Friday, December 9, 2011

An Idiots Guide to Dealing with Singles During the Holidays


Aside: Yes, it’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post.  Haven’t been feeling too well lately.  Thank you dumb, broken-down body for constantly reminding me that I am not, in fact, Wonder Woman.   Although, I DO have two fabulous gold bracelets that could easily pass as indestructible wrist cuffs.  Just saying. 
And now for the juicy bits…
The holidays are here.  That means a lot of things to many people…family traditions, gift-giving, high blood pressure, increased caloric intake, intensified Pinterest browsing, paid vacation, watching Elf (for the 14th time) and glitter that sticks to every article of clothing you own. 
But, for me, this blessed time of year also heralds in an annual period of holiday torture.  You see, this is the time of year that the world conspires to constantly, doggedly, unendingly, relentlessly, incessantly, mercilessly and (worst of all) merrily remind me of one thing:  I’m single. 
Heh, I totally just heard the collective groans, awwwws, and tsssks of almost all of you. Wait, before you judge me with your judgy sound effects, hear me out for a momento, por favor. I promise this blog isn’t a pity party.  There isn’t a whoa-is-me in sight…cross my heart. I also promise not to try to one-up your holiday angst. I realize we all have to shlep it out in one way or another…and I certainly have no desire to compete for the “most pathetic” award.  But if you’ll indulge me for a few minutes…I’d like to share some humorous and painfully transparent insights on being an almost- 35-year-old single woman during the Hap- Hap-piest time of year.      
I really do love the Holidays. I love that my whole family often converges in one place at one time.  I love the tinsel, the glitter and the twinkling of Christmas lights. I love that I have more opportunities to spray paint things. I love the wacky and oh-so-much-fun family traditions that have survived since my childhood. I love that some of the world’s most godless musicians sing about the birth of Christ (and by “love” I mean “really?”).  I just love the breath, life, and meaning of the advent season.   Baby Jesus steals my heart every year.
But you wanna know what I really hate?  Mistletoe.  I hate not having a “plus guest” at Christmas parties.  I hate that “baby” gets to roast chestnuts by an open fire with her fella because it’s cold outside. I hate watching all the cute families in matching sweaters at the Christmas Eve church service.  I hate not having anyone to buy “naughty” boxers for.  I hate climbing into bed alone on Christmas Eve.  But most of all…I really, really hate waking up alone on Christmas morning. 
Yes, a true confession from this old maid…if I were to pick one day of the year to be married, it wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve. It wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day.  It wouldn’t be the day I had a flat tire or leaky faucet.  No, it would be Christmas morning.  Most of us have a time of year that hurts the most…for me, it’s in the moments right after waking up on Christmas morning.  It hurts every year.   
Don’t get me wrong, there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not incredibly grateful for my life…I really, truly believe that I’m blessed beyond measure.  But if I tried to convince you that I never feel the pain of being single…well, then…that would be like blowing Christmas glitter up your butts.  No, friends…even though I rarely talk about specifics, sometimes, I’m incredibly weary of being single.  Just like some of you are weary of sleeping next to someone who snores. 
So, this year I’m going to make a new Christmas wish list.  It’s a list of all the things I wish married people knew about singles during the Holidays…or any time, for that matter.  I’m about to say to you what I’ve wanted to say… for years.  Consider this your “Idiots Guide to Dealing with Singles.”  You’re welcome in advance.
1.  Please don’t incessantly remind me how lucky I am that my life affords me the freedom to take naps and/or use the bathroom without being interrupted.  Ok, I get it.  I get to do stuff that you don’t get to do.  I know that some of you would give your left arm to have one week of alone time. But let me ask you this…would you give up your husband and children for 15 years of alone time?  I know I get to do stuff you don’t get to do…and I promise to never take that for granted.   But, all I ask is that you not equate your interrupted potty time and “napless” existence to my years of solitude.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard how “lucky” I am to take naps, I’d have enough money to just buy a dang husband. 
2.  When I make jokes about being single.  Just laugh.  That’s all you have to do…laugh.  Well, unless the joke isn’t funny…then, as my friend, it’s your job to make the “wa-wa-wa” sound.   But if I’m making a joke about being single it’s because I need/want to laugh about it…NOT because I want you to make me feel better.  This should be an easy one….because I’m hysterical.  Obviously.  However, if my jokes are dripping in self-deprecation…then it’s because I’m feeling insecure.  Please don’t let me get away with it…just remind me that I’m Chosen by the God of the Universe.  That usually does the trick.
3.  I read a completely ridiculous article last month on how to find a man within 30 days.  One suggestion was to mass email all my friends and family to let you know that I’m single and looking.  My first thought was “really?”  My second thought was “really?”  And my final thought was “seriously?”   So, for those of you who have been sleeping through the first half of this blog, I guess I should officially announce that I am, in fact, single (and waiting).  But I have a very important request.  If you have a male friend that you think would be “perfect” for me…I’m certainly open to you recommendations…but please have more reasons for our compatibility than “he is also single.”  I’m thinking that part should be a foregone conclusion.  I mean, when you’re shopping for a car…surely you’re not waiting patiently for the one car that has tires?  
4.  Please don’t suggest ways for me to find a man.  Invariably this conversation starts with “you need to put yourself out there more” and ends with “have you tried online dating?”  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had this conversation…I could buy a second husband.  Yes, I’ve tried online dating.  I found the whole process to be a giant, invasive microscope on the petri dish of my insecurities.  I also found it incredibly disheartening that 90% of online Christian men are… (for lack of a better word) BORING.  Like…I’m-gonna-scrape-my-eyes-out-if-I-have-to-read-one-more-profile-of-a-man-who-says-he’s-looking-for-a-Proverbs-31-woman.  The Lord and I have long conversations about this.  He tells me to wait…He tells me to trust…He tells me to depend on Him alone…He tells me that He alone can satisfy.  He hasn’t yet suggested that I “put myself out there more.”  So, until I hear the Lover of my soul tell me to slap some paint on my face and attend a speed dating event…I’m not going to put anything, anywhere.
5.  Please don’t herd singles into Sunday school classes together.  And that’s all I really have to say about that.
6.  If you’re married, you forfeit the right to “relate” to being a 35-year-old single woman.  Especially if you got married before the age of 25.  I’m sorry to be so blunt on this particular point…but it ain’t the same, darlin.  I don’t believe that I’ve been called to singleness.  I know this because of the rampant, ever-constant longing for marriage.  So, telling me that you can relate to my unmet longing is a bit like telling an infertile woman that you can relate to her…while you’re bouncing your newborn baby in your arms. 
7.  A few years ago, I stumbled across a statistic in a Christian publication.  It said there are 4 single Christian women to every 1 single Christian male.  My response?  Duh.  I can’t help but feel sorry for that one guy being swarmed by 4 salivating women (all claiming to be the Proverbs 31 woman of his dreams).  What does this statistic mean for you?  It means I need you to understand that this makes the “waiting” particularly difficult.  As women, our hearts are created with an innate longing to be chosen…so, as the years pass, it’s easy to believe that I’ve got the word “deficient” stamped on my forehead.  I need you to remind me (constantly) to live in the glorious tension of unmet longings.  I need you to remind me that seeking a relationship to kill the pain will end in disaster.  Believe me, I know that I am Beauty Beyond Compare...and I know that I'm chosen by the God of the Universe  every, single day.  But I also want you to know that sometimes I forget that.  So, even though I appear to be a strong, confident, self-assured woman…some days I’m totally faking it.   
8.  Finally…and most importantly…don’t assume that everything on my Christmas List applies to every unmarried person you know.  If I’ve learned one thing in my journey, it’s that we all have different stories and we all make different choices.  I encourage you to ask all of your single friends how THEY feel about being single.  You may be surprised by their response. 
Here’s the bottom line, folks.  I need you.  I need you to let me hug and kiss your babies and send your husband to my house with power tools every once in awhile.  I need you to remind me that unmet longings are what makes life beautiful…it’s what draws us closer to our True Love.   And in return…I’ll let you come to my house and take a nap. 
Yes, Christmas is coming.  And once again I will be alone on Christmas morning.  It will hurt…but the pain eventually eases when I hear the Lover of my soul whisper, “Beloved…I love you”…which He does every Christmas morning, without fail.  Which is why “I am clothed with strength and dignity; and I can laugh at the days to come.”  
So, to the widows…the divorced…the childless…the married…the separated…the empty nesters…the mothers…the fathers…and the singles…Merry, Merry Christmas.  May you all hear the sweet love song of our Savior this Christmas morning. 


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Playing Footsie...Again


I’m in a strange place.  I guess it’s the place between abject misery and complete recovery.  For over two months, every ounce of my energy was focused on one thing: surviving.  Now, all the sudden, I feel better than I have in years…and truthfully, I still don’t really know what to do with that. I guess I expected that God and I would pick up where we left off on the journey of discovery.  But it feels more like we’re on a first date and I’m making awkward small talk and trying to make eye contact.  I am being wooed.  One way that I know this is that when it comes contemplating heaven, I’m a complete watering pot.  Wherever I am…whatever I’m doing (even in Walmart)…if I think about Home even for a moment, the tears flow.  I’m doing it right now even as I type.
It reminded me of a blog post that I wrote years ago…when I had one of my first recorded bouts of undiagnosed CVS.  It’s a story about Home.  I thought it appropriate to share it again…
Posted February 7, 2007
I suppose the only silver lining of my physical misery (other than the silver lining the pockets of the medical industry) is the amount of brainless television inflicted upon me in the last 6 days. Granted, I've been known to indulge in an interesting PBS documentary now and again...but last week, I stooped to new lows. Anyone care to know the status of the Asian Rhino population? Sleep well, my friends, white rhinos are making a hearty come back. I know this because I watched the docu-mentalpoo not once...but TWICE. There's just something uniquely fascinating about men in khaki extolling the wonder of Rhino dung. Anyway, one evening, another such show appeared...with men in ties exploring the underbelly of our homeless population. Apparently, we humans aren't doing nearly as well as the Rhinos...

As opening credits rolled, I prepared myself for public television's typical biased version of reality...girding my "informed citizen" loins for inflated statistics, political blame-games, and social agendas. And then a face appeared on my television screen...homeless for 19 years, toothless, alcoholic, mentally unstable, drug-addicted...Footsie (a name given for the miles he walks daily). There I sat in my warm blanket in my warm home...trying to find a way to blame Footsie for his circumstances...when the finger of God thumped me on the heart and said simply, "Listen."

The documentary was profiling a new radical, controversial program for our homeless population. Currently, our system is full of soup kitchens, half-way houses, food pantries, clothing donation sites, free medical clinics, job placement, temporary housing, social services, addiction rehabs, shelters...you name it, someone...somewhere has developed it with the very best of intentions. But all these things have one very obvious thing in common. The souls that patronize these places are still fundamentally...homeless. And when relief is offered...it always comes with conditions. The founder of this new program claims that as a country...we are putting the horse before the cart. He says offering shelter to an alcoholic on the condition of sobriety is the perpetual hamster in the wheel mentality. So, get this...he started a program that gives unconditional, permanent housing to anyone who applies.

WHAT?! Son of a…yep. That means they can still do crack and still get drunk with absolutely no fear of their cozy new apartment being revoked. In fact, in many cases...some of the applicants have trashed their apartments and/or gotten evicted...and guess what? They find them a new place to trash. It comes with no conditions and no time limits. Case workers and therapists are provided, but with absolutely no obligation to use their services. If you're like me, I imagine you may be nurturing the mental argument of personal responsibility and social enabling. Here we are, hard-working, drug-free Americans, struggling to keep ahead of our debt...PAYING for another person's comfort while they indulge in substance abuse. It's not fair!!

About that time, I felt another Divine thump, "Sound Familiar?"

Footsie was cute in a pathetic, poor-hygiene kind of way. He had a lop-sided, toothless grin and a stilted, child-like stammer. He's suffered from seizures for years...all the paramedics and ER staff in the area know him by name. The documentary crew follows him the day he learns he has been selected for non-conditional housing. With slow, deliberate care the program director explains that he can choose a nice, cozy home to live in with no strings attached. They go on to tell him that they will provide all new furnishings and apartment accoutrement's necessary to live comfortably. All he has to do is agree to live there. There was a slow, painful moment of silence as Footsie's child-like brain chews on this radical gift...he finally smiles and says, "Well, that sounds good to me." No tears, no jumping up and down, no wild-exclamation of gratitude...just a simple acceptance of goodness.

A permanent home. A promise of comfort...bought and paid for...with no conditions. Sigh. That does sound good.
This particular documentary exposes a beautiful parallel. God has promised us a home we don't deserve. Even despite our addictions, sins, ugliness, mental instability...or poor hygiene. It will be ours...no strings attached...if we only accept His offer. Sure, the world provides a plethora of topical solutions but they always prove to be temporary.  So, in that light, maybe we could disembark from our hamster wheels and learn something from this new radical program. We look to more church, more fellowship, more spiritual self-help books to numb the pain of our homelessness...when really all we need is to truly surrender to God's goodness.

One of my favorite movie lines (and/or C.S. Lewis quotes) from all times is..."Aslan is not safe...but He is good." An interesting addendum to Footsie's story is that after hearing the good news...he ran away, got famously drunk, and hid. *Chuckle* Sound familiar?

I'm in a strange place.  It's the place where my longing for Home is on the surface of my skin.  I've never been here before, but I hope I stay here until I'm sitting at the foot of the throne.  Oh dang...here come the tears... 


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Honesty 101

Can I be honest with you? 
You know…I’ve always considered that to be a really dumb question.  Asking permission to be honest?  Really?  Clearly we all prefer to be lied to.  Duh.  But then I recalled one of my early grammar lessons with one of my favorite teachers of all time…Mrs. Brumm.  Every time I’d raise my hand and ask “Can I go to the bathroom?” she’d very patiently reply…”I don’t know…can you?”  You’d think after the first 50 times I would have given in and changed my question to “MAY I go to the bathroom?”…but, no, there was a secret part of me that really enjoyed the ritual.  Heh.  Yeah, I’m totally still that girl. 
What’s my point?  Well, the word “can” denotes the ability to do something.  So, in that light is “Can I be honest with you” still a dumb question?  I don’t know…can I, Alissa Kirsten Owsley…be truly honest with you, the faithful blog reader?   Hmmmm.  Read on, friends. 
I admit that writing for the masses can be incredibly daunting.  In fact, when I first started blogging in 2007…these were my very first words:
Well, here I am. On the threshold of my very first blog...fingers poised over the keys, waiting for some cosmic sign that I should stop immediately and go about my daily business. *Listens* Hmmm. I feel like I'm dragging myself out onto the limb of public exposure...where my words and thoughts can easily fall victim to the unpredictable wind of interpretation.  Dear Lord...please grant me a stout branch and a gentle breeze.
Throwing my thoughts out into the great black hole that is the World Wide Web still isn’t my first choice of a good time.  The birth pains of blogging haven’t gotten any easier.  I almost always drag my proverbial feet ...stalling…until the Spirit nudges me enough to move my petulant hide to the keyboard.  Writing has become a creative outlet for my rambling, chaotic thoughts to find a place to land.  And since I SUCK (I just yelled ‘suck’ really loud in my head) at journaling, well…blogging has become almost therapeutic.  But, who am I kidding?  Most of us don’t leap with joy at the idea of therapy.  So, yeah…a blog is not always the easiest method of sharing my thoughts and (erroneous) opinions, but the truth is…it’s still pretty darn safe. 
 You see, I can rattle off my thoughts into the innocuous abyss without having to look any of you in the eyes.  I can shut down my computer and walk away…without having to face your questions, your disappointment or your condemnation.   And if you don’t immediately blow up the comment box with adoration…well then…I can obviously assume you just didn’t read it (heh…that made me chuckle).  And what’s worse?  I can massage my words and backspace the heck out of sentence until my prose sounds gloriously sage and clever.  I can rely on spell check and the thesaurus feature to make me appear smarter than I really am (dude, I totally just had to use spell check on the word “thesaurus”…no foolin).  So, yeah… a blog is not really the best medium for fostering genuine honesty, eh?   In a place where I can present  my preferred version of Alissa…the question remains….can I be honest with you? 
The answer is yes.  Absolutely.  I have the ability to be honest with you (I totally admitted that spell check thing remember?)   
In my mind, honesty isn’t an ability…it’s a CHOICE.  So, for the record…I think “Can I be honest with you?" is still a dumb question.   Maybe a better question is…should I use this medium to practice being honest?  Wouldn’t that be like casting my pearls onto a craps table in Las Vegas?  Does honesty lose its value if I just close my eyes and hurl it into the internet?  These are all good questions.  Questions that I don’t take lightly.  So, as the Captain of this Thought Tank, I think it’s time for a good old fashioned pledge.  I hereby proclaim my Solemn Oath  of Blogger Authenticity (and by oath I mean I’m gonna try really, really hard). 


Solemn Oath of Blogger Authenticity (SOOBA)
1.       I promise to only use words that are actually in my vocabulary.  And, yes, I know what “erroneous” and “innocuous” mean.  I can’t spell them most of the time…but I can use them in a sentence. 
2.       I promise to stick to my own vernacular.   It’d be awfully nice to write like C.S. Lewis…but, alas, there can only be one Clive Staples in the literary universe.   But, at the same time, there’s only one Alissa Owsley…and I’ve got to represent.  Woot. Woot.
3.       I promise to care more about the Spirit’s prompting and my own creative process…then your opinion of either.  Sorry, friends…I’m sincerely a HUGE fan of your opinions (good or not-so-good), but if they became my personal measuring stick…then I’d be writing for all the wrong reasons.
4.      I promise to never stop overusing ellipses.  Mrs. Brumm would not approve, but …yeah…I just…really like…using…them.  How can something that feels so right be so wrong? 
5.       I promise to never say things in this space…that I couldn’t say to your face.  I hope you notice this point is sans witticisms.  That’s how important it is to me. 
6.       I promise to never throw my pearls at the craps table in Las Vegas.  I’m a lousy gambler. 
Can I be honest with you?  Yes, I can.  Will I be honest with you?  Well, as flawed girl clinging to the limb of public exposure… I sure hope so.   I also hope that you will feel free to be honest right back. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Littles

(The blog entry below was written entirely by Jen Little.  In case you missed my introduction in the previous post...the Littles were one of thousands of families who were personally effected by the tornado. Here are her thoughts...)

Of the hundreds of stories my pal Alissa could have chosen to voice, I'm honored to make the list. Quite honestly, I'm not the writer she is. I've never before blogged, I'm nowhere near as witty, and I admittedly have a hard time letting people "in"... Especially in a "let's voice our thoughts via the most public forum possible" sort of way. Nonetheless, here’s my attempt to pen my thoughts on the events of May 22nd.

First, let's get one thing straight. I don't think my personal account of the day is any more special than the next guy's... Quite the contrary. I arrived "home" shortly before 8:00 pm that night to find a remnant of the place my husband and I had painstakingly renovated destroyed... The place we suffered our family's lowest lows and most recently celebrated one of our highest highs in when we brought our now 10-month old home from the hospital. But the fact that we weren't home when it happened seems to put our devastation in a "lesser traumatic" category than many other accounts I've had the privilege of hearing since that day I lovingly now refer to as "the hangnail". You see, I was not home, my family is still intact, we still have transportation, and my hubs and I are both still gainfully employed at  amazing workplaces that have graciously allowed us time and support to piece together life again. We also found ourselves well-insured and surrounded by tremendous networks of support. So when I talk about how life has changed, I do so through the filter of realization of just how blessed we truly are.

I’ve been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and encouragement. As the one who's most often on the giving side of things, I have found it difficult to accept the compassion and support shown us over the last several months. Random cash being passed with a handshake, checks showing up in the mail from people we've never even heard of, offers upon offers for help, resources or moral support. One of the coolest examples we’ve experienced so far was in something as simple as a Christmas tree. Whatever your religious disposition, it seems nearly everyone these days does some sort of holiday decorating. Our family is a little quirky in the fact that our first Christmas together we got an aluminum Christmas tree. Not the new-fandango kind you can get at Walmart, but the eclectic, antique kind you normally only saw at Grandma’s house when you were a kid. And not just the tree, but this beaut was complete with its original electric color wheel. Naturally, the 11 year-old tradition blew away with the rest of the house and was added to the list of items we’d need to find a replacement for. Little did I know, though, that soon after the final demolition of our home, I’d have an even bigger and better (and yes, another antique) show up on the front porch of our rental home in a large cardboard box. That’s just an example of how detailed and caring my Father in Heaven is… He cares about the seemingly insignificant tidbits in life just as much as the big, “important” things like personal health and shelter.

In all this rambling, I hope you hear my heart. I’m not dismissing the fact that I have days when I feel new waves of grief and loss. I’ve learned as the days pass by and the "business" side of disaster are taken care of, the emotional side hurts more than ever. At times I feel ripped off and that my hand has been forced and I'm having to make major life decisions which would typically take weeks or months in a matter of days. But in all the loss there is peace and hope. There is abundance and I’m praying like mad I don't screw up the opportunity I've been given to exhibit the Lord's strength and grace in a time of major adversity. I desire wise counsel in decision making and to share the love and abundance I’ve been given with others. If you've got something precious you often want everyone around you to know about it… well, that’s where I’m at.  

The Littles

Aaron & Jennifer

Demolition Day

Birthday Celebrations

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Little Introduction

(I promised this blog entry months ago...but, unfortunately, I got sidetracked by the black plague. Heh.)

Question: can a single woman experience love at first sight…with a happily married woman?   
Well, I mean…a single woman who likes men.  And I mean, “like” as in…ok, never mind…you get it.  Here’s my point: sometimes when you meet someone…you just know that this person is the real deal.  I don’t often have that response to strangers, so I can say without a doubt…the woman that I’m referring to IS worth knowing.  So, if you’re reading this blog…today is your lucky day. You get to meet the Little family.
The Little Family
(Aaron, Jennifer & Jude)
Meet my friend, Jennifer Little.  We’ve known each other for about a year.  I met her several days after she started working a few doors down from me.  The first thing I noticed was that I could look her in the eye...which at 5’9+ is a lovely surprise.  Then I noticed that she had fabulous taste in clothing…and…she was uber preggo (that’s fancy talk for “very pregnant”).  *Snort* Ok, I admit…I totally noticed her clothing first.  What?  Apparently, I appreciate a snappy dresser…especially one who is great with child. 
After a few mutual job assignments, we fell into the comfortable rapport of long-acquainted friends.  She loves Jesus too…and likes to talk about Him in personal, honest ways.  She loves to laugh…and, even more wicked-awesome…she appreciates sarcasm (a friend-requirement, in my book).   She is kind…very kind…always taking the time to remember people’s names.  I like that about her.  She also has this serene, mature intelligence that makes her stand out in a crowd…and not because she’s tall (insert joke drum beat here).  But I think my favorite thing about Jennifer Little is her vulnerability.   She is a walking, talking, breathing testimony to the fragility and strength of a pilgrim’s journey.   If someone made a Jennifer Little Fan Club t-shirt…I would totally wear it.
Eventually, Jen became un-preggo…when she delivered a very handsome little man-child named Jude.  He and I reached a very important understanding.  I got Jude to understand that he shouldn’t cry when I hold him…and he finally got me to understand that I shouldn’t try to hold him when he’s due for a good cry.  Heh.  After my much deserved schooling…we are now becoming bosom buddies.  Little Jude is charming and adorable…and has a grin that slays the hearts of all woman-kind.  I hope I get to cuddle him very soon.  And when he gets older, I’m going to woo him with chocolate milk. 
Aaron Little…the hubs and dad…rounds out the precious Little family.  He is an associate minister at one of our local churches.  I often forget that he’s a “man of the cloth” because he’s so down-to-earth and approachable (in that way…he reminds me of Jesus).  I knew I was going to like Aaron when he showed up to my birthday dodge-ball party wearing full dork gear.  Yep, he won my friendship with a head band and tube socks…what can I say…I’m easy.   On his birthday, I inexplicably referred to him as Jason almost the entire evening.  He, of course, took it with grace and the appropriate level of retributive sarcasm.  I sure do like that Jason…errrr…Aaron.  I’d wear tube socks for him any day. 
I think the Littles are worth knowing every day of the year…but I wanted you to know them because of one day in particular: May 22, 2011.  You see, they are one of the thousands of families in Joplin, Missouri whose lives were dramatically altered by the random cruelty of an EF5 Tornado.  It’s a story of loss and hope…a story of glorious ruins.  Through the Spirits prompting, I asked Jennifer to tell her story in my blog.  And I’m STOKED to announce that she agreed to do it!  Get ready, people…a beautiful testimony is about to happen all up in here…mmmhmmm, yes, Jesus, and Amen!   
I'll post Jen's story this weekend...wait for it...wait for it...wait for it...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lessons in Suffering

Yesterday was a big day.  I drove myself home…put on real clothes (real clothes = no drawstring)…smeared a little make up on my face…and went back to work.  Yep, yesterday was a big day.   
The plethora of drugs I swallow daily have stopped tormenting me…and started to heal me.   I’m clearly getting better.  The dark circles are gone.  The sarcasm and jolly sense of humor are back.  And I’m actually making plans for my return to “normal.”  But the biggest milestone to date is that I’ve been nausea-free for almost two weeks now.  For those of you who know my story…that is a miracle.  I’ve suffered from different levels of (undiagnosed) nausea every week since about 2006.  Five years of suffering…appear to be at an end.  I want to do a jig…but, admittedly, I’m afraid.  Partly because I get worn out pretty easily…partly because I don’t have any pants that fit…and partly because I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.   Nausea-free?   It almost seems too good to be true.
The last two months have been hell.  Seriously…the worst, most excruciatingly miserable months of my life.   I remember one day in particular.  It was the day I found out something important about my faith.   It was more than a month into my illness…despite a trip to the ER, a 4-day hospitalization, and multiple tests…I remained undiagnosed.   Weeks of constant, acute nausea…with little to no relief.    Heh.  You know all those things you learned in the church about what to do when you’re suffering?   Pfffft…those lessons felt impossible on that particular day.  I tried to pray…but I couldn’t.  I tried to remember Scripture…but…I couldn’t.   All the things I had been taught to do in Sunday School…all the things I knew I was supposed to be doing…I just…couldn’t.  So, that day as I sat on my parent’s couch…head between my knees…shaking…dry heaving…crying…I started to do the only thing I could think of…the only thing that made sense.  I silently began to beg.  Over and over again I chanted in my head the only thing I truly wanted…
Death.  I begged the Father to let me come Home.
Some of you may be scandalized by that statement.  But I’m guessing that some of you may know exactly what I’m talking about. 
So, here’s a fun fact about me.  I love words.  (My family would say that my love of words allows me to use really big words in the wrong context…but, I’m ok with that)  I recently uploaded a dictionary app to my phone…and it’s my new favorite diversion.  Today’s word is “inculcate”…a great word…as a corporate trainer, I try to inculcate as often as possible.  In fact, I’m planning on using the word “inculcate” repeatedly in this blog entry until you’re so overcome with curiosity that you look it up and thereby remember it.   Heh…I digress.  You see, as I prepared to write about my experience on the day I begged for death…I really, really wanted to find just the right word for you…to encapsulate how I felt.   The word that kept coming to mind was ”despond.”  Whew…a heavy word.  A verb.  It means to be depressed by loss of confidence, courage or hope.  
So, I asked myself…in that moment when I begged God to please, please let me come Home…was I really despondent?   Hmmmmm.  Loss of confidence…check.  Loss of courage…admittedly, yes.  Loss of hope?  Absolutely not.  If anything, that was the purest moment of hope I’ve ever truly experienced.

Here’s the thing, friends…I wasn’t despondent.  Yes, I was being sucked into the black hole of pure, unfettered misery…but I still had hope.  I could have been sitting naked in Time Square and I wouldn’t have registered even an iota of shame…because my heart was so distracted by hope.   That was the day I fiercely rejected every comfort this world has to offer and with my last vestige of rational thought, I reached for my Father’s promise:  He will wipe every tear from my eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain (or nausea). All these things…all my suffering…will be gone forever. 
As you’ve probably guessed by now, He didn’t acquiesce to my silent pleas for death.  I’m still here…and what’s more, I’m getting better.   Heh.  I sure am glad He rejected that particular request because I sure do like a lot of things about life.  I'm a broken, raggamuffin woman…but through my suffering, Abba is teaching me to like the RIGHT things about life. Apparently, He wants me to stick it out a little longer...and spread the good news. 
So, before I go, I want to share with you one of the important things I learned on that fateful day.  Something that I almost missed. You see, despite my begging, He didn’t call me Home…and…He didn’t take away the suffering.  I was tortured by nausea for weeks after that day...and endured even worse digestive angst.  With a quiet (and patient) tenderness, Abba taught me that sometimes the suffering isn’t fixed…and sometimes our bodies remain broken…but wherever there is hope…there is life.   
For everyone reading this blog who knows about suffering…you are uniquely equipped to inculcate the message of true hope.   (And because I know that you may be too miserable to be excited about that…heh…I want you to know that I understand…and I’ve got your back)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Recovering Human

I’ve decided that one of the worst things about chronic illness is a complete loss of dignity.   Never mind the misery of nausea…and the pain and discomfort of a digestive system gone rogue…let’s talk about the fact that I have discussed my bowel movements in infinite detail with a multitude of complete strangers. Let’s talk about the fact that my bodily functions are now more newsworthy than earthquakes, hurricanes, and dictators.  Yeah, you think that’s bad enough…now let’s talk about what happens when I don’t wax my upper lip for over two months. 
I’ve been poked, stabbed, drugged, and interrogated by a legion of doctors and nurses…and I guess, eventually, the inevitable happened…I just started to feel less human.   I mean, not inhuman like a zombie or reaver (Firefly fans?).  Although, I’m sure given the right lighting…I could be mistaken for either.  I don’t really walk anymore.  I shuffle.   I have huge dark circles under my eyes and a pasty complexion from malnutrition.  My brain functions are shoddy at best…and my hair is a hot mess 24/7.  Ok, so, yeah…I totally could be mistaken for the undead.  Huh.  Note to self. 
So, I guess all this to say…when Dr. Schiller (the specialist in Dallas) spoke to me like an intelligent woman who was NOT losing her mind…I felt human again.  I was almost more grateful for that than I was to finally have a tentative diagnosis. 
He spent almost 2 hours with me…coming in and out of the room between examinations and his review of my huge stack of medical records.  When he finally came in to tell me his conclusion the first thing he said was: “We doctors are trained to find the one thing that is causing all your symptoms.  In your case, I think you have several things making you sick.”   He used a chart to describe in detail how my biliary system was in full trauma (probably triggered by a stomach virus)…because of my lack of gallbladder; my bile acid was retracting into my stomach and playing hardball* with my stomach acid.  And because I wasn’t eating (eating=nausea) the bile acid most likely started to eat away at my stomach lining.  In addition to the napalm in my stomach, the bile was running rampant through my intestines overnight, where instead of being recycled…it would instead pool in my colon.  These two things alone are enough to cause constant, unrelenting nausea.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of his diagnosis.
If you remember, I said I’ve been experiencing off and on bouts of severe nausea for the last few years.  Dr. Schiller also diagnosed me with a somewhat rare condition called Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome (CVS).  It’s common among children and pot smokers, but not that common with regular ‘ol gals like me.  Researchers have linked this syndrome to migraines.  Yep, that’s right…I have migraines that manifest in my stomach without an actual headache.  Apparently, we all have two receptors in our brain that are a direct link to our stomachs…I know, right?  Who knew?   CVS “episodes” have the same triggers as a migraine…stress, hormones, fatigue, or even something as simple as a sinus infection.  It helps a lot to know what could trigger my CVS…but, ultimately, it’s a chronic condition with no cure. 
Dr. Schiller prescribed me a huge cocktail of drugs designed to counter the bile acid and CVS.  He mentioned that he would probably be able to wean me off of a few of them eventually…but that they could take up to a month to really balance my system.   I was optimistic that my new gold-studded drugs would work faster than that…and I would be back to normal in two winks.   Heh.  I’m sure by now you’ve noticed my use of a past tense verb.  I was optimistic.   
Turns out, taking a lot of new drugs comes with its own set of somewhat brutal side effects.  One med makes me feel like I’m walking through pea soup for about 15 hours after I take it…and one med wreaks painful havoc on other aforementioned stuff (see: bodily functions).  Needless to say…it’s slow going.  I have to set alarms to take my medicine because they have to be swallowed in a well-orchestrated schedule designed to make me feel like a ninety year old.  But despite all this…the nausea has loosened its grip.  And for that…I am excruciatingly grateful. 
And because the nausea has lost its intensity…I have seen small glimpses into the return of my humanity.  I registered the feeling of boredom the other day…that was awesome.   And I tweezed my eyebrows.  My mom and dad are lovingly forcing me to walk around more…so, that I can regain strength to my atrophied muscles.   And the other day, I woke up with the need to shop.  I know, right?  Totally a good sign.  I know that I have more recovery ahead of me…it’s going to be slow going (which is counter to my personality, by the way), but feeling human again gives me hope.  And where there is hope…there is healing.
But the truth is, I’m not writing this blog entry to torment you with the details of my recovery…but to offer you my profound gratitude for your prayers.  I started this whole blog in order to expound on the glory and wonder of God at work in Joplin, Missouri in the days and months after a devastating tornado.  I thought that meant I would tell the stories of struggles and victory in the lives of those around me.  Heh.  I totally got sidelined.  I guess Abba wanted me to know how it felt to be carried on the shoulders of the saints…so that instead of witnessing His mercies…I could experience them personally.   So, to all my friends, family, and strangers who have been interceding on my behalf…thank you.   
Dr. Schiller diagnosed me.  The medicines will eventually heal me.  But God is still good…I still have dignity...and you are all my personal heroes. 

*Note: all words used to describe my medical condition are here-to-with subject to my creative license. 
 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Suffering Sucks

For those of you who don’t already know…I am not well. 
I have been suffering on and off from chronic nausea for the last couple of years, but on July 4th…on a fateful drive back from a fun weekend in Dallas…the acute, debilitating nausea took hold of my body and has not let go. 
This means a lot of things.  It means I am not longer able to work.  It means I had to temporarily relocate to my parents so that my mom can be my constant caretaker.  It means I rarely eat…and only when my mom puts it in my hand.  It means my hair has started to fall out from malnutrition.  It means I no longer fit into my favorite polar bear pj bottoms.  It means I’m now taking copious amounts of drugs…some to help me sleep, some to help the nausea, and some to help me cope with being an invalid.  It means I watch WAY too much HGTV.  It means test…after test…designed to make me more miserable.  It means a four day stay in the hospital.  And most recently…it means a trip to Dallas (tomorrow)…to get what I hope will be a diagnosis with a sub-specialist. 
The question that I’ve gotten above all in the last month has been…”how are you doing/feeling?”   I have, for the most part, remained silent on this subject.  Many lovely voice mails and text messages have gone unanswered…because I find “how are you doing/feeling?’ to be an exhausting question.  But I keenly feel the love and concern from my friends and family…so, I feel compelled to crawl outside of myself for a moment…and answer.
This is how I’m doing:
1.       I am not a good invalid.  I’ve read books and watched movies of inspiring invalids.  I am not one of those people.   I have emotionally and mentally crawled into a cocoon.  This isn’t a bad thing…it’s just humbling to realize no one’s going to write a book about my method of coping.
2.       Nausea has to be the single most miserable feeling in the world.  You know that feeling right before you throw up?  When your head starts to tingle?  I feel that every day with little relief.  Some days I just cry it out.  Sometimes the crying helps. 
3.       When I feel well…people are my absolute favorite thing in life.  When I’m hanging on to my last shred of energy…people stress me the heck out. 
4.       I have read more books in the last month than I have in the last 3 years.  I finally broke down and treated myself to a Kindle.  It’s my “get well soon” gift to myself.
5.       I think a lot about the woman in the Bible who bled for twelve years.  She’s my new hero.  Seriously…12 years.  And she had enough faith to reach for the corner of Jesus’ cloak.  My prayers these days sound more like whimpers.
6.       My great sadness is that big events are happening all around me…and I’m good for nothing.  Becky, Jen, Anna, my co-workers, and my SYTYCD club…someday I will once again join the land of the living.  Please save me a seat?
7.       Most days look like this: sleep, take drugs, read, lay on the couch, watch HGTV, take drugs, sleep.
8.       I feel your prayers.  Please, please, don’t stop.  I need them desperately.  Please pray for my trip to Dallas tomorrow.  My appointment is on Friday, August 12 at 3:00.  Please pray that the doctor is urgently aggressive about finding a diagnosis.  And pray that I make it to Dallas without breaking into a million pieces…riding in cars is not my favorite thing to do these days. 
Suffering is an ugly beast.  For all those out there who are also suffering…it sucks, doesn’t it?  Maybe someday I’ll be able to expound on all the lessons I’ve learned during my convalescence.  But when my body is wracking with dry heaving…and I’m sobbing from utter misery…all I think about is how wonderful it will be to no longer be in this body.  Please don’t misread that sentence…I’m certainly not suicidal.  But I do think a lot about paradise…and how my suffering is only temporary.   I’m clinging to the hope that this season in my life will soon reveal God’s good and perfect plan for my life.  But until then…here’s what gets me through the day:
When Jesus got the message, he said, "This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God's glory by glorifying God's Son."   John 11:4 (The Message)
Thank you for caring, friends...I had to "up" my text message package because of your concern.  That makes my days less miserable...you rock.  I like you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Power Ballad

Does anyone remember the song “Winds of Change” by the German band, Scorpions?  I know I’m appealing to a certain age demographic when I refer to this song…but, for those of you reading who were steeped in the big-haired power ballads of the early 90’s…you now have the awesome whistling intro stuck in your head, don’t you?  Heh…you’re welcome.  (For everyone else reading this blog who have NO idea what I’m talking about…click here for a YouTube preview).  Man, I loved that song.  In high school I used to sway…head back and eyes closed…because I thought it was just super that the “children of tomorrow could dream away in the winds of change.”  Bless my heart.  
May 22, 2011 literally brought gale force winds of change to Joplin, Missouri.  200+ mile and hour… winds of change.  It was the most catastrophic renovation most of us will ever experience in this lifetime and what’s worse…we only had 17 minutes to prepare for it.   
I know there are some of you reading this blog who aren’t in Joplin…and I really want you to taste the acuity of gale force change.  So, let’s try something...ok?  I want you to picture the most populated area of your city.  Businesses and homes all kind of jammed together on street after street in the city center.  Can you see it?  Is it in your mind?  Are you picturing it?  Ok, good…now set your mental odometer and drive 12 miles.  Got it?  Are you behind the wheel?  Passing the Walmart on your left…and the AT&T store on your right?   Now imagine that …POOF…everything is gone.  The grocery store where you used to shop…your dentist…your church…your school…your bank…everything in those 12 miles reduced to rubble in a matter of minutes.   500 businesses.  8,000 dwellings.  18,000 cars.  All destroyed. And now you’re standing in the middle of a once familiar street…spinning in a circle…and you don’t even recognize your own home.  That’s the reality of our winds of change…
It’s been a month now…the news cameras have retreated, most flags are at full mast, relief tents are disappearing and Joplin’s infamous tornado no longer fills headlines.  But …friends…the enormity of change is just now beginning to settle on this beloved city.  I knew it was going to happen…I braced myself for it.  And yet…I’m daily surprised by how and where it surfaces. 
The change that has crept into my life is more than just having to drive out of my way to get fresh produce…it’s more than the inconvenience of a transformed landscape.  I know that we have all experienced this storm in different ways, and I would never presume to speak for everyone….but I can speak for myself.   So, here goes…here are some personal glimpses into the winds of my change:
1.  I now prefer to turn left out of my driveway.  Turning right still makes me sick to my stomach…but not because I’m sickened by the rubble.  No…my stomach churns because the site of devastation is becoming my new normal.

2.  For the first time in years…I feel single.  I’ve never really felt single before…and that’s saying something considering that I’m a 34 year old woman living in the Marriage Capital of the Universe.  And yet…other than the occasional (cyclical) lament…I’ve sincerely enjoyed being footloose and fancy free.  In fact, I felt a sense of PURPOSE in being a joyful single female in a marriage-happy culture.  But now…now the desire for love and marriage feels like it’s on the surface of my skin.  I feel an unfamiliar urgency to have someone hold my hand. 

3.  I used to have this secret little ritual…where every time I heard a siren, I would stop and pray for whoever that siren was intended.  I just figured that no matter the severity…if there was a siren…there was strife.   So, for years and years…no matter where I was or what I was doing…if I heard the familiar sound of wailing, I’d pause and talk to God about it.  But now…well, now my blood freezes and I get a giant lump in my throat.   When it comes to sirens, my prayers have turned to whimpers…

4.  Living an abundant life now includes a beautiful, rich subtext.  I can’t really explain this change…other than to say…it’s almost like I was given another level of awareness.  Even in the midst of such profound disruption…I’m getting a very tangible taste of peace beyond my understanding.

5.  Status quo?  What’s that?  My life changed with only 17 minutes of warning.  And strangely,…there’s something very liberating about that.  I now have undeniable proof that things are superfluous…and healthy relationships are pure sustenance. 

6.  These days, my roommates and I often wander into conversations about restoration.  We talk about how we now live in a city that reminds us daily that no matter how many trucks or man power you throw at something…restoration takes time.  What a great picture of life down here. 

7.  A few days ago I got online and intentionally looked up pictures of Japan’s tsunami.  Empathy is a powerful thing, friends.  Powerful.  And although I wouldn’t wish this level of empathy on my worst enemy…I also see it as a precious gift. 

8.  And maybe the strangest change of all… I now share very personal thoughts and feelings in an open-access online medium.  Holy cow.
You know…even as I’m typing this, I pause to wonder WHY in the world I’m all of the sudden willing and eager to open the hatches of my mind and heart to a veritable gaggle of friends, family, and complete strangers.  Well, I guess it’s because I assume if you’re reading this blog…then you too have known the winds of change.  And if sharing bits and pieces of my life causes you to dream and long more acutely for the Rock of Ages…well then, by golly…keep dreaming, children of tomorrow…keep dreaming. 
(cue “Winds of Change” whistling intro)