A Dose of Reality

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It comes as  no shock to people who know me or who have read much of anything I have written. It has been nearly 5 years since the suggestion was put before me that the health difficulties I had been experiencing for years could be something chronic–specifically, Multiple Sclerosis. I remember that day and the “Symptom Tracker” papers my doctor sent home with me. She said that several symptoms of MS and Lupus overlapped, and she wanted me to track to see if there was a clear pattern toward one of the two. I had already been given the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Another that was at a time mentioned to me was Fibromyalgia. Before this doctor, I had a doctor tell me that the difficulties I had been facing, which included extreme fatigue, dizziness, numbness, and tingling, were probably a result of the depression that gripped me a majority of the time. The day I was given the Symptom tracker, I had gone in for yet another visit, this time because I was experiencing difficulty swallowing. As I left the doctor that day, I thought about the possibility of both illnesses. I tucked the papers deep inside my desk drawer where my husband would not see them. No sense making anyone worry when it could be nothing.

And that is what I thought of either of those diagnoses–nothing, no big deal. I had heard of both, although I had not known anyone personally who had either disease. I remembered as a college student I worked at a maternity/baby store at the mall. One of the girls I work with had Lupus, and she seemed fine to me. Whatever it may be, I knew I was in good shape physically. Certainly a chronic illness was not going to be a big deal. It wasn’t like it was cancer or something.

Those were my thought processes at the time.

Even when my symptoms leaned heavily toward MS, I still did not believe this to be more than a nuisance. Yes, my predominant hand was affected with tingling and numbness. Yes, the bottoms of my feet burned so badly I wanted nothing more than to walk barefoot in the snow. Yes, I was constantly exhausted and dizzy. But serious? I honestly didn’t panic. I had bad days for sure. There were days fear would creep in about the unknown. There were days I could not get out of bed, let alone shower, get dressed and be around people. There were days I needed the cane that we had saved from a knee injury our son had in high school. But there were also days that I accomplished a fair number of tasks. There were days that several loads of laundry were washed, hung outside to dry, brought in, folded, and were put away.

That all changed this past week.

New Year’s Day brought bitterly cold temperatures and wind chill advisories to our state. That’s pretty normal for this area in January. Our youngest daughter, who came for Christmas, needed to be taken back to her own apartment an hour away so she could get ready for the start of her new semester and the resuming of her job as a preschool assistant. I hadn’t been feeling great for a week or ten days prior but chalked that up to the stress of the holidays coupled with a stressful few weeks at work. I made it through Christmas, although I didn’t get everything done I needed to get done. That had never happened before, even when I had four little kids under foot or full time work hours. I beat myself up for not having the cookies made that I had always made, for not getting the fudge made, for not getting all the stocking stuffers wrapped, and for “cheating” on Christmas dinner by ordering a few large pans of pastas from a local restaurant. I told myself once we took our daughter back, I would be able to rest. I had planned a week off of work in January–a week to work on getting the house, messed by the decorations and food and company cleaned up along with down time to rest. After we dropped our daughter off, carted all her gifts and groceries and luggage (yes, she brought laundry to do so she brought a suitcase) and cat (yes, she also brought her cat to “grandma’s” house) I came home and collapsed. There was much to be done, but it would have to wait. I felt like I had a fever, and a quick check with the thermometer confirmed that.

The next morning, with my temperature heading the wrong way, my husband and I decided we should probably visit urgent care. Long story short, that visit was a waste of time which meant the next morning I was much, much worse.  Another trip to a different urgent care confirmed just how bad my condition was. My white blood cell count was nearly twice the high end of normal range. As expected, the emergency room doctor said I needed to be admitted and transferred to a larger hospital. For the third time in five months, my body was fighting, unsuccessfully, a sepsis infection. What I didn’t know until later, though, was the delay in transport was due to the doctor trying to decide if I should be admitted to the intensive care unit. In the end I was transported and admitted to a regular room. The high fever, which the nurse stopped recording at 104.2, needed high power antibiotics that could be delivered through via IV. My veins, already scarred from the previous two hospital stays, did not cooperate for yet another infection. Soon, after several pokes, IV antibiotics and fluids were pumped into my body. Several blood cultures were taken as well as a flu test. (If you’ve never had one, you are lucky. Unpleasant is an understatement) The doctor ordered heparin shots twice a day. These were to prevent blood clots since getting out of bed would be out of the question with so many IV bags dripping into me. I had these shots before, and smiled when the morning nurse told me she needed to give me a heparin shot, and “It’s going to hurt.” So much for trying to lessen the blow to the patient! I now sport bruises all over my stomach and a few on the back of my left arm from heparin shots. Life moved slowly as the days were pretty lonely. I don’t have many friends. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me after the rough year 2017 was for relationships.

So what causes one to have pneumonia and sepsis three times in five months?

Multiple Sclerosis. Yep, the MS a didn’t take seriously all of a sudden had my undivided attention. For the first time, really, I understood the seriousness of what MS can do. You see, the difficulty swallowing I have, sometimes causes food or drink to go down the “wrong way”.  When I swallow something “the wrong way” the substance ends up in my lungs and causes what is known as aspiration pneumonia. As my body rushes white blood cells to fight the “intruder”, my body temperature climbs to try to force out the infection. The substance, for some reason, ends up in my bloodstream causing sepsis. This last bout was so dangerous that the doctor thought I might require intensive care. Again, it was caught “just in time” according to the doctor. The next step would have been septic shock, which can be deadly. The bottom line is that there is really no fix for this–unless a cure for MS is found. The last five days have made me keenly aware that I really do have a dangerous, chronic disease that has the power to take my life.

As I waited in the emergency room, after being told that I was facing yet another bout of sepsis, I looked at my husband with tears streaming down my face and said, “If I could get to your gun and knew how to use it, I would end my life as soon as I can.” I was heartbroken because I was supposed to spend the next two days watching our new grandson. I let my son and his wife down, and was just so sad that I wasn’t going to be able to sit and rock our little dude. The tears continued on the ambulance ride and into the first several hours at the hospital.

The new year is certainly not starting out as I had planned. This is, though, my reality and one that somehow, I need to learn to accept.

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Another Year Over

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Usually, some time around December 31st and January 1st, I open my PC, type in the address of this blog, and start typing what I refer to as “A Year in Review”. Some years those entries have been fun to write; other years those entries have been excruciatingly painful. This year, I have decided to switch things up a bit. You see, the year 2017 held some trying and painful times, that, if I can be brutally honest, rank as one of the worst years of my fifty years spent on earth, with a handful of happy moments to give just enough buffer to keep me from total despair. Instead of painfully agonizing over and reliving those times of angst, I instead decided to measure my growth in this year in three important categories:

  • Where do I stand physically compared to one year ago?
  • Where do I stand emotionally compared to one year ago?
  • Where do I stand spiritually compared to one year ago?

In full disclosure, one particularly painful event, one that spans across the three above mentioned areas, while it probably is the most important event of the previous year, I have chosen to not record here where others can read it. I can count on one hand the number of people who know of this situation. If you are wondering what I am referring to, then you don’t know, nor do you need to know. The few who I have let into that searing pain I did because there came a time that if I didn’t have someone I trust to talk to, I probably would have been very close to ending my life. Even with those few trusted souls, I found myself on more than one occasion fantasizing about my death and calling on God to just take the breath of life from me, He obviously said no since I am still here typing.

The first area I mention is the physical side of me. In the last year, up until just a month or so ago, I decided I no longer cared about my physical self. More specifically, I no longer cared about exercising, eating right, and watching my weight. Actually, I did watch my weight. I watched the numbers on the scale creep higher and higher. I listened to doctors lecture me on the weight I gained in correlation to my physical activity. I brought home paperwork from the doctor pointing out the dangerous slope of pre-diabetes and how this condition could be reversed by a sensible diet and exercise plan. I didn’t care. I gave up the high water intake I once had and resumed to well over one hundred ounces of Diet Coke a day. Yes. A Day. I saw myself in the mirror and felt intense self hatred. I struggled to get into jeans for work. I justified my sugar habit by telling myself grandmas are supposed to be fat. At the end of every work shift, I would come home to exhausted to cook. My husband, also exhausted, was always open to my suggestion of eating out. We are poor accountability partners in this area. There was always chocolate cake or apple pie or a host of other sweet treats to consume as we vegged in front of the TV every evening. Now, one year later, I have more than thirty pounds to lose in order to be at a healthy weight again. My physical self also took a hit this year with MS progression. I have experienced worsening of existing symptoms and emergence of new. A cancer scare in June resulted in a surgery that took much longer to bounce back from than I thought would be. Two hospitalizations for pneumonia in the fall also left me much weaker than I thought would be the case. Even as I sit and type this, I suspect pneumonia may be gathering its damage on me again.

Emotionally I also took a hard hit this year. With the extreme pain of not knowing if my life had a purpose, I decided the best way to go about protecting my heart was to isolate. It wasn’t difficult to do. In a sea of people, the ones who disappear under the radar are those who have no special contribution to offer. The more I isolated, the tighter depression gripped me. I pushed people away enough that, eventually, most of them stopped trying to be my friend. I found myself fighting back tears on a daily basis. Even at work, I would go in the back so my tears could not be detected by my coworkers or customers. My most favorite area to work was back in receiving, for there, I was alone with boxes and labels. Since all three of these areas are connected, it goes without saying that the physical toll on my body influenced the negative emotional toll. At the end of my rope one day, I found a doctor who could help me try to get my emotional state back in balance. She has been, hands down, a God send. She listens to me and takes into account my preferences.

The last, but probably most important area I take into consideration is where do I stand spiritually compared to one year ago. This is a delicate area for me to consider, and I plan to be very careful as I address it. Physical issues coupled with emotional issues made the spiritual side of me thirsty. The problem, though, was that I looked to satisfy that thirst in other ways. I tried the aforementioned Diet Coke. I tried desserts. I tried television to take my mind of the nagging that, I know now, was God trying to get my attention. For half of the year, I continued to ignore the proddings from God. I believed he didn’t care about me nor did the people in our church. I told myself I didn’t need them. I didn’t need God. That changed late one night this summer. This area still causes much pain. I liken the pain to that of myself as a child, falling off my bike in the street. Upon running home in tears, my father would patiently pick the pieces of gravel from my cuts. “Yes, Becky,” he would say. “I know it hurts, but an infection would hurt much more. By taking out the dirt, it may help to prevent infection.” This has been the issue that I have argued with God about. It has been the issue I have let control my heart, my mind, and my life. I threatened God. I blamed Him. I accused Him of not caring. I shook my fist at Him, pointing out that even His people around me didn’t give a damn. God let me have my temper tantrum. In fact, He let me have multiple tantrums. He knew eventually I would grow tired of the yelling, the pummeling, the blaming. He waited until I was ready, and He met me where I was–a broken, dysfunctional human with little power to effectively change myself, let alone my circumstances. The past few weeks have found me spending time in Psalms, relishing in the fact that David was brutally honest in his prayers. The past few weeks have found me leaning hard on the shoulders of a few coworkers. They pray for me. They check in with me. They love me in the mess that is me right now. The ladies I work with know the specifics of this pain; they are a handful of the few who do. I still struggle at the thought of going back to church. I still find myself sometimes shaking my fist at God or entertaining how I can end this life of pain and misery. It has been a slow climb from the pit, and I am not even close to the top yet. Some days I believe that soon I will be rescued from that pit. Other days I am sure I will die in it.

Looking back, it appears that this year I am farther behind on the road in all three of these areas than I was a year ago. In a sense that is probably true. But, you see, I can also look back over the year and smile at some of the blessings God has given in the midst of the intense, scalding pain. I have a husband who, I’m sure, loves me more now than he did last year. My mom is a ridiculous 88 years young! And, in September, we welcomed a new grandson into our family. Asher Timothy made his debut at a tiny 4 pounds 11 ounces. Yes, he spent every day of his hospital stay in the NICU. But you would never know it now! He has outgrown newborn sized clothes AND 0-3 month size clothes! He has chubby little cheeks and a double chin! And his smile melts my heart as I am in awe that God would bless us in this way.

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People Pushing

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This post has been ruminating throughout my brain for several months. Every time I started to compose the words, I would find myself unable to adequately express the feelings inside me without making others go on the defensive. While browsing Pinterest the other day, I came across the above graphic. The words echoed that which my heart was experiencing, and I knew I had to write what has been on my heart regardless of how others perceive its intentions.

Eighteen months ago I entered an emotional desert. I didn’t go looking for it, nor did I really want to be there. I don’t know any people who have planned a girl’s weekend or a guy’s retreat to a desert. It just doesn’t offer much in the way of amenities. It seems fitting during this time of year, a time declared Mental Health Awareness Week, that I finally try to put words to the darkness I was in all those months. This was not my first desert experience. I have battled the demons of depression and anxiety many times since I was a teen. This particular desert experience, though, was very different than any I’ve had in the past. One of the reasons for that, which I would never have admitted then, was the fact that I decided I no longer needed nor wanted the anti depression medication I had been on for several years. I did my own research on the meds, read several books on the dangers of antidepressants, and decided that the meds were poisoning me. Given the plethora of medications I have taken over my life, I felt myself enough of an expert to discontinue these without aid of a medical professional. As I weaned myself off these mood altering drugs, I sensed that maybe my brain really did need these drugs. Each time that thought crept into my mind, I would beat it back down with facts from a particular book. That book became my bible. It also nearly took my life.

Prior to the entrance into this desert, life was flowing about as smoothly as life for us flows. When my health allowed, I kept busy by spending time with my grandson and daughter. They lived twenty minutes away and did not have a car. Anytime I needed something from the store, I would text my daughter to see if she and the baby wanted to go with me. For me, that meant driving past two grocery stores and a Target. I would get to their place, get the baby ready for an outing, strapped him safely into his car seat, and drive yet another ten miles or so to a Walmart in the town where we used to live. It was worth the extra drive to me to spend time with them and to know I was needed. That need disappeared, though, when my son-in-law lost his job, and they decided Minnesota was too expensive for them to live in. I kept my grandson overnight on September 29, 2016, while his mommy and daddy loaded a UHaul. When they came to get him, I sobbed as we said our goodbyes and gave lots of grammy kisses. As they drove away that day, I felt my heart break completely in two. The dark clouds of depression became visible on my horizon. With few friends and now losing my daughter, who was my best friend, I spiraled quickly. The darkness enveloped me as I felt my feet sink deep into the desert sand. I wrote some very painful entries during those months. I thought I would literally die from a broken heart.

One aspect of depression that can only be understood by someone who has walked that dark road is the aspect of isolation. There is still, even in this twenty-first century America, a stigma surrounding mental health issues. One theory I have is the fact that a person, deep in the throes of depression, does not have the ability nor the desire to carry on a conversation. I have experienced this so often due to the number of depressive episodes I have suffered through. Making small talk is nearly impossible when the darkness is thick around you. In an effort to safely guard one’s heart, the only choice seen by the depressed person is to shut everyone else out. To allow anyone in puts that person in jeopardy of being hurt further. One example that quickly comes to mind is the person, no doubt with good intentions, tells the depressed one that “everyone gets down now and then”. Perhaps the well meaning individual quotes Scripture to the depressed one, thinking they are helping. Even more so, and this is the absolute worst thing anyone can say to one who is deep in the darkness of depression, the well meaning (although by now I’m doubting if they mean well or not) individual tells the depressed person to “just snap out of it”. They rattle off a list of activities that could be mood increasers–go for a walk, read a book, put on a favorite movie, etc. Again, well meaning, maybe, but extremely unhelpful.

As I lived in this oppressive darkness, wanting desperately on more than one occasion to end my life, I could not run the risk of being hurt even more. I knew it would take very little to push me off that cliff. I did what most depressed people do–I pushed everyone away. I allowed one friend into my dark world, and I only did that because she was a person who didn’t try to make me talk. She just let me be silent, and she was silent alongside of me. She didn’t mind the awkwardness that can come when two friends just sit together in silence. She loved me where I was. She didn’t lecture me about skipping church. She didn’t quote verses to me. She didn’t try to make me go for a walk outside. She just loved me. Perhaps there may have been others who, if allowed, would have done the same thing. I couldn’t take that chance, though.

Fast forward to present day. There is way too much that happened in the space between the last sentence in the above paragraph and the opening sentence of this one. Suffice it to say that I finally took measures to find my way out of the darkness. I no longer care if medication can kill me. Without it, I would be dead anyway, so I have nothing to lose. I found a doctor knowledgeable in mental health. She has literally been the BEST doctor I have ever been to. She listens to me, she appreciates my input, and she promises she will work harder than me to help me feel better. In the few months I have seen her, she has, we think, come up with a combination of mental health drugs and MS drugs that can work together with little side effects. (Note: one side effect has been weight gain. This is sending me back into a depression. I plan to discuss this with her next time I see her.) I also found a part time job with a Christian company to give me something worthwhile to fill my time. The ladies I work with have been amazing–they are very much like my family. When I had surgery in June, three of the four managers came to visit. They brought soups since chewing was out of the question for a while. They brought gift cards for future use or for Dave since I wasn’t cooking.

What does all this have to do with the graphic at the top?

Pushing people away for the length of time that I have been suffering, leaves one without anyone who really cares. It is awkward for me to go to church, knowing that so many there saw the rawness of depression’s effects. I no longer feel like part of the “family” there. I’m also not sure how to fix that, if it is even fixable. My health has been quite bad since that surgery in June. I have been hospitalized twice in six weeks. The last hospitalization last 5 long days. In those 5 days, besides my husband, the only visitors I had were a friend from high school who I haven’t seen in thirty years and my daughter-in-law’s mother who was in Minnesota to help my son and daughter-in-law with their new baby. It meant so much to me that these two women took the time to see me. I realize that I am not part of the church family because I am the one who stopped attending. Again, though, the risk of hurt is still there, although I am happy to say that I am no longer enveloped in darkness. There are still difficult days, most of which occur because of my MS. I have not been able to work in three weeks because of my health. The last few days have started what we hope is a turn in the right direction. I actually managed to grocery shop alone this week. I couldn’t get everything (cat litter is heavy) but I managed to get much that has been drastically needed.

I know I run the risk of being ostracized even more by writing this honestly. I calculated the risk and believe it to be less than the risk of not getting these thoughts out, and in turn, staying away from church even more. I do see some light in this tunnel. I pray it is not an oncoming train, but rather the light of days that will once again hold meaning.

 

Posted in Change, CHURCH, death, depression, Facebook, faith, famiy, fear, Grandma, Grandson, growth, loneliness, love, MS | 2 Comments

Misunderstood

Image result for meme You don't know what someone is going through be kind

The above image appeared as a post in my Facebook newsfeed one day a couple weeks ago. It resonated deep within me. It has not been a secret that the last year has been insanely difficult. Narrowing that down even more, the last nine months have been, by far, incomparably difficult to anything I’ve experienced and had to walk through in the last twenty year period. Some of the most trying events were played out on social media, much to my regret. I not only regret posting about said events, I regret how many of those posts affected the people in my life who I love. I’ve been given a “gift” over the last six weeks. It certainly isn’t a gift I would seek out, but in its own strange way, it is a gift, for it has given me much time to think about the battles I have faced and the battles I continue to face.

This is where the above image comes into focus. You see, in the last six weeks I have been hospitalized twice for the same illness–pneumonia and sepsis. The most recent hospitalization was five days. In those five days, doctors were stumped, a lung specialist was brought in, but he didn’t have any quick answers either. Doctors have a theory what caused the same illness so close together, but it is just that, a theory. If their theory is correct, the five days I spent in the hospital last week into this week will be repeated without warning. I think already having a chronic illness predisposes me to future bouts of sickness. Disease progression are words one never wants to hear.

After all the above written about my health, you may think that is why these last several months have been so difficult. If you know me in person, you may think my MS or my depression is the battle(s) I fight that people know nothing about.

If that is what you think when someone says my name to you, you’d be wrong. When I started writing this blog, I said I would not sugar coat what it is like to have a chronic illness, nor would I try to hide the dark battle I fight with depression. Those two conditions, whether they are hitting individually or simultaneously, are enough to push a person to the edge. But, as the meme above reminds, sometimes people are going through something that no one knows anything about.

That is where I find myself currently. I can count on the fingers of my hands the number of people who really know the trenches our family is walking through. There is reasoning behind that; I am not intentionally sounding cryptic. Suffice it to say that we are being attacked on all sides with no mercy and no end in sight. I have cried more tears than I thought the human eyes could hold. The little faith I had coming off of last year’s big heartbreak has been, once again, shaken to its core. I am holding on by threads again. I have prayed, pleaded with and begged for God to please intervene. So far, his answer has been non existent. Or maybe He is saying “No.” Regardless, the pain will most likely never completely disappear.  Some broken hearts never mend. That is a difficult phrase for me to process right now. I don’t want to accept that this is the way things have to be. In reality, though, I know I have no choice in the matter. The trenches, full of foul-smelling standing water, mud, and insects is not a fun place to be. It’s even more unpleasant to be here pretty much alone.

More on that tomorrow though…

 

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Words

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I have always known that the old rhyme about sticks and stones and words was not true. Remember saying that ditty as a child?

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

Usually, this was recited after being called a name, maybe on the playground or on the walk home from school. The purpose, of course, was to attempt to take the power out of the words that were spoken toward you. If we were honest, though, we would all admit that while we recited the words, deep inside of us, the words from the offender really did sting. No, bones were not broken; a heart was broken.

I was called quite a few names growing up. As an elementary school child, I didn’t fit in with any of the girls. I was a natural athlete. I tended to be drawn towards what the boys my age were doing. I remember when I was in fifth grade. Our school had an end of year picnic on the evening of the last day of school. It was a family affair–not just students. I loved the annual picnic and always looked forward to it. That year, though, I had missed the last four days of school with a virus. My mom, one of the pillars of the school in terms of food, still needed to go to the picnic. I stayed home on the couch under a blanket watching television with my dad. When mom came home later that night, she told me that one of the boys in my class asked if I was coming to the picnic. She explained that I was still pretty sick and couldn’t come. This friend of mine, a boy, said to my mom, “Shoot. She’s the only girl I know who can throw and catch a baseball.” While I was accepted by the boys, the girls were not in the same camp. I was called names that ranged from tomboy to words I won’t repeat here.

As an adult, I have realized that, while words do hurt, they really are just that–words; words that come from someone else’s opinion. Whether or not I believe them or allow them to shape my thinking is up to me. For the most part, I am consciously aware of this. Sometimes, though, sometimes there are words said to me which I am unable to mentally file under the category of harmless words. These occasions typically occur when the hurtful words come from someone who I love and is supposed to love me. When I was young, those hurtful words were almost always audible. Oh, occasionally one would find a note with hurtful words written by a classmate. That was the exception, though. Now, we have texting and social media to carry the hateful messages. I am definitely guilty of hiding behind the anonymity of a keyboard. Sometimes there was no anonymity–it was clear the hurtful words came from me. These words, even though they could be traced back to me, were still easily spewed from fingers moving quickly over keys to be sent across the internet airwaves. I did not have to see the hurt in the eyes of the receiver. That made it so much easier to be mean.

Last week, I was once again reminded of how much words can and do really hurt. Eight words were typed to me that felt like a thousand daggers piercing my already fragile heart. I will not share the eight words that were sent to me in hate and anger. They are far too painful and personal. Suffice it to say that I need to retreat to tend to a very broken and pained heart before I say too much out of my own hatred and anger.

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Sowing and Reaping

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If you know me well, you know that one of my favorite genres of music is Southern Gospel, in particular, the Gaither Vocal Band. A few years ago the Gaithers included the Twin Cities on their tour. My husband, knowing how much I loved them, bought tickets for us to go to the concert. Not only did he buy tickets, he bought tickets four rows from the stage! It almost felt like I was up on stage as David Phelps sang! One song sung that night was new to me. I’m not sure who actually wrote it, but the verses were sung that night were performed by Mark Lowry. The song is titled, Sow Mercy. The last several days, the words to the song have been playing on repeat in my head. I’ll get to why in a minute. First, I want to include the lyrics:

“I can see her now, her weathered skin
Old straw hat and crooked grin
And she said child, let’s make this garden grow.
Let’s till the soil, and pull some weeds
And here’s your bag of precious seeds
‘Cause grandma’s got a secret you should know
You always reap exactly what you sow
(Chorus)
Sow mercy
Sow grace
Sow kindness
Sow faith
Words are like water, sprinkled with love
You will harvest all your heart’s been dreaming of
Sow mercy
We knelt right there and she took my hand
That patch of dirt was Holy land
And she said child I learned this long ago
Oh, you can bless or curse
You can live or die
You choose the crop you want in life
That’s the greatest secret Grandma knows
You always reap exactly what you sow
Repeat Chorus
‘Cause one day God forbid, you act a fool
And fall down hard and fast, ’cause life is cruel
If you ever reached to help a friend
A hand you held might lift you up again
What goes around comes back around you know
You always reap exactly what you sow.”

The concept of sowing and reaping isn’t new. In fact, Jesus uses the illustration in the New Testament to help illustrate something to his disciples. Paul reminds both the Corinthians and Galatians of the concept. Every farmer understands this principle, as does every gardener. My dad enjoyed gardening. I remember being sent out to his backyard garden on summer mornings to pick the vegetables that were ripened. It isn’t rocket science, really. If you hold in your hand seeds from a packet displaying a picture of a tomato, when those seeds are planted, tended to, and eventually grow, one would expect a plant that produces tomatoes. Imagine how surprised the farmer or gardener would be if the plant growing next to the little wooden stake that says “tomato” did not hold tomatoes, but instead, produced green beans.

The lyrics to the song, of course, are not referring to an actual vegetable or fruit plant. Rather, the song is trying to warn us that we need to pay attention to what we sow, for whatever that may be will be what grows in our lives and, I would say, the lives of the people around us. How often do we hear someone say they were destined to be a smoker or a drinker or some other characteristic because it is what the person grew up seeing. We know that some sins can be generational sins. I believe abuse falls into this category. If a son sees his father hit his mom, the boy may, and statistics say more than likely will, grow up thinking that hitting his wife is acceptable behavior.

So why the sudden remembrance of this song?

There are some situations in my life right now that have left me wondering if maybe the difficult things are happening because I deserve them? Going back to the reap and sow principle–did I sow that which is being reaped in my life right now?

Did I sow lack of perseverance?

Did I sow disrespect?

Did I sow selfishness?

Did I sow anger?

As I think on some of these things, the guilt level is admittedly high. I know there were many times I chose to make myself happy over others in our home. I know there were numerous occasions where I threatened to quit. I didn’t, but the threat was sometimes there. I know there were many occasions where I lost control of my temper. Of course, I blamed it on something else–I was tired, I didn’t feel well, one of the kids, my husband, or even the dog pushed all the right buttons that made me fly off the handle.

If I could turn back the hands of time, I would be more careful about what I sow. Maybe, then, I wouldn’t be reaping such painful things in my life right now.

Posted in Children, Culture, faith, growth, Parenting, sin | Leave a comment

Sucker Punched

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I believe it’s fair to say that close to one hundred percent of adults have been blindsided by a sucker punch. You know, the words that spew like daggers at you from the mouth of someone you never thought would hurt you. Whether they were vehemently directed straight at you or slinked into your ears via gossip, it seems as though the wind is instantly knocked out of you as the floor seems to buckle under your shaky legs.

Sucker punched.

A sucker punch, by definition, involves a closed fist contacting the soft underbelly of a person (beneath the rib cage) at a high velocity, causing the ensuing force to press upward on the victim’s diaphragm, leading to a sudden expulsion of air from the victim’s mouth and lungs. This opening blow leaves the victim open to various other attacks because of the defenseless nature of the victim.

Imagine for a minute that you are comfortably settled into a large hammock. The hot July afternoon sun is blocked from scorching you by the two large maple trees to which the hammock is tied. The breeze is just strong enough to cause the hammock to sway back and forth, softly rocking you to a state of ultimate relaxation. You couldn’t ask for a better place or a better way to spend a summer afternoon. Now, put yourself in the same scenario, but with a different ending. Instead of being gently rocked to sleep, a sudden gust of wind causes your hammock to swing back and forth with such force that it does a complete one eighty. Before you have a chance to do anything, you are face down on the ground below. You certainly weren’t expecting that to happen.

That is similar to how one feels when dealt an unexpected blow. The force of the blow is sometimes enough to make your head spin and your eyes lose focus.

Most everyone knows someone they perhaps fantasize about dealing such a blow. Most people also have a mental list of people they know would never be on the giving end of such pain. A spouse, a parent, a best friend…these people are usually on the latter list. Of course there are exceptions. The word dysfunctional is not lost on people. Not everyone comes from a family that sits around the table every Sunday to enjoy a meal together. Have you ever watched the television show Blue Bloods? My husband and I have recently started watching this show. I used to belong to a family like that. It has been nearly twenty years, though, since my family all got along. I strived hard to be the mom of a family like that. When the last child moved out, I felt pretty confident that I had accomplished that goal.

Then came the sucker punch; a blindsided blow that knocked the wind out of me. I’m still trying to regain my footing. I believe that when someone you love hurts you deeply there is a grieving time that cannot be rushed. I am trudging through the yuck of such grief. More than once I have wanted to wave the white flag of surrender–just let the weight of the grief consume me, put me out of my misery. Sadly, that isn’t really an option. Instead, I wake each day to push through the emotional pain caused by a hard sucker punch. The tears often fall against my will as I remember what once was but may never be again. I find myself, once again, spending time in the book of Psalms. There are so many that I can, unfortunately, relate to.

Life certainly doesn’t get easier as I get older. In fact, I would say it’s gotten exponentially more difficult. In the difficult times, I am thankful that this is not all there is. Someday, when my earthly life is done, I will finally be free of tears, pain, and sucker punches from those I have loved so hard.

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Agonizing Bones

Yesterday I made the trek out to the mailbox. We live in a townhome community, so all the mailboxes are in groups that line the street. It isn’t a long walk for me, but it is one I seldom make unless I have to be out anyway. My husband likes to get the mail, and, since he drives right by it when he comes home from work, I usually just leave it there for him to retrieve. There isn’t often anything in there that is worth going out to get anyway. Yesterday, though, I had to go to the garage to put out the garbage and recycling containers for today’s pickup. My husband has been out of town this week, so I figured I should probably get the mail. I stopped at the recycle bin on my way back to dispose of the unwanted and unneeded papers–real estate agencies wanting our business, roofing and siding companies offering a good deal to replace our roof, etc. I sorted the rest of the mail when I was back inside. The mail goes in three piles. One pile is for my husband. This pile includes conceal and carry magazines, weekly ads for a gun store, anything techie related, and bills I don’t want to look at–usually medical in nature. The second pile is a shred pile. Here goes the myriad of credit card offers we get for our two youngest kids. Why they still come to us we have no idea. One has been married for two years, and the other hasn’t lived with us for three years. Still, everyday we probably get four or five letters addressed to them, trying to entice them to open credit accounts. The third pile is my mail. This pile usually just holds cooking magazines and Kohls advertisements. Occasionally there will be a card from my mom in my pile or some other random letter I wish to read. Yesterday was a day that held one of those random letters.

Let me preface this to say, if you haven’t been super close to me over the last few months, then you have no idea where I am currently in my health journey. It has been a very bumpy road. The surgery I had in June to remove a tumor from my mouth set me back in terms of how I feel. The incision the doctor had to make was much larger and deeper than he had anticipated. It has only been in the last week or so that the wound closed. And, I use the word closed loosely. The nerves he had to cut through to get to the tumor may never regenerate. Essentially this means there is and may never be feeling on the left side inside my mouth. Chewing is difficult because of how the wound “healed”. There is also great risk of burning my mouth because I am unable to feel if something is too hot. Sometimes I will taste blood; it is only then that I am aware that I bit a hole in my cheek as I was eating but did not feel it. Also within the last few months, we have been dealt a plethora of family issues, most of which I Have no idea how to walk through. Whoever said parenting ends when your kid hits adulthood should be rounded up and tried by fire. I thought the preschool years were exhausting. Ha! That exhaustion doesn’t even come close to the exhaustion faced with issues of adult children. Preschool issues are pretty easy–share, eat your veggies, hold mommy’s hand in the store–you get the idea. The issues presented by adult kids are, obviously, adult in nature. So now as parents, we have our own adult issues (medical, work related, aging parents, etc) AND adult issues with our kids because they are now adults! Seriously. More than once I have wished I didn’t love so hard. I know there are parents out there who don’t help their adult kids with their problems. And, just to be clear, we don’t always help either. But when the issues they face are BIG issues, often they turn to us because they just don’t know what to do. Or, sometimes the opposite is true. We know something is wrong but cannot place our finger on what it is. Then, we ask them, and they say nothing is wrong when deep down inside my mom gut, I know they are lying. To round out the big problems of the last few months, my MS, which had been in partial remission for a while, decided to return with a vengeance. It has sent me into a relapse that few know about or understand. This relapse has greatly affected two areas of my daily life–my emotional health and my ability to fight the always present fatigue. In hope of finding SOME relief, I found a new doctor (wasn’t thrilled with my old one at all). After assessing the situation, she decided to change medications, reducing some, increasing others, and adding new ones. That sent my body into a state of waving the white flag in surrender. So many mornings I would wake up with my husband as normal. Then, after he left for work, I would find myself back in bed, unable to keep my head up or my eyes open. Work became a major chore instead of something I looked forward to. More than once I told my husband that my level of fatigue could only be described as bone tired. In other words, I was so exhausted, so spent, that the feeling of fatigue penetrated deep into the bones of my body. To make sure my point is made, this is NOT the kind of fatigue that normal people experience. That kind of tiredness is relieved with a good night’s sleep or a nap. MS fatigue is very different. It is debilitating fatigue. Because of this inability to really DO anything, my house is a mess. I see it; I just can’t do anything about it. One day I cleaned the bathroom sink. The output of energy that took wiped me out for the rest of the day. With that level of fatigue, my emotions are all over the place. Our body parts are all intertwined. When one is not working right, it automatically means something else has to be overworked to pick up the slack. My problem the last few months has been that there is no other body part that is able to compensate for the loss of others. Oh, and add summer to the list of factors that have driven me to this state. MS and heat do not play well together. Enough said about that.

Back to my letter in yesterday’s mail. One envelope had my name on it, and a too familiar looking symbol in orange. It was my new membership card from the MS society. You know how some credit cards list the year you became a cardholder? The MS Society membership cards list the year of enrolling. I looked at my new card, and in the bottom left side was written, “Member since 2013.” Four years. Four years of dealing with issues related to MS. This wasn’t exactly a club people were clammering to get into. People proudly display the number of years they have been at the same company, or their membership card to an elite country club. But the MS Society? To be a member of this club means one has a disease for which there is no cure. It means one has a disease that has the power to take a life. My qualification that allows me to hold a membership card to this club is not one I asked for. I didn’t pledge to be part of it so I could do all the fun things that come along with being a cardholder. No, instead I am a cardholder because I can relate to the debilitating fatigue, the painful muscle spasms, the nerve pain that feels like my hands and feet are always asleep, the vertigo that often makes me feel like I am on an amusement park ride that won’t stop, the inability to swallow, or, upon swallowing, choking on what just went down, and the lack of ability to come up with words. (I have been sitting here typing for an hour; my hands don’t want to cooperate, and when they do, my brain fog won’t let me find a word I am needing)

This morning I was reading in the book of Psalms. I have spent a great deal of time pouring over the Psalms. I find that I can relate to much of what the authors say. Their brutal honesty is refreshing in a way. Anyway, this morning I was reading random Psalms, and I came across this verse:

“Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony.”             (Ps. 6:2)

David wrote those words, a plea to his God, thousands of years before. My Bible doesn’t give the circumstances David was experiencing when he penned those words. Perhaps it was one of the many times he had to run from King Saul. Perhaps it was a time that David as King of Israel had lost a battle. Regardless, when I read those words I immediately thought, “David gets it.” If he were alive today, he would understand the deep fatigue that has overtaken my body. I recently explained my fatigue to someone using those same words–“It feels like my bones are tired.”

It doesn’t get easier by the year. Some months it is just more bearable. But easy? Never. It is difficult for me to always be positive. Depression does that to a person. This morning, though, I read something that spoke to me. It was a quote by Ann Voskamp that I came across on Twitter:

“Suffering can be a friend who drives you where you didn’t know you needed to go.”

Do I wish I didn’t have to suffer from this disease and all that goes with it? Yes. Do I hope there is someday a cure found? Yes. Do I often want to give up? Yes. But I haven’t yet. I find it intriguing that Ann Voskamp labeled suffering as a friend. When I think about it, though, it is often true. When one is really suffering, friends are hard to find. When the suffering is one that will most likely last a lifetime, it is the loneliest journey ever taken.

Posted in Children, death, depression, Facebook, faith, famiy, fear, loneliness, marriage, MS, Parenting, trust | Leave a comment

Reflections of an Old Person

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I am unfortunate enough to live in a place that was built in the 1980’s and has had little to no renovations done to it. For me, that means one entire wall of the dining room is mirrored. It also means the doors of the very wide closet in the master bedroom are also mirrored. Of course there are obligatory mirrors in all three bathrooms; the master bathroom has two. Needless to say, it seems there is nowhere in our home that I can escape reality. Reality hits twice as hard, though, in the summer. It’s so easy–and wonderful–to hide the weight gained from medications and illness underneath big, cozy sweatshirts. Sometimes, I forget just how much weight I’ve gained, as well as how old I now look. Sometimes my mind still feels like I am in my twenties. My body is quick to remind me, though, that I definitely am much older than that.

As we were driving home one morning this past week, we passed a plethora of young people on the trail that runs by our home. Some were on bicycles. Others were running, either alone or with a partner. Some of the partners were of the four legged species. If I allowed myself to go in an unintended direction with this post, I would now transition into how much I hate myself as I watch young women, clad in short shorts and a sports bra, turn the heads of every male driver passing them.

But that is not the direction I am intending right now.

Instead, my thoughts this morning are about how difficult it sometimes is to accept reality–the reality of the fact that I am old. Mirrors don’t lie. The gray hair and sagging skin and the wrinkles remind me every day that I am not the young person my mind sometimes think I am. It is this “oldness” that I find myself often dwelling as of late.

As I pass by people outside, the ones that catch my eye are those with children. Some of these are babies in strollers while others are preschoolers on little bikes. I often wonder about these young families. Do they do family activities regularly? What kind of home do they live in? What does the father do for a living? What does mom do? As I ponder those types of questions, I recall the years that our kids were little. If you know me, or if you’ve read much of what I have written, you know that I was a young bride and a young mom–at least by today’s standards. Our fourth child was born when our oldest was five years old. My husband worked hard so I could stay home, something I always dreamed of doing.  It wasn’t always easy; in fact, sometimes it was downright miserable. Looking back, though, I wouldn’t have changed that decision. There are, though, many other things I would love to go back and change. Of course, I would have to know what I know now in order to really make effective changes, and everyone knows that just cannot happen. The saying “Hindsight is twenty-twenty” haunts me as I think about the mom I was in those busy, stressful years. The poor decisions I made, the outright mistakes, the loss of patience, the quickness to scold, the hesitation to be a parent because I so wanted my kids to like me…all these and more swirl through every part of my brain much more often than I want to grant them access. Why is it that at night, my mind recalls all the ways I messed up as a mom? As I remember specific cases, I wonder do my kids remember them too? Did I not do a good enough job “Instructing them in the way they should go” as the Bible says? I want so badly to sit down with all of my now adult kids and tell them how to avoid all the mistakes I made as a marriage partner and a mom.

I don’t think they’d listen, though, no more than I would have if my mom sat me down and told me exactly how to avoid the mistakes I felt she made with me. I’m beginning to believe that mistakes are a very personal thing. I can’t steer my kids in a direction that I am 99% sure is the right one when I see them on a different course. They, like me, need to make their own mistakes. They need to learn from them. And, most sadly for me, they will need to look back when they reach the old age that I am and regret that they didn’t seek and heed the wisdom that comes from a parent who has been there, done that. I know because most of the time, I shrugged off advice given to me by my dad. He is now gone from this earth. I cannot pick up the phone and call him to beg for his wisdom in a situation. Oh, how I wish I could. How I wish I had listened to my mom and dad in those early years of parenting. They had already walked that path. They even had experience navigating the muddy waters of being a parent to adult kids. That, especially, makes me long to sit and talk with my dad once again.

I know I was far from the perfect parent. Right now, I feel like I was far from even a good parent. Perhaps I fall somewhere between the two–an adequate parent. I didn’t always do the best I could. I was selfish more than I should have been. I was angry more than I should have been. I was plagued with depression most of their childhoods. I didn’t respect my husband, their dad, like I should have. I didn’t seek wise counsel on how to deal with a special needs child or a difficult child or a colicky child or a gifted child. One thing I did, though, was always love them, perhaps to a fault.

Recently I was suffering greatly from a heartache over a situation. As I stood in the receiving area of work, I fought back tears as I shared just a little of what was hurting me. I said that I was growing quite weary of being hurt. My manager said to me, “You get hurt because you love. There are parents out there who do not–they don’t care what happens once their children become adults.” I knew she was right, but I can’t turn off the caring switch. I can’t turn off the overly-sensitive-so-seeing-a-dead-animal-in-the-street-makes-me-cry switch. To do so, I would have to harden my heart to everything around me, and as much as never being hurt again sounds like an ideal way to live, I don’t think it is how I am wired. That means I will continue to reflect on years past and feel like a failure. It means I will continue to hurt as a wife and as a mom. I tell myself that, thankfully, my life is more than half over, that someday all the hurt will stop. And on that day, God will wipe away every tear.

That is sometimes the only hope I have to cling to.

Posted in Change, Children, death, depression, empty nest, faith, famiy, love, marriage, Parenting | Leave a comment

Just a Mom

A little over 27 years ago, I gave birth to a 7lb. 10oz. baby boy. I was a young bride and a young new mommy. My husband and I loved that little boy so much. Over the course of the next five years, that little boy would welcome (kind of) 3 siblings into his life and would watch with confusion as his mommy and daddy mourned the loss of one that went straight to heaven. While I worked on and off through their growing up years, the majority of the time, with much sacrifice, I was just a mom.

Our little family, though not little by today’s standards, would face some very tough times. The little firstborn boy would be diagnosed with a speech disorder that necessitated putting him on a bus to attend a language development program 20 miles away. He was two. Back then, speech therapists and doctors were not as familiar with autism as they are today. It took 12 years to get a diagnosis as to why our beloved little boy struggled in so many areas. Meeting his needs was not always an easy task. His younger siblings often had to do something or didn’t get to do something because it would just not work with a child who has autism. One event that families look forward to doing together is attending fireworks. It only took one time doing that for us to realize that our son could just not tolerate the loud noise of fireworks. Vacuum cleaners and the Midway at the state fair brought the same reaction…his hands would fly up to his ears with hope that he could stifle the noise that actually physically hurt him.

So far, you may think this post is about my now grown son. It isn’t, but I will say one more thing about him. He has grown into a wonderful young man who is learning to find his way in a world that is loud and scary. I’m not sure he thinks that of the world, but this mom sure does. What this post is actually about is my reflections on being a stay at home mom for many years.

My husband worked, and still does, in corporate America. His job involved commuting to a downtown city, travel, and long hours, and days, away from home. I vividly recall one project he was assigned in a different state. That project was ten weeks. He would drive home and arrive late on Friday and leave either Sunday night or Monday morning. Our kids were in the busy elementary/middle school age at that time. I remember getting to about four o’clock and wondering how I would ever make it to their bedtime. I was homeschooling them too during this time. Let’s just say Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon were my best friends. Yes, I still feel guilty for the amount of screen time I allowed. Because my husband worked in a professional setting, he was obligated to attend company events. Some of these events weren’t too bad, especially the family ones. I remember a family picnic that was catered by an amazing BBQ company. There was also one at the city’s minor league baseball game, and one at Valleyfair, our area’s big amusement park. Not all of these obligatory events were fun, though. The hardest ones for me were the Christmas parties at the home of some wealthy colleague of his. This stay at home mom lived in jeans and Nikes. These get togethers weren’t exactly the kind that I could wear my normal clothes. I hate dressing up, but did so because my husband felt I should go. Dressing up, though, wasn’t the hardest part of these. By far, the hardest part for me was when someone, usually someone’s wife, would ask me what I did. I would sheepishly reply with, “I homeschool our kids,” or “I don’t work outside the home.”

I was just a mom.

Looking back, I wish I had said those words more proudly. Being “just a mom” is nothing to be ashamed of. I poured everything I had into the four kids that God blessed us with. Yes, there was sacrifice. We didn’t get vacations. I wish we could have done that for them. I didn’t even have a decent vehicle most of those years. I remember one time when my husband was out of town, the purple minivan I drove was parked in the driveway. It needed brakes so badly that, before my husband left for his trip, he asked me to please not drive it. Since he had rented a car to drive back to his clients, his little Kia was there. It was a tight squeeze getting 4 kids in it, but we did so. I dropped one off for something at the high school and the other 3 went with me to a 4H meeting. I left them there to go back to the high school to get our daughter. She finally came out. I turned the key only to have nothing happen. Nothing. Not even a “I might be able to start” turning over of the engine. I ended up calling a neighbor to come get us and driving the van with no brakes to get the other kids.

Our family never got to Disneyworld. We didn’t go to Florida or California to see the ocean. Being “just a mom” cost us financially. BUT, I have so many memories with our kids. Since I homeschooled, I was with them 24/7. We did lots of nature walks, science museum visits, and zoo field trips. We even went to a cave and mined for rocks. I look back at the pictures I took of those times and I see smiling kids.

Maybe being just a mom was a good thing after all. I got a front row seat to the best years of their childhood. It meant sacrifice of not only money but also time. I sometimes grumbled about it then…okay, I often grumbled about it then. But looking back, I wouldn’t trade those days with my kids for all the money in the world. IN fact, I wish I could go back and do it all again.

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Posted in Children, empty nest, famiy, Parenting | 3 Comments