Saturday, January 14, 2017

Box of Sunshine

It's been two months since Matt had his traumatic back surgery. He's finally able to walk with a walker and now that the doctor agreed to take him off the morphine, he's not acting like a crazy person anymore. These two months have felt like an eternal bad dream and I've wished many times that I could just wake up and find that it wasn't real. 

But reality continues to be real and each day I put one foot in front of another: helping Matt through the night, keeping close track of all nine of his daily medications, which must be kept in a safe because of the children and his own bad memory about what he's taken. Our four children are homeschooled, but we've taken a break out of necessity. We read out loud each day, but that's all I can manage. 

Matt was originally  supposed to be fully recovered from this surgery in 2-3 months and we had saved up all the money we could from our tax returns and knew that finances would be tight. This wrench in our lives was so out of left field that we were still scarcely accepting the fact that Matt would never return to his job laying floors and that we had no backup plan. Any illusions we'd had that we were making it through life on our own were shattered, just like our hearts.

In the midst of this nightmare, a package appeared at church for me. It was wrapped in bright yellow paper, with a big yellow smiley face sticker next to my name. The card did not say who it was from.. 

I opened it curiously. As I lifted the lid, bright yellow tissue paper greeted me. Nestled inside were a dozen small gifts-all of them yellow. Smiley-face magnets for my fridge. Peanut M&Ms. Small packs of tissues. On and on, until I came to a typed letter explaining that the unknown sender had seen my sorrow and difficulties and wanted to give me a Box of Sunshine. Enclosed were a few verses, also typed, that were mounted on yellow card stock. My favorite was Psalm 18:16-19--

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. 

It's been four years since I received my Box of Sunshine, but that verse is still up on my fridge. Looking back at that dark and dreary time, I can see that the gift from an unknown friend was the turning point for me. The place where I began to believe that God had a plan for this seeming mistake and would eventually redeem our pain.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Some People Have to Work, Ya Know.

This blog post was inspired by a friend who was in a mood, and an off-handed remark he made to my husband.

"Some people have to work, ya know."

A young man who did not know my husband before his back surgery. The back surgery that left him disabled. A young man who has only ever known my husband as a slow-moving, disabled adult college student.

Our young friend was in a mood, to be sure, and my husband was trying to draw him out, to get him to discuss what was putting a hitch in his giddy-up. He claimed he was tired from working, which was surely true. Matt has known the exhaustion that comes with a demanding new schedule, a physical new job. But our friend didn't know Matt before The Surgery, and so he has no reference, no personal experience of who Matt was Before.

So he finished off his complaint with seemingly harmless words that seared deep into my husband's still-open wound of disability: "Some people have to work, ya know."

We knew that he didn't mean anything by it. We knew that he couldn't possibly understand how Matt feels about work.

Later that evening we talked it through: un-gnarling the feelings that the statement had unearthed. Matthew explained that he hates what he assumes most people see when they look at him now--an overweight, incompetent man with disabilities. He seemed to feel that because he can no longer work physically, he can no longer be known by his work ethic.

We have processed many different losses since The Surgery, and each one takes awhile to digest and a long time to accept. I'm pretty sure that there are several we are still in denial over. God was indeed gracious in gifting Matt with a tenacious personality that refuses to be beaten. Without it, I fear he would've given up in the face of so much personal loss.

God has also blessed him with many years of satisfying work to look back on for encouragement.

That night, we used the opportunity to reminisce back through the hard work that Matt has put in, starting with roofing at the tender age of fifteen. We recalled his time working for the Parks' Department as an older teen, when he was told that if he didn't slow down and do less, he would be fired for making everyone else look bad. Some of the craziest years were when Chandler was a baby and Matt was working three jobs for us. We only had one vehicle, so when the coffee shop needed him across town, he would have to ride his bicycle through the wintry streets to get to work. He worked with elementary-aged boys at the YMCA Daycare Center, and of course his kind voice, firm rules, and superior athleticism were a big hit.

We talked about the years he spend at Hochstedler Floor Covering. How we prayed over that decision! God was so faithful to point us in the right direction. Matt started out organizing all of the supplies and materials, and within a week, everything was so spic and span that they offered to take him out on flooring jobs to train him. And they gave him a hefty raise, which meant I could start staying home with our two babies; a good thing too, since I had already planned to quit my job, assuming that this was God's will for me and that He would provide. We were young, we were building a family, and we trusted God entirely.

Around the fire pit he built
Five years later, the fire pit is still going strong.
Through his years there, Matt worked tirelessly, skillfully, with mental and physical dedication that blew me away. Tired after work, he would come home and take a short nap, then jump up and play with the babies, work in the yard, and often help make dinner. He played as hard as he worked. As our children grew, he taught them every sport he knew. He taught them how to fish, how to play kickball and everything in between. His drive and enthusiasm were infectious, and our children learned early how to pitch in when Daddy started cleaning the house. As his skill level increased at work, he started taking on side jobs to help supplement our expenses. He often worked more than he slept, but he rarely complained. At no point during the past ten years have I ever had to leave my children and go to work. It has been because of God's goodness and Matt's willingness to do whatever it took to pay the bills.
One of the first hunts

It was during this time that he became a deacon at our church: tasked with the endless job of up-keeping our 1900's mansion-turned-church building. After a time, his energy, leadership, and dedication earned him the position of Chairman of the board--a position he maintained until after he was disabled. The labor was never-ending and only his heart was bigger than the workload.

This year's hunt--look how big Chandler has grown!
He connected with nearly everyone he worked for, especially the older generation. In fact, his best friend was a crotchety old man who lived across the street, with whom he spent many hours shooting the breeze, listening to the evils of crabgrass, alcohol, and the punks on our street. He freed baby raccoons his old friend's attic and when Halloween rolled around, he helped carve Booster's pumpkins with John 3:16. He gained the respect of many, and his side-work customers were loyal. Now that he's been disabled for almost three years, he still occasionally gets phone calls asking him to take on a job. Even though he can't do the bending and crawling anymore, his skills have been remembered and are missed.

We talked through all these things, and more. The other losses are painful too: not being able to play with the children, not being able to carry them on his shoulders. Not being able to help around the house as much. Never being comfortable, nearly always in pain. Wanting to hike, and bike, Wanting to provide for his family. He feels that not being able to work is the loss that reflects most strongly on his reputation as a man. So while it is not as tender a loss as some, it is still an ache that just won't go away.

Our conversation took a more positive turn as we reflected on how God has allowed Matthew to grow emotionally and spiritually through this trial. We remembered how our friends and family took care of us when he could no longer do so. I reminded him that his hard-working attributes are practically legendary among his professors and classmates, as he sets the curve in many of his classes. This unexpected trial has paved the way for opportunities that we had barely dreamed of before: a college degree, a job with insurance, possibly a bigger house that will better accommodate our family.We don't know what else God has in store for us, but it is clear that He is taking us down a new path, towards a fresh destination.

As our evening wound down, I decided that there was something concrete that I could do. I could honor his years of work by writing about them. Father's Day is coming up and I knew that a memorial paper could possibly give us some small measure of closure. I trusted God to give me the words.

In closing, I want to do a quick before and after regarding The Surgery.

Played with his kids                                      
Worked with his hands, his body                  
Tried to please everyone                                
Always working                                            
Avoided anger by working                            
Taught his kids by example                            
Provided for his family                                  
Loved his babies                                          
Loved his wife                                                

Plays differently with his kids
Works with his hands, his mind
Knows when to say no
Knows how to rest
Knows how to have a productive argument
Camp Counselor
Teacher his kids through explanation
Relies on God to provide for his family while he goes to school
Loves his babies
Loves his wife
Counselor at Camp Emmanuel
Life will never be the same for us. The losses are many. But our God loves restoration and He has blessed us beyond measure as we continue trusting Him. He continues to heal our hearts through this fire. A new kind of hard work is at hand.

"Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did."

"The year you were born marks only your entry into the world. Other years where you prove your worth, they are the ones worth celebrating."

"To be a champion, I think you have to see the big picture. It's not about winning and losing; it's about every day hard work and about thriving on a challenge. It's about embracing the pain that you'll experience at the end of a race and not being afraid."

"Though the barriers of life seem formidable, we find when we challenge them that they have no will."

"No one understands that you have given everything. You must give more."

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.

Game Night Intensity 
Tiny Dawson
Loves those babies!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reprise: Autumn Again

"I have cried upon the steps that seemed too steep for me to climb 
And I have prayed against the burdens that I did not want to be mine 
But here I am, and this is where You're calling me to fight 
And You, I will remember through the watches of the night."
--Kristyn Getty

A year ago, I wrote this post

And then I wrote no more. Not because I was busy...even though I was. And not because I was heartbroken, although that was also true.

It was because everything changed.

The surgery that was supposed to fix my husband's back left him disabled.

A one night stay in the hospital turned into a one week stay, while my children were cared for by close friends and family and I scrunched in a stiff hospital chair and rarely slept in my own bed.

A two month recovery turned into a ten month recovery, punctuated by a second surgery to fix the broken knee that Matt sustained when he was on Morphine for too long.

...the Morphine stole him from me for the first two months. His mental state from that medicine was so disturbing, was so traumatic at times, that I wondered how we would ever get through it. The man in front of me looked like my husband, but it just wasn't him. The medicine made him act like a stranger. And that, my friends, is the worst feeling I've ever had. Ever. Ever.


I wondered if anything would ever be okay again. And even though my mouth and conscious will would cry out to God for deliverance...even though my words would turn my children's attention to the many ways that God was providing for us during this horrible time...even though my days were spent encouraging and caring for my love...further back in my soul, I had put up some serious walls, because at times it felt like God had betrayed our family and left us for dead.

Even further back, I knew that wasn't true. But I was so mad and so tired. So scared. Matt had suffered permanent nerve damage in his leg, which meant that he would never be able to return to his job. And as the one who knew this man best --this man who had struggled throughout his life with depression-- it was clear to me from early on how much serious time and work with God it would require before Matt would clear the dark woods of his anger and sorrow over this loss. So the road would be long, as well as hard. For him and all who loved him.

Because his household-supporting income was not the only thing he had lost.

As an active and extremely involved husband, father, employee, deacon, and friend, he was never idle. All of a sudden, he could no longer hike, help with home projects, or even play kickball with our children. The blow had been swift and harsh. Even our weekly family shopping trip for groceries was difficult, as Matt had to adjust to using an electric scooter, then later a walker, and finally a cane in order to join us. Trips to the Children's Museum an hour away now seemed as feasible as flying to the moon. My heart could hardly bear the pain he had to move through.

There are many days that I cannot remember from this past year. Days that blurred together, or that I have perhaps blocked out. 5 months of sleeping on the reclining couch with Matt so I could help him up if he needed me. 4 more months that I slept without him in our bed because my body started rebelling and would no longer let me sleep well on the couch.  But incredibly, I didn't feel any specific pain over "how it used to be." I oftentimes had a hard time remembering what life was like before the surgery. Because God's love covers pain, protects our hearts, and wipes out bitterness.

God has used this hardest year of our lives to assure me beyond a whisper of doubt that He loves my family and wants the absolute best for us.

During this last year God has
~deepened my love for my husband
~healed, stabilized, and matured my marriage
~taught my children that God is real, can hear us, and wants to teach us--even when it's hard
~led friends and family to tirelessly support us every step of the way
~given us release from a lifestyle that was no longer healthy and productive for our family
~directed us to a new and totally unexpected future

And He's done so many more things, big and little. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. {A little bit exaggerated, but you've gotta love it when the Bible says it best. God is so lavish with his love.}

God wants to be with us and wants to bless us. And when we've strayed from His plans for us, He comes running to save us from destruction. Because we just don't always know the difference between best and barely scraping by.

In closing, I want to share the song that has most healed my heart during this dark year. I've sung it strongly, I've sung it in a choked whisper, but I no longer sing it in I did when I first started singing it a year ago. I believe now that God will use what He must to heal us.

Friday, September 28, 2012

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it..."

I have so looked forward to writing this post. 

*  *  *  *

I'm even wearing my orange shirt and my brown autumn shoes. 

*  *  *  *

I picked out the pictures that allowed me to smell autumn, as though as I was walking through the woods. The bright colors make my eyes feel lit up and alive.  I picked the quotes that enabled me to feel the brisk air and revel in the flaming brilliance of this, my favorite season.

*  *  *  *

In unconscious preparation, I was invited on an impromptu walk through some beautiful, good-smelling woods yesterday afternoon. The weather was perfect, and the children loved it. The dog ran free and exhilarated, as did the kids. I crunched on the leaves, I talked with my friend.

I came out refreshed. Autumn-y woods are a part of my past, a part of who I am. 

I have been feeling a little isolated recently, even though I am frequently surrounded by people. I think I've been starving myself...not enough time with God, too much time trying to fill that hole with other stuff. It's an easy trap to fall into, especially with our culture of technology and easy, all-the-time access.  I have been missing the quiet of talking to God for long periods of time, of spending time in His word every morning. He wants my attention. He loves me. And He is a God of restoration, and He can fill me up again. 

And thus directed, I came out of the woods. Comforted.

*  *  *  *

I have so looked forward to writing this post. What I didn't know was that God was waiting on it, too.

Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.

Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.  ~Elizabeth Lawrence

Oh how we love pumpkin season.  You did know this gourd-ish squash has its own season, right?  Winter, Spring, Summer, Pumpkin.... We anxiously anticipate it every year.  ~Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer

Youth is like spring, an over praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes.  Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.  ~Samuel Butler

The days may not be so bright and balmy—yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

Bittersweet October.  The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.  ~Carol Bishop Hipps

To poke a wood fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything else in the world.  ~Charles Dudley Warner

It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.  ~P.D. James

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Into the Deep Woods

"One of the most essential qualities of faith that is to attempt great things for God and expect great things from God, is holy audacity. Where we are dealing with a supernatural Being, and taking from Him things that are humanly impossible, it is easier to take much than little; it is easier to stand in a place of audacious trust than in a place of cautious, timid clinging to the shore. Likewise, seamen in the life of faith, let us launch out into the deep, and find that all things are possible with God, and all things are possible unto him that believeth." ~AB Simpson

The path that Matt and I have shared hasn't always been easy. But it hasn't been a particularly hard one, either. Like most families, we've had our ups and downs and have had to continually cling to God. There have been fantastic, gloriously happy times and then there's been this past year and half, which has been pretty grueling.

We've had a bit of a breather during the past few months months as events and emotions have settled down a little. It felt nice to coast.

But now.

Now it appears that our path is leading us down into the deep, dark woods. It's hard to follow a path that looks scary.

Matt's back surgery is rapidly approaching. He had another surgery (for a dog bite, not his back) over ten years ago and it was surrounded by such trauma that it convinced him to hand his life over to God for the first time. I know that God can use difficulties to make an impact when plain ol' regular life just ain't doin' it.   I understand that God's plans don't always make sense to me at first. And even though I trust God because He has gotten me through many hard, scary, and sad times, I am starting to seize up a little with panic. Inwardly, of course. And deep down. I try not to let it show, but even more importantly, I try not to let it be. I lean heavily on promises like:

Isaiah 43:2
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Romans 5:3-5

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

I like this, the English Standard Version, most of the time, but in other versions (New American Standard, perhaps?) Romans 5:5 says "and hope does not disappoint..." which I find comforting. 

So when my path looks like this:

...I will try to remind myself to focus on the light farther down, past the dark trees. 

"Oh, when we are journeying through the murky night and the dark woods of affliction and sorrow, it is something to find here and there a spray broken, or a leafy stem bent down with the tread of His foot, and the brush of His hand as He passed; and to remember that the path He trod He has hallowed, and thus to find lingering fragrance and hidden strength in the remembrance of Him as "in all points tempted like as we are," bearing grief for us, bearing grief with us, bearing grief like us." ~Alexander MacLaren image by RichardFreeman


Still, it's not easy for me and I could use some prayers for extra grace and protection during the coming months as we hike down this trail. I'm hoping that when we've made it through to the sunshine, we'll be able to look back at it behind us and realize that it was a fragrant pine forest, and the shade was a shelter, not a fear-inducing gloom. It would be even better if we could realize it while we're still in there.


quotes and path pic found on

Friday, January 6, 2012

Easing Back Into the Water

Where do I begin? I am a non-dancer writing a post about dancing. Because I wish I was a dancer. All of my insides believe that I am a dancer. And when I dance, no matter what the music, I always look like this in my head:

But in actuality, this is my sweet friend Fizz, who has been dancing since she was young and is amazing. Evidently, you just don't look like that naturally. It takes practice. Years. And also, I'm guessing, a bit of pre-baby hip. I will probably never look like Fizz when I dance. There's a good chance that my dancing will always draw snickers. But I'm okay with that. Because dancing makes me happy.

There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them. ~Vicki Baum

There is a verse in Ecclesiastes which helps to explain why I've got dancing on my mind. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says "a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance." I am stuck in an odd little spot that encompasses all of these. I have come out of a year that has been filled to the brim with losses...losses that have been painful and scary and very sad.

And yet.
Psalm 107:28
Then they cried to the LORD
in their trouble,
And He brought them out of their distress.

Psalm 27:14
Wait for the LORD;
be strong & take heart
and wait for the LORD.

Every time that I thought I just couldn't take it anymore, my dear tender Father would reach out and comfort me. I never doubted it was Him. He wouldn't let me go under. And the very special thing was that nearly every time, He used a person to help me through. A real, live person with a warm touch or an eloquent look. This proved to me that God truly cares about the smaller needs in my life--like my need for hugs and encouragement.

The crazy thing is that God poured blessings out on me this year in such quantities that I almost couldn't bear it. Right in the middle of the pain.

Jeremiah 30:17
"But I will restore you to health
and heal your wounds," declares the Lord.

Psalm 30:11&12
You turned my wailing into dancing;
You removed my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises
and not be silent. LORD, my God,
I will praise you forever.

I learned things this past horrible wonderful year that I never knew I needed to know. I was healed of wounds that I didn't know were there--and some I did know about. Physical wounds, emotional wounds, and some sucker-punch spiritual wounds. I thought my heart would break with pain, and I wondered once if I would live through the night. But my God has been faithful and I know now that if I was given a choice, I would live it all again because of the way He rescued me and drew me to Himself, time and time again. Isn't that reason enough to wanna dance?

Let us dance in the sun, wearing wildflowers in our hair. ~Susan Polis Shutz

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Two Fer

It's so easy to get bogged down. I pray that today we'll be able to break free of the burdens that so easily entangle us and turn our faces to God. In doing so, I pray that we'll so reflect His glory that the world will whisper amongst themselves and clamor to know what makes us different.

Thanks again, Verse of the Day Calendar:

"When we are chained to fear by worry, Jesus, help us break free. Erase from our minds scary or obsessive thoughts that rob us of the freedom You have given us. Help us to keep our minds free so Your Word can fill them. Give us strength and patience so we won't give in to worry, fear, or bad habits. Amen."

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." ~Galatians 5:1

"It is often just as sacred to laugh as it is to pray." ~Charles Swindoll

"I will praise You, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praises to Your name, O Most High." ~Psalm 9:1-2