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Listen. One Word. And a health update

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Monica S. One Word 2016 (1)

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.”–Henri Nouwen

A decade ago I worked in marketing management for a very large builder in the Washington DC area. There were many wonderful things about this company, but one of my favorites was the intentional way they encouraged employees and departments to set yearly goals and break them down in manageable ways to ensure we could meet or exceed them. Our yearly bonuses were partly tied to the accomplishing of these goals. I have carried their model into my personal life. Even with a mostly broken body and a calendar where best laid plans fall to the wayside for health emergencies and setbacks I have felt an empowered purpose through continuing this discipline.

Another way this company poured into building up those in management was evaluating our personality types to help us better understand ourselves and those we worked along side. We also participated in what are called 360 peer reviews. These are reviews from your bosses or people in lateral positions to your own and more importantly from those you manage. I have utilized this same idea less formally in my close friendships and relationships. I regularly ask my husband and children how I can be a better wife and mother. I ask them what they are missing or needing from me.

Most of my work reviews were very complimentary, but there was one specific comment from someone I will never forget. “Monica feels the need to be insightful on every topic.” In a corporate environment entrenched in a culture of meetings I often found myself around a huge boardroom table of mostly men discussing land development, zoning and big scale financial projections. I took notes. I tried to keep up. I also felt a pressure to add something to the discussion to validate my presence. I know for sure there were entire meetings I was just waiting for the opening to say something and missed the opportunity to just be there, listen and learn.

This is the fifth year I have chosen a word in January as a guiding focus for the twelve months to follow. I began this practice in 2012 directly following my first big brain surgery and fusion. My word was “Possibility.” In 2013 it was “Restore.” In 2014 it was “Play” and last year it was “Commit.”

2016’s word came to me early on. I began to understand God was calling me to a season of more quiet last fall. In early September I wrote to you about “going away” for awhile. Without the real or imagined pressure to continue to say something I began to understand my head and my heart were being flooded with an impossible number of images, memes and calls to action. My ministry of prayer and support to an ever growing number of people in my EDS and Chiari community was creating a compassion fatigue so real I could no longer decipher between my own suffering and that of the ones I was carrying so close to my heart. Social media was smothering me. The desire to read everything my new and growing group of writer friends were publishing on the screen or on paper became an ocean that pulled me under. I was also advised to be working on building a platform for my book. Every moment of self promotion felt wrong. As the book became a finished document needing a champion, an editor, a publisher and yes, realistically, an audience, I became less committed to it. The book is a hard fought chunk of my soul, painstakingly built as an offering, and I began to doubt it would or could matter in the tsunami of stories written and published. Was I wrong about Gauntlet all along? Did I misread God’s providential leading and what I thought were blatant nudges to write and publish? I ignored and pushed off emails of industry people pursuing me. I became more ill. I had a brain shunt revision in October, another long round of plasmapheresis in December and four weeks of intensive chemotherapy that ended last week. I didn’t want to talk about any of it. As Dani Shapiro so poignantly writes, “A Memoir is Not a Status Update.” As much as I felt a responsibility to all of you who have prayed and encouraged and donated for oh so long I began to realize the little blips of sharing here or there were merely drops in a very real ocean of pain I’d been dressing up as a beautiful fight for far too long. The battle cry “Our Hope Remains” lost meaning. What if the Gauntlet has more land mines than gifts, and I’ve been selling a lie I needed to tell myself to survive?

At the very core of all this angst was the truth I had become completely overcome by a cacophony of voices other than God’s. I had forgotten the world is not waiting with baited breath for my next words. There will be others to like and comment. There will even be others who will hand write a note or send a text to encourage. There will be others praying too. Beautiful stories of courage and hope will be written and published, and I might miss their launch. My dear friends will celebrate birthdays and lose loved ones. Without the Facebook scroll I might be too late to mail the card or send the flowers. Babies will be born, and I’ll not see the vernix covered miracle within minutes of it happening. I don’t need to weigh my life against the beautiful meal you made, the new bracelet you bought for the best cause or the inspiring quote or Bible verse that got you through your day. I needed to turn it all off, and I did.

My word for this year is “Listen.”

I am reading Adam S. McHugh’s new book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction. I am reading slowly. I am reading well. I am blown away by the over 1500 times in the Bible God asks us to stop, be still, hear, pay attention, take heed and LISTEN to His words. I’m even more struck by the amazing Grace of His willingness and desire to listen to us. I know for sure this gift of intimate relationship with my Heavenly Father, my Savior and the Holy Spirit has been hijacked by even the good, better and best “noise” of this world.

I’ve said February 1st is my January 1st. I’ve given myself the freedom to just float. When we put away the Christmas decorations I left the majority of space empty in my home. I’m learning to be still with the quiet. I’ve re-tuned my heart to the hear Grace in the fount of many blessings. I’ve returned to the comforting disciplines of first things first. Sitting at the foot of the cross is where I’ll hear Him best. The Bible is open. This is where I know for sure He speaks. “You become a disciple by hearing…This is the pattern that life commands. Listen before you speak. Learn before you teach. Hear the call before you lead. Absorb the word before you preach it.”(10) If I could bow my head I would, instead He bends His ear to me. (Psalm 31:2; 86:1) I forgot. He wants to hear me too. I find myself “at the heart of the gospel mystery–that the heavenly King not only speaks but listens…”(35) My prayers have changed. I hear Christ’s voice in Mark 10 asking blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” I don’t need to answer in a hurry. He knows already and still He wants to hear me ask in faith, believing. Beautiful Grace.

I will wear the word “Listen” for 365 days. I will write it on my doorposts. I will study it, and it will change me. I don’t know what this means for my book or my blog or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram except I will continue to be quiet for at least awhile longer. I’m resting. I’m waiting to hear and obey.

Do you have a word you want to claim for 2016? What do you want it to mean for your life in the coming weeks and months?

The image of my 2016 word was created by Traci Michele Little.

(Here is a quick health update: I finished four weeks of a very targeted chemotherapy drug called Rituxin following my latest round of plasmapheresis. I will have bloodwork next week to check levels. Our prayer is this drug will keep the infection that attacks my entire body, especially my brain and heart, away longer. The horrible pelvic pain and bleeding I was experiencing has completely subsided since treatment. I continue to have days of great pain, especially in my neck and spine. The winter is always hardest on my body. Thankfully my most recent shunt has been managing the changing pressures. Our financial stress grows with each new treatment and especially at the beginning of a new year when all our deductibles and out of pockets begin again. The total on my insurance explanation of benefits from December 7th through January 7th was $67,000. When we are tempted to despair we are brought back again and again to God’s faithfulness. Dayenu. Enough. Please pray for our Danica who has been complaining of frequent leg pain. Over spring break we will spend several days in Cincinnati at the Children’s hospital to have scans and see neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery. As she grows we will see how her body sustains the experimental hardware used in her fusion and watch her lower spine curvature. We are ever grateful for your prayers and especially the faithful ones who remember even when I have stopped sharing out loud. We live in a shelter built by years of love, sacrifice and generosity. Thank you.)

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Dear Delaney…On Chiari and Seeing and Staying with Pain

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LaneyLemon“Finding grace in suffering is less about cognitively assenting to the truth of God’s goodness than about letting our souls and bodies be seen. If you are a sufferer, be seen. If you encounter someone’s suffering, tuck your words of God’s goodness away until you’ve first listened with the eyes of your heart determined not to look away from pain.”-K.J. Ramsey, This Too Shall Last: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers

My darling girl,

I’ve been writing in a journal to you since before you were born. Many of the entries are full of wisdom I’ve collected through the years and want to make sure I share with you. Most of them begin with the word, “On…”

When you were almost three years old we enrolled you at a Montessori school in Akron, Ohio. I would drop you there on my way to work. It was the first time I’d left you with someone who wasn’t family. Just a few weeks into our new routine I received a phone call from the school. “There’s been an accident. Delaney fell and cut her head. We need you to come right away.” It was a twenty minute drive from my office to the school. You tripped while running and the corner of a cabinet split your forehead wide open. When I rushed into the school I gasped at all the blood. A pediatrician mom told me the head is very vascular and not to worry but to take you to the children’s hospital emergency room right away. Your dad met us at the school and drove us there. I sat in the back seat holding a cold cloth to your wound and tried to keep breathing. When the time came for them to hold you down and place thirteen stitches in your perfect brow I couldn’t watch. I couldn’t hold your hand. I couldn’t tell you it was going to be okay. I began to black out and a nurse took me out of the room to sit on the cold floor with my head between my knees. I sobbed while you screamed. Your dad stayed with you.

Next Saturday you and I will fly to New York alone. You have Chiari and need a brain decompression. But it’s not that “simple.” We aren’t sure if your Chiari is being caused by something else like a leak of cerebral spinal fluid. Sixteen days from now you will be rolled away from me and have something called an ICP bolt placed. It will measure your intracranial pressure for twenty-four hours. Eighteen days from now you will have brain surgery.

One of my biggest fears is that you will wake up and look at me in the terror of post op pain and ask me why I didn’t tell you how hard it is.

I don’t want to take for granted you understand what will happen just because your little sister has been cut three times and we are just calling my surgeries “countless” now. I know the trauma of watching us climb into the car or on a plane and leave you behind all these years has settled into a hum of reality. I also know you have been protected from seeing the worst because we always needed specialized care so far away. By the time we made it home we were hurting but healing. You didn’t hear the screams when our IVs blew and no one could get a new vein. You didn’t see the hours without pain meds while we suffered and waited for IV therapy. You didn’t see the delicate dance with each new shift nurse and resident doctor fighting for the best care while not tipping the scales to crazy. You didn’t experience the dreaded day two, the day after the triumphant Facebook posts about being a warrior, the day when all the anesthesia wears off and we wondered how in the world this hurt could be better than the pain that brought us there. You didn’t see the endless parade of helpers that took our vitals and checked the equipment and cleaned the room and brought the meal tray and took it away along with the nutritionist and pain management doctor and physical and occupational therapist and social worker. You didn’t smell the antiseptic hospital odor that oozed from our pores. You didn’t taste the flush of the IV over and over or feel the tearing of the tape off skin while checking wounds. You didn’t see the desperate need to be released from the hospital just to be anywhere else just so we could finally rest.

Today I explained the process of hospital admission and getting ready. I talked about the questions you will answer over and over again. I discussed the awful moment when they will take you away from me and you will be alone in a freezing cold room with masked faces and cold hands moving you to the operating room table while placing sticky leads all over your chest. My body has become just a container for my soul but you are seventeen and no one has ever touched you like this. You are most worried about the catheter and knowing someone will be in your private places after you are put to sleep. It may be the hardest part. They will ask you your name and birth date one more time and do you have any allergies and what surgery you are there for. You will be scared and so ready for the mask and the gentle voice asking you to take a deep breath and another…

I will fight like hell to be there when you wake up. Because you are a minor and we will be at a children’s hospital they tell me I can. You will be confused and groggy. Your throat will hurt from the intubation and your mouth will be so dry. They will say your name and ask you if you are in any pain. And you will begin to grapple with what’s just happened. You will want to know how the surgery went, how large the incision is and when we can go home. From the moment you wake up you will begin thinking about your own bed, and Dad and Danica and Twix and every hard thing after waking up will be the next hard thing you do to make it there.

You rushed me through all this and began to cry. A Delaney cry. Your little nose quivered like a bunny and a tear slipped down your cheek as you quickly wiped it away and said, “It will be okay, right?.” You reminded me you are in pain every day and this is just something you have to do to move on to the life you want. You asked me while you were telling me. And I wanted to reassure you, but I’m afraid too. I’m most afraid of lying to you about any of it, because that’s not what we do. You and I have always been impeccable with our words to one another, one of the four agreements I raised you on.

It was easier for me to have faith with little Danica. I’d been fighting for her since I first heard her fetal heart beat. Laney, I always believed you were meant to fly away from all this chronic illness and suffering. You were to leave with a hard scrabble story of a character building childhood resting on the foundation of God’s faithfulness and the multitudes of kindness that were miracle to our family. I said a thousand times I was holding you loosely. It turns out I’m clutching you girl. But I know every impossibly hard thing I’ve lived and learned about Chiari has brought me to be your mother right now. I have seen the goodness of God in the land of the living. I’ve seen miracles. And I’m pleading with God for one now.

Laney, I promise you I will not look away even once during these next hard weeks and months. I won’t faint and be ushered away. I will not tell you how good God is to clean up the edges of the suffering. I will write this story exactly as it unfolds with the vulnerability of being seen. I will stay. And God will be there too. Nothing about Him will change. He will watch over us and be faithful and work out His great love for us through the pain.

Please Jesus. In the chaos of pandemic and the necessary and holy work of fighting for justice and change please see us too, a broken mother and a hurting daughter who will be far from home in a strange city fighting demons. Please be with Dan and Danica as they are left here. Comfort them. Protect their minds and hearts. Thank you for the community of love surrounding us as we move forward. Please continue to provide our needs and access to care through the generous hearts of others giving and sharing so many will pray. On Chiari, I’m begging you to lead us in the perfect plan for surgery and bring healing in the multitude of ways we need to make this a success. Help us show that honest suffering will always point to You and inspire hope. Our hope remains. We know this too is Grace. Amen.

(Friends, I’m humbly asking you to please add Delaney’s surgery dates to your calendar. They are Wednesday, June 24th and Friday, June 26th at Columbia-NewYork-Presbyterian, The Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. Please share her story and ask your friends and church to pray. Use the hashtag #teamdelaneyjayne. If you want to follow her story and receive updates while we are in New York please follow me on Instagram @MonicaKayeSnyder or through Delaney’s gofundme page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-delaney-jayne-overcome-chiari

Thank you for giving and making a way. Thank you for praying when we are weary and cannot find the words. Thank you for encouraging. This is such an incredibly hard and lonely place for all of us. We need our people to see us and stay.

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A New Nest. A Longing Fulfilled

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“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”-Proverbs 13:12

My last post, exactly four weeks ago, spoke about how I drove to a little house that was for sale a few miles north of here. They’d just dropped the price, and it was maybe something we could afford. I cried and I prayed. I asked God to make a way. I begged Him to gently scoop our family up and set us down somewhere we could stay for awhile and even put down roots.

Later that evening my parents and Dan and I toured the home with our realtors. We knew. The six of us stood by the front door before leaving and my dad prayed. Nothing is too hard for our God. I don’t want to fill this space with the challenges we face buying a home. If you’ve read here or at Team Danica’s old blog you know our deep and abiding medical debt and the way we’ve lived off manna the past decade, manna often placed outside our tent from God through you. You may know the beautiful home we’ve rented here was literally a miracle gift of time and place to start over, something we never could have afforded to rent on our own. You may know that any house payment is a stretch because our need for access to specialized medical care and surgeries will not end and year after year the out of pocket costs are more than Dan makes. They just are.

It’s day 599 living here. I asked God for a year. He gave me so much more. He graciously let me settle into a rhythm of being fully alive. We’ve suffered gratitude and we’ve sucked the marrow out of every day. It has been ALL GRACE.

We closed on our new desert home yesterday and should receive our keys today. There is so much hope but also understandable grief, and we are letting ourselves sit in this messy emotional space. The grief of leaving a home where I’ve healed the most ever in my life is compounded by all the hard work and physical effort this move requires. And it’s all happening in a pandemic world. It’s all happening when my Delaney Jayne is losing everything we dreamed the end of her senior year would be while needing brain surgery. She’s needing brain surgery in a city with the most Covid-19 cases and deaths in the United States.

I received a message from an Ohio friend last week. She shared Psalm 84 with me. I read it in bed on my phone. I opened my Bible and read it with my coffee in my little nest corner, the only part of my home still intact. I carried my Bible outside and read it again while eating breakfast in the sun.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—

a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield, O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.

Lord Almighty,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Please rejoice with us as we move into our new nest, a deep longing fulfilled. Please pray for us. I heard from Delaney’s neurosurgeon this week. He still plans to do her surgeries on June 8th and 10th. Brain surgery is not elective. I cannot see my way from here to there. We need to raise money for her out of network deductible. How can we ask for help again, especially now? We need to find a safe way to NYC and a protected place to recover there after. We need to find a safe way home. Please pray for my own physical pain, the mouth issue that simply will not heal and my need for my chemo. It’s become more clear Delaney and I will be doing the New York trip, surgery and recovery there alone. My body and spirit will be pushed beyond their limits. I will need strength and endurance only God can give.

We look to God’s faithfulness and know He will make a way.

Our new nest is another stone in our Ebenezer.
Ebenezer

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Home. Returning and Remembering

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Weighted
“…Why does the Scripture echo with the twin commands to return and remember? It is because God’s promises always intersect with places. We relate to God and to one another in some place. To remember is to return. To return is to remember. Rootlessness is a kind of forgetting. And home is the dwelling place of memory.”-Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky

Day 571.

It came through an email and then a formal letter. A notice that our lease here will not be renewed. The children held under the trust would like to move back into their home. The home where they lived with their mother when she died. The home they had to vacate immediately so it could be rented while the finances were handled. I’ve prayed for them. I’ve wondered about their hearts.

It’s a beautiful story. How God not only brought us to Tucson but prepared this house for us. I’m crying now because I cannot imagine having lived anywhere but this healing place. Although I’ve had two shunt surgeries since relocating I have healed more than I thought was possible in this life. I’ve lived more days out of bed, driving my girls to school, making dinner, doing a load of laundry and sitting outside with my face in the sun than I did in the ten years prior. I’ve had suffering but so much less pain. Almost every night I step outside and take a picture of setting sun. I walk barefoot across the pebbly desert path to the fence looking down into the wash and out towards the Tortolita mountains. I feel the evening air on my face. And I say, “Thank you.” I thought I held this miracle time here loosely. Faced with the vacate date on the letter I realized I’ve begun to take root.

Shelter is Dan and I’s shared insecurity. We have childhood reasons and young adult reasons. Both of us felt at one time or another we didn’t have a safe place to land and made desperate decisions out of the deep need and desire. When I met Dan I fell in love with his townhouse as much as I did him. It was the first home he purchased on his own. I worked in the real estate boom in Northern Virginia and Maryland, and he worked in the early days of internet sales. Between 1999 and 2002 we bought and sold five homes, all of them new construction. I was gifted at creating beautiful spaces and several of our homes we sold with most of the furniture and decor. All of them sold within a day or two. People walked into these places and wanted to stay.

If you’ve read through the days of Team Danica you know we’ve left homes. Perhaps the most painful was in 2011, after Danica’s second brain surgery and fusion when we moved into my parent’s basement. The facebook memory came up today, “Took a huge leap of faith and gave notice on our house today.The windows are open, and I hear a bird chirping. It reminds me, ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’-Matt 6:26” I had to quit my job to take care of her while she was in her brace and wheelchair. I was also at the point I could no longer function with my own Chiari and instability and needed surgery. It was a miracle, a year and a half later, when we passed our little Rockingham ranch with a ‘For Sale’ sign and prayed for the impossible and God said, “Yes.” We weren’t even looking and barely hoping we could have our own place again. And oh how we loved that little home. I lived in my nest chair or in bed and friends would come to just sit in the sweet and peaceful space. Leaving our house, safely in my parent’s name to protect it from our endless medical bills, and affordable because of my own disability, was the riskiest part of this move west. Dan and I would have lived there until we died if it hadn’t been in Ohio, a place that was slowly killing me.

Now Delaney needs brain surgery. Out of state. Out of network. More daunting than anything we’ve faced. And we have to move. It’s heartbreaking for us all, but for Delaney to not be able to picture where she will recover is particularly agonizing. She inherited the gift of creating beautiful spaces and her room is her refuge. Dan and I’s great grief is we cannot give this stability to our girls. We could rent again. But we’ve learned how unstable that is. Apartment living is not really an option because of my mast cell. Even our neighbor’s dryer sheets here make me very ill if a window is open. For so many reasons where we live is medicine. It’s the safe place to be most well. We need some control over that.

I promised Dan we would face this problem head on when Delaney and I returned from NY and DC. When our trip was cut short by the health crisis and we flew in Sunday he pressed me. I was still in mama warrior mode. I needed to get the consult from my Maryland neurosurgeon. I needed to schedule actual surgery dates in NYC. I needed to take a breath and scan my own body for the pain and infection I’ve been ignoring. I broke apart. I told him we would look at apartments in the city of Tucson. This is what we can afford. No, we can’t, but we can try. How can we ever settle when my health and the health of our girls is forever in jeopardy? There will always be another surgery, more treatment, more than we can pay. We have been called to the achingly beautiful life of manna. No safety nets. No savings account. No college fund. No retirement. Still, we wake every day and there is Dayenu. Enough. More than enough.

As I was praying this morning I realized most of the world is now being asked to at least consider what it is like to live in this way. When everything else falls away what remains? Returning. Remembering. Home.

I picked up the contents of the girl’s lockers at their school today. They were bagged and put in the passenger seat of my car curbside. I drove to a little house north of here that’s for sale. It’s exactly the price we can afford if we could get a loan. I asked God to reconcile the struggle in my heart and make it clear through providence and provision where we are to go and to please pry my heart away from this dream of rooting in a specific place if He’s asking me to wander the desert instead. I prayed the verse I’d read this morning, “Give me a sign of your goodness.”-Psalm 86:17 As I pulled into our driveway I saw a large box on the front porch.

When Delaney and I went to New York last week we stayed in gorgeous condo in Hudson Yards. It was offered to us through a friend of a friend. It’s one of the most beautiful things we know through all our hard. There is so much kindness. This woman didn’t hesitate to open her home to us but also stocked the fridge with healthy food and left fluffy white towels, pillows and duvets. On the bed in my room was a throw blanket that looked loosely knit but was actually weighted. I slept like a baby. The first night I thought maybe it was my sheer exhaustion. But the second night I knew for sure it was magic. My relationship with rest is complicated. I’ve taken strong sleep medication and ativan every night for a decade. I swallow my pills and wait. And wait. And wait. Every synapse in my body fires. My legs twitch. My mind races. And I wait. This was a different kind of falling asleep and staying asleep. I texted gratitude to the angel who gave us the gift of staying there and asked her where in the world she got the blanket. Today my very own blanket arrived on my doorstep. I laughed and cried. It was God’s sign of goodness. Another beautiful story in this epic life of humbly receiving love. It was hope.

There are other signs today. There was a rainbow over the Catalinas in the pouring rain and the expressed heart of a church praying for us and the beauty of my parents loving us in the urgent and particular need of finding a home.

As the world shelters in place I think more than ever of Tony Woodlief’s words from Somewhere More Holy,

” . . . This is the story of how we reclaim the things that are lost. It’s also a story about how a home can be become sacred, and how in the process it can sanctify us as well. I can tell you these things because I have been in dark places–which is the only way any of us learns to love the light. . . Home is more than a place where we eat and sleep; it is where we learn grace, where we glimpse heaven. It is where we find or lose God, or perhaps where He finds us if we will only be still long enough to listen for Him.”

I can feel the collective world stilling themselves. These are dark times. As everyone returns home, whatever that looks like, may we remember the light. If we lose our way. If we forget the goodness. let’s remind one another.

Thank you for all your love and prayers. I’ve been particularly quiet this week. Tomorrow morning Delaney and I will have a phone consult with the Maryland neurosurgeons we were supposed to see in person. It will bring clarity to the surgical decisions made in New York. We have surgery planned for Monday June 8th for an ICP bolt to measure Delaney’s pressure for 24 hours and then the brain surgery on Wednesday, June 10th. It will be days in the hospital and then another week after discharge until a post-op visit that will clear her for travel home. It all seems impossible. But that is the awful place where miracles happen.

Our Hope remains.

Rainbow

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For Those Paying Attention. Thank You

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Paying Attention
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”-Simone Weil

It’s the quote I’ve been scratching on each new thank you note I’ve written since my latest brain shunt surgery not even three weeks ago.

I’m sitting on the back patio watching the desert sun sink westward through a hedge of sagebrush, a lime tree laden with bright green citrus and a large prickly pear. It’s mid November, and I am just now feeling the coolness of a fall night whisper against my bare skin. I will need a hoodie soon. It’s day 442 in Tucson, and I still catch my breath at the wonder of it all. I’d finally deleted North Canton, Ohio from the weather app on my phone, but I remember how quickly autumn turns to winter there. This morning a friend sent me a text saying it was in the fifties but will be snowing tonight and the low temperature in the teens. The blood in my heart froze, a kind of PTSD remembering how a pressure change like that could level me for days and how every year I wondered how I would hold on until I could fly away like a bird to this sun setting behind these mountains.

Even in this peace there is a cacophony of sounds begging me to listen. A coyote howling on the Catalina side of Oracle road. A family of quail making their way home for the night. A dog barking in the cul de sac across the big wash. A neighbor in the front whistling as he puts out the trash. Road noise as people make their way home from work. My faithful husband washing dishes just inside the screen door. And the softer sound the wind makes in the low lying plants and trees.

Each one begs attention.

My phone, often plugged in beside my bed on silent, is beside me now. My sister hit a deer this afternoon. I’m waiting to hear from her. A friend is very ill. I’m waiting for any kind of update. There is an inbox of emails full of mostly junk and some things I will need to address. I really should check before bed in case there’s something school related for the girls I need to know. There are Instagram and facebook apps on my homescreen. I’ve not checked them for hours, and I didn’t post today. They are the loudest, right? Shouting the never ending cry, “Pay attention to me.”

There’s the news. I try to avoid it. But it’s Veterans Day, and I should watch. I hope for a story of courage and kindness tonight. Monday night football begins early here. My Dan has so few things that relax him a little and bring him joy. It will be a good game. I should sit next to him and snuggle for awhile. He needs his wife’s attention. Danica is learning to crochet. She’s been out to ask me if I can help her order yarn and a different size hook on Amazon with birthday money. She needs my attention. Laney is in her room working on homework and art. She painted her Hydroflask brilliantly and now she has requests from her friends. Next November her room will be empty. I will not be able to knock on her door and lie on her bed for a few minutes just to talk. I will text her or call her or direct message her and hope she has a moment in her new college life to pay me a little attention.

Every day, every moment of the day, we are distracted, moving on quickly, our neuro pathways branching off in a hundred different ways. We watch short video clips, scroll ads, click to buy, forward a gif…QUICKLY, you have three seconds. If I’m not entertained or intrigued or appalled you’ve lost me. It’s why most of my brilliant writer friends quit blogging. The story never gets a true arc anymore. You’ve got to have a good picture and a staccato of words with an instant take away. Grab me. Give me something I can use NOW or I’ve got to scroll on. Maybe it’s why I’ve quit writing here too. What’s my word count now? No one will probably even make it this far in.

It’s almost dark. The birds are getting noisier. More coyotes have joined the chorus. The stars will be clear and bright soon. In Ohio the clouds are pressing down, but I will see Orion’s belt before I sleep.

Thank you friends.

Thank you for not looking away.
Thank you for praying.
Thank you for giving.
Thank you for giving again.
Thank you for sharing our story with someone new who met a different need.
Thank you for receiving from us knowing it’s a ripple of someone else’s love.
Thank you for trusting us to sit in your own fires.
Thank you for inviting us even when we can rarely show up.
Thank you for showing up because we can’t come to you.

Thank you for paying attention to the suffering and the dazzling Shekinah glory in our wounds.
This paying attention is rare and pure, and we are saved by it.
We will never stop thanking you.

I am healing slowly. The past few days I’ve not kept any food in my tummy. My stitches on my head and neck are raw. I’m not sleeping well or at all. But I’m so alive. I don’t have a headache. I’m born again like each time before when I was saved from the crushing pain. And you are part of this story over a decade old.

I read Shannan Martin’s ‘The Ministry of Ordinary Places’ for the fifth time this weekend. I pulled it out to find a marked quote for the book I’m writing about giving and receiving and all the kinds of currency we’ve lived and been loved by…more gift and less gauntlet. Once again I couldn’t put her story away. At the end of chapter seventeen, titled ‘The Discipleship of Sticking Around’, she writes:

Just as Jesus instructs us through parables, we lead by our stories. I want the search party story. The lighthouse story. The living-at-the-end-of-myself story, where I link arms with the ones I love, and we stand together, one foot jammed against the cross, the other on the cold, stone floor of the empty tomb. I want a story of beating heart interdependence with the saints around me, sharpening each other as we walk together through life, every day a bit closer to the heart of our Father.

I want to stay stuck in the story of God, shaping my last splinter of hope into a sturdy lifeboat, a bridge worn smooth by His goodness, a faith that’s warp proof.

This is long haul discipleship.
This is why we stay.

Thank you for staying friends.
Our Hope remains.

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Loving and Losing Place. Risking Roots

by

AZHouse

“I wonder if loving and losing a place causes our hearts to fracture. Or does it enlarge our capacity for loving and making some other place well? Placemaking asks that we love a place with all of ourselves, but placemakers don’t always get to stay in the places they have made. Placemaking offers no protection from all the many forms loss can take. Am I brave enough to risk my heart again?”-Christie Purifoy, ‘Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty and Peace.’

We’ve been in Tucson 204 days. That’s 204 days without a hospital visit. Without an ER visit. Without a surgery. That’s 204 days my body has been healing instead of undergoing a new trauma. That’s 204 days I’ve been a wife and a mother to a family that truly felt I was slipping away. This is exceeding, abundant above all we could have asked or thought when God clearly made the providence and provision for us to come here. It still feels like a dream we might suddenly wake up from.

Everyone asks if things are really that much better here. Yes. So much better. There is hard. I’m just not posting about it, and I’m not writing about it, because that was the ONLY story for too long. I know this seems like a betrayal to some in my chronic illness community, because EDS and all the demons it spawns cannot be cured, especially by relocation. Those closest to me know the truth. I’ve had bad days. Stay in bed under my weighted blanket and take pain meds bad days. Monday and Tuesday were two of them. A front moved in with rain. The pressure was relentless. Perhaps the worst since we moved here. I was dizzy and nauseous. And my heart ached. I’m still keenly aware of every tube from my shunts and the whirring of fluid being pulled from my brain and spinal cord. But I didn’t feel desperate. I could see the forecast bringing warmth and sun and knew I could endure the suffering. Real hope changes everything.

We’ve had house guests and company since early February. I’ve been well enough to offer hospitality to dear friends and family. God is in the details, and I’ve loved serving and caring for others in the specific ways only having them in your home allows. Early in Dan and I’s marriage I had beautiful guest rooms. There’s something in me that thrills at the opportunity to say, “Come, rest here awhile.” Having the space to share these stunning views and new desert life has been gift. It’s also nurtured the dream I have to offer respite to other EDS warriors here. I won’t let that go. God won’t let me.

My parents were some of the guests we hosted. They were able to visit us for eleven days. It’s their second time out. They’ve fallen in love with the mountains and the sun. And they’ve missed us too. They were the ones who showed up whenever we called. Mom would stay with the girls. Dad would drop everything to drive me to Virginia or Pennsylvania for an emergency surgery. They gave us a place to live in their basement for a year and a half after Danica’s second brain surgery and fusion when I wasn’t able to lift my head and needed my own. They were willing to buy our sweet little ranch in their name and rent it but never made us feel like it was anything but our own. They know the absolute hardest part of our decision to move here was to let that home go and our greatest fear is we will never have another one.

They are retiring. They are wanting to move here. In all their love for us they have been trying to find a way to help us again. Beginning last May when they traveled here with us to explore even the possibility of moving we looked at new homes here in Oro Valley that allow two generations to live together under one roof with very separate living spaces. It seems like a great idea and a possible work around for the higher cost of housing here and Dan’s income relative to our medical debt and the reality of the cost of ongoing care. Perhaps we could make it work. This week we realized it’s just too expensive and Dan and I can’t contribute what we don’t have. It was painful and also a strange relief.

Here’s the most beautiful thing. My dad called me to talk about the dead end. What would we do? Would we stay in Arizona? Could we without the miracle help we’ve been given this year? Did we still want them to move here if we couldn’t make a housing fit work? I cried. Dan and I only ever wanted them to make the best decision FOR THEM. They’ve worked hard in education and ministry. They did not begin saving for retirement until very late. Nothing about them putting a large home loan for us both onto their plates at this stage in their lives seems right to us. Yes, dad, come. The same God who brought us here will keep us here and provide for us here.

Half of our time in this house is up. We promised we weren’t going to talk about it until March. It’s March 17th. We have 167 more days in this place. And then what? A man came to the door Tuesday night and said the mortgage wasn’t being paid by the lienholder. I broke down in tears. This house is rented under a trust for two children after their mother died in July of last year. She built it in 2005 as a healing place. I wanted to know the story of the family who lived here before us, and I’ve found out pieces and parts. It’s made me feel connected in a deeper way than I’d imagined. It’s made me let down my guard. Hang pictures. Scatter rugs. Unpack the last box. Exhale. All the while knowing there is an expiration date on this miracle. What if we don’t even have six more months? How behind are they? If this is true what does this do to our lease?

A little broken part of me frantically wonders if this is where the miracle ends. When there is no acute need are we finally on our own? Or maybe this is the most acute need we’ve ever had. Home is essential to be rooted. My heart’s cry for 2019. “Oh God, how I want a simple little place to settle in and exhale. Please God.” Home is essential to my continued healing and the hearts of my family, especially my Dan. It seems too hard. Our medical bills. My lack of access to insurance other than Medicare which limits my access to care and the need to come up with cash for continued treatments. Dan’s career. My disability. Danica’s braces, Delaney’s college visits and actual college…How can a family try for so long and come up empty?

But it’s never been empty, has it?
It’s always been Dayenu.
It’s always been enough.
More than enough.

One thing I know for sure about our God. He is always working behind the scenes preparing all the details long before He reveals the plan for deliverance. Isn’t this what the entire Old Testament teaches us? It’s always through a story we can best see how mighty to save He really is. The weaving of tragedy and heartache along with blessings and kept promises keeps us looking for the glorious Hope in the wilderness.

Christie writes:

“The wilderness is not necessarily a desolate place. It has to own unique beauty, and that beauty is enough. It does not need us. It does not ask for our participation…The gift of the wilderness is that this is the place where we go to simply receive. This is the place we go to listen. In the wilderness, we are given the opportunity to lay down the burden of our desire to make and remake so that when some other place invites our participation and our creative efforts, we are ready to offer those things in humility.”

Our Heavenly Father longs to give us good things. He is the top broker in desert real estate and specializes in wilderness homes. He knows what we need and the deep desire of our hearts. More than anything He’s changed these hearts to trust Him with whatever He has planned. If it’s a cleft in the craggy side of the mountain we will go. If it’s a tent by the wash we will go. We know who He is. We trust His character and see His faithfulness. We believe God will make a way, even though we can’t see it now. We also believe there is no way for us to coordinate this plan for ourselves. There is freedom in this trust. Help will come. “God, please bring help. You know we give you every glory.”

Placemaker

We’ve had the most lovely past few days as a family. Thursday we went to bake goodies for the Ronald McDonald House. Friday I took the girls for haircuts. Dan came home to us hanging on the back patio listening to a family favorites playlist. We stayed out to see the sun set and much later. I whispered under my breath, “God I’ll never take this for granted.” Saturday we went downtown to an art show and had dinner with one another. Danica’s friend came to spend the night and they giggled and goofed off and Dan made a bonfire for S’mores. This morning was church and then Dan and I went for a long walk together. That’s a lot of life. Life I would never have if not here. I whispered as we walked quietly, “God, I’ll never take this for granted. Not ever.”

” . . . This is the story of how we reclaim the things that are lost. It’s also a story about how a home can be become sacred, and how in the process it can sanctify us as well. I can tell you these things because I have been in dark places–which is the only way any of us learns to love the light. . . Home is more than a place where we eat and sleep; it is where we learn grace, where we glimpse heaven. It is where we find or lose God, or perhaps where He finds us if we will only be still long enough to listen for Him.”-Tony Woodlief, Somewhere More Holy

Will you please pray for our family? Nothing is too hard for our God. Please pray for Dan’s work. That he will be recognized for his skills and commitment. Please pray for my sweet girls. They know the uncertainty about where we might live, and it’s hard on their hearts. Please pray for me. May I not miss a single glorious day in the place God’s given us and trust Him completely for everything we need for every good work. And I humbly ask you to pray for provision. Even so boldly as to ask for a secure long term home for us. Oh how I long to be rooted.

Thank you dear ones. You are God’s hands and hearts to us. Our Hope remains!

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How Are You Feeling? Two Arteries

by

Hope in the Desert
“This is not despair,
not the retreat into the deep wound
but a conscious living of each day

This is the placing of one foot before the other,
not the free stride of the unencumbered
but the careful tread of the initiated foot

This is learning how to walk
without familiar landmarks, alone
even in the company of others,
not ready yet for new direction

This is the living of each day, aware
that what you cannot predict
may still loose sudden tears, yet
that laughter too is possible

This is when you struggle
as plants in arid soil
strive without conscious knowing
to stay alive until the rain

This is a time for faith
that this most naked agony of loss
will ease, and not corride the spirit

This is the time to trust that day after
labored day you will move forward,
open to joy as well as pain;
two-sided coin, you proffer for remembrance.”
–Maude Meehan

I’m sitting in my new nest. I shuffle to my spot just before dawn and settle in to watch the pink glow grow over the Catalinas. Dan and I share coffee here most mornings before he leaves for work. These quiet moments together are an intentional touchpoint. It’s often the only time in a day we may sit face to face and focus on one another. He leaves, and I turn to my morning rituals of meditation, reading, journaling and prayer. To be home. To be in a kind of sustained rhythm is something I was made for. Something I longed for. I don’t take a minute for granted.

The life of chronic illness doesn’t set you up for regular soul nourishing habits. There are days you simply cannot get out of bed. Meditation is impossible unless you count focusing on the pain. Scratching down feelings often magnifies the ache. Prayer is mostly, “Please, Jesus.”

Everyone asks how I’m feeling. They want to know if I’m as well as I look in the sporadic photos I’ve shared on social media since arriving here in Tucson on August 25th. It’s a tricky question. It’s a difficult answer. I often say, “I’m healing but never healed…” Everything I experienced during my previous winter visits to Tucson has been realized. But I will always have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. This genetic mutation is forever embedded in every part of my connective tissue. I know I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I have significantly less pressure headaches and symptoms. This was the main reason we relocated here. My Intracranial Hypertension was unbearable. After nine various shunt surgeries we understood current shunt technology coupled with my challenging anatomy and EDS would never bring lasting relief, especially in northeast Ohio. Quite frankly I wanted to die. After surgery on July 4th and again on the 9th I was back home lying in my dark room in unspeakable pain, and I couldn’t see my way back to Hershey for a revision. I was done. I’d felt this hopelessness before, but the miracle that arrived in a text and a phone call on August 2nd gave me the courage to crawl back into the car and take the long turnpike trip back to Pennsylvania for another revision. Removing a mess of old tubing from my abdomen and rerouting the tubing to empty the cerebral spinal fluid into my heart was something I said I’d never do. I have a cardiac condition called Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). I have a Pectus Excavatum, a bone malformation of my breast bone that curves inward and pushes on my heart and lungs. I have chronic Strep infections (PANDAS/PANS) that cause heart inflammation. I have stenosis in my right ventricle because of multiple central lines placed for plasmapheresis. When my neurosurgeon came into my room and so calmly stated what he needed to do I didn’t think twice. The hope of the move gave me courage and faith. The surgery was a success.

Do I need my shunt here? Yes. I now have two working shunts. On calm and sunny days I still hear my brain shunt buzzing when I move positions, particularly from sitting to standing. On rainy days or when the pressure is changing more drastically, something that happens much less frequently here but is still a catalyst, I can feel it working overtime. I can also feel it in my heart. It cannot always keep up. I’ve a handful of days I needed to be in bed because of the pain and symptoms. If nothing else changed about my health except this one thing it would be enough.

The above poem describes the “conscious living of each day” my new home allows. It is a slow and careful movement through foreign or forgotten neuro pathways and literal paths too. The smallest thing can trigger the trauma and tears. Much of the reason I’ve been so still and quiet is to process and unpack the accumulated grief and suffering. But I am finally in a place where I can bury some of the hurt.

I catch myself laughing. Even out loud. I’ve stopped biting my cheeks. My face has relaxed from the constant furrow of pain in my brow. I walk past a mirror, and I see a woman living not just surviving. Ann Voskamp wrote, “Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” For oh so long I was necessarily numbing myself. Now I lift my face to the sun and listen to the strong beat of a heart that knows joy and pain and can celebrate them both equally. The rise and fall of my chest is a new song of praise. I don’t want to forget. My God wants me to remember so long as I tell the story rightly and point to the healer of the heart’s eye through which He is seen and glorified.

“Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me.”–Psalm 66:16

(For those of you specifically interested in the other areas of healing I’ve found since moving here I will slowly continue unpacking them in future posts. My heart’s desire to invite you into a respite place in Tucson is perhaps the most real calling I’ve ever had. I’ve seen miracles. Nothing is impossible with Him. Stay tuned.)

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Dear God, (About Laney)

by

LaneyLookAZ

“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”–Isaiah 43:19

Dear God,

I found a letter Delaney wrote to You. It was a gift, because all mamas wonder where their children’s hearts truly lie. I’m loving my girl in a more desperate way lately. Each day is one less I have with her across the hall. I question if I’ve loved her in the right ways, and if I’ve pointed her to You before anything else.

I’ve sat in this tiny corner of the world for so long now. She’s seen my faith in private ways. My open Bible in the morning. Music streaming about You. My knees on the floor at the bench where I go for the crying kind of praying. She’s seen my service to others through piles of letters waiting to be mailed or care packages sitting out until I get them just right. She’s listened to me take phone calls late at night from people I’ve never met, sharing our story, helping them take the next brave step in their own. She sees my eyes light up when I talk about the Option EDS retreat. She’s seen meals show up on days I could not feed her. She’s seen checks come in the mail from all over the world and understood they were Your provision for us through other’s hands and hearts. We haven’t been in church regularly. She doesn’t have the muscle memory of every Sunday worship and preaching. Instead we mostly gather around the living room and have “home church.” She says it’s one of the most special things about our family. I hope she knows the Body of Christ is as big as we’ve been loved, but the local gathering of believers is important and necessary too. I’ve failed her there. I’m sorry.

You’ve cared for her all those times I’ve packed my suitcase and went away. I always left her a letter to find. Surgery after surgery I wrote her as if I might not come back. I never wanted her to guess about how much I love her or how much peace she could find in You if it was time for me to go. You’ve given her a way of moving forward with joy even when things were so painfully stuck here at home. She’s seen me in unspeakable pain. She’s watched her sister suffer. She’s felt her daddy’s breaking heart for it all. And still she gets up and does life with a fierce expectation of good.

Lately I’ve felt the world pressing in on her. I’ve seen her scratch her head about people who call themselves by Your name but do and say things that look and feel so completely different than Jesus did. I’ve had to talk about nuclear war, sexual harassment and abuse, divorce and drugs. I don’t know if I’m getting any of it right. She is thinking about her future. I haven’t raised her to be looking for a husband or dreaming of having babies at fifteen. She knows my greatest calling has been in my role as a wife and a mother. I think this is enough. You’ve given her gifts. I tell her over and over again if she seeks You first all these things will be added unto her.

A few weeks ago I felt Delaney’s spirit hurting. Looking through her eyes I could see how small this cold and snowy street in Ohio seems. I was in so much pain. I was paralyzed with the fear of my brain shunt failing again. You made the way for us to travel to Arizona together. Just my girl and I. She fell in love with the desert. She could scarcely believe how happy and well I was when we were there. We spent every moment together, and it seemed to fill in empty spaces of time we thought we’d lost.

She talks about all this in the letter she wrote You. Moving our entire lives across the United States feels too scary. Four times I’ve left Ohio in February to find relief and heal. Four times I’ve come home knowing I could have a more well life in that place. But I was afraid. She believes us staying here. Me hurting like I am today. Me risking another invasive brain surgery. Me not being able to lift my head some days. Me biting my cheeks to try and hide the suffering. That it’s not the role of a martyr so she, Dan and Danica can have the better choice here. She believes what Dan has always said. She is only as well as I am. Why would I not take the risk to have the best life?

God, It’s true. I’m scared.

On our last hike through the saguaros we built an Ebenezer. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” I believe You direct our paths through providence and provision. I know for sure with You all things are possible. I want Delaney to see You make the way in the wilderness. I want her to see You doing a new thing.

Give us the faith. Show us the way.

From You. Through You. To You. Glory forever.

Amen

Ebenezer LaneyandIAZ SaguaroShadows

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Option EDS

by

“Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.” ~Jodi Piccoult

The third Option EDS (the retreat) is planned for May 5th-9th, 2020 in Corolla, North Carolina.

This gathering will be an intimate place where these brave heroes who untie one another’s knots can come away in community and rest. It will be a time of encouragement to grow stronger in their adversity, gain appreciation for the good in the hard, develop new and important relationships for support and find greater meaning as they continue to fight for the best life possible.

Visit Option EDS (the retreat) to read about the heart behind this dream, the beautiful way God is making it possible and how you can help.

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A Felt Risk. Good Gifts. Paying Attention

by

Fall Bookcase
“Did you ever imagine that what we call ‘vulnerability’ might just be the key to ongoing growth? In my experience, healthily vulnerable people use every occasion to expand, change, and grow. Yet it is a risky position to live undefended, in a kind of constant openness to the other—because it means others could sometimes actually wound us. Indeed, vulnera comes from the Latin for ‘to wound.’ But only if we take this risk do we also allow the opposite possibility: the other might also gift us, free us, and even love us. But it is a felt risk every time. Every time.”–Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance

I’m sitting in my favorite place in the world. It’s not the beach or the Shenandoah Valley. It’s not the Tucson mountains. It’s my worn “nest” chair in the corner of our little ranch in Uniontown, Ohio. It’s chilly today. I have the windows cracked and the screen is still on the open front door. I’m listening closely for the change in the bird songs. The cicadas are gone. The breeze in the leaves has a different tone as if they are saying a sweet farewell to one another before they let go. Five years ago God gave this home to us. Do you remember the miracle? So many of you prayed. It’s the longest Dan and I have ever lived in one place together. There is not a day I don’t utter gratitude for this sacred space. I follow the light from east to west. I know which plants will bloom first and where the cardinals will make their nests in the spring. I cherish the sound of the rain on the chimney flue. I love the old Magic Chef stove that bakes more evenly than any oven I’ve ever had before even though it doesn’t match our other appliances. The seasons change in the farmland around us. The corn is mostly harvested now and the fields feed the geese and birds beginning their journey’s south. Great is His faithfulness. Good gifts. I’m paying attention.

It’s almost time for the girls to get home from school. A dear friend began bringing them every day she can for me. It’s out of her way and takes a half an hour off her afternoon, but she does this thing that saves me anxiety and spoons. It protects my spine and keeps my children and others safe on the days I truly shouldn’t be driving. Last week she grabbed us Panera for dinner on a day we would have eaten cereal. Good Gifts. I’m paying attention.

Lying beside me on the side table is beautiful hand designed letter from a friend who has followed our story since we were on a book launch together. She and I finally met in real life at a retreat this spring. Their family has been praying for us. Over the past decade of hard I thought I’d seen specific kindness in almost every form. Their love is fresh. Dan has been working any overtime he can to help with our always challenging financial situation. This friend’s husband is a physical therapist. He committed to taking at least one extra client a week in solidarity with Dan. They have been sending what he makes to us to help with our bills. Good gifts. I’m paying attention.

I scroll through the texts on my phone to find the one I received Friday from the same friend who flew from Denver to Maryland to drive me around to my most recent appointments. It says, “Booked November 13-17th. Woohoo!” I was confused. I thought maybe she meant their condo at Winter Park. No, she booked plane tickets to come be with me in the hotel after my surgery. I’ve been most frantic about being alone after my operation. Dan has to leave Sunday, the 12th, to return home to work. My surgery instructions clearly say I need a caregiver four weeks post-op. The first few days after discharge are rough because of pain and wound care. I was worried about coordinating rides to my appointment where I’ll be cleared to come home and to the airport, my desired mode of transportation back to Ohio, while trying to keep my spine straight and juggle my things. She will be there to help me. This friend who just fought Lymphoma, who works full time, who has young children with busy lives is the answer to my prayer, “Please, God, I don’t want to do this alone.” The sacrifice is not only hers but her husband’s as well. He will step in once again and hold the fort down while she shows up for me. Good gifts. I’m paying attention.

I spent a few weeks after finding out about my re-tethered spinal cord and needed surgery in grief and shut myself down emotionally. I needed to move through Danica’s sadness about having to adopt Rolo out to a new family and throw myself into making her tenth birthday a kind of redemption for this huge loss I felt personally responsible for. The birthday surprise would not have been possible without the great love of a friend and her daughter who took Danica and I to Columbus for an overnight American Girl celebration. I pushed my body to make a long ago planned trip to Jacksonville, Florida with my family to attend my little sister’s wedding. It was good, but I paid dearly. I had a kind of breakdown last week when I returned. I didn’t move from the bed Tuesday. I had a video session with my counselor, and everything I’d been holding in came rushing out. I hadn’t shared my fear, my sadness or my shame with anyone. Another surgery is incredibly painful for the people I love. I especially try to protect Dan and the girls from how close I am at times to just quitting this fight. My support system has shifted. People I relied on previously have been called away to care for others in their lives. I don’t want to lay even a bit of this burden on their already full plates. I most of all didn’t want to share specifics about the money we need for this necessary surgery to even happen. I want to give everything back tenfold and never receive again. I want my husband to never feel the guilt he experiences when someone else meets our needs, because he has done all he can, and it feels like it’s not enough.

The kind of wound that comes from being vulnerable hurts even when good blossoms from it. My wise counselor encouraged me to once again take the risk to be loved. She reminded me how continuing to tell our story here, allowing provision to come and then paying attention and telling about the gifts, is the place where we change and grow and invite others into this exquisite dance of caring for one another. She reminded me of my ministry of prayer and #pentopaper and beautiful dream of the EDS beach retreat being realized. She reminded me I am giving too.

The girls had off school last Friday. Delaney and I were listening to Adele. She was singing passionately about “Turning Tables.” Laney said she couldn’t imagine a relationship making her feel that desperate or sad. This led into a conversation about the great risk of giving your heart and mind and body to another human being with very little control over their response and their ultimate decision day after day to stay or turn around and leave you. Knowing this we can decide to protect ourselves by never risking, but we would miss the gift, the freedom and the love possible because of vulnerability.

As we talked I realized the writing I do here is a long and meaningful relationship with those of you who’ve invested in us. Shutting down now or becoming informational instead of baring my heart, because it feels too risky, is a little like walking away from the great love of God through you.

I’m ever humbled. I’m opening again to allow the hurt and the healing of this next surgery to expand, change and grow my family and I. I’m stepping out hoping someone shows up and just maybe they will receive a gift through our fleshy bare and trusting souls. Good gifts. I’m paying attention.

(If you would like to donate towards my surgery deposit and the two weeks of hotels in Maryland you can give here and through the gofundme link on the right of this blog. We trust and wait and suffer gratitude.)

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