Saturday, May 21, 2016

Living in Ambiguity: When the Story Doesn’t Go Your Way

I majored in Literature, and now I teach it part-time, and part of what I teach (on an elementary or middle school level) are the ingredients of a good story.
A clear problem is introduced early on.  There may be a subplot with sub-problems, and there will most definitely be complications, but we can expect that major problem to stick with us until everything comes to a climax near the end, when we find resolution.

I think as a Christian that God is writing a Big Story through all of history that is like that.  But I think sometimes we can expect our lives and the lives of others to work out as neatly and concisely as a basic, straightforward plot line.  And when instead we find ourselves in what seems like a random mess, it’s hard to know what to do.
We can wonder if God is still real, is He still working, what do we tell other people, how do we package this, how do we answer the most basic “How are you doing?”

Since my foot pain started in January, it’s been a month-by-month story of hope deferred, basically like this:

  • January: If Motrin doesn’t knock this thing out within a week, I’m getting an MRI to tell me exactly what’s wrong and exactly how long it will take to heal.
  • February: The MRI was normal and I still can’t walk.  This must be a stress fracture, which will heal by the end of March.
  • March: The Lyme test came back positive, which unless it was a false positive, which is possible, means that maybe I don’t have a stress fracture at all, and maybe this is all Lyme, or maybe Lyme aggravated whatever else this is, and the ambiguity is driving me nuts, so I will just take Amoxicillin and it will all go away.
  • April: Okay, it improved a little, but I still have the foot brace and this is still not great.  Am I willing to wean my baby so I can try stronger Lyme treatment?  Everyone is telling me different things.  Maybe this isn’t Lyme after all.  If I wean my baby and then find out I didn’t have to, I’m going to be so mad.  Okay, I will.  Sadness.  Cue Doxycycline and the Cowden protocol.
  • May: So I feel a little better, I think?  I can walk without my foot brace now, yay!  And it really, really hurts.  And I end up curled up on the couch crying after I try to go grocery shopping.  Is this my new normal?  Please tell me this is not my new normal.

So here I sit at the end of May, still not sure what is wrong, why God allowed it, or what comes next.  Part of me does feel like celebrating—it is so nice to walk without a foot brace and to be able to do little things I couldn’t do before, like walk out in the back yard with the kids, carry a laundry basket down the stairs, and even think about attempting a trip to the grocery store.  Part of me can honestly say when someone asks, “How are you doing?” that I am doing better, and this is wonderful.

But at the same time, it’s not a conclusive happy ending, and if this were a book I was reading, I would think, “What?!  What was all that for?  That ending really sucked.”  I can do things, but I can’t do them without pain.  Chronic pain gives this sharpness to my whole life, and I really don’t like it.  Okay, that’s the understatement of the year.  I don’t like pain.  Anybody?  I am afraid sometimes this will be my new normal, and I grieve the loss of what I always took for granted.

Last Sunday while Ben took our oldest two kids to a LEGO exhibit, I took the baby to Kohls to, incidentally, buy a really comfy pair of Sketcher shoes.  I was really excited about this trip—a month ago I wouldn’t have considered it, and here I was, being brave and bold and going shopping with my baby in the stroller just like I used to do.

I have a limp and I get tired easily, so I planned to go straight to what I needed, and then straight out.  I tried not to take any steps I didn’t have to.  By the time I left I was really sore, and as I pushed the stroller out, I walked past a big ad for some iced coffee drink at the bookstore next door.

That’s when it really hit me how much my life had changed.  I’m off sugar right now for Lyme, and the Cowden protocol I’m following means I need to take stuff four times a day without food, which means there are several hours a day when I can’t eat and am watching the clock for when I take my next dose.

The days of casually walking from one store to another and buying a Frappuccino without thinking about it are over, at least for now.  Because I think about every step, and I think about every hour, and whether or not I can eat, and what I can eat.

I got in the car and drove home, just feeling sad, wishing this thing had a timeline, wondering if I would ever get back to carefree shopping.  It’s not even that I really like shopping, especially with little kids in tow, and I think I was missing some crazy ideal that didn’t even exist.  (What?  My former life wasn’t one long afternoon wandering through Kohls sipping a Frappuccino?)

Right now I’m learning to be in the mess of problems that aren’t clear problems, and solutions that are a long time in coming, and when they do come, you’re not sure if they are really solutions or not.  I wish I could end this blog post by tying everything up nicely and talking about the great truth I’ve discovered through this.

But really I’m just finding that God is Emmanuel, in the mess with us.  He’s not scared of our mess, and He gives us wisdom when we ask.  Sometimes our outer body is just deteriorating no matter what we do, and inside we don’t necessarily feel renewed day by day, but God’s Holy Spirit is doing a work in the dark that we can’t really explain.

It’s best to be honest with each other and with Him, and realize that His stories in our lives don’t always come in neat packages with clear beginnings and clear ends and clear one-sentence share-on-Facebook truths.  I believe His ways always have a purpose, but that doesn’t always mean we figure the purpose out.

So when we ask someone, “How are you doing?” and they say, “I don’t know,” can we sit in the “I don’t know” with them?  Can we be okay when we don’t have a clear list of answers?  Because Jesus says that He is the answer, which means the answer is a Person faithful yet unpredictable, beautiful yet uncontrollable.  And He is the answer just by being with us.

P. S. If you like reading my infrequent blog, I’m honored, and wonder if you would scroll to the top right and where it says “Follow by email” and submit your email address?  You wont be spammed—youll just get an email in your inbox whenever I do happen to post.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Books I Read in April

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

This book was life-changing for me in a way that I hope is permanent.  Last year God deepened my Bible study through Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word, and this year I can see God deepening my prayer life through this book.  It gives both inspiration on why we pray and practical ideas for how to cultivate a praying life.

I love how the author is so authentic about his own struggles, and so thoughtful and intelligent in his perspective.  I love stories (clearly) and I loved his emphasis on story—how God is writing a story, and we participate by praying for His will.

My favorite part was Part 4 and especially Chapter 21 since it particularly addressed unanswered prayers and how we hope in the desert.  I’ve been praying for physical healing ever since my foot started hurting in late January, and it hasn’t fully come.  This book God brought into my life at just the right time to be a lifeline of hope for me.  I borrowed it from a friend, but I want to buy my own copy and re-read.  Definitely recommend.
This book is my new favorite parenting book ever.  For me, the book was framed by how I received it—I was sitting outside a coffee shop on a warm Sunday afternoon doing Bible study with a friend from church who is a high school senior, when her parents who were going for a walk stopped by and gave me a copy.  You know how you pick certain people to listen to their advice about certain things?  These are people whose advice about parenting I want to listen to, so I was excited about this book going in.

It’s written by the parents of the Switchfoot brothers Tim and Jon.  I don’t listen to much Switchfoot, but there you go.

What I liked about the book:
  • So many “Christian” parenting philosophies seem to narrowly focus on discipline.  This book applies a Christian worldview to all of life—imagination, technology, home atmosphere, encouraging words, etc.  I loved how thorough a vision it gave, without being in any way legalistic.
  • The title itself tells you it’s on a different track than strict behavior modification authors.  Never say no?  The authors admit in the preface that statement is a little exaggerated, but they explain why they chose it—it’s parenting from a yes mindset, saying yes to who God has created your child to be and the story He has for them.  Of course you need rules, but way more important than rules, you need relationship.
  • I love how this book is written by the mother and father, so you get both a feminine and masculine perspective, and see the oneness in their marriage.  They trade off chapters, and they each have a distinctive voice and focus.
  • It has three sections: 1) working on your own heart as you respond to your family of origin and think about what kind of parent you want to be, 2) lots of practical advice for parenting children—each chapter in this section is just a nugget of wisdom, and 3) letting go as your kids grow older.

So, awesome book.  Read it.

Here is the fiction I read last month:

Fascinating story told from a number of different perspectives, both Christian and Muslim, in both America and Pakistan.  The author is not a Christian, and though she tries to write honestly and charitably about the evangelic Christian experience in America, there were a couple times when I felt like she missed the mark a bit.  She is against American military presence in Iraq and that definitely comes through, a bit heavy-handed for the story.
That said, I really enjoyed this story. I felt like the author was thoughtful and poetic, and it felt a little like traveling to Pakistan.  This book also raises important questions about how we treat our Muslim neighbors, and the intersection of politics and faith.

And this novel was my traveling to Afghanistan.  The chapters alternate between Afghanistan past and present, told from the perspective of one woman and her ancestor.  This story I highly recommend.  It’s not graphic, but some of the parts are difficult to read just because the subject matter is heavy.  Very eye-opening about what life for women is like in Afghanistan.

Fun and shallow Hercules Poirot book that I read over a couple days when I was feeling crummy.  I like mysteries that aren’t violent but instead mentally puzzling.

This tells the story of a woman born in Boston at the turn of the 20th century.  I really appreciated this glimpse into what life was like a hundred years ago, for the daughter of Jewish immigrants.  This book spotlights issues like child labor, immigration, and women’s rights, but mostly it’s just a well-told story.  Not my favorite—and I definitely got the feeling that the author’s religious, moral, and political perspective was very different than mine—but still, a great story with sympathetic and well-rounded characters.

This upcoming month I’m excited to read the book Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie with some friends of mine.  I would also like to tackle some more nonfiction books, and I’m starting with How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp.

I’ve been feeling kind of yucky, to be honest.  My whole body is fighting the Lyme in my foot and as a result a lot of the time I feel tired and gross and emotional.  So that might influence the reading this upcoming month toward books that are either particularly encouraging or particularly fun.  Let me know if you have suggestions!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pain Is Not Wasted

I am an ambitious person, which means I am often thinking about ways that I and those around me can grow and develop, new ways I can serve people, things I can learn and do.  I believe this is a good quality, but like all good qualities, it has its downside.

It’s hard for me to be patient with other people, and with myself.  It’s hard for me to accept that my timetable (right now!) is not always God’s plan.

I can be tempted to equate value with what can be counted, a list of things I achieved, instead of what really matters—Christ working through the person I am in the lives of people around me.  That’s not always noticeable or quantifiable, able to be put on a list, but that’s where the true value of making a difference lies.

I really like certainty, objective answers and reasons, so to anything murky or confusing I feel like saying, “Please clarify yourself or get out of here.”

It’s hard for me to rest.  For the last several years I’ve been slowly learning that I don’t have to pack the calendar full, that white space is a good thing.

You might be my opposite, and what you need is a good kick in the pants to go have more ambition and do hard things.

But what I need, obviously, is unexplainable pain in my foot, very slow walking, one doctor after another shaking their head, not sure what is wrong and why and when or if it will go away.

I love this picture of my kids.  It has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post, and I have no idea why they are tilting, but it kind of captures our life right now!

I miss all the things I cannot do right now.  Even though I’m not a runner, I just want to take off down the street and run and run.  The truth is if I tried this, even if my foot was fine, I’d probably have a stitch in my side by the end of the block, but it’s nice to imagine, right?

I resent all the time I am spending right now driving to different appointments.  This is not how I want to spend my life, being on hold, arranging childcare for my kids so I can drive somewhere else, sitting in the waiting room, filling out forms.

It’s tempting to see all of it as a waste.  Here I am suffering and accomplishing nothing when I could be doing something that matters.  Don’t you want to heal me, God, so I can get busy for You?

So my restless heart is learning a hard lesson that right now God’s will for me is to walk very slowly, to say no to things I want to do, and to spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices.  I don’t immediately see purpose in that, but He does.

I can trust that the work God is doing in my life and in the lives of others through this really matters.  That sometimes bearing fruit doesn’t come from walking fast and doing All The Things, but instead suffering well.

I have good days and bad days, and I’m not too excited about seeing an orthopedist tomorrow and a neurologist the day after that.  And I’ll be honest that the EMG test at the neurologist kind of freaks me out a little—do we really have to use needle, nerve, and electric shock all in the same sentence?

I think I’ve been seeing power in the wrong things—in our own physical strength, and in what we think we can get done—when really it is in God’s Word, and in God’s Work, even when He weaves our story in a different way then we imagined.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Lyme Disease and Foot Pain: My Journey the Last 3 Months

I haven’t blogged much recently, and it’s taken me awhile to get this down.  I’ve been so discouraged and confused by what’s happening in my life that for several weeks I had no words to capture what I was feeling or how God was working.

I want to write something now, before I have answers or healing, because I’m still in the middle of the story and I don’t know how it ends, and I want to be authentic here.  I hope maybe this encourages someone who does a random google search for Lyme and foot pain (not like my blog would show up first, but you know, if you’re desperate enough to keep scrolling down …)—but mostly I hope this encourages anyone who has pain, which is all of us, in our different ways.

So here’s where I’ve been these last three months:

Late January

I had no idea that Friday, January 22nd, would be the last day I walked well.  We were preparing for a blizzard, with about three feet of snow predicted.  I visited a friend that morning, and spent the afternoon preparing food in case the power went out.

Saturday, January 23rd, I noticed in the morning while doing my lunges that the arch of my left foot hurt.  I normally do ten lunges, but I had to stop around five because of the pain, and I didn’t want to make it worse.  I brushed it off—maybe I’d slept on my foot funny?  Maybe it cramped somehow?  It would be better tomorrow.

I had been on a Whole 30 detox diet for about three weeks at that point, and I was feeling amazing.  I’d put my postpartum anxiety and insomnia behind me, and I’d lost a good bit of baby weight.  My cycle was still irregular since I was breastfeeding my seven-month-old baby, but had just begun again, so that day I felt tired, crampy, and a bit depressed.  I hope that’s not TMI, and I have no reason to think my diet or cycle necessarily brought on my foot pain when it did, but I’m writing it down in case there is a correlation.

My foot hurt the entire day, but what felt more surreal was that three feet of snow was piling up outside.  I ignored how I was feeling, but the next day, Sunday, it was worse.  In the mid-morning we gathered in the family room for some time together, and I remember being grateful I could get off my feet and alleviate some of the pain.  That would be the first of many times I would think that!

Ben spent most of the day shoveling out our driveway, and to give him a break, I volunteered to take the kids for a walk in the snow around the block.  I reasoned that if I put on my good sneakers, I’d be fine.  I’d never not walked because of foot pain and it seemed silly to start now!  So with the baby in the carrier and the two bigger ones in front of me, we went out to get rid of our cabin fever and explore the white world.

When I got home, my foot was killing me, and I told Ben about it.  The next day the pain was even worse, and I was walking with an obvious limp.  Ben did the grocery run to Costco for me (and I have not been to Costco since!), while I stayed home and did deskwork.  I needed to start one load of laundry, and trying to walk down the stairs with the laundry in hand was so painful.  I was beginning to get scared—what was wrong with me?  Why wouldn’t it go away?

We went sledding at my parents’ house—it was a strange Monday with snow piled high and everything cancelled.  My mom encouraged me to see a doctor, and though the others wanted me to put my feet up while they sled, someone had to make the hot chocolate and help the kids in and out of the house and feed the baby and—I was not accustomed to slowing down and letting others do things for me.

On Tuesday I saw a podiatrist.  My left foot was cold and swollen, beginning in the arch and radiating outward, cramped up and tight.  I was limping gingerly on the side of my foot, and it hurt to be touched.  An X-ray revealed nothing and the podiatrist had no idea what was wrong.  He prescribed Motrin and told me he would schedule an MRI if it wasn’t better within a week.

A week?!  I didn’t know how I was going to survive that day not walking.  I limped out to the van and cried in panic, because I hurt and because life seemed impossible.  I had to pick up my kids from my parents’, nurse the baby, drive home, make dinner, clean up, put them all to bed … without walking?

The next few days were the worst.  I sat down most of the time, with help from Ben and my mom, hoping if I rested my foot completely, it would heal.  I wore a foot brace or used a cane when I walked.  The pain did not change, so I went in for the MRI.
The latest thing in footwear.

Early February

Early February I waited for the results of the MRI, which were a long time in coming, and when they finally did, revealed nothing.  My podiatrist was completely stumped.  There was clearly coldness and swelling—enough objective symptoms to show I wasn’t just imagining this.  I was so tired of people seeing me in a foot brace and asking, “What did you do?” and having to answer, “I have no idea!”

Part of me felt angry—this doesn’t just happen!  You don’t just get up one day unable to walk anymore!  That’s impossible.  So why is it happening to me?

I felt angry with the doctors—this is the 21st century, and you can’t tell me what’s wrong with me and fix it?  What am I paying you for?

I felt a sense of unreality about the whole thing—that I would wake up and realize it was a nightmare and say, “Ben, I had the craziest dream.  I suddenly couldn’t walk and no one knew why ….”

Late February

My daughter’s preschool teacher, who used to be in the medical profession, wondered if I had a stress fracture.  I researched that and learned those can escape detection from both x-rays and MRIs.  So I basically let her diagnose me.  Now I had my answer for people—“stress fracture.”  And I pinned my hope on March—in 6-8 weeks a fracture should heal.

I went to see a naturopath who fitted me for orthotics.  She agreed that a stress fracture was the most likely explanation for my symptoms, but it didn’t make complete sense—I wasn’t obese, I wasn’t a runner, none of the normal reasons for a stress fracture.  She also warned me that with all I was doing on my feet as a mom to three little ones, I may not heal until April.

This has become more of a long-term issue than I’d ever expected.  On February 29th I applied for a disable parking permit, trying to navigate a busy life with a bad foot.

Early March

A couple people had mentioned Lymes to me, but I had dismissed it—I had no classic symptoms, I didn’t go out in the woods, to my knowledge I’d never gotten a tick bite.  Still, when I took our baby in for his well-check, my husband encouraged me to get a Lyme test while I was there anyway.  Our family doctor doubted it was Lymes, and I agreed with him, but getting the test wouldn’t hurt.

When the test came back positive, it rocked my world.  I sat there on the phone, with the kids yelling around me, staring at the computer screen, thinking, “What?!”  What if I had Lymes, but it was completely disconnected from my foot pain?  What if I developed those horrible physical and psychological symptoms you hear about?  When and where could I have gotten this?

Once again it didn’t make sense and I wanted to argue with reality and prove this could not be happening to me!  What if the test was a false positive?

I started on amoxicillin, the only antibiotic safe for me while I was nursing.  After the first wave of confusion came a wave of hope.  I finally had my answer.  Now I could finally treat it.  I learned about someone with foot pain who was diagnosed with Lymes and healed within ten days of starting on antibiotics.  So that was my hope—ten days.

Late March

We went to Williamsburg with my in-laws for a week, and I hopefully packed a left shoe, wondering if I would heal enough to be out of my foot brace before we got back.  My in-laws were a wonderful help during our trip, and my husband was supportive as always, but I realized vacationing with a bad foot can be really frustrating.

My personality is fast-paced and active.  I like to go places and do things.  I like to explore.  I wanted to walk through the resort where we were staying.  I wanted to go along on all the trips.  I did not want to sit on a couch with my foot propped up.  I did not want to ride in a wheelchair.  I did not want to see the looks of pity when I hobbled into the pool area with my kids.

But this was my reality.  I became grateful for how considerate our country is toward those with disabilities.  There is so much about America we can complain about, but this I will say—our culture is awesome to have its disabled parking spaces and permits, its wheelchairs, those kind people at vacation destinations like Busch Gardens who make sure you can fully enjoy the experience even if you can’t walk.  In other cultures and other periods of time disabled people may be left behind or stuck at home.  Being stuck at home unmoving makes me feel crazy.  I am grateful to live in a place and time where I can go out and feel respect and kindness.

For instance, at Jamestown I got to borrow a really fun scooter for free.
Early April

By now I’m realizing that amoxicillin is not going to be the quick fix I was hoping.  I’ve experienced some improvement, which has given me hope—“Look at me!  I can now put weight on a little more of my foot—okay that hurts.  I’m sitting down now.”  But seriously, I have a little more range of movement and less pain.  The deep inner ache has never gone away, though, and I feel like I’ve plateaued where I am.

So let the research begin!  My husband finds research fascinating.  I get initially interested but quickly overwhelmed.  There seem to be as many causes and cures of Lymes disease as there are people to voice them.  Antibiotics, essential oils, homeopathy, herbs, Vitamin C therapy, and much, much weirder. Some of the cures sound bad enough I’d happily choose the disease.  Going off coffee, for instance.  That is so extreme.  That really cannot be necessary.  And would probably make no difference.  Okay, that was a little tongue-in-cheek.  Some of the proposed cures are much weirder and I would not mention them here!

What’s made the complicated research all the more complicated is that my options are severely limited by breastfeeding.  I don’t physically need to nurse my baby at a chunky, healthy ten months old, but I sure do want to.  I’ll admit I’ve become a little militant about attachment over the past few years, and when I have a snuggly baby boy who belongs to me and loves to nurse and who I am in no hurry to wean, I hate the situation that brings me to this decision.

I feel angry because if my foot heals, everything else I can get back—my ability to walk, exercise, fully function—but I know I will not get back this breastfeeding season with my son.  And I grieve that loss.

But as of now, none of the breastfeeding-safe options like amoxicillin, homeopathy, and safer herbs are getting to the root of my problem, and time is not necessarily on my side.  So next week I stop nursing my baby and pull out the big guns, and I’m hopeful that within a month I will get better.

But I have thought that before and I know I can’t count on it, and it’s possible this may be a longer journey or even my forever.  When no one knows exactly what’s wrong or why, no one can promise with any confidence when and if and how it will get better.

We hired the cat at the farm to block the view of my boot in our Easter picture.
I’m not panicking like I was at the beginning, though.  Like a friend told me this weekend, at the same time as we keep fighting and keep trying new things and keep hoping, we also adapt and accept our new normal.

Not walking has strangely become my new normal.  Our whole family has adapted to it.  I only shop online.  Ben does the Costco run; I make the list.  Ben takes the laundry up and downstairs; I sort and fold it.  I take my kids places, park in disabled parking spaces, and sit and watch them do their thing.  I avoid situations that require walking.  I strategize how to minimize my steps in the house—I’m walking down the hallway!  I can bring four things with me that go down there, do three tasks while I’m there, and then bring five different things back!

We hire help.  Our kids step up to the plate and help a lot more and become more independent.  We are really, strangely, okay.  There is a lot that I would love to be doing that we’re not—but we are surviving.  The strange thing about my condition is that other than the constant pain reverberating in my foot, I feel awesome.  In many ways I feel healthier than I’ve been in a long time.  Good to know all the stuff I’m taking is at least doing something for me, right?!

This weekend I visited with several friends who are suffering through different situations.  I realized that one of the perks of my pain is that it is so obvious and public—hello, I’m Lisa, and I have a bad foot—see, here’s my brace.  For a lot of my friends, their pain is more complicated and private.  But we all suffer in different ways, so come, Lord Jesus, and put an end to this.

I’m in the middle of reading A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller, and this passage was riveting to me:

“To live in our Father’s story, remember these three things:
  1. Don’t demand that the story go your way.  (In other words, surrender completely.)
  2. Look for the Storyteller.  Look for his hand, and then pray in light of what you are seeing.  (In other words, develop an eye for Jesus.)
  3. Stay in the story.  Don’t shut down when it goes the wrong way.”

I’m in the middle of the story, and it is messy and hard.  Some days I feel hopeful, and other days I really don’t.  But I’m trying to stay in the story, and follow the Storyteller, and see where this goes.