Wait, Wait, Wait…..

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I’m waiting in the doctor’s office. It’s apparently my thing now. Some people go out to eat, some go to bars, while others go shopping, I get to wait on doctors. I should have been forewarned about my present course of lifestyle long ago. But, unfortunately, there are many things you won’t hear once you or someone you love is diagnosed with a chronic illness.

For instance, I spend a lot of time rearranging my schedule or finding someone to help me take care of my children while I wait. I wait at the doctor’s office, hospitals, pharmacies, and if I’m really lucky, I get to wait with my ear glued to the phone while on hold with the insurance company, clinics, and my personal favorite, social security (eye roll). The most frustrating part, besides all the waiting, is knowing I will be doing it all again for follow up appointments, emergencies, or fighting with insurance and social security. It’s a guarantee. Hours of my life are spent with my butt glued to a chair dealing with something associated with my illness or that of my son.

Getting my son one of his medications got bad a couple years ago. It was so bad that I was on the verge of a breakdown. My son has a severe form of eplispsy and the best medication used to treat it was offered solely through a specialty pharmacy. This pharmacy needs a disclaimer, “Warning: dealing with our business is bad for your health”. In reality, that’s a problem with a lot of businesses and people who are supposed to help those with chronic illness, they really don’t.  All the extra appointments, phone calls, and paperwork just add to the already mounting stress of chronic illness.

So people like me wait. We wait for a break in hopes that something easier will come along. We wait for improvement in health so we can wait at the doctor’s office less often, we wait for the right medication so we don’t have to deal with pharmacies, insuance, and new medication schedules. We wait, wait, wait…..

When there is little in terms of health that we can control, it’s nice when we get a helping hand, a word of encouragement, or we are at the receiving end of a kind deed. And thank goodness those nice things don’t come with a wait…. they come into our lives and remind us we are not forgotten while we spend a good part of our days doing things we’d rather not.

If I have to wait for something, I’d love for it to be a vacation, a home improvement,  an evening, or better still, a weekend away but these things are usually physically and/or financially out of reach so that’s when the company of a good friend, a laughter filled conversation, or any time we can get to enjoy the things we love are invaluable. Chronic illness changed how I look at life and what’s important. When my mom takes time out of her day to wait with me at my appointments, my husband volunteers to be the one to fight with the insurance company, or my friend drives her shoulder to my house for me to cry on, it’s a big deal. When I feel like so much has been taken away, the little things become the big things that matter.

I know how hard it can be to find the right words when someone is struggling. In truth, there are no right words, what matters are those well intended actions. Even if you don’t know what to say, pick of the phone and try something like, “I wanted to see how you were doing today,” send a text, mail a card of encouragement, offer a smile, or volunteer a few minutes out of your day to wait along with someone like me or my son who spend a lot of time doing it alone. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know what to say or do, being in the company of a friend is always worth the wait.

*d*

Journal of Emotions

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NEW ENTRY

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I am overwhelmed. If there was a day I am full of emotion, it’s today. Life has been too much and I am having a hard time taking it all in. Everything from health to finances has been difficult. I often wonder why it isn’t just one problem we have to deal with, but a mountain of them. Yesterday I went to the pain management doctor and he about came out of his chair when I told him my Rheumatologist was going to keep me on one medication and add another. He didn’t like the idea of me being on both simultaneously. It gave me a lot to ponder as I knew something wasn’t “right” with me.

This feeling is the same one I had before my last flare. Maybe the thought of another flare put me in a foul mood, I don’t know, but I do know the mood is lingering. I keep thinking I’m more tired than usual but that would not explain the lingering rain cloud over my head. I tried hard today to be positive, until this……
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……. a flat tire…..

We just started a layaway for our kid’s Christmas and now I wonder if we will be able to pay it off at the rate we are going.

I made a phone call to the pharmacy on Tuesday. I asked how much I’d be paying out of pocket for my medications once my high deductible insurance turned over. We recently paid off our van, but between the increase in our mortgage payment due to tax increases and my medication, we will see no difference in our monthly budget. We will still be broke. I looked forward to a tax refund but that will be paying for our mountain of medical debt and spacers for my oldest son. We just can’t seem to get ahead. I know we aren’t alone. Many people struggle to get by from month to month, but I wish this was the only thing that kept me up at night.

Sometimes I lie awake listening for my son in the next room. I worry about him seizing more than I admit. He was approved to get an Embrace watch but they keep pushing the date back for it’s arrival. It’s supposed to alert us to a seizure by using an app on our phone. I will breathe a sigh of relief when it comes for many reasons, but nighttime seizures are a fear (for many with epilepsy). He is so poorly controlled right now that any help we can get monitoring his seizures will help us determine how to treat him and how he is responding to that treatment.

On top of his difficulties, my health has declined shapely this summer. I know I am sick, I can feel it in more ways than one. If I don’t take some of my meds, I feel like I have the flu. I am tired and depressed. I keep praying and working with my doctors to get me the right medication to help with all my symptoms. One thing is certain, RA will not steal my voice.

Writing is all I have right now. I don’t work, and I am grateful for that, but it is difficult to be a one income family with extensive medical bills. I hope I can make something out of our difficulty. That is what I am about, making something wonderful out of the worst of situations. I am going to keep trying and I am going to keep praying for the ability to write pieces that will help others feel like they have a common ally in this world. It’s this girl. I’m right there struggling with you. Maybe we will see something great together.

*d*

I have decided to pick up and write during highly emotional times for me and see what comes spilling out. I will update this post with those thoughts as they happen. I will do mimimal editing to protect whatever voice I use while writing. Understand, what comes out of me during a highly emotional moment may not always make sense but I want to share those moments. These are moments I believe we all have. My hope is to put into words some of the issues we all experience yet rarely escape our lips.

Entry 1: Written while thinking about how I was going to move past my diagnoses of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Fibromyalgia. I have been experiencing pain I had not expected. I am experiencing an RA flare and I went downhill very quickly. I can’t get around in the morning without assistance because of the severe pain I experience specifically during the morning hours. I am struggling to find purpose in the addition of this disease on top of already having a special needs child with his own complex diagnoses. ~

A diagnosis makes me think about death. I can’t help it. When the name of disease dropped from the physician’s lips, I immediately thought about the worst case scenario. I worried about every unfamiliarity, drug, and all the new phrases thrown my direction in a language I didn’t understand. I didn’t just cry, I wept. My tears came from such a deep place inside me that it almost felt as if a piece of my soul were escaping with them. Days were blurry. All I remember is the hurt I felt after knowing nothing will ever again be the same. There will be things that will no longer be able to be accomplished, words that will now remain unspoken, and dreams that will now have to be relinquished. I was in mourning, yet I was very much alive. Mourning my life while I was still living was a contradiction. I struggled with all things and I wanted to give up on finding myself again.

Then creeped in a small glimmer of light. It was hope. It was the knowledge that life is not over but still meant to be lived. I could not live my days as if it were already gone. If I kept choosing to mourn life, I had already given up on hope. So I chose hope. I chose faith. I chose to live. I chose to use those words that choked meaning out of my life to find a new purpose.

I see who I am. I see who I was. I had to change. I wanted to stop distracting my life with things that kept me from fulfilling this life. When life changes so dramatically, the span of a lifetime shrinks. There is no forever, there is only today. There is today to make a positive change in the lives around me. There is today to show others love. Death usually stirs up these same feelings in so many people but after waking away from the casket, much is forgotten. What changes are made are often temporary and life goes back to the same distractions taking away from a life rich with meaning.

Fear of death also ruins many things. Death hurts. It especially hurts when we have loved the deceased so much. To avoid that deep anguish, we pull away to protect ourselves from feeling that way again. But pushing away others to avoid future pain limits the joy that should be experienced now.

I have been depressed, have had panic attacks, and worried myself into distress over the unknown of diagnoses and of life. In essence, I robbed myself time to trust, the ability to have faith, and additional moments to love.

I essentially drew myself so close to the only dark spot in my life that it shrouded every last bit of light. I decided to hide in the only dark corner and hold onto my fear. I also hid there alone. I wanted to stay in my pity and cry about how unfair life had become while refusing help. It felt good to finally take a hand and say, “I can’t do it alone.”

Asking for help is a hard thing to do but it is a freeing moment. I didn’t have to stay alone in my dark. I could embrace those trying to pull me into the light. In the shadow of life is no place to be. When facing a challenge, go where the path can be seen, don’t walk in the dark. Choose to press against that darkness and love despite the hurt. Pull those hands close and love those who follow you anywhere. A lifetime of love is worth any eventual pain. Pain is better handled when leaning on love. No diagnosis or pain is worth giving up this life. It may make it harder. It may be lonely but run toward the light. Run toward love, don’t stop living because of one speck of darkness.

*d*
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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*

More Than Just Coffee

Lately I have been wondering if I have been truly in love with something or just the idea of that something. For example, I decided at our last monthly grocery run that I wanted to try to be a coffee drinker. It isn’t that I haven’t had coffee before, I was one of those people who got a coffee maker for a wedding gift ten years ago and used it maybe twice. I love going to our local specialty coffee shop and indulging once a year but making my own wasn’t anything I was ever interested in. Now I thought I’d give it a try for a number of reasons; I would rather get a small boost of caffeine from a small cup of coffee versus pop first thing in the morning, my RA has had me running on fumes, and I love the smell of coffee. I have been spawned by long and large group of coffee drinkers. I would smell the lingering aroma of it from home to the home of a relative, and every Sunday morning at church. The Baptist couldn’t wait for a coffee fueled sermon followed up by coffee fueled fellowship. The thought had occurred to me that I had an emotional attachment to the smell, and not the taste. It’s probably true. We were between housing when we lived with my eighty-something year- old grandparents who brewed coffee in the morning, reheated it in the afternoon and anytime they got a chill, which was quite often for my late grandfather. I miss him dearly and my decision came upon the heels of a year since his passing.

So we’re at the grocery and I stopped and stood in the coffee aisle taking in my limitless possibilities. I admit that I was a bit shocked by the number of choices I had and I am not a decisive individual. My son cheered me on as any bad influence of an eight year-old would. Apparently drinking coffee is a huge thing for third graders at his school…. So after telling him to stop taking out every interestingly packaged coffee and coffee mug for his new habit, I chose a very girly vanilla cupcake flavor coffee. Heaven forbid my coffee would actually taste like coffee. One package of coffee filters and a over indulgent container of chocolate caramel creamer later, we were headed home.

I returned home more than eager to brew my first cup, but where was that coffee maker? I had a frightening thought that I may have pitched it in our last move. Why not? I never used it anyway. I kept frantically searching as I secretly began to repremand myself for throwing it out. I don’t like throwing anything out for this very reason, I’d have to buy another one and I know that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Finally, I found it! But then I didn’t know how to use it. Luckily the people at the girly coffee factory want to make sure all of us novice coffee drinkers could make a cup so we could thus get hooked. Great idea! I got it ready and began to unload groceries as it brewed. My husband thought I’d surely made it wrong when it only took a few minutes to brew my quarter pot of coffee. Then I had to find a cup to put this newly acquired liquid gold in. I certainly had some coffee cups as I am avid cocoa drinker in the winter months. One coffee cup is all I found. Darn. Then by chance I found an awesome mug fit for a coffee pro. I washed it, poured my first cup, and it was weak. I made it too weak. I was going to need more zing than that keep me going during the day. The second cup was amazing and I felt special sipping out of my fancy cup. For the next few mornings my coffee was already auto brewed by the time I came downstairs. I had a bit more zing in the a.m. and I began to see why people insisted on starting their mornings with this stuff. Then the disappointing happened, I started having terrible heartburn. I cringed when my mom suggested it was the coffee. After all that trouble, it was causing me heartburn that could be mistaken for a heart attack.

This afternoon rolled around and in the true spirit of the Midwest, it was below normal temperatures and a hot cup of coffee sounded great. I brewed it and it is still sitting there an hour later. I haven’t touched it. Do I dare chance the feeling of looming death for my newly acquired taste? Today I may be satisfied with my emotional attachment to the smell.

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I am more disappointed that I once again can’t be like all the other “cool” people and start my day off with a jolt of girly coffee goodness. I can live with reducing my consumption but what about that smell? It reminds me of home, loved ones, and a church family that felt more like my real family. Maybe I need to think a little harder about sporadically falling in love with an idea because it seems like those ideas for me don’t pan out in real life.

My daughters have been playing together more as my “baby” is now a year and a half of busyness. She follows her big sister with her ride on toy, they play with the tea set together, and they frequently say “Bye!” as they leave for their pretend jobs . It makes me wonder what it would have been like if I had a sister. I have been in love with the idea of a having a sister forever. I have seen cute little posts on social media comparing a woman without a sister to one without an arm or some other nonsense. Like I had a choice about how my family dynamic played out. I hoped I’d someday have that faux sister that I could go shopping with, call on the phone, and we’d celebrate all of life’s joys together. But from what I see, it isn’t as glamorous as I had imagined. Sisters fight. I don’t like to fight. But I still wonder.

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And then I wonder about all the things I may have missed out on; a college degree, a full time job, and all the dreams I watch others live out. Those notions are so much harder to live out than buying a four dollar package of coffee off the shelf. So I learn to accept life as I have it. I have notions about what I think life is all about and no one knows what my life is really like. So I keep dreaming about those little things. Are they what I really want or do I just like the idea of it all?

I am awful good at looking idealistic. I often seem like a pillar of strength or maybe a beacon of hope, but I complain about the circumstances out of my control just as well as the rest. Why does my coffee have to give me heartburn? Why am I not worthy of meaningful friendships with other women? Why am I sick? Why are we drowning in medical debt? Why are we not living out this dream life? And on and on….. The truth is, things aren’t easy. We spend time doing a lot of things we’d rather not. Last night we spent three hours preparing and sorting paperwork to fight social security. Yes, they want to take back payments from two years ago just in time for the holidays. My desk is full of paperwork only special needs parents or the chronically ill can appreciate. “Here is your half ton of paper work Mrs. M.! Good luck with all of that because life understands how easy you already have it.” Yes, nothing is easy or as it seems. I can be joyful in the face of adversity but I can be equally as disappointed in those things beyond my control. I just keep trying. I keep smiling and I try putting my faith in things that have a special place in my heart whether it be a friend as close to my heart as a sister or my husband who spends three hours on the floor digging through paperwork. As for the coffee, the trouble was almost worth that smell of home but then again I guess I can find a candle for that.

*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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Pondering the “What If” in Life

It’s Monday and Kristie’s day began before most of the world opened it’s eyes. It’s 2 a.m. and one of her two sons is ready to start his day. Kristie rubbed her eyes, dreary from numerous days of scattered sleep.

“Can I get up?” asked her youngest son Blake standing next to her bed

“Go back to bed, it’s too early.” As he wandered back to his room, Kristie knew she shouldn’t get too comfortable. She knew he would come back and he’d probably ask to go to the toy room. Several minutes later, he was back. ” Come on,” she said as she walked with him to the toy room. She laid on the couch and he grabbed his iPad. She didn’t look forward to the next four hours of interrupted sleep on the couch.

On this morning Kristie couldn’t sleep. She settled on the couch and made her best attempt but couldn’t.  Instead she ended up watching her little boy. Her mind began to wonder about all the things surrounding Blake and her oldest son, Drew. She began to rehash the “what-ifs” and all the other parts of her life she tries not to think about. It’s the same inner monolog that plagued her when her oldest son Drew was born, it’s the same crushing thought that wonders what life would be like without Fragile X Syndrome. What if their two boys never had it and what if she never carried it? “What if,” she wispered to herself.

She began to wonder what their life would have been like without all the harsh looks, awful critism, and impossibly difficult days in the  fifteen years since Drew was born. She recalls the worst of moments when a harsh stare was enough to make her family feel unwelcome and how a terrible comment like, “You should stop having those defective children,” seemed to cut her to her soul. She could still feel the same sting she felt fifteen years ago when it was confirmed that Drew had Fragile X.

She sleepily closed her eyes and  began to dream, or maybe it was her imagination but when she opened her eyes, both of her boys stood in front of her. “Hi Mom!” They spoke with unbelievable clarity, each offering arms open wide. “Thank you,” she heard from both boys harmoniously. In her  confusion she also heard, “We know it’s been hard, sorry Mommy.”

“No babies, don’t say that.” She thought she had spoke but the words didn’t come out.

“I love you.”

“I love you ”

Each boy embraced her. The very real feeling startled her awake. It was Blake. He was pushing on her arm. He wanted to watch a movie. It was 4 a.m. She got him settled again, all the while playing back the vivid vision in her head. She returned to the couch and now she really couldn’t sleep. She felt a gnawing in the pit of her stomach. If getting carried away with an impossible notion where her boys weren’t plagued with Fragile X wasn’t enough, she felt like she got a very real glimpse of it. She was very certain her boys would never fully understand the difficulties their family faced daily. The boys didn’t know life without Fragile X, it’s all they knew, but Kristie couldn’t help but wonder.

What would it feel like without the cloud of anxiety that seemed to hover over her boys. The anxiety that make daily schedules a must, especially when plans change outside the normal routine, small difficulties a big deal, and outings that often feel more like a production. The anxiety that causes fear of the unfamiliar. The same fear that causes tension between the boys and sometimes leads to physical outbursts. Most importantly, what would life be like without her own anxiety over every decision made in regard to her boys?

Kristie and her husband wanted to be prepared because they knew they could not afford take the trial and error approach to parenting. They knew they would need support and help with the decisions they would have to make for their boys and a foreknowledge of how to deal with the issues that come with Fragile X. They have attended meetings and conferences to help navigate life with their two special boys. She and her husband couldn’t simply ask, “When will Drew start school?,” they asked questions like, “What’s an IEP?” and “Will this school be able to accommodate his special circumstances?”. They couldn’t anticipate developmental milestones, they had to work hard to help the boys reach them. Each day is hard work and she and her husband often feel like they are fighting an uphill battle. They fight everyday to make life fulfilling for their boys while trying desperately to somehow fulfill their own needs. So they do wonder what would life be like if every decision didn’t feel like a thread that could pull the complex tapestry of their lives apart.

Kristie blinked heavily, “It’s six Blake, let’s get a shower.”

At this age both her boys should be taking showers independently but both boys need help as developmental delays and anxiety keep them from doing it without assistance. Soon she would have to wake Drew who is often hard to get out of bed and often difficult to bathe.  After the routine of morning showers, Kristie either feels ready to approach the day or ready to go back to bed. Today was difficult. Both boys needed plenty of help and verbal cues to prepare for the morning. It felt like an entire day was packed into a mere few morning hours. Already tired and exhausted, she began to make a schedule for the day, but today was proving to be too much. She began to cry.

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Drew and Blake saw her crying. Drew nudged her and said, “You’re a sad little Mama,” and stormed off but Blake stood for a moment, looked at her, and began to cry.

She couldn’t help but smile through her tears. She looked at Blake and just like any other mom, she saw her baby and wiped away his tears. But Kristie became especially grateful for this moment. There was no anxiety, schedules, or questions, just a moment where she could cry with her little boy. It was a moment when he was moved by her sadness. This small moment reminded her of a great many things.

What would she be like without Fragile X? Would the small and grace given moments such as these be as special? Would she see the world with the same set of eyes if her life wasn’t entwined with it? Undoubtedly, the disease has laced each day with challenges most families will never face, but it has also allowed life with her boys to teach her many things.

She knows patience is not given but learned. She knows even when she has felt like she has failed, there is always an opportunity to try again.

Grace is invaluable. She knows why it is needed because she knows she has needed it.

Love should be given blindly and love is not defined by another’s capacity to reciprocate that love.

“I love you Blake,” she said as he left the room. Kristie wiped her own tears, reminded of why she makes it through each day.

She has been given a gift and although she can’t help but occasionally wonder “what if”, she knows she is filling a greater purpose. Kristie is the woman God has intended her to be, a woman who serves as an example of His unending love and grace. Kristie sees the world with compassion because she has needed compassion, she has patience because she has to endlessly practice it, and she loves her family as selflessly as God wants to love each of us.

Yes, Kristie has grieved the life she envisioned for her boys, she still prays for easier days, and still desires understanding from those she comes into contact with, but with it, she has an opportunity. She knows there will be days when she will wish the world would love and accept her boys as she has but it won’t, she struggles with the inevitable bullying and dirty looks that frequently come their direction, but you won’t see her deny the blessings she has received through each of her boys. Life for Kristie and her family can be hard but they truly love the life they have been given despite the difficulty. They have been given the rare opportunity to show others that true joy comes from the foundation in which you stand.

Kristie knows that on days where she feels like she has had enough, she can still stand because she chose a solid foundation in her faith. It is faith in a God who provides the most joy in what seems to be the most difficult of situations and shines an example of His love through her life. God often uses the broken to do His best work because oftentimes the broken are already asking for His guidance through prayer. No doubt this is Kristie.

At the end of the day, she can look back and thank God she was blessed with another and thankful for the strength to endure. Soon enough the day will start again and she may be tempted to wonder “what if” but she can be assured she will remember why she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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*d*

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

A Ride Called “Disease”

A group of teenagers push wildly through the crowd and down the fair midway. At the tail end of the group, a reluctant girl is holding the hand of a boy sporting a cheesy grin. “Come on,” he pleads as he pulls her hand in the direction of the rides.

“I really don’t want to,” she insists as her steps narrow and her pace slows. Both eventually stop to talk and after a pathetic glance from the boy, she relaxes her shoulders in submission and follows. He spots his friends rough housing in front of the ferris wheel. She protest, “No, I don’t like those things and this one doesn’t look safe.”

“Awww, it’s fine,” he coaxes. She could sense the doubt in his voice.

“Come on!!” the group taunts as she sides her way into line. The ride is old, very old. It has been a right of passage for many other teens. The long held tradition has included rocking, screaming, and bouncing the rickety ride as if to dare it to crumble.

“Don’t move our seat,” she whispered abruptly as they loaded.

“Sure,” he assured as he sheepishly grinned to his buddy in the next seat. Not long after they loaded, the rowdy group began screaming and yelling but they remained still until the last seat was loaded. None took the chance of being kicked of the ride prematurely. After the old ride was started and at full speed, the chaos started. Violent shaking, bouncing, and attempts to stand up over the seat bar began. The operator began shouting but they continued on. The girl held tight to her boyfriend’s arm but his assurance to remain still did not last. He began flipping the seat forward as hard as he could and she began to scream in fear.

“Let me off, I want off now!” she demanded as she drew as far from him as she possibly could. Her trust had been broken.

“We’re just having some fun,” he said as the ride came to an abrupt stop. The operator was now cursing as he began unloading the riders. An argument between the girl and her boyfriend ensued. He offered a half hearted apology only after she began to cry. His remorse lasted until he was reunuted with his group of friends at the base of the ride. Then he sneered and thanked her for embarrassing him in front of his friends. He turned away abruptly and lead the group down the fairway, the girl crying while scurrying behind. In confusion, her focus now became how she could make it up to him.

***

I can definately relate to this story as I was that confused teenage girl years ago. Thank goodness I can laugh about it now and I am thankful that I have matured but that isn’t the point I am trying to make.

Instead this story is quite the apologue of the last few months of my life. A few months ago, I reluctanly stepped onto a rusty, old ferris wheel. It’s name was “Disease”. Despite it’s unsafe appearance, I convinced myself that I would be okay with “Disease”. Soon I had a passenger and it’s name was fear. I thought I had made peace with “Disease” and I wondered why fear had joined me.

“It’s okay, sit with me,” fear assured, “I’m a friend.”

“Disease” creaked and groaned but I didn’t get too nervous. I was familiar with the ride and I knew a few of the other reluctant riders. Then when the chaos broke out, I pulled myself closer to fear. “That’s right,” fear hissed as it violently began flipping my seat forward. I held tight to fear as the violent forward motion made me feel as if I were going to fall from my seat. Yet, I felt no comfort and my fears increased tenfold. The high and low of the ride now felt like they were coming too quickly. I was now frozen and with fear. I wanted off the ride, now! 

I began devising my own plan to escape. In the meantime, I tried to find some other way to brace myself safely into the seat. I couldn’t see anything, nor could I move. Something was sabotaging my safety. It was the fear still strapped in beside me. Not only  strapped in, but I was still locking arms with it. I had put all my trust in fear only to be deceived. I felt as betrayed as the girl in my story, but I knew I had to let it go. It was only when I let go that I could clearly see; and when I looked, I saw my son. He was riding alone in another seat. I had forgot about him.

Yet, there he sat looking out alone beyond “Disease”. I was staring at him while he began to make his way to the top. As he approached the top, he began to clap, and yell “Woo hoo!” He was happy and I was puzzled.  He wasn’t focused on the ride, he was focused on the view. He could certainly see the sky, the stars, the entire world from his vantage point.

For the first time, I slowly sat back and decided to try to see “Disease” as my son saw it. As I reached the top as he did shortly before, I was amazed of the view “Disease” gave me. I could see life from a vantage point few others could experience. Once I released fear, I was able to appreciate the view. Without fear, every movemment no longer made me nervous. I remained focused with my head held high. As I looked  I finally “got it” and I won’t soon forget what my little boy taught me about “Disease”. It can change you by fear or change your perspective. Fear wants to destroy and I’d much rather follow his example and keep living despite of fear.

Unlike the example in my story, my happiness didn’t have to be defined by who sat closest to me. My focus needed to be on anything that helped me break free from my own immaturity of the situation. Isn’t it amazing how my little boy helped change my heart and lead by example? “Woo hoo!”

*d*

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