December 15, 2014

LEAN IN & LOVE EACH OTHER

our pastor and his family lost their dog, ringo star, last week. his life cut short by sudden illness. (sharing with their permission)




their dog was one of a kind. even harrison agrees with that. we are fairly new to the church but i think it is safe to say that ringo was the "church's dog". he was often at the front door, greeting folks each sunday morning.

upon learning of his passing, my girl wept and wept and wept. i held her and as my shirt grew wet under the weight of her grief, my own tears slipped out to fall silent on her head pressed tight in to my chest. 

grief is hard. there are often really no words. the best thing we can do is just lean in and love each other.

so my girl, she leaned in to me and i just held her. and i ached for her and for this precious family who just lost their one of a kind fur member.

tears slip down my cheeks as i write this now. and i'm finding i have to pause now and then and wait until i can see the screen thru the blurring of my tears. i've asked the hubster if it is weird that i feel compelled to blog about this - but this post, well, it sorta just effortlessly tumbled into my brain as i lay awake last nite. the thoughts were still with me this morning, so i sat down to type them out. it isn't often that my writing comes easy, so i've decided to just go with it. maybe it is a little melodramatic to be so emotional about the loss of a dog that i have only known for a little time. but melodramatic or not,  that is me. i am a feeling person. i feel things really intensely. it is hard to be a feeling person. really hard. i ache for my tender-hearted girl because she inherited her momster's super ultra sensitive gene. at 41, i'm still learning to live with a heart that bruises and bleeds easily... and be okay with that. and not be scared of raising a girl that has one too. and not try to toughen us up. but rather learn to embrace these tender hearts that God has entrusted us with. after all, there is a purpose and plan in how and why he creates each of us.

i didn't want to tell avery about ringo. i knew her tender heart would break and break hard. i wanted to spare her the sorrow but i knew that i could trust God to be with her in her sorrow

after all, isn't that what Christmas is about?
Emmanuel.
God with us.
in our sorrow.
in our pain.
in our world.


as i tucked avery into bed last nite, her pillow was once again wet with fresh shed tears. and i knew her heart was busting up inside her. she lay on her side, tears trickling out from behind tightly shut eyelids. as i stroked her head, she sputtered,

"ringo was my first friend at reality church."

"oh baby girl." i leaned in and kissed her furrowed brow and wished that i could ease her pain. and i found myself welling up again too.

and it got me thinking about my first time meeting ringo...and how when we started at this new-to-us church, i was still very much dealing with active PANDAS symptoms...(read about PANDAS at "This is my brave" post.) getting the diagnosis just a few short weeks after we began attending reality church. this, after a 9 month journey that had quite frankly taken me to hell and back. i had lost a lot of myself during my decent into madness and in the process, my self esteem had been obliterated. i was (am) in the process of healing and rebuilding my damaged brain. some of me is changed - and i was trying to figure out this new me and learn to live with those changes. among the multiple brain issues caused by the pandas, i was suffering with a major social anxiety disorder. and having full blown panic attacks in church. 
just ask the hubster. 

and i didn't want people to know i was sick....whether it be about the pandas or the lyme - not because i was ashamed but because i have lived with the 'sick girl' label for 8 years now. and i wanted to shake it because sick scares people. 

yet, at the same time, i felt like i should come with a warning label. after all, we weren't just 'attending' a new church - the hubster had been approached by church leadership and asked to help run the church youth group. even tho', we very strongly felt that God's calling was upon our lives and that he had led us to this ministry opportunity at reality, i still felt very broken and like i was a total mess.

"i think you should tell them i am defective." i wailed to the hubster on more than one occasion.

after all, i figured it wouldn't take long for them to figure that out. like, that graham guy is great but is wife, well, woowee me, she's a hot mess.

yet, every sunday, despite sweating and fretting my way thru each service and struggling to focus - the message preached came across loud and clear. about truth, love, and grace. boundless grace. amazing grace. Jesus' grace. and even tho' my brain was still misfiring and riddled with anxiety, i could see that grace and feel it lived out by the people around me. and somehow i knew, God had us exactly where we needed to be.


"But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end." Rom 5:21 (MSG)

all is grace. 
Jesus is grace.
i could feel it in that place.

then enter ringo.

he was a big dog. his head was waist level on me. he would just sidle up to you and press his head into your side. then he would turn his big brown eyes up to you and LEAN in to you. hard. he LEANED IN HARD and without hesitation.

and that leaning in thing? it made you feel special and loved and like somehow you were the one person in the world that he was choosing to lean in to. 

we could all use a little bit of ringo in our lives. i don't mean walk up to someone and press your head into their waist. no. that would be weird. and awkward. there are some things that are only appropriate for a dog to do.

i'm talking about just bravely leaning in and loving each other right where we are at, right in the midst of our broken, messy lives, because the grace of Jesus is more than enough to cover it all. because we all NEED to feel loved and special because every single one of us IS loved and special - its just that life can make it hard to remember that sometimes. 

so, thanks ringo, thanks for leaning in and loving on me and my girl. and the many folks at reality church. thanks for being such a stellar church dog.


peace out, big guy. 

and thanks Jesus for using ringo to remind us how something as simple as leaning in to people right where they are at can make them feel special and loved.

and thanks Jesus for being the ultimate example of leaning in and loving people right where they are at. thanks for coming head long into a dank, dark and musty stable in order to lean in to our pain, our sorrow and our messiness.

because that is just awesome and awe-inspiring.







Emmanuel. God with us. 
Let us lean in and love each other without hesitation. 
All is grace.

POSTSCRIPT:
i wrote this post last week but delayed posting it until my pastor and family could have the opportunity to read it and give me their blessing to publish it. here's the thing...at the time i wrote it, i had no idea that (literally) within hours of writing, i would be heading into a pandas relapse. the official relapse diagnosis coming 2 days later - after a positive test result for acute strep infection.

my lyme docs have caught it quickly this time and i am already undergoing treatment for it. i am thankful that it has been caught early and we are hopeful that this attack will be mild...but it is still scary to live in "PANDAS land" again. i am also sick with a bacterial lung infection which is complicating matters.

so, this is not so awesome at all but what IS awesome is the outpouring of love and support i am experiencing since sharing news of my relapse. who would have thought that the very thing that this post became about - leaning in and loving each other - is the very thing that i would be in need of within 72 hours of writing about it.

but God knew.
He's leaning in to us. all the time.
even before we know we will be in need of it.
His love never fails.

Emmanuel.
God IS with US. without hesitation.

so thank you for leaning in and loving me.
your prayers and expressed thoughts have been a great comfort and encouragement to me.

and
please lean in and love on my pastor and his family thru their season of grief. remember, the miracle of leaning in is that it doesn't require speech to be effective and you don't need to know the right words to say to bring comfort... after all, ringo never spoke, not a word...but his leaning in to you, well, it spoke volumes. 



December 8, 2014

BUYER BEWARE


so some peeps have been inquiring about our housing situation...

there has been a sort of interesting development so i thought i would update you all here. 

but first, i just want to say thank you for asking about this and letting us know that you are praying! its encouraging & comforting to hear that. i'm finding the prospect of a move still really hard - i still don't want to move. not at all. i really don't want to let go of our home, our neighborhood, or our community. it's my comfort zone and leaving that feels really scary. given that i'm still struggling with a social anxiety disorder and the other residual damage the strep infection did to my brain (this is my brave post), moving feels even bigger and scarier than it ordinarily would. 

my girl is still struggling with anxiety over an impending move as well - (i blogged about this at letting go & moving on). we have told her that if we move before the end of the school year, that we will endeavor (if at all possible) to keep her in her current school. this helped relieve some of her angst.

our home is still for sale, so a move is inevitable. its just the timing that is in question. as far as what the property manager and owner have communicated to us is that for the interim, we can stay living in our home until it sells.

i guess the burning questions of the moment is WHEN will the house sell - today, tomorrow, or 3 months from now? and WHERE will we go when it does? 

as the unknown answer to these questions burn like a wild fire in my head, i find my thoughts around the whole sordid matter are getting increasingly melodramatic... 
(cue epically mournful background music)

with head bowed & hands clasped to bosom, me to myself:
"this is the last summer in this house."
"this is the last fall in this house."
"this is the last winter in this house."
"this is the last christmas in this house." 

and on and on and on i go... bubbling over with these odd arrays of sentiments and then frantically photographing every precious memory or mundane detail in a desperate attempt to preserve every "last" whatever moment


15 years of growth recorded on the wall

and so it goes. 
and so must we... eventually. apparently once the house sells, the landlord is legally obligated to give us 2-3 months notice. it is now the beginning of december and there have been no offers yet - so i figure its safe to say that we will get one last new years and one last valentine's day in this house.

while, we may have a 2-3 month buffer period between when the house sells and when we need to find a new place to rent, it is kinda sorta stressful to live with the unknown hanging over your head. so we have been actively looking for a new place to move to. for the last several months, we have been scouring the rental ads. 

we even placed our own want add on craigslist and put the dog to work soliciting offers... 

****************************************************************
Hello! We are a family of 4 looking to rent a home in East Van. We've been renting a townhouse in Richmond for the past 14 years and have to move because the owners have put it on the market. 

I work full-time with a local youth organization that provides care to high school age students and their families. We've been doing this work for 25 years and believe it's important to be close to our church, available to those we care about, and in the neighborhood. 

My wife and I have a grown son who lives on his own and 2 children living with us. Our boy is 15 and our girl is 11. We have a super-chill dog named Harrison. He's a four year old Bijon Shi Tzu mix and is fixed (just don't tell him that he's fixed!).

What we wish for: 
*4 bedrooms (I'd like a study/office at home)
*at least two bathrooms 
*An enclosed garage or space in the basement
* Big bonus would be a yard so we can put in a garden 

We are non-smokers and don't do drugs (and neither does the dog!).


If you have something for us, I'd love to chat with you. My name is Graham.
****************************************************************but we've not been able to find anything. nope. nada. nothing. not even any remote possibilities in our budget. we are beginning to believe that finding affordable housing in vancouver is simply not possible.

the worst thing is that every time the hubster and i start some sort of intensive search for a new place the prospects are so dismal that we kinda, sorta, get totally stressed out. all the house hunting kinda, sorta transforms us into the grumpiest, grouchiest desperados of all time. that state of mind is not good for anyone. i certainly don't want our last days in our home to be filled with dark and gloomy moods.

so for the last couple weeks, we have kinda, sorta been trying to just ignore the whole thing as much as possible. denial is bliss.

good plan goertzens.

of course, about the best thing we can do is continuing praying about this. and ask you all to continue to pray too. 

here's where the interesting development comes into play...

shortly after i blogged about our housing situation (letting go & moving on) and asked you all to pray about this our house kinda, sorta started falling apart.
i kid you not. well, to be exact, it's the front deck - and the support beam holding it up suddenly was literally dangling at a precarious angle by one lousy screw...



so the hubster emailed the property manager. 

a few days later, i noticed some bob the builder looking guys milling around under the deck pointing their fingers, waving their arms and generally, just standing around gawking up at the exposed underpinnings of the deck. i even overheard an expletive or two.

i went out to investigate. 

they were freaking out.
the builder bob guys told me that the deck is not structurally sound and the whole thing could come down at any time. it is rotten. absolutely rotten. it is an accident waiting to happen and we must not, should not, cannot go out onto it.

i asked them if they could fix it. in my head i sang it. (i couldn't resist)
"bob the builder, can you fix it?"

"yes, we can!" came their confident reply
(i tried not to show my disappointment after all, i figure a house in obvious disrepair may be a bit slow to sell.)

the following day, we received 3 notices yes, THREE) from the townhouse strata stating that we could not go on the deck. i don't think this is particulary because the strata is concerned for our safety so much as they are concerned about a potential lawsuit. but the over kill with letters made be think the deck must be even worse than it looked.

no wonder i overheard the bob the builder guys using some not so rated-G language.

so the whole rotting and falling apart thing on the front deck began in september... and so far it hasn't been fixed. (happy dance) the deck itself has not tumbled to the earth but the beam finally made its decent last week.





so where on earth are the concerned bob the builder guys? and what happened to "yes, we can fix it!"?

you are not going to believe it - they showed up on my BACK deck a few weeks ago. we had NO IDEA there was anything wrong with the BACK deck too. 

of course, then we got to remembering how last summer we noticed a bit of dry rot here and there. shortly there after, we noticed guys doing repair work on those areas - if you can call it "repair" as all they did was caulk it and then paint over it all.

are you kidding me? caulking rot? good luck with that. at the time, we just heaved a sigh of relief that we don't own this place.



as renters, we are not privy to strata council meetings and stuff but we figure that the back deck must be a lot worse off than the front deck if work has been started there first..

and here's the thing, its not just our unit...suddenly, there seem to be rotting decks EVERYWHERE



right in our little vicinity of the complex, there were 4 other decks resplendent in blue tented drapery. i recently took a stroll around the entire complex and much to my delight, i found that there has been a sudden explosion of blue tarps. they were everywhere. i nearly jumped with glee.

its like a blue tarp baby boom!
i should hand out cigars or something.




those blue tarps are like having a buyer beware sticker slapped right across our home. after all, what vancouverite can ever forgot the leaky condo scandal that erupted in the 1980s! and, what potential buyer in their right mind is going to consider purchasing a place that is this under wraps? seriously!

is it bad that i'm a little bit gleeful? after all, i assume this must be causing owners a pretty penny to fix... and i do feel really bad about that. i do! honest! for pete's sake, i almost feel like somehow, in a weird way, i'm sorta responsible for it - after all, it was i that asked people to pray about our housing situation - and within a few days of that, the blue tents of doom appeared! - 

our complex sorta, kinda, looks a bit like a little tent city.
i'm a happy camper.

keep praying peeps.









November 14, 2014

HE CARRIED US

in september 2009, parker (aka sparky) came home from his first day of school feeling sick. within 6 weeks, he was in a wheelchair.



i vividly remember that little blue wheelchair. how tiny it was. how small sparky looked in it. how frail he was.

at the time, it was inconceivable to imagine that he would outgrow that chair and need another. and then another. that over the next 5 years, growth kits, frame sizes and picking colors on the lastest model would be in relation to a wheelchair and not bikes.




i have a vivid recollection of when sparky began to lose control of his legs. he was walking down the school hallway and his legs just kept giving out from under him. he had a dramatic wobbly limp and then every few steps, his jelly legs would buckle and he'd fall to the floor. after a few moments, he would painstakingly push himself off the floor and gripping the wall for support, he would start the whole process of stumbling, falling, picking himself up again all the way down the endless hall to his classroom. it was a terrifying and heartbreaking sight to see. i remember his teacher, who was walking down the hall with us, suddenly grasping my arm and with tears in her eyes and a catch in her throat whispering, "This is breaking my heart."

it was the type of heartbreak that knocked the wind out of you
and it would be like this for the next 5 years.

i don't know how he possessed the gumption to keep going but it is this example of his deep-seated, quiet determination that would help him persevere thru the days, weeks, months and years that followed.




his deterioration happened at lightening speed. in a short 6 week time frame, he went from this stumbling walk to having to rely on a wheelchair to get around. by the end of october, he had to crawl on his hands and knees to get around our home. by november, he could no longer crawl but just pulled himself along on his belly. by december, he had days where he lacked the strength to move at all. he often had to be carried by his dad or brother.

he lost 15lbs in 3 weeks. his eyes became sunken and dulled with pain. he had rashes, migraines, nausea and difficulty breathing. he developed full body tremors and night time incontinence. he endured hallucinations, rages and his cognitive and processing abilities ebbed away. he could no longer hold a pencil or write. he often needed help to feed himself. and then there was the pain. always there was the relentless and agonizing joint pain. no amount of pain medication, IV or otherwise, ever provided relief. 

it is gutting to watch your child suffer and not be able to alleviate it. it chips away at your very soul.

Doctor's notes from Sparky's medical files

these painful memories flood back as vivid as the days and years that they occurred. i write of it now, not out of some macabre sense of dredging up old pain or revisiting old haunts...no, quite the contrary. i look back on these memories and am stunned that we are still standing today. that sparky is standing.

here's the thing. the standing and walking part, well, we don't know if or for how long that will last. we praise God that he has not needed his wheelchair since january 2014 and he has been stably improved since late spring 2014. but this could change in the blink of an eye. you never know with this disease. that is the reality of living with a chronic and incurable disease. there is no cure yet and there is no magical, miracle formula to bring about remission - the fight has been long and arduous...5 years and counting. it has taken 5 years of daily fist fulls of pills, 3 years of daily IV antibiotics, an extensive and exhaustive regime of complementary medicine - homeopathic, herbal and traditional chinese medicine, along with biofeedback and intensive physiotherapy to get to this point. 

and there is still healing ahead of him. and he's not walking out of this battle without the wounds of war following him. one does not lose 5 years of their childhood to a haze of suffering and pain and not have grief and loss to process. and he's wrestling with his faith and his relationship with God. he doesn't see the purpose in all that he has endured but he says that he believes that one day it'll all make sense. and he is keeping his heart and mind open to seeing that. 

when he entered this shadow land of suffering, he was a little boy of nine...now he is emerging as a young man. he will be 15 in a month. he stands tall (taller than momster!) and he is tall in bravery, strength, courage, and spirit.

and that tall in spirit part is the miracle in all of thisthat a child at the age of 9 can endure 5 years of relentless suffering and pain, essentially become cut off and shut away from the world and yet come out of this standing tall and unbroken... 

well isn't that the miracle in all of this?

Sparky - August 2014
Overlooking Noth Van from  top of  Lynn Peak

i share this today because i know that there are other momsters out there aching with the wounding that comes from the long nights of nursing the broken, gasping bodies of their babes. 


i know the despair of living the words incurable and chronic. i know the way that reality rips your heart out and then tramples it underfoot.

i know the despair and the terror that fills every fiber of your being and reaches into every recess of your mind when your child looks you dead in the eyes and says he'd rather die than go on living.

i know the horror of hearing your child endlessly screaming in agonizing pain. i know the devastation and heartbreak that follows when your attempts to bring them comfort, relief or solace fail. i know that a little piece of your heart will never ever recover from that. 

i know that their pain is your pain and you will carry it with you until the day that you die. 

i know that there is never enough of you to go around. i know the fear of what incurable and congenital disease means to your future. i know that you worry endlessly about your other children and their future and the future generations to come. i know you fear that if no cure comes, your grand babies may one day suffer.

i know the unwelcome resentments that filter in when you hear other parents complaining about how exhausting it is to drive their kid from activity to activity or get up for early morning practices.

i know how glancing into the car next to you at a stop light and seeing a kid in sports gear makes your heart wrench violently in your chest.

i know that you are exhausted from running IVs at all hours of the night. i know that the only car ride your baby takes is to and from doctors appointments.


i know how you want to scream and rail at how unfair it all is. i know how ashamed you feel to begrudge another parent their healthy child. i know how you feel guilty about that flicking line of resentment that weaves its way up from your knotted gut and lands strangle hold in your throat.

i know that you must be more than just a momster. 

i know the weight of being responsible for making tough medical decisions and that those decisions keep you up at night. i know that sometimes there are no good treatment choices and how you wish for clear cut answers and not choices that include this or that devastating side effects.

i know the hours and hours and hours spent scouring medical files, researching medical literature in order to educate yourself on this thing that has a choke hold on your baby. 

i know that some diseases come with a call to advocacy. i know that that work can burn you out. i know that the desire to educate others, to make a difference, to find a cure, to spare another, to support a newbie is the fire that drives you...even when you have nothing left to give.

i know what its like to live with your heart imploding on a daily basis. i know the screams you stifle, the grief you stuff and the strength it takes to just keep your head above the water. 

i know that you lie on the bathroom floor in a limp exhausted heap in the middle of the night, with silent tears streaming down your face. and you wonder how, just how in the world, will you find the strength to pick yourself up and face another day...let alone, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime. 

i know that the fight to keep your baby alive will take precedence over keeping other relationships alive. i know that you will be judged on this. i know that know one will ever really know how you feel. i know how quickly the crowd will thin exponentially. that who you thought would be your "go to" people at the start will be no where to be found. i know that very few will have the stamina to be there for the long haul. 

i know that unless you have lived the incurable, you cannot understand the sense of loss, the grief, the isolation, the relentlessness, the desperation, and the endlessness of it all.

i know that a childhood shattered by relentless suffering will take you to dark and desperate places. it will challenge your faith in God. it will make you question His Goodness, His faithfulness, His purpose and His plan. it will have you on your knees, face on the floor, fist pounding the earth. i know you will plead with God for mercy. for wisdom. for healing. for guidance. for forbearance. for strength. for relief. and in the most desolate of hours, you will bargain with Him. 

i know that quite possibly the deepest ache, the most pressing heartbreak is the worry that your baby will suffer irreparable damage to their spirit and that they will lose their hope along the way. 

that their suffering will whittle away at the essence of who they are and who they believe themselves to be and how they see themselves in relation the world and to the ONE who created it and them. 

yeah, that. 

perhaps, it is the deepest, most aching worry of a momster. the one that keeps you up at night and presses in hard and heavy on your chest. the kind that makes it hard to breath around. the weight of it refluxing you into a fetal balled position of desperation.

the kind that makes you feel very, very small and very, very helpless.

have courage, dear hearts - the incurable, that curse-able, despicable word that it is, does not have to be that which defines us, our children, or our lives. it does not have to break them...rather it can be the making of them.




how do you survive year 1? year 2? year 3? year 4? year 5 and on - how do you survive a lifetime of the incurable?

how do you survive the endlessness of it all?

you survive by allowing Him to carry you. carry all of it. there is no other way i know how. 

when the snot is pouring out of your nose as fast as the tears are beating a salty path down your cheeks, and you are angry and confused and scared and screaming, "why my kid?", you just have to give it to Him. you give them to Him.  




He carries us because that is who God is. that is what God does. and it is what God did - He sacrificed his son. Jesus, brutally crucified on a cross, His body broken then brought back to life, in order to redeem our broken lives in this broken world. and that allows His supernatural power to take up residence in our lives and that is what keeps us keeping on when the way is so broken and endless. 

it is because of Him and His sacrifice that we have hope. and it is in this that we can find the strength to carry us through. just as we have had to carry our son's broken body over the past 5 years, God has carried us.



this lyme thing, well, it is a horrific journey - i know that the strength we have had to persevere and endure has come from Him. i know He has carried us every. single. step of the way because the pain and the suffering has been so very all encompassing that we could not, cannot, bear it without His supernatural strength to sustain us.

we have the strength to stand today because He carried us.

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 & 16 Amplified Bible (AMP)

7 However, we possess this precious treasure [the divine Light of the Gospel] in frail, human vessels of earth, that the grandeur and exceeding greatness of the power may be shown to be from God and not from ourselves.

8 We are hedged in (pressed) on every side [troubled and oppressed in every way], but not cramped or crushed; we suffer embarrassments and are perplexed and unable to find a way out, but not driven to despair;

9 We are pursued (persecuted and hard driven), but not deserted [to stand alone]; we are struck down to the ground, but never struck out and destroyed;

10 Always carrying about in the body the liability and exposure to the same putting to death that the Lord Jesus suffered, so that the [[a]resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown forth by and in our bodies.


16 Therefore we do not become discouraged (utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear). Though our outer man is [progressively] decaying and wasting away, yet our inner self is being [progressively] renewed day after day.