Sunday, October 08, 2017

Hidden in a Flesh Suit - My Battle with P.C.O.S. Part 1 - Oh, Bloody Heck!

Each of the common issues associated with P.C.O.S. has it's own stigmas and inconveniences associated and I'd just like to share a bit about each of the issues I've experienced so that people I know (and hopefully people I don't know) can have a greater understanding of how difficult it can be.  There are certainly much worse conditions to have to deal with, but there are a lot of sneaky major health problems that can also be related to P.C.O.S. that people just don't realize.  My goal is to bring some of the challenges that women with P.C.O.S. face into the light and to hopefully eventually help other women who struggle like me to find hope and encouragement in their battles to remain healthy in spite of the challenge.  Sometimes dealing with P.C.O.S. and trying to find the treatment (or treatments) that work best for you can make you feel like a guinea pig for the doctors, just trying things out and see what works.  Doctors can also be quite insensitive about it and many family doctors are not knowledgeable about the condition.  I have met doctors who did not even know what it was despite the fact that is believed to affect 20-25% of women in the U.S.  Regardless of how many medical professionals view the condition, I would encourage anybody facing this condition to fight for what works for YOU and don't be afraid to find another doctor if yours doesn't take your concerns about the condition seriously or understand the difficulties associated.

So as I mentioned previously, one of the problems associated with P.C.O.S. is irregular menstruation.  This was the first problem that I experienced that was even noteworthy, so it is the first I will discuss.  If you are a man and not comfortable discussing or reading about women's menstrual cycles you should check out now, though if you have a woman in your life who experiences this condition, it may be helpful for you to understand how difficult it truly is.  I will share some of my personal experiences related to this particular issue to make it more personal.  If you are a woman or a man who is okay with hearing about the ways a woman's body works, this is where my real story with this condition begins.

I was a bit of a late bloomer as far as puberty goes and I was 14 years old before I got my first visit from everybody's least favorite aunt (Aunt Flow).  I went through high school without many visits from this dear aunt, probably no more than a few a year.  I knew that this wasn't "normal" but I also had learned that it's not uncommon for it to be irregular for the first couple of years.  When I had required physicals for sports I was told that it's not uncommon to have a delay in becoming regular in athletic females, and since I played soccer almost year found for most of high school, there seemed to be nothing to worry about.

Once I graduated high school and no longer played soccer year round, the irregularity of my monthly (or perhaps semi-annual would be more appropriate) visitor began to become more of a problem.  Once I no longer had the same level of activity, I gained quite a bit of weight very quickly (which I will talk about in another installment) and my breasts grew approximately three cup sizes the year I was eighteen.  From what I've been told, this was likely because my hormones were no longer suppressed by extreme level of activity I had been doing, though I was still relatively active, so this allowed my "normal" to kick in quickly.  When I say my "normal," there is actually nothing normal about it. 

My periods were still equally irregular as far as how often they came, but once I no longer had the intense activity, they started to hit hard and the length of time that they would last became quite irregular as well.  I would have some that lasted for only three days that were barely noticeable like they had been in high school, then I had others that would last for 20 days that had a few moderately heavy days, but nothing horrible.  The worst of the worse were the periods that lasted a more standard six to seven days.  When these came, the second and third days would hit so hard that I could overflow a tampon and a maxi-pad in just over an hour for two solid days.  By the end of the first day, I would be exhausted, feel sick to my stomach, weak and dizzy.  My co-workers often commented during these visits that I looked like a ghost because I was so pale.  The worst part of it all, was that I never knew which version I was going to get.  So it could start off and seem fairly light, then I could be out and about, at school, work, hanging with friends and all of a sudden I could be at the point where I started overflowing frequently.  I learned to be prepared no matter what, but at first it was quite a hassle, never knowing when I would need to have feminine hygiene supplies available and in what quantity.

Aside from the obvious inconveniences that are associated with never knowing when you might menstruate, there are also certain stigmas and emotions associated with it as well.  I have had many times where I have felt as though I'm not a "real woman" because my body does not do what a woman's body was designed to do.  I have viewed myself as broken or dysfunctional because I can't tell when my period is coming.  I have sat longingly listening to women speaking about how their cycles synced with one another because they spend so much time together and wished that I could experience that.  I've heard time after time after time how "nice" it must be to only have three or four periods a year - because if you haven't experienced a twenty day long period you can't possibly understand how quickly you would trade it for the consistency of a regular period.    But all of these emotions and misunderstandings are NOTHING in comparison to the stigma and general misunderstanding of P.C.O.S. in the medical community.

When I was 21 years old, I finally decided that seven years was plenty of time for my body to regulate itself and for my periods to become regular and since they still weren't regular, it was time to get it checked out.  I talked to a couple of friends and found a female OBGYN that was supposed to be nice and I scheduled an appointment.  The actual MD was out on maternity leave, but her nurse practitioner was still seeing patients, so I went to see her.  I was extremely nervous since it was my first time visiting an OBGYN and since I knew that something wasn't quite right.  The nurse practitioner did the Pap and well woman exam then after we discussed my concerns.  I honestly do not remember anything about the exam because all I remember is the conversation afterward.  I told her that I was kind of concerned because after seven years, my cycle had still never become regular.  She started off with the general questions about sexually activity and I told her that I had never had intercourse.  She kind of rolled her eyes but didn't say anything.  She asked what was the longest I had ever gone between periods and I told her 9 months.  "And you didn't have a baby during that time?"  I repeated that I had never had intercourse.  She asked me how long it had been since my last period.  I told her it had been four months and she looked at me and asked, "And you're sure that there is no chance that you're pregnant?"  I repeated again that I had never been sexually active.  She looked me right in the eyes and said, "You know if you're not honest with us then we can't help you." Then she proceeded to tell me how unlikely it is to still be sexually inactive at 21 years of age in modern society.  I repeated again that I was not sexually active and she told me that she was going to prescribe birth control because even if I wasn't sexually active, it would regulate my periods and if I was (which I probably was) then it would keep me from getting pregnant.  I left that office so embarrassed and ashamed that my body didn't work right that I cried in the car on the way to the pharmacy to pick up the birth control, which wasn't even covered by my insurance!

I was never extremely thrilled about taking the birth control, but I did it for a year the first time.  I finally knew exactly when my period would come.  I knew that I would have a ridiculously heavy day that almost made me pass out on the second day every month (which was AWFUL).  I knew that I would have an emotional meltdown the day before it arrived every time (I was emo on steroids!) The P.M.S. was horrible with the birth control, but at least I knew what to expect and I could finally commiserate with all of the other women who had a "regular" cycle without hearing how "lucky" I was that it only happened a few times a year.  Once that first year was up, the pharmacy called the doctor's office to see if they would renew the prescription and the doctor's office had closed.  So if I wanted to get another prescription, I would have to go see another doctor.   I had absolutely no desire to relive that experience again, so I just decided to see what would happen without the birth control.  I went back to the irregular, unpredictable mess that had been my cycle before birth control and the positive that came with it was that the crazy emotional day each month disappeared. 

It took me FIVE years to build up the courage to go back to an OBGYN after that first experience.  I got fed up with the unpredictable nature and the sometimes 20 day long visits and I was getting close to the age at which I had always thought I would have kids (though I was still waiting for a husband, too) so I wanted to make sure that there would be a possibility if/when the time came.  I checked my insurance for a female OBGYN and just picked one.  I figured whoever I ended up with couldn't possibly be any worse than the first woman I saw, though I was still extremely nervous.  I made a great choice - the doctor I selected at that time was the one who diagnosed me with P.C.O.S. initially and also the one who would eventually care for me during pregnancy.  My second well woman exam ever was considerably less painful (physically and emotionally) than the first.  After the exam we discussed my issues and she wrote an order for blood work and I scheduled a follow up.  The next visit, I was old that the bloodwork was inconclusive but not necessary to diagnose P.C.O.S.  She told me that losing weight would be helpful but difficult.  She told me that it is important to not go an extremely long time between periods because it increases the risk of uterine and endometrial cancer.  She told me that even for people who are not sexually active birth control was the most reliable way to regulate menstruation.  I was once again not excited about the birth control, but by this point I was rather adept at internet research and I discovered that this was the most commonly mentioned "treatment" for P.C.O.S.  It turns out that it's not REALLY a treatment of the condition, just of that single symptom.  My primary concern with it at that time was that birth control often causes weight gain, and I really needed to NOT gain weight.  Fortunately, my doctor listened to me and prescribed one that was supposed to have a positive effect on weight loss. 

This new birth control was even more miserable than the one before, though the weight loss component did deliver, so that was a plus.  But instead of one EXTREMELY heavy days each month I had TWO.  It was at least predictable but extremely unpleasant.  There were no CRAZY emotional days before a cycle, but I began to have migraines before my period almost every month - and I'd never had a migraine before in my life.  This was a rough season but I really enjoyed the weight loss, so in spite of the negatives I continued it for nearly two years.  I stopped taking it in 2007 when I had a breast reduction because my cup size had increased to an H by that point and it was inhibiting my ability to lose more weight and to keep off what I had already lost.  I was advised to stop taking it a couple of weeks before the surgery (since I still wasn't sexually active) because of the increased risk of blood clots.  After the surgery, I did not start it back up again because I was afraid that the estrogen in the birth control would cause my breasts to grow again.  I returned to the ridiculously irregular cycles. 

Over the next couple of years I experienced some other medical issues as well as an injury and had some tests and x-rays on different occasions.  When I went for one x-ray, as per the standard practice they asked if there was any chance that I could be pregnant.  I told them that there was not because I had never been sexually active, so of course the next question was "What was the first day of your last menstrual cycle?" and of course it had been several months and so I was informed that policy dictated that I needed to have a pregnancy test before the x-ray just to make sure.  The guy on this occasion was nice enough but it was still somewhat frustrating to have my honesty called into question AND to have to pay for a pregnancy test when I KNEW that there was zero chance it would be positive - all because society can't believe that people still wait and because I have a medical condition that causes me to go longer than usual between periods.  The hospital employees at least apologized for that one since they had to by policy.  I had a much worse experience with a primary care doctor who was aware of my P.C.O.S. and was seeing me for some digestive issues I was having.  I had been having nausea and frequent bowel movements and other related tummy troubles.  Of course he asked how long it had been since my last period and of course my answer was probably somewhere in the three month neighborhood.  He asked if I could be pregnant because that could cause digestive symptoms as well as the absent period.  I told him that if I was pregnant that it would only be the second time in the history of the world that something like that had happened since I'd never had intercourse.  I told him that the absent period was because of the P.C.O.S. since I wasn't on birth control and he seemed to be fine with that.  He said he would draw some labs for my well check and take some urine to make sure I didn't have protein in my urine.  He went to check the urine in office and came back.  He told me that there was no protein in my urine.  Then he paused and said, "Oh, and you're not pregnant, either." 

The belief in the medical community that women cannot be Bible believing Christians who save themselves for marriages was quite disheartening and caused me to have an extremely difficult time trusting many doctors.  As a result, it is now 9 years later and I STILL have not found a family doctor that I've felt comfortable enough with to trust for my general medical care.  I have tried, but I have found a general lack of understanding of what it's like to be a woman with P.C.O.S.  Fortunately, I have found extremely kind and understanding OBGYN's or just GYN's.

When I returned to my OBGYN the year after my surgery, I told my doctor that I had stopped taking the birth control because I didn't want my breasts to grow.  I told her about the other issues I had experienced also.  She prescribed me a different birth control that was low estrogen to ensure that wasn't a problem.  It also only had placebo pills every three months because she said that's all I needed to shed enough uterine lining to prevent the cancer risk.  It seemed to work well for me, the cycles were not particularly unpleasant.  What I didn't realize until my prescription ran out was that it had made me more emotional, angry, grumpy on a low level basically all of the time.  I had called to schedule my annual appointment about a month before my prescription ran out, but they were scheduling three months out.  My doctor at that time had suggested previously that since I wasn't sexually active, it might be good to see just a standard GYN who was not an OB until I was sexually active ready to think about having kids because they would be easier to get in to.  I really hadn't wanted to do that.  But when I came up on the three month wait, I decided it might be time to give it a try, so I did not schedule an appointment.

I got kind of lazy (and busy) and wasn't so emotional (though I hadn't noticed yet), so I waited almost six months before I tried to find practice with gynecology only.  I ended up getting a recommendation from the gastroenterologist I had seen and really liked.  The first time I saw the nurse practitioner at the gynecology only practice she ordered a transvaginal ultrasound so that they could find out the extent of my P.C.O.S. and what my ovaries looked like and scheduled me to come back for a follow up in a month.  By that time, I had been off of the birth control for a while and had discovered how much BETTER I felt not on it. 

During my follow up I was told that my ovaries were both filled with empty follicles which are normally released with an egg which indicated that I had not been ovulating and so my ovaries were enlarged.  The nurse practitioner told me what I already knew which is that birth control is the most common treatment and I told her that I REALLY didn't like how I felt on birth control and asked if there was any other way.  She actually listened to me and she told me that what is effective for women who are trying to get pregnant is Metformin, which is generally a diabetes drug and a ten day course of Provera every three months or so IF a woman's period has not come on it's own.  She said that the downfall is that it would not prevent pregnancy but understood that wouldn't be an issue for me.    Once I started that, I took the first dose of Provera and only had it once more three months later.  With the help of Metformin and eventually weight loss, I never went more than three months again until I got pregnant with my daughter.  For two years prior to my pregnancy I finally had regular periods without birth control every 5-6 weeks. 

After pregnancy, I have yet to return to having a regular cycle.  I have not returned to taking Metformin because I would prefer to avoid any health risks that could be caused by taking high doses of the drug for such a long period of time.  I continue to work toward finding a solution to regulating my menstrual cycle without causing any longterm health issues or concerns.  It can be challenging, because it feels like there will always be a struggle - but if my struggle can reach just one person, then it will all be worthwhile. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Hidden in a Flesh Suit - My Battle with P.C.O.S. - Introduction

I've been pondering writing about this for quite some time but I have put it off repeatedly.  Partially out of pride, because it's kind of an embarrassing thing to talk about.  Partially because I wanted to fully wrap my head around what I wanted to say because it's an emotional topic for me, also.  And partially because I've been afraid - afraid that nobody would be interested, or even care, afraid that I would put myself out there to only hear crickets in response, afraid that people will think that I'm whiny or making excuses.  But today is the day I need to stop being afraid and stop caring about all of those things.  Because I feel like this is a struggle that God has put it on my heart to share.

For those of you who don't know what P.C.O.S. is, it is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.  It sounds like a painful problem that would affect my ovaries, right?  But really, it is so much more than that.  It is a hormonal condition that is generally caused by an imbalance in the male and female hormones in a woman's body.  It can cause irregular periods, "cysts" in the ovaries that are actually empty egg follicles because ovulation does not occur regularly, weight gain and difficulty losing weight, elevated risk of diabetes due to insulin resistance, facial hair, acne, sleep problems, depression and anxiety and infertility.  So the name is a bit misleading because as you can see, it impacts a WHOLE lot more than just the ovaries.

So what I will be sharing is my experience with the condition as well as the stigmas associated with it.  It truly feels like a losing battle some days because no matter how much work I put in, it's not going away.  I look forward to sharing more and I hope that you will come along on my journey!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sounds Like Somebody's Got a Case of the Mondays

I know that Monday is in and of itself not capable of inflicting harm. It's a concept and nothing more. But this Monday lived up to every cliché about Mondays you have ever heard.  It started off with Linnea waking up very early this morning right before my alarm went off at 4:50 am.  She wanted to be cuddled which was probably the best part of my day even if it got me off to a late start.  When I finally got up, I couldn't find the shorts I wanted to wear.  No big deal - just find something else.

Next, I started work at 5:45 to find some less than pleasant projects with my name on them.  Oh well.  Just another day.  Head down and focus for a little while before physical therapy.  Ah, physical therapy.  That was another beast entirely.  It has been three weeks since my cast come off and I started physical therapy, so naturally I should be running marathons already, right?  Obviously not, but I am working hard to get back to my life and I had a bit of a breakdown at therapy today when the PT assistant got me set up o. The SAME THING I HAD DONE FOR THE LAST SIX APPOINTMENTS.  How can I possibly get better if I don't do more challenging things?!  Fortunately I have a very understanding physical therapist who graciously explained to me the standards for treatment of my particular injury.  He explained that he knew I COULD do more than I had done but they have to follow certain guidelines.  I wish I would have known that so I didn't melt down like a complete lunatic in front of my therapist.

Once I got home, things continued to go downhill.  Linnea was behaving like a typical two year old which resulted in some less than stellar parenting on my part followed by a less than stellar marriage moment which included me slamming the door.  Way to go, me.  Because that's how mature adults respond to conflict.  I was so worked up that my hands were shaking, so the logical thing to do was to start getting dinner ready to go in the slow cooker and chop an onion.  Smart choice, right.  Fortunately I narrowly missed cutting my finger but it was close.  Like so close that the knife actually touched my finger.  Clearly anger is SOOOO God for my decision making skills.  As I was adding ingredients to the slow cooker, I discovered I was short two cans of tomatoes.  Sigh.

I had to tuck my tail between my legs and go ask Josh to either watch Linnea or go get the tomatoes ASAP.  Once the tomatoes were home and added to the chili, things calmed down for a while until the evening when Linnea once again changed from Jekyl to Hyde and began throwing thing, including a miniature desk fan.  She had refused to nap which always leads to a bit of a meltdown in the evening.  But once she calmed down we had dinner and she cuddled with me while we took silly pictures on Snapchat.  Then she fell asleep on me before 8:00.  It was a fun and cleansing end to a truly MONDAY sort of Monday.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I Wanna Be a Troll

Sounds weird, right?  Because who really wants to be a troll?  But I do.  I want to be a troll.  Not just any troll.  The pink troll from the Trolls movie.  We haven't seen the movie yet, but because I have a toddler, we have seen every trailer and song from the movie roughly 876 times.  One of the songs is called "Get Back Up Again."  In the video for this song, the pink troll comes across obstacle after obstacle.  She ends up puffing up like a balloon and getting so wrapped up in a web of junk that she looks like she's in a cocoon.  And she's still singing, "I will get back up again."

I want to be that troll.  I feel like I generally have the "get back up again" attitude.  I don't tend to wallow around in the more of what I have going on.  I am pretty consistent in trying to grow and change.  What I'm missing that this troll has is the joyful demeanor throughout the journey.  When I get knocked down by the troubles of this world, I want to get out, but I tend to complain first.  And I tend to continue until I begin to SEE the forward progress and the change.  I don't find joy in the journey until I'm far enough in that I believe that I will make it.

I want to be that troll who starts out on the journey with a joyful confidence.  I should have a joyful confidence, knowing that I can depend on God to guide me through any journey that he sets before me.  But most of the time I don't.  Most of the time I start out the journey with a "why me" attitude and part way through the journey, I look back and see all the times that God helped me through the journey and THEN I find my joyful confidence.  So basically, I'm a bit slow on the uptake.

Right now I'm starting out on a new journey and I want to start it out right.  I am recovering from my peroneal tendon repair surgery and it's time to begin the rehab process.  I have been so frustrated by being so inactive for so long, but I can't let that steal my joy.  I need to look forward.  My doctor said that it would be a "good goal" to be up for CrossFit and/or running in about six months.  Six months is a LONG time to avoid doing the only fitness activities that have ever helped me lose weight, but it is what it is.  So I'm looking forward to trying out some new things to try to fill that time and still get back to being active.  I've never been a great swimmer, but not being able to do much else will give me a great excuse to get better at it and to keep my eyes on God from the start rather than on the distance I have to cover.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Church Like That

I want a different kind of church.  I want to BE a different kind of church.  Let me rephrase that - I know that it's not what I want that is important.  I believe that GOD wants a different kind of church.  So many churches have become SO focused on programs that they've stopped seeing the people who are part of those programs.  But if you look at the early church, the one described in the book of Acts, there were no programs, just people.  People who knew each other.  People who cared for one another.  People who loved and were loved.

This is the community that the Bible described.  Acts chapter 2 describes a community in which people shared meals together and cared for one another's needs.  Did this happen because there were programs in place to take care of people's needs?  Or did it happen because people knew each other well enough to just KNOW each other's needs?  Based on the information we have, I would be inclined to believe that they we in relationship with one another every day and therefore knew what was happening in each others' lives. 

What would it take for the church (meaning the general church, not a specific church) to get back to that?  How much more effective would the church be if the relationships within the church body modeled the loving and serving lifestyle that we are called to have outside of the church as well?

Since I've been with Josh, we've been attending larger churches and I always feel like what I'm missing is the relationships.  All of the programs seem to just keep people in their cozy cocoons.  People don't have to be vulnerable or build friendships in order to serve and be served because there's a program for that.  In a large church environment with lots of programs they depend fully on "small groups" to establish relationships, but with the body as a whole looking so much like a business, it is sometimes difficult to find small groups that go deeper.  It also limits how much one can be cared for in a time of need.  Acts 2:44-45 says, "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need."  This specifically says that all who believed were together NOT divided up into small groups.  They cared for those among them not just through the groups meeting and eating in homes, but as a complete body.

What would it look like to be a church like that?  I'd really like to find out.  I pray for the opportunity to love and serve like they did in the Acts church.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Farewell Normal - A Womanly Welcome

I wrote an essay back in September for Real Simple Magazine's Life Lessons Essay Contest and I have been holding off sharing it on my blog on the off chance I actually won something. The results were supposed to be posted to their website after the 14th and as of yet, still nothing, but at this point I'm pretty sure that it's safe to assume that I did not win anything.

Farewell Normal – A Womanly Welcome

I was thirty years old, but in many ways still a child when my mom was admitted to the hospital for a “simple” case of pneumonia.  I was five years past the age at which I had expected to be married.  My friends were all married or getting married and some of them had begun having kids already.  All had moved forward in life while I remained perpetually single and resentful.  In my loneliness, I had come to rely heavily on my parents to distract me and entertain me
The night my mom was admitted to the hospital, we stayed with her until she was situated in a room, then I went home with my dad for a few hours of sleep before visiting hours began again in the morning.  After a brief respite, as we were on our way back into town, my dad received news that my mom was not getting enough oxygen.  The rapid response team had been called and they needed his permission to sedate my mom and put her on a ventilator to help her get the oxygen she needed.   When we arrived, we were told that she had been moved to the Critical Care Unit, I remember thinking that things were more serious than I had initially thought, but I was confident that she would be fine in a week or so.
In the Critical Care Unit, my mom was only allowed to have two visitors at a time.   My dad, my brother and I took turns visiting her, along with various other family members and friends who had come to offer support.  Late in the morning, my sister-in-law and I were standing at my mom’s bedside, talking to her as we normally would, making jokes and light-hearted conversation despite the alarming labyrinth of cords and tubes that encapsulated her.  The tube coming from her mouth stretched perilously for the ventilator that was pressing air into her lungs.  We could see her chest rising and falling with the rhythm of the machine – a rhythm that was far more abrupt and robotic than the flowing rise and fall of the chest I had laid my head on for comfort so many times as a child.
Our banter was interrupted by a loud beep from the machine monitoring her vitals.  My eyes darted toward the screen and saw her heart rate slowly but steadily declining.  Simultaneously my heart rate skyrocketed in fear.  Because I was a Discovery Health junkie, I knew that if her heart rate got down to 30, they would call a code to prepare for cardiac arrest.  As it hit 35, the nurses in her room leapt to action, shoving my sister-in-law and me out of the way.  One of them turned to us and in a brusque tone, said, “You need to get out.”
I went completely numb as I stumbled toward the exit of the Critical Care Unit, barely able to catch a breath.  Just before I reached the door, I heard them call a code blue to my mom’s room.  I staggered out to the waiting room and collapsed onto the floor crying so hard I felt as though my lungs would burst.  My dad and aunt asked what was happening, but I couldn’t speak.  It wasn’t until a nurse came out a few minutes later that they were plunged into the fear and pain I was feeling.  
My mom had experienced a cardiac arrest.  Her heart rate had come back up with the help of some drugs but it would likely be at least an hour before she was stabilized.  In that moment, the reality that my mom might never leave the hospital pounded within me.  I had never considered that possibility.  Even the night before, as the doctor had discussed with her the importance of an “advanced directive” or a “living will,” I had shrugged it off as the neurosis of an overly dramatic doctor.  I had assumed that things would go back to “normal” in just a couple of days.
As we waited for the nurse to return with an update and to be allowed back into my mom’s room, I came face to face with my own selfishness.  The past several years of conversations I’d had with her flashed through my mind like a slideshow of my narcissism.  As my mom cooked me dinner, helped me clean, went shopping with me, the conversation was the same.  “Why doesn’t anybody love me?”  “Why doesn’t anybody have time for me?”  “Nobody even cares about me.”  It was an endless cycle – Why? Why? Why? Me… Me… Me…  I had wasted so much time COMPLAINING.  To her, to my friends, to my co-workers, to anybody who would would listen.  Even my blog was filled with complaining.  And suddenly, as the possibility of losing my mom, my best friend, loomed overhead, I realized that in comparison, NONE of the things I’d been complaining about actually mattered at all.
I was thirty years old, but emotionally I finally transformed from a girl to a woman in that waiting room.  I stopped being so selfish and started to focus on those around me.  I took up my cross and began to walk as a Godly woman.    Over the next 24 days as my mom remained in the hospital battling for her life, then slipping away, I learned to call upon the friends God had blessed me with to help me carry my burden so that I could take on the burdens of my family.  I made it a point to not cry in front of my family, particularly my dad.  I needed him to know that he could lean on me and I would not break.  I took on the responsibility of leading the family conversations in our meetings with the doctors regarding my mother’s care so that he wouldn’t have to.  It was what my mom would do, and so it became what I would do.
After several weeks in the hospital, my mom’s body had been making good progress toward recovery, but even after being taken off of all sedatives, she was not waking up.  An MRI found that she had suffered a “storm” of mini-strokes.  Her brain was riddled with blood clots and reflected no activity.  She could be kept alive on a ventilator, but she was essentially an empty shell.  My mom had always said that she would not want to live if only a machine was keeping her alive, and so we prepared to say goodbye.  We spent an agonizing six days essentially just waiting for her to die.  I sometimes wanted to run away like the selfish child I had been before.  Other times I wondered if we’d made the right decision, but that was selfishness, too.  We had chosen to honor the wishes she had expressed during her life and I reminded myself that God was big enough to overcome that decision if it was His will to do so. 
A week after we turned off the life support, my mom passed away.  I immediately threw myself into the process of planning a memorial service.  I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that I NEEDED to honor her, to serve her memory with as much care as she had served me for so long.  Much of my family was busy mourning while I was fighting to keep her alive for this last little while.  They showed their love for her in different ways.  I wanted to make the celebration of her life GRAND - partly because I felt that I had failed her by not marrying and giving her grandchildren while she was still alive - but mostly because I really wanted to serve her the way she had always served me.  I wrote her obituary with the utmost of care.  I pored through every photo album trying to find pictures for the program and the photo board.  I dug through recipe books for her favorite foods because in life my mom had mostly cooked foods that others liked though she wouldn't eat most of them.  So for her service, I would honor her by serving only HER favorites.  
At the service, my uncle and I sang a song that my mother had sung to me as a child and I sang another one of her favorites on my own.  When the time came for my solo song, I stepped up in front of the gathering of friends and family and with a trembling voice sang out the words that spoke so true in that moment, “Que será será, whatever will be will be…”
Over the next several months, those words continued to play in my head as I accepted the “will be” and began to step into my future, each part of that tragic month contributing a piece to the woman I was becoming.
The time I spent helping my dad with the things my mom had always done helped to prepare me for the day I became a wife.
The sleepless nights I spent at the hospital and the planning I did for the memorial service has helped me to be more confident in motherhood.
And the lessons I learned about thankfulness in the face of difficulty have helped me to be a less selfish and more empathetic wife, mother, daughter, friend, co-worker, neighbor, leader and follower.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Generation F (as in fantasy)

Today while I was sitting watching cartoons with Linnea, I saw one of the most disturbing commercials I have ever seen.  Not disturbing in the graphic or violet sort of way but disturbing in the values it was promoting.  It featured a little girl who was really excited because she had graduated preschool and so her parents were taking her on vacation to Walt Disney World to celebrate her graduation...  from PRESCHOOL!  What?!  The commercial then proceeded to call this trip a "kindermoon."  What?!
There is a popular and nasty ongoing conversation about millennials and how they are the generation of participation trophies and entitlement.  The reality is that there are people like this in every generation.  But that really isn't the point.  The point is that it seems that as a society we're trying to create a generation of SUPER MILLENIALS.  Forget the participation trophy - that's not good enough any more.  Instead you must be rewarded for doing EXACTLY what all other children your age are doing.
I pray that Josh and I can do better for our daughter (and any future kids we may have) - that we can teach her to be a responsible citizen who loves God and loves others. I pray that she can learn the value of working hard and experiencing disappointment now and then.  I pray that she can learn to appreciate the value of even the small things.  And I pray that she doesn't expect to go to Disney World for a "kindermoon."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Earth Keeps Shaking

It recently dawned on me that my life has been a bit unstable, constantly changing without settling for the last 7 years since my mom passed away.  The first couple of years without her were a journey of discovery - recreating myself as an individual, or perhaps I should say God recreating me into a new and stronger version of myself. That fall I ran my first 10K as part of the process.  In 2011, I started Weight Watchers and CrossFit and by 2012 I had lost 50 pounds and was in the best shape of my life. I was building credit to try to buy a condo and for the first time in my life I was fully content exactly where I was.

Of course that meant everything had to change.  Just as I was growing comfortable living as a strong and single woman, I found myself in my first serious relationship in 13 years.  After just a few months together, I was taking a trip with his family, and as you probably already know, we got married a little over a year after that.

As much as life changed in my last three years of singlehood, it was nothing compared to the first three and a half years of married life to this point.  Once we started our marriage journey, we made no effort to prevent pregnancy because I had been told that due to my P.C.O.S. it would be very difficult for me to get pregnant.  With that in mind, we didn't want to delay that possibility so we left it in God's hands to bless us with a child if and when he decided it was time.  Imagine my shock, amazement and excitement when I discovered I was pregnant just four months after we got married.  In order to save for baby expenses, I gave up CrossFit.  I still kick myself every day for that decision, but what is done is done.  And in spite of that choice we are still incredibly blessed.

One week after our first anniversary, we got to meet our beautiful daughter for the first time.  The first few months of her life were surreal.  I had barely adapted to being married and living with my husband, let alone being a mother.  On top of that, learning to be a mother without MY mother was a a different kind of challenge.  After the first few weeks, Linnea struggled at every feeding.  I ended up leaving work to care for her because we knew that no daycare was going to spend an hour feeding her every time she needed a bottle. I was blessed to have been able to do that when I neede to, but it was also one of the most difficult changes.  I had always been so independent and this left me completely financially dependent on my husband which was a hard pill to swallow.

Over time I grew to love my role staying home with Linnea and taking care of the home.  I grew more comfortable taking her grocery shopping and getting things done while she played in her play yard.  And just as I started to grow comfortable in that role, God opened the door for yet another change.  We visited a friend in Idaho and through that visit, we found ourselves being led to move away from everything we'd ever known to a place where we knew just one family.  Linnea was just about to turn one when we moved away from the city where Josh and I were both born and raised.

Thinking back, that is a TON of change in five years time.  And it doesn't stop there.

In October of 2015, as we settled into our new home, it was time for me to return to work.  Linnea was thriving so much better on whole milk and solid foods.  So when she was 14 months old, she went to daycare for the first time.  Honestly, she loved it from the start.  As for me?  Not so much.  It was terrifying getting used to somebody else caring for my child all day.  I know that it's a common experience- still a big change for me.

Since then, most of the changes have been more subtle and gradual, but also more scary.  Being in a new place, we have struggled to make connections and build friendships.  One of the hardest parts about this is that I desperately want Linnea to have some friends we can have play dates with.  The absolute hardest part is that in this season of isolation, when I need God desperately, I struggle to find him.  I know that he is there and has been faithful - my husband and daughter are proof of that - but when it comes to the day to day ordinary things, I sometimes feel like he's missing.

The most recent change, or perhaps I should say challenge, was my foot surgery.  It was such a huge contrast from the first surgery I ever had ten years earlier.  For that one, my mom was by my side.  I stayed with my parents and they took care of me while I healed.  I had friends visit me in the hospital right after and at my parents house later.  I spent two weeks relaxing and healing and went back to work feeling refreshed.  But this time was much different.

I went through the process at work to be approved to work at home in preparation for my surgery because I knew it would be difficult getting around.  I planned on being able to work from home when the doctor released me after my first two weeks of recovery. Those two weeks were a blur filled with hours on the couch serving as a human jungle gym for a toddler.  When it was time to go back to work, my equipment for working at home had not arrived and so I had to roll my happy butt into the office on my knee scooter.  (BTW - the equipment STILL hasn't come.). In spite of all of that, Josh has been a champion taking care of me by himself while I heal.

After my foot is done healing, I'm ready for the earth to stop moving for a little while.  I am ready to settle in and enjoy this beautiful family that God has created.  I'm ready to rest in his peace - until he decides to shake things up again!

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Men are Not the Enemy

Yesterday I wrote a little about why I was not a fan of the activities on Inernational Women's Day.  Today I want to expand.  The biggest problem I have with the current "women's movement " is that for many women it is creating an "us vs them" mindset toward men.  As a Christ follower, it is my belief we are one body and should not be constantly competing against one another.  How productive would a body be if the hand was constantly fighting the foot?  If the hand wanted to do what the foot is supposed to do?  The two parts were created for different purposes, neither more or less important, just different.  This is very similar to the differences between men and women.  There are certain things that each of us were biologically built for.  We should not be enemies, we should not be opponents.  We work best when we work together and love one another.

When I began following Jesus at age 21, I was very angry at men.  My first real boyfriend had tried to force me into intercourse and I wound up feeling used.  And right after that my next boyfriend used me as a "rebound" before going back to his previous girlfriend.  He also didn't take me seriously when I told him I was depressed and struggling with life.  He blew me off.  After those experiences, I decided that all men were idiots and I did consider them to be the enemy.  I had been hurt and by blaming the hurts on men in general instead of the individuals involved, I thought it was for my own protection, but the only thing I was protecting was my fear.  I had allowed "victim" to become part of my identity instead of part of my history.

In the two years following my second boyfriend up until a few months after I started following Jesus, I became a connoisseur of stupid man jokes.  I had books filled with the jokes.  I told them every chance I got.  I had a collection of keychains with anti-man jokes.  I thought it was hilarious.  Part of me truly believed it and believed that men could not be trusted (except my dad, of course.)  And another part of me deep down still wanted to be loved.

During the spring semester of my first senior year of college (yeah, so what - it took me 6 years) I was reading the book Faith on the Edge, which was extremely popular that year, and something in that book convicted me that I was holding a grudge against men who had doe nothing wrong.  By carrying those keychains and telling those jokes, I was devaluing a large part of God's creation.  I immediately removed the keychains and gave them away.  I prayed for God to change my heart toward men and to learn to trust them again.  And God blessed me with some amazing men who I called friends for that season of my life.

I had plenty of reason to be hesitant to trust men.  I had plenty excuses for saying many unkind things about men because of what had been done to me - and yet none of that could change what I had experienced and none of it brought me closer to God.  Actually it kept me away, and once I trusted and repented, I grew closer to God through the friendships he gave me, many with men,  It also opened the door for my first time falling in love.  I learned so much from that experience and God has used every bit of what I learned through that time of my life for his good.

Many years have passed since that and I cannot say that I haven't struggled to find my role in this world and within the church as a woman.  There have been many times that I have felt less valuable because I am a woman.  But this is part of the curse of living in a fallen world.  The men we wind up with may be FAR from perfect, but guess what?  The women they ended up with are also far from perfect!  I am a woman and I say MEN ARE NOT THE ENEMY.  We have a much bigger enemy, one who wants us to be so wrapped up in men's rights vs women's rights that we don't notice him creeping in and taking over.  Our enemy is sneaky and he thrives on division.

I pray that someday we can come together, men and women, side by side to stares unique aspects of men and women  down our true enemy.  I pray that we can learn to be thankful for the unique qualities in each of us rather than being resentful.  And I pray that we could recognize and appreciate the blessings each of us have and that we would continuously examine ourselves and our own hearts to be sure that no bitterness takes root.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

I am Woman, Hear Me... Yawn...

So today was apparently International Women's Day.  I'm not a big fan of having a "Day" for everything.  It doesn't upset me or offend me, I just don't understand the logic behind it.  In my mind, the Bible's instructions to love God and love your neighbor as yourself  (Mark 12:30-31) make things pretty simple.  We should love all people on all days, even when we don't necessarily like them.  We should show love to our spouses every day, not just on Valentine's Day.  We should celebrate our mothers year round, not just on Mother's Day.  And we should celebrate the value of women and their accomplishments every day, too.  Oh, and the value of men?  Let's celebrate that, too.  Every day.

This may be a controversial mindset since I am a woman, but I just don't get it.  Especially the "Day without women" protest that was happening today.  I'm not denying that there are situations in which women are treated unfairly.  I have often found myself explaining to my husband how difficult it is being a woman sometimes, especially within the church, because church tradition puts women in the background even though they were valuable to Jesus and his ministry.  That being said, I don't understand what can be accomplished by this sort of movement.  It reflects poorly on all women, making us look whiny and entitled.  I personally do not subscribe to the belief system that says "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" but instead try to live in the knowledge that we all "reap what we sow."

The other big issue I have with the whole thing is that the women I've seen most vocally promoting this event have been outright attacking women who dare to question them.  It is completely illogical that the women who are fighting so hard for their "rights" are attacking other women for exercising their "rights" because they don't agree.  Maybe women would make more progress in their careers if they would stop being so darn mean.  Because if that's how they're treating other women who are supposed to be their allies, how do you think they're treating men?  To be completely honest, there have been times in my life that I have been ashamed to be a woman because many women out in the world are just SO MEAN - catty, and judgmental and gossipy and MEAN.

I understand that it's partly a need to feel in control that drives that meanness, but it ends up undermining everything the protesting women are fighting for.  This "Mean Girls" attitude demonstrates a lack of teamwork.  So if a woman has the same SKILLS as a man but she cannot stop gossiping and doesn't work well with the team, then why should she be paid the same as a male counterpart who does the same work without the drama?

At the end of the day, I am proud to be the woman God made me to be.  So rather than protesting which would only draw attention to me and puff me up, I choose to just reflect on what I can do to improve myself with God's help.  After all, I cannot change the attitudes others have toward me - I am only responsible for myself and my own attitude.