Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Cost of a Miracle

As Jared and I sat together in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, he said to me, "If you blog about this, don't overthink it.  Just write what you need to write."  So I'm taking his advice.  This isn't in chronological order or any kind of logical order because logic has left the building, and signs show no indication of when it will return.  A few of you know the details of our ordeal.  To the rest of you, I hope you never know.  Then the details won't haunt you like they haunt me.  You just need to know that on a Friday night, our middle son Griffin had a horrific accident in our very own back yard that led to him being on life support.  We went through hell.  We came out on the other side, and we brought Griffin home with us, but we can't go back to before our lives changed forever.


It was St. Patrick's Day.  The hospital chaplain had a silky green scarf tucked in the collar of his button-up shirt.  The nurses were wearing green tops.  Our worst nightmare had a color.


God did an actual miracle by bringing Griffin back from the brink of death.  You think that elation will be the overriding emotion.  But it isn't.  Because you don't feel your emotions in real time.  Your mind tries to suppress your emotions so you can get through each moment.  But they leak past your defenses and the reality hits you for a moment and it's unbearable.  So all of that emotion gets logged to be processed later in a less critical moment.  By the time the miracle happens and the news is good, your log is full and it's time to start processing the harder stuff first.  That's why I ended up in a crippling panic attack the day after Griffin woke up.

The triggers are everywhere.  The night we came home from the hospital, I was putting away my kids' clean laundry that had been lovingly washed, dried, and folded by my precious friend.  I was so thankful.  The blinds were open just enough that I spotted the blue plastic sled in the back yard.  And I remembered.  The sled was on the muddy side yard hill as I ran, leading the firemen to my lifeless son in the back yard.  I yelled for Nolan to move the sled so no one would trip on it.  My bare feet squished into the mud as I ran.  The bottom hems of my black pajama pants skimmed the mud and I could feel the wet fabric slap my ankles.  I'm never safe from the onslaught of painful memories.

A team of sweet friends went to our house on Sunday to try to erase all evidence of Friday.  They threw away the popcorn Jared had just popped for our family movie night (the very reason we were calling the kids in from playing in the back yard).  They washed dishes and did laundry.  They organized and wiped and vacuumed.  They restored order to our home.  They put up a banner in Griffin's room and filled his bed with yellow smiley face balloons.  One of the dear friends said to me, "Don't look in the back yard.  But if you do, we've put Bible verses on all the windows."  Sure enough, every window facing the back yard had verses to cover over the image and remind us that God had never left us.  When I thought I had seen everything they did, and I had cried all I had left to cry, I went into my bathroom and found one more sign:


These ladies somehow understood that we had much hard work ahead of us.

Their incredible work made such a difference.  But we still found ourselves assaulted by the mental replay at unexpected times.

The day after we came home from the hospital, I was preparing Nora's back pack for school.  Her folder still had papers she had brought home from school.  On top of the stack was a freshly printed picture of Jared and the kids, with Griffin standing tall in the middle.  It had been taken Thursday night at a school function.  I had been volunteering at one of the stations, so I wasn't in the family picture.  It was our last night of "before."  The picture nearly undid me, and I couldn't help but think what it would have done to me if we hadn't brought Griffin home.

Jared says we have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  He said if you were in a battle and got shot, even if you survived and you won the battle, you still have to deal with the fact that you got shot.  He added, no offense to those who have actually fought in battles.  Men and women come home from war, and they struggle to cope with what they have seen and experienced.  Normal doesn't quite fit.  This is us.

I discovered that there are lots of types of crying, more than I ever knew before.  We are all familiar with the silent streaming tears.  Squinchy-faced hard suppressed crying that produces an instant headache.   Lump in the throat accompanied by tears that fill the lower lids to the brim but don't spill over.  In the ambulance as I rode up front and listened to the paramedics working on my baby boy, I literally grasped my face with both hands and cried with all my might.  I didn't produce much noise but certainly lots of tears.  At times I uttered indistinguishable noises as I simply shook my head.  The form of crying I found myself most often engaged in was a style completely new to me.  It included heaving that started in my chest and came out my mouth.  Deep forceful breaths that involved my whole body.  But oddly not many tears.  Dehydration was an actual factor, but I also think this new form of crying was reflective of a new level of anguish.  I highly recommend sticking with one of the other forms of crying previously mentioned.

Today I thought of the story in the Bible where Jacob wrestled with an angel all night.  He refused to let the angel go until he blessed him.  The angel touched Jacob's hip and hurt it, but he ultimately blessed Jacob.  Jacob limped away with his blessing.  I wrestled with God in that hospital.  I got what I asked for, but I came away limping.

One thing that has been such a blessing in all this is that Jared and I are processing things roughly the same.  If one of us was fine and the other was struggling, this would be exponentially harder.  Because this isn't how I expected to feel after having my son's life miraculously restored.  But Jared feels all the same things I do, so I must not be too crazy.  Jared went back to work the day after we came home from the hospital (which turned out to be way too soon).  He left me a note that morning that said, "I'm still in so much pain."  Those words connected us.

Last night my dad came over and stayed with the kids so Jared and I could be alone together.  It was our first alone time since "it happened."  We could think of nothing else to talk about, so we dove into saying all the things that won't stop bouncing around our minds, but we don't feel it's appropriate to say them out loud.  I had spent the previous week rearranging the kids into three separate rooms (Griffin and Nora shared before).  In the hospital I thought things like, what will I do when Griffin's bedding and desk arrive?  I had already ordered them.  They were already coming and I couldn't stop them.  But I could already envision my meltdown when some unsuspecting UPS man delivered a nightmare to my house.  And that's just one of the many morbid thoughts that I had no outlet for until Jared and I sat in our van eating salads (the first natural-looking food we had had in days) and exchanging thoughts.

Jared and I discussed the spiritual components of our ordeal.  I told him I was considering titling this blog post "The Time I Told God No."  I rode in the ambulance to the hospital.  Longest ride of my life.  As soon as they wheeled Griffin out of the ambulance at the hospital, they told me I had to leave him.  A chaplain soon came and escorted me to a private room.  I've seen tv shows.  I know what chaplains and private rooms mean.  My inner mantra was "breathe in, breathe out, don't puke."  Over and over.  Trying to form words felt like an impossibly hard task.  The effort required was the oral equivalent of doing an Ironman triathlon in the mud with no arms or legs.

As I sat motionless trying to obey my own mantra, I remembered two facts at the same time.  One, my current book for daily reading had been "Through the Eyes of a Lion" by Levi Lusko.  It's written by a man, who happens to be a pastor, whose daughter passed away very suddenly of an asthma attack.  The book is about how God can use pain.  And two, I had just been to see the movie "The Shack."  It's about a man whose daughter is abducted and killed, and he journeys through the hardest questions in life to make peace with God and with his loss.  I remembered these two facts back-to-back, and I very clearly and succinctly told God, "NO."  I'm no dummy.  I can hold these facts together and see how He was preparing me, and I simply told Him no.  I mom-voiced God.  I'm not proud that this was my response.  At some point during our hell, Jared prayed out loud and his prayer included, "We know that Griffin is yours..."  My insides fought Jared's words.  You can have opinions about my reaction if you want, but please form them after you have seen your own child in a lifeless state.

This actually wasn't the first time we pleaded for Griffin's life.  When I was 20 weeks pregnant with him, our doctor found choroid plexus cysts in Griffin's brain that could indicate a fatal genetic disorder called Trisomy 18.  We had to wait two long weeks to see a specialist who would tell us whether Griffin would live or die.  It was a very dark time as we pleaded and waited.  When we saw the specialist, he saw a healthy baby in my belly.  We told our family the good news and celebrated together.  We told them we had chosen Griffin's name because a baby name website told us that it means "great faith."

Griffin knows this story.  As Jared drove us home from the hospital, Griffin sat smiling in the back seat, the sun highlighting his impossibly soft face.  He said, "I'm a miracle twice."  Yes you are, Baby.

Griffin is a miracle.  He's a walking, talking, computer-hacking, British tea-drinking, piano-playing miracle.  I just never knew before that it could hurt so much to receive a miracle.  I suppose the really painful part is needing a miracle. Once you have been to a dark enough place that you can only be saved by a miracle, the experience will be forever imprinted on you, no matter the outcome.

My dad tried to help me through some of my spiritual questions by reminding me of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.  He was deeply troubled so that his sweat was as blood.  My dad was telling me that if Jesus was that troubled over what God asked him to walk through, it's ok that I was terrified out of my mind when God asked me to walk through this horrific ordeal.

I started thinking about another Jesus example that could help me.  Most people know it as the shortest verse in the Bible:  "Jesus wept."  Do you know what made Jesus weep?  Lazarus was dead.  All throughout John chapter 11, Jesus knew that Lazarus would die and that Jesus would raise him back to life in order to glorify God.  He knew this plan while Lazarus was still alive, when he was sick, and when he died.  But when Jesus was actually with the grieving family members and saw their sorrow, he was deeply moved and he wept.  And then he performed the miracle.  So if Jesus wept even with complete assurance that Lazarus would live, I think it's alright that my emotions were blown to smithereens and I'm still picking up the pieces.

I know that time is needed to process all of this.  Everything is still so raw.  Tomorrow is Friday.  One week since the accident.  We were getting ready for our traditional Friday night family movie night when it happened.  Friday night family time has been our favorite thing for quite some time.  We look forward to it all week.  We protect it.  We cherish it.  Now I feel sick at the thought of it coming around again tomorrow.  I don't think I'm ready for the smell of Jared's freshly popped popcorn.  We still haven't gone in the back yard or let the kids go back there.  I hate all things related to St. Patrick's Day.  Someday when we are healed, we would like to celebrate Griffin's life on St. Patrick's Day.  But for now I get sick at the sight of all things green and/or shamrocky. 

There's so much I don't know so I choose to remember what I do know.  God never left us.  God preserved Griffin's life as well as his "Griffinness."  God continues to be our Rock and our only source of strength and hope.  He will make something good out of the pain we have been through.  For now we are living through the mess.

I couldn't think of a good way to end this, so I'm gonna take Jared's advice about not overthinking.  These are my thoughts for now.  This is what I have to give and where I am right now.  More to come, on and off the blog.

Jessica

Thursday, February 16, 2017

People

Yesterday I experienced my first ever shopping trip at Costco.  Jared and I have been secretly making fun of Costco and Costco fanatics since a store was built near us a couple years ago.  But we see the practicality of it and took the plunge.

I had an open morning and decided it was a good day to go browse and see what all the hype is about.

It felt so good to be out in the world.  It was chilly but the sun was shining, which always puts me in a great mood.  Leaving our city limits is a fairly rare experience for me, so it's both a cheap thrill and a possible panic attack.

I pulled into the lot and tried my best to guess which spot would be decent.  Are all Costco parking lots as zig-zaggy and maze-like as ours?  I noticed the driver of the car next to me was sitting in her car scratching off some sort of lottery ticket.  Then I noticed that other cars in the lot still housed their drivers.  A quick search on my phone revealed that Costco opens at 10:00 and I had arrived at 9:56.

Then one elderly man got out of his car and walked up to the big metal garage door of an entrance.  He planted his feet in a stance that let everyone know he was the first to go in when that door opened.  Next pandemonium broke out.  If he's lining up at the door, each of the other shoppers was most certainly lining up at the door.  Each driver quickly exited his or her vehicle, carrying boxes and shopping bags.  I was supposed to bring my own boxes and bags?!

They gathered in front of that big silver door.  They didn't form a line.  They were more like a mob of twitchy, anxious people, shifting their weight from hip to hip and silently shuffling an inch or two in front of the next person.  I couldn't help it.  I laughed out loud in my car.  And then I pulled out my book and read a chapter while the Black-Friday-on-a-random-Wednesday crowd fought for space and preference.

Because I don't particularly like crowds of people.  In fact, I struggle with people in general.  I'm an odd creature when it comes to people.  I love individual people.  And I mean I love them.  Fiercely.  Eternally.  But people as a general population...they're not my thing.

There is no place this is more apparent than when I am driving.  I can spend my whole morning smiling at fellow shoppers and chatting with clerks and shining my light for all to see.  Then I get behind the wheel to head home, and suddenly I can't stand anyone.  Every car I follow decides to go well under the speed limit.  Each driver wanting to turn onto my road decides he is the lucky one and only person who is not required to stop at the stop sign between him and me.  I grip my steering wheel and clench my jaw and sing along with my Christian radio through gritted teeth.

I was recently stuck behind a car driven by a woman who was going 7 miles under the speed limit.  I don't do under-the-speed-limit very well.  And SEVEN miles under??  That's a bit much.  But her speed was not her greatest offense.  The bigger issue was that she had MULTIPLE CATS WALKING AROUND HER CAR.  They were stretching in the back window and scratching at the ceiling between the front seats.  And she was PETTING THEM.  The crazy cat lady on wheels was paying more attention to her cats than to her car or her speed or the road and I held my breath in an attempt not to explode.

I'm still working on me.

I'm reading a book called "Carry On, Warrior" by Glennon Doyle Melton.  Her writing cracks me up, chokes me up, and makes me think.  Sometimes I relate to her so well, and other times I respectfully disagree.  But I always think about what I'm reading.

A line I read last week has been stuck in my brain and I have been savoring that thing like a rare candy.  She was discussing confidence and humility, which she says are two sides of the same coin.  Here's the quote I can't stop thinking about:
"I am confident because I believe that I am a child of God.  I am humble because I believe that everyone else is too."
So good, right?

I admit that I haven't figured out the confidence-humility thing.  This simple explanation has really propelled me forward.  It changes the way I see myself and other people.

Lately I've been trying to see people as, well, people.  Not as crabby store clerk, distracted waiter, disheveled mom in front of me in line.  I try to make eye contact and notice each individual and think about what else is behind them.  Somebody had a fight before they came to work.  Somebody will be going to care for an elderly parent after their shift.  Somebody is just doing the best with what she has.

This wasn't an intentional experiment with humanity.  After we came home from Cleveland and attempted to find "new normal," I found myself appreciating minute things.  This meant I noticed more and I offered gratitude more.  I had been the tired customer or the lady in the way or the mom who wasn't doing it all right, when in fact I just needed someone to see me as the weary soul who was one stumble away from falling and one kindness away from beginning to heal.

So I found myself interacting with people differently.  And before I knew it, I caught myself humming during normal daily activities.  Humming.  I don't hum when I'm out where all the people are.  But apparently I do.  Because being able to run out and buy what I need isn't an inconvenience but a privilege that I lost for a year.  All the moms of little ones probably know what I'm talking about. 

Today I went to the pharmacy to get some cold medicine for Griffin.  Two older ladies were in the same aisle, and one was shopping for cold medicine for her husband who is sick.  She kept talking about what a baby he is and how she was looking for something to knock him out, and pretty soon we were all laughing!

I've missed a lot of these moments while I've had my head down just trying to get my thing done and get home.  But I've benefited from the small kindnesses enough to know I want to hand them out. 

I even let another parent cut in front of me in the school car line this morning.

Baby steps.

Jessica

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Good or Right

Earlier this week one of my favorite events occurred:  my women's Bible study started back up.  I love my Monday night ladies!  I was delighted to see each and every one of them.

Our leader, Julie, is so precious.  She's a spiritual sister and mom and friend to me.  I tell her that her prayers are like a spiritual back rub.  Sometimes when I bump into her after church, I can feel my soul let out a contented sigh.

On my first Sunday back in church after our time at Cleveland Clinic, Julie walked across the sanctuary to come hug me.  She sat down and asked me how things were going.  I gave her the same plastered smile and basic info that I had given others.  Cleveland Clinic had taught us strategies to cope with Nolan's chronic pain.  We would be fine.  But Julie cried and gave me a hug.  Then suddenly I was crying.  Because Julie saw the hurt I thought I had hidden.

Our gathering this week was our first since November, so we had a little catching up to do.  Julie asked me to give more details about our time in Cleveland and how we are doing since.  I still have a hard time even forming complete sentences about our time in Cleveland.  I fumbled a bit and then told my group that Nolan has attended every school day since we've been back home.  He played in two basketball games (one went very well and one went very poorly).  His head pain is still bad and his nausea is very bad, but we are plugging along with life.  We are acknowledging small victories as we find our new normal.

Julie tried to summarize by saying, "So Cleveland was good?"  I froze.  I can't actually say that Cleveland was good.  But there is something I can say.  So I said, "Cleveland was the right move for us."

Good and right aren't always the same thing.  Our three weeks in Cleveland were unspeakably hard.  Sure we had good moments and huge blessings.  But I would not characterize our experience overall as good.  However, I can say that going to Cleveland was the right thing to do.  Ultimately, I would rather do the right thing than the good thing.

But I didn't always know that Cleveland was the right thing.

There was a point in Cleveland when I was just done with everyone and everything, and I didn't want to be sitting on a gross bed in a tiny room with all my family members within six inches of my body.  I didn't want to put on shoes to go down to the dining room to eat what someone else had chosen (but thank you to all who so generously provide meals to Ronald McDonald House residents!!).  I didn't want to have every minute of every day scheduled for me while I homeschooled two kids and fought for another.  Jared was busy trying to keep up with work and participate in back-to-back conference calls in a loud, tense environment.  And I just wanted to be somewhere hidden and safe with someone who already knows me and loves me as I am.

So I sent a text to my dad and sister.  They are my tough love people.  They show me endless grace and let me be sensitive and emotional and analytical.  They know when I need sympathy (always).  They are also no-nonsense people who can offset all of my *ahem* quirks.  I can count on them to pray for me immediately, and they can usually say something to give me a needed nudge.  But don't tell them any of this because it will feed their bossiness.

So back to my Cleveland crisis.  I reached out to my dad and sister, and they replied immediately with prayers and sympathy.  I didn't even know what I needed or what I was expecting from them.  I just knew I was stuck and couldn't move forward.  Then my sister said the words I desperately needed even though I didn't know it.

She said, "No matter what comes of your time in Cleveland, it was the right thing for you to do."  I was focused on how hard everything was and I just didn't think the limited improvement was worth all the hard.  My sister reminded me that I couldn't control the outcome, but I was doing the right thing just by being there.

I know lots of other people are walking hard paths.  Some of you are choosing to do the right thing, even without seeing the benefit or the outcome.  Sometimes in the absence of results, you and I have to simply hold tight to the comfort of knowing we are doing the right thing.

It also helps to find somebody whose prayers feel like a spiritual back rub.

Jessica

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why

My dad recently had knee replacement surgery on his right leg, and I have been able to help him with parts of his recovery.  I've seen him push through excruciating pain as he does exercises to strengthen his muscles and increase flexibility.  He is working hard, and it's a painful process.

I have been delighted with each baby step of progress he makes.  I'm thrilled to see him walking with a cane instead of a walker.  I keep track of how many degrees he can bend his new knee.  I see that working through his pain is accomplishing something.  His pain will be worth it in a few weeks when he is fully healed and can do all the things he couldn't do before.  (The bigger reward will come when he is healed from the second knee replacement, but I'm still so excited about his progress here and now.)

I shared with my dad that I'm inspired by him because in my own household, pain does not serve the same purpose.  In my home, pushing through pain does not bring progress.  There is no end in sight for Nolan's constant pain.  There is no discernible reward.

I do not yet see what Nolan's physical pain--or my family's emotional pain--is accomplishing.

I've obviously battled with this for over a year now.  Sometimes I've done a better job than others at letting go of grasping at the bigger picture.

When we were staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Cleveland, I had a deep conversation with another mother while we were doing laundry.  She said she struggled a lot with why her daughter had to go down the difficult road they are on.

I told her, "I had to break up with Why.  We were in a toxic relationship."

I really meant it.  I had broken up with Why and was putting my energy into moving forward. 

But Why is a stalker.  Why is a creep.  Why sends me texts when I'm trying to fall asleep and peers in my window when I'm stunned at how difficult parenting really is.

I'm certain that I've had bouts of surrendering the search for what God is accomplishing, and I've chosen to simply trust that He knows what He is doing.  I've held hands with Trust.  We have embraced when I couldn't hold myself up any longer.  Which has been a lot this last year.

But then more stuff just keeps coming.  Someone hacked my store credit card and made a purchase.  Our cat is now diabetic and requires insulin shots twice per day and repeated vet visits.  A violent stomach bug hit two of my kids and I have an actual phobia of puking.  A long-fought parenting battle with our middle child has reared it's ugly head with fresh vengeance lately.  I have to make repeated phone calls to get other people (insurance, medical personnel, etc.) to do their jobs. 

And I find myself exhausted and wondering, yet again, what all of this hard stuff is accomplishing.

I was thinking this morning that this is the longest I've waited for God to start revealing His purpose in something.  But then I remembered that's not true.  After my friend Megan was murdered, God and I wrestled for two years before He brought me to a place of accepting that He does things differently than I think.  That He never forsakes us.  That He is far more protective than my eyes perceive.  That He can heal any wound.

I'm still trusting that He will bring me to a similar place regarding my current battle.  I never thought it would take this long, and there truly is no end in sight.  So I'm trusting that there's an end I just can't see.  I'm trusting there's a purpose I don't know.  Because I choose to believe that God is good and works all things for His glory and the good of His children.  I often have to make that choice (to believe) multiple times per day.

I really was doing well.  I even started a couple blog posts that were much more upbeat than this one.  But it was too awkward to jump back into actually posting my writing because too much time has passed and too much has happened.  I'm still processing everything.  I'm still not ready to talk about our time in Cleveland.  I think there are parts of that month that will never leave my mouth or my fingers on a keyboard. 

I have napped almost every day this week.  I just can't seem to get through a whole day on one night's sleep.  I think my body is trying to recover from over a year of not sleeping well.  I like the idea that my body is trying to recover.  Maybe that's it.  Maybe I'm moving into the recovery stage.  My dad was in pain for a long time before his surgery was finally scheduled.  The surgery was violent and traumatic.  And now the recovery is painful.

I'd like to think I'm in recovery too.  The physical wound--whatever caused Nolan's headache--has not made any progress, but that doesn't mean I can't start healing as we work post-wound.  My dad's new knee will never be exactly like his old one, for good and for bad.  When asked how we are doing, I have been telling people we are working on finding our new normal.  It will never be the same as the old normal.  For good.  I'm trusting.

Jessica

Friday, November 18, 2016

Accomplishments

I've been wearing real clothes more lately.  I'm talking jeans instead of pajama pants.  Shirts instead of t-shirts.  Real bra.  Even jewelry sometimes.  Yes, these are accomplishments for me.

The fact that I'm sitting at my computer typing something resembling a blog post is a good sign.

For those of you just joining the party, my son has had a headache for almost one year.  It has flipped our life upside-down and brought challenges that can't be explained.  My husband says we have gone through the stages of grief, and it seems we are finally landing at "acceptance."

We didn't lose our son, but we sure lost our vision of what life would look like right now.  Over the last year I experienced denial ("This is just a headache.  It'll end soon."), lots of anger ("Why can't any doctors help us?!  People don't understand what we are going through!"), a bit of bargaining ("I'll take his pain so he can be a kid."), and lots and lots of depression.  It's apparently a shameful thing for a deeply rooted Christian to admit to experiencing depression.  But it's the truth, and now that I'm camped out in Acceptance, I don't see any good reason to pretend I didn't spend entire days in pajamas, not cleaning my house, too tired to accomplish much.

Here in Acceptance, it doesn't much matter if people don't understand our circumstances or how we cope with them.  Nolan's greatest love is basketball.  We found a way to let him play by switching to a less competitive league and having Jared coach his team.  Nolan is on homebound schooling, meaning he is home all day, goes in after school for tutoring, and does most of his work at home.  Earlier this week someone made a negative comment to Nolan regarding the fact that he doesn't feel well enough to go to school but he was able to play basketball.  Nolan told me about the comment and I simply told him that that person doesn't understand what we are going through, so--respectfully--their opinion doesn't really matter.  I didn't get my feelings hurt on his behalf.  I didn't go talk to the person.  I just brushed it off.  Another great accomplishment for this girl who has never been a brusher off-er.

When Nolan's headache started ripping responsibilities out of my hands, I resented it greatly.  I did not like giving up my areas of ministry and volunteering.  I loved being a Sunday school teacher, throwing baby and bridal showers at church, helping at my kids' schools all the time.  I did not appreciate having to give these things up.

Here in Acceptance, I see the value of a more open schedule.  I don't fret having to say "no" when asked to do something that doesn't fit well into my current life.  I used to feel trapped at home.  Now I use my days at home to make and shop for Christmas gifts--and even have many wrapped!  I poured myself into a Beth Moore Bible study and now I'm reading a fiction book just for entertainment.  I took and edited family pictures for several of my friends.  This is a very time-consuming process, but I had the time to give.  Last year I went shopping with a couple other moms to buy all the goodies to be sold at the school Santa Shop.  This year I worked out deals online and placed an order from my couch. 

Since I'm not teaching my Sunday school class, I was free to go to my brother's church for my nephew's dedication.  When Nolan is having a bad morning, we go to one church service and then come home.  We haven't experienced this freedom in the decade+ that we've been at our church.  I used to think that people who went to one service and then went home were not as committed.  But I have had to struggle just to make one service work for our family, so I soak up that time amongst brothers and sisters in faith.  I miss some of the extra time with believers, but I find other ways to meet my spiritual needs.  And let me tell you that my faith in God is more real during this season of my life than it was when I was at church many hours per week.

There's a lot of drama going on around me, and I just don't have the energy for it.  Apparently exhaustion can serve a good purpose when it forces me to not let things bother me that would have sucked me in before.

And this new place of acceptance is not just a place to lie down and stop fighting what's happening.  I finally cracked the door open enough to let Hope in.  Hope can be a tricky thing.  Every time we went to a new doctor or tried a new medicine or treatment, I got my hopes up only to have them crash and shatter.  So then I just stopped getting hopeful.  Hope can hurt.  And at some point I had to minimize the hurting as much as possible.

I've never lost sight of God's ability to heal, and I know He has walked through this with us.  Holding my trembling, bawling son while knowing that God could heal him in the blink of an eye and yet He chooses not to...boy, that is something to wrestle with.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:9
"[Job] said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.'" Job 1:21  
I used to be able to quote these verses.  Now I know what it is to live them.

Baking used to be a fulfilling hobby for me.  Over the last year baking became a lot of standing and a mess to clean up, so I quit doing it.  Yesterday I spent the day baking homemade rolls for Thanksgiving next week.  Accomplishment.

My sister's family will be staying with us next week.  My house won't be spotless with little gifts to welcome them (as I used to do), but I will be DELIGHTED to see them and have them in my home.  Accomplishment.

I have more weight and less hair than I did this time last year, but I will dress up next Thursday and enjoy special time with every family member possible.  I won't get caught up in making the cutest dessert or the most delicious side dish.  I will be thankful.  Accomplishment.

There's a lot more suffering going on than what's happening in my little world.  And there's a lot more good in my life than hard.  I want to be a woman who praises God right now, before Nolan is healed.  I want to someday look back and know that I never let go of God's hand.  Even just envisioning being past this season and being able to look back is a big accomplishment for me, when not too long ago I declared that there is no light at the end of our tunnel.

I'm a work in progress, but the point is I AM making progress.  It feels good to start plugging back into my life.  It feels good to accept where we are and believe we won't always be here.  Honestly, it felt better to wear pajamas, but I'm grateful for the desire to get dressed and accomplish something.

Jessica

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Easy Dinner Planning

I'm not quite sure how we got here, but I'm told we are into October already.  Since time just keeps picking up speed, I wanted to share with you one way that I save time and sanity:  I plan my dinners for a whole month at a time.

This makes it easy to compile a weekly grocery list.  This also helps me with my least favorite time of day:  the after school tornado.  School pick up is crazy.  Then we have back packs everywhere and papers to be signed and filed and adored.  There are snacks.  There's homework.  And just about the time I am ready to drop, I have to make dinner.

Gone are the days of facing the giant dreaded question, "What should we have for dinner?"  Now I don't have to think about it.  I simply check my dinner calendar and get to work.

A friend recently asked me to share my whole process with her so she could start planning her dinners using her own recipes.  I thought maybe there's someone else out there who could benefit from a simple step-by-step guide.

1.  Start by making a list of dinners your family eats regularly.  You may have to sit and think through these, or you may want to go through your recipe box and/or cook books.  This is probably the most time-consuming part, but you only have to do it this one time.

These are the dinners my family eats regularly.
2.  Make a list of any dinner recipes you would like to try.  Flip through cook books and peruse Pinterest.  It's time to actually try those recipes you pinned.  Since my family has specific dietary restrictions, I made a list of dinners I want to try for my whole family and a list of recipes that would just be for Jared and me.  On nights when I try a Jared-and-me recipe, my kids will eat chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, leftovers, or something else simple.


3.  Get a blank calendar.  Thanks to amazing graphic artists who post their work online, you can get all sorts of adorable printable calendars.  This year I printed my totally free and completely adorable calendars from Short Stop Designs.  You can find them here.  If you're ready to plan ahead (overachiever), you can get the 2017 free printable calendars here.

These super cute calendars print with a "Notes" section on the bottom.  I trim mine off, and you'll see why in a minute.

4.  Write your dinners on your calendar.  I like to sit with my family calendar (on my phone), my dinner calendar, my dinner lists, and a pencil.  I start by checking the family schedule for days when we will need a Crock Pot meal or something quick and easy.  I fill those in first.  I put new recipes on days that are less hectic.  Sometimes I get all responsible and line up dinners in a row that will use the same produce or add-ons.  Just keep filling in until you have a dinner for each day.


Now you can see why I cut off the bottom of my calendars.  I display my dinner calendar on this awesome reclaimed wood clipboard that a friend made for me.  It's part of this gathering of decorations in my dining room:


Every time I change the monthly dinner calendar, I change the paper on the right to go with the season or current holiday.  I change the Bible verse on the chalkboard whenever a new one strikes me.

Anywho, back to dinners.  So you can see that this process is very straightforward and simple, but some of you may be like me and just need someone to tell you step-by-step what to do.  Once you do it once, it's faster and easier for future months.

When the next month comes, you can simply copy your dinners in the same order onto your new calendar.  However, I like to customize each month.  I like to take our schedule into consideration and space the easy and more time-consuming dinners accordingly.  Plus I just need a little variety!

This is what works for our family.  It only takes me about 15 minutes to plan an entire month's worth of dinners, and my grocery shopping and meal prep are simplified.  I hope this helps some other tired mama bring a little order to dinnertime!

Jessica

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Where's the Line?

There are a lot of things about my appearance that I would change if I could.  I have about five short eyelashes total.  My skin has mysteriously aged much more quickly than the simple passing of time.  Four year ago when I lost a bunch of weight, my hair started coming out by the handfuls, and it hasn't recovered even to this day.  Don't even get me started on my actual body (saddle bags, chunky calves, droopy chest).

There are some things I can do to improve my appearance.  I color my hair to hide my grays.  I try to style my hair in a way that covers the thinnest spots.  I combined a sale and a big coupon to buy Crest White Strips for my teeth, but they didn't actually seem to make a difference.  I buy concealers, foundations, powders, blushes, bronzers, primers, anti-aging moisturizers, and under-eye creams.  I'm not sure that any of these products actually help any of my "problems," but they at least mask them so I can try not to think about them when I'm with other people.

A friend of mine recently opened my eyes to an entirely new realm of possibilities.  She has contraptions and products I hadn't even heard of before.  She uses some sort of light-up device to instantly whiten her teeth.  She uses a needle roller on her face and stomach before applying special skin-tightening serums.  She uses a boar hair brush on her body and an expensive rotating brush on her face.  She has special beauty masks and hair products.  I always admire her abundantly long eye lashes, and she recently told me that she uses Latisse to make them grow.  She has had the one surgical procedure I would actually consider to improve my body.  She has even tried Botox.  She has special nutritional drinks that give her energy for her daily workouts.

When I found out the full extent of what this friend does to enhance her appearance, I started wrestling with something in my own mind.  Then I went to a hair appointment last week.  My stylist was baffled as to why my hair will not stop thinning and barely grows.  She strongly encouraged me to try a particular line of hair care products.  They cost $99 for a set of shampoo, conditioner, and hair mask.

I've been looking over all these newfound options and wondering what could be beneficial to me.  Some of these products, gadgets, and procedures could actually make me look better.  Looking better could make me feel better about myself. 

But I've really been wrestling with this question:  Where is the line between self-improvement and vanity?

I think it's okay to wear makeup to hide flaws and accentuate features.  I think every woman should find hair products that work with her natural hair type.  There are ways to dress any body shape to accentuate the good and downplay the not-so-good.  I protect my skin from UV damage and try to slow the formation of wrinkles (apparently unsuccessfully).  Freshly painted nails make me happy, so I get a cheap thrill from a new polish (at home, not even at a salon).

So where are my boundaries?  How much of this new stuff can I try before I have officially moved into the land of vanity.  What will help me focus less on my flaws and what will make me focus too much on my appearance?

I don't think there's a clear answer to any of these questions.  But I needed an answer so I came up with a couple of new questions to aid in my decisions.

1.  What is my budget?

This is fairly simple.  I shouldn't buy anything that I don't have money for.  It was only a few years ago that we struggled to buy basic necessities for our kids.  We very rarely ever bought anything for ourselves.  As Jared has been promoted, and we have done our best to make smart financial decisions, we finally have a little extra to spend on wants rather than needs.  So we are still learning how to manage our wants.

I buy concealer from Ulta but powder from Walmart.  I alternate between expensive salon-brand shampoo/conditioner and inexpensive shampoo/conditioner from the drug store.  I can buy new jeans when my old ones are worn (or are too tight...ugh), but I can't just pick up a new pair of shoes because they are cute.

So the very first test of whether a new item fits into my beauty routine is whether or not there is room in our budget to pay the price.

2.  What is my motivation?

Even if I can buy something, that doesn't necessarily mean that I should.  I need to look at why I want the item.

When I lost all that weight four years ago, I wasn't trying to look good.  I didn't want attention for my new body.  I actually wanted the opposite.  I was so consumed by feeling unhappy with my overweight body that it overshadowed everything that I did all day long.  I felt fat as I volunteered at the school.  I was heavy playing with my kids.  I was chubby whenever I had to speak in front of a group.  I decided to lose weight so I could STOP thinking about my size.  I wanted to be able to focus on life again, rather than constantly focusing on my body image.

So, do I want my skin to look better so people will admire it or so I will actually look my age (and not my mother's)?  Do I want my hair to fill back in so I'll get compliments or so I can stop vacuuming stray hairs daily and feeling like I should join Hair Club for Men?

I can honestly say that I have a couple of insecurities that probably just need to be released.  I need to embrace some of my imperfections as just how I'm made.  But there are also a couple things that really could be improved in order to free up some mental space and allow me to focus on more important things.

For me, the Botox is outside the line.  I don't know that I'll be rolling needles over my face anytime soon.  But I just may try that expensive shampoo and conditioner just in case they'll keep me from having my grandpa's hairline.  And I still can't shake the desire I've had since high school to have one particular surgery (hint:  puberty hit me early and hard, and I nursed three babies, and now I have a lot of back and shoulder pain).

I think each person has to find their own boundaries.  I really don't think many people have the exact same lists of what's acceptable and what's ridiculous.  I keep thinking of 1 Corinthians 10:23, which says, "'Everything is permissible,' but not everything is beneficial.  'Everything is permissible,' but not everything is constructive.'"

Using fancy contraptions and products is not forbidden, but it might not be the best use of time, money, energy, and focus.  So each of us must look at our own motivations and budgets and decide where our line is.

Jessica