How I Spent My Summer

It has been so long since I have written anything of substance that perhaps I should give a bit of an overview of what I have been up to. This has been a difficult summer in the Brown house. Strokeman has been plagued with many an ailment which resulted in visits to various doctors and testing facilities. Basically what we found out was a huge amount of nothing. The rash on his limbs is a vague contact allergy of which we hope to find the source after more testing. I have my suspicions that he might be “allergic” to too much contact with the bed, but I am not hopeful that this will show up on a patch test. Meanwhile, he is on a round of steroids to keep him from clawing himself.

The pain in his side is probably Irritable Bowel Syndrome that is presently being kept tolerable by medication. He watches the clock to inform me when the next dose is due (not all that effectively as he often misses the first digit, causing him to proclaim at 12:00 that it is 2:00). He has taken to not walking at all, other than to the bathroom and back.

Because of his discomfort, nights have been pretty rough. If it isn’t him shaking the bed rubbing his right arm against the sheet for relief from the itching, it’s his left leg jerking involuntarily for no apparent reason. Or there might be another round of perpetual hiccups caused by the anti-itch medicine. Then there is the insomnia, which results in his turning on the TV at odd hours and wanting to make a breakfast order at 4:00am.

Beyond the complications to life here at home have been grief and trials of loved ones that are just beyond comprehension. The weight of these things on my heart and the frustration that I am not at liberty to do anything to help beyond lending a sympathetic ear and praying for them has taken its toll.

Needless to say, I have not been at my best. In fact I became so depleted that I started having weird symptoms that precipitated my being driven to the ER by my daughter while I sobbed uncontrollably (I’m fine). Not exactly the way I would recommend a caregiver to conduct her life. It would have been better if I had been a little more proactive about taking care of my own body. I am surrounded by people who want to help me, but I could not even think of what to ask for.

The varying health issues had Strokeman contemplating worst-case scenarios. We have had discussions of life insurance, burial plots, nursing homes (“please just put me down before you put me in a nursing home”), etc. He has thanked me for his children and given me permission to remarry when he passes on. As bothersome as his symptoms are, it seems that none of these scenarios are in our near future.

Once again, my church family has rallied around me to offer meals, clean my house, encourage me and pray for me. My youngest son sent me away for an entire day while he cared for his dad. When I came home at 5:00, he told me it was too early and sent me away again. My designated deacon admonished me to set up regular sitter service again so that I can get away for some respite, and that it is ok to let my church family help me pay for it. I lamented to my sister how hard it is to accept this kind of help and she reminded me of my own words about being the stinky feet (you can read it here). Just like a sister.

In the midst of the various medical appointments, I have also compiled various and sundry financial documents to establish a formal relationship with a financial planner. I used this opportunity to bring order to chaos by setting up a proper filing system. I also have been dealing with a mistake made on my 2012 income tax form, a broken toilet, sugar ants and crickets in the house.

For the moment, we are on smoother water, so long as we don’t run out of pain pills or steroid cream. We are up to 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep at least once a night. I am working towards finding a sitter to come twice a month for 6-8 hours (hopefully one of those days will be a Sunday, so I can spend the day with my church family). I can tell I feel better, because I have enjoyed time in the kitchen doing more than the bare minimum, and had energy left to actually clean up after myself. I have even broken out in a dance a few times. But many of the habits I had – regular reading and writing to name a few- have to be re-established. So bear with me as I bring order to the mayhem over here. I will be back eventually.

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Three Years, A Journey- Part 1

strokemanswoman:

This is my daughter’s blog. She writes of the same things but from a different perspective. I thought you might enjoy reading this in the absence of anything from me lately! It’s hard for me to read. I regret having abandoned my children during a time when they needed me. Thankful they have forgiving hearts.

Originally posted on faithelizabeth93:

It is crazy to think that just months ago my life was completely different. Just months ago I was living in an apartment. I was working 50 hours a week between 2 jobs. I had tons of friends and a completely different life style.

When I first got sick several months ago, I felt defeated. I felt everything I had slipping away and all I could do was lay in bed and kiss it all goodbye. I was angry. I was terrified. I was hurt. And I was bitter. I spent many hours crying out to God and many hours feeling like it was pointless to cry out to Him anymore. The longer I laid there in that bed the more I lost. God was stripping me of everything. I lost my apartment, I lost my savings, I could not work, I lost my “friends,” I lost my comfort foods….everything…

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http://gentleandquiet.com/2014/07/01/guest-post-deanna-brown-on-blogging/

My dear friend and fellow blogger, Abby, asked me to share with her readers about my blogging experience. Abby is a constant encouragement to me both as a sister in Christ and as a writer. She encourages me to write when what I would really like to do is hide in the closet under the stairs with a stack of novels, 5 pounds of salted caramel covered in dark chocolate, and 2 pounds of sour skittles. (Consequently, she should also get credit for the fact that I am not a toothless diabetic that has to be squeezed out from under the stairs by very strong firemen.) If you choose to follow this link over to her blog to read my guest post, you would be wise to stick around and read from her various offerings. She has something for everyone, and it is all good!

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Way Off Broadway

Recently, the Texas Traditions Chorus, of which I am a member, had their spring concert. One of the songs we sang, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, always transports me back to my elementary days at Arusha School in Tanzania. The role of Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz was my debut as an actor, and that was my first big solo. I can still remember the tryouts. I carefully braided my hair in two long plaits and sang from the depths of my heart, doing my best to reflect the lyrics. I don’t think I had seen the movie or read the book, but I understood the message of the song. I had a few years of thinking I had really knocked that audition out of the park until one day our choir director told me she had been won over by my big sad eyes (she should see them now, big, sad, and baggy).

I'm Toto and this is my dog, Dorothy.  And I have big sad eyes.

I’m Toto and this is my dog, Dorothy. And I have big sad eyes.

This role did not come without its problems. Becky Boyd had considered herself a shoe-in for it, since her mom was the director. And – let’s face it – Becky had a better singing voice and much more stage experience. Not long after I got news of my stardom, I got a note from Becky informing me that I had been un-friended (in the true friend sense, not the Facebook fake friend sense). Such sacrifices have to be made in the acting world. Little did we know that years down the road we would become best of friends and that her family would become my surrogate family when the borders between Kenya and Tanzania closed with my parents on the opposite side.

Thinking of my first taste of the stage, sent me down the lane of acting memories. I played one of the younger children in “Cheaper by the Dozen” in 7th grade. Being annoyed at my stage brothers didn’t take any acting ability whatsoever, because they were snapping us with rubber bands and pulling our hair. That look of pain really was a look of pain. Then I played Mr. Higgins’ mother in “Pygmalion”. I think I can say that my attempt at a British accent was almost as successful as Dick Van Dyke’s in Mary Poppins.

During my senior year of High School I was approached by Miss King to try out for an edited production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. This would be a travelling gig, as we would be using the Interim Class time provided for juniors and seniors to take a week to learn at some remote location from our boarding school campus. I landed the role of Puck, a mischievous sprite. I am not sure whose genius idea it was for us to perform Shakespeare to audiences that would be primarily non-English speaking (we were in Kenya). But since Miss King sometimes reads my blog (ahem!), I will assume her concern was more for our education than for that of our audience.

This trip was to be a series of unfortunate events. There were flat tires and luggage falling off the car, and a broken chassis. At one point we hitched a ride to a wheat farm, and I can’t help but wonder with whom. Towards the end of the week of performances in various parts of Kenya, we inched along home in a barely functioning van, under the supervision of a young single woman in the dead of night. If I had been Miss King, I think I would have been more than a bit flustered. As missionary kids who were raised in the wilds, we saw it all as a big adventure. But she was ultimately responsible for 12 teenagers in a country where auto mechanics and, well, places with functioning restrooms were not all that easy to come by. She does retain bragging rights to having her car worked on by a couple of guys involved in the East African Safari Rally, but still! Miss King handled it with the grace and tenacity of Karen Blixen.

Tarry Fairy

Tarry Fairy

We took turns sitting up front to talk to her while she drove. My turn riding shotgun stands out in my memory as one of those rare occasions from my years at boarding school when the formalities of teacher/pupil were put aside and we just visited like old friends. I don’t remember what we talked about (although my sketchy journal entries suggest she asked me what I looked for in a friend), but I have a sense of my words being valued by the listener.

At this point there arose such a ruckus from the back of the van that Miss King pulled over to the side of the road and said, “Alright! Everybody out!” And there we were: 12 tired, dirty teenagers jogging down the road in the beam of the headlights in front of a van going approximately 2 miles per hour on a deserted African road. The girls soon climbed back in the van to ride, but the boys held out quite a bit longer. I can still see their images in the headlights leaping like Impala down the dark road.

Interestingly enough, last Friday (after putting the finishing touches on this post) I encountered our Oberon (AKA Rob McNeely) at a funeral for another dear friend from Africa. We did a little reminiscing about the lifetime we lived that week as traveling thespians. He reminded me of the foamy heads (I don’t quite remember what that was about, but can assure you it was the most hilarious thing ever) and I reminded him of the phrase he coined that week, “Tarry, fairy!” We were amazed to find we live right down the street from each other. In fact, his family and mine have lived within about 10 miles of each other for the past 22 years without knowing it. We have hopes of getting together soon, if I don’t inadvertently run his bike off the road before then (it’s a new joke).

As I look back I can’t help but think what a rich life I have lived. I wish my journals held more details of trips like this one, and perhaps less poetry about teenage angst.

We have these moments to remember, vaguely.

 

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Patience

It’s the not knowing that’s a killer most days. I think I could rise to the occasion of just about anything if I could just know what I was supposed to do – what was going to happen – what my life was going to be like. But most days, I can’t tell you for certain the answer to any of those questions. I don’t know if “this” is normal for a stroke survivor or something that should have me rushing to the nearest emergency room. I don’t know if I will have time next month to sing in a choir concert or help with a wedding shower. I don’t know if a particular food will hurt or help my daughter’s condition. Some days my brain feels like it is going to explode as I try to determine the best course of action for any part of my life.

I believe in the system set up by my friend Abby, “first things first, and second things not at all”. But honestly, I spend a large part of my day scrambling to figure out what is the first thing. I know what the first first thing is – get up in time to eat my own breakfast before the wards start waking. If I sleep a little later, or take too long waking up and getting dressed before I eat, then there is a good chance I won’t get breakfast until lunch time. That motivates me to get out of bed no matter how tired I am. It is my version of, “please apply your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.” But after that, my day just kind of unravels one string at a time.

Last month was a particularly frustrating month where this was concerned. I was beginning to realize that all those things I signed up for in February (when I was a one person caregiver) had come to roost in April (where I became a two person caregiver). None of them were really big things in themselves (well, maybe that 60th wedding anniversary thing would be considered a big thing). But when you realize that somehow you have signed up for an average of 1 ½ extra things a week for the entire month, it gets a little hairy.

Suddenly I found myself getting speeding tickets and eating an entire bag of licorice without even tasting it. I realized, too late, that when I thought the first thing was to turn around at the ATM to go back home and attend to ward #2 instead of going on to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for ward #1; the real first thing was to retrieve my debit card from the ATM machine. It’s a downward spiral.

I text-lectured a friend of mine one week,

You need to learn to say, “when I agreed to make cupcakes, I wasn’t taking care of a sick family member” Walmart has cupcakes.

But I didn’t take my own advice. I don’t want to give up any of the things I have agreed to. It’s like going backwards. It’s regress instead of progress. But here I am, having to face up to the fact that life has changed once again. What I thought were easy little additions to my life became monumental achievements. I have to face up to the things I need to let go of.

In the thick of it, I forget that at the very foundation of first things are the “one another” passages we find in the New Testament. It’s kind of like the Hippocratic oath, “first do no harm.” I have to start with how I am treating the people around me. (As I type this I am reminded of a moment last week when I was yelling from one bedroom to the other, “I’M COMIIIING!” ugh). I have to think about how my words, my face, and my conduct are reflecting my trust in the Lord.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:38) Nothing could be more humbling than to think about how Jesus has loved me. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:3). So I must ask myself, “What is the way of love in this situation?” Often it does mean laying down my life for the sake of my friends (who happen to also be family). I don’t cling too tightly to the convenient or the indulgent. I give up my little luxuries and laziness to tend to the needs of those who can’t help themselves. Because I know my own tendency toward laziness and self-indulgence, I always start here. Are these things I am holding onto so tightly really that important, or do I just want to feed the flesh? But while I have to keep a healthy suspicion of myself, I don’t want to be lazy in the very act of trying to love. There are times when the example we have from Jesus is that of withdrawing from the crowds. He made provision for his own spiritual and physical needs. If I continue to expend myself to the extent that I collapse under the weight, then I have not only hurt myself, I have also left two needy people without adequate care.

It has taken me months to write this one blog entry. “This month” has been changed to “last month” and should really be changed to “in April”. About the time my daughter started getting back on some solid ground in her health, my husband has had a string of health issues. My army son came for a short visit. My chorus had their spring concert. Other loved ones are in the throws of difficult providences. I am weary. But I have had three nights of uninterrupted sleep. And Saturday, I slept most of the day. So things are looking up (despite the fact that I reduced two grown men to tears on Sunday with stories of my pitiful life).

The sermons at church this month (which might actually be last year by the time I post this) have been from the middle of 2 Peter 3 : the Day of the Lord. I have to confess for most of the sermon yesterday I was distracted by a conversation I had with Strokeman earlier this week on his DNR status and how he would like to go ahead and buy a burial plot. But at some point Pastor Eddie had us turn to Luke 21. During my distracted musings I glanced down at the page and saw this underlined in my Bible, “By your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). I have been taught well by my elders not to lift a verse out of its context and apply a willy-nilly meaning to it. So I looked down at the bottom of the page in the study notes to see if it would give me a summary and found this,

“21:16-19 This Passage is a strong affirmation of God’s overriding control. For some of His followers there will be a martyr’s death, for others deliverance. Either way, God is bringing His purposes to pass.” Hmm.

So my thoughts are this. Whether we are talking about the Day of The Lord, or just the days of our life, the approach needs to be to remind ourselves that no matter how our earthly eyes may see things, the truth remains that God is bringing His purposes to pass. And I, as His handmaiden, need to be patient. He is not slack concerning His promise to come again and gather His people to himself. He is not slack concerning His promise to complete the work He has started in me. He is not slack concerning His care for his people.

Patience.

I don’t have to know the answers. I am not ultimately responsible for righting the universe. It reminds me of when my nephews were young and my brother would say to them, “Tranquilo.” Calm down. Or when Jesus said to the roaring storm, “Peace, be still.” In the quietness of my house this morning, with everyone else still sleeping, and the sound of rain on the window, I am reminded not to try to possess what is not mine to possess. Whatever the question, my Jesus has the answer. My rest is in His arms. My confidence is in His plan. Let this world throw at me what it will. My Shepherd will supply my needs, Jehovah is His name.

 

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A Glimmer of Hope

There’s nothing under my bed.

This may be a strange statement to you, but it is one that has brought me a modicum of comfort this week. When I was young I used to take a running leap to into bed at night because I had fears of what might reach out from the underneath to grab at my leg if I got too close. In reality, all that was under there were piles of toys, dust bunnies, and trash. Periodically, my mom would come in with a broom to sweep everything out into the middle of the floor with the pronouncement,

“Now, put all these toys where they belong and throw away the trash.”

But still, you may wonder what this has to do with my present life. Certainly, I know enough about the real dangers of this world to not spend time worrying about imaginary boogeymen. Well, to help you understand, I need to backtrack a month or two.

In January I announced that I had become involved in trying to clean out and organize with the long-term goal of selling our house and moving into something smaller. To aid in this process, I had become a flybaby – that is I had begun to receive emails from the Flylady giving me a daily list of simple housecleaning tasks. I was feeling empowered by the sense of bringing order to my little world. This approach makes things doable to those of us who are sorely lacking in the homemaking department.

In conjunction with this, I was beginning to have a sense of balance and ease to the flow of things. I began to have the freedom to be involved in teas and showers. April was booked with more outside engagements than I had signed up for in years. I even planned an overnight trip to celebrate my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.

And then my daughter’s health crumbled. She moved home in such a state that I found myself once again up at odd hours of the night tending to her. My life became one of answering one call for help after another, going from the bedroom where my husband lay to the bedroom where my daughter lay. I was spending a lot of time in the kitchen preparing grain-free meals for my daughter, grain-full meals for my husband, and then realizing I had to figure out something to feed myself. Trips to the grocery store became more frequent. Reading was reduced to Pinterest Paleo sites. And I found myself hitting the delete button before even reading what the cleaning “flight-plan” was for a particular day. My shiny sink was no longer shiny. My floors were not mopped. My toilets and bathroom sinks were not swished and swiped.

And then I crumbled. Not physically, just emotionally. It was so discouraging to me to see all the progress I had made slowly eroding into chaos. Sell my house? How could I possibly show a house under present circumstances? As I am prone to do when the burden seems unbearable, I called my friend, Kathy. She was the voice of reason in the midst of my pity party. She reminded me that my life commitment was to my husband. Everything else needed to point toward his best interest. This meant teaching my daughter some survival skills. She helped me to come up with solutions for other plans that had become derailed in the midst of the chaos. And she helped me go from, “I will never…” to “just not at the moment.” Everyone should have a Kathy in her life.

So. I have at this point shoveled through the debris in the kitchen enough to verify that there are no dead bodies lurking there. I have stopped offering my services to various and sundry outside activities. I have not, however stopped the things that give me some sanity, i.e. church, chorus, book study group, and writing group. My daughter and I have a plan to start teaching her some basic kitchen skills. Perhaps we will blog some of our successes and failures. We have managed to find someone to take over her apartment lease, and I have mentally shuffled things between rooms to make a place for her furniture. I have started the process to get Strokeman into swimming. I am beginning to work back into my morning routine of reading and writing between preparing breakfasts.

On Sunday I resolved that this week I would begin reading the flylady emails again. On Monday, I opened the email to see that this week we are concentrating on the master bedroom. The task for the day was, “spend fifteen minutes cleaning out from under the bed.” There’s nothing under my bed. I realized in that moment that I had not, indeed, lost all progress that had been made this year. Yes, my plan had taken some pretty big hits. But not everything has been lost. Every time I start to go down the path of discouragement I remind myself: There is nothing under my bed. It’s a small thing, I know. But for someone like me who has a long history of stashing as opposed to organizing, it has some significance. And if the storm starts raging too fiercely, I have a place to hide.

 

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Waiting for the World to Change

There are some events happening around me lately that have me thinking about the story of Joseph. Here’s a guy that knew a thing or two about waiting, if you know what I mean. He is given these dreams when he is just a child. He has an idea of how his life is supposed to play out. He is going to be so powerful that even his father and mother will bow down to him. I would imagine it sounded like a mighty fine life to live. I wonder if he imagined how he would get there. Did he think it would come about as a series of small successes; each a little bigger than the last? I imagine that as his life played out, there were more than a few days when he thought those dreams were somebody’s idea of a joke.

Joseph’s first “success” was managing to irritate his brothers to such an extent that they fought over whether to kill him or sell him into slavery. As providence would have it, they chose slavery, and off to Egypt he went. Talk about having to start at the bottom of a proverbial company. You want to be the top man in Egypt? Well you have to start out as a janitor and grounds keeper with no pay.

Joseph had no choice, but yet he did have a choice. He could have gotten discouraged, given up on the dream (a little play on words for those who have grown to expect it from me). He could have done the bare minimum, or tried to escape, or maybe learned to manipulate the system to serve himself. Instead he chose to work diligently at the ultimate thankless job. As a result, he became the head of the household for his owner. Ah! Here it is! God is taking him up the success ladder and soon he will be in a powerful position! It shouldn’t be long now… Enter the master’s wife. Through the wickedness of a person in power over him, he is thrown in prison. Just when things were looking up, he finds himself not only still a slave, but also incarcerated for a crime he refused to commit.

Again he had a choice. He could give up and rot in jail, or he could continue to work diligently as unto the Lord in the place providence had brought him. He chose once again to be faithful to the law that God had written on his heart. He rose to the top of the system he was in- head prisoner. The Bible says the jailor didn’t worry about anything Joseph was taking care of.

While he was in the prison, he had opportunity to interpret dreams for a couple of other prisoners. I wonder if he was tempted to say, “I can tell you what they mean, but if my life is any indication, they may or may not pan out.” Instead, He continued to trust the Lord of the dreams. He only asked that the man with the happy ending dream please mention him to Pharaoh when he was restored to his job. Surely this would be the way that God would fulfill His promise. But alas, the man forgot for two years, until Pharaoh had a dream.

The Bible says that Joseph was 30 years old when this happened. He had been 17 when he had the dreams. 13 years of complications and obstacles. I would imagine it seemed like a long time to him. But really 13 years isn’t all that long. Consider the children of Israel who eventually become enslaved in Egypt. 430 years. That means there were people who were born a slave and died a slave. That was followed by 40 years in the wilderness. It seems that the Bible is full of people who had been given a hope, and then had to wait a very long time to see it come true. Take a look at Hebrews 11. There are generations who died in faith, “not having received the promises”. So who am I to say that I should not have to wait for the things I am longing for? Who am I to say a week or a month or a year is too long to remain faithful when it seems that relief will never come?

There is much about my life that I have no control over. I didn’t choose to have a daughter who is chronically ill. I didn’t choose to have my husband suffer a stroke. I didn’t choose to be a fulltime career caregiver. There is much about my daily life I don’t get to control. I don’t choose when someone is going to need me. I don’t choose when food will need to be prepared or when laundry will need to be done.

But just as Joseph had choices even when he was a slave in Egypt, so I have choices about my life. I can choose to do my work as unto the Lord. I can choose to continue to pursue the best possible care options for my family, even when there are obstacles thrown up to keep me from accomplishing what I need to on my terms. I can continue to work towards having a heart that seeks the Kingdom of God first. I can choose to continue to trust in the goodness of God, even when Satan has so many examples in my own existence to use as argument against it. I can look for ways to further the Kingdom even in the midst of my small world. I don’t know that tomorrow might not bring answers that today seem so elusive. It may be that in a week I will find answers I never thought possible to transform the health of my daughter. Or maybe I will be one who died not having received the promises. Can I still trust His goodness if I don’t live to see it?

I can think of some who are trying to do long and lasting good, but are being thwarted by people who should be working to support them. Is it a lost cause if people in power choose to block your efforts on every front? No. God is not bothered by the schemes of man. His sovereign will is still being accomplished. But be warned, some are brought to repentance and some are brought to destruction. Pharaoh was used in God’s plan as much as Moses. One was blessed by God, and one was cursed. Joseph’s brothers were brought to repentance, but only after years of suffering under the guilt of their sins. The key is to be the one who is blessed by God. This is accomplished through being obedient to his commands, living a life of grace and peace. We are not expected to produce results, we are only expected to be obedient.

Joseph didn’t sit around waiting for the world to change. He did what he could to change his little part of the world by having a heart that sought after God. This is my hope. This is my desire. May I seek this day the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. May I be diligent to live my life in a way that is pleasing to God in the circumstances He has seen fit to provide. And may I be content to wait for His timing to change my world.

 

 

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