Let’s Try This…

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As a little girl, I had horrible ear infections.  They would usually start with a normal cold and before you knew it, I couldn’t hear, and then debilitating pain.  They made me unable to concentrate, barely able to have a conversation, and just praying for relief. As a child of the 70’s, this ear pain would get me straight to the doctor.  The doctor’s office was full of children with different ailments, and the large room was divided by an imaginary boundary of “sick children on one side and well children on the other.”  I knew that the invisible divider was really there to pacify over protective moms into believing that the sick air of children never entered the clean air space of well children.  Even as young as 4 years old, I was never really bound by rules and so regardless of why I was at the doctor, I sat on the well side.  I was never really a rule follower on the inside. The well section was closer to the door, and if you got the seat right next to the door, you could watch “As the World Turns”. I found myself diagnosing each child as they came in and would turn to one side or the other to try and prevent breathing in whatever they happened to be coughing up at the time.

 

We would sit there and wait, and wait.  We waited while I could feel the beat of my heart through the pain of my ear, I could feel the nausea rise up and fall from the pain, and I just keep praying every time a nurse in white scrubs opened the door that she would be calling my name. “Kristin”-they would call and I would internally wince.  Who names there kid Kristin anyway I thought?  I would lean hard into my mom’s shoulder hoping that the outside pressure against my ear would help alleviate the inner agony.  Each time the door opened, I was anxiously hopeful and the nurse would say “Ashley”.  Again not me.  This would go on and on for sometimes hours, with the door opening, some other kids name being called, my leaning against my mom, and listening to my mom try and read me something out of highlights magazine.  All I wanted to do was sink down in the chair and cry.

Finally the door swung open and the nurse said, “Michelle.” And I barreled up out of my seat immediately feeling dizzy and throbbing pain almost made me lose my breath, but I held tight onto my ear while we walked back to an exam room.  The first comment was almost always, “So you have another ear infection.  What are we going to do with you?”  And with that one sentence, I knew that being sick was a problem. I knew my mom had to take time off work again to take me to the doctor, that appointments and medicine were expensive and that if I could only be stronger, none of us would have to be here.

After a quick exam, we were sent off with two prescriptions, and antibiotic, and a narcotic for pain.  Yes, a narcotic, it was the 70’s, and that’s how they treated ear pain in 4 year olds.  After filling my prescription and taking my first dose, I was able to sleep and woke up the next morning feeling so much better.

It was just that easy.  Take the medicine they give you, you will feel better, and all will be right as rain.

Today, I am tired.  I’m exhausted from bottles and bottles of medication, with side effects, and concerns.  I am exhausted from seeing this doctor, then that doctor, then another only to come home with another bottle full of pills and no definitive answers.  Today I’m exhausted because my migraines aren’t really getting better and every appointment and conversation seems to be sealed with the words, “Let’s try this.”  Today I’m exhausted because I am sitting on the sidelines of life, watching the people I love moving through their day, accomplishing, being in the world. Today I’m exhausted of having to once again send that message to my boss that says, I just can’t be there.  Today I’m exhausted from sounding crazy on the phone because of embarrassing side effects from trying so many things, and I’m exhausted because at the end of the day…nothing works. Today I’m exhausted that I have become a burden to my husband. While he delivers sacrificially, today I want to be more for him.  Today I’m exhausted that starting tomorrow we will once again be in “let’s try this” mode, and I’m just exhausted. Fighting the urge to just quit.

Today, I look back over the last year and I’m just wondering what lesson I’m missing out on.  I know that God’s hand is in this and that no pain is wasted, and I know that this is just a season.  As I scan through the pill bottles, and the doctor visits, the missed work, miss time with my kids, asking my husband to pick of my slack and the deafening loneliness that accompanies being sick, I just want to say…enough already. As I lay down tonight in anticipation of tomorrow, I’m praying for the strength to change my mantra.  Instead of “Let’s try this.” I’m going to remember that “God’s got this.” He’s in it with me every step of the way, even in this, knowing this is just a season.  And God has plans for a new one.  So what medicine am I auditioning today??

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Migraines

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You know the worst thing about the unexpected, is it is just that…unexpected.  It started out like every other morning complete with me standing in front of the Keurig, utterly annoyed that it was taking so long to warm up.  As I stood their piercing that green circle flashing around what was clearly the largest acceptable cup of coffee Keurig ever envisioned, I began to wonder if maybe when this cup was finished if I should go ahead and brew a second cup to be on standby.  As the water poured out the machine, an aroma begins to fill the room with whatever delicacy flavor happens to be in that plastic tube, and I begin to settle down.  See, just what I said, like every other morning.

I run into work carrying mugs full of coffee that are roughly the same size as military canteens taken into the desert and throw my stuff down.  I quickly sort through my things and run toward my first meeting of the day, feeling confident that I am creating a “Pig-Penish” mess of paper disaster in my wake, but I don’t turn around.  As I sit across from the woman in my meeting, I feel the tension in my body lock up.  I’m immediately irritated, why did the Keurig take so long?  The coffee will help, but I put it in a mug from my Father-In Law that I swear must keep it approximately 400 degrees, so drinking it is almost guaranteeing in ability to taste for the next 5 days.  As I sit there swirling the coffee, I’m considering whether this, burn your palette off could be a new diet plan, and so I audition names in my head. “The Hot, Hot, Hot Diet” or maybe one of those trending one-word diets like “Scorched.” I decide to not drink it because as I was running by the break room, I saw muffins, and now I kind of want one. Having the roof of my mouth seared would remove most of the joy in eating it.

I breathe deep, allowing myself to listen to the woman sitting with me and just accept that maybe, just maybe I’m being taught a very remedial lesson in patience.  As my meeting ends, and I fearlessly take a swig of the coffee, I begin to plan for the rest of the day.  I subtly pick up random things that I have dropped down the hallway and it feels like the room gets smaller.  I sit in my chair and breathe, but there’s a tunnel in my vision.

I can hear every word said around me, almost as if you were playing a 45 speed record on 33.  The words are easy to make out, but it sounds slow.  I want to respond.  Words almost flow in front of me with bright colors and various game show fonts and brightness and I begin to grab for them.  I’m trying so hard to grab the right ones, to organize them correctly, but the tunnel is getting smaller, my language sounding more slurred and my thoughts jumbled as I hold one hundred words that make no sense together.

I must go home.  I know I don’t feel well, so I quickly gather my things and race my continued tunneling vision to my car and home, and I know that a migraine is coming.

It’s beyond the point to stop it, so I breathe deep until I get home. I push open the door and head straight for the medicine cabinet, begging out loud that I can start the medicine before the nausea comes.  I fumble with the secret service style pill protection on my medication.  I cannot get it open.  There are layers upon layers that can’t be peeled or broken through, so I do what anyone in my situation would do, and I grab a knife. With pseudo Samaria sword precision, I bust open that medicine and swallow that pill, and immediately lay down.  As I lay as still as I can, I close my eyes and see all the words that were floating by fall to the ground and the tunnel closes around me.  I can’t see anything, I have no clarity in my language, all I feel is pain.  Pulsing, crushing pain. With every heart beat another surge.

I must have fallen asleep because at some point I wake up.  I gently rub my head looking for some sort of machete still sticking out of it, or a bruise from a level on head trauma, and I know that the pain is better, but not gone.  I open my eyes to more jumbled words and a blackness covering everything.  Still need more medicine.

As I simultaneously grab my head and my stomach I practice every controlled breathing exercise, like a Lamaze meets hot yoga, and begin to drift into sleep. My last thoughts are, I wonder if this is what dying feels like.

As I wake back up again, the tunnel of my vision has widened, the nausea has subsided, and I can move my head without feeling the need to hold it in place.  Only one piece left, I’m still not thinking clearly.  My words are jumbled, out of order and my thoughts are on the satellite delay and not I can’t correct them. I still see them moving in front of me in giant block letters, still see them dancing around me and I grab at each one.  I fumble to speak and try to use my words slowly, carefully, intentionally, but I sound like a science experiment gone wrong. But the pain is gone.

I just want to sleep.  Praying as I do every time, that this is the last one.  That I will never again have the tunnel take over my vision and my words reign free over my head. I pray as I do every time, God, let this be the last one. Praying for no more migraines.

When Is Enough, Enough???

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I’ve spent my whole life living in central Ohio.  Our logo has been “The Heart of it All”, but I’m going to be honest with you…if you’re in a crowded public place in many places in this country and you shout “O-H”, you will most assuredly hear the liturgy cadence of “I-O.”  I’m a midwestern girl who grew up in Buckeye country.  It’s not that we had to be Ohio State Football fans, although it has truly become the “professional” sports team of Columbus, but growing up here and living here, you just kept getting swept away in the intoxicating nature of the spirit of being a Buckeye.  In most jobs I’ve had, Buckeye gear was encouraged before games and people around me are always scurrying to find tickets to any and every game.  It’s a camaraderie.

This week I have been overrun with news concerning an Ohio State assistant football coach and his alleged domestic abuse.  It’s horrifying.  The story continues that the head coach of the football team knew as well.  Then perhaps the athletic director.  So much news coverage and so much press concentrating on our next season of football, the fate of one fired coach and another on administrative leave, and an athletic director who is an icon in Columbus.

What I wish we were talking about is why the clarifying question of domestic abuse is “Did you hit her?”  Why do we see domestic violence only through the lens of one hand striking another person?  And why are we not using this moment of national attention to discuss how sometimes women don’t have a voice.

I hate what this has done to my city, but more than that I hate what it has revealed about my city.  I hate that as a woman who was mistreated by a man who never hit me, mistreated in the workplace where speaking would get me fired, and numerous occasions of unwanted interaction I am forced to see that…I was right.  Speaking would have gotten me nowhere.  Talking about what I went through would have been met with a barrage of sympathetic amnesia, concern for disturbing the flow and horrific isolation.

So today I wonder, can we focus on what domestic abuse means.  What domestic violence is?? Can we look beyond the phrase, “did you hit her?”  When can we admit that domestic abuse is difficult and complicated, but not ignorable?  Can we sacrifice our team record to save our morality even though it supersedes our legal obligations?  At what point do we agree to worry about the woman mistreated and less about a football record.  When is enough, enough?

Dreams Come True

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I grew up in the seventies.  I feel like that statement in and of itself should paint a vivid picture of long hair and in turn, for reasons I have never understood long carpet.  It was referred to as “shaggy” to feel hipster, which my family never was, but I was also desperately wanted something so cool in my house.  I should mention…we never had it.  Our house was covered in varying shades of brown and orange and a color green that resembled pea soup, not like the green that Mr Crayola intended. It was however covered by a showering of love, and that’s where my older brother and I grew up.

My mom had a best friend.  Conveniently, her best friend was her sister, so it made family gatherings easy.  Both my mom and my Aunt Carolyn spent the summers home with the kids and so often, we would pack up the station wagon and head over to the Cassidy’s for the day.  The Cassidy’s lived on the “other side” of the big road, and although no one would ever confirm or deny, somewhere deep within my five-year-old brain, I knew that they were rich. They had brown faux leather chairs in their kitchen that swiveled and their house had multiple stairs.  It smelled of laundry detergent and most portably Calgon, although I had never actually used that.  There was this incredible hair product in the bathroom called “Tame” that helped you brush out your horribly long hair without…okay with half as much screaming.  Plus, we went to hang out at their house because that had this amazing thing…full house air conditioning.

When you opened the door, you were overcome by cool tones in the house, cool air, and the coolness of the people living there, with one very small mighty exception.  My cousin…Jenn.  Let’s be real.  She was more than a cousin…a sister  She was a powerhouse.  Not in a take over the world way but in a, I’m going to soak up everything life has to offer.  Jen was sweet, bubbly, cute, she had freckles that were replicated on Cabbage Patch Dolls.  She was charming…a skill I still struggle to pull off, and she was my best friend too.  We would spend summers soaking up that air conditioned coolness, running the Slip and Slide down the metal backyard slide, playing kickball where if you hit the buzzing electric wire you were automatically out,  planning our lives, and dreaming about what we wanted in our future.  At the age of 6 Jenn had corporate aspirations, in not being a “stay at home mom” but working in an office somewhere.  Maybe even being a secretary.  She was young and going places. Although slightly older, I looked up to her.  She saw the world full of sunshine and grace.

Above all, that freckled face would start and end every “dream” scenario with, I’m going to have a husband and take care of my kids.  I mean yes, she may have to pull a “9-5” movie scenario and sneak rat poison into her boss’ coffee, but she would be going home to her husband and children. That was her dream.

While there are so many memories of garage sales with lemonade stands, countless hours at the pool, Halloween nights when I was terrified and she was well…3 houses ahead of me, cookouts, broken mayonnaise jars, and so many other things.  The dream, no matter how it evolved it always included a husband and children.

Today as we mourn the unexplainable tragic death of Jenn, I know that the freckled face little girl had her dreams come true.  She met a man that fell hopelessly in love with her, married her and they had two baby boys.  While I could tell so many stories, I don’t want to take away that Jenn’s husband Daren made her dreams come true.

Today as we mourn her ended life here, we celebrate where she is in this moment. We celebrate her amazing opportunity to be face to face with Jesus, and we know that God’s grace is sufficient.  While we pray for all things we cannot express in words, we know that God is working in it.

So today I pray for her heartbroken parents, I pray for Daren, and I pray for her children, and I thank God that my sister’s dream come true.

Why Am I Crying? And Other Hormone Related Questions

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I’m 42 years old.  It’s not that I turned 42 today or anything, but on this Monday immediately following Daylight Savings Time adjustments, I am reminded that I am 42.  There’s a certain comfort that I have in my own skin now.  A certain understanding of my body that has been a gift with age.  I know that while tropical weather makes for great vacations, it actually turns my hair into something that resembles 90’s Metal Band hair.  I know that when I see a really cute pair of shoes pristinely displayed in a size 6, that I may in fact have to add the possibility that those very same shoes may resemble something Ronald McDonald wears when placed on my size 10 feet.  I know that no matter how thin I get and how much I exercise that I will never be the kind of girl that sees daylight between her thighs.   I know who I am, and generally I’m okay with that.

After decades of making peace with who I am and calling a truce with the body hate of my youth, I’ve found myself in a new reality.  Just a few months ago, I had a hysterectomy. You can save your grieving of dreams of babies yet to come as I have all the children this mom could ever want, but I have in fact found myself mourning the loss of who I was.  When I was 16 years old I was put on birth control pills. I’ll save you the graphic details of why, but know that it changed my life.  It was like a miracle, and I was so greatful, I almost found myself rallying in the streets, holding a picket sign, advocating for additional rights for women.  Over the last 25 years, I have either been pregnant or on some type of hormone replacement.  I’m a living encyclopedia of options, side effects, cost and general non-edited commentary about each and every one.  But after fighting the good fight for decades, finally maxing out the amount of hormone controlling therapy they could give me, and adding a lovely 40lbs to my body weight, I conceded and had surgery.

Today as I sit here, I know that I am finally free from uncontrollable and abrupt bleeding.  Someday I may even feel confident enough to buy a pair of white pants, but probably not.  While I’m in control of my body, I’m struggling to be in control of my emotions.  After over 25 years of taking a variety of hormones, I am sitting here, hormone free and not knowing who I am.  I cry at the drop of a hat.  I get anxious when I’m unsure of what’s coming.  I can sleep around the clock and still feel tired.  I used to be the unshakable warrior woman, and today I feel raw, vulnerable and exposed.

I can’t help but wonder how many of us find ourselves in places where we never thought we would be feeling things we truly don’t know how to feel. There’s nothing unique about my situation, and certainly nothing that warrants a Go Fund Me page, but I do think about how sometimes life throws us a curve ball.  Sometimes when we have ourselves and our lives all figured out and we are soaring along, changes can come and just sweep the rug out from underneath of us.  Sometimes, we wake up and wonder “Who am I?”

While I’ve been surprised by both my emotions and new feelings, I know that God is not.  God is not surprised by who I was and certainly not surprised by who I am.  Because I belong to Him.  He knows my every hurt, my every uncertainty, my every fear and each and every new feeling.  While in some ways I feel like a different person, I know that in all the ways that matter, nothing has changed.  I am a child of God.

As I continue to adjust and get used to the newness of my life, I believe that the old Michelle will be back soon enough.  The warrior who knows nothing of the word “can’t” is sitting this season of life out, but she is in there.  Today, the former me takes a break, and I rest in knowing that God is still working on me.  Even in this season, He is there.  And tomorrow, the Michelle of the past will be back with a newness and new understanding of who she actually is.  No matter how it plays out, God’s got this.

Sin Bucket

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There was a time not so long ago when I lived in a house that was constantly under various stages of construction.  Sometimes there was a necessary home repair, and sometimes there was a new project.  It seemed that there was always a slight haze of drywall dust in the air and an orange five gallon bucket full of stuff I might need sitting in the corner.  There were putty knives, hammers, screw drivers, nails, screws, box cutters, electric drills, googles, masks…almost anything you may need in a moment to make some progress on the pending repair. 

 Once, while trying to repair a hole in the wall, I found myself in a precarious position of balancing on the top of a ladder, holding a perfectly cut piece of drywall in one hand and an electric drill in the other.  I had one foot tightly anchored to the ladder and glided the drywall into the wall like the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. I carefully held the piece steady and revved the drill feeling like a pre-race version of Mario Andretti.  I reached into my tool box sitting on the top of the ladder and grabbed for a screw, but there weren’t any there.  I was out.

I climbed down my ladder and headed to the bucket in the corner.  I searched and searched for the right screw, and there was nothing there.  There were all sorts of things in my bucket but none of them the right.  As a reached down to the bottom of the bucket, I felt something metal and pointed and I hoped that it was exactly what I needed.  As I yanked it out, I saw a nail.  With deep resignation, knowing it wouldn’t work, I tried it anyway.

I so often find myself overwhelmed by the intensity of life’s problems.   I often feel like I’m balancing delicately, and holding a piece of life that I just don’t know how to handle.  How will I handle my child’s unhappiness, how will I manage growing financial needs, how will I prepare for retirement, how will I loose 20lbs, how will I ever be a wife that gives more than she takes?  Sometimes I’m desperately searching in my tool box, throwing things out of the box that I can never see working, and discarding all the tools that I know help. Exhausted, I find myself staring into an empty tool box.

There I am holding a piece of my life that I can’t fix, with a tool box I’ve savagely annihilated feeling scared and needing something to fix this.  I look into the corner and see a bucket.  I know that bucket.  I’ve seen that bucket sitting there before.  I carefully climb down the ladder holding that piece of uncontrollable life and walk to the corner.  Sitting there quietly is my sin bucket.  It’s lush with so many ways to make this uncomfortable piece of life not feel so heavy.  I reach deep down in the bucket sorting through gluttony, and lust.  I power down deep through codependency and anger issues.  I keep digging until I reach the bottom.  Deep at the bottom of my sin bucket I find just the right fix. I grab on to it and carefully lift it out.  As it reaches the top of my bucket, I see the sin I know so well.  I see shame.

As I release it into the air, I drop the piece of life I can’t fix.  Shame tells me that I’ve created this mess, that there will never be a way out, that I will never be enough. And for a moment I am relieved because I can’t fix it.

As I look around I see my tool box laying on the floor with scattered tools around me, and I know there’s a better way.  I see the tools of grace and forgiveness, of prayer and of discernment.  I crawl over and use each piece as I rebuild my tool kit.  I forcefully shove that shame back into my sin bucket and I sit. 

I know that in the corner of my life there is a bucket of sin that calls to me.  It woes me with seductive efficiency, and even when I believe that I’ve put the lid on it for good, it secretly calls to me.  The sin bucket is easy.  You pull one out and for a moment it relieves the heaviness of life.  Today as I’m holding so many pieces of life, I pray that with God’s grace I can just use my Tool Kit.  I’m praying that I can use the only effective tools in front of me instead of following the allurement of the bucket in the corner I know so well.  Today I just pray, not this time.

What Color Shall We Paint?

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Raising two girls kept my house full of action, unexpected outbursts of Disney Princess songs, and what I have lovingly named “estrogen grenades.”  There was always a faint smell of the complete inventory of Bath and Body Works, hair ties randomly found in every room and an odd amount of glitter that would hang in the air for years, only to be found at odd times in very odd places.  My girls each had their own rooms and shortly after we moved in they decided to decorate and paint.  My oldest daughter instantly knew that she would pick the color of Sleeping Beauty’s pink dress and painted her room Pepto Bismol Pink.    My youngest daughter, at the age of three, taped paint swatches to her walls including almost every color that Crayola has ever thought of.  She agonized over the decision, falling on the floor in tears with the uncertainty, until one day I said, “Just Pick.” 

She painted her room bright, sun glasses required yellow. 

So there we were with the room of Bepto Bismol and the room with the Sun Glasses, and all was good.  For a while.

It didn’t take long until the yellow just wasn’t cutting it for my daughter.  She begged and pleaded, and did lists of chores to earn the money to paint her room again.  With paint swatches covering the walls again, we found ourselves with the same forced decision.  “Just Pick.”  Finally we landed on a deep purple with stripes of deep blue and silver below a handrail.  Soon, that just wasn’t good and so after the chores and negotiating we landed in neon green.  Then more chores, and negotiating and clearly evident parental exhaustion, and I found myself entering a room with pitch black walls. 

I have been horribly hurt in my life.  I have had people mislead and betray me, and I have been damaged and scarred so deep that only the Creator could see the carnage.  I have been changed by things done to me, but once I find myself on the other side of the crisis, when the onslaught is over, sitting and staring at the damaged walls in front of me I have to ask the question, “What now?”  The answer…forgiveness.  I have to break out that paint and go through the agonizing process of acknowledging the pain and the hurt and the ones that have hurt me, and go through the process of painting over each transgression with a layer of freshly applied paint.

I forgive you.

Looking around, I am in awe at the beauty of unmarked, clean walls knowing that my forgiveness took away the hold the damage had on me. Sometimes, it doesn’t take long for the blemishes to bleed through, and what once looked so perfect and clean now shows scars and damage of hurt and pain.  And I know what I must do.  I’ve done it before.  I work to find the energy to prepare the surfaces of my heart, to prime and edge, and forgive again.  I cover each one of those blemishes with the seal of fresh forgiveness…again.  Occasionally after years of being awed by the beauty around me, even as I’m parading people around my room showing them the walls have been painted, I get almost whiplash as I look around and notice a blemish, or a scratch beginning to show through.  Sometimes after being so sure that I have forgiven, I am faced with the reality that I may in fact need to do it again. I may need a fresh layer of paint.

Sometimes forgiveness is a journey.  It’s a gift we give ourselves repeatedly so that the hurt and the pain don’t turn to resentment and bitterness.  Sometimes we just need to pray for the patience and strength to forgive the same hurt, or the same blemish as many times as it takes until we no longer see it. 

As I look around the room today, with the fresh coat of forgiveness shining on the walls, I pray that this time God will soften my heart so that I never need to do this again.  Today, as I see the blessing of forgiveness around me, I know that each time I forgive, I give it to God.  So even if it’s Pepto Bismal Pink or Sunglasses Yellow I’m praying that this time will be the last time I need to paint.