Bad Luck, Beautiful Blessings

Before you read my blog about bad luck, you must know that when I originally posted it on Facebook, it was deleted by their algorithm because “it looked like spam.” Thank you Facebook for really driving the point home about my inherent lack of luck. I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony! I responded to their “Support” Message indicating that my blog was not spam and they restored my post several days later. Naturally, I had to edit my blog to include these series of events. Life makes me laugh.

 

I have often wondered if my mother gave birth to me under a ladder, with a black cat resting on her belly, while the OBGYN spilled salt and held a cracked mirror to capture the visual of my beautiful birth. I am not the person you take to Vegas if you hope to win. I AM the person you take to Vegas if you need someone to laugh at. I’m the one who falls off the riser during a choir concert, breaks her arm in an alumni game, sleeps through a college final, gives the wrong date for the house party, gives the wrong address for the house party, suffers a computer crash and loses the 18-page term paper that’s due the next day, gets pulled over as a suspect for a car wash burglary, gets busted at a concert for taking a picture of the band while everyone else is consuming illegal drugs, has her blog post about bad luck deleted by Facebook’s algorithm (yes this just happened), and starts desensitization therapy for a life-limiting bug phobia while contracting lice the same week. I am that person!

As I grow older and reminisce on my last 37 (or so) years, and how I ended up where I am now, a mom of 2 precious children, with a husband I adore, and a job I enjoy more often than not, I can’t help but acknowledge that I’ve never been a lucky person, but I’ve always been blessed. I have travelled through many painful moments, life-altering circumstances, and dark seasons, yet in every one of them I have witnessed blessings that illustrate divine intervention in my life over and over again. I could write a book of these events, but let me start with one.

I was in graduate school for my Master’s in Social Work with a clear goal to work for Hospice of the Valley (HOV) and to eventually become independently licensed so that I could open up my own private practice. It was my second year and I was fortunate enough to have a connection at Hospice of the Valley. Generally, a master’s level student who interned for HOV was hired to work for them after graduation, so I was thrilled to have a colleague who put me in touch with the Director.

During this busy season I was also in the midst of a divorce and struggling to keep school, a full-time job, and my sanity on the up-swing. Naturally, this was the optimal time for a beastly toothache…the kind that can’t tolerate the cool air that comes with breathing in (AKA surviving). Like most “normal” people, I have a serious disdain for dentists and needles. I went weeks with a throbbing face before I finally gave in and made an appointment to see the sadistic and evil tooth monster. In the interim, I had gratefully run across an old prescription of Darvocet that my ex-husband left in our cabinet, and would take a pill every once in a while so that I could eat (AKA surviving). As I anxiously awaited the dental appointment, I attended school, went to work, and pursued my internship opportunity.

Amidst the daily chaos, I received a call from the Director of HOV to schedule an interview, and I was thrilled. The interview went well and she asked when I could start. I was ready to begin immediately, so she enrolled me in training and I went in for my fingerprinting and drug test as soon as possible. The following week I attended training and fell in love with everything about the company’s philosophy, vision, and mission. Then, the unthinkable (and I literally mean, this did NOT cross my mind for a second) happened.

I was driving home from work when I received a call from the lab. After brief introductions, the friendly man on the phone asked, “do you have a prescription for Darvocet?” I couldn’t see straight as I realized what I had done. My mind was screaming, “this cannot be happening!” I told the lab technician that I had taken my ex-husbands Darvocet a few times for a terrible toothache and that I even had a dentist appointment the following week for a suspected root canal. For a brief moment I actually thought I could talk him into bending the rules for me because it was, after all, an innocent mistake and I had been in a lot of pain and I’m a good person, and he should unquestionably know all of this without ever having met me! Certainly I can make him believe all my good intentions, because this couldn’t be happening to my dream…my career…my 5 year plan!! Let’s get real folks! I was applying for an internship where I would be working with exorbitant amounts of controlled substances every day, so of course my urinalysis was reported as “dirty” and my dreams to work for HOV disappeared with 1 phone call. I will never forget the crushing feeling. I pulled my car over as I was sobbing too hard to safely drive, and I called the friend who had put her reputation on the line to refer me. I slobbered on my phone. I blubbered. I ugly cried and hit my steering wheel and hated myself with fervor. “How could I be so stupid?! How did I not even THINK about this possibility. How was I getting a higher education and still capable of being such a complete and utter clueless moron!?” I truly believed I had destroyed my chances of being in the profession I had been called to and I was beside myself with grief. I had lost my dream.

But, God had a redemption story in mind. From this incredibly disappointing crossroads, I ended up searching for a profession outside my comfort zone. I began a job I NEVER would have considered before, and that job ended up uncovering gifts I didn’t know I had and a passion I thought had burned out long ago. From this unexpected turn of events I was set on a path I never could’ve found nor even looked for on my own, and I was challenged to grow in leaps and bounds and supported in ways that made me feel stronger and more capable than I had ever felt in my life. I can look back now and see that my strengths would not have been utilized in direct practice and my emotional health would’ve been at risk in a hospice environment. What I thought was one of my biggest failures, the most unlucky of events, the curse of my salty birth, turned out to be one of God’s biggest triumphs as he showed me that He always has a plan and His plan is always good. Divine intervention has brought me to where I am today in many ways. This is just one of countless moments where God has steered the ship of my life to a place I could never have navigated. God used the illegal (although innocent) use of controlled substances to change the course of my life for the better. Thanks God! You’re hilarious!

What I’ve observed over and over in my life is that a lack of luck is not a curse. A lack of luck opens the door wide open for God to step in and forge his will in my life. For every trial there is blessing. For every pile of ashes there is beauty.

Thank God I failed my drug test!

 

Grief Keeps Giving. Grace Keeps Saving.

Burt, it’s April and I miss you.

I love celebrating your life but I hate that I have to.

It’s hard to describe the shadows that creep in late at night, while I lay awake unguarded. The harrowing memories that plague my tired mind. It starts before I even consciously realize that we’ve slipped into April. It’s as if everything shifts. The air is thicker, the mood cloudier, the dreams lonelier, the heart heavier, the words insufficient. Like clockwork the grief creeps forward, relentlessly gaining intensity with each passing second. It’s difficult to explain the trembling in my voice that appears this time of year. I may have told a thousand stories that included your name, but in April I can’t even silently think of you without tears welling up in my worn out eyes. It’s as if the valiant effort my mind put forth all year to shrink that permanent hole in my life was all in vain…completely upended as the hole burrows deeper and wider overnight. I am flooded with the realness, the pain, the emptiness that comes with no longer having you here. It’s as if I’m flung back to that day 5 years ago and I have suddenly forgotten how to cope…forgotten the miles I’ve traveled in healing…forgotten how to live with the sorrow that visits always uninvited.

There are no words to adequately describe the aching I feel in my spirit to see you again…hear your laugh, hug your neck, listen to your stories, tell you mine, introduce you to your darling niece and nephews. There’s no stopping the flow of tears as I imagine how much you would love these precious little ones that have been born since you departed, and how much they would love you back. Just last night I read The Book With No Pictures to Isaac, the nephew you kissed on the knee as you passed in the stars. I couldn’t help but imagine the hilarious voices you would’ve invented while reading this book and how much he would’ve relished in your time together. I try to do it justice, to make you proud, to give Isaac a glimpse of the joy and silliness you brought into our lives. I give it my all even while fighting back the quiver in my voice.

I love that your legacy lives on in your family and friends, but I hate that you left a legacy so soon.

Your birthday is in April.

The last time I saw your smiling face and heard your voice was in April, on Easter Sunday, when we announced that I was pregnant.The last letter you wrote me arrived in April. It was red ink, with capital letters, in your beautiful architectural hand writing, clearly expressing your excitement that your baby sister was going to be a mom. You passionately described the unconditional love that comes with parenthood. This letter…the last letter you wrote to me still explodes with adoration for your beautiful girls.

Then there is May.

You left us in May. The last text message you sent the family was on May 11th, the same day you died. While we were celebrating dad’s 70th birthday, you were being greeted by Jesus. The call I will never forget came the morning of May 12th. It was Mother’s Day…it was a day of mere survival because the unthinkable had happened…you had not survived. We delivered your eulogy on the 21st day of May.

I hate these anniversaries.

Every year, for 2 months I feel myself receding into the shadows where words are meager and bitterness clings to the tip of my tongue. I’m tempted to numb the vivid memories of this trauma with hollow distractions and senseless behaviors. For 2 months a year I spend sleepless nights soaking my pillow with tears of regret, anxiety, anger, fear, heartbreak. For 2 months a year I can no longer fight off the visuals of your death, your viewing, your casket being lowered into the ground, your daughters faces as I drove them to the cemetery. For 2 months a year I’m reminded of the agony I felt completing menial daily tasks after you passed. I’m reminded of the first time I showered after your death and how I despised myself for any sense of relief I felt as the warm water poured over me. I couldn’t shake the guilt that came with knowing that you lost your life in a bitter cold river and now I was allowing this same hijacker of life…this water…rain over me as a source of comfort, washing away my tears. For 2 months a year I think back to that time I couldn’t bare to use punctuation because it felt too final. As if the energy it took to end a sentence was more than I could muster. For 2 months a year the dam breaks wide open and I can’t fight back the sobs or run from the gripping sadness.

Then, the strangest and most unexpected gift is given. Somewhere in the middle of those 2 months I find solace because you ALWAYS show up. You show up in a dream that someone shares with me. You show up in a Bob Marley song that’s playing in a random boutique I step foot in for the first time. You show up in a memory I had forgotten about. You show up in a picture I’ve never seen. You show up in a story I’ve never heard. You show up in a beautiful building that I instantly imagine you creating. You show up in a whisper reminding me that I must not take a moment for granted. I feel you standing beside me. You dare me to self-reflect on my attitude, my complaints, my propensity to take the blessings around me for granted. I picture your smiling face and imagine all I would give to prevent you from taking that hike by yourself…I imagine how many more breaths you could’ve had…should’ve had…and I’m convinced once again that I must use my time and the gift of life wisely and in honor of you. You show up during those 2 months to confirm once again that God’s grace is sufficient for me and His power is made perfect in my weakness.

It is during these wearisome months that it becomes crystal clear how God uses each heart wrenching moment to remind me of the preciousness of life. Every year, by His grace, I experience supernatural strength and peace to push through the months of tears and the nights laying awake thinking of you and what I would sacrifice to have you with us again. He comforts me in my most vulnerable time of need and assures me that one day we will meet again and it will be a reunion more beautiful than I could ever imagine. He joins me in my grief and assures me that my grief is not without hope. This year He gave me a song on Easter Sunday and it consumed my soul as I sang from the depths of my mourning heart, “death where is your sting?!” As I sang, with my arms reached high I imagined you with open arms ready to embrace me when it’s my time to journey home. He draws me into Him and I feel close to you again.

Burt, it’s April and I feel you near.

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Burton James Little

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – 1 Pete 5:10

 

I Just Can’t With This Meme

You guys.

I can’t with this meme.

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God “allows” violence in our schools as much as He “allows” sin in our hearts, disease in our body, natural disasters on our planet, tragedy in our lives. We live in a broken world. This place…this place is earth. This place is temporary. Death is the only sure thing in this place.

God’s goodness and grace are not swayed by our decisions.

God’s grace doesn’t come in levels based on our capacity to win His approval. God is not doling out certain amounts of grace based on our ability to please Him. The Kingdom of God is not an institution based on merit. God doesn’t use sticks and carrots. We are not earning His grace…He has already given it to us at Christ’s expense. 

God is not deciding who He will save or love. He already decided that His love was for everyone when He gave His son to save the whole world. God loves without boundaries and desires salvation for every one without prejudice. God is not punishing anyone. He is not turning His back on His creation. There is nothing we can do to earn more love from God and there’s nothing we can do that would cause Him to love us less.

God is love. GOD IS LOVE! And, if God is love and His love is limitless, then He most certainly is NOT “allowing” His precious creation to be murdered because of lack of prayer in school.

Also, if you believe that God is limited in His omniscient presence because someone said He’s not “allowed,” then we believe in a very different God. My God is NEVER powerless! He doesn’t restrain the outreach of His Spirit based on human laws or behavior.  He is ALL and everywhere and everything. He is ever-present! He is in countries that don’t allow Christians and He is in schools that don’t allow prayer. He is not bound by our limitations!

The brokenness we encounter in our life is the result of sin entering the world. God is NOT requiring a ransom of murdered children to atone for our removal of prayer from schools!! Even if removing prayer from school was a sin, the truth is that the power of sin was defeated when Jesus rose from the grave! 

He gave His son for our redemption but He does not force our hands with manipulation, bribery, or abuse. He does not pour riches on us when we choose to believe nor does He threaten us, disappear, or withhold His love when we have no faith. God is not deciding if my behavior today warrants a punishment or a blessing. He doesn’t sit idly by scoffing while our children die. That is not my God. He does not point fingers and say, “I told you so.” He is not answering our cries by responding that He can’t show up or be with us unless we’ve done all the right things, made all the right choices, prayed all the right prayers. God is merciful and He mourns with us as we endure an imperfect journey in this imperfect place.

I imagine non-Christians seeing this meme and immediately thinking, “what a limited God you believe in. What an unkind, uncaring, brutal God you worship.” I want everyone to know that my God’s love is bigger than laws. My God stops at nothing to show His mercy and grace and love. My God is not controlled or constrained by earthly governance.

This is who I believe God is and I won’t allow Him to be misrepresented. He saved me and He saves me every day. When the image of God is distorted I just can’t remain silent. He is love and His love cannot be silenced, disallowed, or removed by humankind.

Thank you Lord for being unshakeable, unmovable, and steadfast in your love no matter the time, place, or condition of our hearts!

God is Not American

God is not American. God is not Republican or Democrat.

God is Love!

God is not discord and He is not mere tolerance. God is not rash, arrogant or hypocritical. God is not disgust and He is not despair or hopelessness. God is not a wall-builder, a divider, a nationalist or populist. God is neither bitter nor disagreeable. God is not apathetic, harsh, or dishonest. God is not unjust or biased. He is not an enabler and He is not permissive. God is not an ideologue. He is not offensive or defensive. God is neither limited nor narrow-minded. God is not fear, anger, or hate.

God is Love!

God is not interested in our rationalizations for treating one another as if His signature is missing from those who don’t match the color of our skin, speak our dialect, share our faith, practice our politics, or perceive the world through the same set of lenses. God is not eager to discover our motivations for marrying our political ideologies, our religious doctrine, our worldly principles, our preferred talking points, or our cultural philosophies over being the reflection of His image on the earth. God is not fascinated with our flimsy justifications for doggedly declaring, “I’m right and you’re wrong” at the expense of loving one another as His unique and lovely creatures.

God is love and He is captivated by His creation. He longs for us to begin looking to Him as our Navigator through this broken world. God is knocking at the door of our hearts and with arms open wide he waits for us to invite him in. God is interested in seeing us love one another, fully and unconditionally, as brothers and sisters. He hungers to witness us ministering life through empathy, joining one another in the mire and sharing the burden of each other’s difficult journeys. He yearns for us to place our identity in Him, which translates into being “for love” and against no one. His deep desire is to watch us spread the good news of the Gospel, the love of Jesus Christ, to every soul we come into contact with, both near and far.

As a lover of Jesus, I have been struggling with many questions. “During this vitriolic time in our country, what is my responsibility?” “How do I stand up for what I believe is right without permitting anger in my heart, irritation on my face and indignation in my tone?” “What am I called to do when I feel The Lord is being misrepresented by those who claim to be Christians?” “How can I effectively advocate for justice from a place of love and grace?” “How can I ‘fight’ for the disadvantaged without fighting?” “How do I stand firm on The Truth without letting the desire to ‘be right’ get in the way?” “How can I protect the persecuted without taking a combative posture?” “How can I be a light in the midst of the darkness?”

I believe the answer is love.

I openly confess that in all my humanness and raw, mortal emotion there are days I witness the events erupting around me and I find myself brimming with resentment, fear, disgust, and a sadness that borders despondency. My blood pressure rises, my heart races, my palms sweat, the tears flow, my voice shakes, my countenance falls and I feel a boiling under the surface that I know is not from The Lord. Before I project my cynicism on social media or detonate my negativity onto my closest circle of influence I occasionally (by the grace of God) stop and pray, and it is only then, that I can hear His voice speak to my soul.

He says, “Be still and know that I am God.”

In this moment, as I ask The Lord to quiet my aching soul, I’m cautioned that hate never delivers the heart to a place of compassion or freedom. I am reminded that although fear may produce a change in behavior, it is not the catalyst our Father uses to break chains and heal wounds. I begin to recognize that as I fill my heart and mind with the world’s perspective I become bogged down in the mire of human capacity and a darkness that can only be shaken off with God’s truth. I hear him calling me to calm my mind, turn off the ideas of this world, and tune into him…resting in His heart. I hear him calling me to boldly confess my short-comings and to rely on Him for transformation.  He calls me to release the heaviness in my heart and the chaos of my mind to Him, because He alone, is big enough to crush the burdens of this world. He calls me to fix my heart on the unveiled Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of supernatural hope and grace, peace and love. He calls me to surrender my angst to Him because He is God and I am not. He calls me to be brave in my speech of what His GRACE (God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense) has done in my life. He calls me to reject cynicism and follow His lead to a place of unfaltering worthiness, restoration, peace, understanding, inclusion, vulnerability, transparency, forgiveness, and humility. He calls me to divorce the things of this world; the ideas, the politics, the idols, the dogma I have married myself to, and at times, unintentionally worshipped. He calls me to produce fruit at a capacity that only His Spirit living in my heart can yield.

God is Love and the fruits of His Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

There is an innate goodness deposited in us as God’sc reation, yet there is an immense gulf between our limited human range and the boundless embodiment of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that is found in Him alone. Jesus came as a gift from the Father to span this gap and make the impossible possible. He can enable us to love as He loves, which is a perfect love. God is everything we cannot be on our own. He is everything we cannot WILL ourselves to be, but when we draw near to Him, we can more effectively and more consistently bear this fruit.

The fruit of His Spirit is love – A love that cherishes diversity as God’s creative genius and delights in the beauty of His glorious masterpiece we call the human race. A love that breaks through the resistance in our hearts, splitting us wide open to receive and expend radical love and healing transformation. A love that devotedly tends to those whom God weeps for. A love that revolutionizes relationships and builds bridges across the chasms of loneliness. A love that cherishes neighbors near and far and allows a tenderness to flow from our lips, regardless of disparities in position.

The fruit of His Spirit is joy – A joy that calls us to a hopeful expectancy of God’s plan for our lives and fastens our eyes on His light in the most somber hours. A joy that lifts our spirits to pinnacles unseen regardless of the valley our blistered feet trek. A joy that springs from our souls even while clouds hang low and cast shadows across our vision of the present and the future. A joy that delights in The Lord and each other. A joy that is steadfast while the world preaches hopelessness. A joy that incites our hearts to rejoice and our feet to dance without inhibition or justification. A joy that cannot be muted by the roaring chaos around us.

The fruit of His Spirit is peace – A peace that hushes the hurry and calls us to calmly and deeply breathe in the tranquil Spirit of our Father. A peace that quietly visits our inner-most being while the winds howl and life beats on our backs. A peace that enables unity and disables discord. A peace that paints our surroundings with a soft serenity and a mysterious stillness that allows us to hear the voice of our Father. A peace that plays notes of harmony to our souls and songs of contentment to our hearts. A peace that slows the eagerness of reactivity and quickens the passion for proactive love.

The fruit of His Spirit is patience – A patience that envelops us in God’s timing and silences the ticking clock of our mind’s desired agenda. A patience that lifts us beyond the deadlines of this world and embraces us with the beautiful vision of eternity in God’s presence. A patience that restrains our individual motives and humbly seeks God’s purpose for our lives. A patience that steadily waits on the wisdom of the Lord before rushing forward to speak or act. A patience that dauntlessly faces agitators with persevering humility.

The fruit of His Spirit is kindness – A kindness that surpasses common decency and pours out a spirit of charity. A kindness that shines from the eyes and expels warmth before words are ever spoken. A kindness that reminds us that no sin can steal away the beauty of God’s creation. A kindness that urges philanthropic diligence and devoted thoughtfulness towards others. A kindness that passionately flows from our deeds of generosity, fairness, justness, mercifulness, and soft-heartedness. A kindness that compassionately shows others their value in the eyes of the Lord.

The fruit of His Spirit is goodness – A goodness that transcends political policy and religious law and guides our behavior to be a reflection of Jesus, who fed the poor, healed the sick, ate with sinners, and died to forgive those who murdered him. A goodness that separates us from common mores and conduct. A goodness that generously offers grace and practices integrity when no one is watching. A goodness that chooses honesty even at the cost of preserving one’s dignity.

The fruit of His Spirit is faithfulness – A faithfulness that pledges its allegiance to the love of God over country and self. A faithfulness that adheres to the heart of The Lord versus gripping onto ideologies. A faithfulness that goes beyond the ideals held in high regard by this world. A faithfulness dedicated to spreading the light of Jesus to the dark corners of the earth. A faithfulness that is dedicated to God’s calling on our lives, to love Him and love others, living out The Gospel of Jesus Christ. A faithfulness that is earnest in remaining open to the work God wishes to complete in our hearts. A faithfulness that seeks sincere and reverent worship to The One who compels us to recognize our sinful nature and forgives our trespasses.

The fruit of His Spirit is gentleness – A gentleness that tenderly brushes tear-soaked hair away from the face of a widow. A gentleness that sees the pain behind the eyes of a madman. A gentleness that reaches out to rage with a soft touch and affectionate words. A gentleness that carefully weighs the consequences of words and deeds and approaches conflict with loving caution. A gentleness that delicately approaches the enraged while recognizing that behind that hardened façade lays a fragile soul. A gentleness that responds to this harsh world with civility and addresses hurtful campaigns with grace and elegance.

The fruit of His Spirit is self-control – A self-control that enables our minds to remain poised in the midst of a hailstorm of slander. A self-control that calls on God’s mercy before our judgement. A self-control that guides our intentions with an understanding that unrecognized nuances often result in inappropriate conjecture and false conclusions. A self-control that remains dignified when the ugliness of the world unleashes its fury. A self-control that abstains from jumping into conflict with the desire to point fingers and place blame. A self-control that restrains words and deeds with a love that is supernaturally stead-fast.

I have conceded that I cannot wholly bear the Spirit’s fruit without The Gardener. I can try with all my finite fortitude to “be better” and “do better,” but the truth, His Truth, is that I cannot transform my own heart. There is Godliness in me because I was created in His image, but I am marred. I have the capacity to love, give, rejoice, find peace, practice patience, show kindness, display goodness, model faithfulness, demonstrate gentleness, and exhibit self-control, but I also have glaring deficits in relation to all of these fruits. My insufficiencies are not proof that I am contemptible and worthy of shame, but rather a testament to the fact that I’m human and broken. I cannot reflect His perfect image and fully accomplish that which He calls me to do without his endless supply of grace and unwarranted favor. On any given day, in true sinner’s fashion, I may not represent any fruits of His Spirit. My heart only lines up with His, when I die to myself and find freedom in His grace. Sadly, I acknowledge that there are times I don’t even pursue the seeds of His fruit as I lazily allow myself to be spoon-fed the noxious produce of the world. So, I continue to fervently pray:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Please straighten my path and place a longing in my heart to draw nearer to you. When I’ve allowed the noise of the world to penetrate my heart and mind, please silence the clamor and give me a relentless desire to seek an intimate relationship with you. Please transform the areas of my heart that fall short of your glory. Give me the strength to fervently pursue you and the harvest of your heart. Guard me from being swept up in the news of the day only to forget that unwavering hope and eternal life is in you and that your love is the only path to deliverance from the world’s heavy yoke. Help me to be an expression of your love and when I tell my story let it be a story of you.  Give me your heart of forgiveness and teach me how to love those I’ve self-righteously judged as unlovable. Lord, please crush the spirit of judgment that lurks in the recesses of my mind and give me an ability to see your beauty in every living being. Purify my heart so that I will be unwilling and unable to criticize. Fill me with an unlimited ability to express your love under all conditions to all people. Lord, please help me to abide in your presence so that you can produce your fruits in my life and prune the dead branches away. Please help me to accurately and fully represent your compassionate heart. Grow a tireless desire in my soul to escape the shallow grave of human emotion and arrive to a place where you instill your authentic agape love in the very core of my being. Please teach me how to be an example of your unfailing and radical love. Help me to love without qualifiers. Show me the way to you in every situation. Lord, guide me in your will and break me free from the chains of anger and worldly perspectives. Help me to look to you first in all circumstances. Lord, please forgive me for my quick tongue and the need to be right and replace my mortal desires with the passions of your heart. Protect me from the harshness that attempts to penetrate my core on a daily basis. Please soften my heart towards those I don’t understand and show me how to see others, hear others and love others as you do.  Heavenly father give me a heart of tenderness and guide me through rough waters with peace. Help me to be selfless in my love and persistent in my relationship with you, my Navigator, my Gardener, my Father. I love you Lord!

In Jesus’ name,

Amen!

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My Testimony

For 34 years, I described my faith as “inherited.” I spent a significant amount of my adult life wrestling with my convictions and whether or not my spiritual life was solely a result of my upbringing. I openly shared with other Christian friends the desire to have a faith that was my own, a faith I experienced first hand, a faith I had heard so many others enthusiastically proclaim from the pulpit after encountering a miracle in the midst of their life’s “rock bottom.” I longed for something to strengthen my spiritual walk…I longed to know The Lord in a way so real that there would be no room for doubt….I longed for a testimony that I couldn’t ignore or explain away. I always sensed deep down that to secure my faith, I would need a moment where everything changed….saved by something supernatural, something undeniably bigger than myself. I spent many years praying for that moment and that it would forever obliterate my lingering uncertainty. I prayed for a testimony that I could share with passion and authenticity.

I was 12 weeks pregnant with our first baby and it was 7am on Mother’s Day when my phone rang. I saw that it was my sister-in-law and immediately assumed she was calling to wish me my first “Happy Mother’s Day.” I answered the phone and cheerfully said, “Happy Mother’s Day Nicole,” but in a distant and shaky voice she responded by asking if I was with my husband and if she could speak to him instead. As my husband held the phone, I thought I heard her whisper, “Burt’s dead.” My mind immediately began rejecting the sights and sounds around me as I watched the color drain from my husband’s face and listened to him vehemently repeat, “that’s not funny….stop…why are you saying that?” He left the room and I watched the walls close in around me as the world disappeared. I somehow summoned the courage and the strength to walk from my bedroom to the living room as my husband returned from the porch and somehow conveyed to me that my brother had died in a tragic accident. Reality ripped through me like a jagged knife and I my heart was left severed…barely beating. Soul shattering pain has a sound. It’s deafening silence is filled with cries so raw they don’t sound human. Grief has a taste and a texture. It is sharp and unforgiving. It is bitter but necessary to survive. Tragedy alters your senses forever. I began trembling in an effort to reject the truth as I begged, “you must’ve misunderstood…that could not have happened…he’s probably hurt and in the hospital, but he’s not dead!” I insisted that my husband call the chaplain to get the correct information…information I could live with. I was absolutely convinced there had been a horrible mistake…an incomprehensible misunderstanding and that another phone call would clear up all of the confusion, loss, and darkness. With another call it was confirmed that we were now facing the most harrowing weeks of our lives. I fell to my knees in the middle of the floor, crying out in a voice I didn’t recognize, shaking and rocking as if my body was incapable of absorbing another breath. My husband placed a blanket around my shoulders as if my trembling could be rectified with physical warmth. Screams escaped the deepest part of my being, “not my family! This doesn’t happen to us! This doesn’t happen to us!! What about my mom!? Where’s my mom?! It’s Mother’s Day! Not us! Not us! Not my brother! My mom! Where’s my mom?!” Even 3 years later, when I think back to that horrifying day it’s as if I’m separated from it all and watching from a dark detached place. From afar I can see my mom at my front door trembling with disbelief. I watch my little brother kick open the front door, throw his hat across the room and embrace my mom and I with arms that would never hug our brother in this world again. The sorrow is tangible. The pain audible. I used to hear stories of loss or watch tragedy on the news and say, “I can’t imagine!” and I was right…I truly could never have imagined how horrific unexpected grief would be. Even now that I’ve lived through something traumatic, there’s a barrier my soul has created to protect me from fully re-imagining the devastation. When I let my mind wander, I still cannot conceive surviving the kind of loss my family has already survived. It’s as if what we endured that day was from a separate life…a life once removed and even though we made it to the other side I cannot fathom weathering another tragedy like the loss of my brother.

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My brother and his beautiful family

Five months after Burt’s passing, my little brother (Ryan) and I flew to Seattle to tour where our older brother had spent the last year of his life. We ate his favorite food at his favorite restaurants, took his favorite hikes, and visited where he had very happily worked for the year before we lost him.

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Ryan and I on Burt’s favorite hike

It was a beautiful and gut-wrenching trip. As we waited in the airport for our flight home we reminisced about the emotional yet healing trip we had just encountered. I was flooded with emotion when I finally worked up the nerve to ask Ryan, “How do you know Burt is ok? How do you know God is real? How do you KNOW that you know?” Void of judgment, my younger brother shared with me that he knew Burt was ok because he knows The Lord is real and that his personal relationship with God our Father has made his faith strong. With the few tears I had left, I admitted to Ryan that I didn’t have this faith but that I had longed for it for years. I confessed, “I don’t know that The Lord is real. I don’t know that Burt is ok or that there’s a heaven. I have so much doubt and I want to have peace. I have no peace and I’m scared.” Ryan and I had a powerfully honest and vulnerable conversation and he promised he would be praying that I would find the assurance and peace I was seeking. There was no way for me to imagine the turn my life would take, the challenges I would face, the fear that would soon flood my heart and mind.

Shortly after our trip I became completely debilitated with a chronic migraine that stole my life for months. I wasn’t just weak or weary…I was profoundly incapacitated. After having our son, Isaac Burton, we moved in with my parents. I was unable to work, unable to drive, unable to run a simple errand or clean my house. I was unable to do most of the things we take for granted every day. The loss I experienced from no longer being able to participate in everyday tasks didn’t hold a candle to the grief I felt due to not being able to care for my one and only newborn baby boy. I couldn’t provide the basic things a mother gives her child. I couldn’t feed my son, I couldn’t bathe him or play with him or even laugh with him. I couldn’t comfort my son when he cried. I was soon on 10 different medications whose side effects made me so ill I lost 40lb in less than 2 months. I saw multiple chiropractors, acupuncturists, reflexologists, massage therapists, dentists, endodontists, 6 different neurologists, visited the ER 3 times and was finally hospitalized for infusion therapy for 3 days with zero progress. It was after this hospitalization that my husband drove his spiritless wife back to her parent’s house while she was swallowed by a dark abyss.

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How I spent most of my days for 5 months

A day or two after my hospitalization my brother and sister-in-law brought dinner over for the whole family. My pain was too extreme and the multiple meds I was on made me too sick to eat, so I retreated to my parents room and laid down on their bed. My brother soon followed to offer me a head and shoulder massage in the hopes that he could give me a little relief from the constant pain I had been living with for months. My brother began praying over me and although I don’t remember his words, I do remember the tears of desperation and hoping with all of my being that the power of his prayer would lead to that miraculous testimony I had been longing for. I was imploring the Lord for a miracle.

The next day, as I was taking a shower, fear hopelessness and suffering poured out of me in angry and desperate cries. This moment became the darkest and most isolating time I have ever experienced. The minor physical relief I felt while in the shower magnified the emotional pain of knowing that this relief was only temporary and that my quality of life would once again disintegrate as soon as I stepped out of the shower. I began to sob so uncontrollably that my mom and dad heard me from the living room. My mom opened the bathroom door and hesitantly asked me if I was ok and I could barely choke out a “no.” She offered me an over-sized fresh towel, but I was well beyond physical comforts. Soon, my husband came into the bathroom. He pulled back the curtain and said, “Renee’ talk to me.” All I could utter, over and over and over as I held myself in the fetal position on the shower floor, was

I can’t go on….I’m giving up…I can’t go on….I’m giving up…I can’t go on…I’m giving up.”

I explained that if this was living, then I did NOT want to live and that Isaac deserved a mommy who could care for him, play with him, laugh with him. I told him that the only future my mind’s eye held was one where I lied in a bed watching Isaac grow up while he watched me whither into nothingness. I had come to believe that I if I went on living I would do so without being a part of my son’s life and that I couldn’t bare the thought of deteriorating in front of him. I can say without any dramatization that in that moment I wanted to die and I was ready to go…begging The Lord to take me and my suffering and the suffering I was causing and would continue to cause to those who loved me. With fear and determination in his eyes, Pete said, “I will not listen to you talk like this! I will not let you give up or let go. You’re going to get dressed and we’re going for a walk right now.” We took that walk while I barely had the strength to hold myself upright but I could not be convinced there was hope so I continued to repeat,

I can’t go on….I’m giving up.”

Before my hospitalization I had been gifted a massage with a therapist who travelled to her client’s houses. Having had no improvement from the help of some of the most prominent neurologists in the country there was nothing to lose so I called the therapist and made an appointment shortly after my discharge. Just a few hours after I had proclaimed I was giving up and could not go on, the therapist (Valerie) arrived at my parents house and we met for the first time. She set up her table in my parents room and then asked permission to pray with Pete and I. The three of us stood together in unity and Valerie prayed that the massage would be physically and most importantly emotionally healing. My eyes were almost swollen shut from crying as I laid down on her table. Thirty minutes into the massage Valerie whispered, “I’m going to say something that will probably sound really strange and I hope that’s ok. I’ve never had anything like this happen before, but I feel like I need to share something with you.” Not knowing what to think or expect I tentatively responded, “ok?”

I feel your brother here and he’s saying that you have to keep going and you can’t give up. You have to keep going! You cannot give up! Have you been thinking of giving up?”

In that instant, I was released from the claws of darkness that had extinguished my hope. In that moment the belief that all was lost was replaced with a promise for the future. In that breath my faith was set in concrete and my doubt was destroyed. Without any knowledge that just hours before I had uttered those exact words, Valerie spoke Truth to my shattered heart. As tears soaked my face, I soaked in the certainty that I would see my brother again and that I would one day be an active and healthy mother to my son. Valerie continued, “Burt and The Lord want you to know that this is just for now. It is not forever. This trial will equip you to be there for others in a way that you would not have been able to without this experience. The Lord is preparing you to be a witness for others…to give hope to others. This is just for now. It is not forever.” She then asked me a question I never would’ve considered. She asked if I had believed the lies of hopelessness…if I had let the spirit of suicide into my thoughts. When I confirmed that I had been consumed by fear and despair she offered me the chance to repent. I had never before thought of the need to repent, but I realized then that I had spent months choosing to believe words from the enemy instead of the promises from My Father. Valerie lead me through a prayer asking for His forgiveness and for His strength and grace to keep my eyes on Him no matter how long my pain lingered. We prayed that I would never again enter that place of desolation and that He would make his plan for my life come alive.

I need to be clear that this supernatural experience didn’t come with physical healing. My pain did not go away. I did not start taking care of my son. I did not go back to work. This was a mental, spiritual, and emotional healing that could be physically felt by those around me. My mom later shared that after my massage she felt a dark cloud lift from our home. My husband agreed that he felt a peace in me he hadn’t had a glimpse of in months. I was a new woman inside. I had a gripping faith. My heart and mind were filled with radiant hope. I had experienced the Lord in a way I never had before and I knew I would one day be whole again. I knew my brother was with our Lord and that he was with me…with us and that one day I would see him, laugh with him, embrace him again.

Shortly after this life-changing event I shared my story with a dear friend. We both cried as I recounted the supernatural change that had taken place in me and then she told me something that made my encounter with The Lord even more genuine and powerful. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she had been at my parent’s house the night my brother prayed over me. She had stopped by to drop off groceries and was told I was in my parent’s room laying down. I recalled someone had been holding my hand while my brother prayed and at the time I assumed it was my mother. My friend shared with me that when she walked into the room there was a wall of suffocating darkness and that it felt like she had walked into my funeral. She said the oppression was palpable and in that moment she knew I was fighting a spiritual battle as well as a physical one. When she left the house she told her husband, “we have to pray for Renee’. She is in a fight for her life.” That night, my friend sensed the destruction I was succumbing to. She had a glimpse of my desire to give up. As she told me her experience I was overcome with awe at the realization that her visit that night and the desperate prayers that followed were a spiritual intervention that literally lifted me from the cold shadows my heart and mind had staggered through for months. It was the very next day that my life was changed forever and I was saved from fear, wariness, and death. When I didn’t have the fortitude to pray there were so many others interceding for me and I will always be grateful for their faithfulness because it was their belief that saved me from my disbelief. It was their conviction that lifted me up to meet and know my God and Savior in a way that transformed me from the inside out.

Even with my heart and soul altered forever I was still living with constant pain and In mid-February, I received a dreaded call from my employer telling me that if I didn’t return to work in 1 week then my job would no longer be protected. As I heard those words from HR, I had 2 thoughts: “This is it, the life I’ve known is over” and then, “Renee’, this is it, God has a plan for your life and you are not in control.” I don’t memorize Bible verses, but my massage therapist later quoted Jeremiah 29:11, “for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but that verse came alive for me and was branded on my soul the split second I heard that I was days away from losing my job. I finally embraced the realization that if I could will myself well it would’ve happened months ago. I acknowledged that I was not in control of what life doled out, but that I could choose how I reacted to the hand I was dealt. I had a choice…I could crumble, lose all hope once again, and accept that the life I dreamed of was over, or I could let it all go, step away from the helm and TRUST that God had a plan for my life and that His plan is always good. Again I felt that supernatural peace and strength wash over me. I realized during that phone call that I truly had no authority over how my life would proceed, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was surrounded by love, and that no matter what happened to my health or my job, The Lord had a plan and he would give me the strength and grace to see that plan through. I felt this truth (Jeremiah 29:11) in my inner core…a truth that gave me a peace so real that I can only describe it as being from God. I spent the rest of the day struggling with how I would tell my husband that I would most likely be unemployed soon, but when I finally gained the courage to say the words out loud, he also sensed that same inexplicable, “crazy” peace. We just KNEW that we KNEW that we would be okay. My husband and I decided that I would attempt to go back to work the following week and we remained prepared to accept that this probably would not be a successful endeavor. The day before my return was like every other day had been. I had the same level of pain and found it difficult to imagine that the next day of waking up early, getting ready, driving myself into work and starting a brand new job would be any degree of manageable. The night before, I took my regular handful of sedating drugs and my nightly bath, but then something different happened. I went to bed with more peace than I had felt in 5 months. As I fell asleep I said a prayer of gratitude. I was thankful that I no longer felt the urge to control what happened to me and that I could unreservedly rest in The Lord and His plans for my life. I could see that He had used my brokenness for something good. He had used this chapter in my life to deliver me from the prison of worry and fear. Releasing apprehension and anxiety from my daily routine was a freedom I had never had in my life. Roman 5:3-4 says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” I was nowhere near rejoicing, but I could finally see how He was using this time in my life to transform me, and I could finally lean into my faith with confidence, because He had made himself so real to me through this trial. The weight of worry had been lifted and I felt lighter.

When I woke up the next morning I was pain free for the first time in 159 days!

I arrived at my new job and although the familiar pain visited me throughout the day, it never came close to what I had withstood day in and day out for 5 months. February 28th, 2014 was the day I finally saw a glimpse of the goodness God had in store for me and I believed God wasn’t just going to give me the strength to live through the pain…He was going to see me through to the other side, and all the while I would be made stronger through the journey. On my way home that day I called the same friend who had been my prayer warrior for so many months and I cried as soon as I heard her voice. I was so overwhelmed with disbelief that I could barely get the words out, “it’s a miracle! There’s no other way to explain it. It’s a miracle! My pain level is manageable! I’m going to be ok! I worked….I can’t believe it…I worked! God is so faithful!” It had been so long since I had been capable of functioning at this level, that I couldn’t stop repeating, “I can’t believe this!” When I walked through my parent’s front door I saw them standing in the foyer anxiously waiting for me to return. I don’t think I was able to get a word out before we were tightly holding onto each other. I realize now that they were there because they knew I would either be ready to celebrate or in urgent need of comforting. I was finally able to tell my parents that I had turned a corner and that one day I would be myself again. The gratefulness, relief and joy we all felt stunned us into silence. The following 7-8 months, I continued to have significant daily pain, but NEVER resembling those previous distressing months. I continued with medications that made me feel terrible and injections in my head to help control the pain, but none of that weighed me down because I was ecstatic to be living again and to be walking with The Lord. We moved back home and began to see our little family develop the way we had always envisioned. I felt nothing but gratitude on the days I would work long hours and then arrive home to take care of my son, because this was far more life than I thought I would ever be capable of living. Even with chronic pain, I was finally in a place where I could be a mother, I could spend time with my family and friends, I could work again!

 

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Home from work and enjoying time with my son!

With several years passing it has become easier to forget how far I’ve come and how much has changed. I must remember what I’ve survived. In 2017 and for every year hereafter, it is my desire to use these lessons in life to shift my perspective to what really matters and avoid complaining about the things that don’t. I also want to use these lessons to remain mindful of the many priceless yet mundane experiences that make up this crazy life. I want to BE PRESENT. I must always remember that right here, right now is precious and beautiful and should never be taken for granted. And, when dark times visit again (which they most certainly will in this damaged world), I must remember that no matter how torn I feel or how dark the clouds around me, The Lord has a plan for my life and it is always good. I am thankful for a testimony I can share with passion and authenticity!

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It is amazing how much can change in 3 years. God has blessed me with this beautiful family and I am forever grateful for His goodness!

One Year Ago

I found myself crying the whole time I wrote this. My intention was to make this post concise, but as I began to reminisce, it didn’t feel right to leave anything out…especially since so many of these memories are the most powerful and life-changing ones I have. I have done my fair share of venting about the chaos at work these last couple of months, including how bummed I was to have to travel on Super Bowl Sunday instead of being with my family and I have grown weary of listening to myself blather about not feeling well the last few weeks. With that being said, I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on where I was this time last year, and I’m shocked and disappointed at how easily I lost my perspective when life got busy! Today, I am choosing to reset how I respond to the stressors in my life, and to jumpstart that reset, all I have to do is take a few minutes to recall what life looked like for me this time last year. One year ago, I was completely debilitated and had been for over 4 months. I wasn’t just weak or weary…I was profoundly incapacitated. I was on approximately 10 different medications whose side effects made me so ill I lost 40lb in less than 2 months. I had seen multiple chiropractors, acupuncturists, reflexologists, massage therapists, dentists, endodontists, 6 different neurologists, visited the ER 3 times and was finally hospitalized for infusion therapy for 3 days with zero progress. I was unable to work, unable to drive, unable to run a simple errand or clean my house. I was unable to do most of the things we take for granted every day. The loss I experienced from no longer being able to participate in everyday tasks didn’t hold a candle to the grief I felt when I couldn’t care for my one and only newborn baby boy, Isaac. I had wanted to be a mother since I was able to push my dolls in a toy stroller and when I finally had the blessed opportunity, I couldn’t provide the basic things a mother gives her child. I couldn’t feed my son, I couldn’t bathe him or play with him or even laugh with him. I couldn’t comfort my son when he cried. My heart breaks as I recall a time I was holding Isaac and accidentally scratched his forehead with my fingernail. He cried so hard and so loud that my dad came running in from another room to hold him, soothe him, and quiet him because the pain I was living with had seized my ability to be my son’s comforter.

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One year ago I sent this email to my Primary Care Physician: I’m happy to tell you that I have a 4 week old beautiful and healthy son. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to enjoy him or take care of him on my own because of chronic migraines that I’ve been having since the beginning of my 3rd trimester. I’m sure that between the loss of my brother during my first trimester and the hormone changes in my body, I presented the perfect breeding ground for migraines. My MRI was normal and although we’ve tried lidocaine shots to my head, acupuncture, reflexology, chiropractic treatments, Imitrex, and a steroid, I’ve had no relief. At this point my neurologist has prescribed me Topomax (so I can no longer nurse my son), and he says it may or may not help, but even if it does help it would be at least 4 weeks before I get any relief. I can’t live in this pain and without the ability to care for my newborn son for another 4 weeks, but the neurologist (Dr. Marzulo) tells me that there are no other options. Even after I’ve researched things like Magnesium, B-12, all the triptans, Amitriptyline…he offers me nothing. Every night I fight the urge to go to the hospital for treatment as I deal with a level 10 migraine. I’ve contacted 3 other recommended neurologists (Dr. Win Toe, Dr. Fechtel, and Barrows Neurology) but it’s weeks before they have openings, and again I just can’t go on like this. I’m truly at my wit’s end and do not know what to do at this point. I was considering going to St Joe’s ER just so that I could get some relief and establish a relationship with a neurologist at Barrows. I’m reaching out to you because I don’t know what else to do and I know that you care about your patients. Do you have any insight or advice? I’m trying my best to advocate for myself and make wise decisions for my new family but I’m at a loss. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you Dr. Smith. I followed my doctor’s advice and went to St. Joe’s emergency room and several weeks after my ER visit, I was admitted to Barrow’s Neurological for infusion therapy. On January 5th, I was discharged from a 3-day stay at Barrows with no improvement. My husband and I decided to move in with my parents so they could help care for our son and their daughter. From the hospital, we stopped by the pharmacy to pick up $1200 worth of meds that, “could help me feel better in 4 weeks,” but in the meantime would make me feel like I was being poisoned. It was in the drive thru pharmacy where I lost all emotional control. I had never been so terrified in my entire life. I was watching my life, and the life of a son I couldn’t bond with, pass me by. It was by far the darkest, scariest, most hopeless time in my life. We arrived at my parent’s house and I was in so much pain emotionally and physically it’s all I could do to get inside and sit down in a chair without collapsing in the driveway first. My mother-in-law shared with me later that she was struck by the fact that I didn’t ask to see or hold Isaac as soon as I came inside (since I had been away from him for 3 days). When I look back on that day, the only thing I can remember is that I felt absent. I was already gone. I was no longer significant. My life was slowly slipping away and I was just watching from the sidelines. I don’t know that I even thought I could be or ever would be Isaac’s mommy. I didn’t think of myself as a source of life he needed or a source of life at all. I no longer mattered and soon would no longer exist. One year ago, I would wake up morning after morning, and with my eyes still closed I would pray, “let this be the day I feel better…let this be the day I get my life back…let this be the day I turn the corner…let this be the day I start living life again…please Lord, please God Damn-it, PLEASE!!!!!” I would slowly open my eyes, gently turn my head and feel that same pain that showed up day after day month after month, stealing my body’s ability to operate. I would instantly be reminded that I had to face another day of ice packs and heating pads, medications and dizziness, nausea and diarrhea, stabbing pain, throbbing pain, aching pain, and rubbing my face and head with so much intensity that my face would swell and become hot to the touch. Another day of trying to eat, another day of telling my family I was not feeling better, and another day of watching my son through a veil of fog that viciously divided me from him. Another day added to my list of convincing reasons that this would never end. I would spend each day participating in Isaac’s care in whatever way I could manage. Sometimes this meant laying on the floor next to him forcing a smile through the tears…stroking his beautiful face while telling him how very sorry I was that he didn’t have a mommy who could give him what he needed.  Other times it meant feeding him half a bottle until the pain was so intense my mom would lift him from my arms and my dad would help me get back to the room to lie down where I would cry from the pain and from the shame that accompanied the sad reality that I couldn’t be a proper mom. While Isaac took his naps, my parents and I would read every devotional in their house out loud, and I would use this time to search for the tiniest seed of strength, peace, hope, joy, wisdom, or solace to get me through the remainder of the day. Looking back now, I can see what precious moments these were with my parents and The Lord. As I felt myself falling apart, The Lord was using this time of struggle to build an even stronger bond with my family and with Him. The rest of my days were mostly spent lying on the couch or trying to eat something to keep up what little strength I had left. I would begrudgingly survive the day until I could take my cocktail of tranquilizers at 8pm and go to bed. The only thing I looked forward to were the hours I got to sleep under heavy sedation and be rescued from the pain that had tortured me for 12 waking hours. Most evenings my husband, dad, or brother would massage my head and shoulders long enough for a bath to be run. I would take my handful of pills, and then I would lie in the tub until the water was cold silently crying out with all my being, “PLEASE heal me or take me! I can’t endure any longer!” Writing this brings tears to my eyes as I remember sinking under the water to scream in anguish at the top of my lungs knowing that I would never be the mother I had always dreamed of being. Those baths, alone at night, I could so clearly see my future…laying in bed and slowly rotting till there was nothing left of me but breath. I would lay in the bath while the water drained, imagining all of the hurt and pain and disappointment going with it. By this time, the medications would begin to kick in, someone would help me get back to my bedroom and then my mom, or dad, or husband would sit on the side of the bed and stroke my head or lightly tickle my arm while I cried myself to sleep. I’ve often wondered if they ever intentionally took turns tending to me, as I can only imagine how draining it must have been to take care of someone so hopeless and scared. One year ago when I was left home alone, I would lie prostrate on the floor with my face in the ground and scream at God to take me, begging him to relieve me of my suffering and the suffering I was causing others, whether it was healing or death. IT DID NOT MATTER! I don’t write these things to be dramatic. This is how it was for me one year ago. It still frightens me to think back on those days and just how hopeless and alone and desperate I was. My stomach hurts when I think of the things I prayed for and when I remember that spirit of darkness that surrounded me with thoughts of letting go. With no light left, I would ask my parents and my husband dozens of times a day, “Am I ever going to get better?” I’ll never forget the terror I felt the day my husband asked me, “is this how our life is going to be from now on?” In a reaction of pure fear I screamed, “You can’t ask me that! I need you to believe that it won’t be like this forever and I need you to tell me over and over and over that it won’t be forever!!!” I required others to be confident that this was not the end, because I was no longer capable of believing in or even hoping for better days. It was during this time that countless friends and family held that hope in their hearts for me (for us) and there will never be words to adequately thank them for holding on when I no longer could. One year ago it was almost impossible for me to socialize, and if I did, there were painful consequences for days afterwards. I attempted to participate when I could, even though I knew there would be a price to pay. On Superbowl Sunday I took one of my dad’s Percocet’s just so I could be around family and friends for a few hours, and the next day was spent in bed recovering. I had missed all of my nephew’s basketball games, so I made up my mind I was going to go to the last game of the season no matter the cost! I attended the game and left during every time-out to avoid the music and loud announcements, but afterwards my pain escalated to an 8 for 3 straight days. Prior to my hospitalization, I attended my little brother’s 30th birthday and wasn’t able to move or converse at length due to the pain. I sunk into the couch attempting to protect others from the misery that surrounded me. I will never forget the sincerity in my nephew’s voice when he asked, “do you want me to sit with you so you’re not alone?” He sat with me and he made me a plate for dinner when the food was ready. Later in the evening, my oldest brother joined us and he held my hand while I rested my head on his shoulder. I don’t know if either of them will ever know the comfort they provided me that night while I tried to participate in a life that was always an arm’s length away. They were holding me together with love and I felt overwhelmed by their selflessness. Life was all around me and I was an outsider begging to get back in. Each gathering I attempted to be a part of only solidified that I wasn’t really living…I was painfully fading into the background. One year ago I told my husband that everyone would be better off without me. Isaac needed a mommy who could take care of him, take him to the playground, get him ready for school, help him with his homework, FEED HIM FOR GOD’S SAKE! I no longer saw value in my life. I said, “If this is living then I don’t want to live!!” This was the day my husband told me that I had to stop proclaiming that there was no hope. He made it clear that he would not accept my resignation as a mother or a wife and that one day we would reach the end of this terrible road together. This was the day he made me go outside and walk 1 short block while I cried in pain. He made me walk so that I would be reminded that the sun was still rising and I was still breathing. He made me walk to remind me that there’s beauty outside of what I was feeling…that there was beauty even amidst the ashes. He made me walk so that I would know that HE trusted there was light at the end of this dark journey and that I needed to hold on for him and for Isaac. He made me walk because I could! One year ago, many lovely friends visited to assure me that they had faith I would one day be well again. They brought me food I couldn’t eat and gave me love I desperately needed. Family and friends came by to hold me, cry with me, rock me in their arms, pray for me, and embrace and love on Isaac. So many people brought their light into my room of shadows and they will never know to what extent they gave me the comfort and hope I needed in the very moment they were present with me. I remember the dear friend who did my family’s grocery shopping each week and the friend who brought us a hot meal every Wednesday so that for one evening my incredibly benevolent parents wouldn’t have to worry about cooking or doing dishes. The love that was so graciously poured out on me and my family carried us through the bleakest of days and I cannot think of a way to appropriately express my gratitude to each and every person who gave of themselves with such compassion and generosity. One year ago, I knew that my maternity leave was coming to an end and I would be expected to return to work. Prior to having Isaac I had landed the job of my dreams and had been scheduled to start the first day I returned from FMLA. After my hospitalization in January, I sent my new boss (who I hadn’t worked a day for) this email:

“Dear Kelly,

I absolutely hate to be sending you this email and I pray that the next time you hear from me it will be nothing but good news. I have had debilitating migraines since having my son. My husband and I have had to move in with my parents and I was just recently hospitalized for 3 days with no relief from infusion therapy at Barrows Neurological. Most of the neurologists believe this is hormonal and will pass with time so I am hanging onto that hope. I am going to have to extend my leave to 16 weeks. I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am. I did not intend to start my new job by letting everyone down. I’ve always been a healthy person and this has just been the most horrible time of my life. I am so looking forward to the day that I can take care of my own son and step back into life and give 110%. I am so sorry.”

By February, my pain had retreated to a constant 5, but I was still unable to fully care for Isaac or myself, and the idea of trying to work seemed an impossible feat. I constantly worried that even if there was a day I was well enough to return, I would already have a reputation of someone who avoids work if she has the right excuse. I imagined the conversations my soon to be co-workers were having about me, and they went something like this: “She probably had her first kid and has decided she doesn’t want to work anymore.” or “How long can a person possibly have a migraine?” or “We shouldn’t have offered a position to someone right before she had her first baby.” or “Why doesn’t she just resign so that we can hire someone else versus dragging it out while we’re drowning in work?” What I desperately wanted them to know was that I couldn’t care for my firstborn let alone fathom the possibility of learning and working a brand new job. I couldn’t tell them that there was nothing I wouldn’t give to be able to do just one of those things. I couldn’t tell them that for me, it was just a pipe dream that I would one day be a functional mother to my son AND work a full-time job. I had begun to bitterly digest the idea that I would most likely lose my job, but even worse, that I would let down a group of women that I greatly respected and admired and who would never know how desperately I wanted to work alongside them. The following is a voicemail I left for my brother right around this time:

In mid-February, I did finally receive that dreaded call from my employer letting me know that if I didn’t return to work by 2/28, my job would no longer be protected. As I heard those words from HR, I had 2 thoughts: “This is it, the life I’ve known is over” and then, “Renee’, this is it, God has a plan for your life and you are not in control.” I don’t memorize Bible verses, but my massage therapist later quoted Jeremiah 29:11, “for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but that verse burst to life for me and was branded on my soul the split second I heard that I would probably lose my job. I finally embraced the realization that if I could will myself well it would’ve happened months ago. I acknowledged that I was not in control of what life doled out, but that I could choose how I reacted to the hand I was dealt. I had a choice…I could continue to crumble, lose all hope, and accept that the life I dreamed of was over, or I could let it all go, step away from the helm and TRUST that God had a plan for my life and that His plan is always good. This is when I finally felt that supernatural peace and strength I had been pleading for all those months. I realized during that phone call that I truly had no authority over how my life would proceed, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was surrounded by love, and that no matter what happened to my health or my job, The Lord had a plan and he would give me the strength and grace to see that plan through. I felt this truth (Jeremiah 29:11) in my inner core…a truth that gave me a peace so real that I can only describe it as being from God. I spent the rest of the day struggling with how I would tell my husband that I would most likely be unemployed soon, but when I finally gained the courage to say the words out lout, he also sensed that same inexplicable, “crazy” peace. We just KNEW that we KNEW that we would be okay. As Bob Marley so wisely sang, “everything’s gonna be alright.” My husband and I decided that I would attempt to go back to work on 2/28 and we remained prepared to accept that this may not be a successful endeavor. The day before my return was like every other day had been. I had the same level 5 pain and found it difficult to imagine that the next day of waking up early, getting ready, driving myself into work and starting a brand new job would be any degree of manageable. The night before, I took my regular handful of sedating drugs and my nightly bath, but then something different happened. I went to bed with more peace than I had felt in 5 months. As I fell asleep I remember saying a prayer of gratitude. I was thankful that I no longer felt the urge to control what happened to me and that I could unreservedly rest in The Lord and His plans for my life. I could see that He had used my brokenness for something good. He had used this chapter in my life to deliver me from the prison of worry. Releasing worry and anxiety from my daily routine was a freedom I had never had in my life. Roman 5:3-4 says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” I was nowhere near rejoicing, but I could finally see how He was using this time in my life to transform me, and I could finally lean into my faith with confidence, because He had made himself so real to me through this trial. The weight of worry had been lifted and I felt lighter. When I woke up the next morning I was pain free for the first time in 159 days! One year ago today, I arrived at my new job and although the familiar pain visited me throughout the day, it never came close to what I had endured day in and day out for the last 5 months. February 28th, 2014 was the day I was finally convinced that I would be well again and that God wasn’t just going to give me the strength to live through the pain…He was going to see me through to the other side, and all the while I would be made stronger through the journey. On my way home that day I called a precious friend (who had prayed with me all of those months) and I cried as soon as I heard her voice. I was so overwhelmed with disbelief that I could barely get the words out, “it’s a miracle! There’s no other way to explain it. It’s a miracle! My pain level is manageable! I’m going to be ok! I worked….I can’t believe it…I worked! God is so faithful!” It had been so long since I had been capable of functioning at this level, that I couldn’t stop repeating, “I can’t believe this!” When I walked through my parent’s front door I saw them standing in the foyer anxiously waiting for me to return. I don’t think I was able to get a word out before we were tightly holding onto each other. I realize now that they were there because they knew I would either be ready to celebrate or in desperate need of comforting and they are always there when their kids need them. I was finally able to tell my parents that I had turned a corner and that one day I would be myself again. The gratefulness, relief and joy we all felt stunned us into silence. The following 7-8 months, I continued to have significant daily pain, but NEVER resembling those previous hopeless months. I continued with medications that made me feel terrible and injections in my head to help control the pain, but none of that weighed me down because I was ecstatic to be living again. We moved back home and began to see our little family develop the way we had always envisioned. I felt nothing but gratitude on the days I would work long hours and then arrive home to take care of my son, because this was far more life that I thought I would ever be capable of living. Even with chronic pain, I was finally in a place where I could be a mother, I could spend time with my family and friends, I could work again! I never felt more blessed and as I reminisce how far I’ve come in 1 year I’m reminded that every day is a blessing and can never be taken for granted. One year ago my husband held me in his arms and promised me that, “a year from now, you will not be in this much pain. A year from now, life will not look like this or feel like this. Renee’, so much will change in a year!” I could not see the future he imagined, but today, right now, 1 year later, we have a life that is blessed beyond measure. Revisiting the past year has done exactly what I imagined it would. Writing out my story has helped reset my outlook on life. Before I begin to complain about anything I face, I must remember what I’ve survived. It is my desire to use these lessons in life to shift my perspective to what really matters and avoid complaining about the things that don’t. I also want to use these lessons to help me remain mindful of the many priceless yet mundane experiences that make up this crazy life. I want to BE PRESENT. When we take our son to the playground, I must remember to stop and be aware that walking outside used to be an impossibility. When I throw my son in the air and hear his adorable giggle, I must remember that there were days I wasn’t capable of holding him in my arms. When I feel the pressures of work, I must remember the day I realized I might never work again. When I don’t feel 100%, I must remember there was a time I wasn’t healthy enough to even become sick. I must always remember that right here, right now is precious and beautiful and should never be taken for granted. And, when dark times visit again (which they most certainly will in this damaged world), I must remember that no matter how torn I feel or how dark the clouds around me, The Lord has a plan for my life and it is always good. No matter the trials I am sure to face in the future, I will remember that a year from this trial I can once again say, “One year ago….”

 

What a difference one year makes!IMG_7336