Thoughts After the Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*d*

Finding Your Perfection

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Today I watched you stand in front of your mirror, your face barely reaching above the top of the dresser – in one hand you hold your plastic curling iron, pretending to fix your long, dark hair for whatever pretend adventure you and your baby sister have planned for today. I know you both will grow up way too fast. I imagine you both crowding in that same mirror that will someday be too small for both of you to use. One day you will have no use for the plastic curling iron and pretend makeup you adore now. You will leave it and your childhood behind. Soon, you will quietly whisper about the boy or boys you are preparing to see. I know one day you may not want to tell me about your dates, and especially the young men that await you, but I’ll still be there, even if I’m still just watching you from the doorway.

Right now a young man can be anything you imagine. He can be as handsome and brave as one in a functional movie, but someday the choices of whom you will want to be with will be more complicated than you realize. I want talk to you about when you give your heart to another person. Your heart is beautiful and precious. I can only hope that you know exactly what you deserve. You won’t learn the majority of it from me, you will learn the most about men from the most important man in your life right now, your dad. I hope when you decide to date, you are willing to wait for someone who is as wonderful as your father.

I had a hard road before I met the man that I’d love forever. Once we met, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with him. It isn’t hard to love your dad, he has a generous smile and a warm personality. Of course, I thought he was the most handsome man I had met but it wasn’t just those things that made me fall in love with him. It was also his generosity, his willingness to give of himself selflessly, and his big, big heart. When we were together, it was like I found a missing part of myself, the best piece of myself. I knew quite soon he and I were supposed to be together.

When he and I met, dated, and fell in love, he demonstrated qualities that assured me he was a trustworthy man. His actions defined him as a man and who he would be as my husband. I was his equal, his partner, and I never worried about what he would do once he held my heart. He didn’t just compliment me, he helped build my confidence. He didn’t just talk with me, he had a genuine interest in me. This is all important because when the time comes, you will want to know if you are with someone who is just as interested in you as he is himself. You will know the relationship will last through the best and worst times because he made time to know you and hopefully you will have done the same. All of this is important because bad times in a relationship will inevitably come. If what is supposed to be the best part of a relationship brings out the worst in someone, don’t be surprised what the worst times in a relationship will bring out. You will want someone who cares about your well being as well as his own during hardships. I know because your Daddy and I have been through a lot together. When we vowed to love one another better or for worse, we didn’t realize how important that vow would be.

We have faced an artillery of difficult circumstances. For example, we never anticipated having a child with a life altering medical condition, or that I would also be diagnosed with one, all within ten years of our marriage. Both diagnoses bring stress to our marriage in various ways.  It is in these times that I have seen the best, not worst, in your father. He has been an example of how to truly love another. He gives of himself and his love selflessly and meets each challenge with understanding and prayer. When there is nothing but pain and hurt on the faces of those he loves, he is patient and non-judgmental. It may sound easy, but it isn’t. It is hard to smile when there is pain inside and I know he hurts too. It’s not easy to be the one person an entire family looks to for guidance and your dad does it so well. When he smiles and says, “It will get better,” and you can have confidence in his words. He can tell me he loves me and thinks I more beautiful than the day we met and although I don’t believe I am, I believe him.

So girls, one day I hope you will wait and seek a man much like your dad. He isn’t perfect, no one is but he’s pretty close. We are all very flawed but love and the love of someone who truly loves you can make a relationship that feels nearly perfect. Until the day you leave us for a family of your own, we want to love you the same…….. imperfectly perfect

Love,
Mom (*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*

If a Photo Tells a Story

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Here we are, my youngest son and me. It was as uneventful as it looks. We were waiting in the van for Daddy to come out of the grocery store. My buddy said he didn’t want to go in so he sat with Mommy. He did get anxious while we waited so I decided to distract him with one of his favorite activities, taking his picture. “Cheeeeese!!!” he said while sporting his best cheesy grin. Of course I didn’t like how I look in any of the photos. My hair has been falling out at breakneck speed lately. I also noticed his hair was getting a little long. I am glad his medication hasn’t been doing to his hair what my medication has done to mine. Anyway, he was overdue for his haircut. Although, he’s been doing better at getting a haircut, I thought I’d let him go a little longer before we’d give him one. Autism and haircuts don’t mix well at our house.

That’s how life is for us, things like a haircut that seem simple usually have a story behind it, like this photograph. What you don’t see in this photograph is how swollen and painful my knees were that day and how bad my shoulder hurt. My Rheumatoid Arthritis was causing me a lot of grief. The only other time I had left the house that week was to pick up my oldest son from school. By this time, I was anxious to find any reason to leave the house.

Leaving the house wasn’t what it used to be and I was wondering if I should apply for a handicap placard. You see my cutie in this photo has had a rough life. Here he is at the end of a very rough summer. He has been weaker than usual because his seizures had been increasing. He didn’t want to go in because he had a few seizures that day and he was weak and a bit tired. I wondered if I should get a placard for the times he may want to go in and a long walk to the store would be too hard for him. What about me? Some days I can barely make it down my hall to the bathroom but I worry because neither of us “look” handicap. I had a crazy vision where someone deciding to do their own sort of “justice” was yelling at me for parking in a handicap spot as I unload my kids since I may not give the world some sort of visual confirmation of our need for a placard. There is no membership card for a chronic illness club. I guess it’s best I wait. We’d be okay a while longer, I guess.  I try not to take the kids out alone, it’s too hard on my body. So I thought about another topic; how sad this summer was and how we really didn’t do anything fun. I apparently wasn’t being very positive on this day.

My thoughts were interrupted by my son spitting. Yes, he has a bad habit. I’m not surprised. He has autism and epilepsy, and I have Tuberous Sclerosis to thank for all of that. He does things to make his Mom squirm, like most kids do, it’s just a bit harder to convince him to give up a bad habit. I try to be as patient as I can because I know he has a lot going on. I am not the master of patience yet, but I was getting a lot of practice in the parking lot this day.

He wasn’t interested in much that evening, including his iPad. When we are waiting for a long stretch I usually play a movie for the kids. We got this van specifically for the DVD players. Unfortunately they stopped working. Not great news for me. It’s helpful for times like these when I am at the receiving end of spit. There would be no way we’d be able to fix the DVD system so I tried not to think about it. It would just make me mad. I pulled out the next best thing to the DVD players, my phone. Technology can sometimes be grand and seeing himself on my phone is always grand for him. We took our picture together. We are two peas in a pod, he and I….

The course of my disease is eerily mirroring the one he has already taken. He took a medication that required eye exams every three months to check for vision loss. I am supposed to do the same but we don’t have vision insurance, so I am hoping for the best. He moved on to another medication after that one failed. It is used to treat cancer. He has to have labs done every three months to make sure the rest of his body is okay with the medication. I’m right behind him with Methotrexate and looking to see if I can start, and most importantly afford, to continue to take it after the first of the year. With all of the gloomy thoughts, I’m thankful his smile can put a smile on my face.

I flipped through the photos we took and wondered if my face looked a bit more round than usual. I had been on predisone for a while and I’d rather blame the medication for any noticeable fullness in my face instead of my late night snacking. I noticed how tiny my son looks in the picture. We were at the store so his Daddy could go in to buy him his breakfast shakes. It’s the only thing he will consume consistently. We buy them to supplement his diet. It isn’t cheap but it helps him maintain his weight.

That reminded me to check our bank account. “I hope there is enough in there to buy what he needs,” I thought. I sighed and took a long look at the summer sun. It will be sad to see it go. I wished we both felt good enough to enjoy it. We did miss a lot but we do have this picture together. We can certainly look the part but rarely does anyone really know what’s behind a photo.

There is usually a story behind our photos, as there are stories behind many things in our life that no one knows about. I’m smiling but I am always thinking about our health, money, the future, and sometimes regret. I try not to be negative but it’s hard not to be on occasion. The great thing is that he can always find a way to remind me how to be happy despite the flurry of thoughts that often bring my spirits down. It’s as simple for him as taking a photo with his very best smile. Although it won’t be that easy for me, I am certainly going to give it a try. Someday we may look back at this photograph among others, and I want him to know there was a genuine smile on my face, and he was one of the reasons why. I am blessed for every last moment, even uneventful ones like this time when he and I can take a moment, forget our troubles, and smile. “Cheeeeese!!!”

*d*