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*

Help Super Aiden Soar!

*d* and her family need our help. She’d be the last person to ask for anything if she felt like it was a burden to someone else. Well, I’ve been watching her carry the load for far too long. We all know her little boy and the struggles her family has faced. I can’t imagine the emotional drain *d* and her husband deal with every day. I want to help but there’s only so much I can do to help take away the mental pain, the heartbreak.

And now. Now her little guy is facing brain surgery. The cost will be devastating. So, thanks to the internet and GoFundMe, I’ve started a campaign to help and to let others that love and support her little family to help.

CLICK HERE TO HELP AIDEN SOAR!

If you’ve been touched by something you’ve read here and can spare the funds, every bit helps and is profoundly appreciated. Thank you for reading about us CrossRoadTrippers. Keep *d* and her family in your thoughts and prayers as they stumble through this rough crossroad.

~L~

This is the process they will use to find and possibly remove the tuber(s) responsible for his epilepsy and this is the neurosurgeon her son will see this spring.

Watch “Tuberous Sclerosis Surgery on ‘The Doctors'” on YouTube

Letters to My Son

This begins a series as we prepare for the next step in the care of our special needs son. He is being referred for brain surgery in the next few months. To follow our journey, I have decided to express my thoughts about the process through letters I will write to my son. This is the first of hopefully many over the course of this scary and hopeful journey.

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Letter 2:

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Dear Little Buddy,

We are still waiting for the call to schedule your visit to the neurosurgeon. The longer we wait, the more I ponder the impossibility of this trip. There are so many things to consider; the expense, the logistics, the care of your siblings, and the possibility of being away from home for a considerable amount of time. I am very saddened that your declining health has made it necessary to go to this extreme but it’s not your fault and I don’t want you to feel bad. It can be easy to carry guilt when you need help due to your disease. I know because I also have a disease that has made it necessary for me to ask for help on occasion. I have a disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis and it has changed my life in many ways that mirror how your life has been effected because of your disease, Tuberous Sclerosis.

Since I found out that I have this disease, I have needed to take different medications, some very similar to medications you are or have already taken. One of my medications could effect my vision and I have to it checked every three months. It wasn’t that long ago when we were taking you to the optometrist for the same reason. Although our specific medications are different, I also take an anti-epileptic and a medication that is used to treat cancer in high doses. I look in the mirror and see how the appearance of my own face has changed just like yours did as an infant when you took a medication that I am taking now. The physical changes we both have experienced doesn’t end there, we are both weaker than we were a year ago. I have benefited from a rollator and we will be meeting to fit you for a wheelchair next month. It could all be a coincidence but I think it’s more. Through my struggles, I get a rare chance to understand you more.

It is also through these similarities that I can sympathize with the side effects of your medication, the frustrations when your body feels the effects of failed medications and therapy, and the never-ending rotation of doctor appointments. Unfortunately it also means all of these things double for our family. We spend twice as much time waiting at appointments, twice as much money on medications, therapy, and surgery, and double the worry over getting through each day. Those are big issues for us, but we care about you above all.

We are always thinking about how to make your life a bit easier. It is in these thoughts where I have struggled to help, and sometimes, understand you. You have done things that seem irrational; sometimes you scream, hit your face, beat your head on the wall, or you will hit me or someone else in the family. It wasn’t until I too started to feel quite irrational that I began to understand you. In the last few months I have had to start numerous medications and I didn’t anticipate the variety of side-effects I began to experience. Unlike you, I have a full understanding of what is happening to me and yet I still cried and wanted to shut down. Since you don’t understand your situation as I, it must feel like your life and/or your body is out of control. How can I expect anything but an occasional meltdown or outburst from you? I have nights where I can’t verbalize my own emotions, yet I have expected that from you. I have expected you to do more than I have been able to do myself, and for that my little buddy, I’m sorry.

I am sorry for all the times I haven’t been patient and understanding. I am sorry when I haven’t searched beyond your anxiety and outbursts. I am sorry when I haven’t been a safe place for you to fall. I know I have needed a safe place where I can have no fear rejection or judgement. You deserve the same. It has been hard for me when you have had terrible days and have taken it out on me. It’s hard to be hit or kicked by someone you love. It hurts my heart because I want to spend my time enjoying you, not fighting with you.

Don’t forget that little buddy! You are amazing. I may wish we could enjoy our time together without the some of the bad things that come our way, but I will take you and our situations just as they are as long as we can be together. I am also thankful for my own struggles that bring me a closer understanding of you. It makes me a better person and a better mommy. You have taught me a greater compassion for others and the value of patience. I also promise I will do my best to remember you are doing the best you can despite the mountains that stand before you. You have prepared me for all the difficulty I personally face because you have been an example of bravery. Yes, you are brave. You don’t have to know you are brave to be brave.

Thanks for being my companion in a journey two people rarely get to have together. I look forward to climbing the next mountain……together……because bravery doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.

*d*
(Mommy)

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Dear Little Buddy,

It was about eight years ago when we found out that you were going to come into our family. You weren’t planned, but most miracles aren’t planned. You were born on a beautiful July morning. You were perfect. We brought you home and I imagined a bright future for you but some of those dreams quickly became lost. You were three months old when you had your first seizure and the words Tuberous Sclerosis Complex came into our lives. A few short weeks later and we learned you had also developed a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy called Infantile Spams. These innocent looking seizures made it a very real possibility that you would experience developmental and physical delays. It was hard to imagine the same bright future as we did the day you were born. We were so very sad and the future looked as gray and solemn as our broken hearts. We had never heard of this disease and here it had changed the way we looked at you.

Yes our hearts were changed. We loved you even more and we were more determined than ever to help give you a wonderful life despite this new knowledge. Your disease was now a part of our family because it was a part of you. You weren’t the same kind of perfect we once thought you were, you were a unique and special kind of perfection. You see, sometimes the world can have a different definition of what perfect should be but that isn’t how we define it. We want to love perfectly with all our imperfections because none of us are perfect. Because you are loved so very much, this letter is now going to be even harder to write.

After seven years, we have been unable to control the seizures that are a biproduct of your disease. Daddy and I have tried very hard to get you every resource possible to help you in your fight. We made big changes when we decided to take you to a clinic that specializes in Tuberous Sclerosis. We did this so you could be in the care of neurologists that are the best at treating others just like you. We have spent the last seven years exhausting every avenue and turning over every stone to control your epilepsy and help you make the most developmental progress possible. You have worked very hard too. You have been in numerous therapies since you were a baby. You have fought hard after every seizure increase and every regression that happened as a result of those increases. We have all fought so hard together for a very long time. I am so sorry that we couldn’t make it all better. This reality makes me sad when I see the look in your eyes during a seizure. You want Mommy and Daddy to make it all better and we can’t. All we can do is be strong and comfort you.

Because of all of this, a big decision had to be made. We know the last few months have been hard for you. Your epilepsy has been making you weak. On school mornings, I see how hard it is for you to walk down the steps and up into the bus. I see how hard it is for you to do so many things that were simple to you just a year ago. I cry at night because I know it’s been harder for you to understand and communicate with me. I see all the terrible things epilepsy has done to my wonderful boy. But I know there is still fight left in you, I can see it. I see your fight every time you get angry and scream in frustration or have an outburst of anger. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to have so many things going with you and to you while having no control over what happens. I try to remind myself of this every time you get angry with me. I try to remember that you need me to be strong because you are still so little and you really have no way of understanding what has been happening to you. I will continue to be strong with you because we have one more fight we need to face together.

We are going to see another doctor in another hospital that may be able to give you another chance at living a life free of the seizures that done so much to you. He is a neurosurgeon. He may be able to get to the root of the problem and remove what is causing your epilepsy. It is a long trip and we may be gone a long time but there is hope. This is just the beginning of a long process and we have no idea how we are even going to make this happen. The wheels are in motion and it began with a referral to this hosptial. There are still a lot more details to work out and a lot of people want to help you little buddy. Many, many people would like to see you seizure free and making developmental progress.

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Remember when I said you were a miracle? Well, you are for many reasons. At one time I thought a lot of good was gone from this world. I had lost a lot of faith in myself and in others. Then you came along. In the middle of all the tears, worry, and sadness surrounding your life, many people came to help. Friends and strangers alike reached out to give us hope. When we needed hope and love, someone was always there to show us that there was indeed good still left in this world. You taught us many wonderful things too. You changed the person I am and who I want to become. You make me see that every single day is a gift. Through you, I have a daily reminder that I can only appreciate those things that are here today. I wanted so badly to live in a future made up of my dreams. When you were diagnosed, I could no longer do that. At first I was sad that I could no longer clearly envision your future, but now I see the true blessing of living for today. Your life is a miracle because of how you have changed lives just by being here. You may be small, you may deal with more than most do in a lifetime, but you are capable of doing even more. We may be in charge of seeking the best help possible and doing it in a big way, but in the end, you will have the victory because you will win this fight.

I know I may never read this letter to you. I really don’t know if you would understand. I’d like to think that despite your developmental delays, you do hear and understand more than I know. So we will talk about the next battle we will face together. I will remind you of how strong you are and how much we love you. Your daddy and I would give all that we have to help you. It seems like an impossible journey but we will get there one way or another because you are worth it. Don’t ever forget that. Even when you have had the most terrible day and you take it out on one of us by hitting, screaming, or spitting, or even when you have a terrible meltdown because life is overwhelming, we still love you. We see the hurt under it all and we want to help. No matter what happens, you will always be our little buddy and you will always be loved. Remember this when the next leg of our journey becomes difficult. Sometimes we must decide to take the most difficult of roads because they lead to the most hope. I pray we get there and the best is waiting for you at the end.

Love,
Mommy
(*d*)

Faith Not Fear

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After a summer sprinkled with fear and anxiety, I wanted to discuss fear in hopes that maybe I could encourage someone else from giving into fear as I did. I gave into it months after I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and the disease began to progress quicker than I anticipated. Instead of trusting that God was in control, I decided I was better off fixing the problem myself and I began trying to negotiate a different outcome. I began working like mad to show God how serious I was about changing everything in my life if he would just spare me this disease. When things did not change in the way I wanted them to, I became fearful and I began to shut down. I spent more time crying and less time enjoying my kids. I worried about myself so much that I neglected to see those who were suffering around me. I was crippled by fear and blinded by my illness. It all came to a head while folding my laundry on a Thursday afternoon. My anxiety suddenly boiled over and I became an emotional disaster. I began pleading with God, tears landing on the laundry piled up on my lap. “Why Lord?” I asked, “How will I ever be happy again? Don’t you know my struggles and you choose to give me something else?! IT ISN’T FAIR!!” Did He forget that I have four children and one is disabled? He has a health issues, including epilepsy, and the addition of my illness seemed like a cruel slap in the face. I cried so hard that I felt like a piece of my soul could have been torn out with my tears.

I was supposed to attend my first Women of Faith Conference in a day and something was trying to convince me not to go. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this today. It took one weekend to change my perspective. It took a few hours to remind me of all the things I somehow forgot. It took only a few minutes for me to realize I was not a woman of fear, I was a woman of faith.

I want to start by running down a short list of the benefits to beginning a relationship with one of women’s favorite bachelors, fear. Fear is a seductive and mysterious partner. Many women enter into an often secret relationship with fear while juggling relationships with a spouse, children and/or their friends. It’s a relationship familiar to most women. One thing is for certain, it’s hard to hide this secret affair women have with this sly beau because there are signs that she is indeed cozying up to fear. Women will make time to meet regularly with this companion; in the middle of the night instead of sleeping, nervously inviting it along to appointments, hiding it in a drawer while it dictates her at work, or she can be seen fighting with it while she anxiously watches her kids at the park. The question is, what is so great about fear that makes women want to wedge it, if necessary, into their life? And once there, stubbonrly hold on to it?

Lets expose fear for what it is by illustration. If fear were on a dating website, I will guarantee the profile would read something like this:

Name: Fear (a.k.a. Anxiety, Distress, Doubt, Panic, Unease, and Worry) ~Sounds great thus far, right?~

Age: Timeless

Physical Attributes: Heavy. Intimidating. Strong.

Best quotes from fear:

“I want to change every last bit of you. For example, I can help rid you of that haircut one handful of hair at a time. I can also help you lose weight by reconditioning your digestive system one stomach ache at a time.”

“I will occupy every last of your thoughts. You will no longer have to crowd your mind with nuisance pleasantries.”

“Eventually it will just be you, me, and our blossoming relationship. You won’t have time for anyone else.”

“I want every moment with you and it’s okay if you want to stop doing those annoying daily responsibilities.”

Wow! Doesn’t every girl dream of a controlling relationship with something or someone who wants to change every last bit of the person you are or want to become? If your answer is “no” then you need to reconsider what kind of relationship you are seeking when you allow fear into your life.
Why do we keep choosing fear from the list of available companions? Why do we fool ourselves into thinking that choosing to partner with a controlling emotion is normal and acceptable. We deserve better!

If it were up to me, fear like all emotions, would be defined like a drug rather than an emotion. Emotions would be required to list all potential side effects, then we would know the long term effects of every emotion. It’s no wonder women have such difficulty navigating through life being the emotional creatures we are. I know I can be a ball of numerous different emotions at the same time which means I am also experiencing a great deal of side effects. So instead of choosing to look at the dating profile of another emotion, let’s look at this profile.

Name: Jesus (a.k a. Savior, Son of God, Hosanna, Friend)

Age: Eternal

Physical Attributes: Scarred while making the ultimate sacrifice.

Best quotes to describe Jesus:

“….He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no one can fathom.”

“For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime….”

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you….”

“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression….”

“….I have loved you with an everlasting love….”

Which of the two profiles would you choose? Would you choose the one that will take over and control your life or the one that loved you before he met you? Do you choose the one that will build upon the ashes of the broken person it makes you or builds you up and loves you unconditionally? One cannot coexist with the other. The Bible is full of versus telling us not to fear. Here are a few more examples.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.”

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He might exalt, casting all of your anxieties on him, because He cares for you.”

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

“I say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengence, with the recompense of God. He will come save you.”

God knows the profile of fear. He knows how it destroys lives. He knows how it will destroy your heart. He understands how crippling fear can be. He is concerned over the power fear can have over you. You could read a verse where God encourages us not to fear at least once a day for over a year. Choosing a relationship with God means that you no longer need a relationship with fear. A relationship with fear is a destructive affair. Fear wants you to doubt God. Fear wants to you think there is no joy left when times are difficult. God says that the most joy is found in times of deep dispair. God wants us to know he cares deeply for us and he will show you victory in all circumstances. He wants us to know that the true love of God is free from fear. His love is confident and sure, and He loves you exactly the way you are. When you choose Christ over fear, when you give God control, no matter what happens, there is victory in Him. We can have the confidence to call ourselves women of faith when we obey His words and put our trust where it belongs, with Him.

I came back from the conference that weekend with a changed heart. I let go of fear and grabbed onto my faith. I have confidence that my life has purpose and meaning, especially with the difficulty that ultimately builds my faith. Each day I remind myself to lift my thoughts to Heaven and see the one who loves me enough to allow suffering that brings me to joy.

*d*

Beauty in a Different Wrapper

We sat alone and waited for the neurologist. “My son has a neurologist,” I thought, “how did this happen?” We stared at the computer sitting on a long table. Shortly we’d be able to see what was causing our baby’s seizures. It was like waiting to unveil and unknown enemy. The neurologist would soon come in, press a few buttons on that computer, and show us what was so different about our little boy. He had a number of different tests over the two days we had been at the hospital but only the M.R.I. would allow us to actually look at what this Tuberous Sclerosis Complex was doing to our baby. The name was foreign to us but yet it was suddenly going to be a part of our lives. A mere three days ago we had a normal little boy but now we had that little boy plus a rare disease unknown to us and most of the hospital staff.

We spent several hours on the phone trying to explain what our little boy had and what it meant for his future but we only managed to muddle through the numerous conversations with family and friends. Whatever this Tuberous Sclerosis was, I hated it and I wanted no part of what it was doing to my son.

My husband and I looked at each other. We gave one another the same look; the look that asks, “What are we going to do?” I am sure I had just as much desperation in my eyes as I saw in his. We felt defeated, broken, and very much alone.

It was in those moments after receiving that terrible news that our life seemed to stop so abruptly. It stopped, we stopped, and for the first time, we had no clue as to where our lives were heading. The addition of this terrible knowledge gave us a heightened awareness of how normal the lives were of those same family and friends we had those muddled conversarions with in those first few hours after we arrived at the hospital. Our normal was gone. I realized everything had changed and life would not go on for us as it once did. We were handed back our life in shambles as it was our turn to get the terrible news. Why did we have to be the ones? Why did our son have to be sick? Things like this don’t happen so close to home, let alone in our home. What was worse was the terrible feeling of isolation. No matter who called us, hugged us, or offered comfort, no one could stand in and take our pain. The gnawing yearning to find someone, anyone who would intimately understand our pain was overwhelming. We didn’t want to feel so….. alone…..

Last year I had an idea, I wanted to start a blog. At first, I really didn’t want to share it with the world. I wanted to keep it within a limited reach. My friend and I loved to write and what better way to turn what we love into a little more. Over the years I have wrote a few thought-filled pieces for my Facebook friends updating them on the condition of my son but the response was minimal at best. I thought that maybe I should be the one reaching out to others searching like me.

So we decided we would write. To keep our little blog confidential and comfortable, we began to use just an initial as our names, *d* and ~L~.  This was good for many reasons; we could have the freedom of writing without backlash from hyper-critial people and if we were at the receiving end of negative feedback, they would be cutting down these alternative personas of us, not the actual us, my friend and I could be viewed as equals in our pieces and we would be able to blur the lines of our differences and write cohesively, and hopefully readers could identify with us much easier. We wanted anyone to say, “Yes, I could be *d* or ~L~ and I feel the same way”. A few months after we began our venture, I decided to submit my work and try to reach a little further out into the world. Since my first submission to The Mighty in June, I have twelve pieces on their site and one of those went on to be successfully picked up by Yahoo Health. I am amazed my voice has made it that far. But there is so much more we want to do. There is a definite purpose in our writing, maybe we don’t fully understand what it is, but I know what I would like it to be….. I don’t want anyone to feel as alone as my husband and I did when our son was diagnosed. I want others who feel alone to find a common thread in our writing. The story of my life is a mess but I feel like I need to share it. I want others to know there is hope and happiness in what seems to be the most difficulty.

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I am often in awe of humanity. It’s easy to get tangled in all the bad news shared on television and social media. It makes me sad when stories highlighting the resilience and goodness of humanity occupy only a few short minutes of our day. We are beautiful creatures. My faith teaches me that we are perfectly designed and created but I also understand that my opinion is as different as we are from each other. Nonetheless, we cannot deny the genuine beauty we all possess. We have and inner strength and beauty that makes us move forward in the face of the most impossible feats and dares us to move even further to explore ourselves. Despite the vast array of our own kind, we hold many unspoken, common bonds. Most of us want commpanionship, we want to feel loved, and we are looking for ways to become better versions of ourselves.

No doubt evil has encroached on the heels of humanity. It tempts us to turn our backs on one another, deprive the needy, and think only of what is good for ourselves. The battle of good and evil will exist long after our generations have passed so that means we have to work that much harder, no matter what you believe, to ensure humanity can continue to shine as a beacon of love and grace.

Finding our purpose isn’t always easy. As a child, we think about what we would like to do when we grow up. When we listen closely to our little ones, a good majority of them want to help others in the future. As we grow we learn and change our opinions of what would be best for us. We also think about if what we want to spend the rest of our lives doing is best for us. We take into consideration finances, schooling, and where we would like to live. But we cannot forget those first thoughts we may have had about our future. The possibilities were endless. Today we may not want to pursue a career in service to others but we can still do great things for each other. These acts may only require a moment of your time but they can impact the world one moment at a time for the good of our future.

I want to write. I want to expose the raw nature of my life and sometimes open myself up to critics to be a voice of hope. While I have come to terms with the very real possibility and reality that I will be at the receiving end of negativity, it all becomes worth it when I have successfully reached across the small screen of my phone to put out my virtual hand to another human being that needs to hear the words, “You are not alone.”

We were not meant to be alone. We were gifted one another. Yes, it’s hard when we are gifted with something that is sometimes difficult to understand or appreciate. Sometimes those gifts aren’t as we imagined but once we take the time to unwrap what we have, we can see the goodness under any wrapping. We sometimes have to tear off shame, guilt, fear, and a common flawed nature to find the treasure inside. We have to take the time to understand that an unexpected gift is sometimes the best gift of all.

Life comes with shocking and truly terrifying moments. These moments can sometimes pull us to the edge more times than we would rather admit but if we are all honest with one another, we would say that our toes have all been dangling over that edge. We have all felt the disparate loneliness that we must face alone. No one else can stand in if and when the word cancer, disability, or death is directed at us. No one else can stand alongside the casket of our precious loved one and receive condolences. There are times when we have to stand alone but that doesn’t mean we have to be alone. We can find comfort when a hand reaches out from across that chasm and a voice says, “I have been there too”.

Eventually those voices and hands that reach out to grab us at our most vulnerable moments are those hands that welcome us home. Home indeed can be made of walls, windows, and our personal memories but home is a place where we feel like we belong. I recently had a conversation with my aunt who has struggled most of her life. She, like many people, have felt isolated and alone because she was different. During a recent conversation she said, “For years, all I wanted was my family.” It took years and a lot of heartache but she has found love and acceptance. And she feels like she has a home. She has a place where she is loved beyond the wrapping she had felt was too different to love.

In the reach of our progress, it is sad when there are people who still feel unloved and alone because their wrapping. They are those who identify themselves as “different” or were gifted something precious in a different wrapper. We must not forget, when we are all stripped down to the core of our humanity, we want to be loved, we want to be accepted, and we have fought for a place to belong. So don’t believe the headlines that scream to the masses that life is only for those who come from a predetermined mold. Humanity is for everyone. Life is meant to be cherished and enjoyed and you don’t have to fit a hypothetical criteria to do that.

We learn to grow and truly appreciate what we have when our toes are dangling over the edge. It is then we look back and yearn for that solid ground. Too soon life can change and you may be asked to break the mold. If that time comes, take all the strength of humanity and break it across that divide. Will you help bridge the gap and fill the void with all the wonderful things that make you different and a beautiful part of us all?

*d*

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Chasing a Diagnosis

We sat on her family room couch sorting through her photos. Occasionally one of us would stop and show the other a photo, laughing or reminiscing about the story behind it. I felt like a kid again, sitting in my childhood home reliving old and happy memories with my mom. Then she paused, her fingers resting on a photo. The smile had vanished from her face. “What? What is it?” I asked. I noticed her demeanor had changed.

“I don’t remember having this taken,” she said in a somber voice. I leaned over to look at the photo she still had between her fingers. It was a photo of her at the hospital two years ago after a major surgery called a Whipple Procedure. She looked at me as if to question if she was really the one in the photograph.

“That’s you,” I assured her. “You looked awful,” I said, trying to hold back my tears. “I am glad you don’t remember.”

“Me too,” she said as she slid the picture from her fingers into my hand.

I sat and studied the photo for what seemed to be an eternity. She was sitting upright in a chair next to the bed in her hospital room, a pillow draped over her lap. The hospital gown barely covered all that was coming out around her. A tube was coming out of her nose and one was also coming out of her neck. Looking at the photo seemed to leave my mom in some sort of disbelief. She had no recollection of the days following this surgery and although the photo looked like her, she acted as if she had just seen a ghost. I knew it was my mom in the photo, but I too thought she looked like a shell of the woman I have always known. Her pain was so intense after this surgery that I can only describe the look in her eyes as empty pain. It’s the kind of pain that demands complete submission to it. And there she was in a photograph, a momento of pain.

She and I had a haunting glimpse of a time two years ago we would both prefer to forget. It was the first time I seriously doubted whether or not my mom would make it through a surgery. This surgery was different than the ones she’s had previously. This was a rare procedure that required a skilled surgeon and would not guarantee her a better future or survival. When faced with such uncertainty, I thought about the holidays we had shared over the last year and wondered if we had truly enjoyed those moments together. I didn’t want to think about having the next holiday without her. It also made me think about my own selfishness and the times I didn’t grasp what life has been like for her. As long as I can remember my mom has been battling an invisible enemy. My mom was born in 1953 and in 2008 she finally found out what has been causing her life-long pain. She has a hard to detect birth defect called Pancreas Divism (an abnormality of the ducts of the pancreas) and Spincter of Oddi Dysfunction (a dysfunction of the muscle(s) that help control the flow of pancreatic juices). This and the treatment of which caused Chronic Pancreatitis. These abnormalities cause the syptoms she has felt since childhood: pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen or in the back, epigastric pain (especially after meals), abdominal swelling, nausea and/or vomiting. All of these symptoms during her lifetime were mistaken for various other ailments, so mom spent 55 years of her life undiagnosed and suffering.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered from under my tears.

“About what?” she asked, sounding surprised.

“For not being more supportive,” I continued. “I can’t imagine what it was like to be in so much pain, especially when so many people stopped believing you.”

“I had to keep going. I knew something was wrong, but I hate that it took so long to find out what it was.”

Her problems began in childhood. She had unexplained pain that grew more intense into adulthood. Because she so desperately sought an answer, she has had a staggering number of surgeries in her lifetime. Some surgeries to fix specific problems and others were an attempt to find the source of the returning pain. There is no doubt it was hard for her to continue to fight for her own health when others had given up.

She hugged me and we sat silently, maybe pondering the moments we lost. Her story has touched me more deeply in the last year. I was recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and I too will most likely be dealing with a lifetime of chronic pain. The difference between her story and mine is defined by one word: diagnosis. When my blood was drawn last year, I didn’t want a diagnosis but once I got it, I was validated. My pain wasn’t an illusion and I could begin treatment. My mom had spent most of her adult life chasing a diagnosis.

So, why was it so hard for her to chase a diagnosis? The hospital and medical bills became a rotating door for my mom even though she and my dad were already struggling financially. Money wasn’t the only reason she was discouraged from returning to the hospital or seeking out another specialist. She’d frequently hear comments like, “If they can’t find anything wrong, then what is it?” or, “You don’t look sick.” And all the while she would feel discouraged and invalidated for her suffering. Years of hearing other’s doubt made her doubt herself and that led to depression.

“How have you done it over the years?” I asked. “How did you live with chronic pain, especially when you had no idea what was wrong? Weren’t you angry?”

“It isn’t easy,” she explained. “Getting angry about it wouldn’t have helped. I knew my body and I did what I had to do. I have also learned not to hide from my depression.”

When my mom finally had diagnosis in hand, the only treatment available was risky and didn’t guarantee a better quality of life. The first procedure landed her in the hospital with acute pancreatitis. I visited her during this acute flare in 2008. Her pain was so intense that she was given large doses of pain medications and food was held until her pancreatic levels decreased. When I saw her, she was out of her head and desperate for food. Every year since 2008 is speckled with memories that she and I would rather forget. Awful memories where my mom and I began having an unspoken understanding about her health and death. These moments would shame the people that would doubt her illness when they’d say, “You don’t look sick,” doubt her pain because she wasn’t constantly folded over from it, or those who were perplexed because they couldn’t see her disability with their eyes.

“Mom,” I said, “you are amazing. I can only hope to have half of your strength.”

“I’m not any stronger or braver than you.”

I heard what she said but doubted the truth in it. I didn’t have the same difficulty before I had my answers. There are many people, like my mom, who are chasing a diagnosis. They spend every day in real pain and desperate for answers. They persevere even if they have to do it alone. My mom did what she knew was right despite adversity. Fighting the unknown is one of the bravest battles one can face. She isn’t the only undiagnosed individual fighting for answers so don’t judge someone based on outside appearances or speculation. Offer support because even when someone is fighting the unknown, they are still fighting.

*d*

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Why "You don't look sick" isn't a good thing to say.

Signs of acute pancreatitis:

Sudden intense pain in the middle of the upper abdomen and the pain may radiate to the back. This pain may begin 12-24 hours after a large meal.

Fever, nausea, vomiting.

Cammy skin or rapid pulse.

Tenderness or distention of the abdomen.

Signs of chronic pancreatitis:

Abdominal Pain that may radiate to the back or chest that is intense and long lasting. It may be intermittent or persistent.

Stools that are excessively foul or bulky.

Nausea, vomiting or abdominal distention

Weight loss because of malabsorbtion of foods

Development of diabetes if pancreas becomes damaged.

Source: webmd.com

Music and Pause

Pause. My life has been on pause. That includes this blog. Sometimes a pause is necessary to reevaluate our lives and it seems as if my friend and I are experiencing a life shift worthy of a pause simultaneously. We both are once again standing at the crossroads and wondering what direction we need to take. We are both sitting idle at the intersection of life carefully planning the next road to be followed.

Health issues have been to blame; my own, my mother, and my son have been experiencing increased difficulty with health. I have now been told I have two incurable diseases, my mother has had another serious operation, and my son’s epilepsy has been harder than normal to control. I needed a pause. I chose to step away to observe and listen at the crossroads. I needed to know what lie down each road and how to navigate the future. My decision: pull up a chair and wait. I didn’t feel like a change needed to happen, but I did feel a slow down, and pause, was needed. I needed to stop and let the world speed by because I was not able to zip along with the rest of the world (in part by my diagnoses). So here I am sitting in the middle of my road with my feet up and unapologetic about it. While everyone else is buzzing by I refuse to be moved until I know exactly what I want to do. There will be no rash decisions this time, there will be no spontaneous movements, I will wait…..

Pausing life does not come without its share of victims. This blog has flat-lined and I often feel more than guilty about it but I remind myself that this project was meant to be an enjoyable release. I do not want it to start to feeling like a job. I have plenty of work to do and I refuse to make the little things I enjoy feel, well, less enjoyable. Everyone and everything is in too much of a hurry. Everyone is rushing, but to where are they going? What is the destination? Run to our earthly end? Run out of expectation? Run out of habit?

I have been house-sitting while my mother has been in the hospital. Instead of going straight home after my last check, I took all four kids to the cemetery where my grandfather was buried over six months ago and to where my uncle was laid to rest over three years ago. On this day I was listening to a play list of some of my favorite songs instead of the usual kid’s movies. As I pulled up to my grandfather’s grave, Pink Floyd’s song “Wish You Were Here” came up. I parked in front of his tombstone and turned up the radio. It was hard not to be captive by the moment. I could hardly imagine the vast number of people who have visited that same cemetery and their hearts were singing those same lyrics, “How I wish you were here….” I didn’t have the words as I stood beside the bare earth above where he lay, so I just listened. Then, we slowly drove to the other side of the cemetery, my mind still fixated on the moment. I found my uncle’s grave and as I shifted into park, “Whiskey In the Jar” by Metallica began to play. Obviously my songs are in alphabetical order but the order and timing of what happened made me smile. I remember my uncle driving like a bat out of Hell down the interstate listening to our local rock station. He may be the reason Metallica is one of my favorite bands and why it was on that very play list. So I turned up Metallica for my uncle and stood where is body now lays. I was once again at a loss for words but I grinned thinking of my less than proper behavior at a cemetery and how my uncle was one to break the mold. The visit was humbling but not sad. My heart hurts to know that my time with these men is over but I am confident they are not confined to the grave. I know they are as free as the lyrics that filled the air.

A stroll, or drive through a cemetery can be quite humbling. If you haven’t done it, you need to. It is a good reminder that we all will eventually have the same space under the Earth to occupy. With all the running the world says we have to do and all we have to accomplish, we are just speeding closer to that hole in the Earth. STOP. Slow down, sit in your intersection and be unapologetic about it. And listen to a good song or two…… the music of life is hard to hear when you are moving too fast…..

*d*