Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Transparency Leads to Transplant


 The mountain was big and daunting to climb.  It seemed like a great idea when we all set out from the guard station at the base.  'The views will be amazing!' we proclaimed. 'We'll be able to see forever from the peak!' we squealed.  The ascent began. 

It was easy at first and the pull on the steering wheel to the left seemed natural and fluid.  We were a carload of smiles and laughter as we felt our ears begin to pop.  'That feels weird.' one of the kids in the backseat mentioned.  'I can't hear anything.' said another.  The car jolted ahead as we climbed above the tree line.  The landscape was changing quickly. 

Treacherous terrain dotted with pockets of snow along the rock faces began to appear.  'Mom, I feel dizzy." my oldest child whimpered as we rounded a few more curves.  My husband gripped the steering wheel more purposefully as the corners came with nauseating frequency. I spied the mountain ledge a few feet away from my locked car door and visions of our car flipping end over end off of the mountain threatened to take me hostage.  'How much further to the top?' we heard from the backseat. 

What seemed like a simple task when we were circling low at the base of the mountain, was now causing me to unravel.  The climb had taken nearly an hour and the peak still wasn't in sight.  My true colors as a Midwestern flat-lander were flying and I was bowled over by altitude sickness. 

Finally, we approached the peak parking lot and we knew we had arrived.  The climb had taken longer than we anticipated and we were relieved to escape the confines of the car. 

The mood of the trip had changed as frequently as the colors and geometrics in a kaleidoscope.  We began with anticipation and enthusiasm as we circled the base of the mountain.  As we climbed, we retold stories we'd heard about road races and speeding motorcycle races that had unfolded on the two-lane road we were traveling.  Some stories had heroic endings...some were tragic.  There were moments of fear as we looked down and pure joy as we looked up.

Now as we stood at the pinnacle of the mountain, we could see forever in all directions.  We were closer to heaven than we had ever been.  Three of my family members were elated.  They ran and jumped and begged to go to the gift-shop.  Two of us, however, were not doing well.  The nausea was overwhelming and the only relief we felt was when we sat with our heads between our knees moaning and begging to get back to flat land.  We could see forever, but we couldn't hold our heads up.  The altitude sickness was too much and we were miserable.

By definition of 'seeing the peak', we'd all been successful.  We had all endured the trip and we had all marveled at the scenery...but at different points along the journey.

Sight rests in the eye of the beholder.  I went to the opthomologist yesterday for a consultation on my loss of vision in my left eye.  What was diagnosed and treated as shingles in 2012, has left a scar that has gradually grown during reoccurring flare-ups.  It is now covering 90% of my cornea.  The current conclusion, which took my breath away, was that I am blind in my left eye.  Excuse me?  But I can squint and shift and walk closer or lean back and turn on more lights and still see....nothing. 

The truth is hard to absorb sometimes.  It was in that quiet moment of a doctor's obvious revelation that I was thankful that my wonderful husband, keeper of my secrets, protector of my heart, couldn't see my face.  The arms of the optical machines were surrounding me like an octopus, and with no glasses to assist my right eye, I couldn't see his warm gaze reassuring me from across the exam room. 

On the inside, my firmly built facade of control was trembling like an earthquake.  Had I locked eyes with my devoted husband, all of my irrational fears of disappointing him or my family or scaring them or worrying them would have tumbled down like a game of Jenga when the loose block is pulled.

The diagnosis had been made, and aside from a small 'last ditch' suggestion to try a hard contact lens to 'trick' the cornea into restoring itself, the only hope is a cornea transplant.
I am done circling the mountain. I've been hoping it would get better, taking 6, 9, even 12 drops a day off and on for 18 months.  My vision has not improved. 

I now must decide to pass the guard station and prepare for my climb.  The transplant surgery is tentatively set for mid-January and according to my new seasoned opthomologist, sounds fairly routine.  A cornea  will be harvested from a donor eye, my damaged cornea will be removed,  and the donor replacement will be stitched in place. 

The recovery is long, a full calendar year before the final benefit of the transplant will be known.  During that time, my climb up the mountain will require numerous trips to the eye clinic, lots of drops and a strict adherence to the 'no waiting around and toughing out questionable symptoms' theory of self-care that is foreign to me.  Any issue, no matter how big or small, could be a sign of rejection or infection and will require a doctor visit. 

Today my ascent up the mountain begins. No more circling, wandering or waiting.  I must begin to climb.  It will be treacherous and I will hear awful stories of climbers who didn't reach the summit, but I will meet others who have seen the peak and I will claim their victory as my strength. 

The views will be amazing and terrifying and there will be times when I want to sit and rest.  The summit may seem elusive, but that is my goal....a view from the top and a journey leading me closer to God.


Sunday, October 6, 2013


 I got lost.  Four little numbers and a stack of letters made up an address for a lacrosse field I'd never heard of, and despite a confident/arrogant GPS, my equally directionally challenged navigator and I, got sidetracked. I must admit, the annoying halo that my left cornea casts across everything it encounters is distracting, but today even that would have been a stretch to assign as the scapegoat for my morning mix-up.

Finally, I reshuffled my series of turns and thankfully arrived at my original destination. As we pulled in to the parking lot I slipped into a spot with ease and realized there was not a car on sight.  I quickly referred back to my phone only to discover we were early for the tournament.  One day early.
In my effort to point to the silver lining, I suggested to my backseat shadows that we would know exactly how to find the field tomorrow! They weren't buying it and they were irritated.
Not a great scenario to start the trip home.  The donuts I'd bribed them with 90 minutes prior were a distant memory and they were restless.  As we closed in on the halfway point of our drive back, a war broke out in the backseat....over a pillow pet named Bill. Previously, Bill had been laying dormant on the middle seat with not even a sliver attention sent his way.  With no warning, Bill was suddenly becoming the pawn in a heated battle behind me.  Little Sis decided on a whim to use Bill as a headrest and her brother immediately objected.

With my octopus arms, I kept one hand on the wheel and another behind my back as I felt around for the stuffed animal hoping to ward off the impending doom.  No luck and I began to unleash my next weapon of choice....the take-away trick.  But my experienced negotiator in the backseat was skilled in deflecting my tactics.  To every threat I unleashed he professed his lack of concern or interest as if he was holding up a shield and my words were ricocheting off of the ceiling of the car.  He was holding Bill and he was not giving up easily despite his sisters' pleas to let her lean her head on his plush belly. All the while my tween sidekick in the front seat was lost in her music with earbuds securely tucked in her ears.

As the battle raged on to no resolve, I pulled over to the side of the road. (the dreaded fear that would wash over most kids in this moment made no difference to my kids) I reevaluated my previous approach and decided to pull out a few more threats.  Still no success.  I had to get physical.
These moments are always so surprising to could we have been happily enjoying donuts and milk less than two hours prior and now be pulling into a random dentist office parking lot raging at my son over a stuffed animal he refused to hand over to his little sister?
I was praying for guidance and counting to ten thousand as I shifted the car into park and opened my car door.  Trying to stay above the fray, my tween was begging to 'just go!'. She had no interest in Bill or the standoff in the backseat.

As I walked around to Ethan's side of the car I had no idea what I would do next...but I was praying.  I opened the door and leaned in and unbuckled his seatbelt and got him out of the car.  We were the only car in the parking lot and there was a huge walnut tree at one end of the lot.  I'm not sure where it came from, but I told him that we were not leaving until he could run from the car to the walnut tree and back in under 10 seconds.

He moped to the tree and stood under the canopy of falling leaves and nuts and wouldn't budge.  My stern warnings to 'get running' fell upon deaf ears and he stood still with his feet planted, lobbing walnuts across the blacktop.  We were at an impasse and I didn't have a plan B. Just to remind me that she was there, my front seat co-pilot opened her door to let me know she thought this was one of my less than effective parenting techniques.  "He's not going to run, this is stupid, let's just go home!" she pleaded.

All the while the walnuts kept rolling my way.
I was beginning to doubt my sanity and thought maybe the nuts my kid was flinging into the air were a subtle signal from God that He too thought I was nuts.
Just then, the entire mood of the moment changed thanks to my youngest kiddo.  After watching this unfold from her vantage point in the backseat (probably cuddling up to Bill!) she opted to join the craziness and ran around the car in her sundress and sandals. "Mom, I want to run! Time me!" she begged as she ran across the parking lot.  With Ethan still immobile at the base of the tree, I figured why not and the running began.  She ran back and forth and up and down.  She got faster and faster as I yelled out her times like a track coach. As she smiled and ran, laughed and squealed, Ethan inched out from under the tree and his competitive spirit took over.  Before I knew it, I was calling out splits for their sprints as they raced across the yellow lines that subdivided the slab of asphalt. As they ran a sense of appreciation swept over me.  I was thankful for my sweet Libby who changed the course of the afternoon with her innocent desire to join in what she viewed as fun.  I was beyond frustrated and in the moment, her fresh perspective was heaven sent.
God reminds us that His ways are not our ways.  His viewpoint is much different and if I'd failed to slow down and seek His face in the midst of the chaos, I would never have been gifted with the sweet outcome of watching two siblings racing in the Fall sun at a random office building parking lot.  Gifts come in all shapes and sizes and only when we slow down to see the beauty of the wrapping paper can we truly understand the value of the present.
After fifteen minutes of solid physical exertion, both kiddos crawled into the backseat and got buckled in.  As I pulled back into traffic I overheard Libby saying to Ethan, "Here, you can have Bill, I don't want him, he has your slobber on him anyway."

Friday, September 20, 2013

I've lost my vision.

I can't see out of my left eye.  I have been struggling with it for over a year and I'm sick of it.  It began a year ago in June when I was misdiagnosed as having had Shingles in my eye.  When diagnosed, I dutifully began steroid drops and hoped for the best.  After a week of no progress and worsening vision, I sought out a second opinion. By that time a scar had formed on my cornea and I had bigger issues.  Six bottles of drops later, multiple trips to various eye doctors, and numerous cries out to God, it finally began to heal and vision began to come back to my eye last October. 

Things were better, for a while, but sometimes you don't know you've taken the first step back into a room until you are already inside.  I've crossed the threshold and I'm back into the foggy world of limited vision in my left eye.  It had been creeping up on me for a few months.  I knew things were distorted and when looking into a large crowd it was getting increasingly difficult to see clearly.  I hate to admit weakness and ask for help.  I begrudgingly knew I needed to take the first step back onto the path of healing. 

It's arrogant of me to call it a step really.  You see my optometrist is a great friend who knows me well and is familiar with my stall tactics.  Here is how my cry for help went....I was standing on the curb at church when she was picking her son up from youth group.  I leaned into her car window and made small talk, briefly got caught up on the status of her week, and casually mentioned in a very loose fashion, at the tail end of our conversation, that "I'm having trouble seeing."  Ugh...the cat was out of the bag.

I'm not really sure what I expected her to say, perhaps an invite to call the office?  Maybe offer some free vision advice?  Who knows where my head see I rarely let my guard down and ask for help and I was immediately furious at myself for letting it trickle out.  As I pulled in the garage at home and dropped my bags on the counter, my phone began to buzz.  The text message that I read offered me two appointment options for the next day.  Really?? Whose optometrist texts her at 9:45pm with appointment times.  Thankfully, mine does. 

After more stalling, I responded and trudged into her office the next day.  She met me at the door with a huge hug and smile.  She never questioned my slow response to calling the office and she didn't chastise me for waiting so long.  She loved me and told me how glad she was that I was there.  I left the office with new prescriptions, a plan of attack and another appointment card for next week.  I have no doubt that if I fail to make the appointment or am even bold enough (or dumb enough) to cancel it, she will show up at my house.  She has me figured out and my excuses about not having time or putting others first won't fly with her.

My dear eye doctor's grace-filled approach is a "skin on" example of the way God greets us upon return to Him.  If you've been wandering or are in denial about your need for Him, don't deny Him based on a fear that He will chastise you or turn you away.  He longs to help heal your heart and love you   As I begin the uphill climb of adding 12 drops a day to my cloudy eye, I know that God offers soul healing that promises so much more than 20/20 vision.  Open your eyes to Him today.

Monday, June 17, 2013

More than a squeak...

Our dryer is broken.  It's been making an awful sound for several months now.  It began with an occasional squeak and I pretended I didn't hear it. Then it got louder.  It moved from a little whine to a squeal that could be heard downstairs and in the basement...probably even in the garage.
I pretended it wasn't that loud.  I turned up the music and sat on the patio and kept using it.  Now it's getting worse.  The squeaking has stopped and it's starting to damage our clothes.  We're noticing little holes in T-shirts and shorts and things are getting stuck in the rim just inside the dryer door.  It's time for a new dryer.

I have other squeaks in my life too.  I can let relationships drift and slide off my radar.  My house can get messier and more cluttered by the day, no matter how many cleaning ideas I 'pin' to make the tasks easier to tackle.  I can get lazy with my parenting.  What used to be unacceptable slowly creeps in and my passivity is perceived as acceptance.  What I accept in moderation they accept in excess.

Is there hope for change for me at 40-years-old or am I destined to continue my catapult into this 'blind eye' approach to living? 

In Tim Kimmel's book, Grace Based Parenting, he asserts that as parents our job is to act as a lighthouse for our kids to keep shining the light of Christ into their lives to help them avoid hitting the rocks.  Who doesn't love the image of a serene coastline with a stately lighthouse? It makes sense and is nostalgic. 

I can be a light, I am actually pretty good at it.  When the light is shining I can rise to the occasion.  Put me in a crisis and I'll be standing strong and steady.  My problem is not with the light, my issue is with the darkness.  It's in those 45 seconds of darkness when the light is busy shining in the other direction that I lose my way.

I can time it perfectly to take full advantage of the darkness too.  I have an uncanny sense of knowing exactly how to make the shadows work in my favor.  Avoid confrontation?  I'm a pro.  Pretend my shadowy vision in my left eye is really no big deal? Easy.  Circumvent a fight with my son by not insisting he clean his room? Done.  Lift the boundaries on movie viewing and allow a few PG-13 movies to keep the peace with my tween.  You bet.

When will the compromise end?  I even have special phrases to squelch the doubt that may creep into my head.  My favorite is "I have to pick my battles!" whew - that's better - suddenly I can justify anything that feels uncomfortable or hard.

The reality is...I need to suck it up.
Maybe you do to? The critical part of the light in the lighthouse is the magnifying glass.  Without the glass the light would have very little refraction and it would simply be a spinning bulb.  The life saving ability of the light is the power of the light to shine over wide distances coupled with the speed of the bulb to turn. 

When I shrink back in the darkness I have no power.  No power to shine for God.  No power to parent with grace and not fear. No power to care for my health or my house or my relationships.
I must be able to stand firm in the light and be agile enough to spin quickly to illuminate the shadows.

It won't be easy, but recognizing my habits is the first step.  I think I'll start by shopping for a new dryer.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Double take

The car visor is constantly down and the mirror cover is constantly open.  The main level of my house is a maze of mirrors and glass reflections that she must glance at before she can climb the stairs. The camera feature on my phone is a mobile mirror that can collect 30-40 "selfies" on a short car ride to the grocery store.  The temptation to gaze at her reflection is a constant indulgence my tween can't resist!

After rolling my eyes to my mom at Abby's behavior, that I perceived as nauseatingly vain, she made a wise observation (no surprise!). My mom had spent several days with Abby and I and she sensed that I was growing weary of this tween-induced-narcissism that can sometimes propel her like a robot.

After reassuring me that Abby would move beyond this stage, she gave me some great insight.  She suggested that perhaps Abby wasn't holding hostage any self-reflection she could find to merely ogle at herself in the name of vanity.  Her suggestion was that in her rapidly changing world, perhaps she needs to gaze in the mirror to keep track of who she is on a daily (hourly!) basis.  Maybe the hair flip and the duck face lips that she can't help posing for, are her tether to remind her of who she used to be and who she is rapidly becoming.  Life is changing so quickly for her and maybe glancing in the mirror is her way of making sure her outward appearance matches who she feels she is on the inside.  Kind of a tween "self-soothing" mechanism.

As her over-protective mom, maybe an occasional glance in the mirror would serve me well too,  As I age and climb beyond 40, I want to look at my reflection less and less - the wrinkles and the sun damage are staring back at me and I feel frustrated by the changes I see.  Just as Abby gazes longingly at herself to stay on guard for any new shadow or freckle, perhaps I need to catch my own gaze and stare past the brown-eyed reflection into the wisdom I have amassed as a mom.

I need to look beyond the laugh lines and the stray eyebrows and gather my confidence as I ascend 'tween mountain' as Abby's Sherpa.  I refuse to be propelled by fear and anxiety.  The world wants me to believe that life is out of control, busy is better, chaos is normal.  Magazines and media want me to ride the wave of parenting and 'hold on tight' and just try to weather the storm. 

God tells me something different.  He whispers "you are perfectly matched with your children - I entrusted them to you for a reason" - He reminds me that He is with me and He adores my kids even more than their Dad and I do.  He reminds me to reflect His love to them.

So as summer gets underway, I'll pull out the Windex and shine up the mirrors for Abby's reassurance as she checks in daily (hourly!) on her evolving reflection...and I'll shine up my vanity mirror too and try to remember not to stop short of occasionally looking at my reflection too.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Have you gained weight?

This time of year is so emotional, isn't it?  The end of one school year and the promise of new beginnings.  Graduations and doesn't take much to melt a mom into a puddle. 

As I watch Abby anxiously await all that Jr. High promises her, I am so thrilled to have Ethan and Libby each content to trail two years behind her.  They give me a chance to relive all of the experiences that flew by so quickly with our oldest child. 

As I talk to the precious teen girls in my life who are spreading their wings and testing their boundaries, I hear a common pet peeve that they all claim leaves them feeling wounded.
'I hate when my mom asks me why I can't be the sweet little girl I used to be...' 

When we ask our daughters 'what happened to my sweet little girl?' they are hearing 'I don't like who you are becoming...'  Adults have the perspective of the passage of time - we can pull images from our memory pendeflex that can elicit tears of joy or pain in an instant.  Teens don't have that vast perspective - they live in the present.  Many times they can't see beyond today which is why friend drama erupts so frequently and their moods morph on a dime. When we ask open ended questions that paint their past appearance/behavior/interests as masterpieces and downplay their current status, they feel rejected.

Without a doubt, in the right setting, they enjoy a trip down memory lane discussing their toddler days or grade school achievements, but be careful not to frame those days as better than today.

Have you ever had a girlfriend compliment you on a weight loss?  It's a great feeling...until you start pondering it.  Did they think I was fat before?  How big was I...did everyone think I was huge? We would never dream of asking a friend, "Why don't you put that 20lbs you just lost back on?"  It would be immediately offensive and it could insinuate that you thought all of their weight loss effort was a waste of time.   Perhaps you would feel better about yourself if your friend put their weight back on?

When wistfully we ask teens why they can't be who they used to be, they are offended.  The process they are going through to figure out who they are is painful, confusing and scary.  For our intuitive daughters (& sons!) our misty eyed question about their past may bring up feelings of fear of your disapproval of who they have become.  Are we wondering about who they used to be because it was easier for us to parent them then than it is now?  Don't allow your insecurity about your ability to parent them now become their issue.

If you feel the desire to ruffle your tween/teens hair and ask where your little kiddo has gone, resist and consider how it would feel if someone asked you where the heavier, chubbier version of you has gone?  Not a good feeling - compliment their progress and save the walk down memory lane for the wedding toasts, don't drag it out every time your teen makes a choice you disagree with. 

And remember...keep the Kleenex'll need them for more than seasonal allergies in the weeks ahead.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dear 16-year-old-me;

I've missed you.  It's been so long since you crossed my mind.  You've worked so hard to stay on the right track.  Even when it felt lonely and boring, you steered clear of the drug and alcohol scene.  Good friends are making such a difference in your life.  You could be kinder though.  Not all of your friends are heading to prom or getting keys to their own car.  Think about how they feel when you drone on about the little things in life that frustrate you.  You can be nauseatingly narcissistic sometimes - sorry to be so blunt, but it's true.

You are so pretty and I wish you didn't spend so much time thinking you are fat.  You are not...but you do have big hair.  It's probably impossible for you to believe, but your obsession with VAVOOM hairspray will run out and you will give up your big hair two years into college when a sappy chic flick called, Ghost, hits the movie theatres.  You'll bravely get a short Demi Moore cut that you still wear 20+ years later.  Oh honey, it's so much easier than using the curling iron and that teasing technique that you obsess over every morning.

You know that really nice football player that always asks to borrow paper in your typing class?  He likes you - in fact he'll be your prom date this year.  He's really sweet and he has strong morals.  Pay attention to his study habits and his work ethic.  You could learn a thing or two.  Stay awake when he drives you home from the 24 hour student council dance marathon next month.  He'll be bold and surprise you with your first French kiss....don't worry, he won't care about your bad breath.

Enjoy your big circle of friends - the group lunches, weekend movie nights and endless orders of cheese sticks from Pizza Man, but don't forget to protect your heart.  You'll choose to keep a long distance relationship going for your last two years of high school and all through college.  The weekends when you reconnect will be great and you'll amass a beautiful box of sentimental letters, but you'll have lonely times when you see other girls holding hands, flirting and living in the moment and you'll wonder if it's worth it, it is.  God is writing your love story - even without you knowing it!

Study harder in school - don't wait until the last minute for everything - this bad habit you've developed will plague you forever.  You know that English teacher that you can't get enough of, Mrs. Walker?  Soak in every word she present in her class.  Her ramblings about Murray State University will set the course for your future and you will become a fellow MSU alumni too.   She believes in you - be receptive to her comments and critiques of your writing.  Embrace your love for writing and drama no matter what others may think.  You are really good at both.

Stop worrying about having to take care of your parents  - it's not your job.  You may be an only child, but they are the adults.  I know you get scared that they might divorce - they will in 5 years - but it's not your responsibility to make them happy.  I know you were embarrassed when your history teacher pulled you out of class to speak with the school counselor, but she cared so much about you.  Your grades were dropping and she couldn't watch you implode.  I know you were contemplating suicide when you said subtle things like "I just want off of this ride."    Therapy sessions were so healthy for you and were such a safe place for you to vent.  Counseling isn't for the weak - its an investment in your soul that will vaccinate your emotional health from future disease.

Speaking of safety, you really need to work on your driving.  Thank goodness the automatic transmission vs. the stick shift that your dad taught you to drive on has become a thing of the past.
You can't handle being pulled over by the small town cops anymore for rolling through stop signs.
You've gotten lucky the last few times to pull away with a warning, your luck will run out.  I promise a ticket is in your future.  Take it easy on the "parking" at the end of every date too.  I know you have your "spot" and you love to roll down the windows in the summer and listen to Richard Marx and Breathe, but you are playing with fire - too much passion with too few boundaries.  You will be a virgin on your wedding night, but only by the skin of your teeth.  A little self-control goes a long way.

So back to that guy who borrowed typing paper?  The one who you arranged your trips through the hallways between classes just to catch a glimpse of a few days a week?  He will ask you to marry him in three years and the month after you graduate from college you'll pledge a lifetime of love to him.
You have so much to look forward to and I don't want to spoil it. 

I've loved walking in step arm in arm with you again.  I really like you and the person you're becoming.  Dig deep and be confident in who you are...she's wonderful.  You may not think God is a big deal to you right now, but He will shape everything about your future.  Those long conversations you will have in the months to come with your future husband about your ideas of a woman's role in the church and which denomination you'll raise your future children in?  Those conversations are worth having and offer such a valuable perspective into the heart of the man you will marry and his desire to build a life with you.  He adores you and will keep you afloat on the days when you want to hold your breath and sink.  You will do the same for him, so don't feel too hurt about my comment at the start of this letter about your grow out of it.

Press on sweetie - take a look around and thank those who are pouring into you, there are so many mentors who will come your way.  Hug your parents and look for someone younger to pour into.  God's economy is not about soaking up all of His blessings like a sponge, it's about squeezing them into others. 

Much love to you....

Your future self...

PS...wear sunscreen...even if it's just on your face!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In sickness and in health

Big news hit my small Southern Illinois town when I was just 5-years-old.  McDonald's came to town!  I remember my Mom and I watching from afar as the giant golden arches dangled down and locked into its rooftop perch with the assistance of a huge crane positioned hundreds of feet above our blue Pontiac.  It was a big year, the fast food giant had landed, I began half day kindergarten and I experienced my first migraine.   

It was not totally unexpected, with a known family history that snakes through my mom, my uncle, my maternal grandfather, my great grandma and climbs on up the family tree from there, it was somewhat inevitable.  My migraine that day set the course for what I would commonly come to expect with my headaches throughout my tweens, teens and early twenties.  There would always be  light, sound and smell sensitivity and more often than not, there would be vomiting.  The throbbing would many times elicit tears and excruciating pain that would sideline me for at least one to two days.  My mom would always tuck me in a bed with crisp cold sheets, pull the shades to make my room as dark as a cave, and sit gingerly on the side of the bed stroking my forehead.  At times I couldn't stand even the slight pressure of her hand on my face and instead she would spend the evening running back and forth to the bathroom with steaming hot cloths for my forehead.

The comfort my mom would give was exclusive to her style.  She was the only one who knew how to do it 'just right' - her presence elicited an immediate calmness that instantly would lower my heart rate and anxiety.  If a migraine would strike me at school and she was called away from her teaching job to pick me up, the instant she walked into the school nurses office, her presence would make me feel better.  I knew I was her only focus and she would immediately rush to my side and place her cool hand on my forehead, an unspoken gesture signaling that she understood my pain.

When Scott and I began dating, he learned quickly that migraine headaches were something that plagued me.  As our relationship deepened and he came to see my many vulnerabilities, he began to witness how debilitating the headaches could be.  He saw a few times in high school how lovingly my mom would care for me and it became a model for how he would stand beside me in the years to come. 

The miracle of headache treatment came just before we got married in the form of a muscular injection.  When it first became available, I was very hesitant to give myself the Imitrex shot when I was in the midst of a full attack - as much as I would want relief, I would be shaky and nauseous.  Scott would step in and give me the injection and I would begin to feel relief in less than 30 minutes.  Gone were the days of hiding in the darkness with steaming cloths on my head. The injection offered a chance to redeem a day that might have begun with throbbing temples.  It was a new beginning and the medicines have only improved through the years. 

When each of our children were born I prayed that they would not be plagued with the headaches that have sent me to bed more times than I like to admit.  We've been so lucky to have dodged the migraines for all three kids, until last week.  I knew that things were not quite right with Abby when she came home from school.  She complained of a headache and before long she was curled up in her bed complaining that she felt nauseous and wanted everything pitch dark.  I was taken back to my first migraine years earlier and I began doing a quick math problem in my head.  The years that I have left to show Abby how she deserves to be taken care of when she is sick are fewer than the years she still has at home with me.

What a sobering thought.  My time with her under my roof is running out.  The awareness jolted me out of my desire to curl up on the couch with an hour of HGTV and led me to do what I'd experienced my mom doing years before.  I caressed her forehead and held her close.  I rubbed her back and reminded her how much I loved her.  I held with her until she fell asleep and I realized that one of the things I treasure most about my husband is his ability to care for me "in sickness and in health" just like my mom used to.  If I never show Abby what it's like to be cared for physically in sickness how will she ever be able to live out those vows in her marriage? 

This week I got more blood test results back on my liver disease.  As much as I hope and pray that it will go away, it hasn't.  Over the past four and a half years that I've had this diagnosis the calls from the nurse with the "numbers" have had the power to dictate the outcome of my days.  A great report can  leave me joyful and relieved and a report of further decline of my liver function can send me into a downward spiral.  The more I understand this about myself the better I'm able to control it.  However, the one constant that I never question is that despite the fluctuation of numbers, I will have a husband standing beside me through it all....and I feel blessed to be able to show my daughter how to love in sickness and in health so that she can understand how to give and receive it in her marriage someday.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Road Closed

A road closed sign due to snow
The road closed sign should have been the tip off.  It was clearly positioned on the center line on the two lane highway and the blowing snow was howling all around the car.  With my dad at the wheel I felt comfortable knowing he was in charge....for the most part.  Until he drove past the sign and entered the snow covered road.  Our trip was on a schedule and to 'lose time' would have been a hassle.  We crept along with my dad at the wheel and my mom by his side.  I watched from the backseat as it got harder and harder to see.  Finally, my dad, I guess in an effort to clear the windshield, rolled down his window.  Snow blasted into the backseat and quickly coated his headrest.  He immediately rolled up the window and was able to turn around and follow the ruts in the road to get back to where we began.  He obviously made a wrong turn when he pressed beyond the road closed sign.

If every decision we made was marked with a street sign, discernment would be so much easier.  How great would it be if next time you were faced with a parenting decision if you could imagine your decision and immediately visualize either a red 'stop' light or a green 'go' light.  The decisions would be clearly marked on a green path that signified that all of your choices were good ones and every time you veered off, audible signals would warn you to turn back.  What a great plan....if we were robots.

I spent five years working at a large insurance company in my late twenties.  My office was in a very new building with large open hallways and we had an automated mail machine.  Each floor had a mail machine and it followed a magnetic track under the carpet on the floor.   It saved lots of payroll dollars by covering miles of territory in a methodical way that required less manpower....except when it got stuck.  Under normal circumstances it was well known among employees that we weren't to touch the mail mobile.  It could be derailed if anyone got in its way or tried to move it.  However, the machine was not without faults and as cool as it was, it didn't have a brain.  Frequently you would pass by the robot and it would be beeping, an audible SOS to surrounding administrative assistants that they needed to intervene.

I spend a lot of time talking to my teen girls about their "lines" - the boundaries that they are following both physically and mentally.  That's not a topic applicable for teens alone.  What are your limits?  Do you follow a magnetic path under the carpet only veering from the track until you hit a wall?  What is acceptable in your life?  Do you allow your kids to watch any movie they ask to see unless it's rated "R" thinking the Motion Picture Association ratings are enough to shield your kids from things they shouldn't see?  Are you okay with your husband looking at porn as long as he doesn't take it any further than looking?  Is it a big deal that you have to get drunk every weekend to de-stress?  What are your lines?  If you have no boundaries, nothing in your world beckoning you to turn back and reevaluate your priorities, you will self-destruct. 

A car careening into a snow storm with no visibility is headed for destruction.  A life lived with no awareness of danger ahead is headed for trouble with multiple casualties.  Are you blindly pushing against a Road Closed sign in your life?  If so, back up before you are blinded by the jolt of harsh reality or worse, begin to implode. God is waiting.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Failure to launch

I can't quite get it off the ground! The desire of my heart is to connect with young girls and encourage them in their value to preserve their sexual and emotional purity until marriage.  Somedays I feel like a soldier suiting up for battle as I attempt to combat the effects of the sexualization on today's youth. 

The date has been set for this year's retreat and I do see God in it, but its not moving forward very quickly! I spent most of the day after last weeks planning meeting feeling like it was too much to navigate.  After three attempts to get our planning team together we were finally able to meet. The previous two attempts had been sidelined by illness and my unexpected flat tire. (I guess all flat tires are unexpected, huh?)

Still feeling motivated, I was excited to see the ladies for last weeks meeting.  Until a few of the preschoolers who came along went up to our bonus room to play. 

Did I mention that we got a puppy for Christmas? Ugh....potty training has not been easy and my three 'I'll do anything to get a puppy!' kiddos have lost interest in him.  No one likes to take him out, and unknown to me, Max has happily begun using the cubbies in our playroom as a litter box. 
I'll admit I don't go into the playroom much - it has a door and I close it. 

Not far into our meeting the visiting preschoolers uncovered Max's 'treasures' - SERIOUSLY!  How was this dog a gift for me?  After making the ladies wait for another 10 minutes so I could clean up, we finally got started.  I was so embarrassed and just knew these ladies thought I was the worst mom and housekeeper ever.

I'd like to tell you that I recovered quickly and had the mental and emotional maturity to rebound and make great progress at that meeting.  No such luck.  I held it together for the meeting and then spent the rest of the day in an emotional ditch.  You know the one, where you wonder why you even thought you could make a difference? The place where you dig in your heels convinced that it's all a waste of time?

Then Saturday came.  I was up early to do the usual shuffle running kids to their practices peppering every sentence I blurted out with a 'hurry up!' or 'we're going to be late!' I raced through the chores then ended up at the church to help with a food distribution truck, clearly not running on an emotionally full tank prepared to pour into others.

God didn't care.  He used me anyway, a crystal clear reminder that He will use me even if I think I'm unworthy. As I jumped in line and helped a lady with an armload of groceries to her car, my heart lifted and I was giddy to be helping her.  She was so grateful and shared openly about her husbands job loss and her hourly job at a local hospital.  She talked about 5 of her neighbors whose homes were in foreclosure and how her family was hanging on to every dime hoping to prevent losing their home as well.  I hugged her and I listened and I felt the greatest benefit.

As the plans for PINC (purity is no compromise) University April 19/20, 2013 unfold, I pledge to get my 'stuff' out of the way.  My insecurities, my fears, my agenda, and my pride.  My 'dog poo' is so minor in the big picture and if I choose to stay stuck in it, no one will benefit.  Feel free to hold me accountable!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Ride

I'm writing this blog today for those of you who think there is no hope for love in your marriage or that real love doesn't even exist anymore.  Marriage is hard and at times it can seem one sided; like a roommate relationship based merely on convenience.  It can be lonely and heartbreaking and may even feel worthless to keep trying, but let me offer you a glimpse behind our closed doors.

Scott and I met when we were in high school.  He was a senior and I was a sophomore.  We were part of a group of mutual friends and we hit it off.  He was my first date and my first kiss, we attended prom together and through a few ups and downs, we made it through a 6 year long-distance college romance and got engaged when I was 20.  We fell deeply in love and I have boxes of letters that catalog our history.  Life was great and after many years living for the weekends when we would be together, we were elated at the prospect of being married and living in the same place.

Eighteen years ago when we pledged our love to one another in front of 150 friends,family members and two pastors, we were drunk on dreams.  I had visions of the two of us cuddling on the couch for hours each evening and candlelit dinners spent gazing into each others eyes.  With only ever having had weekends to spend together in the past, I assumed every married day together would only offer more of that bliss, more uninterrupted time to focus only on each other, more special outings with walks and movies and more time to see the best in each other.  The problem was that we had never had to experience juggling our everyday responsibilities within our relationship.  When I went to see Scott on the weekends he was all I focused on and the same was true when he saw me at college. 

And so the roller coaster ride began, the lows left me splashing through buckets of tears and the highs had me reaching for the sky proclaiming that each time I saw my husband I loved him more than our last encounter.  We would have blow out fights, recover, forgive and settle into married life until the next fight erupted.  But you see temptation takes a while to incubate.  At four years into our marriage things had begun to erode.  The cars on the coaster screeched to a halt and we were forced to evaluate whether or not we should even be married.  We were growing apart and those years we spent professing our undying love for each other when we were dating, seemed only to remind us of all we might have missed by not seeking other relationships during our early twenties.

As we looked around we began searching for a way out.  Things seemed hopeless and we began evaluating options for divorce and frequently threw around the "D word" in the heat of anger.  We interviewed lawyers and talked logistics and began to tell our family.  Then something crazy happened, God stepped in.   We had always had a strong belief in God and even in our early married life we were wise enough (or lucky enough!) to fall into small groups of friends who were a few stages ahead of us in life.  When we began to let our secret plan for "splitting up" out into the light, we were immediately surrounded by friends who encouraged us to fight for our marriage.  

I have not doubt that through some of those dark days there were friends around us who had much more hope for the future of our marriage than we did.  They prayed with us and for us and encouraged us to seek counseling and small group fellowship.  They checked in on us and we informally became accountable to them for updates on our progress.   Staying in our marriage became a very black and white choice.  Even if we did not feel loving or loved, we chose to seek love for each other.  Although the roller coaster had taken us on an exhilarating ride in the beginning, when we wanted to get off we couldn't.  

When you step onto a roller coaster ride the last thing that happens before the cars lurch forward is the shoulder harness that lowers over your head from up above.  It's a little tight sometimes and it's uncomfortable because no matter how much you push against it, you can't release it until the ride is over and the ride operator activates the release.  When Scott and I wanted out of our marriage, there was a shoulder harness holding us in place.  It was our commitment to each other and to God that we were in this relationship "til death do us part".  When we pushed against it, God held us in place. 

After at least 12 months of solid couples and individual counseling, we were able begin to view each other through new eyes.  We gained a new appreciation for our differences and were given tools we'd never had before to make our marriage all that God designed it to be.  There are still occasional bumps, but we view love differently as a choice and not just a feeling. 

It's emotional to remember how painful those early days were, but I must tell you about the marriage I have now.    When I recall the vows we recited when we were so young, I could never have imagined the deep love and loyalty I have for the man I lay beside every night.  We've stood side by side as we have buried parents, moved across the country and were blessed with three kids.

In sickness and in health...five years ago when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune liver disease that promises a future organ transplant, Scott held me and we cried together.  He covers my legs with cold cloths when the side effects of intense itching is so maddening I want to scream and that is the only thing that provides relief.  He cradles my head in his hands when I have throbbing migraines and am dizzy and throwing up.  He makes me laugh and feel safer than I ever knew I needed to feel and I still feel the tingle I had when I was 15 when he kisses me each evening when he comes home from work.  The love we have is not luck or lust, its built upon God and the choice to stay the course for ourselves and for our children.   

As I turn out the kitchen light and head to bed, I'll take one last glance at the flowers my valentine always brings me on Valentine's Day, stargazer lilies, the flowers we had in our wedding that he knows I love, and I'll thank God for giving me the choice and the chance to stay on the ride.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What is left when the storms of life batter your sails?

sky, sea, umbrella, beach.... beautiful

The call came in the middle of the night as emergency alerts often do.  The news was horrific, 26- year-old single mother of two, precious only daughter to an adoring mother was dead in a car collision.  No opportunity for lifesaving heroic measures, no possible mix up of identities, only a pronouncement of DOA...dead on arrival.   The only opportunity for redemption in those dark hours was the question of organ donation.  Would a shocked and grieving mother and grandmother decide to offer others a chance at life by allowing her daughters' only blood pumping organs to be taken?   In those moments of grief would she see beyond her hysteria and choose life for others who were dying?  As God's hand guided her, she agreed to have any possible organs harvested to offer others a chance to live.

Multiple organs were taken and she gave little thought to the lives that might have been affected as she tried to stay afloat in the weeks ahead when the grief swept over her like tidal waves.  She choked back tears hourly in the initial months and relied on friends and family as she selflessly took on the job of raising her grandchildren.  Her daughter had balanced an intricate schedule of activities and responsibilities as a single working mom of two young children.  Grandma was a weak substitute initially for all that her daughter had been, but with time and prayer, she rose to the challenge and took joy in the blessing her grandchildren were to her.  They offered her a link to her daughter, an extension cord powered by the love passed from one generation to the next.

Some days crawled by, but the years flew past and the pain of loss eroded her parenting insecurities. Slowly she began to view the loss of her daughter through different lenses.  She had a second chance to love her grandchildren with a vision of what God could offer them rather than the worry that she was the singular influence on their destiny.  Her journey was one of faith and dependence on God and she knew that He was writing her families' story.

It was 15 years later on a sunny Saturday morning when God revealed himself in an unexpected way. 
Friends were a constant blessing throughout her journey and since moving to a small village 30 miles outside of her former bustling hometown, she was thrilled to have a circle of girlfriends that she met each week for coffee.  She was smiling and enjoying the warmth of the sun on her cheek as it passed through the picture window of the main street coffee shop.  As the ladies exchanged details of their grandchildren and their accomplishments she felt the familiar pride well up inside as she spilled out details of her beloved grandchildren and their deceased mother.  She mentioned her daughter's long ago accident briefly and answered a few questions her new friends asked surrounding her daughter's organ donation, a subject she hadn't considered for many years.

As conversations often do, health care rose to the top the discussion list and a fellow grandmother mentioned that she would be travelling to an area hospital for cancer treatments later that month.   The coffee barista was wiping off a nearby table and overheard the mention of a hospital she was familiar with.  She mentioned to the ladies at the table that she, too, had been to that hospital 15 years earlier for an organ transplant and traveled back and forth annually for rejection testing.  She went on to give specifics of her story after much prompting and concern was expressed among the ladies at the table.  The barista explained that she had been in her early teens when her pancreas was failing and she was facing multiple health complications.  Her life was in jeopardy and her family was praying for a miracle.

Her miracle came in the middle of the night in the form of a 26-year-old single mother of two who was killed in a car accident.  It was no coincidence.  God orchestrated a coffee shop meeting that morning to give an obedient grandmother of two,  a mother of a forever twenty-something daughter, a glimpse of heaven. 

She went home that afternoon and dug through her old file boxes to find her daughters death records.  She found the papers and called the organ transplant organization who handled her daughters death.  After a few phone calls, the pieces fit perfectly.  God had orchestrated a miracle, not only by saving a young woman's life 15 years prior, but by reaching out to a tired grandma and cradling her in His embrace of reassurance that all of her effort in raising her grandchildren, all of the tears she shed over the loss of her only daughter were worth something to the Maker of the Universe

Dear friends, this is an incredibly true story.  Never doubt for a second that God misses any small choice you make.  He adores you and is just waiting for a chance to reveal Himself to you.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Storm Chaser

It never failed, every visit we made to my Grandma Mac's house in the summer was marked with at least one tornado warning.  It became a regular part of our routine in the evenings, my mom, grandma and I would gather a deck of cards, snacks and my grandma's ancient transistor radio and head to the basement.  That radio had the longest antennae I'd ever seen and tuning dials the size of soup can lids.  We would position it on the end of the pink vinyl tablecloth that covered what would transform into our "Gin Rummy Game Table".   The storm warnings would hum in the background as we snacked away and my mom and I would try our best to unsuccessfully outwit my Grandma at her favorite card game.

Tornado warnings in the Spring and Summer are routine occurrences in the Midwest.   They mark the change of season and remind us that as much as we may hate to admit it, that we are not ultimately in charge of our own destiny.  As I've travelled across the US, I am always surprised to hear people who live in other regions of the country talk about how fearful they are of tornado's.  When I was a recruiter early on in my corporate career, recent college grads would refuse a job opportunities in Central Illinois solely based upon the location our company.  That is some serious fear of the unknown.

It's not lost on me that I have never had first hand experience with the fury of a tornado, but I never remember feeling fearful during any of those close-encounter summers in my Grandma's basement.  Going down those stairs meant a party to me.  It was a promise of uninterrupted time with my family without the worry of going to bed on time.  My grandma's basement was the shelter from the storm.

Thirty years later, I have witnessed many storms.  Perhaps they haven't been category 5 hurricanes or raging floods that have required recovery efforts from FEMA, but I've witnessed some horrific tragedies.  God has allowed me to hold the hands of friends who have been raped, I've walked alongside survivors of domestic abuse, parents who have lost children to disease, co-workers who have been dealt a diagnosis of death.  I've held the faces of teens in my hands as they've shared stories of drug use and fear of pregnancy, I've held the shoulders of my own children as they cry in disappointment when things don't go as they had planned.

When we moved into our current home almost seven years ago, Scott and I promised God that we would open our door to anyone we could make at home here.  When we built it, we came into the kitchen and living areas and wrote scriptures on the studs and prayed as we walked through the rooms.   We asked God to use us for His needs and to allow us to serve whoever He brought our way.  We prayed that He would allow our home to be a storm shelter.

When I was little and would descend into my Grandma's basement I didn't walk down those stairs in fear,  my thoughts were not of the winds howling outside, but of the peace I felt in the safety of the storm shelter.  We each have the capacity to be that shelter for those around us being battered by the storms of life.  Whether you offer shelter with your words, your physical embrace or in your home, God calls us each to heed the storm warnings and not ignore the sirens that have been sounded by those closest to you.

None of us will escape this life without the pain of loss, disappointment or tragedy, however, the greatest reward of God's economy is to offer the blessing of sheltering friends or family through their darkest days.  It may be something as simple as holding an umbrella for a friend on a cloudy day or as intense as helping a loved one board up their emotional home in preparation for an impending hurricane.  Whatever storm watch God has called you to is a holy assignment that will undoubtedly reveal a magnificent rainbow when the sun shines again. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dog Days.

It seemed like the perfect gift, a cuddly little friend for my newly single Mom.  It was the ideal 'dog food commercial scene'; a tiny black puppy emerged from a Christmas morning package with a giant bow around her neck, large enough to act as a parachute for any flight emergency the puppy might encounter.  We thought it was the perfect gift...we were na├»ve newly married twenty-something's.

Two weeks later, my mom returned the us! Our tiny rental house didn't allow pets so we went to work to find the dog a new home.  She was so hyper and loud, two different supposed 'forever families' returned her to us claiming she was 'a handful' and she was.

It was settled, Holly was stuck with us and we were stuck with her.  She stayed for a year in our rental house 'in hiding'.  We kept her presence a secret from our 'hands off' landlord and thought we were in the clear.  Then New Years Day hit the following year.  We were out testing out our new roller blades (a Christmas gift from my mom!) with the dog leading the way when the local newspaper spotted us and took a candid shot of a young couple and 'their' dog.

Needless to say when we paid the rent that month the landlord sent us packing and we scrambled to find a new home.  After a frigid move in the height of a Central Illinois winter, the silver lining was that it forced us to buy a home much sooner than we ever planned the following Spring.  She followed us across the country for two big moves before we lost her seven years ago.

18 years later we delivered the same gift to our kids. A new puppy arrived on Christmas morning and we blew our kids out of the water.  It was the coolest Christmas morning ever when they came around the corner and saw him.  They named him Max and they are crazy about him.  My daughter continues to say she feels like she's dreaming and she never thought we would get them a dog.

So why did we do it again, after all the hassle we went through with our first dog?  We did it for the kids.  The thought of their reactions was the motivation to make it happen.  I'm not enjoying the potty training or the constant chewing, but the kids are in heaven.   I think getting the dog was simply another chapter in this parenting saga.  It's the only stage in my life that I've been more consumed with joy by someone else's reactions. 

Dear God, As I look ahead to another year may I take time to sit with you and express the gratitude I feel for the blessings you've bestowed on me with both two legs and four.  Amen.