Friday, November 22, 2013

Good News!

Why, oh why can't I just be a full-time blogger?  Life would be so much easier.  I could get my cup of coffee in the morning, get the kids off to school, and sit down to write.  I wouldn't even have to get out of my pajamas.

*Sigh*  Such is not the case...yet. 

But, here is the good news from our family:  Al got a job!  Almost 3 years after the stroke, he is finally going back to a part-time job.  I personally feel that it is about 2 years overdue, but you can only do so much when your physiatrist can only see you every 3-6 months, you're working with a slow-as-molasses government agency, and no one tells you what's going on.  Oh, well, whatever  happened, the Lord's timing is always perfect.

Al began his job last week at Lansing Community College.  He will be working part-time (very part-time at 12 hours per week) as a programmer.  The cool thing is that he is working with a good friend who gave him his start in IT many years ago when they worked together at Universal Map.  Al is still getting his feet wet, trying to jumpstart his brain a bit into remembering the ins and outs of computers and programming, but I firmly believe that it's only a matter of time until he gets back into the groove.

The mood in our house definitely seems lighter.  Al seems a bit more peaceful, and he is not nearly as tired as I thought he would be.  One of his most persistent issues has been neurofatigue, which just means his brain gets overworked and he has to take a break (or a nap) to recharge.  However, it seems like he's really hanging in there.

Meanwhile, I'm still working 20 hours per week as the librarian at my children's school.  It usually ends up feeling like 30 hours of work crammed into 20, trying to serve 700 kids and their unyielding requests for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants.  It's a fun job, but I'm usually pretty exhausted by the end of my 3-day work week.  On top of persistent fatigue, I've been having trouble with joint pain, swelling and stiffness, as well as heat in my joints.  In fact, my body almost always feels too hot, even though I don't run a fever.  I often have a "hot flash" across my face, where my face just feels like it's on fire.  I've been having some muscle tingling and weakness in my arms and legs, as well as feeling shaky quite often.  To make a long story short, I'm finally pursuing further testing to determine whether I actually suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or the like.  I have an appointment with a specialist in January.  I'm not hoping for some major disease (please, Lord, no!), but I will be very relieved if I can get a diagnosis that at least tells me that I'm not crazy or lazy!

Anyway, that's another whole blog post in and of itself.  I'm mainly sharing the good news that my hubs is back to work and we seem to be finally creating our "new normal."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Step By Step

I've been judgmental of my husband.  Since it's been a few years since the stroke, I expect that it's time for him to rally, to come back stronger than before.  I can't understand why he won't get up and do more - take a walk, visit friends.  I can't understand why he can't embrace his "new" self and accept that this is who he is.  I can't understand why he can't just move on.

Because I don't understand.  I don't understand what it's like to drag half my body around all day, every day.  I don't understand what it's like to have my arm hanging at my side, unable to muster any will to make it move, regardless of how hard I try or how badly I want it.  I don't understand what it feels like to struggle just to turn over in bed or to get up and use the bathroom at night.  I don't understand what it's like to go out in public and have people stare at me or not know how to act around me.

Even more, I don't understand what it's like to know that I can't provide for my family the way I used to.  I don't understand what it's like to wonder if I will be able to walk my daughters down the aisle.  I don't know what it's like to not be able to take my son on a camping trip.  I don't understand what it's like to feel like my life is over.

Most of my selfish thoughts have centered around ME.  Why can't he help me more around the house?  Why can't he pay the bills?  Why can't he help more with the kids?  Why is our relationship so strained?

Well, obviously!  Our relationship is strained because I am expecting far too much of him, and then I'm dumping all my grief and misery on him when he doesn't live up to my expectations.  

I am ashamed.  I apologize, openly, here, to my husband.  And to my kids, who have seen me treat their Daddy poorly.

The truth of it is that Al is as much of a man as he ever was, maybe even more of a man.  He may not have the physical strength he once had.  But he has more emotional strength than before.  He has more spiritual strength - he prays every. single. day. regardless of whether he feels like he's "getting anything" from it.  He is faithful.

Al loves me with a superhuman love.  There have been times that I have behaved so poorly that I believed it would be in his right to just walk away and leave me.  I have screamed and ranted.  I have pouted and sulked.  I have said very unkind things to him.  I have wallowed in self-pity.

And Al just loves me.  He is very quiet and very constant.  Through my tears and wails, he has remained steadfast.  Even after days that I've acted like Kate from The Taming of the Shrew, his commitment is unwavering. After everything I've done, he is still tender and caring and loving.

And then I remember that this was one of the major reasons I fell in love with Al:  I experience of the love of God through him.  

Recently, this song has been playing through my head, over and over.  Maybe the Lord put it there to remind me of the love Al has for me and his family.

You take that first step,
Ask her out and treat her like a lady
Second step, 
Tell her she's the one youre dreaming of
Third step, 
Take her in your arms and never let her go
Dont you know, step by step
Step by step, you'll win her love
 (Step by Step, Eddie Rabbitt, 1981)

Yeah.  My husband loves me like that.  I've been too self-focused, looking at the practical things that may have been lost after the stroke.  I had forgotten, but now I remember, that I am married to a truly wonderful, loving man of God.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My husband's blog

If you want to hear from the stroke survivor himself (or as he refers to himself, Gimp-In-Chief), here is a link to his new blog:  Diffrent Stroke

A Sad Glimpse of Hope

Yes, the title is a bit oxymoronic. Isn't Hope always happy or … hopeful?

A few nights ago, I rolled over in bed to grab my husband's left hand. I do this sometimes just because I love him, but mostly because his left arm gets spastic during the night and it stretches out toward me, becoming a stiff beam across the bed and locking me into an uncomfortable position on an outer sliver of the bed. If I hold his hand or stroke his arm, sometimes the tone will soften and I can push his arm back toward his side and reclaim some of my part of the bed.

As I reached for his hand that night, I was only half awake. Strangely, I was greeted by movement. I squeezed his hand, and he fluttered his fingers back. Still being groggy, I did it again, wondering why it seemed strange to me. Then my eyes shot open and I asked him, “Is that your left hand moving???” Sadly, his response was, “No.” He was using his right hand to stretch out the fingers in his left hand, which sometimes become uncomfortably tight during the night. He wears a splint on his left hand to keep it straightened out instead of shrinking into a tight ball, but sometimes his finger pull out of the splint and do their own thing anyway. He had been fumbling with his fingers to get them to cooperate enough to get them back into the splint. I had grabbed his right hand, not his left.

Of course, I was disappointed. But I was also somewhat surprised that, in my sleepy fog, it didn't seem so strange to feel his hand moving. It was as if, somewhere in my subconscious, I knew it would happen some day.

But in my conscious mind, I realized that I have given up hope for Al to experience any further physical recovery. I no longer expect my husband to walk perfectly or to regain the use of his arm and hand. Is this reality, or am I becoming a pessimist?

There is a reality in the medical world that says his chances of regaining further mobility at this point in his post-stroke rehab are slim to none. But there is an even greater Reality that says that everything is possible for him who believes.

The father of the boy whose son was possessed by demons said to Jesus:
But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
'If you can'?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
(Mark 9:22-24)

It is time to return my true Hope to the One who deserves it. I do not hope in the medical community, although they have much to offer. I choose to hope in Jesus.

Lord, I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Jars of Clay

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

A familiar verse from 2 Corinthians 4 if you know the Bible.  We are easily reminded that we are jars of clay or earthen vessels.  We're not made of steel or titanium.  We're made of mud; wet dirt hardened into something practical.  Not always beautiful, but useful.  (But I do wonder sometimes why my "dirt" is flabbier and has more gray hair than other people....)

The part that really made me think was that, as part of bearing the hardship of being human, we are perplexed.  Perplexed.  Seems like an odd word for the Bible.  As I started to ponder the meaning of the word perplexed - bewildered, puzzled - I realized that it pretty much describes me.  I am perplexed by God and His purposes.  I am confused, bewildered even....

Before I got married, I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home Mom.  So, on my checklist for potential partners, that requirement was right near the top, along with finding a man who was a committed Christian and was willing to feed me chocolate on a daily basis.  I found Al about 6 years before I realized he was "the one," but God knew all along.

So I got to be a stay-at-home Mom for 10 whole years. Early on in parenthood, I was convinced that homeschooling would be the best option for our kids, and I talked my skeptical husband into it. I homeschooled for 5 years and then I burned out.  The hubs talked me into putting the kids in school.  It was a blow for my ego, to realize that I couldn't be the perfect do-it-all Mom that I wanted to be.  But God knew I struggled with depression and fatigue, and he also knew that I would get mono that first year the kids were in school.

By the end of my kids' first year at their school, a position opened up in the office.  I was nowhere near ready to work full-time, nor had I ever dreamed of working outside the home again after experiencing the heavenly silence of having children at school all day!  But there was a nudge.  God was in this somewhere:  A nagging thought in the back of my head.  At the time, money was a little tight, as always, but my thinking was that maybe I would work for a few years so we could pay off some debt. My husband agreed to let me apply only if I really wanted to do it.  By the end of my kids' first year, I  was working part-time at the school; by the beginning of the second year - September 2010 - I was the full-time Office Administrator.  It was an extremely busy job, but I loved it.  God had a plan.  He knew I could do something I didn't think I could do.

Then in January 2011 came the stroke.  It then became obvious to me that God led me to want and take that job so that I could bring in some money during that extremely challenging time.  And it was oddly comforting to have something I could do that kept my mind off the fact that my husband was suddenly and severely disabled.  I continued to work full-time for another year and then I caved.  I told my boss that I just couldn't handle a full-time job while trying to care for my husband and children.  Once again, I felt like my ego had taken a hit.  I couldn't do this either.  I felt like I kept failing at everything I tried. But I was blessed to transfer to a part-time position in the school's library, which I still enjoy. 

So, what am I perplexed about?  It is apparent, looking back over the past years, that God had a plan to provide for us in every way.  I would think my faith would be a lot more solid by now, like "Yeah, God's got this under control."  Yet, each day the future is still uncertain, challenging, and occasionally very scary.  I am perplexed as to why God continues to perplex me!  I feel like life is ALWAYS challenging, ALWAYS perplexing.  Can't He just give me a break once in a while???  (I say with a little sarcasm and a lot of faith, so as to hopefully avoid a lightning strike.)

The comfort in this passage is that I am not alone.  Scripture tells me that we are all perplexed from time to time, but not in despair.  Sometimes I despair, but God always gives me grace to trust in spite of my confusion.  We are hard pressed - PRESSED. HARD. - but not crushed.   We are struck down, but not destroyed.

"Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  (2 Cor. 4:16-18) 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It Comes Down to This

It has been a difficult couple of years.  I have fought a lot of self-pity.  "Woe is me.  My life didn't turn out the way I wanted.  This is hard work.  I don't like it."

From the outside, it may seem like the fact that my husband had a stroke should be "no big deal" by now.  "Hey, it's 2 1/2 years later.  Accept it and move on."  I accepted the stroke itself within the first six repeating to myself over and over and over, "My husband had a stroke."  It was very unreal, so I said it to myself and out loud to everyone I met until I accepted it.  Then it was, "My husband is disabled."  To the cashier at Meijer.  To the guy at the greenhouse who helped me to load wood chips onto a cart.  To the people who came to my yard sales.

Then it was, "Will I have to work full-time for the rest of my life?"

Then, "We have to file for bankruptcy."

Then, "Our marriage will never be the same."

Then, "God....You let us down."

When I was young(er), my vision for my life was this:  Know, Love and Serve God.  Get married, have kids, raise a family of prayer warriors (a word God spoke to me when I was a missionary in the Philippines), and become Super Wife and Super Mom. Can you guess what didn't happen the way I wanted it to?

The time has come.  I am challenging myself, my children, my husband, and hopefully all who read this:  Accept God's will for your life.  I was reading Psalm 16, which I had dubbed as my "life Psalm" over 20 years ago. I wanted my heart to reflect what David said in the Psalm, "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance."

But my attitude has been far from this in dealing with the aftermath of the stroke.  I accepted that it happened; obviously, I couldn't deny what in fact had happened.  But I have been crying, whining, and complaining that God didn't swoop in and fix it all right away.  Where was the miraculous healing?  Where was my husband's Academy-Award-winning rally?  Where was the new house and car that Ty Pennington should have given me?  Where were my lottery winnings?

I hope you realize that I am exaggerating just a little, but it certainly didn't get easier when I had to work full-time in a high-stress job for a year after the stroke.  It worked out peacefully for me to move to a part-time position, but that created more financial stress.  It didn't get easier to deal with the depression and anxiety with which I've battled for years; in fact, those things became exponentially worse.  My kids didn't magically transform into Spirit-led prayer warriors.  And I most certainly did NOT become Super Mom.

Now, I'm faced with this reality:  God has surely allowed my life to progress to the place where it is today; surely for His purposes, and ultimately for my salvation.  Either I can change my thinking from "God, when are you going to do something about this huge mess in my life?" to "God, show me how I can serve you in this mess" OR I will continue to be depressed, miserable, and deceived.

Can you guess what choice I'm going to make?

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Vine and the Branches

After a heat wave, even a short one like the one we had in Michigan a few weeks ago, it's not hard to find patches of dying grass or wilting blossoms on the summer flowers.

That's how I feel.  Like a crispy, dried branch on a vine that is otherwise healthy.  I was reading John 15, and I realized that I'm the branch on the vine that is at risk of being cut off by the Gardener.  I'm not exactly sure how to take that verse - John 15:2 says that God the Father will cut off every branch that does not bear fruit.  I understand the symbolism - that I had better be connected to Jesus or I'm wasting my life.  But will God really cut me off?  In the light of Jesus' mercy, I think the cutting will be God cutting off the junk that makes me unproductive.  That's probably why it hurts.  God is pruning me and cutting off the clutter that doesn't really matter in my life.

I don't know why I didn't inherit my mother's green thumb.  She loves to garden, and she works in her yard any chance she can get.  I just want something to look pretty outside my house with minimal human involvement, like a realistic sculpture of a plant.  My mom came to visit me one spring after we had just moved to a new house.  She wanted to help me re-create the existing gardens.  In her zeal, she accidentally  cut a rather healthy clematis all the way to the ground. She felt terrible.  But guess what?  The clematis came back that summer, and by the fall, it had grown up, not only wrapping itself around the trellis, but climbing all the way to the 2nd story roof on our house. 

I think this must a be a pruning period for me.  I have allowed a lot of junk to invade my life, to the point that it is suffocating my spiritual life.  In response to the real challenges of having a disabled husband and filing for bankruptcy and trying to raise 4 kids who aren't completely dysfunctional,  I have turned to junk to fill my needs instead of God.  I sleep a lot.  I eat too much.  I watch TV or play video games or surf the web endlessly.  Kind of useless junk, wouldn't you say?  Of course I need to let God trim that junk away so that I can get on with the business of knowing, loving and serving God.  Theoretically, it shouldn't hurt too much to have that stuff cut away.  It isn't really satisfying anyway, but for some reason, I keep chasing down the crap that doesn't fulfill.

Time to let God do His thing.  Please take out the trash, Lord; cut off the fruitless, dry branches, and help me to sprout and grow healthy and fruitful.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Everything Hurts

Everything. Hurts.


Being awake hurts.  My husband is bereft of all hope.  Our marriage just "is" because we will never leave each other.  But it's not functioning much more than that. 

My children are constantly "bored" instead of being creative and being grateful for the beautiful summer break. And that means their relationships hurt when they attack each other physically and verbally.

Our finances hurt.  We are not yet destitute, but we soon will be.  Without health insurance and with very little money, we can no longer afford some of our basic prescriptions.  Which means that, within a month's time, I will be in physical pain because my main prescription is for depression, but it also has vicious physical withdrawal effects.  If I don't get insurance within a month's time, I will be emotionally and physically destitute.  And, if you've never gone through it, the process of applying for DHS assistance, aside from being humbling every time we do it, is also painfully tedious.  They continually ask for proofs of income, job, and assets - a few at a time instead of everything at once.  So, the process which "should" conceivably take a few weeks, ends up taking months.  But we don't really have months to spare.

Our stuff hurts.  Everything is breaking.  E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.  Both cars are in need of serious maintenance and repair.  The disposal keeps breaking and the dishwasher barely works.  The washer does about 1/2 a load of wash at a time, and we have to run the dryer twice for every load.  My computer keeps losing vital parts,  the kids keep breaking doors and random stuff, and the kitchen ceiling leaks regularly.  The front porch is peeling and falling apart, and our downspouts are falling off.  The lawnmower works when it feels like it and the kids' pool is dying.

My faith hurts.  I have prayed and mustered and worked and tried and prayed some more to have a positive attitude; an attitude of "God is enough" and "God will provide."  And I've prayed and tried and persuaded and cajoled and nagged and prayed some more to try to convince my husband and the kids that God is enough and that He will come through for us. But instead of lifting all of us up, I end up getting dragged down.

I'm becoming cynical.  And I know that's not good.  I'm getting kind of tired of seeing nice "feel-good" status updates on other people's Facebook accounts.  I want to yell, "That's not true!"  I repent of cynicism and self-pity on a regular basis.  I tell Jesus that I need Him about 100 times a day.  But that doesn't always make me feel better.

I want to relax and write and enjoy the summer.  But sometimes I can't let go of the junk that weighs me down. 

Don't worry.  I'll be OK.  Even though our life has never been so scary, I've been through challenging emotional times before, and I know that God really IS enough and He WILL see us through. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Why Don't I Write More?

When you're going through something that involves the whole family, it becomes very tricky to talk about who's struggling through what without slandering someone.  This is why I don't write very often.  But I could definitely find something to say every. single. day.  And it would be easier when I write my book to just go back to my blog posts and glean information rather than try to sort out the giant junk drawer that is my brain.  I really do want to write a book some day, but that is ambitious considering the fact that I don't know if I'll make it through each day alive, let alone the number of days, months, and years it may take to "go through" whatever you would like the call the challenge we're having in these parts.

Let me sum up:
Financially:  Money is tight.  We filed for bankruptcy and have our final hearing on June 3 - yeah!  Now we have no credit (yeah?) and no source of emergency money - boo!  Also,  the kids and I will be dumped off of Al's insurance in July - boo.  I shouldn't say that in such a negative way.  His Long-Term Disability coverage through his company has been more than generous in covering our entire family for 2 1/2 years.  But it's still another financial unknown.

Therapy:  Not really happening.  The big guy is discouraged.  Or disillusioned.  Not sure which.  He is getting a new switch put into his electrostim sleeve, which will allow him to grasp an object at will, so that may be a helpful start.  It's still hard for him to look past the fact that he has to have a bionic arm to do the work for him.  Walking is still functional, but at a minimum in terms of stamina.  He came with us to the kids' science fair at school and had to sit down most of the time.  A week later, the girls and I went to the East Lansing Art Festival without the boys, and I felt nostalgic for the times when Al was able to join us on such family ventures.  I get a little choked up thinking, "He may never come sledding with us again," or "we may never go camping again." 

The good news is that Al is finally back in the driver's seat with the SOS stamp of approval, and with the additional help of a turn signal adaptor and spinner knob.  Turns out it's illegal for me to use the knob, so I'll just have to drive my own car.  Too bad, it looks like fun!

I am in the ever-present state  of feeling overwhelmed.  Too much to handle and not enough brain or time.  I work 2-3 days a week, do the laundry & dishes, get the groceries and gas, clean the house (on occasion, at least), try to be a parent to 4 - sometimes 5 - kids.  Not intending too much offense - I suspect that most married women would lump their husbands in with the kids on occasion, too! 

I'm trying to "help" Al with a new budget, too, but from the look on his face I have just bewildered him.  I just want to figure out how to live within a budget.  We always thought we did it before, but we really didn't.  We had X amount of money budgeted for groceries, for example.  I would buy the groceries.  And maybe a hanging plant or two. And some new sandals.  Oh and we needed a new trash can for the kitchen.  So when the grocery money was out, I would just ask for more, and my husband would make it appear.  Now, I am obsessively aware of where every last penny is going, and it's not fun yet.  I was hoping it would ease my anxiety about bankruptcy, but it hasn't.  I'm a control freak.  So when I budget something, I simply cannot tolerate a $350 fix on the shower that wasn't in my budget to begin with!  Al would have  handled it differently, but he is graciously letting me get involved so theoretically, if I see where the money all goes, I can have more peace about it.

Finally, I would say I've never experienced a time like this in our marriage before.  Marriage was always very easy for me.  I adored my husband (and I still do).  I found it easy to speak well of him, and I did that regularly, often to people's surprise, since so many women bad-mouth their boys.  I had fun with him, and I trusted him.  I'm writing all of these things in the past tense, not because they're not true any more, but just to try to demonstrate how easy marriage was for me.  Since the stroke, marriage has become difficult.  Exceedingly difficult.  Not difficult as in we're signing divorce papers or anything.  We continually reassure each other that we're committed to each other for life.  But our roles, responsibilities, and even our personalities have been changed, and we are learning how to love and be loved as new people.  I don't exactly know how to be a wife to a man who isn't the provider in the way he used to be and wants to be.  I don't know how much to push him to go beyond what he's comfortable doing - will he fall (literally or figuratively), or will he succeed and be thankful that I gave him that nudge?  How much do I force him to do, entrust him with?  And how much do I choose to do, not grudgingly, but because I want to serve my husband and family?

If you're still reading, thanks for being with me.  I don't have many people that I talk to in depth about these things, but it's good to get some catharsis from time to time.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why I Wanted to Cancel Mother's Day

I wrote this letter to my children this morning:

The day before Mother's Day, I felt like there was nothing worth celebrating. All I could think about was how I had failed in countless ways as a mother. When you, my children, were very small, I remember a friend telling me that if I were a perfect mother, my children wouldn't need the Lord. OK, that made sense. It made me breathe a sigh of relief because I didn't have to be perfect.

However, sometimes I think I let that truth, and God's mercy, convince me to be lazy about mothering. I am ashamed at all the ways I have set a bad example. I have been lazy, crabby, mean, and selfish. I have set the example of hiding from my problems and shirking my responsibilities. I have complained instead of rejoicing; I have worried instead of praying; I have grumbled instead of giving thanks in all circumstances.

When I thought about Mother's Day, I thought about you giving me cards that said, “You're the best Mom in the world,” and it made me regret all the ways that I have been so much less than the “best” Mom in the world.

So, I thought I didn't really deserve Mother's Day.

But none of us deserves God's mercy. None of us deserves what Jesus did for us on the Cross. So, I have to face my failures and ask for forgiveness, from you and from the Lord.  Then, I am free to receive His mercy and love because.  And then, I have to resolve to “do better.” That doesn't mean “try harder,” because growing as a mother – like growing in any kind of holiness - doesn't come from my own sheer effort. It comes from my submission to Christ and His will for my life. If I want to be a better mother, a better example of gratitude, joy, and service, then I need Christ first. I need Him to give me the grace to say no to my desire to be lazy, my temptation to complain, and my habit of thinking of myself first.

I apologize for not putting Jesus first in my life every day. I'm sorry that I haven't worshipped and adored and glorified God the way He created me to. And I'm sorry that I haven't taught you to do so as well.  Forgive me for trying to be a mother on my own strength rather than through Christ who gives me strength.

Forgive me for all the ways I have failed you. I pray that God will help you to heal from the ways I've hurt you. I know that HE is enough when I am not. I pray mostly that I will be able to submit to His will to be able to be used by Him to be the mother HE created me to be.

So, on Mother's Day, instead of dwelling on my own insufficiency, I will rejoice that God is enough. I will rejoice that love covers a multitude of sins. I will rejoice that, even though I'm a “failure,” God brought us together as a family for a reason. Not because any of us is perfect, but because we're perfect for each other.

I love you!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Please Stand By

Hey, there, new and old blog friends:

I just wanted you to know that I will be taking a little break from my blog for a few weeks - probably  until Easter.  There's a lot going on in our family right now, and I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed. 

If you know me personally, or you have read this blog for a while, you know what kind of chaos we've gone through in the past 2 years.  Thank God His Almighty Power and Presence, the ability to begin anew every morning, and for my sense of humor.  If God hadn't given me a lighter side, I'd probably be dead by now!

Thanks for hangin' with me - I'll see you in a few weeks!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why Didn't You TELL Me?

Much of our experience of stroke rehabilitation is this:  Expect the unexpected.  We focus so much on physical rehabilitation that we forget the profound mental, emotional and relational effects that Al's stroke has had on our family, and on him.

Since Al is home almost all of the time, I expect a lot from him.  In fact, at his appointment in December, Al's physiatrist, Dr. A, challenged him - sharply - to get up and do jobs around the house.  He told Al, and I quote, "Right now, you are useless.  You don't want to be useless, so don't be useless."  It wasn't the best bedside manner I've ever witnessed; in fact it was downright harsh, but it was also straightforward enough that we got the message:  Living your normal life, helping around the house, and helping your wife and helping with the kids IS THERAPY!
So, for the past 3 months, we've been working, together with Al's therapists, to create a routine where Al helps the kids with chores, and puts them to bed, among other things.  He does laundry and dishes while I'm gone to work, too!  (Yes - a wife's dream come true!)

Here's the thing:  from the way that our doctor "encouraged" Al to do as much as possible to resume "normalcy," I assumed that I could challenge him to do almost anything.  But during another appointment this past Friday, I was telling Dr. A about Al supervising the kids with chores.  The doctor asked how that was going, and Al wasn't really able to elaborate, so I said it was hard to follow through when the kids didn't do what they were asked.

Then Dr. A looked at me and asked, "Well, what do you expect???  He lost half his brain!  You can't expect him to think on his feet the way he used to."

OK, so I thought I knew that, but I also knew that the doctor wanted me to challenge him to do just about anything he could do with one hand and limited balance.  Now I've learned that I can't challenge him too much.  So, I'm still learning:  Encourage him, challenge him, praise his efforts, be his cheerleader....but don't expect too much at one time.  Don't load too much on him, or he will just shut down.

Every time I think we have something figured out, we have to make slight course-corrections.

And let me just add this in here as well:  Al's driver's license was suspended by the Secretary of State last week, until he takes a specialized driver's training course and assessment.  Dr. A had filled out a form for Al to take to the SOS, and he indicated he was confident in Al's ability to drive and pass the SOS test, but that's wasn't enough for the good old State of Michigan.  All of this also means that I am the sole chauffeur in the house for now, and that we have to dish out several hundred bucks to get Al through the specialized driving course.

I have a hard time praying when I'm confused and overwhelmed like this.  I go to the Lord and pretty much just sit there and say, "OK, Lord, tell me what to do.  So far, I haven't seen any specific Scriptures telling a mom with 4 kids and a disabled husband how to balance her life and to lead her family.  Throw me a bone, here, OK?"

Hebrews 4 keeps coming back to me during this Lenten season, and the very last line, vs. 16, says, "Let us then approach God's throne of grace wtih confidence, so that we may receive  mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

My greatest fault is that I forget that I need Jesus more than anything, and I need him for everything.  Even if there is no Scripture explicitly addressed to my needs, He has the answers.  When I try to figure things out on my own, I will just get more confused.  But if I approach the throne of grace and lay it all before the Lord, He will be the one to give me grace - including wisdom, insight, courage - to decide what I need to do and how I need to do it.

Again, God speaks to my absolute need for HIM to help me muddle my way through this in Matthew 6:33:  "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Don't Pity Me!

The other day's post, entitled, Another Breakdown, received various responses.  My point wasn't to make everyone feel sorry for me - I hope you know that!  My Mom even called and said she was so worried about me.  What I want everyone to know is that I face real and often painful challenges, but that I am continually finding courage in the Lord!  And I also find encouragement from my friends in the Lord.  Do you know what "encourage means?"  It simply means to impart courage.  How simple is that?  When I am starting to waver in my faith, a friend can impart courage to me from his or her own store of courage.

God has been working on my heart in the area of self-pity.  Last December, I had the privilege of receiving prayers for deliverance with 2 of my dear and God-fearing friends.  If you aren't familiar with the concept of deliverance, it is NOT exorcism, and it does NOT mean I was demon-possessed (although I may appear that way when I freak out as I described in my last post).  Deliverance is like deep spiritual housecleaning.  When I clean my house, I usually dust, sweep, know, make the place look presentable, at least.  But when I do deep cleaning, I borrow a carpet steamer and suck all the junk out of my carpet from the last year.  I take down curtains to wash them and I vacuum the walls and ceiling (OK, I'm a little OCD, but the dust is also very visible on our dark walls).  I clean up corners and baseboards with heavy duty cleaner.

That's what deliverance is like:  getting really deep into the stuff that is messy and dirty in my life.  I regularly try to repent and receive forgiveness for my wrongs.  I go to Confession once in a while and I find this Sacrament of my Church tradition very freeing.  But I have many dear friends who aren't Catholic, and I trust that they, too, have some means of cleaning their souls on a regular basis.  But deliverance is addressing patterns of sin and temptation, coming against Satan and breaking his power in areas where he may have gained a foothold.  Jesus gave us this authority and we can use that authority with confidence, in Jesus' Name, to command Satan to leave us alone!

So, as I hobble through the challenges I face, I am trying not to convey self-pity.  And if you catch me in the act of true self-pity, feel free to give me a slap on the wrist!  I just want to make that clear.  I would welcome your feeling "sorry" for me if it meant you were inspired to pray for me.  I would prefer, insteading my friends saying, "Oh, poor Jen," they would say, "Hey, Jen needs some prayer so let's get to it!"  <3 br="">

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Another Breakdown

Sure, as soon as I say things are "under control," I have a good old- fashioned breakdown.

In my defense, I do have a lot weighing on me:  My husband is still recovering and trying to figure out which way to go in terms of therapy and career.  Chances are that he will never work full-time again, due to his constant fatigue and his limitations.  However, he is still extremely intelligent and capable.  Most of his doctors have said he is very capable and that any agency would be happy to have him walk through their doors.  And they're not saying he's only qualified to do menial labor - they think he has a very good chance of finding some interesting work that would suit many of his background experiences.  He does have an MSW, he's worked as an IT Administrator for over 10 years, and now he has the wonderful(?) life-changing experience of having had a stroke and is making his way back.  Don't you think he'd be an asset to a variety of organizations??? I do, too, but he takes some convincing, and it's driving me mad!

In addition, we are on the brink of bankruptcy.  I am not embarrassed to share that.  We don't live in an expensive house or drive expensive cars.  Neither have we spent inordinate amounts of money on vacations (Hawaii would have been nice, but no...) or high-tech gagdets that we don't need - we don't even have cable and we still use "trac-fones."  We simply racked up a lot of money in credit card debt, trying to live life while balancing the demands of recovery and therapy.  I work part-time, and even with insurance, medical copays are killing us.  Add to that the fact that we desperately want our daughter to attend a Catholic high school, so financial issues are pressing to say the least.

You know, then there are the everyday stressors, like kids who have persistent stress-related issues like stomach aches and headaches, and a kid who is making the grade at school but is still weeks behind in his homework.  Kids who fight and bicker and parents who fight and bicker back.  Chores undone and general disorder. 

Oh, yeah, and then I have this ridiculous back pain that launched an attack on me, kind of out of nowhere - add a little pain to the stress, and I come unglued.

Let's just say I tend to break down once in a while. One year after my husband's stroke, I was still working full-time in a high-stress job, and I had an honest-to-goodness nervous breakdown, and my doctor took me out of work for 2 weeks.  After that, I requested part-time work and was moved to the school librarian position, which was a great blessing.  (But, yes, the stress of NOT working full-time weighs on me, too - less income, more financial burden, so maybe I should have kept the full-time job...but what good is a wife and mom who's a permanent resident at Sunnyside Insane Asylum?) Last summer, I experienced my first ever panic attack and ended up in Urgent Care.  The worst part of that was that my hubby was in Florida for 6 weeks, which was one of the precipitating factors of my breakdown, I'm sure. 4 weeks alone with the kids was actually kind of fun, but then it got offense, kiddos.

So, last night was another "straw that broke the camel's back" moment, and I asked my hubby to pray and do some spiritual warfare (yes, we believe that Satan is real and cunning, and that he harrasses us in our real life, so we pray against him regularly in the name of Jesus).  My husband, however,  suggested that I might be "borderline" or have, perhaps, advanced delusionary schizophrenia with involuntary narcissistic rage.  In his defense, he IS a guy, and he HAS seen some pretty freaky sides of me in our 16 years of marriage.  But I just was extremely overwhelmed and wanted some SERIOUS prayer from my protector.  While he stumbled back in a daze after my tirade, I texted my neighbor and she said she'd be right over.  In the few moments it took her to arrive, I read through a passage that I've been reading during Lent:  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15).   I chuckled to myself to think, "How on earth does Jesus know what it's like to be a hysterical woman?"  But I believe the Word of God IS true, and it is living and active, as the earlier verses in Hebrews 4 state.  So, I chose to let God shed a little humorous light into my plight.

After praying with Jen (also my neighbor's name - no I do not have Multiple Personality Disorder), and receiving some helpful suggestions, I felt much better.  My children had seen me sobbing uncontrollably earlier, and were asking "What's wrong, MOM?" I told them I would be OK, and Jen told them I would be OK, too.  I just asked them to pray for me.  They did and then left me to talk with my friend.  When Jen and I were done chatting, I was much more peaceful and ready to face my family again. I put on my bathrobe, my face was dried of tears and my soul was quieted.  As kids came in and out of the kitchen, they just said, nonchalantly, "Oh, Hi mom, you're up."  

I felt like I could totally relate to the guy who was possessed by legions of demons in Mark 5:15.  Moments earlier, I had been flipping out while my family stood by helplessly, and now I was now sitting there, dressed and in my right mind.

My kids weren't afraid.  They were just like, "Hey, Mom's back.  Cool."  After the extreme challenge of the past 2 years, I've noticed one pretty impressive thing:  my kids are very resilient.

That, my friends, is the power of prayer.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A New Direction

You haven't heard from me in a while.  That's because there has not been much to report.  Stroke recovery, as you know, is S-L-O-W!  I could report every few months and tell you basically the same thing - a little more leg movement, not much arm movement, a little more of this, not much of that.

January 5, 2013 marked an unbelievable 2 years since Al's stroke.  I'm relieved to have come this far, but I'm also concerned about the outlook for the future.  Two years is the time frame in which stroke victims typically see the most improvement.  Does that mean that Al won't continue to improve?  I hope not.  But in addition to being a common experience, it can also be a mental block.  Do we stop trying after 2 years because there is no more progress to be made?  Again, I hope not, but it's definitely an obstacle.

This is the situation today, February 18, 2013.  Al still walks with a cane and an AFO (ankle-foot-orthososis).  It is made of 2 pieces of heavy-duty plastic to stabilize his ankle and calf.  His leg is so muscular that he often breaks the AFO and has to have it repaired or re-made.  Strong muscles are good, but lack of control over those muscles is not so good - he has so much tone (rigidity) in his leg that I can't even physically stretch it out for him.  He has to put his weight on it to stretch his calf muscles.  He has use of his upper arm, but still no voluntary movement below the elbow.  It's frustrating for him, to say the least, to have a 20 lb. appendage just hanging around.  

I have been of the mindset for a long time now that he should begin to accept his challenges are and try to move forward with his life.  But I can't fully understand what it's like for him.  I am not a man who can no longer provide for his family the way he wants to.  I can't force him to act.  I often get frustrated and just want to make him do what I want him to do.  But I can't live his life for him.

With that being said, I am going to change the direction of this blog a bit.  I can't keep blogging about the progress (or lack thereof) that my husband is making in post-stroke therapy, even though he is still attending PT and OT. 

I am going to make this a more general therapy blog.  If I'm not going to write about physical or occupational therapy, then what am I going to write about, you may ask?  I guess I will just call it Spiritual Therapy.

I am not currently attending any therapy sessions for my own depression, and our family has put family therapy on hiatus as well.  I am personally doing ok with depression.  It's been a better year than most, which is quite odd, given the circumstances, but I believe that has a LOT to do with God's grace, and also something to do with the extra sunlight and warmth we've experienced in Michigan this winter.

So, here is the launch of my "new" Postcards with Therapy blog, where we will discuss all sorts of good things:  depression,
anxiety, self-pity, fear, marital trials, financial crises, and even addiction.  

I am not afraid to share the most intimate of my suffering because I know that serve a God who is Almighty!  I haven't shared much about my faith, but as I progressed in writing this blog, I realized that if I didn't include this very part of myself, the blog wouldn't be complete.  The process of therapy wouldn't be complete without Jesus Christ at the center.  

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NIV.