Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day

I remember when I found out I was pregnant. I had already been diagnosed with MS and the idea of understanding how to live with the disease was still new. I was learning how to take my shots and, for the most part, was just trying to convince myself there was nothing to be scared about. A few months after my diagnosis, my husband was chatting with his brother on the phone. My brother-in-law (a physician) mentioned that age, pregnancy and MS aren’t always the best of bedfellows and if we wanted to have kids now might be a good time to address it. 

Twelve months after I was diagnosed I became a mom.

We brought my son home from the hospital and set him down in his  carrier on the kitchen table. The house was completely quiet and, might I add, completely clean and organized. (You know how they say expectant mothers like to nest…I was the Muhammad Ali of nesting. I cleaned the toilets and organized my shoes along with my underwear drawer the day I went into labor.) In that moment while my son was peacefully sleeping and we were in the safety and comfort of our own home, my husband and I looked at each other and I know exactly what he was thinking because I was thinking the same thing…”What on earth have we done?!?”

The next few weeks were spent sleepless. My husband took off one week of paternity leave and helped with late night changings and feedings. I’d had a difficult pregnancy with the holy terror ripped out of my backside. As a result my doctor gave me some strong pain meds which I hated taking because of the grogginess they left me feeling. My husband insisted I take them and one night I finally did. During the late night feeding when my son woke up, my husband handed him to me. “I’ll go downstairs and get the bottle made up, you change him,” he said. Okay, I thought, no prob. About 5 minutes later my husband came back upstairs and I was still standing in the same spot. He asked if I’d changed the baby’s diaper. “Oh man…that’s what I was supposed to be doing!” That was the last night I took those drugs. The pain in my hiney was just going to have to take a back seat (pun intended).

Nothing prepares you for motherhood; and I think that’s how it is supposed to be. There are tears and joys, laughter and sorrow, pain and comfort, sticky walls and tiny handprints, dirty floors and really dirty floors, stinky messes and messes that really stink. There are grass stains, dirt stains, chocolate and ketchup stains and stains from things where you’d rather not know where they came from. I’ve picked up enough toys to fill two dozen rooms from floor to ceiling. I’ve listened to enough made-up, knock-knock jokes to drive a wooden man crazy. I’ve corrected grammar and  explained the importance of brushing our teeth until I’m blue in the face. I’ve nearly drowned in sweat and humidity from more sporting events than I care to mention…likewise, I’ve screamed my lungs out cheering my kid’s name at more swim meets than I care to mention.  Band aids and neosporin are bought in bulk…as is anti-fungal cream. Absolutely no back talk, remember to say “please” and “thank you”and “use your words!” … Because for Heaven’s sake, mom’s ESP doesn’t work when she is tired and behaving like a grouch will get you nowhere fast.

We are a society that likes to hand out awards…the Ocsars, Emmy’s, Espy’s,  Heisman, Nobel Prize, and on and on. There is no statue to be awarded for the job mom does. The award is different. The sleepless nights, long talks, worries, tears, tireless work is worth it. Each day I watch my kid get off the school bus. He walks up to  me smiling with ridiculous neon orange bands on his braces. He hugs me and I lean over and smell his hair…the sweaty-from-the-playground smell. And there it is in a microcosm, the best part of being mom. It’s as if a mini-Oscars ceremony is taking place right when my son gets off the school bus. The award goes to me. God made me his mom and the joy is all mine.

For all the moms out there, remember…

Clean houses are overrated. Every now and then, take-out is acceptable…sometimes multiple times a week. Crying is normal …as is laughing and talking to yourself. Chocolate is medicinal. Extensions to the ‘5-second rule’ are always permissible depending upon your level of frustration at the moment. Long walks with or without strollers are encouraged and permitted…as are blowing dandelions. Flawless looking hair is for geeks. Chapstick counts as make-up. Perfection is boring and lame. You are above that because you are beautiful. You are mom.

The day I became a mom.

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Some Good News…

There is something  unnerving about a stranger taking pictures of your brain and then sitting down methodically, without emotion, disseminating what they find. It reminds me of when I was in labor with my son. I, as  pretty much every other mother who has been in the birthing room, am in a most unfavorable position on the birthing table. I’ve been in labor for 11 hours and due to my sons heartbeat dropping and my MS complications, my doctor is beginning to get worried. So she calls in reinforcements. Neonatologist and his nurse, surgeon (I think there were two) and his nurses for a possible emergency c-section, an additional OB/GYN and her nurse….oh, and a medical student who happens to be doing his OB/GYN rotation. I am on the table in an unmodest fashion while a whole football team of physicians along with their nurses are looking at me, assessing the situation and trying to determine a medically sound way to deliver this baby. I cannot hide. Everything is on display.

I sat in my neurologists office today at a six month checkup to review new MRIs. A gentleman sitting next to me is having someone help him complete the pre office paperwork. The paperwork has  lots of questions regarding current symptoms…for example: Blurry vision? Dizzy? Headaches? Sleep problems? Mobility issues? Etc, etc. Confession: anytime I fill out that paperwork, I lie. I do, it’s true. Do I have headaches? Yep. Dizziness/vertigo….yeppers. Mobility/coordination…let’s not even go there. The problem is that my lies get me only so far because when my neurologist pulls up my MRI…it doesn’t lie and I can no longer feign ignorance. 

I received really good news today. My new scans don’t show any new lesions. My neurologist took the time to show me my existing lesions as well as the area of the brain they affect. I’ve developed two new lesions over the last year…giving me a grand total of 5…possibly six according to my neuro. We reviewed things like: slow down, don’t exercise to the point  that you’ll throw up, mindful of the heat, work both sides of the body, find ways to engage your brain (ergo blogging 😉)…& so on.

As much as I loathe getting an MRI or feel violated when 100  images of my brain are put on a computer screen to be  scientifically analyzed by a stranger…I am most grateful the MRI blows through my lies. At that point I’m completely incapable to pull the “I’ll be fine. I’ll just drink some cranberry juice” card. I’m forced to be honest. Forced to respect slowing down. Forced to breath in a different rhythm. I find myself in a rare moment of peace amidst a storm…knowing that despite the diagnosis, despite the fear of the unknown; I’m going to be OK. 

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (‭John‬ ‭14‬:‭27‬ NASB)

Don’t Be Scared

Fear is  debilitating. It starts out small and then blooms into way more than it should be. One time, in the sixth grade, we were talking in class about how the human body chews, swallows and processes food. I began wondering…what if one doesn’t chew the food well enough and it gets stuck in your throat? Even as an adult I still find this to be a valid question. For example, my family and I recently visited a local restaurant and after eating our fried onions, burgers, oysters and chicken wings…we all agreed that dessert would be a good idea. (Dessert is always a good idea). The waiter brought out a creation of brownie, ice cream and chocolate sauce. All total the dessert was the size of my head. Enough to feed all of us…or one crazed chocoholic (me). We all grabbed our spoons and began processing the dessert rapidly. What started out as a tower of beautifulness ended up a sloppy, melted puddle in the dessert bowl. Collectively we’d all managed to take  who-knows-how-many-calories and disseminate them through the process of chewing, swallowing and digestion. Despite the size of the dessert compared to the size of our gullet, not one of us choked!

I’ve not always been so quick to gobble my food. As mentioned above, back in the sixth grade I became obsessed with chewing my food and making sure it was safely processed into pieces I could swallow. Eating with me became arduous. It took me forever to chew my food. One time during lunch at school, I had a near panic attack over a slice of very chewy, cheese pizza. The pizza was not easily chewable, panic set in and  I was convinced I was choking. The whole table stopped eating to watch my antics. I lived…thanks in large part to the fact that in order to choke on a piece of food one must actually attempt to swallow the food. I was too afraid to swallow. But it didn’t stop me from dramatically grabbing my throat and freaking out the lunch lady. I am now over my swallowing fear.

I have a followup MRI scheduled for next week. It’s to see if there are new spots on my brain. My last MRI showed new spots and my physician wants to check and see if the MS is still active or gone back into remission. There is no eloquent way for me to say this, but, I’m scared. For a million reasons…not the least of which is that MRI tubes are insanely claustrophobic.

But it has dawned on me…I have only two options in the matter. Surrender to fear. Surrender to grace. The first option  will debilitate me making it difficult to eat or sleep. I will miss moments of blessing as they will be consumed with minutes/hours of worry. Time will march forward. The sun will rise and set and I will miss it being consumed myopically with fear. The latter will provide breath; rhythm. My eyes will not be on myself but on Christ as grace only comes from Him. This perspective will allow me to eat and sleep. I will hear all my sons silly jokes and they will be a comfort. I will be able to live presently in the moment and fear will not to steal the gifts that are mine.

Neither of the options above change the perameters of my situation…In other words, I still  have to eat and chew the pizza. But this time, unlike my antics in the sixth grade, I can choose to not be afraid. This decision is not light hearted and likely I will have moments of jumping back into the “I’m afraid” camp. That’s ok. I’m not perfect. In that moment, in a calm voice, Christ’ll whisper, “Dont sweat it…I still got you.” Grace will flood back in & fear will dissipate.

“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because GOD, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” (‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭31‬:‭6‬ MSG)

A Good Chuckle

In an effort to keep my exercise routine fresh I’ve started incorporating weekly walks into my schedule. I used to do circuit training workouts. I’ve also done Stairmaster; did that for several years…to the point that the sight of a Stairmaster makes me want to vomit. I’ve done yoga, running, weights, Jillian Michaels DVDs, etc. I’ve never done Zumba. I’ve watched it. I’m sure it’s effective, but I’m afraid that I’d be laughing too hard at myself and never effectively complete the workout. When I was in the 6th grade my mom used to get me up at 6 am to do this utterly, ridiculous video that had aerobics exercise set to gospel music. No. Freaking. Joke.

Suffice to say, exercise has always been a constant in my routine and I’ve developed a love/hate relationship for it. However, recently I’ve noticed my body won’t let me keep the pace I used to keep. (MS sucks) I’ve spent the last 4 to 5 months trying to scale back and find different routines. It’s been frustrating. Running is, hands down, my most favorite form of activity. I can sustain it for about a week but then my body starts to fatigue. It is to that end I’ve started walking.

It’s been insanely cold where I live. (I live in the south and when the temp drops below 40, it feels freezing) I do so hate being cold. So, I bundle up. Long underwear, sweat pants on top of the long underwear, sweat pants on top of the other sweat pants, two pair of long sleeve shirts, ski jacket, hat, mittens, hood up…ready to go.

I went for my walk this week looking like Nanook of the North. (I think it was only in the upper 30s/low40s) I very much enjoyed the crisp air, jamming to my iPod, beautiful scenery. I was happy. Until I spot a runner coming towards me. She is visibly younger than I. She is wearing running tights and a long sleeve shirt. That’s it. No coat. No multi layers. Not even a hat. The first thought in my mind is…she’s got to be freezing. The second thought (which occurred almost simultaneously to the first)…wow, I’m getting old. In response to the feeling of looking old, I think to myself, “Better take my hood off. That’ll make me look more hip.” Why? For reasons inexplicable wearing the hood on my coat, I’m convinced, makes me look old.

I say all of this because I personally find the situation humorous. That’s it. Does the hood on my coat make me look older? Duh!?! And why I’m dressed for sub zero weather when its in the low 40s outside, I’ll not know. It makes me sad that I can’t sustain some of the activities I used to do. However, life becomes stagnant when we focus on the failures and shortcomings. Humor is a wonderful gift from above. It allows us to laugh at ourselves in the middle of struggle or disappointment. It provides perspective. Perspective is grace.

“Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born. Sarah said, God has blessed me with laughter and all who get the news will laugh with me!” (Genesis‬ ‭21‬:‭5-6‬ MSG)

I Am Wonder Woman

Oh how I wish it were true. Wonder Woman (as played by Linda Carter) was, in a word, ‘freakin’ awesome. Great hair. Got the job done. Didn’t break a sweat & looked good doing it. I was her for Halloween one year…when I was 4. I looked good. My mom made me this blue cape, little red skirt and a sash that had a big star on it that I would tie around my waist. Heck, I think she even made me a headband, too. (It’s been such a long time ago; I’ve a hard time remembering.)

At any rate, I not only dressed up as Wonder Woman for Halloween but kept the costume in my closet and would pull it out any time I was feeling Wonder Woman-ish…which happened a lot. Unfortunately putting the costume on tended to bring out my 4 year old alter ego…and it is to that end that I will forever associate my costume with either sitting in time out or getting a swat. My mom finally took Wonder Woman away.

I had my annual MRIs done this year. I get them done every year, and every year I hear back from my doctors office with, “Yes, you have MS. Take your meds. We’ll see you next year.” Not this year. This year they found new scarring and I have to go back in. ***groan***

Sometimes I wish I could go back to being 4 and pretend to be Wonder Woman again.

It’s been 11 years since I was diagnosed. Eleven years of shots, MRIs, doctors visits, etc. and this is the first time in those 11 years that there is any new activity. I’m very grateful that MS has not gained ground in my brain over these last 11 years. But, I’m scared. As it turns out, I’m not Wonder Woman. Not even close. I’m just me…and that ‘me’ has got some probs.

I wish there was some really deep spiritual thing I could say on this topic, but …nothing comes to mind. Just that, I know I’m in good hands. I know who keeps me. I know that the little girl who dressed up as Wonder Woman a long time ago is, in reality, a daughter of a King. For that reason alone the burden is lighter and I can taste grace in this moment.

“I’ve been carrying you on my back from the day you were born, And I’ll keep on carrying you when you’re old. I’ll be there, bearing you when you’re old and gray. I’ve done it and will keep on doing it, carrying you on my back, saving you.” Isaiah 46:4 (MSG)

Merry Christmas

I love Christmas. It is, hands down, my favorite holiday. I love sending Christmas cards, baking, decorating, singing carols. The crowds don’t bother me; not even the commercialism gets to me. The traffic can be sort of nagging and the parking lots are a bit of a drag. Last week a kind soul honked at me as I was straightening my car out in my parking space. I graciously gave them a “thumbs up” sign. Christmas just brings the best out in me and everybody else. (Tongue in cheek)

All these people, myself included, running around like our hair is caught on fire trying to get our “Christmas-To-Dos” done…why is Christmas such an over the top holiday while it’s origins were so humble? Why was Jesus born in a manger? Seriously…why? Why was it God’s design to bring his Son into the world in a stable? Why were sheep herders the recipients of a sky filled with “heavenly hosts?” It seems opposite from what you’d expect. Backwards.

Remember when the Duchess of Cambridge went into labor this last summer? Remember the months preceding the birth where news reporters speculated when she might go into labor? They were camped outside of the hospital long before the duchess even checked into labor and delivery. After the baby was born, I remember seeing “royal town criers” delivering the news of the baby’s birth. Then there is the moment where Prince William and the Duchess came out of the hospital with the baby to a throng of photographers . He (William) gives an interview and then the new family drives off in a parade of black cars. Then, because we all simply couldn’t get enough, there is the much anticipated family photo of the new family together. There is an example of a royal birth! Why wasn’t Jesus’ birth like that?

I have an idea on that topic. I wonder if Christ being born vulnerable in a barn with animals had something to do with God turning the tables on what we think a king and kingdom should look like. We think royalty and Camelot comes to mind. But, God thinks royalty and a stable comes to mind. We think King and then wealth and power come to mind. God thinks King and all of the sudden an omnipotent being becoming human comes to mind.

Could it be that our definition of power is not His definition of power? Further still, could it be that my definition of life is not His definition of life? For me, at one point, life was a successful career. Now, life for me is lived through the eyes of one with MS.

Everything about Christmas is the opposite of what we think. I believe this stark contrast was intentional on God’s part. It isn’t about our kingdom or what we think a kingdom should be. It’s about His kingdom and He keeps trying to draw us into it. But, we continue to fight and build our own kingdom. Stuff. Status. Validation. The list is long. The humbleness of Christ’s birth was by design and a important detail that I don’t think we should miss. I think Christ was born in a barn to an unassuming mother and father, with animals, laid in a manger (trough for feeding animals), visited by shepherds and wise men because God wants to draw us out of our world into His. He wants us to let go of our definition of what power looks like and see what his power looks like…total dependence upon Him.

I think my favorite thing about Christmas is how backwards it is. That a group of sheep herders received perhaps the most glorious birth announcement of all time. That no one local came to celebrate the Savior’s birth except Wiseman who were foreigners to the land. That a King was laid in a feeding trough. There were no town-criers. No caravan of important people. The star and the choir of angels were the only outlandish parts of the story. Our Jesus stepped down to join us and become Emmanuel, God With Us. His actions showed us humility is power brought under one God. The implications of this are profound. That instead of fighting to maintain control, His grace has afforded me the ability to let go. To take in the moment, and not fight to get out. To see Christ at the helm and know that I am safe. Struggling falls away and peace settles in. Stillness. Perfect peace.

God’s grace and peace to you…have a very Merry Christmas.

Identity Theft

I have been a stay-at-home mom now for 8 years. Prior to this I was a career woman. I got my first job when I was a junior in high school and, except for a brief 4 month period in college, have always had a job. I worked very hard in high school. College was a different story. My first few years were hit or miss…mostly miss. I was exploring my freedom during that period. However, after being put on academic probation at a 4-year insititution, I got my act together. I worked my way through college paying for books, tuition, etc. After the third year it occurred to me that since I (and my husband…we got married after my junior year in college) were paying for this, it would be stupid not to get our money’s worth.

After college I found a job and moved into consulting in the marketing research industry. My first client was Procter and Gamble. I learned early on the value of hard work; the value of stepping in and doing a job that nobody else wanted to do. I think because I wasn’t a naturally ‘high IQ’ person, I grew to quickly understand that I could compensate for any lack of knowledge by hard work. I loved the validation this kind of work gave me. I slugged it out and slowly moved up the corporate ladder.

I was diagnosed with MS and found myself pregnant three months later. After my son’s birth & due to a demanding job, I became terribly afraid of missing out on my son’s life. To that end, I discussed with my husband quitting and we financially set ourselves up to be a single income family. In truth, I was only too happy quit. Consulting can be a tough business. There’s always somebody out there that wants your client and you’ve got to be willing to go further and do more than anybody else while still maintaining your reputation. A tough dichotomy.

I don’t know how to describe the first few months after I left. Elated that I was home with my son but awkward because, in an odd way, I didn’t really know who I was any longer. For several years after leaving, when people would ask me what I did, I would always tell them I used to be a consultant. It just seemed like if I were to say that I was a stay-at-home mom then I wasn’t very important. I would like to say that I quickly stepped into the role of mommy-homemaker. That would be a lie. I loved, loved being a mom and wife but I didn’t know how to be a person. It was like my identity had been stolen.

I have been in situations where family or friends are introducing people in the room along with what they do or where they got their graduate degree from and when they get to me…I politely state my name and we move on to the next person. I cannot find accurate words to tell you how pathetic that used to make me feel.

Only in recent years have I come to see how radical my life currently is. I used to think that my being a stay-at-home mom made my family’s life a little more “convenient.” I also used to think that I was a coward for not sticking it out in Corporate America. That I should have pushed my body a little bit harder. The truth is, the work I do at home has afforded me a depth of relationship with my son and husband that I would’ve never known by any other means. There are no promotions in my present line of work. There is no Sr., Jr., or VP anywhere in my name…for that matter, I don’t have a title. I don’t attend any lunch-and-learns…unless you count meeting my son in the school cafeteria for a PB&J. I have an undergrad… but beyond that there are no other “shingles” I hang on my wall. Instead my fridge is covered in pictures my son has drawn, school lunch calendar, homework schedule, my husband’s travel schedule, etc.

Although I have no desire to rejoin Corporate America, I struggle with feeling like “less” of a person for not working outside of the home. However, something inside keeps whispering that’s not true. That what I do is an important piece of the bedrock in my family’s foundation. In the gentlest of ways, my Lord reminds me that, although I felt my identity crumble away when I was diagnosed and left the professional world, I am being restored to what He intended for me all along. My awkwardness is changing & becoming His rhythm. His rhythm is becoming His completeness in me. My identity is becoming grace.