Searching for "Listen"

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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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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Take the Risk. Brave Medicine

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Brave Girl

“Few people outside medicine realize that what tortures doctors most is uncertainty, rather than the fact they often deal with people who are suffering or who are about to die. It is easy enough to let somebody die if one knows beyond doubt that they cannot be saved – if one is a decent doctor one will be sympathetic, but the situation is clear. This is life, and we all have to die sooner or later. It is when I do not know for certain whether I can help or not, or should help or not, that things become so difficult.”–Henry Marsh, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

I’m lucky.

I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder that affects every fiber of my body, mind and spirit. I was misdiagnosed for thirty-five years. It wasn’t until my two year old daughter exhibited extreme symptoms, and I fought for her like I never had for myself, that I found answers for my own suffering. After her first Chiari decompression failed and her little cervical spine became more unstable I set out to find the best care possible.

It was world renowned neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s book, Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose and Live with Acceptable Risk that guided me in those adrenaline filled months of searching for any kind of help and hope for Danica. The entire book addresses medical, spiritual and practical life situations, but it was these four questions he always asks himself when facing an important surgical decision that helped me most:

1. What’s the BEST thing that can happen if we do operate?
2. What’s the WORST thing that can happen if we do operate?
3. What’s the BEST thing that can happen if we don’t operate?
4. What’s the WORST thing that can happen if we don’t operate?

Danica’s case was complex, and she was not even three years old. All the neurosurgeons we consulted with agreed she needed another decompression and that she needed fusion but only one team of doctors, a neurosurgeon and a brilliant orthopedic surgeon, were willing to actually TAKE THE RISK to give Danica the best chance at some kind of childhood. This risk saved her life.

There was a period of several months between a commitment to operate and the actual surgery when one of the surgeons took a step back, and we thought the chance for help was gone. There is an incredible amount of trust needed on both sides of these relationships. I thought he was reconsidering the odds of success in Danica’s case and us as parents. I later found out there were all kinds of things happening behind the scenes at the hospital and in his personal life that had nothing to do with us. I began to understand dedicated physicians are professionals making critical life or death decisions and then heading home to a family and all the important and mundane things this requires. I approached every new doctor I met with this newfound compassion and respect.

Danica’s surgery was groundbreaking. The surgeon I mentioned above created a 3-D model of her skull and fusion hardware that would grow with her tiny head and neck. Because it was a teaching hospital dozens of orthopedic and neurosurgery residents learned from her case directly and through the resulting medical literature. The very personal risk we took and the professional risk the doctors and hospital took resulted in many lives being changed.

These same surgeons recognized the similarity in Danica and I. They sent us to genetics for a diagnosis that would change everything. I finally had an answer for a lifetime of my own widespread pain. Once Danica was stable enough in her recovery I began my own search for doctors who were willing to take the risk on me.

This began with a general practitioner who sat across from me while I sobbed my story, looked into my eyes and believed me. Over time the trust we built in one another became critical in my care. She stretched the boundaries of the recommended and acceptable doctor-patient relationship, because I needed this level of involvement. She fought for me in situations I simply could not advocate for myself. This commitment was not hers alone. At every point her husband and young children were sacrificing something personal as well. She ran a one doctor practice. I was a patient who needed more than a twenty minute appointment every sixty to ninety days. I needed her sometimes weekly. I needed pre and post-surgical care. I needed her to research and try and understand all my comorbid conditions. I needed referrals and coordination of care with genetics, cardiology, hematology, urology, gynecology, endocrinology, oncology, neurology and neurosurgery. I taxed her and her small staff in every possible way, but she never wavered in her support.

I’ve seen the most dedicated specialists in the United States to treat my Chiari, Cervical Instability, Tethered Spinal Cord, Tarlov Cysts, Intracranial Hypertension, Autoimmune Encephalitis, Endometriosis, Dysautonomia/POTS, Mast Cell Activation Disorder and Bleeding and Clotting Disorders. Every one of these doctors has stepped outside what could be a comfortable, career climbing and lucrative practice of medicine to treat patients like me. They are as rare as the zebra patients they care for. They listen closely, examine the entire body and try to understand the systemic result of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.

Over the past few months one of my trusted surgeons has faced a firestorm of criticism for some of the decisions he’s made. I’m able to look at the situation from many different perspectives. I understand the position of a large hospital and peer review and the vulnerability of everyone involved. I also know for sure this one man’s willingness to TAKE THE RISK to try and try again and again to find something sustainable to bring relief for my intracranial hypertension SAVED MY LIFE. There was no one who was willing to take on EDS patients and our specific vascular neurosurgery needs. We were suffering. We were hopeless. I was so hopeless I wanted to die. He humbly sat by my bedside when something failed and would rethink the anatomy and the engineering, and he wouldn’t give up. He was the crack in the doorway shining a little light on the wasteland of pain. Would medicine ever move forward without this kind of courage?

I’ve had more than several dozen surgeries of all kinds. Every time I’m given a rundown of the possible complications and risk. I sign my name. My husband or father or sister or friend, whoever happens to be with me that day, watches me sign my name. I’m grateful for access to their specialized care. I’m grateful they are brave enough to operate on someone as high risk as I am when literally no one else will.

Two hundred and forty days ago I had my last surgery. It was my third in two months, and I was desperate. My surgeon came and proposed something new, and I was all in. Yes, I trusted him. But I also trusted the hospital to support whatever decision my doctor and I made together. I expected them to support us that day and in the weeks and months following.

Much like when Danica’s surgeon stepped back from her case for a time, I don’t pretend to know all of the personal and professional things happening behind the scenes of this particular situation. But I do know it’s not easy for anyone involved. I hold the hospital more accountable than my own surgeon, because he is human and they are a large organization with a responsibility to back him up when something gets really hard in his family or his practice. He is a pioneer, but he is not rogue. I also hold patients like myself accountable. This delicate relationship only works if we are all trusting one another.

I’m now faced with new information about the surgery I accepted then. I know I made the exact right choice for me that day. I know I’ve had the most well life possible because of that decision. I’m needing to make a new decision about the most recent shunt and placement of it in my body and the risk involved. And this is okay. My family and I are asking ourselves the same questions above that we used to decide about Danica’s surgery so long ago.

In all the confusion and the new recommendation for removal of my lumboatrial shunt I reached out to my Ohio general practitioner, and she called me on Sunday, her day off, to discuss. I emailed my counselor, and she called me and spent an unscheduled hour to talk me through it all. I texted another trusted neurosurgeon who’s been inside my body over and over again even placing several lumboperitoneal shunts early in my IH journey, and he texted me back.

One of the most critical and controversial issues in my care is the ability to access specialists when faced with emergency situations. I believe this too has saved my life. In a perfect world our doctors would receive timely information through HIPPA approved channels of communication, but this just isn’t happening. For a special group of people the rules can’t apply. The physicians need to be trusted with the discernment to give their cell phone number to someone who might never be connected through the answering service. They need to be able to send an email and check on someone post-surgery. When the majority of their patients travel from all over the United States and even the world they understand this kind of follow up is the most practical. This kind of personal medicine works. This too is a risk.

Dr. Carson writes in the aforementioned book, “Faith by definition is a risk.” I have moments and even hours where I feel peace about the new surgical decision I think God is asking me to make. Admittedly, the rest of the time I am a wreck. The most wonderful thing about the foundation I stand on through all this is I cannot be moved even when I am doubting and certainly not feeling what I should. My God is unchanging and nothing I say or do alters His care for me. I am safe. My days were written when there were none of them. Danica is safe. Delaney is safe. Dan is safe. We are resting in the shadow of the Almighty God. No one can pluck us from His hand. Carson continues to write:

“We all have the choice. But only when someone takes the risk of faith can he or she begin to experience the best consequence and the best rationale I know for belief in God. That’s the privilege of a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe, who wants to offer His wisdom and guidance to help us deal with all the other risks we face in our dangerous world.”

We are all going to die. I’m more aware of the fragility of life, because I’m faced with inherently riskier situations. But my time here will not be cut short. I won’t be taken too soon. My purpose will be fulfilled.

I’m lucky.

I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder that affects every fiber of my body, mind and spirit, and I’ve had access to doctors and surgeons who are courageous enough to TAKE THE RISK to give me this precious life.

I don’t take a minute for granted.

Please pray for my family and I. This is something we did not expect to be facing. Now that I’m in Tucson the difficulty of travel to the east coast doctors who treat me is much more expensive and difficult. I am not privately insured. These were both huge calculated risks we took in moving here. Over the next few days I will be making a decision, and we will need your help. Please pray for the surgeons I appreciate and care for so deeply. Please pray for the other patients making hard choices too. Thank you. Our Hope remains.

(Dan and I were able to grab sweet moments of live music in Tuscon last Wednesday and see the band Need to Breathe in concert. Much of their music is part of the soundtrack of our lives, but this song made me cry. If God is on our side who can be against us?)

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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

Option EDS (the retreat)
May 15th-18th, 2018
Corolla, North Carolina

The idea for this first retreat has always been for a special group of young women ages 18-25 whose ‘Option A is no longer available’ and the mothers who fiercely love them.

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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Kingdom Currency. Where Life is Found

by

FamilyCorolla

“We didn’t need our own miracle to believe that God can perform miracles. His word already speaks this truth. We needed His perspective, sown into our inner understanding of Him, to be able not just to witness but to receive the real miracle He was working. Again, it was looking at Him, long and rightly, that was performing miracles. Adoration makes walking with God more than just reacting to a series of externals. Adoration calls the circumstances, no matter how high or low, into proper submission in our hearts. Adoration roots us in a reality that no amount of pain and no amount of blessing can shake. Adoration steadies us. It repatterns our thinking. It centers our lives around a God-man instead of forever trying to make sense of the God-man through the lenses of our circumstances. Adoration aligns us under Him. This is the place where life is found.–Sara Hagerty, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God In All Things

I am sitting in my bed with pillows propped around my braced neck and crumbling spine. I’m in pain. I’m in the kind of pain that makes me bite the insides of my cheeks raw and cry without warning. I’ve done basic hygiene and made my bed. I wrote a note to a friend who is struggling. I answered one text. I drove Delaney to Sable Creek golf course, there and back home, twice today. Driving is the hardest thing I do. I’m done. That’s all I have to give. It’s 4 pm. In my body’s demand to completely stop my mind begins to race.

The tree company arrived next door early this morning. They are still working. The sound of the vibrating machines is almost more than I can bear. Every synapse is firing. I’m so overstimulated I might go mad. It’s the third time our neighbors have had tree work done this summer. Both our homes back to woods. We have one towering dead tree on the hill behind our house. Dangerous branches have fallen during recent storms. It threatens us, but we can’t imagine a time we will have the money it would take to have it removed. We haven’t been sitting on our deck this summer because we can’t bear to look at the dead tree or the bank leading to it without mulch for the second year in a row. We haven’t grilled once because the propane tank is empty, and we don’t allocate the money to refill it. The ‘replace filter’ light is blinking on the thermostat. I’ve added it to a list of escalated things I need to rearrange the budget for. Delaney’s bedroom window is taped shut and literally falling out of the front of the house. We planned to replace it this spring, but there was my shunt surgery, and it never happened. We should not live in a home we cannot maintain. This little ranch rescued me. It saved our family in a hundred ways after living in my parent’s basement. It was a miracle, but it was a stretch. Five years later we are worn thin.

I was hospitalized two weeks ago. After finding out I was in serious adrenal crisis, most likely since my April shunt revision, I began taking a medication I’d used before after surgeries for Addison type symptoms. For some reason it began causing horrific peripheral neuropathy in my legs. I suffered in writhing pain for days until I surrendered to the fact I needed medical attention. The sixteen hours in the emergency room and days admitted there were traumatic. They are always traumatic. Only my EDS family can fully understand how hard we have to fight and how vigilant we have to be with every interaction. With all due respect to the wonderful men and women who give care in these settings, it is a brutal exchange for those of us with a rare disorder, a rap sheet of surgeries and accompanying conditions and a scary list of medications. I was released in less pain but completely broken. I am waiting for an endocrinology appointment while barely dragging my body around.

In counseling I tried to explain this never ending life of ‘fight or flight.’ The financial part of this is as real as the physical. We cannot catch our breath or ‘rest and digest.’ We have reached a point where we must take stock of what we’ve lost, what is owed and seriously consider if this survival mode is sustainable any longer. If it’s not, where do we go?  What do we do?

I quit writing because my old, hand-me-down laptop crashed and died. A new one showed up on my doorstep just as I was needing to create a website for an exciting dream coming true. (I can’t wait to tell you all about it!) Delaney needed golf clubs to begin practice for school and a family we hardly know from Cleveland drove some down to her. Enough. My parents took Danica to shop for her school supplies. A friend texted me to let me know she mailed a gift card to help with some of the other things the girls need. Enough.  At Rolo’s first vet visit last week we found out he has a few health issues. I cried and hyperventilated as she went down the list of medication he needs. Checking out, I had twenty dollars left over after paying the staggering amount we owed. Dan was getting paid the next morning. Enough. A gofundme donation came through as a medical bill escalated in collections, and I could pay it. Enough.   

Our God has been ever faithful. He’s always provided enough. But what if His ‘Dayenu’ is a different currency? Would I recognize this kind of wealth? Would I call it abundance? What if enough is only ever found in knowing and adoring Him?

We had a family ‘come to Jesus’ meeting last weekend. We looked our girls in the eyes and talked to them as straight as we always have. We tempered the reminder of our reality with the goodness of God through the love of so many. We assured them we would be okay, but let them know we are at a crossroads that requires input from each one of us and a lot of prayer. Somehow we came to the question about choosing. If I could choose a fresh slate…all our debts forgiven…a new start for my family or complete healing for myself which would I pick. I answered too quickly. I would choose to set them free. I would take the pressure off Dan. I would have a college savings account for Delaney. I would hear the phone ring and check the mailbox without fear and panic. Even as I thought it I realized how flawed the question was. Either answer would be wrong, because this place of perceived lack is exactly where God wants each of us to be. He is working a thousand things we cannot see in my suffering and in our need. These are fashioned for Dan, Laney, Danica and I in a perfect way to train our hearts to know Him and depend on Him alone. He has been glorified in my pain and in the pouring out of provision over and over again. We are rich in Kingdom currency.

I’ve been living in the Psalms this year, and they have slowly retrained the way I see and know God’s character. I visit them first thing when I rise. Dan makes me coffee. I sit in my nest chair and open my Bible to a book of songs and poetry about God. Tim Keller’s little gem of a book, The Songs of Jesus, has guided me. Several days ago I was in Psalm 86:1-7:

“Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; have mercy on me, LORD, for I call to you all day long. Bring joy to your servant, LORD, for I put my trust in you. You, LORD, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.”

Tim ends the devotional with this prayer:

Lord, I am constantly asking You to give me Your strength, to change me and heal me. But nothing is more empowering and life transforming than simply adoring You. Inject the truth of Your wisdom, love, holiness and sovereignty down deep in my heart until it catches fire there and makes me new. Amen.

I’m grinding my teeth as I type. I have to focus to relax my face and my mouth. My neck literally twitches in spasms. It’s easy to stay fixated here, because my pain screams at me. This is when I call out in distress and believe He will answer me, because I know who He is. He is forgiving and good and abounding in love. And He is enough. His Grace is enough. And even this is Grace.  

Kingdom currency.

This is where life is found.  

(Will you please pray for us. We feel pressed to make some kind of change. We need wisdom to know each next thing. Please pray for my health. I have chemo next Tuesday, and I will see the new endocrinologist in several weeks. Until then I have to keep functioning. Please pray for Danica. Her scan and neurosurgeon appointment in Baltimore are on the 15th. Her neck has been hurting her. I rubbed it last night as I tucked her in and felt the all too familiar lumps of knotted muscle around her hardware. She is so hopeful for most of her restrictions to be lifted before school begins. Something in my gut says this is too soon. It will break her heart. Please pray for Dan. I see him crumbling in a new way. We have always stayed close in our hard, but this feels different, and we are both struggling to connect. Please pray for Delaney. Oh how I wish I could make this different for her somehow. Her compassion and empathy has grown. We talked candidly about her personal faith yesterday, and it reminded me again of all the soul business God is doing in what looks like a hot mess from the outside. I have to trust Him with the most precious currency, the hearts and lives of my husband and girls. Our Hope remains.)

Photo by Audra at 12th Street Portraits

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When Hope Seems to Die.

by

Rainfall
“But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned into a new strength…and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that could neither despair nor weariness, nor endless barren miles could subdue.”–J.R. Tolkien, The Lord of The Rings

I’ve been home from Virginia for a week now. I continually reach up to run my fingers over the prickly hair growing back around a head wound gathered together with brutal metal staples. It throbs in a mending kind of way. Despite days of heavy rain and barometric pressure changes I’ve had no intracranial hypertension headache, and I can see clearly. This is what I prayed for. It is what I asked you to pray for.

It was my twenty-fifth surgery. It was certainly not minor. It involved replacing a clogged valve in my shunt and tubing in a ventricle in my brain that allows built up cerebral spinal fluid to drain. I had an unnamed anxiety I don’t have with my spinal surgeries, but the time in the operating room was much shorter, and I was in the hospital only forty-eight hours post-op. The few days of respite I found in late February in Arizona were completely undone by the flight home and the loss of my shunt function. The fifty-nine days leading to this surgery included three trips to Charlottesville, Virginia, the last two with hospital stays. Danica’s Hopkins trip was sandwiched in. If you’ve read our story long you know I manage different kinds of pain with varying levels of grace. Pressure at it’s worst renders me completely disabled and hopeless. There is no medication that brings me relief. The level of fluid that collects in my subarachnoid space puts me at risk for stroke and permanent blindness. This is my fifth shunt. I had three lumbar peritoneal shunts that all eventually failed due to calcification of the device and tubing. My first ventricular peritoneal shunt was placed exactly one year to the day before this revision. It was a miracle and gave me total relief from symptoms. I can’t imagine having gone through my huge fusion in October or Danica’s surgery and recovery without the healing I was given.

The trauma of the process of surgery when multiplied over and over cannot be explained. Something about this shunt failing when it did, the suffering along with the fighting and traveling for help and the reopening of my head unhinged me like nothing else has before.

Nothing.

I’ve been completely undone.

I’ve wept buckets of tears.

I’ve hidden in shame.

I’ve lied and said I’m okay when I am not.

I am not okay.

I’ve been curled in the fetal position gasping for jagged breaths. My mom dropped the girls off after school every day, and they would find me in bed with bloodshot eyes and a pile of snotty tissues. I cannot disguise this kind of fear and grief from them. I tried to explain, “This happens sometimes. It’s the anesthesia. It’s the stopping of pain medication. It’s the first opportunity I’ve had to mentally and emotionally process an impossibly hard year…” I prayed with them. After all, this is the right thing to do. When we are hurting we take it to God. When we are afraid we trust in Him. I answered texts and emails with the tone of healing, but I did not answer my phone or let anyone visit. Before Dan would get home I got out of our bed, washed my face and greeted him at the door. I pretended for him in a way I didn’t feel I needed to with Delaney and Danica. He says he is only as well as I am. I couldn’t bear to tell him how desperate he should be feeling.

The anxiety has been all consuming. For the first time in a decade I’ve begun to doubt my salvation. It’s as if I suddenly realized THIS IS MY LIFE. There is no asking for this cup to pass. EDS cannot pass. None of this intervention can be fully healed on this earth. This is not a faith issue. This is strands of DNA and failing flesh. What do I do with that? My body will never be more well than it is now. I’m forty-one years old. I won’t ever turn my neck to the left or the right again. I’ll never not have a bulging device sewn into the front of my head. The relief I’ve sought has plunged our family into a chasm of debt we will never recover from. I feel selfish. I feel ugly. I’m second guessing every time I’ve fought for better if this is as good as it can be. I feel like a liar, because I’ve said hopeful things for so long now. I believed them. I held others up with the faithful words of a God I now question. I want to open my laptop and delete all of Gauntlet with a Gift. I want to delete the files from the years I wrote at Team Danica and the years I’ve written here. Was any of it real?

Friday I did everything I could to move myself into a different head and heart space. I didn’t get back into bed when Dan and the girls left for the day. I made the bed. I showered and shaved my legs. I washed my hair and tried to style some pieces over the hideous incisions. I was exhausted. I needed to go to the post office to buy stamps for bills and mail a few love gifts. I had a panic attack. What if the postal workers notice my head or a stranger asks what happened to me and I break down in public? I considered not going, but my friend’s birthday was the day before. She’s fighting cancer, and I was late to love her, so I breathed in and out, and I got in the car. In the pouring rain I drove myself to a tanning place, and I went in and paid for ten minutes of light therapy. UV rays and vitamin D have helped in the past. It was full of people with the same idea including a rogue Axe body spray wearing male somewhere in the salon. Half way through my time I was in a crazy mast cell attack. These are always worst after surgery. I cried. I used a gross tissue in the bottom of my purse to try and straighten up. I went through the Starbucks drive thru and bought a venti white mocha with whip. I just needed to practice some self care, right? It was going to be fine. I drove to school to pick up my Delaney and Danica in car rider line. I listened to my favorite worship music. I cried. I used my sleeve to try and straighten up. I felt something stir inside me, and I posted a picture of healing IV bruises on Instagram. Sometimes saying things are getting better might actually make things better. Words have power like that. But not this time. I got home and crawled back under my weighted covers.

Yesterday was Dan’s only day off. For our family this means we have to get things done, because I cannot lift laundry baskets or grocery shop. While I was away Dan helped Danica go through her drawers and take inventory of how little she fits in and make a list of what she needs for a new season. We drove to Old Navy first. The smell of the store brings me to my knees. I knew I had twenty to thirty minutes max before I got deathly ill. I fake smiled and acted excited as we looked through the clearance rack and sale priced items and matched a few outfits together and found two dresses, because Danica is determined to get this family to church no matter what, and she has to wear a dress. I had a fifty percent coupon for Michaels and Danica needed a plain white t-shirt to paint at school for field day…a day she won’t attend, because of her restrictions, but she still wants to do a shirt. If Old Navy is Agent Orange to me then Michaels is Napalm. Our in and out trip left me shaking. We were back in the car and were supposed to get the Target health and beauty and groceries next, but I couldn’t. I had to get home immediately. I cried. I spent the afternoon between bed and the bathroom. The fallout from visiting those two stores would be hours of sickness. Danica was so happy with her new things. Dan and Delaney had to go back out. Danica came to snuggle me, and I cried. I told her I was sorry. I reminded her our family rule, “We all get to feel how we feel.” I reminded her how sad surgery can make you. She squeezed my hand and went to her room to play with her dolls. I cried.

Finally, I did the brave thing. The hardest thing. I reached for my phone and dialed the number of my older sister, Rochelle. She’s the one who has seen me at my worst and never looked away. She’d driven to the hospital just a week before to sit with me. She’s done this more times than I can count no matter what state my surgery is in. She shows up. Just a week before she somehow came over the mountain from West Virginia, a three hour drive, to sit in the UVA emergency room with me for an hour. She just shows up. I do pretend with her sometimes, but she knows. She can hear the empty lilt to my voice as I offer very little personal information and ask her a bunch of questions instead. This call began the same way. I asked how she was. I listened to the joy of her busy week watching my nephew Avery play tennis in a regional competition. Without warning my pain came pouring out of me like a river breaking dam. With every word I was finally moving towards truth. Of course, I know this. Say it out loud. Name it, and it loses power. Tell someone who knows your whole story. Tell someone you can trust with your heart. They will speak gentle words back to you, and you will move an inch toward healing and light. She listened. She cried. She allowed me to be exactly where I was without judgement. The only thing she wouldn’t let me leave with was the feeling I was no longer a child of God. She reminded me He already finished this big fight and won, He is for me and there is nothing I can do to to lose this love.

Later in bed I was crying again. Dan took my hand and held it tightly. He never tries to rush me to something else. This morning he left for Dayton for an overnight overtime trip. His leaving brought my fear back to the surface. I did something else brave. I texted my parents. I told them how I’m not okay. I asked them to pray. After church they brought me a chai and picked up Danica to spend the afternoon with her. I sat here in my nest chair and opened my Bible to Psalm 88. It’s a Psalm of lament that doesn’t try to end on a high note. It doesn’t try to rush you to something else. God gave it to us for a reason. The last words from Heman, one of the pioneers from the singing guild set up by David, are, “Darkness is my closest friend.”

Timothy Keller writes about this Psalm in his book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.

“Three times in the Psalm the word ‘darkness’ occurs (v. 7, 12, 18). The effect is to say it is possible to pray and pray and endure and things not really get any better. The Psalm ends without a note of hope and so its teaching is that a believer can live right and still remain in darkness. Darkness may symbolize either outside difficult circumstances or an inner spiritual state of pain. That is the very realistic, tough message at the center of this Psalm. Things don’t have to quickly work themselves out, nor does it always become clear why this or that happened. One commentator wrote: ‘Whoever devises from the Scriptures a philosophy in which everything turns out right has to begin by tearing this page out of the volume…The very presence of such prayers in Scripture is a witness to His (God’s) understanding. He knows how men speak when they are desperate.’ Kidner’s point is this. If we believe that God through the Holy Spirit inspired and assembled Scriptures for us, then we see that God has not censored prayers like this…God remains this man’s God not because the man put on a happy face and controls all his emotions, but because of grace.”

And so today I sit with a God who doesn’t try to rush me to a praise especially when my Hope seems to be dying. Somewhere in the deep sorrow I feel the tiniest shiver of a goosebump of joy. I want the ache to eventually drive me into a greater sureness of His love for me and strengthen the belief that my afflictions will someday be once and for all eclipsed by His glory. Until then I lament and He listens and loves just the same.

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