Mr. “What If”

Almost everyone’s life story has a chapter titled “The One That Got Away”. The story line is almost always the same, someone amazing comes into the picture, but for some reason, doesn’t stay. The reasons for separation make up the climax of the chapter. The desire to stay with this person clashes with unforeseen events that change the course of the relationship forever. The end of the relationship writes itself a cruel paradox.

Sometimes both parties know why it ended, they were in two different places in life, one or both could not meet expectations of the relationship, or maybe there was too much distance between them. Sometimes the reason is unknown. Nevertheless, that person seems to leave a hole in the other’s life or a thought that never truly diminishes. Life goes on, other relationships come and go, but what about that “one that got away”?

I was seventeen when I met my “what if”. I had just left a relationship with who I’ll call Mr. Rebound.

(me at seventeen)

I came off of a bad breakup and ran into Mr. Rebound while out with friends. He was all wrong for me but I just had my heart broke. I wasn’t attracted to Mr. Rebound, but he made it known that he was interested in me. I felt a desperation to find someone who wouldn’t hurt me in the way I was hurt in my previous relationship and Mr. Rebound said all the right things. We dated for a while but something was missing, there was no spark and I couldn’t think of a relationship with him in the long term, so I ended it.

Some time after my break-up, Mr. What If and I were spending time together. I was a bit apprehensive because I had met him before, he was friends with my heartbreak. Spending time with him didn’t concern me, but the more time I spent with him, the more I felt a change in the way I felt with him.

When I started to have feelings, I began to overanalyze everything. Did his friend talk to him about me? Could I allow myself to be vulnerable again? Would I get hurt all over again?

His friend was my first intense relationship. I was very young and I had a hard time picking myself up after the breakup. Life for me was complicated beyond this breakup, so I decided to take everything very slow. I was afraid.

I was afraid of the feelings I was developing. I was afraid of getting hurt. I think he needed more than I was willing to give. As great as it felt to feel that spark with someone, it ended rather abruptly. He told me he decided to pursue a relationship with someone else. I was disappointed. I felt like it had ended before I allowed myself the opportunity to let go.

Of course Mr. Rebound was waiting with his promises not to hurt me. And because I believed all my fears had manifested, I went back to Mr. Rebound. The truth was, I was vulnerable and he interjected himself back into my life.

I gave up the passion I felt with Mr. What If for the promises of Mr. Rebound. I didn’t have to be afraid of my feelings when I wasn’t overrun by them. Sometimes control is lost in the moment and I tried to control too much with Mr. What If.

Many describe a good romance as a “whirlwind romance”. They get caught up in the emotions like the turbulent wind of a tornado, exhilaration and fear lift in unison. I have wondered what it would have been like if I would have just let go and let myself be taken in the updraft. I know I missed out on a passionate experience that could have broken my heart but that’s always a part of falling in love. Falling in love means letting go and losing that control. Why didn’t I see that great highs always come with the possibilities of crushing lows?

That’s essentially the mantra of a good life, live it as well as possible without fear. Fear kept me from experiencing the fullness of this relationship. Fear made me go back to a relationship that broke me emotionally and eventually ended four years later.

Staying or getting into a relationship out of fear is never a good idea because when a relationship isn’t pursued for the right reasons, red flags can be missed.

I missed lots of red flags with Mr. Rebound. I missed out on what I could have had with Mr. What If. Instead I was going through the motions, trying to convince myself that the “spark” didn’t matter. Relationships are worth going all in for, but with the right person and for the right reasons.

Once I realized I may have missed out on an opportunity to fall in love, I didn’t want to miss it again. This meant my first marriage ultimately ended in divorce. I was single for several months and I never had the opportunity to try again with him, so this chapter of my life closed when I remarried almost fourteen years ago.

Life has a way of using each experience for growth. Although I wish I could have changed some things in my past, my past helped shape who I am.

Every one of us has a story in our book of life that makes us ask, “What if I made a different choice?”

“What if I took the wrong job?”

“What if I moved to the wrong location?”

“What if it could have been wonderful?”

I don’t think the “what if” is as important as living life to the fullest to eliminate as many “what ifs” as possible.

Love without fear of heartbreak because a broken heart means one loved with all of their heart.

Live each moment to the fullest because you may not get a second chance.

So this is my chapter entitled “The One That Got Away”. Thank goodness it’s not where my story ends. There were still great things to come.

*d*

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Love for Today

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Tonight the phrase “live for today” has been ringing in my ears. I’m in significant pain. I have rheumatoid arthritis and it has been destroying my joints quickly over the last year and a half. I suspect I have had it longer than the year and a half since I was diagnosed but the symptoms that led to the diagnosis were too much to ignore after I stopped nursing my fourth and last child. It’s been quite a ride since. My rheumatologist thought I had a pretty mild case until last summer when my symptoms became severe. The disease has made it it’s business to deform my hands, destroy my shoulders and knees, and cause me daily pain.

Tonight I am once again in my bed watching a movie, writing, resting and desperately doing anything to keep my mind off of the pain. While my family plays downstairs, I am up here in pain, wishing the disease would go into remission. I know I am not alone. There are many people just like me who are wrestling with disease, desperately wishing the pain would stop. Each day I’m in pain reminds me of the damage the disease is doing because the deformity of my joints doesn’t happen without pain.

Pain is all I think about these days. How much pain will I wake up in today? Will I be able to get my housework done? Will I be able to handle one of my son’s serious seizures? Can I get through the day? There have been numerous days when my little girls played a game on my bed, danced around my room, and seemed more than understanding when their mommy has been unable to get out of bed. Now that summer is here and all four are at home, how will all of us handle one of those inevitable days?

Today a picture did me in. It was a photo a mom snapped and posted on social media of her daughter jumping into the pool. She captioned it something like this, “my daughter is getting braver during her swim lessons”. It broke my heart because none of my children have had swim lessons. Not one of my children from nine years old to two knows how to swim. The excuses for which have amounted to one or all of the following; too many kids for the pain, the added stress of taking a special needs child, and financial stress. My kids miss out on a lot and I know I am to blame. Now that I have rheumatoid arthritis, I’m not sure if my son will ever have the opportunity to hit a home run during summer t-ball or if I will be able to see my daughters in a dance recital. Disease has not only robbed me, but each one of my kids. On the other hand, I get to spend a lot of time with my children. I get to enjoy every last minute of their childhood and I wouldn’t trade that privilege for anything in the world. I know I can’t give them all the opportunities I think they deserve, but my husband and I have tried to give them mommy. I have been here as much as possible since our oldest was born. I had a part time job for five years but quit to take care of our medically complex child three years ago. Mommy may not be able to take them to all the places they want to go, but they know I will always be here for them.

These thoughts brought me to “live for today” and was finished with the thought “because tomorrow is never guaranteed”. Nothing drives this point home quite like chronic illness. I never forget that my disease could be damaging my organs at a speed equal to the damage it has done to my joints or epilepsy could take my little boy as he sleeps at night. It’s hard to take the advice of others who think I should “keep smiling” or say, “hang in there!”. It’s hard because no one can fill in for me and take the non-stop mental or physical pain. One compounds on the other until I finally break. About once a month my husband can expect me to cry through a box of tissues. Every last worry comes spilling out and I blame myself for all these thoughts and more. Maybe it’s then when the reality of our life becomes abundantly clear; so much has changed in very little time.

It wasn’t that long ago when I held my newborn son and he was seemingly healthy. I looked at him and saw a lifetime of memories in his little eyes. I could envision a future filled with all of those things a mom expects. It took a ten second seizure to change all of that. Our little boy had an incurable disease and the future didn’t look as certain. Two years ago I could hold each of my children and not think twice about how I was going to get through the day. Now my children crawl on my lap to be held and they know they have to be careful around their now fragile mother. I wake up wondering how hard it will be to get through the day. Did I really appreciate everything I had before it changed? Do I appreciate what I have now? I hope so but since I know how fast things can change, I try to thank God for today. Today is all I have and each second beyond that is a gift. I’m still struggling with each second but I’m glad I have another.

Disease can change the future we may have anticipated for our son, my physical appearance, and the way we look at life but it can’t take away the love in this family. Disease didn’t anticipate unconditional love. We don’t have to guess if love will prevail in sickness and in health, it already has. There is no doubt if my husband will love me even if I don’t look like the woman he married because I already don’t. Our children will never wonder if something they will do will alter our love because they have witnessed it prevail through it all. I think I should change “live for today” to “love for today”.  Disease can take what it will but it can’t take our love, nothing can take that, and for that, I am truly thankful.

*d*

Thoughts After the Pain

While we were at Texas Children’s Hospital (my son was having neurosurgery work-up) we had at least 8 hours to occupy while my son had tests run on our last day there.. We passed by the chapel many times that week but I never had time to stop. The opportunity seemed right so my husband and I sat in the little chapel. It was round, the ceiling had tiny lights that looked like stars, and the lighting changed over the course of ten minutes or so until all the lights dimmed and the tiny stars seemed to twinkle. I admired the quaint little room for the ten minute round of lighting changes. As the lights went from dark to light, I felt a familiar presence I hadn’t felt in a while. It was the feeling of the most loved of friends. It’s the one friend that knows me like no one will ever know me and loves me more than anyone could ever love me. It was the presence of the Lord.

I have always thought of myself as a woman of great faith. I had inspiration to give to others in their times of need and I believed God could cover and heal any hurt, but for the past seven years, the hurt in my own personal life had grown and finally gave way to more doubt than unfaltering belief. Since my son was diagnosed, everything became more difficult. The older he got, the harder it was to deny what the disease was robbing from him. He has been denied the opportunities that naturally come to other little boys his age. Despite it all, my husband and I continued the same plans to grow our family as we had planned before either of our boys were born. He and I were blessed with our two daughters. Our life was indeed a mixed bag of blessings and sorrow. After his diagnosis, we would be blessed greatly with things like when our girls were born, but were faced with things like mounting medical bills that strained our finances so greatly that we’d barely were able to afford groceries for the month, if at all. Life felt more like a rollercoaster than the dream we had once envisioned.

Then I got sick. Many probably thought I became incredibly selfish when I anxiously wanted to find a cure for my Rheumatoid Arthritis when my little boy was still suffering. I may have been. I had spent the last seven years fighting for him and I didn’t want a disease to change that. I also didn’t want anything to take me from him, or any of my other children. I wanted to be here to experience the joys and sorrows because this life was meant for me and no one else, despite how much I wanted to rid our life of the lows we frequently experience. I wanted so badly to assure my place on this Earth with my family, yet my faith was weak. I didn’t understand why I had been handed this illness in addition to everything else we were given. “Why Lord do you give me a disease that is wrecking my body when you know I have a son with epilepsy? Have you forgot I NEED to physically assist him?” Enough was enough and I could not understand this cruel addition to our already full plate. I had no encouraging words of wisdom or anticipation of His healing. I felt lost and alone and I felt like He had abandoned me.

Many people can quote words of wisdom like I once did, or jump out of bed with boundless enthusiasm and a positive outlook when their life doesn’t feel like a constant tug of war. It amazed me how many people became judgmental and claimed “they would have done it better”. It’s like the first time parents who sit and judge those who already have children, claiming they will get it “right” just to eventually find out that parenthood isn’t about getting it “right” as much as it is about doing the best you can. Once someone is no longer sitting on the sidelines but rather in the situation, the answers aren’t so clear and it isn’t as easy as once thought. This is where compassion and understanding grow. It grows out of the times we are at the top of the rollercoaster of life staring down from the top of the hill almost sick with the anticipation of the next steep decline. It’s when we are facing fear, and maybe the unknown, that we possibly have our best understanding of those people we once judged. To be honest, I don’t like the person I once was, I lacked compassion and understanding. I still don’t like many of my own qualities and I know I have a lot to learn, but I do know most people only desire understanding. So this was my life; I felt like the Lord had abandoned me, I feared constant judgement, and all the while my disease, as well as Aiden’s, was getting worse. I was sick of the rollercoaster and wanted off.

One of the worst days I had this last week in Texas was the first day we were admitted into the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit. We had been running nonstop since we left home. I was already hurting but when I laid down in our son’s room (on the tiny pull out sofa barely big enough for Doug and I), the pain I was already in got much worse. Nothing I could do was enough to ease my pain. my husband rubbed my hands and wrists until I fell asleep but I eventually woke and crawled into bed with our son. His hospital bed allowed me to sit up a bit and we were already playing musical beds as we adjusted to our new surroundings. There is something more than cuddling next to him that gives me comfort. I feel like I have been allowed to understand him more since my own diagnosis, and maybe he understands me, you never know…  It is a blessing and a curse because I often wonder if he feels pain like I did that night, yet he struggles to communicate. Now I am more aware where I wasn’t before because I have been allowed to suffer. My eyes have been opened to many things since I now physically suffer.

So that afternoon when I felt the Lord’s presence so strong, I was reminded that we aren’t guaranteed an easy life. Many children in that very hospital were facing much more than I. You don’t have to be a Christian to realize this. Nowhere are we told life will be as we wish but we are given one gift, that is life itself. Life is precious. I need to accept that my life will never be free of pain, physical or emotional, but I am given the opportunity to wake up each day. Some would finish this by saying “it’s what you decide to do with it that matters”, well, I disagree. I often don’t have a choice what I can do with my day. It has been at the mercy of one disease or another for over seven years now. I just can’t wake up with a will to conquer over my disease. I can’t will my pain away anymore than my son can stop himself from having a seizure. We deal with what we can’t control first and then we decide what we can do from there. Things don’t change just because we want them to change, so reminds me of my need for people and a God who understand.

My fear of my disease has been mostly about my own fear of death. Although my faith teaches me that there is more to life after death, I was afraid. I began to allow this fear to control my faith. It was a reminder of Jesus’ prayer in the garden before his own death that allowed me to once again embrace my faith. Jesus, knowing the outcome of his own death and what it would accomplish, still agonized over it so much that he sweat drops of blood. Whether this is a metaphor doesn’t matter as much as the fear even he had over the events before him. God wanted me to know it’s okay to feel unsure of what is before me.

My son and I will still struggle but we will do it together. The path we face is unclear but we are reminded of his presence in quiet moments in a small room with twinkling lights or through people put in our lives for a reason. We are either on the sidelines watching the rollercoaster of a life someone else is living or we are in the front seat of it, it’s the understanding and unconditional loves that helps us get through because you will never know when you will be in the unexpected. All you have is right now, the precious life you are gifted. I’m going to take it, pain and all because sometimes pain is the only way God saves us from ourselves. Pain is a despised beauty that can shape our understanding and allow us great compassion. Just because it isn’t understood doesn’t mean it has no purpose. I’m grateful I still have today to learn.

*d*

Finding Hope

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There are times like tonight when the reality of my own life is overwhelming. It usually happens when the house is quiet and all the kids are in their beds. It’s at this time of night I have a chance to really think about things. Every day seems to move faster and more furiously toward too many events I cannot understand or control.

In the quiet night air is where anxious and stomach churning thoughts often disrupt what should be a peaceful end to the day. It’s hard to ignore the pain I feel at the end of each day when my body starts to feel the repercussions of any physical activity I may have been a part of. It can get so intense that it feels like punishment for participating in my own life.

It’s when I retire to my own bed earlier than almost every other person my age that I think of my sick little boy sleeping in his own bed. I worry about seizures that may go unheard. I sicken over the knowledge of my own weakness when he is in need. If an emergency arose, would I reach him fast enough? Could I physically do what is necessary if needed? I usually push these thoughts from my head the moment my husband appears in the doorway of our bedroom. “What would I do without him?” A thought of appreciation but also a bit of a morbid one, but a thought most parents with a sick child have frequently. We wonder how the delicate balance of our family could be repaired if we lost one of us. The magnitude of such a reality is frightening.

Often, when I recall my own thoughts of the day, I realize death lingers in my own mind more often than I am willing to admit. I have a chronic disease. My disease is running rampant while I am holding on with any last scrap of optimism I can muster. I wonder how I have any thoughts that even resemble positivity because life certainly hasn’t handed out a fair share of difficulty. It seems like the scale is not tipped in our favor. When one terrible event happens, another is rushing toward us.

The big issue with chronic illness is the “chronic” part of the phrase. It’s definition; constant or having a long duration tells me what kind of hope my son and I have at a release from disease and pain. With incurable disease, the disease never ends and freedoom from it comes only through death. With pain a constant companion to incurable, chronic disease, it isn’t a wonder why my thoughts seem quite morbid. It’s also easy to understand why I’m depressed. There isn’t an end to the pain or side effects of disease…….. there is no end. There are no cures or a remission for us. Medicine and surgery only treat the symptoms and based on the drastic measures we are taking to treat our son’s symptoms, it sometimes doesn’t feel like much of a life at all.

Dreams are put on hold, plans are cancelled, and hope seems lost. But it’s that small word almost at the end of the last sentence that have given strength to so many in worse circumstances than my own. Sometimes it’s the only thing people who feel weary and burdened use to overcome. Hope.

Hope is a word manifested through people, actions, and words. Hope is sometimes given, sometimes it’s stumbled upon, but hope is often the only thing left when everything else feels lost. On those days when I am focused on going back to bed because of the relentless pain, I cling to the hope that tomorrow will be better. I have hope that I can make each day wonderful in spite of it. Hope is the echos of a good deed. Those echos reverberate in my heart, especially in recent times, and have often brought me to tears. From gesures of kind thoughts or prayers to giving generously with no ask of recognition, we have felt more love than we may have felt in a lifetime with no difficulty. We have been humbled by pain but also by love. What a feeling it is to have a breaking heart also feel so full.

When it feels like life is too much, I don’t have to look far to find happiness. It’s the smile on our children’s faces. It’s their endless desire to love and be loved. It’s those who see past our absence from their lives due to the circumstances we can’t control and choose love us anyway.  We feel loved when we finally crouch out of our darkness and into the world and there are people still waiting with open arms.

I have hope when our children display compassion learned through circumstances that ask them to miss out on so many things by no fault of their own. Every time they offer me one of their little hands so they can help me up the stairs or care for me in concern, I have hope. They have compassion learned by trials. They don’t get to do many of the things other kids their age do like play summer T-ball or take swimming lessons. Our abnormal circumstances don’t always allow normality. I make myself sick thinking about what disease takes from everyone in this family. I feel like the little part of their childhood taken away will be the big things when they get older so I hope we offer them other beautiful memories in return. Right now, it’s that quiet time of night when they are asleep and I am awake to think of these things. I think about the smiles on their faces. I think about how much love they have for me regardless of how I feel about myself, or still, how others feel about me. They see me at my worst and still love me and I them. I realize I have much to look forward to tomorrow.

***Look for hope, even of you have to make yourself. Wake up and make the best of the day, even if you require help to do it. This doesn’t mean trying to do things beyond your capabilities, it means trying to smile or laugh, even of you have to spend the day in bed. Love to the fullest of extent, even when you feel like you have nothing left to give. You aren’t guaranteed a long life, you’re not even guaranteed a fair life. Take it from someone who knows how unfair life can be, good things are not promised and someday, the end may seem closer than it has ever felt before. Take time to cry when needed. Don’t expect to feel great about every person or thing that comes into your life. Sometimes you have to work at what’s important and let go of the rest. Most importantly, find what makes today beautiful, I bet it’s closer than you think.***

*d*

An Invitation

I want to invite you in to my life. This will be extremely difficult for me. I am a private and sometimes quiet person but what I have to show you is important. It is a glimpse into the life of someone who is living with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia. I also have four children and one of them has a disease called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. He is multi-disabled. Among several secondary diagnoses, he has epilepsy and autism.

I want to capture my life in pictures to put a face to invisible disease. I want to give a voice to others who also struggle silently. Many people, like my family, face difficult daily challenges so I hope my story will serve as a reminder to be kind to others. You never know what challenges someone else is facing.

This is how you might see me in public on a typical day.

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(I say might because with four kids, I don’t always have a lot of time to apply make-up and fix my hair before I leave the house.) Yes, I “look normal” yet I am very different. Here is life from my perspective:

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On this day I had another rheumatologist appointment. I was brought back to the exam room and four needles were arranged neatly on a tray. I have never been too excited about needles and this had me nervously thinking about the five injections I had already received since the beginning of the year. I suspected these syringes had something to do with the problem of pain in my shoulders the Dr. and I discussed at my last appointment. I tried to prepare myself mentally for what was to come. Waiting thirty minutes gave me time to doubt accepting these additional injections, but I reluctantly elected to take them in hopes of increased mobility. Unfortunately, it landed me in an ambulance with a suspected allergic reaction. It also altered how I could be treated in the future.

A few short weeks later the only positive side effects of my shots had worn off. The anti-inflammatory properties were gone and my RA took over. I was experiencing my first RA flare. I could describe it simply by saying, “it hurt to move” but I was unprepared for this kind of pain. I was shocked, reeling in pain from the smallest movements. Fibromyalgia gave me a secondary blow as it pained the area around the joint effected by RA. In a matter of weeks, I went from a 34 year-old mother of four who was keeping up with her children, to a woman unrecognizable to even myself. I revisited the rheumatologist and began physical therapy in hopes of any relief. At the advice of my physical therapist, I purchased a rollator. It would help with my mobility when the pain made it too difficult. My hands hurt so bad that I could hardly grasp the handles. My body retaliated against me and it hurt to stand up straight.

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At the peak of my flare, the morning hours gave me the most pain and I had difficulty getting out of bed so my husband began to help me….

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He helped lift me to my rollator….

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And had to help me on and off the toilet.

My knee was so full of fluid that I couldn’t get my leg over the bathtub. My hands hurt so bad that I couldn’t wash my hair, let alone squeeze my shampoo container without assistance. He waited outside the shower to help me wash my body and hair and help me in and out of the tub.

Each day would carry on and each night I would cry out and wonder, “Where is my life?!”

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Even my hands swelled to the point of making everyday tasks difficult, so I started a small dose of oral prednisone. I eventually had to take two a day. It has it’s own unpleasant side effects, like sweating and mood-swings, but it helped me function. It was enough to reduce some of the problematic swelling but I was still in constant pain.

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It wasn’t the only medication I was taking to help me through my flare…. and there were more side-effects…. My legs were bruised from taking Naproxen. I was also getting headaches from my pain medication.

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My son’s epilepsy didn’t wait for me to feel better. Sometimes he falls at the onset of a seizure. After, his limbs are immobilized and he is frequently exhausted. His seizures are physically demanding for both of us. I often have to lift, hold, or carry him to a safe place before and/or after a seizure. On this day he had a two minute seizure that took over his body. He could not move so he begged me to lay him in bed. It was hard for me to carry his worn body to his bed. We were both exhausted. It was all too much and I sobbed as he lay there.

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It was no surprise that the physical demands of motherhood and my special needs son began to take a toll. The pain became intense in my shoulder so the doctor ordered an MRI. I found out that RA has torn my shoulder to shreds. The six paragraph explanation made for interesting reading. I have refused surgery as 12 weeks of recovery and therapy isn’t realistic for a mother like me.

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(I couldn’t even get the full summary in this screen shot.)

Another doctor appointment. Here I am waiting to see a pain management doctor. Nothing seems to be as cruel as living with chronic pain. It’s a daily struggle that I am desperately trying to conquer.

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Another bad day for my son’s seizures. On this day he fell to the floor before I could reach him. My leg had been so full of fluid that I could not get to him before the seizure knocked him to the ground. Although I was thankful he was inside and on carpet, the guilt of being unable to reach him before he fell ate away at me. He is pictured here after he finally stopped shaking. He once again had no control over his arms or legs so I had to lift him to the chair and sit with him until he could move.

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I pray for days when we cuddle just for the sake of cuddling, not because a seizure has prevented him from moving his own body.

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I may not be strong but I am determined to hold my baby when he needs me…

Between my special needs child and I, we spend a lot of time at doctors’ offices and in hospitals. What’s startling still is the realization that we will never get a financial break from the burden of disease and disability. It’s disheartening when my medicine cabinet is fuller than our pantry.

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In the evenings the kids often find me elevating my leg. Since my scare with steroid shots, I have been trying to allow my body to absorb the excess fluid naturally. It hasn’t been easy and I often need to elevate it to find relief. I also have a cyst on the back of my knee that may never go away, or so I have been told. On this night, my daughter found me, and I’m glad she did.

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Most of the time I look like a normal mom. I snuggle with my babies.

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That’s my family posing for lots of pictures during a rare trip away from home.

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I can also be found at the bowling alley with my family although you won’t see me bowl. My hands hurt too bad to pick up a bowling ball and my body hurts too bad to roll one down the lane.

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….but I am still much different. I know, it can be hard to see. And although I am allowing a glimpse into my life in hopes of changing the way others perceive it, there are still those remaining invisible facets to my life that are the most important.

In the early morning hours during my RA flare, my husband got out of bed and helped me do things he never would have imagined when we wed a short ten years ago. The jokes we made about caring for each other in old age have abruptly ended–just like my once healthy youth. And I realize in my worst moments, love and the affectionate care of my spouse intertwine much like his arms embracing my weak frame. In our darkest and hidden moments, we find love. It triumphs over every minute I wake in pain and he comes to my side, over every seizure that crushes the delicate body of our little boy, and any doubt that we will make it through every last setback together. So when I am asked, “How do you do it?” I may not always have the best answer but I do know I will make it because I don’t have to do it alone. I know I am loved unconditionally. And that is the most important thing you should know about my story…true love is not conditional…true love sees past differences, disability, fear, sadness, and disease. Love is my husband looking past my suffering and weakness and still seeing the woman he loves. Love is the confidence I have in his fulfillment of the promise to love me “in sickness and in health.”

Today, I am getting better and working with my specialists to find the right plan to manage my disease. This will not be the last flare I will see but the goal is to reduce the number of them, manage my pain, and slow the progression of my disease. The most important goal for my health is to be a productive wife and mother. I most likely have a lifetime of care with my special needs son and I want to have that privilege as long as my health allows. We also continue to work on improving his life despite his disease. It has been hard but I look forward to every moment I am given, good and bad. The good times give me hope and the bad times allow me an appreciation of them. And love sees me through it all.

*d*

To Those Who are Different

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If you are reading these words maybe it’s because you saw the title and thought, “That’s me, I’m different.” Maybe you said it with sadness. Maybe you feel like your differences have set you apart from the rest of the world and you feel alone. I want to tell you why you should say, “I’m different” with enthusiasm and joy.

At some point in history we were made to believe that it was acceptable to believe in a cookie cutter type of beauty. Beauty could be defined by some as a lack of “imperfections”. The world has gone so crazy over this concept that the appearance of people already believed to fit into the acceptable category of beauty is altered. Bodies are trimmed to a desired build, hair is colored, cut, or even added to obtain “perfection” and even the face can be altered to fit the mold. Everywhere we look we see some mythical idea of beauty. By accepting these preconceived ideals, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to witness the true beauty around us. Natural beauty. Beauty that shines so brightly on the inside, it dulls the watching world.

I want you to imagine what it looks like when you step out your front door. When I step out of mine, I step out onto my front porch. I have a swing and a wicker chair there. I can see my flowers, hear the cars driving by on my busy street, and I can barely see the horizon of the sky. The quaint buildings of our small village don’t allow me to see the wide angle view of nature but I still get to see several types of trees that line the main street in our village. The smells and sounds differ from day to day as we are a community that thrives on farming and livestock. I frequently hear a train roll through as we live only a block from the tracks. I love where I live. How about you? What do you see? Maybe you live where I have always dreamed of living, slightly isolated in a valley with a majestic view of a mountain? Or maybe you live where you had always dreamed, in a city alive with the noise of life. Maybe you don’t like what you see and are still dreaming of being elsewhere. No matter where you are, there is something to see once you step outside. Nature. Nature is all it’s own and it has been here long before we changed the landscapes outside our doors. It is full of splendid diversity. We can photoshop and edit pictures of nature but nothing compares to the real thing. A photo lacks the depth of being surrounded by the actual beauty of nature. Would the mountain look less majestic if a rock were to crumble off the face? Is the stream less blue if the leaves of fall float on its surface? Do we refuse to gaze upon the rise of an ancient tree because it’s bark has been worn from the animals that shelter in its branches?

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If your answer is “no” then I ask why our own differences are seen as anything less than beautiful. Why is a smile less warming if the face that wears it has a blemish upon it’s skin? Is the body any less than amazing just because it rests in a wheelchair rather than on two feet? Why is a the shaved head of a cancer patient less desirable than that of someone with a full head of hair? Beauty can no longer be defined by the masses idea of beauty, but by nature. The differences of all of us are natural. Why are we trying to change that? There is so much to appreciate when we step out our doors and take time to look at the unending differences of nature, isn’t it time we do the same with each other?

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Beauty isn’t just what you see in a magazine, it is the resilience of the human spirit, the beauty in our personal journey. Beauty is what the journey teaches us and how it transforms us from the inside. Beauty is the scars we bare from physical and emotional wounds earned in battle. True beauty is held by those who have been stripped to their soul and have seen life in a new light. Beauty is not worn on the face or seen upon a pouty lip, it is deep within the heart. Beauty is carried by those who have given all of themselves and have opened their eyes to what really makes taking a breath priceless. Indeed it’s seeing how wonderful it is to be a unique individual.

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We are on the brink of redefining so many things, it is about time we start redefining this archaic definition of beauty. It is time we love what makes ourselves and others unique. It is time to wake up and look at what makes you different and say, “no one else is like me” and celebrate it. Don’t be discouraged by differences. They really aren’t differences, diversity in all of us needs to be as natural as those in nature. The rocks will crumble on the mountain, so too will our bodies become brittle, but they are both beautiful. Not all birds have the ability to fly, but they are still birds just as we are no less human if we cannot walk. Hundreds of different flowers lining a hillside are not dedined as ugly because each one is different so why are some defined as such?

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If you feel different, celebrate because you were meant to be different. Every person was meant to be unique. To define beauty in a narrow perimeter is unnatural and ridiculous and it needs to stop. We are part of the beauty and artwork of nature but yet we define our beauty on different terms. It makes no sense.

If you feel too different to be beautiful, please know that you are special because there is no one like you and there never will be again. You are like one of those thousands of flowers that grow wild in nature, without you, the hillside wouldn’t be as splendid. You are splendid, because you are you.

*d*

Questioning Faith

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I was six years old one summer evening in 1987 when I stepped out of my pew and made my way to the front of my childhood church. I nervously stepped out to pray with the guest preacher that evening, he also happened to be nearly six feet tall. I don’t remember much about the message that finally spurred me out of my seat that evening, but I do remember the clicking sound my purple flip-flops made as I walked past the pews full of parishioners. I remember how my heart told me there was something I needed to do. I could no longer silence a stirring within my little heart and that urge could only be met with a simple prayer. So there I stood with a preacher who could barely bend down far enough for me to whisper my request in his ear. I wanted to open my heart up to God and follow him the rest of my life.

Despite my age, I changed that night. I finally answered the call God had been placing upon my heart, a unique calling that is hard to describe. I can only describe it in a single word that shouts from within. It says “Move!”. It was a move that only I could make, a move that declared I’d live my life for God. In obedience to scripture, I was baptized a few weeks later.

I was baptised in June. I wore a blue button down shirt with crayons on it. I was to dress down as I was to be submerged in the baptismal. Although I was quite young, I remember the feeling following my baptism. As I emerged from those waters, that old shirt no longer felt tattered, and neither did I. I felt clean, I felt peace and a renewed desire to change. As I rode back from my baptism, I thought about all the ways I could change for the better, or as much as a six year old could change.  It sounds a bit unreal for a little girl to feel such things, but I assure you they were real. Maybe that’s why I have such a clear memory of it almost 30 years later.

I made a commitment to God at a young age but it didn’t save me from making many mistakes in my lifetime. Mistakes are why I needed God, why I wanted to be saved. I understood that I was imperfect and there would be times when I would need forgiveness and I wanted to follow a God who understood my imperfections. I decided to follow a God who I was taught not only created us, but lived among us and personally understood the hardships of the human existence.  I have known for almost 30 years that I didn’t have to face the tribulations of life alone, I felt the God of the universe cared for someone as small and flawed as me.

With such a longstanding relationship with God, it has been hard for to me admit when my faith has faltered. Questioning my relationship with God and, His very existence, may seem like a big failure as a Christian but to me it has been a necessary part of my faith journey. In recent years I have asked the same questions I did before I took that walk before the church at the age of six. Health and financial issues of my own and those around me have made me realize I didn’t have the unwavering faith I thought I had. I started to think deeply about what it was I claimed to believe. I became scared when I did not understand things beyond my comprehension. I wondered how a God who was supposed to care for me so intimately could allow me to experience such suffering. I was becoming more angry and questioning what I believed down to the very existence of God.

Were my questions a symptom of a weak faith? What good could come from questioning a faith that has carried me through many difficult times since the day I walked to the front of the church on that summer evening? Some may say it’s because my faith is weak but I dare to believe that the deepest of convictions come when they are questioned, examined, and re-examined. What is a blind faith that is never re-examined, especially in difficult times? Questioning my beliefs would either solidify what I believed to be true or it would fall apart under the weight of the pressure.

Christianity believes that Jesus is God who came to earth to live as a human. He was one percent human and one hundred percent God. He felt the same human emotion as we do while having the diety of God. He had the full human experience and a frightening human death. He felt joy and happiness. He experienced great fear and loss. Knowing these things, I asked him to show me the meaning of my own suffering but before I could utter the words from my heart to my mouth, I saw Christ praying in the garden before he was arrested. I saw his agony over the death he knew was before him and there is no doubt he also knew of the torture he would endure. I saw him on his hands and knees, pleading for the cup to be passed from him as he sweat his own blood. He was physically manifesting symptoms of his internal struggle. He lived and understands by experience. When I accepted Christ, I accepted that he didn’t blindly ask me to suffer. He did it himself. He was born into this world and immersed himself in life. He was here and he understands. He suffered more than I could ever imagine. He was arrested, beaten, and crucified. I remember then the feeling I had when I decided to follow God at such a young age, I knew he loved me because he knew me. He was gracious enough to give me life but he never promised a life without strife, as he himself was not exempt. He promised to be with me always and he hadn’t broke that promise, I just forgot it.

In the last few weeks, my life has quite possibly become more difficult as my body is continuing  to experience widespread pain and my son’s seizures continue to increase, making neurosurgery look like the last, best hope but God has renewed so much in me. He answered my prayers. What was his answer? “Keep questioning.” What a wonderful response! So I am picking up my Bible, books, praying and asking questions. I am renewing my faith through questioning my own beliefs. Doubt made me search and through that search, I renewed my relationship with God. It is a relationship that gives my life purpose, even my suffering.

So I challenge you to do the same. Question why you follow your own personal convictions. Once you examine your beliefs, ask if those convictions make sense and bring you contentment. If your beliefs ask you to follow blindly, I’d question them even more. What good is an unexamined life? Take a chance and ask the hard questions. I guarantee if you are looking in the right place, those questions won’t be too hard to find.

*d*