music for your saturday: the 2012 conclusion

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mumford makes the music I want to be listening to when the year turns or for that matter when the world ends. And Idris Elba? I can’t even. There are rumors he’s pegged to be the next James Bond. Yes, please, and thank you.

He happened to also direct this video. Which I can’t say for sure I completely understand, but who cares. Idris Elba.

top five things I will not miss in 2013

Thursday, December 27, 2012

1) the stomach flu

2) the stomach flu

3) the stomach flu

4) the stomach flu

5) the stomach flu

 

In conclusion, I declare 2013 to be the year of health and wellness. I will not succumb to the various viruses (virii?) and bacteria that enter our home. The vomit will end. Our washer and our steam cleaner will get a break. Thus it is written, thus it shall be.

advent conspiracy: love all

Sunday, December 23, 2012

AC_Love_WORDWhen Jesus loved, He loved in ways never imagined before. Though rich, he became poor to love the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick. He played to the margins. By spending less at Christmas we have the opportunity to join Him in giving resources to those who need help the most. It all boils down to love. Love from a savior. Love to a neighbor in need. By spending just a little less on gifts we free up our resources to love as Jesus loves by giving to those who really need help. This is the conspiracy three churches began a few years ago, and has since grown to an international movement where thousands of churches have raised millions of dollars to love others in life-changing ways. So, this isn’t a theory based on good intentions. It’s a movement that’s saving lives. This is our new tradition. One that can truly change the world.
(text from adventconspiracy.org)

This is the week that comes easiest and yet hardest at the same time. Everyone likes to talk about love at Christmas. It’s rewarding to fill up our Christmas food baskets, to make kits for the foster kids who come into care in our county, to put a check in the bucket at church to buy water filters for families in Haiti. It’s harder to actually DO the loving. To spend time with the poor and marginalized, go into their homes, sit on their stale smoke couches. It’s much harder to share life with the truly needy, to allow their pain to touch your life in a very personal way, to invite them into your homes for a meal or to live. It’s extremely difficult to give up your prejudices, your stereotypes, your judgment for people who don’t seem to deserve yet another chance, yet another check. Love requires sacrifice, and boy, is that not something we like to talk about this time of year. (or ever)

If there is anything Wendell and I want to pass along to our children above all else, it’s how to live a life a sacrifice. To consider others better than themselves. To never be content to just ‘concentrate on our own family’ or ‘put ourselves first’. Occasionally in life those things need to happen, I know. But I want it to feel uncomfortable. The true sweet spot of where they live their lives, the place where they feel most at home, most fulfilled, most alive – I want it to be when they spend their lives poured out for others. That’s my heart’s prayer for my kids.

It’s weird for me to spend the holidays with ‘just family’. (It so happens that this year, we’ve spent several holidays that way, and I can’t say that I care for it all that much.) My parents raised us with an open table, an open home, and open hearts. Their continued persistence to invite the immigrants, the orphans, the marginalized, and the lonely (and I mean all of those quite literally) into our home to share our table, share our family has influenced my life in such a tangible way.

Right now, our children need stability above nearly all else, and even as I feel disappointed that the consequences of that means that we spend much more time at home by ourselves than I would prefer, I realize that we are still opening our home. We share our family and our lives with a little boy who needs us desperately right now. I hope that these days are the memories that our children take away from their childhood. How we sacrificed ‘normal’ family life. How we skipped Christmas parties, spent countless hours in the car driving to and from visits, and focused our energies and love on the children that came to share our home over the years. There’s loss in this kind of life, yes, but there is so much reward.

AC_Love_ICONFor I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:35-40

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Love all. It’s what Christmas is truly all about.

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This year, we focused most of our giving on things close to home: we made Christmas food baskets for people we know, for classmates and friends. We put together kits for kids who are entering foster care in our county because we know those kids. Those kids are our kids. Even our far-away giving is to a charity in Haiti, a country that has touched and engaged several members of our church in a very personal way. We really wanted our kids to feel connected – not to view this kind of stuff as charity. It’s not. This is obedience. We are the poor, the naked, the suffering – just the same as the people we gave to this year. I never want my children to think there’s an ‘us’ and a ‘them’. It’s all of us, together.

What are some of the ways that you are “loving all” this year? I’d love to hear ideas for the future!

music for your Saturday: give more

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mary's Song by Robbie Seay Band from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

advent conspiracy: give more

Monday, December 17, 2012

AC_Give_WORDGod’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. Sounds a lot better than getting a sweater two sizes too big, right?
(text from adventconspiracy.org)

This year, the truth that’s taking root in my heart turned out to be more appropriate for this year than I could have ever imagined: Incarnation. It started with this post by Kathy Escobar. And this quote:

God, with us. In the midst of our messy, beautiful lives.

Us, with others. In the midst of their messy, beautiful lives.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it all season. Still grieving from last week, still processing through that with my children, it’s the place where all of our conversations end up. God with us. The beauty of the gift of Presence.

AC_Give_ICONWe spend a lot of time and energy figuring out who we’re going to give to each year. This year, my focus has turned. How do we make our gifts match our lives? We don’t want to just be giving money because it’s Christmas or because we should be generous and charitable. We want the truth of our lives to reflect where we’re putting our money. We picked things this year that don’t separate us from ‘those people’ we’re helping. We want to teach our children the beauty of sacrificial living – the kind doesn’t keep our safe and pretty lives separate from the pain and ugliness of this world.

The truth and beauty of the incarnation is that at the moment we needed rescue, God could’ve reached down to us. He could’ve lifted us to be with him - safe, secure, free from messed up lives and an angry world.

That’s not the redemption he chose. He chose to come here. To be with us.

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
Matthew 1:23

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”
John 1:14

God is with us. He came here. He didn’t take us out of this crazy, screwed up world. He came here. To the mess, to the violence, to the brokenness we’re all living in. He came here.

That’s the truth we talked about with our children. We don’t want to teach them that the way to help is to keep your distance and send funds. We don’t want to just give to people; we want to be with people. We don’t want to teach them that the right way to grieve and react to tragedy is to stay at home and live in fear. We want to send them out, even though we’re sending them into a dangerous, unpredictable place. We can’t shield them from the bad things. We can’t truly protect them from the evil in this world.

What we can do is promise them that they’re not alone. When we spend time with the “least of these”, we aren’t doing it alone. When we go out into a crazy world, we aren’t going alone. We can plant this truth in their hearts: that the God we worship loves us enough to come down to the dirty manger in the messy world to be with us. Even when it seems the dark is overwhelming, we know that Light has come down to this very world we live in. We know that Love wins.

God with us.

Emmanuel.


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music for your saturday: lament

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Another post was planned. This is all I have.

We need your grace, oh God. We’re begging you to come. We need your grace.

year-end friday fives: the music edition

Friday, December 14, 2012

my five favorite albums of the year:

1) Babel – Mumford and Sons
It took me a bit to decide, but this album is equally as good as the first. Better in some ways. Slicker, more polished, but the downside of that is it definitely sounds more produced. The wild explosive raucousness of their first album was one of my favorite things about it. However, that album didn’t make me cry everytime I played it like this one does. Something about these lyrics – call it emotional manipulation if you want – touches my soul. It’s a beautiful piece of work.

 

2) The Lumineers – The Lumineers
Terrific debut album. Considering it came out early in 2012, I’ve listened to this album probably more than any other over this past year.

 

 

3) Season One – All Sons and Daughters
My favorite new worship band. This is another make-me-cry-all-the-time album. Perhaps I’m hitting early menopause…too much crying around here.

 

 


4) The Carpenter – The Avett Brothers

There is not a single song on this album that I don’t enjoy. The last track, Life, is my very favorite. Part of me feels more attached to this album than others from this past year just by virtue of knowing their story. These guys are for real, and I think it shows in their music.

 

5) Some Nights – Fun.
I wanted to dislike this album. I want to dislike pop music in general, but I can’t. Loved the whole thing. In spite of lyrics which I think almost border on despair occasionally, you can’t actually tell that from the music itself. It makes me feel happy. Plus, I love to hear my kids singing ‘set the world on fire’ from the backseat.

 

What were your favorite albums from 2012?

clarity please?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Today when I picked up our boy from his visit at the potential-relative-placement’s home, he wouldn’t come to me. On Monday, he didn’t run to the door as he had the first few visits, and when I told him it was time to go, he put up his little finger at me and said, “NO.” Fine. I get it; you’re having fun here. But today…TODAY he wouldn’t even come to me at all. When I picked him up and put his coat on, he leaned back towards the relative and fussed. I let him give her a hug goodbye, but when I took him again – same story. When I put him in the car to go home, there was louder complaining still.

It’s good that he seems to be adjusting well there. We love that, but it’s frustrating and frankly, a little bit hurtful for me to experience. Why doesn’t he love us like he should? He should be overly attached to us at this point. He’s been with us over half his life, he’s barely even a toddler, and do you know how much I worked for this baby to love me? I sang him lullabies, I rocked him to sleep, I taught him to play peek-a-boo with his hands. I did Theraplay techniques with him. Silly games, lotion, feeding sessions. I worked for this baby’s love, and I finally thought we were getting somewhere. Yet he’s so quick to dismiss that. That’s more painful than I expected.

I’m not sure why he loves it there so much. Maybe it smells like home to him. Maybe there’s enough similarity in familial features that makes him feel comfortable. Maybe he knows it’s his little sister who lives there. Is that possible? Do toddlers recognize siblings even if they’re not living together? That seems like a stretch, but I can’t shake my questions about the situation. It all leaves me feeling a bit like we’ve done something wrong. Shouldn’t he want to be a part of our family? Shouldn’t he be afraid for me to leave him, eager for me to take him home? I’m left with this strange mixture of relief and unease, not knowing what his future is or what I should even be hoping and praying for.

Combine all of this with a weird call about increasing parental visits next week, and I’m just not sure where this all stands. We have a caseworker meeting on Friday and court next week – could you pray for our family and sweet Baby D? We need peace, and the people who make the big decisions definitely need clarity. I’m praying they can see the right path even when it’s all such a big mess. I’m praying that Baby D’s future is bright, that he will be somewhere where he’s loved and cared for, that somehow, even if his family isn’t healed right now that what we’ve sown into his little life will be building blocks for a healing future.

foster care - a broken hallelujah

Monday, December 10, 2012

This morning, I had put him in a nice button-up plaid shirt and jeans, rolled up the sleeves ‘cause he’s stylin’, ya know. Carefully chosen the brown suede boots (even though I prefer his classic brown Stride Rites) because they were from his mama. She gave them to me weeks earlier because she was afraid he’d outgrow them before he moved home with her. Halfway to the visit, I got the call. The one that I usually get much closer to the visit location. No mom and dad. Again.

I sympathize. I do. I cannot imagine what it is like to have your children removed from your home, have to visit them in a strange place, only get to see them once a week, supervised with your very own children. I cannot imagine the agony of giving birth and leaving the hospital without your baby. I get that this is hard. I get that poverty creates barriers and ways of thinking that I don’t understand because I didn’t grow up in that culture. But sometimes we have to do.the.hard.thing. Just do it. Even if it’s painful. Even if it’s inconvenient. Even if you feel your heart is going to break in two, you do the hard thing. Because your kids didn’t do anything to deserve this.

I’m loving this little boy who knows that he belongs with me, but with just as much certainty as he knows his name, he knows he doesn’t belong to me. I cannot comprehend why you wouldn’t make every effort to be there for him. I would walk barefoot across broken glass if that was the only way to see my children, to hold them close, to tell them I love them, I’m working for them, I’m praying for the day we can be together again. I just don’t get it.

I’ve been prepping to say goodbye to this precious little boy. Praying that I would say goodbye because he gets to return to spend his life with the mama that he loves. Now I’m not sure. DJFS isn’t sure. I think it’s more likely he’ll go to the relative he’s started visits with, but once again, uncertainty looms large over our entire situation. This is the part I hate. We already told the kids he’s leaving. Last week, following our team meeting, it was sounding like it could be six more months. Today, I’m not certain if it’ll be six more months or six more weeks or six more days. All that I am sure of is that this little boy deserves an answer to the situation. He deserves to be with his baby sister. He deserves to be loved above all else, to be made a priority in someone’s life.

I picked up the little brown boots, discarded beside his car seat on the way home. I got him out of the car, hugged him tight, kissed his head, tears welling up yet again. Broken with this sweet boy and his unknown future, his absentee mama and daddy. Hallelujah for the work we do for the healing of his family. Broken with the bittersweet pain of loving him. Hallelujah for the redemption of teaching him to love us back. Broken with the expectation of hope, yet unfulfilled. Hallelujah because He who promised is faithful.

 

linked with Prodigal Magazine and SheLoves Magazine today

advent conspiracy: spend less

Sunday, December 9, 2012

AC_Spend_WORDQuick question for you: What was the one gift you remember getting for Christmas last year? Next question: What about the fourth gift? Do you remember that one? Truth is many of us don't because it wasn't something we necessarily wanted or needed. Spending Less isn't a call to stop giving gifts; it's a call to stop spending money on gifts we won't remember in less than a year. America spends around $450 billion dollars during the Christmas season, and much of that goes right onto a credit card. By spending wisely on gifts we free ourselves from the anxiety associated with debt so we can take in the season with a full heart. We’re asking people to consider spending less this Christmas (maybe buying one less gift-just one). Sounds insignificant, yet many who have taken this small sacrifice have experienced nothing less than a miracle: They have been more available to celebrate Christ during the advent season.
(text from adventconspiracy.org)

This week continues to be the most difficult of the weeks when it comes to the new way we, as a family and congregation, focus on Christmas. Part of it is because gifts are my love language. Part of it is because the true religion in America is consumerism, and I am not immune to its charms. Part of it is because there is such joy in giving to others, and I don’t want to miss out on that.

But it’s not that I’m saying ‘no gifts’. We still give gifts. Our kids get three each – one for reading, one for wearing, one for playing. Or as I read on a blog earlier this year, “The Baby Jesus only got three gifts. Are you better than the Baby Jesus?” (Apologies if you wrote that – I can’t, for the life of me, remember where I read it.) All that’s being said here is “spend less”.

For me, this is about where I place my allegiance. Is it with the religion of consumerism that permeates our culture? Or is it with the Kingdom of God? My striving, if I allow it to take its natural bent, will always end up towards comfort and leisure and my American rights/freedoms and bigger houses and well-behaved children and more and more stuff and on and on and on. That’s not the upside-down Kingdom that Christ calls me to be a part of.

His kingdom is one of sacrifice. Self-denial. Giving to others. Hanging on to our comfortable, safe lives with all of its luxuries and stuff is not part of the deal.

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Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?
Matthew 16:24-25

 

Turning from my selfish ways? That’s a requirement I’d rather leave behind.
Take up your cross? Not the most attractive of ideas.

But saving my life? That’s the kind of thing I can get behind. That’s the kind of thing that will help me say no to all the selfishness, say yes to the sacrifice, and follow Christ all the way, every day.

Let go. Give in. Give up. Surrender. (thank you, Ben Lee)

That’s where it’s at this Christmas and all year long.

AC_4_icons_horz_WORDS


Do you do anything intentional regarding spending and gift-giving at Christmas? I’d love to hear your family’s practices and traditions.

music for your Saturday: worship fully

Saturday, December 8, 2012

first friday–the advent of the best-of lists of 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

No secret to some of you, one of my very favorite things is  the best-of year-in-review lists that proliferate around December. Instead of a regular friday five during December, I’m going to spread out my best-of lists over the next few weeks. Maybe I’ll squeeze a few more in at the end of the year, but you can definitely count on them on Fridays.

Since we’re not that far into December, today is my 5 favorite Christmas albums this year. Note: not all are new. Second note: all are worth every penny I paid for them.

1) Hymns of Christmas – Jennifer Knapp and Margaret Becker
I have a tremendous crush on Jennifer Knapp. She sings like a beautiful angel. An alto angel, at that. Margaret Becker – the same. This is classic and timeless, and I’ve been listening to it over and over again.

 

 

 

2) December, vol. 2 – Robbie Seay Band
If you only buy one of these songs, buy Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, which is set to the tune of Come Thou Fount, which is my favorite hymn. All that is true. This is a great little EP.

 

 

 

3)Noel – Various Artists
This little album was spearheaded (I think) by Derri Daugherty and Steve Hindalong. They also did the City on a Hill projects, for those who know those albums. This one is better than ANY of the City on a Hill albums. I would say, without a doubt, that this album gets the most play year after year of any of my Christmas albums. It’s not been reissued yet, but you can get it for pretty cheap from a used Amazon seller.

 

4) http://www.relevantmagazine.com/sites/default/files/field/album_art/XMAS_VOL2_FINAL.jpgA Very Relevant Christmas/Volume 2
A free gift only for subscribers, this album is really well curated and a pleasure to listen to. Full of indie artists like Sugar & the Hi-lows, Matthew Perryman Jones, and Paper Route – click the album cover to subscribe today if you’d like a copy (plus you get 3 other albums throughout the year).

 

 

 

5) Amy Grant – Home for Christmas
Nobody does Christmas like Amy. This is my favorite of her Christmas albums. I sometimes listen to it when it’s not Christmas time. Shh…

 

 

 

What are your favorite Christmas albums, new or old?

advent conspiracy: worship fully

Monday, December 3, 2012

My goal was to publish my Advent posts early Sunday mornings, but instead I decided to do my final editing Sunday afternoon. As a result, my initial writing seemed a bit derivative after listening to the sermon Sunday morning – my editing was definitely a bit more severe as a result. (Thanks for that, Pastor Andy.) Of course, when you do Advent (basically it’s the 4 weeks before Christmas where we prepare for the ‘coming’ of the baby Jesus) the same way, year after year after year, it is only natural that certain themes are going to echo throughout.

Once again, we’re doing Advent Conspiracy for the Christmas season. I love the focus it gives my season. I love the message it plants in my heart and in the hearts of my kids. I love this new tradition.


AC_Worship_WORDIt starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.
(text from adventconspiracy.org)

When most church people say ‘worship’, they mean singing and praying together, typically on a Sunday morning. I spent a few years in fairly charismatic churches; there is a lot of joy in the worshipping freely through song and prayer and dancing and just being together with other believers. Those things are important and meaningful, but the older I get, the more I know of God, the more I realize that my very life is worship to Him. My everyday life. “The liturgy, the laundry, the women’s work” as Kathleen Norris puts it. The dailiness of all that threatens to wear me down combined with the sharp pain of all that threatens to pull me under. These are the moments when my worship becomes real. Even though I still long for the occasional high of an emotional worship service, I’m learning what it means to worship daily with my whole life, my whole self.

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, AC_Worship_ICONordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Romans 12:1-2

This Christmas season is turning out to be more painful than most, but that very pain is what’s driving me to my knees every single day. It’s not just about saying goodbye to part of our family, it’s about letting go in a hundred other daily ways. Sacrifice. Can I let go of the things I hold most dear? Can I relinquish control – not just in a grand scheme way, but in a day by day, moment by moment way? The Advent Conspiracy icon for this week’s theme is a person with arms outstretched, lifted up, hands open. I am challenged every time I look at it. Are my hands open? Or am I clenching them shut with all I hold dear inside? What does it look like to live a life poured out for my Savior, poured out for others?

This week, as I begin to walk my children through this Advent season, we’re talking about what it means to live our lives as worship. To give sacrificially, to recognize the redemption in the everyday. Fully surrendered. All to Him.

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Part of our family worship is a daily Advent activity. This year, we’re using the Jesus Storybook Bible Advent reading schedule. I’m also using a Jesse Tree calendar with my older kids. I’m attempting to incorporate our Advent Conspiracy themes in the middle of those templates. We’ve been spending everyday conversation talking about the theme for the week, lighting the first Advent candle together, and filling our home with the music of the Season. Do you celebrate Advent? Do you observe it as a family? If so, what are your plans for this year?

goodbye begins

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

IMG_0131I don’t know how to say goodbye. So when I dropped Baby D off at his relative’s house for the very first ‘transitional’ visit, it just resulted in a big sobbing mess of a drive to the store where we walked around until it was pick-up time. The littles asked a lot of questions – why wasn’t Baby D’s mom and dad there, why was I crying, were we going back to get him, why was I crying…I don’t have the answers for the questions they’re really asking. All I know is this is the beginning of the end of Baby D’s time with our family, and I don’t know how to say goodbye.

I struggle with judgment. My standards of living are just that, MY standards. Just because this isn’t my culture or my practice doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Can I really say Baby D is better with strangers than with biological family just because they sweep less often than I do? It appears to be safe. Sanitary. His sister is there. He seems to really, really love it. It wasn’t a reaction I expected. I expected the visits would go fine; he’s pretty easy-going, and he’s not scared of strangers. I just didn’t expect his excitement. When I pick him up, he runs to meet me, arms outstretched, but then he jabbers away, telling me and showing me his surroundings. Look! a kitty! Look! a baby! Look! toys!

I struggle with fear. Can this woman take care of him? I’m sure she can. But will she love him? Will she cuddle him close and kiss his face all over? Will she play his lullaby CD when he goes to sleep? Will she smile when she gets him up in the morning? Will he fall asleep on her shoulder when he’s tired?

I struggle with grief over something that hasn’t yet happened. I imagine our sweet boy waking up in a strange house, going to sleep in a strange bed, wondering where the family he’s shared half of his life with is. Half his life. That’s how long he’s spent with us now. He’ll miss us. We’ll miss him.

It’s best. Really and truly. He has a sister that he deserves to know, that he deserves to build relationship with. Our kids are separated from their sister (and several other siblings too), and it is a trauma and loss that should be avoided if possible. There’s a chance here for these babies. If they are separated for long at this point, they will likely never be reunited. We want them to have a chance at a life together. They deserve to be with family.

I hate saying goodbye. I hate saying no to forever for this child who barely remembers a different reality than the one he lives at our house, but I also hate the idea of him saying goodbye to his first family. His family by birth. He’ll forget us completely, that much I do know. This will never be a cognizant memory for him. But we’ve loved him. We’ve loved him since he arrived here, and we’ve loved him well. I know that he knows what love feels like. And that counts for something.

mourn with those who mourn

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Today, I bore witness to unimaginable grief. The kind of grief that literally caused everyone else in the room to turn their faces away. I don’t quite know how to process it. I’m uncertain in my prayers, in my feelings. Just when I think that this life we’ve been called to has caused us to plumb the depths of brokenness and pain, there’s something new. Tonight, I feel a bit broken myself. There are things you experience, things that you see that you can never erase from your mind, and this was one of those days.

Tomorrow, while I give thanks and celebrate with my family, I am acutely aware that there are others who are not feeling celebratory, who are dealing with grief and pain and anger and loss. I remember those who are spending the day without.

I think I’ve posted this before, but it bears posting again. This prayer is from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. It’s a prayer for the “Death of Someone Killed in the Neighborhood” That isn’t exactly what happened today, but it seems appropriate as well. Please take some time, pray with me, remember those who are struggling through this holiday weekend.

Lamb of God,
you take away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us.
Grant us peace.

For the unbearable toil of our sinful world,
we plead for remission.
For the terror of absence from our beloved,
we plead for your comfort.
For the scandalous presence of death in your creation,
we plead for the resurrection.

Lamb of God,
you take away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us.
Grant us peace.
Come, Holy Spirit, and heal all that is broken in our lives, in our streets, and in our world. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

music for the last Saturday of fall

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I always consider the Saturday before Thanksgiving to be the last Saturday of all. We run a Christmas tree farm, and we open the day after Thanksgiving, so Christmas comes in full swing that day. This is one of my favorite fall songs. (It’s not really about fall.) And I love A.A. Bondy a lot. If you’re not familiar with him – go ahead and get familiar.

triggers revisited

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My sweet boy doesn’t go to therapy much anymore. He’s sort of been discharged with an “as needed” return policy. The action plan for the next while is just going to be a mental-health well-check of sorts with appointments every few months or so. Today was one of those days…

I know that 80% of our therapy visit benefit is derived from the fact that it’s just him and me. When you have five kids, any time alone is cherished beyond measure, and with the littlest getting weekly therapy appointments now, I know that Brenden is feeling left out and missing his connection time with me. So he was more than a little excited when I told him that’s where we were headed. Things went swimmingly; best session we’ve had maybe ever. His therapist and I spent most of the time talking through how things are going: recent successes (like this one), IEP plans, how to address some recent disclosures Brenden made to us about his past, SPD, attachment in babies, and everything and anything in between.

We are blessed to have been placed right out of the gate with a therapist who believes, as all good therapists should, that the primary agents of healing in a child’s life are his parents. She can teach us skills, she can give us advice, she can work with Brenden as often we go to therapy, but all of that means nothing if we’re not implementing those things in love and safety here at home. There is also nothing that she ever does in therapy that I am not present for or directly involved with. I’m not waiting in on hard waiting room chairs while my child is taken back to ‘talk’ with this virtually unknown adult. We are always right there, doing the therapeutic interventions ourselves. If you’re looking for a therapist for your child, this is the kind you want. If your kids’ therapist isn’t this kind of therapist, can I just suggest to you that you should maybe look for a new one?

That’s a long lead up to the real point of this post which happened after the therapy appointment. We headed out to the foster care nurse’s office to check in since Brenden hadn’t seen her in a really long time. (She is in charge of scheduling, managing, and a myriad of other –ings for the kids who enter foster care in our county. Every kid who goes into care gets to know and love Nurse Shelly.) We did our standard hugs, looted the candy drawer, spent 10 minutes choosing two stickers, and when it was over, we turned around to see his case worker kneeling on the floor behind us.

(Now’s the point where if you don’t typically read this blog, you should refer back to this post for some reference on the negativity that was triggered last time we saw the case worker.)

You learn a lot about triggers when you go through foster care training. These triggers cue the brain to gather and send memories to the part of the brain which will then be in control. Smells, sights, sounds, people, places – any number of things can trigger a traumatic response in our kids. Given this, I felt my heart skip a little when I saw Brenden’s case worker because I knew how big of a trigger was going to be, I knew what his response had been in the past, and I was, well, scared.

Brenden turned around, saw her, and…nothing.

He said hi, told her how he was doing, and asked me if he could offer her a piece of candy. She looked up at me, and said, “He’s not scared.” I said, “No. Clearly not. Did you notice what happened last time we saw you at the fair?” She replied, “oh, GOD, yes. He was terrified.” She got up, Brenden was heading towards the door, and she looks at me and says, “This is BIG.”

I smiled, and all I could respond with was, “yes.” I proceeded to smile through my tears all the way to the car and partway home. And again when I told Wendell on the phone. And again when I talked with Brenden about it at naptime. Now, while I’m typing this out: still tears. Happy, relived, relishing in the continued healing of my small child tears.

It. was. BIG.

friday post-apocalypse five

Friday, November 9, 2012

Our school district failed to pass yet ANOTHER levy this past Tuesday. According to my facebook feed, between that disappointing news and the presidential election, it’s a wonder that we all woke up Wednesday morning.

So, in honor of life going on, I offer you this friday five for your information, comfort, and enjoyment:

1) 7 Things to Do When You're Feeling a Little Sad - Addie Zierman: “Sometimes, you can’t see it change, but sometimes, if you’re looking, you’ll notice that change is everywhere, striking and beautiful….Sit out on the last warm day and notice all that is good and all that is beautiful, and feel your heart rise just a little. Just enough.”

2) The Walking Dead: If you need to survive the coming zombie apocalypse, there is no better show to prepare you. Watch and learn.

Lesson #1 (from last year) – If there is a pharmacy that you can get stuff from, clean that sucker out the first time. Don’t go into the zombie danger over and over and over.

Lesson #2 – Please be a likeable enough person that when you die from an unanesthetized c-section, there won’t be a significant amount of relief and rejoicing.

3) Skyfall: I have seen every James Bond movie there is. At least twice per movie. They’re not particularly apocalyptic, I guess, but this is, without exception, the best one there has ever been. Seriously, I wanted to applaud after the opening sequence. It was the perfect storm of casting, acting, cinematography, plot, and let me just say that Adele was BORN to sing Bond themes. I loved it. The end.

4) The Winds Café: This is where the husband picked for his birthday dinner. It was fantastic. I had the walleye, he had the pork chop, and of course we had Jeni’s ice cream for dessert. Terrific choice on his part. If you’re in this area of Ohio, you definitely need to stop by and have a meal. When the zombie apocalypse hits, then this is the food I want to be eating.

5) Someday soon I’m going to try this hairstyle: No heat curls. It’ll be a nice tool when all the electricity goes out and none of us can use our hair styling equipment.

happy birthday to the man I love

Thursday, November 8, 2012

446_98898785155_2199_nToday is my husband’s birthday. I’ll refrain from sharing his age. (He’s so sensitive.) I will however share this photo of him in his fire gear. No reason, really – it’s just that firefighters are sexy, and this one’s mine.

Moving on…and more importantly (I guess), I will tell you that he has lived his years with grace and courage. He has loved through much sickness and little health, through more poverty than wealth, through good times and bad, through great joy and suffering. He’s endured the hard things with dignity. He’s walked the difficult road with his character intact, and he lives with integrity. I am humbled by him daily, and I am blessed to share his life.

He loves our children well. He works two jobs, stays out past dark working even once he finally gets home, and still makes the time to go to ball games and school concerts and children’s parties. He camps with them in the backyard, wrestles with them on the floor, reads books to them on the couch, prays beside them on their beds. He teaches and loves, encourages and plays.

He loves me well. We’re not give and take, winners and losers kind of people when it comes to our marriage. It’s both of us winning; it’s all giving. All of ourselves – with no reservation. He doesn’t hold back, and he inspires me to do the same. We married so young, still children really, and when I started sharing that boy’s life, I never dreamed that I would be married to a man, let alone such a good one. We’re living a hard season; so many small children lends itself to more exhaustion than enjoyment, and yet, he still makes time for fun, for learning, for teaching, for giving of himself.

It’s difficult, yet effortless. Absolute trust, unconditional love. Our lives entwined, two become one – a mystery and a miracle. Tonight, our celebration will look less like a raucous party and more like a freshly swept floor, sleeping children, comfy couches, candles lit, warm drinks to ward off the chilly night. Quiet moments alongside relentless laughter, enjoying one another just as we have been these last seventeen years together. Our hearts woven together, sharing the load, bread and wine…my friend.

all of me

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

There are more moments now when I catch my breath at the uncertainty and coming storm of it all. The lump in my throat, heart skips a beat moments come often and unexpectedly. With every logical, heartbreakingly certain discussion, we are at peace with the pain of not being able to say ‘Yes, forever.’ to this baby.

We feel like the end may be close, and so we hug him tighter, kiss him more, gulp back tears. Eyes meet over blond baby hair, words are not needed. We’ve done this before, this waiting game, this anticipation of finality. That time, we thought we were losing a child our hearts had already claimed as our own. We don’t love this baby less, but we feel he’s not meant for us forever. In spite of that, I’m surprised by how similar it feels. The temptations are the same. Wanting to hold on too tightly juxtaposed with wanting to pull back in protection – all the feelings are there, pain and joy and love and heartbreak intertwined.

We’re bedtime music people here, and Baby D’s playlist is getting a lot of play lately even during the daytime. The opening song is this one, and the lyrics have been echoing in my soul for weeks now:

So let me recklessly love you, even if I bleed
You're worth all of me, you're worth all of me

That’s where our hearts are finding their home right now. Even though we know the pain that’s to come, it’s worth it. As always, the freedom and grace and beauty of it all is found in surrender. Holding close without clenching too tightly. Recklessly loving and letting go. Sacrifice. Surrender. It’s where we start. It’s where we end up. And love remains.

 

 

election friday five

Friday, October 26, 2012

I don’t plan to delve into politics too often (or ever, really) in this space. I come from a tradition of principled disengagement with the political process, and I have mixed feelings about how I, as a follower of Christ, can fully engage with a clear conscience. I do vote, I will vote, but I don’t always vote for every single thing or every single office. I have opinions, but none that are set in stone. I am not nor will I ever be a member of any political party. So with that being as clear as mud, here are five things election-related to check out.

P.S. Living in a swing state is its own special kind of hell. I might enjoy politics more if I didn’t live where I happen to live. Praise Jesus if you live somewhere where your vote doesn’t count as much.

1) How I Got Asked to Pray After the First Lady - Jena Nardella for Storyline Blog: “I walked up to the podium and felt the most amazing sense of peace and confidence in what I was supposed to pray…I meant every word and have been encouraged by the thousands of you who prayed alongside of me. May justice and mercy trump partisanship in our lives..”

2) The Election: Thoughts from a Christian Independent - Jen Hatmaker: “No president can take the Kingdom out of our hearts. No candidate can steal what Jesus has already won. As the Kingdom came, so will it continue – not through Empire but through radical, subversive faith. It cannot be shaken, it cannot be removed.”

3) Thou Shalt Follow These 10 Commandments of the Presidential Election. - Eugene Cho: “May our love for politics, ideology, philosophy, or even theology, never supersede our love for God and neighbor – including neighbors who don’t share our politics. Amen. Amen. Amen.”

4) Election Day Communion: “But that evening while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s again choose differently. But this time, let’s do it together. Let’s meet at the same table, with the same host, to remember the same things. We’ll remember that real power in this world — the power to save, to transform, to change — ultimately rests not in political parties or presidents or protests but in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.”

5) And just because I love you:

 

we’re still expecting hope

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yesterday, I experienced another first in our foster parenting experience: a ‘Family Stability Team’ meeting. The goal of FSTs is to determine whether the agency will file for temporary custody of children. If the police are not involved when a child is removed due to abuse or neglect, that means that the decision has been made by the agency in one of these meetings. (Just an explanatory note: there’s also another type of team called a ‘Crisis Response Team’ that also makes these decisions. I’m really uncertain why a case would go to one team versus another, except I think it might have to do with an emergency removal versus a planned removal)

I really had no idea what to expect when I walked in that room. An uneasy participant in the proceedings about to occur, I chose the chairs lining the wall instead of taking a seat at the table like I would normally do at team meetings. There were probably a dozen people in the room, representatives from mental health agencies, substance abuse agencies, CASA, Children’s Services…I think I’m missing a couple, but basically all of the major social service agencies in the county were represented.

This meeting was the real deal. The final decisions get approved in court, but the judge is unlikely to disagree with the recommendations of this team. I was struck with just the sheer burden that these men and women face. To plan to remove a child from their family of origin and place them in foster care isn’t a decision that can be taken lightly. The questioning involved was intrusive and painful, but necessary to determine whether or not a child is safe in his or her current living environment. With very few exceptions (at least from my perspective), the parents were treated with respect, with kindness, with as much deference as the situation would allow.

There are lots of emotions when you are foster parents, but in my experience, the occasions that elicit pure grief are few. Any feelings of grief are usually complicated by anger or frustration or even relief, but that moment yesterday, in that conference room? It was just grief. No one wants to see a child taken from her mother. No one wants to relegate a dad’s playtime with his son to four hours a week. No one wants to be in such a demeaning position as to have a room full of strangers assess you, your lifestyle, your parenting. No one wants the future of their family held in the hands of the state.

No matter how valid the reasons, it is a devastating experience to hear a room full of people one after the other, with a couple exceptions, recommend that children be removed from their families and put in the care of the state. The devastation of oppressive poverty, the consequences of poor choices, the unfairness of being taken advantage of when people are already down and out, the murky waters of mental health, and it’s the children who continue to suffer. Even if foster care is the best place, it is still trauma. It is still a terrible injustice to these little children.

So I sat there, wishing I could go around the table and just offer a hug. Wanting to pass tissues to dry tears, to hold hands to impart strength, to say all the things in my heart for this woman whom I now care for deeply because I love her son. I didn’t. I didn’t say the things I wanted to say. Maybe I should have. Being unfamiliar with the situation relegated me to a more observatory position than I typically would take. I’ve been wishing I could have some of that time back. Wishing I could’ve said a few more items of praise. Wishing I could just somehow change the whole situation for good. I know that what I said wouldn’t have made a difference, but at least I could’ve spoken up. Spoken for the mama who this precious boy in our home loves so deeply.

I came home with the weight of brokenness sitting heavy on my heart. A day later, it hasn’t yet lifted. So I hug our Baby D extra tight, snuggle him in close, and pray blessings over his little life, future still so uncertain. Smoothing his hair, rubbing his back, kissing his head, these are the tangible offerings I have for him even though I know they’re not enough to overcome what’s happening to him right now. He’s safe. He’s loved. But he’s still suffering. I believe in what we’re doing with all my soul, but this is not how it should be.

He’s not ‘lucky’ he’s with us. He’s not ‘fortunate’ to have been placed in our home. Nothing about this situation is lucky. Nothing about what’s happened to this sweet boy is fortunate. He’s sad. He’s traumatized. His family is broken, and he knows it. He will bear the scars from this the rest of his life.

We’re not doing ‘noble’ work. Nothing about this situation is noble. It’s messy and ugly and painful and sacrificial, and we do it because the children deserve every single bit of us. We pour ourselves out in love, not in misplaced piety. Far from offering a hand-out or a judgmental eye, we more often than not find ourselves side by side with the broken, with the needy. We’re living life alongside them. We’re crying with them, praying with them, taking them into our homes.

It’s not as easy as putting together a Christmas basket or serving a Thanksgiving meal. It’s not as satisfying as paying someone’s electric bill while they’re having a hard month. It’s not as simple as striking up a brief, meaningful conversation with someone you meet at a store or a park. (Nothing wrong with any of those things; we’ve done all of them.) It’s down and dirty, everyday, sacrificial work, even when I’d rather forget about it and try to live our happy little holiday party lives. I can’t do this stuff and go back to my regularly scheduled programming without my own life, my own family, my own home being affected.

Like it or not, we’re in the middle of the mess. Our kids are in the middle of the mess. This isn’t something we go and do on the weekends or holidays. It’s not a special church service event. It’s our lives. It’s daily. It’s unrelenting. It’s heart-wrenching.

And yet…we still expect hope. It’s because this is all worth it no matter how it turns out. The kids we bring into our home and love, whether for a time or forever, are worth it. The families we meet, share life with, share kids with, learn to love in the complicated middle of it, are worth it.

We expect hope will rise from even this pit, shining, lifting, pulling us through, keeping our eyes on the prize. In the end, the why and what and how of it is all about love – and for those of you who maybe haven’t read the ending yet (spoiler alert): love wins.

queasy parenting and still…gifts

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Parenting a house full of sick children isn’t fun. Then, when you get sick yourself, and your husband is feeling sketchy as well, it’s even more not-fun. Did I mention that one of our two bathrooms has been essentially out of commission for a few days? The worst part about a large family is that even when the stomach virus has already hit four of you, you can’t feel relieved because you're only halfway done. Hopefully my big kids will avoid the heavy-duty sickness since this is Trick-or-Treat week and school costume parade week and Girl Scouts costume party week. Oh, the aching disappointment of having to miss a school party.

Even in the midst, I can count gifts:

  • teamwork to clean up the baby’s crib after a middle-of-the-night vomiting spell
  • the resources to make an immediate purchase when we desperately need a carpet cleaner to remove the traces of the stomach bug from our living room
  • cuddly sick babies
  • wiping the cold sweat off of a brown-skinned brow
  • holding her for hours while she retches
  • a husband who knows how to check vitals when we’re not getting good responses
  • a day with him at home – even with both of us not feeling well, we can still get things done
  • chicken and noodles
  • saltine crackers
  • Sprite
  • a handy husband to fix a broken toilet (p.s. plastic airplanes don’t go down the drain)
  • helpful big kids
  • Strawberry Shortcake, PBS kids, and all the other television that keeps the kids semi-occupied so we can rest
  • Lysol
  • hot tea
  • afternoon naps

All of this, and I’m thankful.

music for your saturday

Saturday, October 20, 2012

friday five

Friday, October 19, 2012

1) Pumpkin Snickerdoodles
Thus shall it be. Amen.

2) Nitrous Oxide
I’m in the middle of getting a tooth crowned, and today I had a two surface filling put in the other side. Translation: I’ve been seeing my dentist quite a bit. I used to be able to go the dentist with freedom and without a care. No longer. I get so tense the assistant rubs my arm and says, ‘It’s ok, honey.’ annnd…that’s why I now get the gas. Goodbye crippling anxiety.

3) Sciatic nerve pain
This is no joke. Apparently just walking or running on the treadmill can cause this. Apart from making me feel really old, it also makes it hard to walk and function. Thank goodness for Aleve. (It occurs to me as I type this that perhaps I’m dwelling on medical substances too much. You can just call this “friday five: the drug edition”) In related news, I love my chiropractor.

4) Song Pop
Why can’t I stop playing this game?? Why am I so bad at Modern Country?

5) My son has his first serious crush. It’s adorable. He’s on the news team at school, and in the mornings they draw the ‘hot ticket’ winners. (The schools’ version of positive behavior rewards). He drew her name. THRILLING. And then he kept that ratty, frayed little raffle ticket with her name on it in his pocket all day. When he got home, I said, “how was your day?” He says, “Better than most” and pulls out that limp ticket with his grubby 5th grade fingers. Like I said, ADORABLE.
P.S. Don’t tell him I told you.

 

What random bullet points do you have to share with me today? Share em below.

autoimmune, part 3

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The last-for-now installment of my journey through a chronic autoimmune disease…here you can find part 1 and part 2.

 

…Every day for the rest of my life, I will take a pill, sometimes two, depending on the current dose I need to keep functioning. There’s a humble grief in that. My disease is not particularly life-threatening in the physical sense. The cardiac issues were scary, but there’s much less danger now that I’m hypothyroid. It steals the life straight out of me just the same. When my thyroid isn’t functioning up to speed, my hair and my fingernails stop growing, my skin dries up, my digestive system stops working, my brain doesn’t function normally. Sometimes I think this must be what it’s like when you know your body is shutting down and preparing for physical death, only in my case it occurs in slow motion.

I was too sick for a long time to process through all of this. I’ve only recently begun to grieve the losses a chronic illness brings in my life. I’ve had plenty of medical ‘issues’ in my life, this just felt like one more for a long time. A permanent dependency on medication, a disease that drastically affects my mental state, years of my children’s lives that I barely remember. The thought that I will never be the healthy adult that I imagined I would be. Those are losses. They are real. They are worth grieving. My life has forever changed.

I still battle pride. Admission of weakness, acknowledging need: those come easy in the trusted embrace of a loved one, but much harder when in the presence of ‘others’. The humility of being bound to a medication for the rest of my life still stings. Surrender doesn’t come easily to me, and this is just one more area where I’m being forced to learn it daily.

I now battle fear. I have hideous nightmares about losing all of my hair. I check the bathroom mirror in the middle of the night, making sure my nightmare wasn’t real. I fear the future. I know that once you have one autoimmune disease, you are much more likely to develop another, so I fear any new symptom or health issue. Pain in my hip? I hope it’s not rheumatoid arthritis. Or maybe it’s the beginnings of multiple sclerosis. It’s just always at the back of my mind.

I still battle an immense amount of guilt over these years. I feel guilty about our finances. I know medical bills are expensive – we have thousands in medical debt. I feel guilty that part of the reason my husband works so hard, works two jobs is because of my health. I feel guilt over the snarky almost-anger that rises up deep in me when I see all the fundraisers for various, more understandable illnesses that it’s so PC to raise money for.

I feel guilty for the burden my husband carried all on his own all of those years. I feel guilty that he did his job and mine too. I feel guilty that my anxiety caused him to miss family events. I feel guilty for making him the brunt of my hugely fluctuating emotions – the depression, the anxiety, the anger, the fear.

I feel guilt and regret and if I’m truly honest, shame, over how I parented (or didn’t parent) my children during those years. All the hours of TV. Will what they remember of me be how much I slept on the couch? I didn’t make them enough cookies. I didn’t play with them enough. I abdicated almost all of my role to Nick Jr. and Wendell. I wish I had been more honest about what life was like for me during the day. I wish I had not allowed Wendell to bear so much of the load.

Shame is the most insidious of emotions. I feel shame that I didn’t deal with this better. What about all those women out there with truly life threatening diseases that have severe pain and just soldier on? I didn’t even have severe pain. I feel shame that I wasn’t woman enough. That I wasn’t selfless enough to suck it up for “the sake of the family”. Was I even Christian enough? Did I choose joy in the face of difficulty? Did I just fall into a pit of self-pity? Why wasn’t I good enough, strong enough, graceful enough, joyful enough…

I choose not to stay in those places anymore. Even as I still battle this illness. It’s not as intense as it was at first, but it’s still a continual war. I get my blood drawn fairly regularly. I haven’t ever been on the same dose for more than six months at a time. This summer brought one of the worst times I’ve had since the beginning. My hormone levels were significantly off. I knew it but didn’t want to admit it. I wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening. When I finally went in, it was too late for a quick fix. Now, almost two months later, I can feel myself finally beginning to feel a little more normal.

This isn’t all over, but I’m living beyond it. I’m better at choosing joy. The rest of my life has taught me a lot about dealing with uncertainty, grief, joy, and pain all intertwined together. I counted steadily to 1000 gifts (and more). I’m learning to see the beauty in the mess. I’ve seen redemption in the hearts of my children. I am being healed. I keep watch with my words over this life that I’m living. I am living a better story.

 

 

As I watch and wait with my sweet friend who is battling her own chronic illness, I continue to pray for a miraculous healing that I never received and a remission that I never experienced because I believe that my God is big enough to do just that. She’s a wife, a mama to the sweetest one-year-old little girl, and she is one of the purest pictures of redemption that you’ll ever meet. She is just beginning to learn about this life that she would never have chosen. God may not perform a miraculous healing in her life, but I know His miracles don’t always come in the way we expect. I pray for her courage and resolve. I pray for her husband and daughter. I pray for pain alleviated, for joy experienced, for strength renewed. I pray grace, overflowing, relentless, and amazing. Join me in interceding for her? Will you please?

autoimmune, part 2

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

This week, I’m chronicling some of my battle with a chronic illness. You can catch part 1 here, where I explain a little bit of why I’m writing this and why it may not seem as congruous as it should.

…The first thing that had to be done was attempt to manage most of the symptoms with medication. Actually, the first thing they wanted to do was permanently treat the disease – meaning they would give me a radioactive iodine that would kill off (ideally) enough of the thyroid that it would function normally. I was resistant to a permanent option; I had read about remission, and I was determined that was how things were going to work for me. So we did ‘maintenance’ meds. Meds to regulate my heart rate, meds to regulate my thyroid, meds to reduce my anxiety, a couple of other medications that I can’t for the life of me remember.

I spent most of that first year on the couch. Literally. Lying on the couch for hours on end. The fatigue was debilitating. I got up late (thankfully I had some late sleepers at that point), got the kids dressed and fed, then laid on the couch. Turned on the TV, Nick Jr. and PBS all morning long, the toddler tucked into the crook of my legs so that I could sleep and still know if she got down from the couch. Ben learned early on how to get himself and Maggie breakfast and snacks when I couldn’t get up.

When my husband came home, I was still lying down. He cleaned, he took care of children, he cooked. He went to work. He got little sleep. He picked up all the slack when I had nothing to give. It was overwhelming and exhausting for him. He made our family function when it was on the edge of falling completely apart. I wish we had been more honest about this part of our lives. I just felt like there wasn’t anything anybody could do for me. I was embarrassed that we needed help. I was ashamed that I couldn’t get off the couch. All of those things were true. The thing I was forgetting: the help wouldn’t have been for me. It would’ve been for him. But we didn’t ask. He did everything, and he didn’t complain about how hard it was.

Anxiety ran high. If I dug my fingernails into my palms, again and again and again, I didn’t feel so out of control. I didn’t have any desire to self-harm, but I did develop a new understanding for people who do. It’s just that small part of your life that you can control. I remember my dad driving me to my first endocrinologist appointment, and all I could do all the way there was clench and unclench my fists over and over again.

I took meds. Three times a day, four times a day, pill after pill after pill. Calm my racing heart, calm my frazzled nerves. Anti-thyroid medications, beta blockers, anti-anxiety meds, herbs to help combat depression, vitamins, fish oil, I tried so many different things in a desperate attempt to ‘naturally’ manage this whole thing.

When they told me they would prefer I not get pregnant, I asked them for the meds that would be safest just in case. Not quite ready to say no more, yet ready enough to not fight against it too hard. After a certain point, I was just too sick to care. I’m sure part of the reason they allowed me the fantasy is because they knew I was unlikely to get pregnant while I was so sick anyway. I wasn’t that fertile even when I was healthy, we had already talked about adoption for the rest of our family, but something about being told you ‘shouldn’t’ do something makes you reluctant to agree.

I had my blood drawn. And drawn again and drawn again. Measuring thyroid hormones, measuring liver function and blood count (the meds make you more susceptible to liver failure and low white blood cells, increasing risk of infections), attempting to make sure that my body was working as well as it could under the circumstances. I had been queasy around needles, but after close to three years of blood work every 4-6 weeks makes you a little more at ease. I took my kids to the lab with me; they became intimately familiar with the smell of alcohol, the sight of needles, and watching blood pour from their mother’s arm.

When my hair turned greasy, fell out by the handful, when I could see the thinning spots on my scalp and the bald spots on my eyebrows, I just colored it in with pencil and tried to wash my hair as often as possible.

When the thought of going to a reunion for the weekend, packing, socializing, travelling reduced me to a crying, out of control wreck of anxiety, my husband called his family last minute and told them we couldn’t come.

I didn’t get to reap the more popular side effects of Grave’s. Increased energy? Try everlasting exhaustion combined with constant insomnia. Weight loss? The opposite. Grave’s causes increased appetite, and my metabolism didn’t kick into high gear like it typically does with hyperthyroidism.

I battled depression, anxiety attacks, heart palpitations, intestinal difficulties, and acne. I got hives with regularity. Extreme sensitivity to heat. Infrequent menstrual cycles. Non-existent libido. Unexplained rashes. Difficulty with focused thinking. Poor memory. Dozens of tiny symptoms, most of them not at all bad on their own, but dealing with thing after thing after thing wears a person down.

Praying for healing, praying for remission, praying for relief became part of my daily schedule. I desperately clung to medication that merely attempted to manage symptoms, knowing there was a more permanent course of action to take, yet unwilling to go there for more than a year.

I finally decided to do the treatment that would kill off my overactive thyroid. Even then I pushed, asked for a significantly smaller dose of radiation than the doctor recommended. I decided I’d rather do it twice than to overshoot it the first time. I knew what killing off too much would mean: hypothyroidism, making me dependent on medication for the rest of my life.

Ironically, even that bit of control I pushed for was taken away from me. The smaller dose killed off a huge part of my thyroid. It would be months before we finally increased the dose of artificial thyroid hormone enough to make up for what my thyroid was no longer producing. I ended up being on one of the highest doses of Synthroid my endocrinologist had ever prescribed.

 

This post only begins to touch on the day-to-day of living with a chronic illness, and the emotional and mental processing of all of this is yet to come…back tomorrow.

autoimmune, part 1

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

No surprise to my husband, I am rarely at a loss for words. There are few things in my life that render me speechless. Even the Very Hard Things tend to get processed with language, the cathartic sound and flow of a sentence brings solace, brings healing. Given that, the block that has been plaguing my writing for the past couple weeks has come unexpectedly. This part of my life that I’ve been working through never seemed like that big of a thing, definitely not something that would render me without the ability to process aloud (or in print). The next couple posts are likely to be a bit different. I finally began to write on Saturday, but things are choppy, not as smooth as I prefer, and even today, I find myself unable to really edit them.

My sweet friend was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It’s funny how walking with someone as they go through something can bring back your own journey through an extremely similar time. I think part of the difficulty in writing this all out is just recognizing how much of this part of my life I had not yet dealt with. I just did what I had to do, the next thing, making it through until the next change, without taking the time or having the ability to process. So, over the past couple weeks, that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s been more painful than I expected, but freeing in a way that I didn’t anticipate either…

 

The thing that clued me in that something wasn’t right was when someone else remarked on my shaking hands. Of course, I had noticed the shakiness, but for someone else to see it gave me pause. At first I just assumed it was too much caffeine, as if I had finally started to be truly affected by the amount of coffee I was consuming. My hands shook all the time. I couldn’t hold a pen still enough to even sign my name correctly. I have looked back at a bit of writing I did during that time, and my handwriting had become nearly illegible, even to me. A couple weeks off caffeine and no cessation in symptoms, I was ready for something different. At my doctor’s visit, she watched my hands tremor, felt my pulse racing, and immediately felt my neck (hello, unattractive goiter) and said, “I think it’s your thyroid.”

Hundreds of dollars in lab tests plus an ultrasound and a visit to the endocrinologist (the first one, whom I hated) later, and I had a diagnosis of Grave’s Disease. This began a lengthy journey towards learning to manage my body and an autoimmune disease.

I remember learning the facts. Grave’s Disease is an autoimmune disease that causes hyperthyroidism. Most people are familiar with the thyroid as the gland that controls metabolism. The thyroid does way more than that, and trust me, you notice when it’s not working appropriately. Grave’s is associated with several other autoimmune disorders, one of them rheumatoid arthritis, and once you have one, you are more susceptible to others as well. The symptoms are myriad and varied, more on that later. The thing about a disease affecting a hormone producing part of your body, however, is that the mental and emotional symptoms are often just as bad, if not worse, than the physical ones.

Fair warning for the rest of this series, I don’t remember nearly enough of these years. Bits and pieces, here and there. If you asked me to provide a chronology of my disease, there’s no possible way I could tell you. Even still, I rely on my husband for many of the details. I wish I had been a good note-taker at that point in my life – I wish I had known that I should be taking notes, marking the memories of happenings that I recall only through a thick haze.

Working through the haze tomorrow…see you then.

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