Archive of ‘A repost’ category

Exhale. Learning to Breathe Again. Opening My Hands. A Team Danica-Monica Update

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ButterflyOpenHands

“Unexpected Grace always settles in the palm of Heaven turned hands.”–Ann Voskamp

It’s perfectly quiet here this morning except the achingly perfect coo of a morning dove. The comforting bird song I’ve treasured since I was a child lulls me into deep breathing. Since Arizona I’ve returned to practicing meditation. I’m learning much about how often my mind wanders away from truth to fear. Each breath in and out is a chance to BEGIN AGAIN. No judgment. Back to Jesus. I’m realizing how Grace can be simplified to gratitude for each next long inhale and exhale. Every intricate detail of my physical being is a miracle. As I scan my body for pain I pray through the suffering. I’m alive. I am filled with the Spirit of God. My body is not an enemy. I end each session with the words from Psalm 19:14, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” I arise in strength and dignity.

March is a month of hard for us. Every spring break for my girls the past decade has included some kind of medical trip for Danica and I or surgery for me away from them. This year will be no different. During certain seasons I return to what I’ve written to gain perspective and remember God’s faithfulness when I am discouraged. I wrote this in March, 2014:

I’m looking at the flat, barren landscape of 71. This stretch of pavement between Columbus and Cincinnati is one I have grown to hate over the years. If you paint our journey with a broad stroke or view this piece of art from a distance you may only see the colors of hope and healing. They are vibrant and breathtaking. But for us, the ones who have watched this masterpiece morph, no matter what news comes at the end of these trips, the road is bump after bump of pain literally and figuratively. The dark shadows most think we should have moved on from are still looming at every mile post. We see the financial drain each mile we move closer. No matter how God has provided we still come to this thicket wondering when and where the ram will appear. Our new year deductibles chase us. Knowing the cost is thousands of dollars to even walk in the door is a weight we drag behind us like chains on our ankles. Because of my shunt revision surgery , Maryland trip out of network, more hotels nights, more driving, more of it all we gasp for air. There is no choice but to keep moving even though it feels like quicksand.

I canceled this important trip earlier this year, because I was simply not well enough, and I just didn’t have the strength to do this. Weeks before we come here I begin to have racing thoughts about the hotel, the hospital, the anesthesia, giving our girl up to strangers for hours while we wait, and the dark room where they show us the scans. I hate the smells and the glazed over look in almost everyone’s eyes as they wander from appointment to appointment or down from their child’s room to get a meal in the cafeteria. I have flashbacks of Danica in those days following her surgery when she thrashed insanely in pain, and I went days without sleeping trying to save her and orchestrate her care. In the end there is the obligatory gift shop trip to reward a little girl in some tangible way for her bravery in all this, and it seems like it is all a bad Lifetime movie. Only this is not two hours with a happy ending or at least some inspirational and didactic meaning to carry away. This is our life. My chest is tight. My head is aching. I know the exhaust of the cars and trucks on the road are adding to my increasing feelings of anxiety and manic mind and heart. The silence between Dan and I grows more caustic. He closes himself off. It has never been any different. I want to talk this all through for the thousandth time, and he just needs to drive and do what needs to be done. I begin to cry. Every single time tears begin to fall down my cheeks the closer we get.

I remember the first trip here. It was April 2010, almost exactly four years ago. We knew Danica’s decompression in November of 2009 for her Chiari malformation had failed. Many of her symptoms had returned and even escalated in the few months since we let them cut open her head and neck and shave away bone from her vertebrae to make more room for her brain. Her little neck falling to the right again was the most glaring sign we did not succeed and perhaps had even made her worse. Suddenly we needed to be much more informed about the condition and what underlying genetic mutations might be causing it. We were scared. Although the first brain surgery was scary, we still believed it was something really hard God was asking us to do just for a time. We thought it was something broken in our girl we could fix. Our first trip to Cincinnati solidified this “C” word was here to stay.

Our “simple” Chiari story which seemed like a miracle for the first few months became our entire life. You began to read here and raise money and pray. We were overwhelmed as people from all over the United States and the world wanted to support us here at our little blogspot blog which became Team Danica. I had always been a writer, but I never needed an audience for what I scribbled and pecked away in private. I even tried to hide my writing. Suddenly, I had hundreds of people checking in for updates, and not just to see how we were or what the plan was but to truly share our hearts in all this. Somehow, in all the lament and torment of those early days, this place became where I could honestly share what this kind of journey looks and feels like. Dan joined occasionally to show his husband and daddy heart. It wasn’t always easy or cathartic to keep coming back here, and I took breaks for sure because of fear or sadness or just plain exhaustion, but whenever I would stop writing people would email or message or call and tell me they needed to keep reading and following. Team Danica became as much a blog about my health and journey as our sweet girls’. Still you came to read and pray and support us.

Four years we’ve been here.

The well of love has always been deeper than the well of pain and suffering.

The strength and grace of our God has always been ENOUGH.

The provision has always come.

Our Hope has remained even on the darkest days, because we believe.

We believe because He causes us to trust and loves us even when we don’t.

. . . We are here in the hotel now. Michael Card’s “Sleep Sound in Jesus” plays on my itunes while I type. Dan and Danica are drifting off. I can see the Children’s Hospital sign lit up in the dark from our window. My prayers try to cover the hundreds of beds full of children who sleep there tonight fighting some illness, healing from a surgery, waiting for a diagnosis and the parents who sit vigil with them. I pray for the doctors and nurses who sacrifice to join in these wars. I pray for those who do not have a voice like we have to ask for prayer or support or a meal or a hug.

I feel a calm peace about our tomorrow. It may be my Ativan (smile), but more likely it is the prayer with Danica before bed and heading back to the arms of Jesus in the simple words of these lullabies. I am reminded of a God moment from my Tuscon trip when He allowed me to see a big picture view of our life as it intersects so intricately with people we don’t even know.

On my last flight home from Atlanta to Akron/Canton God sat me next to a woman from Wichita, Kansas. I was tired and grumpy and very anxious about how my body was going to react to the pressure and weather changes. I had the best and healthiest week of my life since before Danica’s diagnosis. Besides missing my family I did not want to come home. I politely settled into my window seat and asked her where she was from and where she was going. She asked me the same questions. I mentioned my shunt surgery and a trip to heal. She asked me why I had a shunt, and I shared a quick headline blurb. I really wanted to finish writing in my journal and listen to some music on this last flight. She told me her nineteen year old son Jack was born with a spinal cord issue and at four months old they flew him to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for surgery. Guess who Jack’s surgeons were almost twenty years ago? Yes, Dr. Kerry Crone, neurosurgeon and Dr. Alvin Crawford, orthopedic surgeon, banded together in a joint surgery that had never been done before. This was no coincidence. We gushed our stories to one another through tears. Then it came out and stopped us both in our tracks. It was the summer of 2010. Danica was scheduled for surgery and Dr. Crawford pulled out leaving us with a brain surgeon but no willing bone surgeon. Far away her son Jack was also scheduled for his last orthopedic surgery with Dr. Crawford to fix an issue with his foot. He was fifteen years old.

We now know Dr. Crawford was considering retiring that summer and so he was shying away from difficult cases he could not follow, especially a little girl with atlas assimilation and a failed decompression who no one else wanted to fuse until she was six or seven. Jack could have had one of Dr. Crawford’s up and coming surgeons, and it might have been fine, but it wouldn’t have been what their family needed or wanted after so much care from one man. I can still see myself praying on my knees by Danica’s door at our house on 35th St. I didn’t understand why God would bring us to this dark place if He wasn’t going to see us through it. If you go back in the archives and read my wrestling, the tension in Dan and I’s marriage, the palpable hysteria of not knowing where to go next you will understand in part my desperation. Suddenly, Dr. Crawford was back on board. He put himself completely into Danica’s case including designing the special hardware and having it made and taking her images and having a 3D model of her skull and cervical spine made to teach from. Jack got his surgery too. He is doing well four years later.

I can’t think of any other way God could have shown me how brilliantly He in charge and how little we need to know about it to trust Him. One of the most beautiful lessons I learned early on in all this was how most of what is happening to me and around me is much less about me than I ever could have imagined. Yes, He’s working in and through me but it’s for something so much bigger. Oh how I cheapen my life when I make my God small. I see in a mirror dimly what He will make clear someday. For some reason He chose to clean the mirror a little on my flight so I would SEE Him in even the last hours of my trip…

I promise for a quick update on the brain part of our trip tomorrow. Danica’s MRI is scheduled for 7:30 am, and we will see her neurosurgeon, Dr. Crone, at 11:15 am. The orthopedics scans and visit are on Tuesday. We have every reason to hope for a perfectly good scan. Danica has almost no symptoms of Chiari or any neurological deficit at this time. Thank you for praying for the anesthesia to go smoothly and for all the details of the day. We treasure your lifting us up! Please pray for our Laney who is back home with my mom. She was very emotional about us going and called crying twice today. This is not like her, and it breaks my heart. It was a reminder how much each one of us carry around because of Danica’s health and especially what Delaney has been asked to walk through since my pregnancy with her little sister. She is so brave and independent, but the first to say we should move to Arizona so she could have her mama back.

No matter what you are carrying tonight, I hope this wandering of words down our past four years and the glimpse He gave me of His sovereignty will encourage you to not crumble under the weight of what He asks you to bear. He is doing something bigger than you can see.

I know it for sure.

A year ago we planned the girl’s spring break as another trip to Cincinnati. We thought it would be a graduation of sorts. We were sure it would be a celebration of complete fusion and release for Danica to finally be able to return to the childish play she’d longed for. Instead we found her broken hardware. I took a long jagged inhale and held it. I am realizing now I hadn’t exhaled for the entirety of the past year. On my recent trip to Arizona I remembered to breathe again.

Monday we will leave for Baltimore on another spring break. We will see Danica’s neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins and look at new scans. We expect good things, but we go with open minds and hearts to whatever they show.

Seven years we’ve been here.

The well of love has always been deeper than the well of pain and suffering.

The strength and grace of our God has always been ENOUGH.

The provision has always come.

Our Hope has remained even on the darkest days, because we believe.

We believe because He causes us to trust and loves us even when we don’t.

Thank you for praying for us. I am still recovering from my chemo treatment Tuesday. My shunt is simply not working properly, and I cannot deal with the needed steps to move towards fixing it until we get through this Maryland trip for Danica. The financial avalanche begins to take us down by the third month of each year. I spend hours each day on trying to sort through what must be paid for continued treatment, what necessarily will fall into collections and what must be approved by insurance for the next access to care. I make hotel reservations not for fun but for bodies flung in exhaustion. Dan takes vacation for a road trip to doctors and hospitals.

I wonder what it would be like to heal without this stress. Could I be more well?

I believe Jesus paid it all. I cannot feel guilty about something I did not choose or cause. He has always been enough. He will always be enough. He is enough. Open Hands.

I’ve been listening to Laura Story’s new song by the same name on repeat this week. The Lord gives and He takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Our Hope remains.

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Bloom. A Team Danica Update and 2012 Repost

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Danica6weeks

Six weeks ago Danica was coming out of huge brain and spine surgery and getting settled in the PICU at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. If you’d been there and whispered in my ear that she would be home today doing math and language homework, playing Legos and breezing through an OT evaluation, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you’d told me the first weeks post-op would be the greatest test of physical, emotional and spiritual endurance we’ve ever experienced, but, if we held on, it would become the most miraculous part of our Gauntlet story yet, I wouldn’t have believed you.

It’s true.

The healing.

The absence of pain.

The hope.

The miracle.

It’s true.

Six weeks later it’s all true.

Twelve weeks ago I was coming out of a major spinal surgery at Doctor’s Community Hospital in Lanham, Maryland. If you’d come along side my bed while I was struggling for oxygen and writhing in pain and told me I would survive the trauma of the next three months, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you’d told me God would not only meet every single need but lavish love on us in ways we never could have asked or thought, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you’d told me I would have the greatest hope for my Danica’s life and perhaps even my own, I wouldn’t have believed you.

It’s true.

The provision.

The love.

The hope.

The miracle.

It’s true.

Twelve weeks later it’s all true.

I’ve been a ‘One Word’ person for a long time now. I began writing about my 2017 word last night. ‘Bloom’ was the runner up. I didn’t remember the following post from the old Team Danica blog, written on January 4th, 2012, until it popped up on my facebook memory feed this afternoon.

Tomorrow I have a meeting at Lake Center Christian School with Danica’s teachers, guidance counselor, special needs coordinator and principal to revise her 504 plan so she can return to school for half days next Monday. She will use the wheelchair initially to protect her fusion and her healing rib graft. I know she is ready and trust she will be safe and loved, but I am facing my own ache of letting her go. I’m facing the great mother “risk” so my girl can blossom again.

Getting readypschool
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”–Anais Nin

My dear friend Angie facebooked this quote to me today. It’s not strange that her kindred heart would know this is the very quote I was thinking of this morning as we walked our Danica Jean in the doors of Lake Center Christian School for her first morning of preschool.

It’s all been a risk with this child. The pregnancy was high risk for her and especially for me. Her birth was an emergency and very dangerous. The methods we tried to fix her tortocollis and find the real root of her pain and growing diabilities were risks. The many exposures to radiation were a risk. The first brain decompression was so scary. At her age we knew going in the outcomes were mostly just buying time. Just a few months later we began the fight to find answers anywhere we could because the first surgery was already failing. This led us eventually to her second surgery and fusion. It was riskiest of all. No one wanted to do this surgery although all the experts agreed it needed to be done. Every day after October 5, 2010 EVERYTHING became risk analysis. For more than a year we kept Danica from doing almost anything normal three year olds would do. We said “No”, “Be careful”, “Watch out”, “Hold my hand” and the words “We have to keep your neck and brain safe” more times than I could ever count. Have you seen her beautiful white swan neck? Have you? Do you believe in miracles? Have you ever witnessed one? Have you ever lived one?

Danica had many dreams of her own as she patiently waited in this bud of hope all these years. Attending preschool is one that fell right under her Disney wish trip. She is exceptionally bright and more than ready for this social interaction, time away from her mommy and lots of learning and exploring. We are beyond blessed she is able to begin it at such a special place where so many of the school families have been praying for her for years, following her story and loving us well. Danica is like a hero there. Everyone knows her face and name. My mom’s office is just across the hall from her room too. It’s pretty amazing to have your grandma be your principal!

This cold January morning was a day we will never forget because our family got up TOGETHER. Danica excitedly got dressed and was bursting at the seams with anticipation to bloom. She had no anxiety at all. She has lived in a world of adults and scary machines and pain and limitations. This day was not tapping into courage at all. It was only joy for her.

Hanging up stuff

We went in. Danica hung up her coat and bag in the little foyer area, and she signed herself in on the board. The other children were ready for her. Mrs. Barber, her teacher, was waiting with open arms. There was no look back to me for any reassurance. She was gone in a second to wash her hands and choose an activity. Dan and I stepped out of the door, and I let a few tears fall. Mrs. Pappano was just outside. She gave me a hug and reminded me how everyone there already loved Danica and would take such good care of her.

Signing in

Danicaand MrsBarber

I was supposed to begin physical therapy this morning, but there was some mix up with the prescriptions getting faxed over so instead Dan and I went to breakfast. He brought me back here to the lake house, and we snuggled for a little while which is such a rare treat. I can still smell him, and it makes me feel less alone. As soon as Danica left at 11:30 Danica’s teacher emailed me to share what a success today was and how Danica instantly blended in. She said they had a large motor skill activity that would be on Danica’s restriction list and Danica was sweetly compliant to sit out. I loved knowing especially they were taking her safety seriously and understanding the limitations that remain. I called Danica at home to talk to her about her morning, and Dan said she got home and said, “We need to take naps!” She had gone in her room to take some down time already. This is so Danica. She takes rest when she needs it. She is in many ways so much wiser than her age. She is a rare flower.

Last night I stayed at home and tucked each of the girls in like normal since Dan is working nights for the next month on her preschool days. Danica fell asleep in five minutes as “Sleep Sound in Jesus” played, and I rubbed her back and sniffed her sweetness. I lingered. Then I made my way across the hall to my Laney. She had so much new art to show me and we talked about print making and how her designs of colors and patterns could be used in fabric or wallpaper and other ways, expanding her understanding of how art could be her career. She talked and talked to me, trying to catch me up on the weeks I’ve missed, and then she said, “I’m sorry I’m so chatty tonight. I just missed you.” Oh, special girl of mine, me too. So much. We hugged and prayed and then I slipped out to my own bed. I cried. It’s going to be okay. There are so many more blossomings in our coming year. I know it. Thank you, God.

I’ve been working on my “vision board” for 2012. It’s like the quarterly collages I make only on a much larger scale. I found a picture of bulbs coming up through a late spring snow. I have this quote beside it,

“Underneath the drifts, seeds are waiting. Their courage is incomparable. Their patience unequaled. Hunkered down and hopeful, they sit out the frozen tundra, knowing and trusting that spring eventually will arrive. If ever you feel unsteady in the face of life’s winters, consider seeds and their faith.”–Tovah Martin

Spring always comes. Today was a little taste of how seeds of faith and patient waiting on God always bloom into something beautiful.

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”–Psalm 126:5-6

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Quiet. Soft. Slow. A Team Danica Update

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Come
“The theology of the Tree, of the Cross, always seeks the presence of God in the belittled gifts of the world…Because in the rush, in the hurry, in our addiction to ­speed –—​­ there might be miracles if we slow and don’t step on the unassuming shoot that sprouts from the stump.”–Ann Voskamp

It’s Sunday morning. The Lord’s Day. Without attending church I still wake to play hymns and spiritual songs. I drink my steaming cup of coffee with my neglected Bible open. I desperately ache for a glimpse of God and a Word of truth.

I’ve forgotten how to do this still, quiet and sacred thing. I’m afraid of it, because I’ve felt so cut off from fellowship with God and others. I’m not ready to loose the dam of emotions that will surely flood this place when I allow myself to process what we’ve been through the past few months and particularly during the days and nights in the hospital with Danica. There will be a time. I can’t risk traveling there yet, but I can be HERE, NOW.

The continued pain I am having, Danica’s restrictions and gradual healing, our financial insecurity and all the wondering about what the new year will hold for us is being covered by the soft falling snow I’m watching outside my window. I’ve prayed for this peace over and over. I thought it might come in a crazy miraculous way like water into wine. I imagined something sudden we could shout from the rooftops. Instead it is growing like a baby in my womb. I trusted the seed was there before I could even feel flutterings. I have the stretchmarks to prove it. I am great with child. My hope and expectation are sure, and I believe new life is coming. He makes all things new. I believe this. Most of the time I believe this, but it’s true even when I don’t.

This peace and joy and hope are slow. At times they are barely perceptible in the hard, but they are a shoot straight from the stump of Grace.

Henri Nouwen writes:

“A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him . . .”–Isaiah 11:1-2

Our salvation comes from something small, tender, and vulnerable, something hardly noticeable. God, who is the Creator of the Universe, comes to us in smallness, weakness, and hiddenness.

I find this a hopeful message. Somehow, I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God’s saving power; but over and over again I am reminded that spectacles, power plays, and big events are the ways of the world. Our temptation is to be distracted by them and made blind to the “shoot that shall sprout from the stump.”

When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence – the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends – I will always remain tempted to despair.

The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown young man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, he asks for my full attention. The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises. But the promise is hidden in the shoot that sprouts from the stump, a shoot that hardly anyone notices.

I’m paying attention. I’m watching. I’m waiting.

I see Him in your cards and letters full of love. I see Him in the hundreds of facebook posts of prayer and shares I’m just now having a little time to filter through. I see Him in your generous donations to help with our overwhelming medical bills and new deductibles that take our breath away on January 1st. I see Him in the meals on our table prepared with tender care for us and yummy cut out sugar cookies I wish I had the strength to bake and decorate. I see Him in the gifts showing up on our doorstep making Christmas for my Dan, Delaney and Danica. This is something my mama heart will always long to give them, and something I couldn’t do at all this year.

Thank you.

All of this kindness creates the fertile soil for the shoot straight from the stump of Grace.

All of this is Dayenu. Enough. More than enough.

Three weeks ago we were arriving in Baltimore tangled in hope and fear. Two weeks ago we stood vigil by our little girl with a collapsed lung and burning with fever. A week ago we were in a hotel in Maryland aching to come home. We are here, now. Last night we all crawled into the big bed snuggled under a pile of blankets and watched Elf. It seems such a simple thing. For us it was a layer of healing over months of upheaval and survival. We belly laughed together. I felt a gentle kick…a quickening of Jesus in a silly and secular movie. Grace growing up in a least likely place.

Our Hope remains.

I’m playing this song on repeat today. QUIET. SOFT. SLOW.

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Lost and Gained. A Team Danica Update

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Hardware

“I have lost nothing
in my life
that I could not find again
with God.”
-Corrine De Winter

It’s raining in Baltimore. (Cue Counting Crows.)

Over the past 48 hours Danica’s little lungs have inflated again with vigilant respiratory work. (Think bedside prompting to inhale and exhale deeply into two different devices every fifteen minutes even though you know every breath is hurting your girl in a place you’ve been wounded yourself.) Her lungs are only slightly diminished now. Her constant and sometimes burning hot fever of six days is gone. She’s stepping down from continuous dosage of IV narcotic pain medication to trying oral substitutions in movement towards discharge. She did some tough physical therapy and occupational therapy today. She joined other children for a fun science experiment making snowmen. She had a visit from the most amazing golden retriever, Milo, who loosened a full smile and prompted a deep belly laugh. She had a very painful complete shower. She cried through the entire thing. I felt relieved to see her allowing herself to lean into the truth of this hard. There is something innate from her struggle in the womb, her warrior past and also learned behavior from watching me navigate post-op over and over again…we move forward like soldiers. Dramatic emotion is mostly a waste of time and energy we cannot afford. The next thing comes. We hurt so badly and hope so fiercely we don’t need to even say it. The fact we are still here doing this is the proof.

PTStairs
PTC4
Snowman

We thought we’d made the most possible progress. Then the bottom dropped out. Danica refused to take her oral Valium. This is the one medication she needs no matter what. How does a little girl who can brave brain and spine surgery and call her ten pain a three refuse to take a few ccs of liquid medicine from a cup? It’s the second time since being here something prompted PTSD for her as well as Dan and I. We used to have to hold her down to squirt her meds in her little mouth. Often she would spit them out while screaming. She became so worked up, crying hysterically, turning on Dan and I who were trying to be her allies and fussing at the kind nurses trying to help. I called a time out. I left the room. It’s only the third time I’ve looked her in the eyes and told her I needed to step away from her. I found my way into a little sitting area and bawled my eyes out.

Sitting next to a beautifully decorated tree outside the room I remembered it is Christmas soon. I remembered tonight Danica’s classmates were having their Christmas program. I felt this jagged breath of complete sadness. Not self pity. Utter sadness. It was a deep seeded ache for simple milestones in my girl’s life she cannot make up. They are gone. Lost.

It’s easy to feed on loss when days and weeks and months have turned into years of giving up everything we are told means so much to focus on just surviving. Even after ten years there are still those who innocently say something pithy about this being a “season” that will pass for us. They head out to the park to watch their children run and play in the snow or facebook about a special concert or the ballet or a simple shopping trip to the mall to visit Santa. They pick out shiny outfits with matching shoes and decide on Christmas cards. They look at their December calendars full of invitations to parties and celebrations with people who are glistening in the fullness we are supposed to feel this time of year. Real or imagined I see the parts being played out around me like I am watching a perfect winter scene in a snow globe.

This loss is much longer than a season for us. This loss will not pass. This is our life. Wrapped in strange newspaper recycled with the stories of days of exhaustion and pain and long nights in the hospital…tied up with twine borrowed from something useful or given to us in charity our celebration is no less real than yours, but I can promise you it feels different because it has to be.

I think back over our “holidays” since 2007, and there are very few things that look or feel like I think they should. This year is no exception. My Laney will play the flute in her first high school Christmas concert Thursday night, and we will not be there. How many times since she was four years old have I been absent from the snapshot moments of her life? Someone else will take her picture, and I will miss it . . . again. Someone else will post on facebook my brave and beautiful girl, and I will be here losing the moment that can’t be lived again. Gone. Lost.

I’ve not left the hospital since my one walk and shower last Thursday when my parents were here. This is not a masochistic falling on my own sword kind of commitment to Danica. This is love. This is the sacrifice of a mother who is the best advocate for her best care in every detail of this difficult hospital stay. We know the really hard part begins the second we leave and have to do this on our own. Dan must return to work. I will not have a day to crash and regroup. I will need to be with my girl every second she is ambulating. I will be responsible for helping her to the bathroom during the day and the night, bathing her and dressing her. I will keep schedule of medications and document every detail of her recovery. I will lobby for the best home health and fight to get the adaptations we need to make our home as safe as possible for her recovery. My warrior mama heart drives this broken body farther than I ever thought possible. I can only describe this as supernatural strength and great Grace from a good God. Still, I wonder when the crash will happen. Not if it will but when it will.

Dr. Theodore, Danica’s spinal neurosurgeon, came by late this afternoon to check on us and talk about our discharge expectations and possible days and time to see him again in clinic before being cleared to travel home. He did the most telling thing. He came in and sat next to me on the little blue couch, looked me in the eyes and fully heard my questions and concerns. He showed me the first image I’ve seen of Danica’s new fusion hardware. I cried. I’ve felt like 2016 has been another lost year until right now. This image may mean nothing to most of you, but I can tell you it is everything. A second miracle.

We have challenges. My mind is swirling with the hundred things I need to do for continuation of care. We need to buy Danica a new mattress. We need to buy plane tickets home. We need to make further accommodations to our home for Danica’s safety and to assist me in her care.

I need to find some way to make some kind of Christmas for my family.

The day after Christmas, Monday, December 26th, I am scheduled for all day chemotherapy. I have to get one more treatment in before my insurance deductibles reset on January 1. I need to have a scan here in the Washington area to look at my recent fusion. I’ve not wanted to speak of the pain I’m in or the damage I may have done by my participation in Danica’s care the past week.

I’m lost. There is no way to plan these days.

I’m empty. There is literally nothing left in my tank.

I’m afraid. What if my brokenness impedes the best healing for my girl.

He is God. I am not.

This is Dayenu. Enough. More than enough.

Thank you for never tiring in your supplication for us.

Thank you for your giving hearts. It makes some of this needed care a reality for our Danica Jean to give her the most whole life possible. Thank you for showing me grace in slow gratitude for your love. I carry it with me into these days and nights.

Danica is sleeping quietly in the dark room, and I must try to rest before a 4 am med administration and the rounding that begins most mornings around 5:45 am. I cannot wait for a full night’s rest with all my medications on board.

Keep praying! I know He is doing a thousand things in this one thing. I know it. I believe everything lost will be restored in exactly the way Dan, Delaney, Danica and I need and even in ways we wish for.

#SoulBusiness #OurHoperemains #TeamDanica

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In Everything You Do. Choose Life. Gauntlet Story Feast

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I have a beautiful new Gauntlet Story Feast story to share with you, but I haven’t quite finished getting it all together. My facebook memories brought up this quick post I made a year ago today on Team Danica. It left me in a puddle of tears. There is no way to number the minutes, the hours or the days when I have had to consciously choose life. It’s only by His Grace I’ve continued to say “Yes”.

Whatever you are facing today. Keep saying “Yes.”

“This day I call the heavens and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, that you and your children may live.” –Deuteronomy 30:19

This goes out tonight to every one of my warrior friends. We know what it is like to literally contemplate the choice with every dawn. How will we see this suffering, our own and that of our children today? Will we be paralyzed in the curses or move in the strength of the blessings towards the light and grace of this life . . . our life, the lives of our spouses and sons and daughters, our parents and sisters and brothers and friends???

CHOOSE LIFE.

SHARE YOUR STORY. If you are walking a Gauntlet or are close to someone who is and would like to contribute to our Thursday community please email me at mkayesnyder@gmail.com, and I will send you the instructions for submitting. Share with anyone you know who might like to join our Gauntlet Story Feast. (Please use the hash tag #GauntletStoryFeast when sharing so we can find and follow one another.) Our Hope remains.

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Howard Hughes and Things I’m Missing. Gauntlet Story Feast

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Howard Hughes

This is a repost from December 2011 following my first neurosurgery. I’ve been trying to write something about my recovery from this most recent fusion, my seventh neurosurgery in four years. I am dealing with more disability, or as my counselor says, “different ability,” than ever. I have adaptive equipment to help me put my socks and pants on. I am thirty-nine years old, and the fusion I have now will not heal into a better place. I am stuck. The grief. The loss. The crying. It has been very difficult to write about. As many time as I’ve born my heart to you here, I feel like this is the ugliest thing I could show you. It’s important because it’s true. I know people read this blog for many reasons, but my target audience are people like me. They already know there are two sides to this journey. They know you can Hope in razor sharp suffering because it is our only option if we want to live.

This is a more humorous post about things we deal with in the Gauntlet. I hope you get a giggle. I also hope if you can showered without pain and dressed yourself today you feel a little more gratitude for simple independent things you may take for granted. If you are sitting in traffic or picking up your children from school in the annoying car rider line I hope you say Grace. If you can get groceries or clean your toilets try to be thankful. These things are lost to me, and I’d give almost anything to reclaim them.

Howard Hughes and Things I’m Missing
By Monica Kaye Snyder

I think I’m maybe just a little grumpy today. I figure I’m entitled to have a day or two when the barometric pressure reminds me this surgery is not a total fix for the complex medical issues I have, some of which will be a life long struggle for me, and I still just let myself go to a discouraged place for a little while. I’ve been trying to hard to focus on all the amazing positive gifts God has given and the healing. If I’m totally honest, I’ve even been playing the Pollyanna “glad game” to try and keep my mind/body connection moving in a forward direction.

I woke up this morning to cold rain and my head hurts. Thank goodness, it’s nothing like before, but still really bad, especially where those crazy screws were in the top. I think I’m still miffed I just never realized they were going to screw my head to something. How could I not have known that? My joints hurt. This is my EDS. I cannot be cured of this or even have it “fixed” in some way by a surgery. I will see the geneticist in Cincinnati in February to discuss management and possible treatments to help me deal with this ongoing pain. But realistically it’s just something God has asked me to do. Much of the widespread pain I had before my recent surgery has resolved, especially the neck and shoulder pain which was unbearable and crippling. I was cautiously optimistic because of all the drugs I have been taking. As I have been working on dialing back the medication this week, I still feel so much better overall than I have in years. This is good. Very good.

I think it’s the annoying little things about my recovery and new “disabilities” that I’m finding hardest to cope with and maybe just a little bit of loneliness for my husband and my kids and my space. Yes, I even miss my basement home and “bomb shelter” bedroom over this gorgeous light filled space, because it’s where my people are.

I thought I’d make a little list of things I miss. Maybe it will help ME to appreciate them if and when I ever get them back but maybe just maybe it will make YOU feel more sane and more grateful today and even make you laugh a little which is the best medicine, right?

1. Shaving. This is not a random choice for number one. I have not been able to shave since the morning of my surgery. I am Howard Hughes in sooo many ways and hair removal tops my list of OCD issues. I cannot in any way move my neck and head and body to shave. Last week when Dan was coming for date night I thought I would at least try to shave my armpits. To my horror I realized I cannot look over to the right and left enough to even see them. This is a problem, people. short of beginning a fund for laser hair removal or finding a stranger to come wax me periodically because a friendship would clearly be ended over this kind of interaction, I am in trouble. BIG trouble. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to solve this problem . . . SOON.

2. Tweezing. In the same vein, but also a critical part of my hygiene, I tweeze daily. I tweeze my eyebrows and any random facial hair and my one genetic chin whisker that pops out without warning. Again, I cannot move my face or head or hold a hand mirror or in any real way get this properly accomplished. It is making me crazy! At home I would climb up on our bathroom sink criss cross applesauce and tweeze. My husband and kids know if mom’s in the bathroom for more than a half a minute and if the door is locked this is my “me” time. One of my requests to Dan if I ever become a “vegetable” is please, oh please, have someone come and tweeze me. Last night I even forgot I cannot look down at my own body and see my own boobs. I was worried. Don’t worry, I don’t have “hairy” boobs, but you know how every once in awhile there is a hair that appears and needs to immediately be taken care of. It’s something women in our culture don’t just do. We take it seriously. We don’t speak of it even amongst ourselves, but it has to be done to keep the civilized world running. Well, I’ve outed us. Things are spinning out of control.

3. Caring for my feet and toenails, oh and clothes. I should have gone for a pedicure before surgery. It’s not like I could really even hold my head up or felt well enough to care but now I do. I would ask someone to drive me to get one this second. I would spend money to have someone else fix these rough feet with nails too long and polish grown out except for the above mentioned issue of unshaved legs. I would be too embarrassed to have anyone near my feet and legs to let them do my toes. Add on to this not wearing anything besides sweats and pajamas, ugly flat shoes and a pony tail for months and a self image problem emerges. Yes, I am so much more than clothes and hair and toenails too, but I’m the classic beauty, right? For years I have worn timeless clothes and beautiful scarves and simple jewelry which everyone wondered how I could afford when the truth is I probably bought them at least five years ago when I could afford them, but they are gorgeous still because they are classics. I haven’t bought real clothes in a very long time. I really want to be pretty again, not in the vain sense but in the “her clothing is fine linen and purple” way. Oh, and I bet that virtuous women had trim feet. I’m just saying.

4. Driving. I drove very little for months before my surgery because I had passed out a few times and frankly after seeing the 3DCT of what my neck looked like when I turned to the right or the left I realized I was most likely putting my own life and the lives of others in danger by continuing to drive. Not to mention I could barely get out of bed anyway, and we only have one vehicle. I have been home bound for so long you would think this would be further down the list but I REALLY miss being able to go putz for an hour at Marshalls or go to the grocery store and pick out what I want to eat. I’m so tired of wasting so much time browsing online sites for little Christmas stocking gifts I could just get at Walgreens if I could only go there. I wish I could pick Delaney up from school or take Danica to Chic-fil-A. I’ve had my driver’s license since the day I turned 16, and I have always associated driving with freedom and the ability to escape any situation when I need to but also make something happen when I want to. These things are gone now. I do not know when I will be allowed to drive again or how easily I will be able to with my new “range of motion.” I think about it a lot. If I get special big new “old lady” mirrors don’t laugh.

5. Drinking. drinking alcohol is a Christian liberty issue I’m in no way prepared to address here and certainly don’t want to get private emails or facebook messages about it. If I cause you to stumble dear brother or sister, I am sorry, and we can address that in a different forum. Technically it has been months since I’ve had anything to drink so it’s a non issue right now. That being said, oh how I miss having a glass of red wine. It makes me almost cry. Anyone who knows me well knows I always had at least a split in the fridge because at any moment something might need to be celebrated. Life and champagne are friends that must hold hands often. I really want to “Cheers!” something soon.

6. Cleaning. This is a little sick but then again if you’ve read this far you get the picture. I am desperate to clean something. It really hurts me to want to do this so badly and truly be physically unable. Now that I’ve been living here two weeks I’ve figured out how to swiffer the hard woods for “exercise” to avoid blood clots and yes, may empty my bathroom trashcan EVERY morning, but I want to vacuum and dust and clean my toilet, and I can’t. My own family has been taunting me about how they are living the life over there. Delaney tells me, “Dad let us make a big fort of blankets and pillows and animals and then we just went to bed and LEFT IT THERE.”

7. Tucking my girls in. Listen, all this other “coo coo for cocoa puffs” stuff aside, if you get to be there every night to tell your kids you love them, sing to them, read to them and tuck them in knowing they will be the first thing you’ll see in the morning, thank God. Don’t rush through it no matter how tired you are. In all my years of illness and pain this is the one thing I always pushed myself to do. It is the thing my girls are sure of. It’s the thing I will do long past when they want me to and the thing I’ll cry about every night after they leave for college or whatever else God might take them away from me to do. I snuggle in and talk to them and ask them questions about what made them happy or sad that day and we pray and we pick a sleep playlist, and I stroke their hair or rub their back, and they know, they know without a doubt, they are loved and safe and no matter what it’s going to be alright.

And you thought I wasn’t going to make you cry today!

About Monica Kaye:

Monica Kaye Snyder is a voracious reader. She is a blogger, a writer and maybe even an author. She continues a long journey of chronic illness and daily physical suffering. Some of her diagnoses include Chiari malformation, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Tethered Spinal Cord, Craniocervical Instability, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, Intracranial Hypertension, Mast Cell Activation Disorder and most recently PANS/PANDAS. She’s seen real miracles happen and holds on to Christ’s Hope as an anchor for her soul while living in great pain. She is wife to Dan and mother to Delaney Jayne and Danica Jean. She knows for sure if she does nothing else well in her life, this will matter and be enough.

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SHARE YOUR STORY. If you are walking a Gauntlet or are close to someone who is and would like to contribute to our Thursday community please email me at mkayesnyder@gmail.com, and I will send you the instructions for submitting. Share with anyone you know who might like to join our Gauntlet Story Feast. (Please use the hash tag #GauntletStoryFeast when sharing so we can find and follow one another.) Our Hope remains.

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Sweet Tea and Jesus

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Sweet tea

I have been quiet here. I continue to write elsewhere like I breathe. The fire of suffering the past months has been wild. Just when I think it might be under control there is a flick of a cigarette. The wind blows the sparks over my dry bones, and once again I am choking in the smoke of loss. Deep pain, my own and that of those I love, fans the flames. My pride keeps me from putting my whole heart here. I fear if you truly saw my charred fleshy wounds you would want to turn away. I’m finaly beginning the hard work of sifting through ashes. I’ve been through too many fires to doubt there is beauty here somewhere. I’ll find it. I will. Until then my God and my friends sit in my lament and let me cry.

I am continually amazed at the reflections of my life through blogging. The following post is from a year ago to the day, August 10th, 2014.

Today was the last Saturday of our summer. From the second I woke up I held on to moments like golden strands of fine thread needing to be tied off carefully so the tapestry won’t unravel. I am not sure if I ever fully believed God might give me a day like this . . . or a week . . . or a month . . . or three months, but I fought like He might, and He did.

I have been in recovery. I am a person who lost part of my brain and my soul. I have been relearning the simple things in life most people take for granted. I am in many ways like a child. If you spend time with me I will probably exclaim out loud about a hundred things you think are ordinary. I may have seen them or heard them, smelled them, tasted them or felt them before, but it has been years since anything did not pass through the brutal filter of chronic pain.

Dan and my girls are getting to know me again.

Delaney told me today I was funny. She only ever saw this mom in old home movies. I was the crazy one drinking a bloody mary for breakfast while dancing around the living room doing Elaine Benes impressions and belly laughing. I still believed life was good. She will tell me “Thank you” in an “I can’t believe you were able to do this for me way” for normal mom stuff like making her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It takes me off guard until I remember she has been making her own lunch and Danica’s lunch for too long. She turned around from the yard and said to me tonight, “I’m so proud of you mom. You’ve been through so much and still you provide.” I asked her, “What do I provide?” Her answer, “Kindness and love.” A tear falls, and I think . . . maybe she is going to be okay after all. Maybe I haven’t hurt her too much. Maybe she sees the big picture at almost twelve years old. Only the gift of the summer we’ve had could give this kind of clarity.

I see flashes of pure joy on my husband’s face when his old Monki shows up. I’ll do something simple for him like a wife might do for her husband. Maybe it’s just asking him if he needs a drink or a bowl of cereal, but I know symbolically it takes the tiniest bit of the incredible load he has carried for so long off him. It starts to tip the balance back to give and take instead of him always giving and me always taking,

For Danica it is different because our relationship was built on pain, mine or hers, and she doesn’t remember me any other way. She is thrilled to have a mommy planning playdates or going shopping with her, but she is not tenuous like Dan and Laney are. For Danica the fact her mom is out of bed is just her life today, not something she’s terrified we might lose. Still, her bedtime prayers have changed. Every night for as long as I can remember she would end with her little plea to a big God, “Please make mommy better.” I would cringe wondering how messed up a child’s faith could get if the answer never came. Slowly this summer she has moved on to pray about other things and for other people, letting me slip off the list. I love knowing her tender heart is getting a break from worrying about her mama.

During my plasmapheresis and IVIG treatments I made a list of things I really wanted to do this summer if I was well. Some of them were simple like taking the girls putt putting yesterday. Others were bigger like attending an outdoor concert, a major league baseball game and a trip to the beach, all activities that brought me true enjoyment before I became so ill. We never got to the bigger things because of money, but in some ways I think it was for the best because we learned how to live and love in this sacred space of home and everyday life again.

I also set out to lose steroid weight and become thinner over these summer months. This hasn’t happened, because I’m hungry for the first time in years, and I want to eat. I’ve realized the part of my brain that forgot how to enjoy anything is loving food again and drink and the community it invites too. I’m letting myself remember these right now. I’m showing myself grace. This body has been through hell. It’s okay to look in the mirror and respect the wonder of flesh and blood surviving all I have no matter what the scale says.

This evening our family was hanging out on our deck. We had just finished my “famous” corn dip. The sun was setting behind the trees. Over the Rhine was crooning “Favorite Time of Night” from our playlist. The girls and Twixie were playing badminton and soccer. I got that thick feeling in my throat as the cicadas sang. I felt my anxiety about all we are facing financially begin to sprout in my mind and try to rob me of the perfect night. I felt my fear about the evil in the world and the sadness for the suffering and brokenhearted. Why are we allowed to be here like this when so much of humanity is wailing tonight? Why does my heart ache over my own medical debt when people are starving and dying? How do I balance the goodness of God with all these things?

I have always been too serious. Life has always been a struggle between the highs and lows. I feel everything too deeply. I think about you and you and you, and I pray for you too. I wonder how you are today. I’ll write you a note to let you know. I’ll buy you a gift when I see something that makes me think of you even when I can’t afford it. If I just met you I want to cut through anything casual and hear your story. I want to know what you read and the music you listen to. I want to know what makes you laugh and what makes you cry. I know for sure God is real, and I’ll give the reason for the Hope in me. I know for sure life is hard and love is real, and we have to keep believing no matter what. All this is exhausting. Most don’t have the stomach for it and need to numb themselves or dumb it down as a coping mechanism. I get this. I do. I’ve tried to change. I’ve tried to medicate away the very thing I am learning is most likely a gift not a curse.

In this age of trying to capture our feeling in a facebook post or a tweet, I try to imagine telling some kind of narrative in just a few words. It’s not natural for me. Most of the time I just can’t do it, and I run to write for real in places no one reads. Instagram is a little easier. After all a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Sometimes I run to grab my camera and capture the way the light is falling or the girls are playing. I’m grasping to simplify what has always been so complicated for as long as I can remember. I don’t often succeed. On the rare occasion it happens it is usually just a few words strung together, hanging out there like a mantra for my soul. My OCD brain holds onto them, and I chant in my head like a child rocking to sooth away the day and finally sleep.

Today it came in a pillow that showed up in the mail.

SWEET TEA AND JESUS.

This I know.

I feel my symptoms returning slowly. I have quietly let the people who need to know begin to monitor how far we let this go before I get help again. I’m terrified, because I was released from a kind of prison, and I need to be free like this no matter what. No matter what the cost. No matter what the toll is on the people around me. No matter how many more scars. I can’t go back where I was. I knew another round might be needed. I remember asking, “How long will this last?” The answer was, “We don’t know. Maybe three months, maybe six . . .” I scribbled this in my little notebook I kept in the hospital those worst twelve days.

SWEET TEA AND JESUS. SWEET TEA AND JESUS. SWEET TEA AND JESUS.

This I know.

. . . It’s Sunday morning now. No church for us. Dan and the girls have taken a month off, and I am not sure when I can go back. I’m not sure why, but it has been good. We slept in until almost nine. All of us. We had coffee and breakfast and played Scrabble. I am so tired from my twitching body and racing mind. Symptoms. Our family will work on thank yous today. Gratitude for a family who gave us Christmas in July. It was amazing. Gratitude for a used laptop that showed up on our back deck when mine died. Someone who knows my world is still small and the keyboard and screen are the place I sort things out and reach out and am touched by you too. Gratitude for a friend who tells me this. “I don’t believe God brought you this far and provided all you need to walk away from the help you might still need to fight for your life.” She’s right. I ask, “Do we have everything we need today?” Once step in front of the other. Be faithful. Do the next thing. Love harder. Celebrate the gifts. Give the rest to Him.

SWEET TEA AND JESUS.

This I know.

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Do you See? Gauntlet Story Feast

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*“Our whole business, then, brethren, in this life is to heal this eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.”–St Augustine

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I wrote the following post December 2, 2011, having just returned home from my first neurosurgery. I’m now snuggled under the same quilt in my own light filled home recovering from my seventh neurosurgery. I am so filled with suffering I can scarcely breathe. It is not the physical hurt. I’m convinced I could win a pain endurance trophy in a suffering Olympics. I am only slightly bothered by intense post surgical pain, because I can mentally understand it. Compared to the headaches before this latest fusion and the insane burning of my hands and feet, both of which resolved instantly with the pressure removed from my spinal cord, I know this is the good kind of ache. This is skin and flesh binding to one another over additional scaffolding in my delicate spine. The suffering I face now is in my mind and my heart.

I believe I see clearer than ever, but those who have necessarily walked this Gauntlet with me seem to have cloudier vision and lost more perspective each time we’ve done this. Maybe they are just tired. My oldest daughter, Delaney, came to the foot of my bed yesterday. We were talking about upcoming school shopping and in the honesty we’ve always shared she said, “This is just hard. You are grumpy, and I know it is because you are hurting, but every summer is like this.” I am wrecked. The truth is I have one of those “on this day” apps for Facebook, and I realize how many years we have been in continuous crisis, leading up towards it or recovering from it. Dan and I had a fight last night. We don’t fight. Ever. Truly. I sometimes want to give him an out. He has to want that. All I wanted was a hug. He said I was too “brittle.” I know he wonders if he will ever have his wife back. We both know he is not cut from the cloth that cares for someone sick long term and certainly not disabled. He cannot advocate. He can barely sit in a hospital room. I don’t think his love for me is tied to this. I think it’s just too much to ask of him. I know that’s a real thing. You’re a fool if you think it’s not. My dad reminded me recently one of the most painful things I know to be true. “Most men would have left.” It is only my little Danica whose empathy seems to know no bounds. Although she cannot remember fully her own surgeries or even the months of being held in a brace which kept others from real touch she finds me and clings to me in the awkward way you must when your mommy is wearing an Aspen collar all day and night.

I see like the blind man who Jesus took outside the city and spit on earth and covered his eyes with clay and healed him. When I read this oh so old post I almost laugh at the beginning of that miracle in my life. Surely it was not only meant for me. The suffering I feel today comes from my vision being almost crystal clear and less myopic every day, and the paralyzing fear those close to me are seeing less and less. As I wade through my usual post surgery self pity I push to begin going back to work. I am finishing my book. I edit based on these new stories I’ve gathered and the added perspective they bring. I realize more than ever this book is for those of us who drag our chairs around in a circle each week and say, “Hello, My name is Monica, I have,” and we state the laundry list of conditions that are not us but that make up our bodies and have become the threads that hold together our lives. We share the things even those who love us most and try the hardest can only make out through a mist.

Nora Gallagher was presenting at a writing conference in Washington DC the weekend our family left for the beach. I desperately wanted to attend. I took her book Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic to read on our trip. I suggest anyone beginning or walking through a journey in the world of illness and medicine and sorting out their faith in the darkness and sometimes blinding light the long walk brings to read this honest and beautiful narrative. In her last chapter she writes:

Following Jesus was meant to be an ongoing movement, not a creed, not a wall of set in stone words. A place where practices, like prayer, like meditation, were taught, where stories and memories, largely about vulnerability and suffering were collected and shared. The body’s pain and suffering were meant to be a part of this whole: I don’t think Jesus had in mind a place where you had to tolerate the empty predictability of a service and stand upright at the coffee hour if you had been diagnosed with lymphoma or sarcoidosis or lung cancer. He was, at the heart of his ministry, a healer.

And the stories of his followers were meant to be taken seriously to become part of the ongoing larger Story. A river of stories, joining the sea. The living stories of a faith’s followers are what keep it alive.

I have more regard for how each of us finds a way, the man in scrubs playing the Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic, the girl in the wheelchair, the boy with no hair running in the wind, each of us feeling our way in the dark. “The infinite value of one human being,” a friend said, “isn’t that what it’s all about?”

This land of illness, behind the wall, is much larger than I thought, and through its lens, the world we all live in, what we call the natural world, becomes more precious. I said I would give quite a lot to have my own body back, but yesterday I saw the evening light falling on the old oak trees in our park, their bark like the skin of elephants. This world is so beautiful, and not only can I still see it, I no longer pass through it quite the same way I did before. I, at least sometimes, am in it, in its beauty, in its enchantment, in its divine life…”

I want healing in so many ways, but more than any physical restoration I want the kind of heart healing that causes me to see Him clearly. This is my work. This is my calling. This gives me purpose in my suffering this afternoon.

Do You See?
By Monica Kaye Snyder
Written December 2, 2011

I’m sitting here in bed propped on many pillows and covered with my favorite “story” quilt from home. I’m looking at the sun glistening off the peaceful lake right outside the floor to ceiling doors and windows to the left of where I rest. I watch the dancing rays on the simple colors and patterns of the soft rug covering the hardwood floor. Classic and simple furnishings comfort me and are a present wrapped in the way beautiful space has always been a gift to me. There are pictures of people I do not know smiling at me. They have a summer life here, and because they are part of this big household of faith they opened their home to me to heal. I have wanted this. I have prayed for this. I have desperately needed this time and place more than I ever could have imagined. I see.

If you have been reading this blog from the beginning you know my theology has often brought me to ask many questions to a God I believed in and trusted but still held at bay when it came to His providence and how it worked in tandem with my sin. I especially questioned Him when it came to the suffering of Danica and my family. He recently brought me to this passage from John 9:1-3.

“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.'”

Four years ago Danica was born through months of intense physical suffering and great loss on many levels. The verse I would cling to was from Job 42:5, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You.”

I have literally a hundred amazing stories to tell about my trip to Maryland and surgery and healing. They all speak directly of a God who is always in the details and thrives in showing His Grace through people. The morning of my surgery my sweet sister-in-law Amy took me to the hospital to get registered and get my PICC line placed. I did not feel so much nervousness as I did really dreading the process that leads up to actually being wheeled into the room and getting to the real business of surgery. If you’ve been through many surgeries you know that everyone comes in and meets you and chats about certain history and reminds you of the risks and complications that could arise and then has you sign a bunch of forms. There were two people during this process who blew me away. First I had to go over and register and show my identification and insurance card, etc. When anyone finds out you are a patient of Dr. Henderson it seems there is a special kind of reverence and care surrounding all the dealings moving forward. This sweet woman saw a countenance on my face that she instantly recognized as being a “believer.” She said, “I am already praising God with you for what will happen in that operating room today and during your healing.” I see.

When Dr. Henderson came in to speak with us he had his classic blue blazer on and held my hand tightly as he prayed over Dan and I. He asked for God’s guidance of each movement of his hands and each decision he would make during the surgery and then he asked specifically for my healing so I would further be able to glorify God by doing His will in His kingdom.

Stop. Read it over again. This man who would cut open my head and neck and painstakingly move around in my brain stem and spinal cord had just prayed the desire of my heart. All I have longed for is to be doing God’s will and giving Him glory. I know these heavy burdens are not given lightly. With them come great responsibility to bear them into something beautiful and eternal. This is why Dr. Henderson does this work. I cannot be healed and go back into a life anything like what it once was. I’ve SEEN and have to tell about it.

When I came out of surgery and began to get my bearings in the recovery room all I could say over and over was, “I CAN SEE.” The black floaters I had suffered from for years, particularly in my right eye, but most severely the last months as the pressure in my head had worsened were completely gone. As I type this now I have no obstruction of my vision at all. Although I am in considerable pain from the rib harvesting and my large head and neck incision I do not have the paralyzing vice grip in the back of my head. I do have quite a bit of nerve “damage” from the screws put in my upper skull to hold it in place during surgery. I have felt like my head is numb. I know many of these post surgery pains will take patient healing and rest to make it a true success.

I am praying that all the faith being made sight will unfold in your life and mine so the power of God can and will be seen in us.

About Monica Kaye:

Monica Kaye Snyder is a voracious reader. She is a blogger, a writer and maybe even an author. She continues a long journey of chronic illness and daily physical suffering. Some of her diagnoses include Chiari malformation, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Tethered Spinal Cord, Craniocervical Instability, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, Intracranial Hypertension, Mast Cell Activation Disorder and most recently PANS/PANDAS. She’s seen real miracles happen and holds on to Christ’s Hope as an anchor for her soul while living in great pain. She is wife to Dan and mother to Delaney Jayne and Danica Jean. She knows for sure if she does nothing else well in her life, this will matter and be enough.

MonicaBW

SHARE YOUR STORY. If you are walking a Gauntlet or are close to someone who is and would like to contribute to our Thursday community please email me at mkayesnyder@gmail.com, and I will send you the instructions for submitting. Share with anyone you know who might like to join our Gauntlet Story Feast. (Please use the hash tag #GauntletStoryFeast when sharing so we can find and follow one another.) Our Hope remains.

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Mother Risk and Rest

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Mother Risk and Rest

The smooth notes of Ray Lamontagne’s “The Best Thing” swell on the stereo. The girls are playing with the miniature doll house and have been for hours now. I hear Danica’s near pitch perfect whistle along with the bluesy tune. It’s one of those rare and extremely peaceful times when the five years between Delaney and Danica do not matter, and they are simply sisters lost in a pretend world together. I am exhausted from driving to Walgreens by myself to get Mother’s Day cards. It felt good to brave the car and the road and the store all by myself, but I felt a little panic too. I am coming to understand my courage comes in fits and starts. I am perhaps one of the most daring people you will meet when it comes to the ability to push myself and do almost anything independently. Most people were stunned I did most of my hospitalization in Maryland alone. I chose to be discharged alone and fly home alone last Saturday. These decisions are purposefully made in sacrifice to keep my girls here, safe, in their own beds and their own home with Dan and my family who will care for them the next best to how I would. I have consciously chosen to have less personal support so they would have more.

Delaney wanted to go to a sleepover tonight. I don’t know the family well at all. It’s my first weekend home, and it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow. I said, “No.” Delaney cried and begged. I offered for her to go hang out with her friends, but I would come get her at bedtime. I told her I want her here, across the hall from me to sleep. She said the words I know are true, “Mom, I just wish you weren’t so OVER protective ALL THE TIME.” She’s right. I am. I wasn’t like this when she was young. Yes, I was vigilant about the right car seat and sunscreen and anti-tip wall anchors, but I was much more trusting of others and nurtured her free spirit. Since Danica’s neck went crooked everything in our lives is a calculated risk. Delaney has paid a high price for all this. I choke on knowing for sure I may have robbed her of something I simply cannot return now.

I read Ben Carson’s book Take the Risk again this week. I don’t think I’ve pulled it off the shelf since 2010 when we were making huge decisions regarding Danica’s surgery. I raced through his wisdom about the right questions to ask when making important life calculations, especially big medical ones. Toward the end of the book he specifically talks about the risk of parenting. He shares how developing young adults need to be allowed to have “acceptable” risk in their lives to redirect what can become dangerous risk taking behavior. I’ve taken this to heart as I watch my girl this weekend. Delaney is eleven going on twenty. If you know her you understand what I mean. I trust her with so much. Still, I am fiercely needing to keep her safe.

I am not like most other moms. I won’t get the card thanking me for shuttling my kids to practices or cheering them on at games or performances. I won’t be recognized in their graduation speech as the mom who was “always there for me.” My girls haven’t had big birthday parties, hand decorated cakes or lots of fun outings to explore the world. They haven’t had all the lessons and social opportunities most kids in their peer group do. They haven’t had a faithful church mom who is the example of weekly attendance and volunteering in programs and events. I haven’t been a “normal” mom. I’ve been sick a lot. I’ve been gone for long periods of time emotionally and physically. Through all this I’ve been brutally honest with my girls about how insanely beautiful this life is and how much hurt necessarily runs along the same path. I talk about fear when I’m afraid. I talk about hope because I believe with all my heart His perfect love casts out fear. I write my girls on days when I mess up and fail them. I try to piece together a genuine narrative for them not only about their childhood but about my story woven into the fabric of these foundation years. I don’t want them to compare their roots to that of their friends or Hollywood. I want honest expectations of sinners saved by Grace doing the best they can with what they have TODAY. In the morning I greet them, “Hello beautiful, How did you sleep?” At the end of the day I kiss them goodnight and play “Sleep Sound in Jesus.” I pray for them. I pray for them. I pray for them. It’s a risk, this love thing . . . this mother thing. It’s a huge risk, and it is so constant I feel myself holding my breath at least half of the time.

In a beautiful little book titled LIFT by Kelly Corrigan she writes,

“My default answer to everything is “no.” As soon as I hear the inflection of inquiry in your voice, the word no forms in my mind, sometimes accompanied by a reason, often not. Can I open the mail? No. Can I wear your necklace? No. When is dinner? No. What you probably wouldn’t believe is how much I want to say yes. Yes, you can take two dozen books home from the library. Yes, you can eat the whole roll of SweeTarts. Yes, you can camp out on the deck. But the books will get lost, and SweeTarts will eventually make your tongue bleed, and if you sleep on the deck, the neighborhood raccoons will nibble on you. I often wish I could come back to 
life as your uncle, so I could give you more. But when you’re the mom, your whole life is holding the rope against these wily secret agents who never, ever stop trying to get you to drop your end.

This tug-of-war often obscures what’s also happening between us. I am your mother, the first mile of your road. Me and all my obvious and hidden limitations. That means that in addition to possibly wrecking you, I have the chance to give to you what was given to me: a decent childhood, more good memories than bad, some values, a sense of a tribe, a run at happiness. You can’t imagine how seriously I take that—even as I fail you. Mothering you is the first thing of consequence that I have ever done.”

If I do nothing else, this mothering thing is what I will be measured by.

No wonder it’s all so scary so much of the time.

Every day I’m given my Delaney Jayne and Danica Jean I step outside my comfort zone and dare to love the best I can. Early on I thought it would never be enough. I know now He is making me exactly enough and the places I can’t fill He wants them to seek Him instead. It’s not dangerous at all when you believe what I do. Our days are written. Our sovereign God has a perfect plan and nothing I can do will mess that up for them.

No mother risk at all.

Just rest.

(This post was first published a year ago, May 10, 2014, on Team Danica.)

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Holding On. Letting It Go. And a giveaway

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The messages are mixed.
Hold on for dear life.
Loosen your grip and let it go.
What’s a girl to do?

Since finding out I need neurosurgery again I’ve been vacillating between hope and despair. It’s always the same process.

Denial.
It’s just a flare.
Fear.
What if they can’t find a reason for this pain?
Relief.
I’m not crazy.
Anger.
It’s too much for too long.
Grief.
How much more can my family and I endure?

Acceptance and maybe even hope are supposed to come next.

I’m stuck in the ache right now. I am not holding on or letting it go. I’m wedged in between irrational suffering and the lie this is somehow proof God has turned His back on me and peace that can only come from believing this is Grace, and He is working it for my good and His glory.

My friend Christin Ditchfield’s beautiful book What Women Should Know About Letting It Go: Breaking Free from the Power of Guilt, Discouragement, and Defeat was just published.

I’ve been sitting with her words.
Underlining.
Page flagging.
Marinating my mind and heart.

Christin was a stranger to me until a Holy Spirit filled night at Laity Lodge in November. After a group of women prayed circles around me she pulled me aside. Shining with Jesus she shared Isaiah 38. At the beginning of the chapter it says King Hezekiah was “ill to the point of death.” God told him to get his house in order because he would die. He would not recover. I’m pretty sure if God sent me a real life prophet that said I was going to die I would make some funeral plans, hug my husband and girls and submit to it as God’s will. Hezekiah did something different. He turned his face toward the wall and as he wept bitterly he prayed, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.”

Guess what? His prayer changed God’s mind. Here’s that tricky sovereignty thing again. If Hezekiah hadn’t prayed this prayer would God have taken his life then? Did God plan for this prayer to open Hezekiah’s eyes all along so He would get the glory?

Listen to these beautiful words penned by Hezekiah himself after his illness and recovery:

I said, “In the prime of my life
must I go through the gates of death
and be robbed of the rest of my years?”
I said, “I will not again see the Lord himself
in the land of the living;
no longer will I look on my fellow man,
or be with those who now dwell in this world.
Like a shepherd’s tent my house
has been pulled down and taken from me.
Like a weaver I have rolled up my life,
and he has cut me off from the loom;
day and night you made an end of me.
I waited patiently till dawn,
but like a lion he broke all my bones;
day and night you made an end of me.
I cried like a swift or thrush,
I moaned like a mourning dove.
My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens.
I am being threatened; Lord, come to my aid!”
But what can I say?
He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this.
I will walk humbly all my years
because of this anguish of my soul.
Lord, by such things people live;
and my spirit finds life in them too.
You restored me to health
and let me live.
Surely it was for my benefit
that I suffered such anguish.
In your love you kept me
from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins
behind your back.

For the grave cannot praise you,
death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
cannot hope for your faithfulness.
The living, the living—they praise you,
as I am doing today;
parents tell their children
about your faithfulness.
The Lord will save me,
and we will sing with stringed instruments
all the days of our lives
in the temple of the Lord.

Since I’ve been back from Maryland I have been trying to force some kind of illusion of control over what’s coming next. I have forgotten the rich treasure of knowing for sure even this is for my benefit. In one of my favorite chapter’s in Letting It Go Christin writes, “We’ve got to learn to trust Him and His leadership. Trust Him and His power. Trust Him and His wisdom. Trust Him and His love. It’s because we trust Him–trust that He is in control–that we can let go.” By this I live.

The mountains I face are very real.
The physical.
The emotional.
The spiritual.
The relational.
The financial.
None of those need moved today.

Instead I will pray with my Jesus, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

I am holding on to hope and letting the rest go.

What are you trying to control in your own life? What mountains are you facing? What truth reminds you to let it go and rest in Jesus? I am giving away a copy of Christin Ditchfield’s book What Women Should Know About Letting It Go: Breaking Free from the Power of Guilt, Discouragement, and Defeat. Comment here to be entered into a random drawing Sunday morning, May 10th. Share on social media for an extra entry and please use the hashtag #LettingItGo.

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