Archive of ‘Option EDS (the retreat)’ category

Feeling Forsaken. Knowing I’m Not. Moving West

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“I have called to God and heard no answer,
I have seen the thick curtain drop, and sunlight die;
My voice has echoed back, a foolish voice,
The prayer restored intact to its silly source.
I have walked in darkness, He hung in it.
In all of my mines of night, He was there first;
In whatever dead tunnel I am lost, He finds me.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
From His perfect darkness a voice says, I have not.”–Chad Walsh

Light

Two weeks ago I sat on the North Carolina coast with the sun in my face, the clean ocean air filling my head and my heart and my bare feet grounded in the sand. I was without pain. It was the perfect and oh so rare cocktail of environment, weather and wellness gifted to me a few days during our family vacation. I didn’t take a minute for granted. I scribbled in my journal all the beautiful things that flow from the kind of hope born in pure light. Mary Oliver’s words echoed in the ebb and flow of the waves, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  

This is day seven of unspeakable suffering I don’t understand.

In the fall of 2013 I had my very first lumbar peritoneal shunt placed after several years of struggling with Intracranial Hypertension. Of all my pain, the brain pressure puts me in bed, holding my head, weeping and even wanting to die. I lose vision in my right eye and hearing in my right ear. On the worst days I am completely debilitated. I knew that shunts, both lumbar and ventricle, are not engineered well and are especially problematic in EDS patients, but I was desperate. The first LP shunt clogged quickly, and I had a revision in February, 2014.  A week after surgery I flew to Arizona to heal. I arrived being pushed in a wheelchair with a large wound just under my ribs where the device was replaced and incisions in my side and back where the tubing snaked around into my spinal cord. I left having hiked over a mile the last day there. It was the most well I’d felt since 2007.

Since, I’ve had another LP shunt revision and a VP shunt placed in my brain that needed revised last April. The brutal Ohio months of January and February were always a catalyst for failure. Escaping to Tucson became a way for me to get relief. Because of planning and executing my first Option EDS – the retreat in May I didn’t plan on traveling west this year, but my tell-tale symptoms of a clogged device escalated. Delaney and I took a last minute, emergency trip in February. My relief was instant. On the flight home we both wept.

The following weeks of drastic weather changes battered my brain. I was more scared than I’ve ever been. My vascular neurosurgeon moved from Virginia to Pennsylvania since my revision last spring. I reached out, and he had me come immediately. March 22nd Dan and I drove five hours to Hershey Medical Center. I was admitted through the ER, and he revised my shunt late that night. The device and tubing were clogged. The next morning Dan asked him how long he thought this one would last. He said maybe a year at best and next time he would have to place a shunt on the left side of my brain instead of the right. It’s too much cutting.  It’s stenosis in the arteries and ventricles. It’s trauma that cannot be healed anymore.  I’ve had six shunts in four years, and there is no real fix in sight.

With thirty staples in my head I returned to Tucson with my dear friend Janet. It was another unplanned trip. I spent my time there seriously considering what I’ve known I need to do to save my life. I looked at schools for the girls. I looked at real estate. I spent the few days imagining what moving there would look like.

Several weeks later, in early May, my family and I and my parents traveled to Tucson together. The girls visited their possible schools and shadowed students that may become their friends. We looked at short and long term housing options. We spent time exploring what we’ve known we have to do to save my life. We put an application in on an apartment even though we felt the multi-family environment may be unstable for my mast cell disorder. We took a step in faith.

The day before we left I received my insurance EOB for my most recent shunt revision surgery at Hershey. The cost is shocking. $145,566.16.

We can’t afford to move. We can’t afford not to.

We flew back into Cleveland on Sunday afternoon. A pressure system was bringing rain. I literally walked off the plane to an escalating headache. I cried. I sat on the baggage carousel and cried.

We can’t afford to move.  We can’t afford not to

In all the preparation for the retreat I also began to ready our home for sale. It’s complicated because this house is in my parent’s name. It was…is a miracle, and we are deeply rooted in these literal four walls. Dan began sending his resume to job opportunities in Tucson. I wanted to ask you all to pray, but I didn’t want to distract from the important work of the retreat. Dan had a Skype interview the Monday of the retreat week. It didn’t go well. He was distraught. I was not here. He became afraid. The girls were absorbing the weight of his emotions. I was experiencing the untold beauty of a calling fulfilled. It was exhausting and exhilarating. I flew home to a storm of doubt and backtracking. The expectation of a plan to relocate so quickly was not easy for Dan. He is a man of faithful doing. He has not hustled or sold himself even once during the last ten years. He’s sacrificed any personal ambition to care for our family. I did not fully realize the kind of inadequacy he was feeling about a job search. The girls and I met and prayed. We had a family meeting and removed the “deadline” date of the beginning of school in early August. I watched my husband reappear just a little. We leaned into our family beach vacation. While sitting on the beach I wrote an email canceling our lease which was to begin June 15th.

We flew back into Cleveland in pouring rain. My head felt like it would explode. It’s been hurting since. The past week has been a testing of everything I’ve said about not cutting my brain open again. I’ve tried every possible treatment. I went to the ER Saturday and asked for IV meds which only took an edge off the constant debilitating pressure. I’ve hid in my cool, dark room and cried out to my God. I’ve been in touch with my neurosurgeon who suggests a large volume lumbar puncture to remove fluid and provide some relief and also give information about a shunt failure. I would have to travel to Pennsylvania for this. I believe I am not supposed to have another surgery.

I received an email from the realtor in Tucson last night. The community we would love to live in is releasing their first lots. There is an opportunity to build a small home with a suite where family could stay or we could host EDS warriors who need to know there is a place they could heal and feel more well. This has been a dream of mine since I began traveling to Tucson. The retreat only reinforced this desire to minister to others in such an intimate and life changing way. In my desperation I wanted to delete the email. I couldn’t even get out of bed. How in the world would we ever make it to Tucson now?

I had a Toradol injection yesterday and began a medication that has helped in the past when my shunt has failed. I am trying to write this clunky post while I can.

My life doesn’t seem wild or precious at all. The long hours curled up in the dark feel like wasted time. What are my days worth?

I spent time with a wise counselor this morning. She has walked every step of this journey with my family and I for so many years. She’s seen the medical costs that could have bought a half dozen homes. She’s seen me heal and even blossom on trips to Arizona and regress when I return. She knows my complete devotion to and admiration for the man who has loved and served my family and I through a decade of doing the faithful and sacrificial next thing. She championed the purpose that grew from my pain and became Option EDS – the retreat. She understands this particular hurt is the one kind of suffering that brings me to the utter end of myself and makes me want to disappear. She believes I am supposed to stay. Today she reminded me of what’s been possible, because we’ve been vulnerable enough to admit we could never do this on our own and then humbly ASKED. This has been no easy thing. Especially for my Dan.

You all have been invested in our story from the very first blog post on Team Danica. You’ve prayed and encouraged and supported and loved us into miracles. This is big. We are ever grateful. I cannot even begin to imagine how God will do this new thing. But I’m asking you to pray. Plead with us for a way in the wilderness. I want the story to have some kind of restoration, celebration, land of milk and honey resolution here in this life.  It may not come.  But the changing of our hearts day by day and the healing of our eyes to really see Him and know Him is preparation for the eventual total healing of my body and our souls forever and ever.  This is Grace.  Our Hope is built on nothing less.

In my crying out today I echo the voice of the one who endured the ultimate suffering for me. We share the same Father who has a perfect plan for our good and His glory.

I feel forsaken. I am not.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

“For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”–Romans 11:36

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Farther Along. Please Pray for Us

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When I leave a decided silence here I am even more reluctant to return. After all, this was a place to tell a story, and I became more weary of it than you ever could have, and I mostly quit. The narrative is in between these words. It’s in the painful place where I wrestle with my faith while my hip is screaming out of joint. I’ve been reading N.D. Wilson again.  And there’s this:

“Do not resent your place in the story. Do not imagine yourself elsewhere. Do not close your eyes and picture a world without thorns, without shadows, without hawks. Change this world. Use your body like a tool meant to be used up, discarded, and replaced. Better every life you touch. We will reach the final chapter. When we have eyes that can stare into the sun, eyes that only squint for the Shenikah, then we will see laughing children pulling cobras by their tails, and hawks and rabbits playing tag.” 

My in-laws visited this past weekend. They reminded me of a song I know because I love Josh Garrels, but I should know because I loved old bluegrass Gospel music before it was considered relevant or cool. How did I miss this poetry of God’s sovereignty?

Tonight I sit in early evening light filtered through virgin orange blossoms, and I ache. I’ve never been one to live well in the juxtaposition of the Grace I’ve been given held up to those who have never tasted or seen.

He is God.  I am not.  Oh, these lyrics.

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
So cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by

Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man dies, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because he loves em’ both
We’re all cast-aways in need of rope
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen

Where did I go wrong, I sang along
To every chorus of the song
That the devil wrote
like a piper at the gate
Leading mice and men down to their fate
But some will courageously escape
The seductive voice with a heart of faith
While walkin’ the line back home

There’s much more to life than we’ve been told
It’s full of beauty that will unfold
And shine like you struck gold my wayward son
That deadweight burden weighs a ton
Go down to the river and let it run
And wash away all the things you’ve done
Forgiveness, alright

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
So cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by

But still I get hard pressed on every side
Between the rock and a compromise
Like truth and a pack of lies fightin’ for my soul
And I’ve got no place left go
Cause I got changed by what I’ve been shown
There’s more glory than the world has known
Keeps me ramblin’ on

Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I’m free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I’ll get back up
For the joy that overflows my cup
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levees and my bluffs
Let the flood wash me

And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess
The Son of God is forever blessed
His is the Kingdom, and we’re the guests
So put your voice up to the test
Sing Lord, come soon

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
So cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by

Forgive me for thinking my family and I could live this next chapter without your specific prayers. I never wanted to distract from the work God gave me in Option EDS – the retreat or the story I was telling over there. But I know better than to think my big God can only do one thing at a time with one heart and one life. I am asking you now. If you’ve ever prayed for us, please lift us up again tonight.

Dan. Monica. Delaney. Danica.

He knows. The Spirit groans. Farther along we will understand. Our Hope remains.

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Surgery Again. The Complicated and Necessary Right to Suffer

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“My feelings of pain and guilt for failing not to suffer became more unbearable. The physical pain seemed almost easy in comparison.”–Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face

I’m sitting at chemo today. It hurts.

My spinal cord is re-tethered. It hurts.

I want the pain and guilt of being sick to stop even more than the actual physical suffering.

There is much to share about my trip to DC. Some hard. Some pure Grace.

I need spinal surgery again. It’s scheduled for Wednesday, November 8th. It will require 3-4 days in the hospital and 7-10 days in the area after discharge before I’m released in a post op appointment. It seems as impossible now as the first time. I have to allow myself to sit here for a minute and acknowledge how this feels to me, because it’s happening to me. I won’t stay in this place. I will move forward to all the planning and logistics and finances and caring for other’s emotions surrounding it. For now I will endure this chemo and the awful ache that follows. I will crawl into bed and cry until the tears run dry. I will wrestle with God through the night. Tomorrow I will rise and begin to do what must be done. He will make a way. I will write about it. I will tell about it. He will get the glory, but today I believe He understands my complicated and necessary right to suffer.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.”–Psalm 103:13-14

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What Can I Give? An EDS Retreat is Born

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“As you move to the rhythm of the Spirit of God, what is within you that you can now give to someone else? Not for the glory of yourself, but as a person who bears the image of God in the world. What are those things in the deepest part of who you are, the personality and desires and unique blending of history and circumstances and longing–what is most alive in you as you are united with Christ that you can now pour out as an offering unto God for the benefit of others?” ~ Emily Freeman

We begin with our stories, always.

It was June, 2009. Delaney was six. Danica was twenty months old.  A few weeks before leaving for vacation our baby girl’s neck went crooked. The appointments for scans and specialists were a month out, and we decided to go ahead with our trip. Each mile seemed like a hundred as Danica cried in her car seat. The photos from our week show her wincing in pain and confusion. We didn’t yet know the words, “Chiari” or “Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.”

Over the next six grueling years we begged God to redeem that trip to Corolla. He did this through the love of dear ones who watched our struggle and wanted to make some kind of respite happen for us in a place we longed for and needed to return to. The time away in May, 2015 solidified something in all of us. We were strangely tethered to this particular geography of sand and waves and horses living wild and free in the dunes. We felt like nothing could touch us there. Wounds that were continually opened by our never ending hard scabbed over in the salt water of the Atlantic. There were no doctor’s appointments. There were no collection calls or bills arriving in the mail. I had a wellness near the sea I could never grasp back at home. We didn’t speak much about the trip before leaving. Our plans have a way of tragically falling through. Those who knew said things like, “You guys deserve this.” I would squirm. I know and love too many without even a hope of a beach vacation. I never once thought it was anything but pure grace.

The heart of this retreat began beating long before I knew I was carrying the dream. It was conceived in December, 2011 in a gorgeous home on the shores of Lake Cable in Canton, Ohio as I rested and recovered from my first Chiari brain decompression and cervical fusion. The wall of windows facing the water was a prism of healing light and heat. I spent ten weeks there. They were some of the longest and most painful days and nights of my life, but I knew the opportunity to mend in a beautiful and peaceful place was rare treasure.  I wished I could give this same experience to other women.  I imagined the empty bedrooms filled with sisters who needed to come away and rest.

Just three months following my first neurosurgery, I returned to Maryland for a tethered spinal cord release. It was the beginning of many years of serious brain, spine and abdominal operations. Danica’s diagnoses uncovered the faulty DNA I’d passed on to her and led me to understand my own life of symptoms and suffering. During this time I blogged much of Danica and I’s story. I formed relationships online with others who were sick like us. Almost all of our care was away from home and required travel. An amazing community showed up.  We met in hotel lobbies, doctor’s offices and surgical waiting rooms. We texted, messaged and called one another day or night.  We became family.

Last summer we found out Danica needed another scary brain and spine surgery. Once again someone close to us gave the hope of a trip to hold on to. We imagined ourselves sitting in the sun and surf having survived. It gave us something tangible to fight for and look forward to. In late May of this year we made it back to Corolla. The house we stayed in was not just a rental but someone’s real home. I moved through the rooms, and I thought of the girls I longed to invite to rest by the sea. Their names were circled over and over again in the “retreat” journal I’d been keeping for years. They are young women I’ve met in internet support groups, face to face waiting for appointments and scans and in hospital beds after surgery. I’ve encouraged and loved them through pen to paper, care packages and oh so much prayer. My husband Dan and I sat on the back deck watching the sun slip into the Currituck sound and talked about the dream to host zebra warriors there.

I felt the pressure and fullness of time when one is to finally say “yes” to a calling birthed from the most passionate places of joy and pain. I knew my first leap of faith would be asking for donations to put a deposit on the place the retreat would happen and committing to dates. I found a big house with an elevator and other accessible features and sent a request to the rental company about availability for May, 2018. I explored forming my own non-profit that would offer my donors tax benefits. To do this well I would need board members, an attorney, and an accountant.  I’ve always believed our family’s remaining medical debt needs to be paid before I form a foundation. As I sat in the chemo chair several weeks ago I wrote a blind email to Healing Hearts Respite Foundation, the only non profit respite house in the Outer Banks, and I asked.  I asked if we could possibly use their smaller home as a place for some of the mothers to stay the week of the retreat. I asked if their mission was broad enough to allow donations to come through them for the house rental and other retreat expenses. I asked if I could know them and learn from them.

Exceeding, abundant above all I could have asked was the answer. The founding director of Healing Hearts let me know they had a much larger home available in the same community as their respite house, and they would like to offer it for the retreat. We had several phone conversations that grew our excitement for the possibilities this retreat holds. I chose a date. I bought the URL for this website and created this place. 

Option EDS (the retreat) was born. 
Not to us, but to His name be glory.  

This post was written for “The Heart” of the retreat website several weeks ago. I’ve wanted to move slowly and prayerfully as I shared with trusted friends and family. There has been a whispered lie telling me I need to have my “problems” cleaned up before I can live my way into this purpose. Since bearing my soul earlier this week God has showed up in texts, emails, phone calls, the mailbox and on my porch. He’s reminded me the most beautiful gifts come through our utter dependence on Him. It is not in spite of but because of my painful providence He has called me to this work.

Please join me in praying for this seed of a dream. Link over to the site. Follow us on social media. Stay tuned to the beautiful stories of the people behind this first retreat.  I have much more to tell you about our host partner, Healing Hearts, and how you can help.

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