Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Thankful Post - Two Weeks Late :-)

Making cookies - in my pjs -
doesn't everyone?
I know I’m a few days late on the “I’m thankful for . . .” post, and I’m gonna weird it out even further by being thankful for a room in my house (don’t fuss at me - yes, I’m thankful for my family and all the normal stuff - keep reading). I’m thankful for my kitchen. And chocolate chip cookies. Yup. That’s weird, I know. But both items have been my sanity-savers over the last 3.5 years as I’ve dealt with traumatic brain injury. If you are looking for me on almost any day, you will find me in my kitchen. And I'm probably making chocolate chip cookies.

The kitchen island where all those
cookies get made
Baking has become my favorite therapeutic outlet - it’s a great way to gently stretch my brain, engage in something creative, and love on those around me (finding a way to contribute to the world when I spend so much time at home has been absolutely vital to me). In God’s perfect timing, a major remodel of our kitchen was finished just a few months before the accident that caused my brain injury. God knew what was coming and made sure I had what I would need in the toughest season of my life. He’s good like that.

Side note:

Yes, God knew I was going to fall.
Yes, God knew it was going to change my life in many ways - some of them very painful.
Yes, He could have prevented my fall.
No, I don’t know why He didn’t prevent all that I have gone through.

But

I do know that God loves me - more than I can imagine.
I know that He is good, and He will bring good from this.
His Word promises these things.
I know He is a God I can trust.
He has been faithful - SO faithful to me - all my life.
I can look back over my 43 years and see Him at work in my life time and time again.

Because I know He loves me, and because I know He’s trustworthy, I can trust Him in this situation too.
He will work it for my good.
He will heal me at the right time. His time.
In the mean time, He will walk beside me as I deal with this injury and all it involves, giving me His strength, brand new, for each day.
And He is ready to catch my tears when they fall, hear my honest (sometimes angry) questions, and occasionally, even send answers.
He is a good God.

A box of cookies with my
very own label on it - my
sister designed this label
and had them printed up
for me
On that note, back to the kitchen 🙂 Early on, brain rest got really boring, so I watched a ton of Food Network. That got my creative juices flowing, and I ended up in the kitchen when I felt up to it. I tried so many different recipes. My family was thrilled with all my experimenting, and I was happy to have a gentle way to engage my mind. Not using your brain is dull and boring!! Over the course of a year or so, I landed on a chocolate cookie recipe that was pretty decent. I played with it over a few months and tweaked it to make it my own. Then one day I decided to put a bunch of those cookies in a cute container and send them to Jazz Band with Aaron. Just like that, my new “thing” was born.

Here we are a few years later. My boxes of chocolate chip cookies have gone to the school district offices to help lift their spirits during snow season. Boxes have been delivered to the middle school - who needs cookies more than middle school teachers and office staff? Boxes greet marching band in the stands every Friday night as they support the football team. And the high school football, basketball, and track teams all get boxes after games/meets. Young Life leaders take home bags of cookies, and some preschool teachers have found them in their staff room during meetings.


Why am I telling you this? I sound so boastful! “Look at all the people I’ve given cookies too! I’m awesome!” No!! Look at what God did!! He gave me a kitchen. He helped me find a recipe that I could tweak. He helped me find a way to contribute to my community (when I desperately needed one) even though I need to spend most of my time at home. He gives me ideas of who to send cookies to. He helped my sister and I find the cute boxes. He gave my sister the fun idea of making up labels for my boxes just to make them cute, and to make those who receive them feel special. And every time I make a batch of dough, it’s because God has given me the physical and mental strength to do it. This is His story. I’m so honored to be able to tell it!

God is using a simple chocolate chip cookie to spread His love around my little town. Teenagers know they are loved. Adults know they are loved. God is doing that. He just lets me be the hands in the kitchen. And you know who is benefiting the most?? ME! I get to be the delivery girl and see the smiles on their faces. I get the “thank you” hugs. I get the therapeutic outlet of baking. I’m so thankful for my kitchen, chocolate chip cookies, and a God who lets me play a part in His story.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Can I Consider All of This Joy?

Marsh Creek State Park
I’ve been avoiding God. For three weeks or so, I’ve just been phoning it in where our relationship is concerned - doing the bare minimum. Why? Excellent question. I’m not entirely sure. I’m sitting beside a lake today (in my car because the wind is fierce, and hello, my hair) trying to figure it out.

When I left the house today, I asked God where He wanted me to go, and a picture of this lake popped into my head. I’ve come here before to get some peace and sort through things. I just stare at the water, try to calm my mind, and ask God what He needs to say to me. I don’t hear any audible voices or anything, but the absence of my usual daily distractions does allow me to pray, recall Scripture, and feel a renewed peace.

Anyway, today, as I sat there and asked God why I had been avoiding Him and what it was we needed to work out, a Bible verse very clearly came to mind: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). I immediately bristled and got prickly with God.

“No. I’m not ready to count it all joy.” - referring here to my many-years-long battle with brain injury and now struggles with walking and back pain.

But the verse was now on repeat in my head. Is this verse, this concept, why I’ve been avoiding Him? Did I know that this verse represented His new goal for me? That bar is too high. I can’t hit it. Shoot - I don’t even want to hit it.

Oh.

There’s the problem. I have no interest in calling this trial a "joy". I have no intention of obeying this Bible verse.

Talk about an eye-opener! Serious heart check moment.

Let me insert some clarification here. These posts have become a way for me to process my thoughts, pray, sort through Scripture, and figure out what God is saying to me. It’s my hope that by sharing the things God is teaching me - in very raw and honest words - someone else can be encouraged to seek answers and chase after what God is saying to her heart. As I journal my questions, doubts, and frustrations, my desire is that someone else will feel free to truly open her heart to God and trust Him to be gentle with all the broken parts. I firmly believe that Jesus wants us to come to Him just as we are - with questions, fears, doubts, frustrations, etc. So I’m putting all of mine out here and being open about the process of letting God work.

In the book of Mark (chapter 9), we read an account of a man who brings his son to Jesus for healing. The man says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus says, “All things are possible for one who believes”. The man cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

That’s how I feel! I want to obey; help my disobedience!

It is my heart’s desire to obey and honor God. I want to! But to call this journey with brain injury “joy” is killing me. My spirit is in absolute opposition to it. My heels are dug in! But we don’t get to pick and choose scripture. That’s not how this works.

At this point, I spent a long time looking into James 1. Maybe somewhere I could find a wise Bible scholar who could show me what the Bible meant or how to obey this particular verse. Maybe more knowledge was what I needed. I looked up commentaries. I looked into word definitions. I learned that historians think that the author was Jesus’ brother. None of it told me how to count it all joy. So I stared at the lake and kept praying.

“Lord, I want to obey you. Please show me how.”

An author and speaker came to mind: Joni Eareckson Tada. Her story is one of honoring God in spite of becoming a quadriplegic. She is now dealing with chronic pain on top of her paralysis. I decided to google her. I could go on and on about the things I found, (if you ever want to be inspired by someone who has figured out how to live a life of joy in the midst of trials, y'all should look her up!) but here is the big gem: instead of the “how” to count my circumstances as joy, what if I looked for a “why”? So I looked for reasons for joy and found some!

Because of my situation, people are watching - my kids, folks in real life, and people on social media. Because people are watching, they will see how I respond. Because God gives me strength, I am mostly able to respond with positivity and laughter instead of sadness and despair. That gap between my natural response to this mess and the positive way I am able to react because of His strength can point those who are watching to Him! I can be a feature film about God’s kindness, and others can see Him as I navigate through this trial. That idea DOES bring me joy. That puts a huge smile in my heart.

So let’s wrap this up:

  • Brain damage - not a joy
  • Trouble walking - no joy there
  • Daily struggles just to accomplish basic tasks - nope. No joy
  • The opportunity to rely on God’s strength, to ask Him to guide my heart and mind as I respond to these trials and show His light to the world through positivity and laughter - YES! A major reason for joy!


So, starting today, I’m going to count my opportunity to show off His strength as a joy. Well, I’m gonna try. I'm bound to mess it up. But God has proven Himself to be infinitely patient as I try again. And again :-)

And I'm ordering Joni Eareckson Tada’s book “A Place Of Healing” this very minute!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Pride - the Thing God Hates Most is the Thing I'm Best At - Ugh

Pride has always been a major issue for me. God gives each of us gifts and abilities, but somewhere along the way, I decided that mine were more gifty and more able-y than other people.

My actual college diploma - I really
wish it listed my major - Mathematics -
but we can't have everything
It's really funny because with my "what can we do fun today?" attitude that doesn't seem to take anything seriously, people are always surprised when they discover a brain in my head. I used to be offended by their shock - "You studied math in college? Are you sure?" "Yes. Yes, I'm sure. I was there. I even taught math for a living." "But don't you have to be smart for that?" (yes, this exact conversation took place once.)  I didn't respond to that question. I just gave that person a look that let them know it had gone one step too far and she had better back up - fast. The thing is, she wasn't trying to be mean or funny. She was dead serious. She was just shocked that I had the mental capacity to be a math teacher. And I get that a lot. I'm not offended anymore. Really. Now it's just funny. Like a game. But I'm digressing here.

Between my intellect and my gifts with people, I've always been pretty pleased with how God put me
I spoke to a group of
moms on my 40th birthday
I was obviously very shy about
the fact that it was my birthday
(please insert face palm here)
together and the things I'm able to do. And even at the lowest points in my life, I've had confidence in my skills and my mind. And at many, many times in my life, that confidence has shown itself as pride - pride in my gifts, pride in my intellect, pride in my people skills, pride in my confidence, even when I was struggling. And that pride had me looking down on and judging others.

I hate admitting all of this. It's super ugly to see in black and white here on my laptop screen. And it makes me cringe to read. Pride is so ugly! It's the thing God hates the most! And for good reason! I have no right to be proud of my abilities - He gave them to me. I have no right to be boasting about my intelligence - that came from Him too. Everything I have - every gift, skill, ability, anything - is from Him, and I have no basis for pride in it. And yet -

The journey of my brain injury has done a real work on my pride issue. After I fell on my face and got a concussion I had to be in a dark, quiet room for a week. As I lay there, completely unproductive, using none of my gifts, being of no tangible value to anyone, my pride was taking a huge hit! My family's life went on without me. God's work was going on without me. I wasn't as necessary as I thought I was. The pity party that started hard that week eventually gave way to realizations that my pride levels were way out of control. Over the next few weeks as I adjusted to life with new limits (no driving, no texting, no email, very little working around the house), my pride continued to feel the blows. If I wasn't going to use my gifts and abilities, what good was I?

God used this time to sweetly and lovingly remind me that my gifts and abilities are not why I matter. I matter because He loves me. He loves me for me. Just me. Not because of anything I do or think or produce. Just because I exist. And He loved me long before I knew how to love Him back. I didn't do anything to earn His love, and I couldn't do anything to lose His love. I also, couldn't earn extra love by using my gifts and abilities to please Him. He's such a good, kind, loving God to be confirming His love for me while my pride was being torn down. I was being deconstructed and rebuilt correctly at the same time.

This is how I spent those first
few weeks. In the dark.
Completely useless. I still
have days/weeks like this.  
Over the last three and a half years, I thought my pride was pretty much conquered. I've battled dizziness, forgetfulness, serious confusion, and the cabin fever of being a shut-in when it gets really bad. And I've put most of that battle on social media. I'm hoping it can be both entertaining and encouraging to the folks who find it, but really, documenting my issues does help keep me humble. Ironically, I do still get tempted to be proud of my willingness to be so humble. Yes, it's that bad! Anyway, I thought I was through the worst of the pride conquering. Then this latest batch of symptoms hit.


This is me waiting for Drew
to come get me. We had gone for a
walk, and I couldn't finish. So I
had to sit down right on the
sidewalk and wait for him to go get
the car. 
My newest adventure - I'm having trouble walking. Yup - my brain and my feet aren't communicating well. I tell my feet to walk, and they don't get the memo. The result is that I end up walking like a drunk or even falling over. Super fun out in public! So I have to be helped out of places. By the arm. Very slowly. Like an old lady. And people turn and stare. It's not bad enough that I'm an imposition to the people I'm with - holding them up with my incredibly slow pace or needing them to go get the car because I can't walk that far - but now strangers are turning to look and wonder what's wrong me. The looks are brutal to my pride. And I thought I had this pride thing licked.

I'm torn. On the one hand, I want God to keep chipping away at me until the pride is all gone. If pride is the thing He hates most, I certainly don't want anything to do with it. On the other hand, all of my "get rid of the pride" experiences have really sucked. And I'm so over miserable experiences. I'd like to be done now.

I've told God exactly how I feel. I know He loves me and is doing what's best for me. I'm trying to be patient even though it's hard. And I'm proud of that :-)

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