough to get the scan.

Thank God, he made it.  And the scan showed that not only was the tumor not growing anymore, it was actually shrinking!  A bright light in the midst of foggy darkness.

He has continued with the same treatment for the past couple months.  Unfortunately, it seems more and more difficult for his body to rebound after each treatment.  We are now back to waiting for the next CAT-scan, which will be this coming Monday.  Again the questions and doubts and hopes and fears come flooding in.

Is the treatment still working?  Has the cancer gotten more aggressive?  Or has the chemo significantly reduced it?  Will his body tolerate another couple months of this treatment?  Will the new, highly anticipated, promising cancer drug be released for use soon?

Not knowing what the future brings is difficult.  
Not knowing what the day will bring is excruciating.  

So we wait and pray.  We worry and cry and pray some more.

June also brought with it some more unexpected events.  I have had Lupus for over a decade and have managed to control it naturally for the past five years or so, with great success.  Apparently this summer, my time was up.  After a week of unbearable, unshakable pain, I finally made a doctor's appointment.  He ran some tests, and immediately sent me to a rheumatologist (arthritis doctor), who ran some more tests, and immediately sent me to a nephrologist (kidney doctor).  It seems that not only has my Lupus flared up significantly, but it has progressed into my kidneys.  After more tests and a kidney biopsy, the diagnosis is officially Level 3 Lupus Nephritis, meaning my Lupus is beginning to cause damage to my kidneys.  Luckily, the damage is minimal at this point.  If left untreated, however, it would eventually cause kidney failure.  

So we are attacking it aggressively to keep it from getting to that point.  I now have a bag full of medications I must take all through-out each day.  (Thankfully, Walgreen's has a great app for my phone that keeps track of all my meds and reminds me when to take them!  I would be lost with that!)  The goal is to have the Lupus Nephritis "in remission" after six months of taking a dozen or so pills a day.  If that is successful, I will be down to only two maintenance medications for the rest of my life.

I don't like medications.  I have worked diligently over the past five years, completely changing my lifestyle, in an attempt to avoid the meds.  Don't get me wrong...I am very grateful for the technology and the amazing "healing" power of medicines.  I very much understand and appreciate the fact that were I living in another time or another place, I would not have a good prognosis.  That makes dealing with the horrendous side effects a little easier to do.  But the reality is, my body is not working like it used to.  I cannot do the things everyone around me can.  There are times, sometimes days on end now, that I can do little more than make it to my recliner.  And now we get to add on to that the unknown factor of how my body will tolerate all these new chemicals I am pumping into it.  

So I wait and pray.  I worry and cry and pray some more.

After giving me the results of my biopsy and going over the plan of attack, my nephrologist told me that I was handling this exceptionally well.  I don't know that I agree with that.  All I know for sure is that none of this is a surprise to my Father in Heaven, and He will not let me go through it alone.

In the midst of the craziness that was June, God dropped a little life-line to me.  He knew what was coming, and He provided me with a perspective-changing blessing before it all began.  I have a Kindle Fire and I tend to check the list of free Kindle books every few weeks or so.  In June, there happened to be a book entitled "A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty" by Joni Eareckson Tada.

Amazing, incredible, divinely timely book!  I have read it through once and am starting it again.  The message of her book can be summed up in these quotes:

"What a waste of an illness or injury if we read--or go on talking--day and night about that illness, that injury, and not about the God who allowed it for His own sovereign reasons." 

and 

"Don't waste your suffering by retreating into yourself."

God has a plan and a purpose.  We need to trust that.  It is not always pleasant walking this path, following Him with abandon.  It can be emotionally and physically painful.  But we need to trust in His wisdom and His plan, and not let go of our faith when times get tough.  Trust that He is doing a mighty work in our lives.

"Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."   
~2 Corinthians 4:16

Whether we are watching someone we love fight for their life, or we are fighting our own battle daily, we are being refined by fire.  I kinda like how Joni puts it.  She compares our trials to the process of turning coal into diamonds: 

"The only difference is how time and pressure (a lot of pressure) will change this earthly garment into something so bright, so precious, so perfect, so multifaceted, that it will shine like a star in the night sky."



I want to shine.  I want to trust Him and rest in Him during the times of extreme pressure.  Some days that is easier than others. 

"Any such crisis is meant to awaken us to the reality of God, His nearness, His care, His presence, and His ever-present help."

"Affliction has a way of jackhammering our character, shaking us up and loosening our grip on everything we hold tightly."

Please Lord, open my eyes and heart to see what truly matters.  Help me to let go of the insignificant and focus my life on the eternal.  Help me to hold on to You with all my strength in those times when everything is crumbling around me.  And when my strength is gone, fill me with Yours.

Summer came roaring in this year.  So far, it shows no signs of easing up.  But I know He has me in His hands, and there is no other place I would rather be.

"Yes, I pray that my pain might be removed, that it might cease; but more so, I pray for the strength to bear it, the grace to benefit from it, and the devotion to offer it up to God as a sacrifice of praise."