The Most Painful Weeks I’ve Ever Had

We looked at our summer calendar at the beginning of 2016 and cringed.  Packed to the brim, it seemed like those months would fly by in a blur.  What did we decide to do in the midst of those crazy, busy, three months?  Take a trip to Washington to see family and friends, of course!  And not just any trip, but a three-week road trip that started and finished with 25-hour drives to our destination.  Did we already mention ‘crazy’?  Yup.

Seemingly endless days with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins stretched out into the late sunset, pushing bedtime further and further back each night.  The county fair.  S’mores.  Bounce houses and water slides.  Baseball games.  BBQs. Swimming.  Blackberry picking.  Sleepovers.  Food, food, and more food.  We soaked in these quintessential, americana-laden moments under the soft summer sun.

It was the best three weeks we’ve spent in Washington in a long time.  It was also the most physically painful three weeks I’ve had in recent memory.  Starting with a wicked sore throat that hit me around midnight on our inaugural night of driving, to the massive cold sores that erupted around my mouth, not to mention the strange prickly, red rash I was recovering from that attached my neck the week before, it all culminated in waking up one morning with a stabbing, stiff pain in the left side of my neck and shoulder.  No stranger to knots in my back, I went about my normal routine of massage and stretching, spending good portions of that day working out the kinks (literally).  After a pre-bed session with a tennis ball and a wall (it works -try it!), I climbed into bed hoping for a great night’s sleep and a sore-but-loose back the next morning.  What I got instead was an immediate lock-up of the muscles on that side of my neck and shoulder, and throbbing pain radiating from my neck, down the side of my scapula and out towards my elbow.  Sleep?  What sleep?  More like measured breathing and deep sighs reminiscent of childbirth.

I tried icing it.  I tried stretching it.  I tried heat, rest, laying down, standing up.  I tried it all.  After about two days I couldn’t take it any more and searched out a massage therapist…and then a chiropractor…and then another visit to the chiropractor.  The pain would not go away.

Sleep was nearly impossible.  I woke up more than I slept.  One night I lay in bed, trying to move as little as possible, breathing deeply and trying to manage the pain.  I turned my thoughts heavenward and asked, “Okay God.  I give up.  What can you teach me through this?”  Almost immediately, an image flashed in my mind.  It looked something like this:

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Lightswitches.  Um…what?!?

I turned my thoughts back into a prayer and asked, “What does that mean?”  As soon as the sentence finished forming in my mind, a story began to unfold.

I am in a big room.  Tall ceilings, lots of space.   A bank of light switches in one corner.  There are lights everywhere but only a few are turned on.  This room represents God’s character.  The absolute fullness of who He is.  Every aspect of His being.  The lights that are turned on symbolize my knowledge of who God is.  God is loving.  God is merciful.  God is forgiving.  Those familiar characteristics that I easily identify and understand.  But what about the lights that were turned off?  And the bank of light switches?  Here is where the pin dropped for me.

Pain and suffering can illuminate an aspect of God’s character that I might have never noticed before.

Does my situation change who God is?  Of course not.  It does provide an opportunity for me to flip a switch, thus pouring light where shadows had previously existed.  His character is made known to me in new ways. He becomes my healer, my redeemer, my strong tower, my warrior, my jealous lover.  He has always been and always will be, but I never needed to know until now.

In my mind’s eye I watched as the light switches were turned on one by one and the room began to glow brighter than ever before.  The questions poured through my mind.  How many switches do I ignore, content to know God in the measurable, limited ways I’ve always known Him?  How often do I run from challenges because I value my comfort more than the expansive illumination of an infinite God?  Will the pain ever be so great that I slam the lights off and leave the room?

Eventually, my shoulder and neck healed.  It took weeks of cautious movements, slowly building strength, for everything to begin to feel normal again.  While I am so thankful to move without pain, I often think back on those three weeks.  Deep gratitude.  Deep revelation.  The lights are on.

 

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Sometimes we have ‘those’ mornings

Where the kids simply settle.

Where calm, peaceful sounds of cooperation fill the air.

Where giggles float and whispers flitter.

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The rustlings of creativity.

The tinkering of new things on the cusp of coming to life.

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Do these mornings happen every day?

Of course not.

Yet they do happen.  I want to pause, remember, and capture the serenity that fills our home when they do.

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muffin recipe inspiration here

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Playing by Herself

There’s a running joke between my husband and I.  Our little Leah attends preschool on our ministry campus two mornings a week and her teacher usually fills out a “What I did today” sheet to let us know what happened in class.  Without fail, every single time, hers reads:

Leah ate snack and played by herself.

That phrase has become our sweet catch phrase for our sweet girl.  Maybe partly because she’s the third kid, maybe partly because she’s an observer, learner, and watcher.  Either way, Leah tends to blend right into any situation and quietly goes about her own thing.  It’s one of the things we love most about her because it’s just so her.  Whenever my husband will ask me what the kids did today, or if I’ll text him while he’s out on a Daddy & Kids adventure, we always answer with what the other kids did and then add, “Leah at snack and played by herself.”  It brings a smile to our faces and reminds us of how much we love our littlest girl.

Because Leah does eat snack and play by herself so much (haha!) it’s not often that I have time to offer her my full, undivided attention for long periods of time.  When we took a trip to the local science museum this week, I realized it was a perfect opportunity to soak in every second of Leah’s quiet way of doing life.  We joined up with some cousins and their parents and the older kids quickly paired off with each other, leaving me to enjoy Leah-Lou all to myself.

She found her way through each exhibit, quietly observing what all the other kids were doing and then carefully choosing how she would interact.  That red shopping cart?  It did not leave her side once she discovered it.  Racing up and down the “Kid City” walkways, she would put her head down and stomp along with all her might, pausing only to poach fake vegetables and fruit from other unattended carts (and their corresponding unassuming kids).  Her favorite finds were two heads of cauliflower and a banana.

She loved building a carbon atom and also was fascinated with some sort of electricity device (science isn’t really my thing).  After watching a few older kids and adults push buttons and turn levers, she confidently slipped between them, hoisted herself onto her toes, and did exactly what she saw everyone else do to make the sparks travel up the length of the plastic tubing and into the top of the display.

For most of the morning I just watched her be Leah – this tiny person who has fit so perfectly into our family.  The little one that has healed so much of my heart gave me another moment of joy by loving someone just the way they are.

My 2016 Vision Guide – review and revisit

 

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Kona, Hawaii; September 2011

I’m revisiting parts of this post today to see how my 2016 unfolded and if it kept true to any of the insights I had when the year began.  Sidenote: I love this gal’s blog and mission, which is where I found this Vision Guide to help start my year off right.  Her workouts are accessible, effective, and uplifting (I’ve completed all of her challenges at least twice).  Take a moment to check out her stuff – it’s great!


Based on what worked or didn’t work in 2015, what lesson did I learn?

I am at my best when I: read, sleep, have a rhythm to my days, am learning something new, carve out space and time to be alone, nourish my body with delicious & nutrient-dense foods, and ask for help before the crisis hits.

This insight still rings so true with me twelve months later.  These rhythms of wellness are so critical for me to be able to truly engage and thrive in my own life.

One step I’ll take to improve my health in 2016 is:

Buy a greens powder mix to add to smoothies, like this one.

I didn’t buy a greens powder mix, but I did win a huge basket of products from this company when I attended a Birth Without Fear meetup earlier this year.  I’ve loved everything we’ve used so far and am bummed that the two protein mixes have run out. 😦  Our wonderful neighbors did give us some greens mix they had a few weeks ago when our whole family was under the weather which was so generous of them.  That mix has been added to some of our smoothies and we all like it.

One step I’ll take to improve my fitness in 2016 is:

Participate in the January Fitness Challenge.

Not only did I participate and complete the Challenge, I was asked to lead it in 2017!  Wow!  Apart from that honor, the Challenge helped me shed a clothing size and kickstart some healthier eating and self-care habits that have remained constant throughout the year.

One place I’d like to visit:

The San Diego Library’s downtown branch.

Done!  For my birthday weekend we visited and it was swoon-worthy, if slightly overwhelming..  Sigh.

One habit I’d like to break:

Listening to the lie that says, ‘You are all alone and no one is helping you.’

This lie is not as strong or believable as it was at the beginning of the year.  I actually was alone for some longer stretches as Scott traveled extensively, especially in the final three months of the year.  I’ve found that when I have to face a reality of my “worst fears” (in this case, actually being alone without any help) that there is a degree of breakthrough into truth in my mind and heart.  I also have tried to ask for help before or in the midst of a struggle, instead of slogging my way through it and then harboring resentment against the person who I thought should have aided me.  I’ve grown in this area but still have room for more victory.

One habit I’d like to create:

Tracking what I read.  I like this idea.

Done!  Over 100 books this year!!!  I also tracked what I started and didn’t finish, as well as how far I got into those books (like a fraction: 117/200 pages) in case I want to revisit them in the future I can pick up where I left off.

One relationship I’d like to work on:

With XXXX.

I love XXXX.  We are as opposite as can be when it comes to so many things, and yet I see faint glimmers of similarity as well.  There were flashes of progress throughout the year, but there is definitely space for growth.

My top three values in 2016 will be:

  1. Obey God’s voice.
  2. Love others.
  3. Nourish myself & my family.

These values were definitely present throughout my life this year.

Three ways I can make more time for these values:

  1. When I have a sense about someone or thing, mention it to Scott or someone else I trust so I am accountable to it.
  2. Make time and space for people to be in our lives – at meals, at our home.
  3. Provide a majority of nourishing foods with a minority of indulgent treats.
  1.  I acted more quickly on this step but I still hesitate because I don’t want to be presumptuous or judge-y.  I think I need to ‘practice’ listening to the discernment the Holy Spirit has given me and if I fail, at least I can do it in a safe place with a person I trust first before I act on what I sense.
  2. We had married couples over a lot to listen to their stories, ask questions, and encourage each other.  We didn’t host a lot of meals at our house but almost every night had other people at our table for dinner on campus.  There is a family that moved into our neighborhood recently that I want to get to know, so it’s a good reminder to see this value listed.
  3. I did really well this year with this value.  For the better part of the year I did not eat any added, refined sugar which is huge for me.  I slept better, felt better, and my emotions didn’t carry me away as much as they have in the past.  There are still some tweaks I would like to make regarding our day-to-day nutrition, but we are doing very well with what we have.

 

At the end of 2016 I will feel…

peacefully accomplished.

Well, it’s the end of the year and I do feel at peace and accomplished.  Imagine that?

 

I can barely remember the last time I stayed up until the strike of midnight on New Year’s Eve.  I doubt I’ll make it past 9:30 PM tonight.  After all, in the grand scheme of things it’s just another day, right?  Yet it’s healthy to pause, reflect, and recognize all that happened in 2016 and I’m glad that the year’s end prompts me to do just that.  While 2016 was challenging in many way, it also was one of my better years.  Here’s to a year that’s coming to it’s close and a year that’s just starting to unfold.

When the winds change

It hit 81F yesterday. At the end of December. Yup. We love where we live. 

As the day shifted into the afternoon, the winds changed and this expansive bank of clouds rolled in and covered horizon to horizon.  The temperature dropped.  The sunshine faded.  But the clouds…the clouds were awe-inspiring.  This photo only shows a sliver of what the heavens were displaying.

I seem to be finding the same message wherever I turn: change can bring beautiful things.  A very appropriate refrain as we close out one year and welcome in the next.

 

Little Painters

We’ve taken a break from homeschool during the Christmas holidays. It’s been nice to r e l a x and let the days unfold as they may. This morning the kids were all about painting thanks to a Christmas gift from grandparents – new paints and brushes.