Saturday, February 26, 2011

Marfa Update: Day Two

Well, it's been interesting.  Have you ever found that, when you're trying to follow God's call on your life, all hell breaks loose?

Yesterday was an incredibly productive, good day.  I locked all characters by early afternoon.  I had Book I outlined by two.  Book II is halfway finished, and the metanarratives for Books III and IV are on paper.  Much, much more than I expected to get done yesterday.

Then, at 4 I started to feel incredibly sick.  I emailed a friend to pray.  Within minutes - I'm not exaggerating - the sickness "mysteriously" went away.  Praise God!

I went out around 6 to grab a bite to eat.  When I returned, a neighbor in the up-scale motel I'm staying at (it's supposed to redefine '50's chic with its hipster modernism....yea, right...I recommend that no one ever, ever stay here) decided to engage me.  He's been trying to create banter with me since I arrived.  Eye contact.  Comments over my car (I'm in my mom's bright pink escalade - don't ask).  Etc.  He's been drunk since my arrival.  Though he creeped me out a little bit, he seemed harmless, just really drunk.

Until last night.  I pulled in, parked, and he locked eyes with me as I headed to my room.  I got that creepy, icky feeling girls sometime get.  I know enough not to ignore it.  I hightailed it to my room and bolted the door. 

Knock, knock, knock. 

Oh Jesus, he's knocking on my door.  What now?

I called my husband for advice because the motel had left the front desk vacant with no emergency number to call.  AWESOME.  My husband told me to stay on the phone while I told him through the door that he was making me uncomfortable and to please leave.

He knocked again.  I followed my husband's instruction.  With slurring, very drunk words he tried to talk me into coming outside to talk to him.  I told him he needed to leave or I would call the police.  He knocked again.  I hung up and dialed 9-1-1.

A day later I'm still dealing with this.  In fact, the sherriff just left while I watched Donovan (that's his name) walk off the premises with his backpack.  A local told me he comes through town every so often and that he's a drifter.  I also found out that he's been holed up in his hotel room, drunk, for over a week (and the hotel staff didn't do anything about it!!!).

I'm leaving a day early (not another night in this place - I've learned my lesson).  I don't feel angry or scared.  Just incredulous - why does this always happen to me? - and sad.  Sad for Donovan.  I pray that he gets help somehow.

Now my writing feels kind of selfish.  Kind of stupid to write about.  BUT, I know that God has a purpose for it and that I have to push through.  He's given me a job to do, so I'm going to do it.  In spite of all the drama, I've managed to start chapter one of book one.  I'm three pages in, and I really like it.  It's writing itself now that it has a backbone (its outline). 

So, as I told my husband earlier on the phone, I got everything I needed out of this weekend.  That, and a little more.  I also got the reminder that when God calls us forward it's never easy, but, in the end, it's always best.  Because if I don't encounter resistance, how will my muscles grow?  And grow they must for His glory.  He's had me in Romans 5 this weekend.  Now I see why.

Love to all and thanks for praying.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Marfa Update: Day One

Okay, so it's noon on my first day, and I'm feeling pretty good about my progress.  Story arches of two of four main characters, locked.  Places and place-names, locked.  Time, locked.  Plot, metanarrative, locked.

Ten pages written.  Goal is to have fifty written before tomorrow night.

And, I took a few minutes to stroll around downtown Marfa.  Visited the Book Shop (which is not what it once was, sadly - no more art installations).  Grabbed an authentically Swiss hot chocolate at Squeeze (can't recommend enough).  And took artsy photos in order to get my creative juices flowing.  So far so good.

Ironically enough, the Annual Cowboy Poetry Festival is happening next door in Alpine this weekend.  Unfortunately, I'm going to have to skip it, so I can stay focused.  But I bet it would be interesting!  Bill Wittliff is in town and gave a talk last night.  Fun times.


i find myself in west texas
where the sun sets on the ground
i find myself in west texas
where the life burrows around

my feet up into my soles
while i still stand on the spot
like a mole living and breathing
while life's organisms rot

i find myself in west texas
when the moon rises in the dark sky
i find myself in west texas
when the stars twinkle with bright eyes

i listen for the train as it rumbles
announcing itself in horn
i listen for the train as it rumbles
marking the night i was born

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lily walked!

The quick version....  Our daughter, Lilian (aka Lily), has an unexplained gross motor delay, diagnosed around ten months of age.  At that point, she wasn't rolling, pulling up to sitting or standing, cruising, any of the above.  Needless to say, she did not crawl or walk.  After seven months of fears, hopes, specialists, and therapists, we still have little to no information to explain why she has to struggle in this area.  BUT, whether or not we understand physically what's going on in her body, we know this: she's a fighter!  And a hard-worker.  And she rarely complains much.

Intuitively, I had this feeling she would walk at sixteen months.  Our latest therapist, a very well-meaning, realistic woman who has honestly been very helpful, thought I was setting my sights high when we started with her in December.  However, today, when Lily is exactly sixteen months and four days old, she took thirteen steps during her therapy session! finally four in a row!


That's pretty much all I have to say about that.  Except, of course, PRAISE GOD and THANK YOU to all who have prayed and helped in any and every way. 

For everything, there is a time

So, a while ago I wrote a post about how I was going to start teaching my three-year-old to memorize Bible verses.  I started with this verse from Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV):

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Honestly, I have forgotten about this resolution (awesome), but I'm cutting myself some slack on that one.  I think we will have to memorize one verse a quarter at this rate.  : )  Regardless of how well I'm doing on this front (which isn't the point anyway!), your comments to yesterday's post reminded me of our "memory verse".  This really is a season for my son.  And, according to God's Word, there is a time for everything.  For whatever reason (and there are many, I am sure), he needs this season.  It is growing and developing him in good ways.

I'm going to try to remember that the next time he melts down and I'm on the verge of losing it.  Because - for sure - I need this season, too.  Who knows all the things I'm learning in the process?  Certainly many more than I can see right now.

Monday, February 21, 2011

You Just Have to Go to God

Before I get to the meat of today's post, two quick prayer requests:
  1. One of my dearest and oldest friends was in a motorcycle accident in Indonesia week before last.  She is stable, and her mom and fiance are with her.  She had surgery on her wrist yesterday (it will be a long recovery).  She's still recovering from a severe concussion.  We're not sure about long-term effects on her brain.  Please pray for her!
  2. I head out to the West Texas desert this Thursday to be totally, completely, blissfully alone.  (Thank you, Jesus; thank you, Justin.)  I will have three days to rejuvenate.  I'm devoting this time to my novel.  PLEASE (I'm begging!) pray that I have clarity, the "flow", and productivity during my trip.  Also, please pray covering over my two little ones and husband while I'm away.
Now, to the meat.....

Today has not been my best day.

Today, I've been the mother I never wanted to be.  You know the one - the person you have judged and sworn I'd never! and How could she?.  Yep, if you could have been near me today, you would have been having those thoughts about me.  I promise.

I'm coming off of four particularly hard days with my three-year-old.  Don't get me wrong - my little man is truly one of the most interesting, amazing, wonderful kiddos I know.  He's articulate, creative, energetic, curious.  I normally love being with him.  But not lately.  Nope, not lately.

Since our family vacation between Christmas and New Year's it's like someone took my precious little boy and replaced him with a monster.  Okay, I'm exaggerating for effect, but sometimes it feels that way.  Needless to say, I have felt a distinct shift in him.  I'm not sure exactly what's happening, but I know something is happening - too many emotions to handle, a testosterone surge, delayed "terrible two's"...something. 

Regardless of what it is, what's relevant here is how I'm responding to it.  So far, not so well.  We argue daily.  Various forms of discipline aren't working.  Today, I broke down in tears.  I just couldn't take one more minute of battle.  Life has felt like a war zone instead of a happy home, no matter what I do.

Why tears?  My all-time best moment as a mom so far (note the sarcasm) came today when I was impatiently, and rudely if I'm honest, telling my son to either get into his Little Gym class, or we were going home.  All the while he is loudly whining, disrupting the class for everyone else, that he is scared.  (Being scared has become a manipulation tool, although it's also valid and real for him a lot of the time.) 

Instead of having compassion when my little man was crying out, "I need you, Mommy; I'm scared", I felt angry.

Angry because I felt like he was manipulating me (in truth, I don't think he was, but in that moment my emotional self couldn't quite get that).  Angry because I know he can do it.  Angry because I know he needs it.  Angry because I know he will enjoy it if he will just get over himself.

I was stressed.  This class was a gift, a gift we can not afford on our own.  I feel pressure to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment out of it while we can.

I was out of control.  Emotionally, that is.  What do I do?  How do I respond?  I had no grace to keep a cool temper, listen to him, and, more importantly, listen for the Spirit to show me a way through the tangled web of emotions my son was presenting before me.  Because believe me, sisters, there was no way I was going to untangle this one on my own.

Was he really scared?  If so, was this one of those moments I needed to encourage him to push through?  If so, how?  (That's where I really get stuck - on the how part.)  Is this my fault because I've coddled him too much, and now he's too dependent on me?  WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?  Like I said, I felt out of control.

At the end of the class he continued his new routine of either ignoring me when I ask him to do something or blatantly yelling (and I do mean yelling) NO! while pointing his finger in my face.  That's when I snapped.  After getting him safely buckled into his car seat I paused outside the car for a moment and cried.

Call me a baby, but there you have it.  I guess I should have thicker skin.  I mean, he's only three.  But for some reason, after six weeks of giving it everything I had, I broke down.

A few minutes later I got into the driver's seat.  I was still sniffling.  My son calmly, quietly, kindly said, "Mommy, I'm sorry I fight with you."  I forgave him and thanked him for saying that.  Then he asked, "why are you crying, Mommy?"  I answered him honestly: "because it's very hard for me when you turn almost every interaction with me into a fight.  I love you, Gunnar, and I love being with you.  But that behavior can make it hard."  He paused for a moment and then he said:

"Mommy, you don't have to cry.  You just have to go to God."


During this same six weeks I have been intentionally pouring God into him while praying that these seeds would take root.  I have been asking the Lord to make Himself real to Gunnar.  I have been asking the Lord to let Gunnar hear me when I talk about Him.  Most of the time, I just pour out, never really sure if my actions, words, attitudes are re-presenting God to my children or not.  But with that one phrase, I knew: something was working.  And Gunnar was paying attention.

We continued to talk for a minute when he repeated himself.  "Mommy, you don't have to cry.  You just have to go to God."  I decided not to make God say it a third time.  I told Gunnar, "you're right.  Let's pray."  So in the car on the way home I prayed out loud with my two kids listening in the backseat.  I prayed honestly, rawly, asking God to enter in to my relationship with Gunnar and his relationship with me.  To help us love one another, respect one another, treat eachother with kindness, compassion, patience.  To give me wisdom to be a good authority and to give him grace to submit to me.

Normally when I pray Gunnar interrupts me within the first sentence.  It's almost always with "No, Mommy..." followed by cutting off the prayer in some form or fashion.  This time, he listened all the way to the end and said "amen" when I did.  Yep, he's paying attention. 

And of course, the intensity I had been feeling began to lift as soon as the prayer was over.  I felt a tangible peace settle inside me.  I still feel horrible about today.  I love my son and NEVER want to make him feel bad in any way.  But I also know that God makes up for my lack.  Through the mouths of babes if He has to.

Linking up with Soli Deo Gloria today.  Go check them out!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Update on Writing Career & Notes About Witty

I mailed in two revised picture books and one "oldie but goodie" to a publishing house today.  Fingers crossed!!!

I reworked two stories from the Witty series in a very random moment of inspiration.  It came about because I was composing my query letter to the publisher and realized that the Witty series is actually called Witty the Wonder Dog.

(I know this may sound silly, but I feel more like a vessel when I write than a creator.  As such, I often spend my time waiting, listening, observing, and then recording my characters' stories, rather than crafting them myself.  So, when the words Witty the Wonder Dog flew out of my fingers onto the computer screen, I knew that I had struck the right note with Witty.  His character opened up to me suddenly and more completely than it had in the past.)

When I typed that new title I realized that all FIVE stories I had written, re-written, and 'put to bed' no longer worked.  I needed to start over.

But, when inspiration hits, it hits.  I wrote two new stories from scratch and have fun ideas for more in the works.  I like this version of my beloved dog stories MUCH more.  The first round was way too blah, not commercial or engaging enough.  These are better, thank God.

Witty's Story - the Brief Version

For those of you who are interested, Witty was my dog during my single, young adult days.  I inherited him from his previous owners when they could no longer fit him and their growing family in their apartment.  One of my roommates heard me say, "I think I'd like a dog," and the next thing I knew she was driving me to Witty's apartment after having found him in our local paper.  I thought we were all adopting him - all five of the girls I lived with at the time.  It was only on the way there that they explained they were just 'helping' me - an honor I don't remember asking for.  : )

Anyway, we all went into the tiny apartment to meet Dr. Wittgenstein (his full name).  I sat cross-legged on the floor because there weren't enough chairs.  Witty wasted no time.  He crossed right over to me and curled up in my lap.  Before that, he had been cowering shyly in a corner. 

So, I like to say that Witty chose me before I even thought about choosing him.  Once he was in my lap, there was no turning back.  And he went everywhere with me - including all the way to Los Angeles and back - until he passed away from cancer in 2005.  I still miss him.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

7 Things You've Always Wanted to Know About Jenny

A dear friend, Jen at Finding Heaven Today, recently asked me to join her in sharing 7 Things You've Always Wanted to Know About (insert your name here - feel free to join in!).  I had so much fun reading her list that I'm accepting her invitation.  (Not to mention, I'm also distracting myself from my daunting list of submission projects....)  Enjoy!

1.  I really enjoy reading Hello! magazine (also known as OK! if you're overseas).  It's a guilty pleasure, but, somehow, I find it much more edifying than the trashy Us and People versions here in the States.  I just finished the issue that included scoop on Princess Catherine's potential tiara choices.  What girl doesn't love to dream of wearing a tiara, anyway???  (Don't worry - I only read this when I happen upon it at a newsstand.  I'm not a subscriber or anything.  Geez.)

2.  I'm an AVID young adult, fantasy fiction reader.  Can't get enough of it.  My favorites?  Tiger's Curse, the Harry Potter Series (of course), The Inheritance Cycle, The Lord of the Rings, and Percy Jackson & the Olympians.

3.  My idea of a best day includes:
     a. waking up slowly with a delicious cup of coffee, my journal, and the Bible, with absolutely NO noise
     b. finishing quiet time at my own pace
     c. getting a good swim in
     d. sitting at a coffee shop, perferably in a bookstore, and people-watching while I write
     e. viewing art, preferably good art - paintings, not photography or sculpture, in a museum (versus a     gallery)
     f. eating excellent food that makes my body feel healthy and satisfied
     g. finishing off with a movie, either at home or in the theater
     h. because my life is full of people right now, this day would be spent 100% alone

4.  I lived in Spain for a summer at age sixteen, where I was hospitalized for sun poisoning in La Costa del Sol.  I lived in Mexico City for a year at age twenty to twenty-one, studying abroad.  I lived in Los Angeles, completely solita, for two years at age twenty-five to twenty-seven.  Though I've traveled extensively, I've only visited two continents and thirty states.  As a voracious seeker of knowledge, especially cultural knowledge, I'd like to visit all states and territories and every continent someday.

5.  I used to be a dancer (and still am in my dreams).  I used to be a pianist, so much so that I considered a career as a concert pianist and practiced two hours a day before choosing academia over the arts.  I used to be an actress.  High school plays, of course, but I identified with it so seriously that I actually consider trying out for movies.  Not often, but the thought crosses my mind every now and again.

6.  I had the privilege of serving on summer mission teams to the Sioux Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota for four summers as a young adult.  I met a people that left an imprint on my soul.  I am privileged to have known them.  I am humbled to call some of my Lakota friends khola.

7.  I'm way into politics.  I won't go into that much detail here because your eyes might start to gloss over.  Suffice it to say, I've "tried on" all sorts of political leanings over the years and think I have finally settled somewhere to the right of moderate and left of conservative.  I used to work actively in Republican politics (like, I actually got paid; I didn't just volunteer) on the campaign side.  I used to work on Capitol Hill (I attended Georgetown University in D.C. - the School of Foreign Service, to be precise).  I feel very passionately about this country and the gift it is to all who live here.  Some folks feel a calling to reach the unreached people groups?  I feel a calling to this country, in all its messed-up glory.  I weep for it often.  For me, watching a State of the Union is a spiritual experience.  (I know, call me crazy....)

Hope you've found this little list fun and enlightening.  What seven things should I know about you? 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Stops and Starts

Here's an update on my writing life:
  • I have done absolutely nothing with my picture books since I went through a round of submissions last fall.  I know I'm being a big disobedient here - it's time to start submitting again.  My health has prevented me from being productive, but, now that I'm feeling better, I have higher hopes.
  • I decided not to submit my poetry.  I reread through my decade's worth of poems and decided they are nowhere near good enough to submit to any serious poetry publisher.  Instead, I'll just content myself to rambling off verse on this site every now and again, just for fun.  Bear with me if it's as painful as I think it is!  I have to put it out there so it doesn't swirl around inside, blocking the prose.  The rhythm of my rhyming helps me get into a writing rhythm on my other projects.  It's a place to start, to emote. 
  • The Witty Series.  This is a series about my beloved, now deceased, dog.  A bit cliche, but I can't help myself.  In true Curious George style, Witty goes through a series of adventures all about discovery - self-discovery and discovery of the world.  I have written four in the series, submitted three.  I'm waiting to hear on those three.  I need to finish at least ten and keep submitting them.
  • My young adult novel/series.  This is what I'm most excited about!  I spend hours dreaming about it.  Though I've definitely loved the Witty series and some of my picture books, this project has opened up new areas of passion.  I'm currently wrestling through some structure issues while in the outlining stage.  I used to just write - stream-of-consciousness style - but I can't seem to do that and actually finish anything.  I need the backbone of an outline to keep me focused.  So, my goal is to hammer out a firm, settled outline for all three books - complete with meta-narrative, character developments, and chapter outlines - by the end of this month.  I also want to have the first draft of the first three chapters of Book I completed by February 26th.  February 24th-26th I'll be in Marfa, Texas - alone - working on nothing but these goals.  I would greatly appreciate prayer: for clarity, focus, productivity, and grace for my husband and kids while I'm away.
Thanks to all who read and comment!  This little blog has been a big lesson for me - about my style, voice, weaknesses, strengths, and more.  I especially love seeing you Soli Deo Gloria girls each Tuesday - thanks!

It's Cold by the Window

It's cold by the window
I'm not sure where I'm going

It's cold by the window
I'm not sure where I've been

It's cold by the window
I'm not sure if I'm moving

It's cold by the window
I'm rocked along by wind

It's cold by the window
I don't know if I want this

It's cold by the window
I can't tell if I should

It's cold by the window
I leave my heart in pieces

It's warm by the fire
I turn my heart to you

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Swimmer's Ear

Stroke, stroke, breathe.
Stroke, stroke, breathe.

I sink beneath the surface
in an attempt to lose myself
I move forward through my stroke
Humming as I exhale

I have found my rhythm
Stroke, stroke, breathe.

My thoughts move through
water with me, leading
as I go, leaning as I fall
into body before mind

I have lost my rhythm

Stroke, stroke...

I power through the position
faltering with my failure
reaching out for more
grasping at the rhythm

I have found my stride

Stroke, stroke, breathe.
Stroke, stroke, breathe.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Define Normal

I just finished my follow-up appointment at my endocrinologist.  (For more about what brought me to this place, read last week's post: Patient.)  The results?  "Normal."

She elaborated patiently.  "This is good news," she said.  "I agree," I responded.  I don't have some incurable debilitating disease, thank God, BUT, I still feel horrible.  Oh, and, there's that little problem of my "episodes".  I keep having them.

She nodded sympathetically (I say this without sarcasm - she really was very sympathetic) and tried to problem-solve with me.  We talked through next-steps - seeing a naturopath, visiting Austin's natural pharmacy and asking for supplements, etc.  I could feel my stress level rising.

Here I go again, I thought.  A solution that is a non-solution.  My thoughts started down a negative, hopeless path as I thought about how desperately I need these episodes to stop.  Like, now.  And how tired I am of no one having any clear answers, clear solutions.  Same song, different verse.  Great.

The P.A. kept talking, but I could no longer hear her.  Uh-oh, I thought.  Here we go.  The next thing I remember was a blood pressure cuff on my arm, and the P.A. calling my name.  "You with me?" she asked.  "Jenny?  Can you hear me?"  I had done it again, for the who-knows-how-manyth time...the slightest bit of stress and BAM! I'm out.  Not fainted, not unconscious, just unable to respond physically while I hear everyone rushing about in a flurry around me.  Physically collapsed in a syncopal-like episode while my conscious self is fully engaged.  Slight brain fog at times but, otherwise, present and accounted for. 

True to form, all of my vital signs were perfect during the episode.  Slightly low blood pressure but "to be expected", according to the experts.  The funny thing?  The woman who had been giving me my results changed her tune slightly after actually witnessing what I had been trying to describe to her.  She had called the doctor in to observe in the middle of the episode, and he concurred: we need to treat her.

If you've read my other post, you'll know that all the other specialists I've seen have effectively treated me like I'm some over-dramatic actor vying for attention.  That I'm making this up.  They come to that conclusion because my vital signs and test results are "normal."  But, as the endocrinologist said after witnessing my latest episode this morning, "this is not normal."

Here's where we get into the nitty-gritty.  It turns out that my a.m. cortisol level was 7.  The normal range is 7-25.  So, as the doc put it, I'm technically within normal range, but my results are kind of "pansy."  That made me laugh.  And made me feel good at the same time.  I'm not making this up - my body doesn't produce enough of what I need when I feel any level of stress.  It produces some, but not enough.  Yes, I can try to manage stress in my life, but I can't magically fix my physical responses.  They are real and in need of treatment.

The doctor took one look at me and told the P.A.: "we need to treat her.  We can at least see if she'll respond to treatment.  Normally, she shouldn't need the standard treatment, but this isn't a normal response.  Let's try it and see."

So I took my first pill today.  Officially I've been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue.  That means my adrenal gland doesn't work as well as it should.  The adrenal gland produces cortisol in response to stress - any form of stress (cold weather, for example, or financial pressure; a sore throat, or a conflict with a friend; in other words, physical, or emotional/psychological).  Cortisol tells all the other systems in your body how to work well in this heightened state: your immune system, your body's ability to build muscle mass, metabolism of essential vitamins and minerals, and the list goes on.  In other words, if your adrenal gland doesn't work well, nothing really works well.  No wonder I don't feel good.

The hope is that I'll feel better within a few days.  You can pray.  I would dearly like to feel better.  But more importantly, I would like to learn how to to persevere.  I am weary, I won't deny it.  I'm having to fight for hope.  Pray that my faith will grow; that even if I see no results I will "not grow weary in doing good."  And not just in doing good but also in believing in good.

One final note: I had a revelation about this last night while talking with a friend.  About a week ago I checked in with the Lord about my quiet times.  I've been disciplined in following where He's leading in my daily time with Him, but I feel...basically, empty.  No filling up at all.  As if I can't access my Source to get to the energy I need to keep moving.  I can hear Him, see Him, observe His presence and work in my life.  But, something's missing.

I asked Him about this, wondering, what's up?  He pointed out: "Jenny, your heart is weary.  You can't handle any more from me right now."  The minute I heard Him say that I knew He was right.  The last six months have been very taxing on me, for many reasons not the least of which is how much I've had to fight for and carry my daughter Lily through her own health stuff.  It has been scarier than I've allowed myself to acknowledge, so there are some unresolved things there I need to deal with.  In His grace, He is not going to pile on more right now, but rather, call me to rest.  Give me space to process the backlog.

This applies to many areas in my life right now.  Obviously, it makes me think of my poor, overworked adrenal gland.  It needs a break so that it can regain strength and catch up.  The physical reflecting the spiritual and vice-versa.  Isn't this the way it always works?  In all areas I need recovery more than rest.  This is a tricky one for me, a new place.  I know how to rest.  I have learned that.  I don't think I know how to recover.  Not yet.  I suspect that recovery begins with acknowledgment of the trauma that caused the need for recovery.  Hmmm...I'll think more on that and get back to you.

Thanks for reading.  And don't forget to stop by Soli Deo Gloria for some Tuesday encouragement!

Friday, February 4, 2011


Hi friends.

I've been trying to find a way to write this post.  To piece all the disparate parts together, to recount all of the story lines, convey all of the emotions, share all of the thoughts involved in this journey.  I've finally decided I have to quit trying to figure it out and just write.  It may not be complete, it may not make perfect sense, but here it is.  A start, anyway.

Some people have things that plague them their entire lives - that one annoying thing (habit, life area, belief) that you can't shake no matter how hard you try.  Mine is health.  It seems that no matter what, complicated health issues surround me. 

It's been this way my whole life.  I've always felt generally sick and tired, ever since I can remember, but never did anyone validate my general malaise or diagnose me with anything.  In fact, from an early age I was outright accused of being an over-dramatic hypochondriac - an accusation I still struggle with internally almost daily.  Growing up in Austin, one of the airborn allergy capitals of the world, at some point during my adolescence I decided the constant sniffles and low energy level had to be allergies.  I wouldn't chase down the symptoms with a doctor because that would be proving "them" right, those owners of the disembodied voices that lingered in order to accuse. 

And, the voices in my head told me, I couldn't really be sick.  I'm a hypochondriac, remember?  This is all in my head.

So I labored on through life, playing sports and dancing and generally feeling yucky.  Ignoring or invalidating how I felt because that's what I thought I was supposed to do.  Push through, toughen up, get over it, quit complaining.

My senior year in high school the yuckiness became yuckier.  I finally had to turn to doctors for help and here is a sampling of what they said:
  • In response to both of my knees simply going out during dance rehearsal one day, a respected orthopedic surgeon said: "you're developing arthritis.  Nothing can be done at this stage.  You'll have to wait it out until your knees get so bad that knee replacement surgery is your only option.  We're not there yet.  In the meantime, no climbing stairs, no dancing certainly, no sports."  I was eighteen years old.
  • Later, at age twenty-eight, my dog pulled an already weak shoulder almost completely out of joint.  The sports medicine doctors I saw said things like: "you have shoulder impingment and tendinitis - you just need to exercise."  Now, six years later, I have a hierneated disc in my cervical spine and periodic numbness down both of my arms - all of which is directly related to the original weakness and malalignment of my shoulder joint.  The muscles in my right arm are dieing, effectively.  Nearly every morning I can't feel my hand and don't have the strength to open my daughter's medicine, for example.  The childproof top takes me around ten tries before I can prise it loose.
  • When I was pregnant with both of my children I would randomly pass out.  In the hospital my OB would run the standard emergency markers: blood pressure, keytones (for dehydration), blood sugar, heart rate, etc.  She would then look at me and say, "well Jenny I don't know what to tell you.  There seems to be nothing wrong with you physically."  Hmmm, does she think I thought it would be fun to get rushed to the hospital by my terrified husband every week or so?  Yea right.
The list goes on.  And on.  And on.  There are much more serious matters on my list, but I can't go there.  Some of it is too private and much of it is too painful.

Here's my caveat: I'm not a victim and doctors aren't evil.  Narrow-minded, perhaps.  Unwilling to dig deeper and listen well, maybe.  Too quick to look for the obvious, expected answer, tal vez.  I don't know.  I do know that I'm not at all qualified to make that judgment.  I'm still working through lots of anger and resentment where doctors are concerned.  I won't even pretend to have proper perspective.  I'm also trying to sift through how I could have made different choices (like finding a PCP early on who could have managed all the specialists for me - put the pieces together, so to speak).

So here I am at age thirty-three and health continues to be the thing I deal with.  Last night my husband took our fifteen-month-old daughter to the ER in an ambulance because she had a seizure.  (She's fine now - seizure due to high fever that is now under control, praise God.)  That marked the eighty-eighth time I have witnessed and "triaged" a seizure.  I only called in the paramedics last night because she showed no signs of coming down from her seizure at the minute and a half mark.  Depending on the type of seizure, you can begin to lose brain cells due to lack of oxygen and can even die if the seizure moves past the three minute mark.  So yes, we dialed 9-1-1 even though I knew what to do (as did my husband: we're well-versed in seizure protocols).

My three-year-old son had a febrile seizure at age fifteen months. 

My husband had two Grand Mal seizures and eighty-four Petit Mal seizures between October of 2008 and March of 2009.  A healthy, thriving twenty-nine year old, suddenly he was an epileptic.  It's been almost two years since the day he had his last seizure - March 26, 2010.  I praise God every day.

My father had to undergo a lung transplant when I was eight months pregnant with my first because he was dieing from pulmonary fibrosis.  (It is over three years later, and he's doing very well.)

My daughter was diagnosed with an unexplained gross motor delay last summer (at age nine months) for which we've been in physical therapy at least once per week.  At the beginning of all of that - last October - she fell and broke two bones.  So began an investigative process that led us to find out she is vitamin D deficient.  Now we believe she might also have low cortisol levels, which could explain her overall muscle weakness.  We're awaiting those results (yes, the same daughter who was rushed to the hospital last night - for the third time in her little life, by the way).

While pregnant with my son and later with my daughter I started having random, unexplained "fainting" episodes.  I put the word "fainting" in quotes because I never completely pass out.  I am always conscious and aware, but I am also non-responsive.  In other words, I can hear and understand you, but I can not respond.  Not open my eyes, nor move my mouth; not lift my finger, nor hold my body up.  Despite all of the specialists I've seen, no one has figured it out yet.  The episodes are getting worse and more frequent.

The first time I "fainted", my OB said, "well, nothing's showing up on your vital signs or tests.  The baby seems to be fine.  Pregnant women sometimes faint - it will pass once you deliver the baby."  It has been three years and two months since my first episode.  They have not stopped.

When they continued with greater intensity and frequency during my second pregnancy, she referred me to a neurologist and a cardiologist.  I have had an echo-cardiogram, a tilt-table test, several EEG's, an MRI, several EKG's, continual heart monitoring, bedrest, evaluation in an Epilepsy Monitoring Unit to see if I have epilepsy, and three psychiatric evaluations.  There might be more, but I honestly think I've blocked it all out.

When the neurologists sent me to the cardiologists and the cardiologists sent me back to the neurologists - after the OB had sent me to both first, of course - the neurologists finally sent me to a psychiatrist who sent me back to the original neurologist.  I'm not making this up.  Tens of thousands of dollars in medical costs to my family, my employer...not to mention the emotional cost.  I didn't just have doctors subtly insinuating that I was making my symptoms up in my head - they literally referred me to a psychiatrist because they were convinced that is what was happening.  Until the psychiatrist disagreed with them, of course.  Then it was back to square one.  Not once did any of these specialists think to run a simply blood test.

Last summer I got a cold.  A really, really bad cold.  Six weeks into it I was so tired that I could barely lift my limbs.  I tracked down a primary care physician who took me seriously.  Because the cold hadn't gone away, she decided to test for mono and to "check my levels".  She didn't blame it on post-partem (an accusation, or suggestion, I've heard more times than I can count).  She just tried to figure it out.

It turns out I am Vitamin D deficient and Vitamin B12 low - both of which could explain fatigue, weakened immune system, muscle weakness, joint pain (the list goes on).  I found this out before we found out about Lily's deficiency.  I've been taking supplements for over six months, but I still feel like c-r-a-p.  I also continue to have these lovely episodes I was telling you about.  Sooooo, my doctor - you know, the one who takes me seriously - ran one last test.  Sort of out of desperation.  In December she pulled a cortisol level on me (cortisol is produced by your adrenal glands: for more detailed, nerdy information, click here.).  She called me from her family's Christmas vacation out of state on New Year's Day to tell me - almost in disbelief - "your cortisol level is low, actually; you need to see an endocrinologist".

A what?

I finally saw the endocrinologist last week.  I went in with my armor on.  I had research from reputable sites on the Internet along with books published by doctors (all of which said that most doctors do not recognize adrenal fatigue).  Three years into this process, I was ready for a fight.

I found a hospital tent, instead of a battlefield.

The doctor I met with listened to me patiently and then said: "yes, it is absolutely possible that you're having these episodes because you have low cortisol.  I have patients that this happens to all the time.  If your adrenal gland isn't working properly, you literally, physically can not respond to even the most basic levels of stress (cold weather, for example).  Your body will simply shut down in response."

She went on to say: "let's start with the basic adrenal tests and then we'll go from there.  But don't worry - we'll stick with you and figure this out.  There are lots of avenues we can explore."

At the same time - the same week, actually - I saw a pediatric endocrinologist for Lily.  She and Lily's neurologist also looked at Lily's "big picture" - the gross motor delay, the D deficiency, the fact that her mother had low D and cortisol while she was in the womb, the muscle weakness - and agreed to run further tests.  We're now checking Lily's cortisol to rule that out.  If her cortisol is fine, then she truly does just have an unexplained gross motor delay.  We'll continue therapy and move on.  If her cortisol is low, I'm not sure what the next steps are. 

What is my point?  For one, to share what occupies most of my time these days.  For another, to reflect. 

I often feel angry, overwhelmed, tired of dealing with health crisis after health crisis.  I want the "full life" Jesus promised - in both body and spirit.  But then I get moments like these to look back and reflect.  There is fullness here.  And I'm not just saying that to give myself a consolation prize.  I say it truly, from a place of belief that is - to coin a phrase - in the becoming.

"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."  (Romans 5: 3-5, NIV)

I don't understand this journey.  Even referencing that Scripture feels at once self-aggrandizing and self-pitying, like I'm taking on the victim role all over again.  But I choose to believe that there is purpose here, a purpose that is both about me and beyond me.  I am learning the place where justice and mercy must meet.  I can not sit down and let people go un-cared for - that would be unjust.  I must advocate for my daughter, for example, or - even harder - fight for my own care.  But neither should I rail against all caregivers, making them the enemy standing on the other side of some demarcation line I have drawn.  I need to show them mercy even as I hope to receive mercy from them.  Compassion.  Kindness.  Justice can not truly exist without these. 

This is a truth I do not get yet.  I want to blame and scream that it is "unfair".  I want to tell these people that did not figure it out "if only".  "If only you had taken my levels sooner, we might have known what my kids were not getting in the womb."  "If only, then maybe we could have helped them."  How could you have let this happen?

Funny.  I often have the same question for God.

And yet it is the wrong question to be asking, somehow.  The right question - the question that makes me right with God - is how can I "love for the day is near"? (Hebrews 10:25, Romans 13:8-14)  How can I "love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly" all at the same time?  (Micah 6:8)

Short answer?  I have no idea.  But I know the One who does and that's whose voice I will listen for.  When I'm tired, overwhelmed, discouraged.  When another health issue confronts me and when I experience health in body as well as mind.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fear Itself

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

We've all heard it.  We've grown up with it (at least, those of us who are older than thirty).  Somehow the notion that fear is bad, negative, to be avoided has sunk into our collective consciousness.  If you feel afraid, be brave, push through, overcome.

This is an appropriate response in many cases, of course.  But it's also inappropriate in other cases.  A truth a dear friend taught me several years back.  The conversation went something like this:

"I'm afraid," I told my small group as I wept before them.

"Why?" another woman in the group asked.

"Because it's scary," came the response, not from me.  Our fearless leader, the female pastor at my church in Los Angeles, looked at me with tenderness in her eyes and said, "Jenny, of course you're afraid.  This new venture has risks, it's scary.  You would be a fool not to fear, to ignore the realities of those risks.  Faith isn't the absence of fear; faith is found in our response to it.  Don't spend your energies trying to will away your fear.  Spend yourself on fixing your eyes on where God has called you and moving toward it with His hand in yours."

It's okay to be afraid. 

I've been thinking about this lately as I've processed with a dear friend who is thinking through some next steps.  Fear doesn't necessarily mean you're on the wrong track (I think some of us believe that, if we're afraid - if we don't have peace, then we're outside of God's will).  In fact, sometimes fear means you're right where you're supposed to be.  Path less traveled and all that.

One last thought before I sign off: this week I instituted Bible verse memorization in our home.  I can't believe it's already that time, but something in my mommy-gut tells me it is.  Gunnar turns three on Friday, and it's time to let the Word sink into him through memorization.

Where did we start?  "There is a time for everything...." (Ecc. 3:1, NIV).  I'm trying to teach him that it's okay to bang things when we're pretend-playing the drums, for instance, but not when we're at the table, stuff like that.  We'll get to the deeper stuff, I'm sure, but we're starting with the practical, tangible, understandable places in his little world. 

The coolest part?  As I remind him, I am reminded.  "There is a time for everything...."  Including fear, courage, despair, hope, suffering, rejoicing.  As I think through all of the issues we're dealing with in our little four-member fam, I think about this and am comforted.  We won't be where we are forever.  This simultaneously gives me a reason to cherish every moment and look forward to the next ones.  Thank you, God, for such a hope.

Linking up with Soli Deo Gloria again today.  Enjoy!