How Do I Know What Is Next?

How do I Know What is next_

“Here,” I navigated from the passenger seat, gesturing to the off-ramp for a scenic overlook along the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rain continued to pelt the glassy interstate roads as my husband guided our Toyota into the parking lot, every spot available on this chilly, rainy evening.

It was early November before the time change. Fall’s colors had peaked later than expected after unprecedented months of rain. I was determined to see the leaves before the season’s finale and the onslaught of winter. I composed a few pictures, drenched by the downpour and racing the setting light.

The five of us were the only souls at the overlook, as a heavy fog whited-out any chance at a view and rain threatened anyone else away.

The next morning, the view would be clear, and this same scenic overlook would buzz with activity. But this evening, I stood, ankle-deep in a puddle, bracing my camera beneath my umbrella even as the rain gushed sideways against me.

I showed up hoping to see even a fleeting view of autumn color–and for the unique beauty that only fog can create. My family, waiting a few yards away inside our warm, dry car, might not have understood. Other folks driving by must have wondered why a lone car was stopped at a foggy overlook. But I saw past their dismissal of the scene before me.

Fog has a way of isolating the closest object. Honing in on the lone tree before me, I noticed its stand-alone beauty against the backdrop of fog, its edges a silhouette of color against the otherwise blurry sky. Hours later, visitors–my family included–would flock to this very spot, looking beyond that tree to the bigger picture. But when I returned, I still appreciated the detail of that tree, and I remembered the journey I took to see it, the puddles I waded though and the feel of the cold rain against my fingers.

I tend to pray for the big picture. I’m a detail-oriented person, and left to my own, I’d jump in to piece them together if I only knew the big picture. But God doesn’t want me to work like that. He needs me to need Him in this journey. He needs me to do the work of showing up, opening my heart to the one thing He is choosing to spotlight this time, the very next thing along my path.

What if, instead of waiting for the grand view, we could listen and be obedient to the next clear directive? With one piece of clarity, He gives us the gift of direction and affirms our continued need for His presence.

In my current season, I’m standing before a great fog, and God is waiting for my obedience. My obedience comes in accepting this one beautiful detail before me as enough. While God has the ability to put on a spectacular autumn show, the one fiery tree is enough to warrant my undivided attention. With the promise He brings through a single detail, He reveals my next step. It is up to me to listen and notice.

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” (Ephesians 5:13, NIV). 

When God Restores Weakness with Renewed Purpose: Living with Spondylolisthesis

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Time is often conveniently and unofficially measured by milestones. If we want to be technical, we can sometimes quantify those milestones.

  • Seventy: My grandparents just kicked off the start of their 70th year of marriage together, the official milestone only a year away.
  • Ten: the number of years I have been a School Counselor. Also the wedding anniversary we just celebrated on a hot air balloon ride!
  • Seven: My body has been pregnant, miscarrying, or nursing for over seven years with no break. The end of this streak will be an emotional one, simultaneously bittersweet and freeing. It will be marked not only by the passage of time but by all the memories and moments in between. 
  • Six: The number of years we have been cloth diapering! (And parenting!)

Oftentimes, we mark time with “before and after” a major event, a critical turning point in our stories. Schooling, births, accidents, losses, jobs, moves. Befores and afters. Achievements. Milestones. 

Today would otherwise pass by, a normal day, unacknowledged for what it is to anyone but me. But July 16, 2018 delivers its own silent milestone. Today marks the day I have lived exactly half my life with a cadaver bone in my body. Someone’s priceless donation holds my spine in place, downgrading my Grade 4 spondylolisthesis diagnosis to a Grade 2 so that I could live a stronger life. Seventeen years ago. 6,209 days ago. July 16, 2001 separated all things “pre-op” from “post-op.” The day I had to quit 13 years of ballet, give up a minor role in my recital, and quit my Cross Country team for good.

That morning, just after being prayed over by my pastor, I received both an allograft and an autograft. An allograft is formed from donated bone, and an autograft is harvested from the patient–in my case, grafted from my hip through the same large incision, a once-seering-red scar now the silvery pink prime meridian of my back. As a teenager undergoing a surgery typically performed on an octogenarian, the bone in my hip was still thick enough to scoop from the iliac crest and form around the new fusion, which would later facilitate and support new growth.

My own bone was repurposed, engineered by God for its first 17 years as an unassuming but important piece of my hip, yet all the while He knew it would later help anchor the weakest crux in my body.

Unbeknownst to my 17-year-old self, this new anchor would grow and strengthen my spine to support some of the most life-giving work my body would ever do. Dancing with my husband at our wedding. Carrying and birthing babies. Running marathons. Nursing babies. Sitting with students at school during their most vulnerable emotional breakdowns. And all my life yet to come.

It would also allow me freedom. I can continue things I used to love and have new adventures with my family. My “after” includes long-distance running and even a semester of ballet in college. It’s a handstand on the Four Corners, a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. Hiking Glacier National Park and walking the streets of Dublin, Ireland. Exploring Arches National Park and climbing the steps to the top of the Griffin roller coaster at Busch Gardens. And just this week, climbing into the wicker gondola of a hot air balloon just before its launch and climbing back out after a safe landing.

As Christians, we are each a “before and after” story. Christ rescued us from the sins of our former lives, building us and refining our gifts to serve His kingdom purposes. Our gifts were dormant, but it took the element of renewed purpose to draw them out. He gives us freedom from our past sins, even as we continue to fall short.

The “Ortho Info” website describes an allograft for a spinal fusion as acting “as a bridge that allows the natural bone to grow through its surface.” God breathed new life into that cadaverous bone, designating it to strengthen all the other working parts of my body, each serving a specific and unique purpose but working in tandem. It fostered new growth and restoration while continuing to strengthen and refine itself with newfound life and purpose.

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (NIV, Romans 12:4-5)

Before we can minister to others, we have to care for our own spiritual well-being. That restoration comes through time in the Word and time spent in prayer with God, through fellowship with others, through acts of worship. It is necessary and restorative in times of both weakness and strength, in times of both confidence and of insecurity.

I don’t know whose life my cadaver bone supported before mine. I don’t even know whether it was in a girl or boy, man or woman, or how long it lived. I don’t know the circumstances that ended its first purpose, or what led the person to commit to part with it. I don’t know where it traveled or what adventures it’s been on. But I met it with gratefulness and a sense of renewal that it would restore a failing part of me.

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Invisible to the naked eye, I can feel it. I can still see its eerie glow on my x-rays, my own bones dull in comparison, a strong new stake fusing my lumbar to my sacrum. That very spot on a good day is a dull ache, on a bad day creates a pain radiating down my left leg and stiffening my entire body. Lately, it has been the latter.

Spondylolisthesis is an invisible, painful disability I carry every day, accompanied by its cousins, scoliosis and painful sciatica. But just because it’s invisible to others doesn’t mean I need to ignore it. My routine maintenance fell to the back-burner right after I had my third baby a year ago. Driving 56 miles to and from the doctor with three little ones in tow on a regular basis just wasn’t a priority, although it should have been. Careful maintenance had usually kept the pain at bay. Specific, low-impact exercises during pregnancy stretched my piriformis enough to take pressure off my sciatic nerve, but since then, the pain is back with debilitating vengeance.

Healing this time will require frequent trips to the doctor, slow and careful stretching, and frequent ice. It will necessitate pulling out my orthotics to use not only for running, but all the time. I have flat feet, which push my pelvis forward, putting all the weight I carry on my lower back. Orthotics correct that misalignment by creating an artificial arch.

I also shudder, remembering the dreadful white plastic body brace I wore in high school. Anytime I had to bend or sit, I had to unlock a hinge that connected the brace around my torso to the brace down my leg. When the brace finally got to come off for good, I instinctively walked for months with one arm behind my back, protecting the vulnerable scarred area. My muscles would spasm against any slightest touch. I went to physical therapy after school every day to build back up the muscles of my left leg, encased in plastic so long, to match those of my right leg, which had to overcompensate. The massages at PT left me in tears. It was work, and I pushed through. Because of the brace, I learned to breathe differently and sit perfectly straight, which are ingrained habits even 17 years later. 

Our faith needs routine maintenance to remain a constant dialog with our Creator. We can’t take our faith for granted, because when we do, it becomes strained and weak. We become thirsty and forget to reach for a drink from our Healer. But when we get off-course, we can ask for help. We can bow in prayer, asking God to lead us back to Him. We can pull our Bibles off the shelf and allow His Word to lead us, and He will restore us again. He will support us at our weakest points and breathe new life into what feels bereft.

In what areas do you need His leadership now? Take a moment to pray over it. Allow God to point out your weak points, and listen for what He might be asking you to repurpose or restore so that you can continue to build His Kingdom.
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If you would like to know more about my journey in spite of spondylolisthesis, you can read herehereand here.

Second-Guessing Your Own Decisions

Second-guessing your decisions

Today was the day we were finally adding a girl to our family of all little boys. She weighed 9 pounds and had curly red hair, just like I have. Her coloring matched the spots on my son, and he was excited to finally meet her after only seeing pictures. All my boys were excited. Her name was going to be Molly.

Molly is a mini goldendoodle, and this should have been a light-hearted post announcing her arrival in our family.

After filling out 29 applications and queries for goldendoodle rescues where I was never quite fast enough, or didn’t have the right fence or companion dog, we chose this puppy sight-unseen and arranged for her to be held for several weeks until we could pick her up.

A week before pickup, things didn’t seem to add up. The lady we were led to believe was the owner seemed to be more of a puppy agent. Records or any sort of paper trail were nonexistent, contact information for the family’s vet was unavailable, and the agent conveniently went into labor followed by multiple surgeries in the exact time frame that she promised to send all paperwork and vet records.

As much as we wanted this puppy, the red flags were not only waving, but they were shouting in our faces.

We had promised our boys a puppy today. We had arranged for someone to watch our boys while my husband and I made the 8-hour drive, and we had begun picking out a girl name.

Suddenly, the option of no was thrown out on the table.

The agent was as accommodating at first, then she become hostile and passive, and then polite again. During our drive home from the beach, we began googling the piecemeal information she did send after I asked her repeatedly for it: phone numbers, names, and addresses. Veterinarian phone lines were conveniently broken and were after-hours at this point, anyway. The name of the vet turned into an Animal Emergency Trauma Clinic, not a vet that would have an established relationship with a family. Glaring spelling errors on websites screamed “unprofessional.” It was the textbook example of a situation to avoid and I felt like a fool.

Desperate to believe I had not been misled, I kept the option of following through with the purchase open. After all, we had already sent a deposit to hold her while we were on vacation. I continued what limited research I could from the fledgling information I had been given. At this point in my research, the red flags were not only expected, they were almost comical. In fact, every single bit of information ended as a red flag.

My husband and I shared our hearts with each other. We avoided any “I told you so’s” and hurt feelings by talking honestly and straight-forwardly. Completing the final leg of our 10-hour drive home from the beach (side note: what a way to spend my birthday!), we decided to cut our losses and say no to this puppy. I apologized to him for wasting our money.

Yes, we had invested in all the puppy supplies and a nonrefundable deposit on a listing with just enough verbiage to make a PayPal dispute unlikely. But we had avoided the toll of another full day of driving the morning after the exhaustion of vacation travel. And more importantly, we avoided what could have amounted to costly vet bills, potential hereditary diseases, bad temperament, and emotional heartbreak on our part. We’ve been through the loss of a puppy before, which was the driving force behind all my second-guessing about this particular purchase.

It’s hard to accept that we’ll never actually know if this puppy was, in fact, a “lemon” guaranteed under the state’s Lemon Law or if she would have become a beloved member of the family. But even without meeting her, we feel right about accepting that we’ll just never know.

We will regroup, we will return the unopened puppy supplies to the store, and we’ll revisit the idea of adding a dog to our family when we feel ready, if ever. What I do know, with confidence, is that we made the best decision for our family. We’ll use this opportunity where we had to say “no” as a way to savor a slow, easy recovery day after our glorious beach vacation, instead of another frantic, worrisome day of travel to meet a puppy purchased sight-unseen, forking over even more money to complete the purchase.

The boys have been completely distracted today with their new-to-them bikes, we are up to our elbows in unpacking, and there has been no mention of the puppy this morning.

A few years ago, I would have been too proud to admit my mistake, even to myself. I’m certain that I would have piled my entire family into our SUV and followed through with the purchase, even despite my gut telling me no. And I never would have written a post like this, vulnerable to judgment and harsh feedback about buying a puppy or reassurance that we’ll find another when the time is right.

Thankfully, I read “Goldendoodle” by Kathryn Lee free on Hoopla at exactly the right time on vacation, as she gave me all the questions to ask and the pitfalls to avoid. She helped me do my research and see past what my heart wanted to see and what my brain had been trying to justify.

Even though we lost our deposit (I’ll still follow through with a PayPal dispute), it was a valuable learning experience for me. It’s okay to second-guess myself, to back out of a commitment that does not feel right for me and my family, and even to renege on a promise to my boys that could have done more damage in the long run than good. It gives me perspective on other larger, more important commitments in my life.

It all seems like a silly matter to pray over, when there are far bigger things to pray about, but I also know that God cares about every detail in our lives, big and even very small –He wants us to come to Him continually.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I will see this lesson learned for the gift that it is and move forward. I’ll turn these lemons into lemonade. The puppy will find another home.

 

 

A Prayer for the Mother in Crisis: PPD/PPA Essay Feature

 

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The nurse handed me the clipboard of thick paperwork, the metal clip strategically covering the name of the depression inventory. I knew what it was — this was my third rodeo with childbearing — and I’m a counselor. I knew which boxes to check to avoid raising any red flags about my mental health.

But at only six weeks postpartum, I was still feeling pretty good. I had been living in the glow of a new baby, a magical newborn photo session, and still marveling about how I had gotten myself into the predicament of mothering THREE boys.

My failed homebirth attempt was sensational enough that even though I hadn’t had the chance to truly process it, I had spent weeks retelling the drama to anyone willing to listen. The quiet place of introspection would come later. I hadn’t yet processed my disappointment over losing control during some of the most critical minutes of my birth story.

To read more of my story, please join me over at The Joyful Life Magazine, where my essay, “My Journey Through Postpartum Depression and Anxiety” is featured on the magazine’s blog!

If this post resonates with you, I’d love to hear how in the comments below, and I’d love to pray for you.

**If you recognize some of the same symptoms that I faced, I urge you to contact a medical professional or a crisis hotline right away, and also let your loved ones know how they can help you. You are not alone!**