Whatever it takes?

Ten years ago I was Divinely selected to endure an often horrific chronic illness. I trust that the Lord ordains this plan for my life for my highest good and perhaps something good for the people around me. Certainly there was much bad for me and for the people around me, especially my husband of 3 years at the time, Steve. A decade later I am not exactly sure where Steve is on things at the moment but for me my mindset remains: WHATEVER IT TAKES!!! But maybe not in the way that you might think it does.

We have endured much, Steve and I. The stress level was so high during the remediation of our home for mold in 2013 that one night we nearly breached the fatal blow of divorce. I stated that “I would not hurt me to love you.” We just stared at each other. I had been living in a hotel at the time which was during the 76 days I was away from home. We were hemorrhaging money trying to figure out what to do and each of us had different ideas that barely overlapped. My Doctor had prescribed both traditional and alternative medicine treatments, one of the latter of which had made my condition much worse only we didn’t know that at the time. Steve was travelling between the house and the hotel while his adult daughter chose to stay in the house. With full time work and other obligations ongoing for Steve, his stress level was visible, tangible. And then the work on our house was done and I was able to come home. But unfortunately, the daily violent convulsive episodes quickly ramped up again. We were exasperated. The hardwood floors in our home are still nice though.

Ten years of researching, doctoring, extensive medical testing and treatments, genetic coaching, physical rehabilitation, trips to major medical centers, supportive counseling, pharmaceutical grade supplements, science-based modalities, specialized and traditional dental interventions, and finally pain management have improved my quality of life. My worst symptom, the convulsive episodes, have diminished; there’s about one bad episode every 5 days now; tic attacks most days with at least one day per week without one at all. Score! Yay God! I still have to avoid most strong noxious sensory stimuli such as sustained loud noises of a certain pitch and some types of mold that grow inside buildings, homes. We practice a version of extreme avoidance to make our home (and travel trailer when on the road) as safe for me as possible. The ongoing re-testing and treatments are still very expensive, limiting our budget for other projects and interests. The ongoing whacks of illness are still very costly in terms of social engagements and recreation. I still sit home alone a lot more than before I got sick with a serious illness and yet the isolation is breaking somewhat as I learn to navigate some improvements in functioning. It’s a natural process. I feel better and do more. I feel sick and do less. Such is the life I have come to understand.

Then one Friday night came with a major setback. I had recently pursued pain management services and was prescribed a few interventions largely for neck and headache pain that have reduced my symptoms up to 50%. After experiencing headaches so bad for the past year (and earlier in this illness) that I couldn’t get out of bed, THIS IS HUGE!!! The progress is tenuous however. Just like any chiropractic care or physical therapy: the next seizure attack episode wrenches my neck so badly that the gains can diminish or even disappear. This happened again with the surgical nerve blocks about 6 weeks prior. Dang. The violent convulsive episode 2 nights after writing this blog was so bad that it erased all gains from the Pain Management clinic completely! Not only was I horrified by the violence and scope of the episode, I have a new whiplash, a new back injury with which to contend. I AM CRUSHED!!! It’s spring for crying out loud. I’m an Extension Master Gardener who uses her better days to get outside in the dirt or serve as Editor of our county Extension’s newsletter. It’s a real struggle at times but it’s my “job” right now. I still rarely get out for anything social or worship-oriented, however. The challenge has always been to figure out how I was going to do anything in the post-ictal/recovery phase of the daily episodes when I can’t even figure out how to get out of bed? I had a setback like this on Friday; it was that bad all day yesterday.

For some reason yet to be determined, Steve was 42 minutes late picking me up at the local grocery store. I had a minor tic episode about 3 hours earlier and was fatigued from the recently diagnosed dehydration and other abnormal labs, troubling symptoms. IV fluids and more labs were scheduled the next week. We really needed groceries so I talked with Steve about how I could get the shopping done and best manage my depleted energy levels. The plan was for him to drive me to the store and pick me up later. But for some reason our timing got way off. I was left standing in an exceedingly moldy entryway of the store, not realizing what was going on, exhausted plus trying to stay calm and manage the thirst and need to go to the bathroom that were increasing. I had forgotten my phone. He knew that. I felt vulnerable standing there as I was getting sicker, worried that I would have an episode in public. People came and went and I just stood there, checking for Steve in our truck about 18 times. Maybe he forgot me? I was panicking. Somehow I exchanged eye contact with a very friendly-looking woman leaving the store with her own full grocery cart and figured out how to say the words needed to ask her to use her cell phone. (Forgetting my phone should have been another clue that I should not have gone to the store for and hour and a half of shopping. Maybe I should have done the remote shopping service we had used in the past? I just didn’t want to use up my Saturday dealing with 2 weeks worth of a grocery order while my husband was away at a sporting event. I wanted a day-off too. But you don’t get a day off when battling a serious illness, even when in the slow-mo phase of what appears to be recovery.) I made the call on her phone. Steve arrived 24 minutes later. I raced back into the store to use the bathroom while he loaded the groceries into the truck.

My physical discomfort came down a notch as I walked from the store back out into the cool spring air to the truck. I hoped it was reviving me some for the chores to follow at home of dealing with the groceries and making something for us to eat. That’s not what was to be, however. My mind was clearing enough for it to register that I had been in a moldy foyer of the grocery store too long and that the continuous opening-and-closing of the automatic doors did not protect me from a major mold hit. I quickly became aware that I was in the pre-ictal phase: the ramp-up to a major convulsive event. My gait got stiffer as I honed in on the door of the truck just wanting to avoid tripping and falling in the darkness. Steve was holding the door open for me. I could not speak. I believe I thanked him. Maybe I didn’t.

What followed can only be described as a waking hell-on-earth. I don’t know why I have to be awake for these violent convulsive episodes but that is what happens for me. I would rather pass out and deal with a bump on my head than know the horror of the wretchedness of my limbs shaking in various combinations that ramps up to spontaneous vocalizations of terror, writhing like a child with severe cerebral palsy, then hanging like a limp doll until the next wave hits. Whiplash, repetitive motion injury, flare of painful peripheral neuropathy in my fingers and toes, back pain, gasps for air, inability to speak, loss of motor control (aka hemiparesis), and increased sensitivity to all 5 senses that can intensify the episode, filled the next hour or so. My body extended so stongly, it pushed me between the front seats and into the back passenger area. Finally I could sit in the front passenger area and Steve fastened my seat belt for me. I couldn’t use my hands that were involuntarily drawn up to my chest in a flexion posture. He drove us home as I continued to seize. I remember Steve opening the car door once we were in our driveway and asking me what he could do, what did I need? Somehow I blurted out that the frozen food, now thawed, needed to go in the freezer. My eyes were open, my eyes pulled closed then they were open again. My left arm was already useless then my right arm fell lifeless off my lap and into the space near the seat belt and out the open door of the truck. The cool spring air blew over me and I was simultaneously chilled, re-awakened, and glad for my choice to wear flannel-lined jeans. The jeans kept me warm. Steve left my door open as he unpacked the groceries. The tears flowed and my face became a mess with snot and tears. It all burned on the skin of my face: another hypersensitivity anomaly. My mind moved in slow-motion, desperately trying to assess the situation, this medical crisis, from every possible angle. Most importantly I begged the question in my mind: how the hell do I make this nightmare stop! I prayed.

Many minutes passed. I couldn’t hold up my head any longer. It fell forward creating even more of a neck strain and worry about how I was going to continue to breathe let alone deal with the increased pain that would surely follow. I now have pain medications to take for specific symptoms but my liver enzymes are elevated. I have been cautious to only take a drug when absolutely necessary. The only “alternative” method that works is icing so I do that every night. But in that moment I couldn’t do anything but try to keep breathing and hope Steve didn’t accidentally close the door on my ankle dangling off the side of the floor board, out the door. I prayed some more. I always do in these moments, pleading for the Lord’s mercy. As during many times before, I asked for wisdom even on how to wipe my nose to stop the burning feeling on my upper lip. Maybe I could twist my torso in an attempt to reach my arm to wipe my face with my sleeve? I thought it was the last bastion of function left in my battered frame. Big mistake. The episode ramped up to a whole new level of hell as my torso extended, twisted and writhed to the left, sliding me off the backrest of the passenger’s seat AGAIN and into the space between the front seats. My head hung overstretched into the backside of the driver’s seat. I couldn’t stop it. Any of it. This new neck injury further crushed my spirits. And all I could do was hold on and try to breathe some more . . .

For those of you trying to do an armchair diagnostic workup at this point in my story, please stop. Thank you for your care and concern. I’ve seen the best medical providers in the country and completed all of their recommendations. And here I am. My own research led by the Lord and all I have learned from these professionals has brought me the most effective improvements overall. Please just pray for me and Steve. The Lord knows.

Eventually my beaten frame settled back into the front passenger’s seat and I was able to open my eyes, to breathe somewhat freely again albeit labored. I searched my frame and shifted my torso for signs of life in my limbs. Could I move my arms and legs yet? At this point probably 45 minutes had passed since the episode had begun. Steve had asked twice if I wanted him to carry me into the house. I couldn’t reply. My thoughts went elsewhere. I was aware of what was happening and the circumstances leading up to them yet not sure enough of the reason why Steve was late; I didn’t want him touching me just yet. I needed him but didn’t want his help. I was upset at so many levels and my remaining shred of personal dignity required me to find my own way to get into the house. I reviewed the steps over and over in my mind of how to ambulate into the garage, what I could use for support, how to disrobe for a shower, then how to wash off any mold residue on me into the cleansing comfort of a long, warm shower. By the grace of God I was able to advance my left leg by dragging it as I pulled myself out of the truck, limped into the garage then house, drag my dead leg down the hall, and get into the shower. I was so very weak. The pain was excruciating throughout my beaten frame. What is going on? I thought I was getting better? I had endured several mold hits in April in Florida and yes, had some minor episodes but NOTHING LIKE THIS ONE!!! Perhaps my seizure threshold had gone way down with the repeated exposures during that trip. WTF? This far down? I don’t get it. Eventually I lost it and could not hold back my angst any longer. No matter how many incidents like this we endure, each one is difficult for both of us and traumatizing for me. Please pray for us. This serious illness is really, really hard for both of us to live with, to try to live around.

Another thing is as clear for me that Friday as it was in 2013: I will endure whatever it takes to fulfill the purpose the Lord has for my life, no matter the level of suffering or loss, no matter what it takes. Each major “hit” like the one shared above challenges everything I know about life and death, love and hate, Divine Providence vs self-determination, the Lord’s provision, the economy of time in our finite lifetimes, and the question about where the heck did my serenity go if it can leave so quickly? At times of crisis I am ready to run away. Then wonder where would I go? We take ourselves with us when we run away, which includes virtually all of our problems with us wherever we land. It’s like the yellow felt banner painted in purple letters in the office of a counselor I knew in 1983 that read, “Bloom where you are planted.” Funny to recall this now. That was long before I would ever get into gardening. But even back then it was decades into living through the tragic hardships of my childhood and young adulthood. I did try to run away from my problems at home after I finished college. Turns out about a year and one-half later after I moved out of State I realized that I had taken most of them with me! The dysfunctional dynamics of my biological family were reflected in the relationships that filled my “new life” 300 miles away. How is that even possible? So much seemingly had changed. I took the geographical cure, right? Wrong. That’s just the way it works when you “do what it takes” to try to improve your life without first surrendering those dreams to the Lord, Jesus Christ. He knows the desires of your heart and has a Diving plan for our lives. Flash forward about 4 decades and He has fulfilled more of those dreams for me than I could have ever imagined. My life is better overall than I ever dreamed could be. I didn’t know Jesus back then. I know Jesus now. And life is still really hard at times.

To do whatever it takes to stop wretched convulsive episodes is not the most important task in the overall view of my life. Friday night I was in survival mode. I/we did whatever we had to do to get through it and will do the same to deal with the aftermath. Perhaps you get what survival mode is like? Sometimes we must focus on the task directly in front of us and simply HOLD ON. We have to make the hard decisions to cut the cancer out, end the abusive relationship, quit the job that puts our professional license in jeopardy, sacrifice resources usually spent on pleasures for medication or emergency food supplies instead, and move out of state to find yourself, to find Jesus. When those decisions are rendered unto the Lord, He will bless them and ultimately use them for His glory. We will be fulfilled beyond our wildest dreams. The pain of the suffering will diminish while the lasting joy of walking everyday with the Lord magnifies. And when we need to grieve, crash on our bed of sickness, the Lord Himself will meet us there in a tender embrace. He did that for me today at 3:30 in the morning on the day I described above. I had almost built that wall between Steve and I in my heart that we faced in 2013. I was ready to run away again or worse. The pain of the incident that Friday, the trauma of what had happened AGAIN, the loss of nearly 2 days afterwards trying to recover/manage the physical and emotional hurt, the burden of tasks not completed, and the lack of clarity of what to do from there are all just too much to bear alone. But I do know from past experience that I can separate my feelings from my faith. My faith is stronger. My trust in the Lord has been built over many tragedies that I have been entrusted to endure. Yes, it’s a kind of stewardship. What will I do with what has been ordained for my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly? Perhaps I will know someday.

With weakness I shall go forth. With a once baby faith that now roars like a lion I will trust that the Lord will lead me, give me what I need to live. It’s only in His strength that I have gotten through thousands of episodes just like the one described many times at Hope Beyond; any one of them could have killed me but didn’t. I survived. And having said that Gentle Reader, I will thrive from this day forward as unto the Lord. It just looks and feels a little different than it may look and feel for someone else, perhaps for you. Keep looking to the face of Jesus, little Julie. Keep looking at Him. You too Gentle Reader. We can do this if we but follow Him. It will all make sense one day. He promised. JJ

P.S. Steve and I worked things out. It was hard. We did it. Some better days followed and for that we are grateful. We are grateful for so very much . . .

St. George's Island, Florida, travelling, sick, chronic illness, better days, convulsion disorder
Getting out of the truck a few weeks later on my own. A better day indeed at St. George’s Island, Florida!

If only I knew

If only I knew back then what my new life would be like, would I have chosen it? Probably not.

The summer of 2007 was a very exciting one for me. I had just met an amazing man of God and had established myself in a beautifully decorated condo in one of the nicest suburbs west of Chicago. I had a great job that paid my bills along with some extra resources that I inherited when my Mother passed away. The grief associated with her death was complicated by navigating the affairs of her estate. Regardless, a new love makes everything nicer, lighter, and bearable even exciting. In due time I would come to understand my Pastor’s advice not to marry in the same year that I lost my Mother to her complicated health issues. Steve and I married at the end of the year anyways and I was off and running in Indiana with my Intended Beloved. God was so good!

Before long I was completely overwhelmed by all of the changes in my life. When I worked in mental health, we used to give our patients a Stress Management Scale to check off how many changes they had experienced in the year prior to hospitalization. Life events were given weighted scores, tabulated, then matched to a scale predicting susceptibility to illness. Yeah, my score was over 300 which is ripe for a stress-related illness. But thankfully, it didn’t happen. The adjustment to a new family life, State, house, church, job, pet, grocery store, bank, yada, yada, and husband was still completely overwhelming. Then I had to leave my new job in Indiana to find another because of ethical issues. Holy cow. It was a lot of changes in a very short period of time!

Then my Dad, who had been estranged from our family for 27 years, contacted my brother in Michigan. Mike was still living in our Mom’s house so my Dad was able to use our old phone number to reach him. Soon I was in touch with my Dad as well, catching up and trying to figure out how to deal with the sordid memories and circumstances of his leave-taking from our lives so long ago. Overall it was a good process. He was kind and generous. He shared stories, many of which I hadn’t remembered. After a few years of slowly getting re-acquainted, it was time to meet in person at his home in Florida. Mike was invited to go separately but never accepted the offer. I did. Steve and I went under an extremely stressful set of circumstances with my job at the time that would later magnify how important that visit to see him would be to my future. It was really good to see my father again.

Less than 2 months later, my Dad passed away. Mike never got to see him. My own visit and especially having shared it with Steve, were instrumental in figuring out how to manage my Dad’s affairs from where we lived in Indiana. We had a dinner with my Dad’s “tribe” of friends along the Forgotten Coast (so telling, eh?) of Eastpoint, Florida instead of a funeral per se. And over the next year, it would take dragging my brother through endless legal procedures to settle our Dad’s estate especially the selling of his truck. Later on with the inheritance that I received, I bought a newer truck like my Dad’s and became a woman who drove a truck — NOT a compact SUV or car like every other woman I knew drove! After all, I now lived in Indiana. Seems like every 3rd person here has a truck for work or various projects where ya gotta haul something from here to there! I liked gardening so it worked better for me than my Hyundai Tuscon. Over the next 4 years I finally had an opportunity to take the class to become a Master Gardener. Perhaps the truck was part of the overall uniform? It sure hauled a lot of soil and mulch, paddling gear and other stuff. How did I ever live without a truck in the suburbs of Chicago? Well gee, back then I lived most of my years in a townhouse then a condo!

My life drastically changed at the end of the same year of 2011. I was barely past the grief and memories stirred with the ordeal of my Dad dying when I contracted a serious illness kayaking in a local reservoir. Perhaps this stressor finally broke me down. Viral hepatitis became the first domino in a cascade of serious health issues that challenged even our brilliant family practice physician. Sure I had some hormonal and orthopedic issues in the past, even chronic pain, but nothing compared to the daily convulsive episodes and myriad of severe symptoms that beat up my body as I practically crawled through 2012. By February, I could no longer work. I felt that I was putting both my occupational therapy patients and myself at risk should I continue. I struggled to concentrate, to function, to sleep, to complete basic activities of daily living. When my Doctor thought I had underlying chronic Lyme disease, the treatments he prescribed felt like they nearly killed me. Then came the first of a series of alternative medicine treatments. It was the Beam Ray Rife machine that triggered the daily tics, the seizure attacks that escalated into the worst hell I could ever imagine. The episodes wouldn’t be diagnosed as epilepsy but they were equally as devastating. It felt like my life as I knew it was over. Actually, it was.

If only I knew that I would become seriously ill just 4 years into my marriage with Steve, would I do it all over again? To me that is a rhetorical question. Who would choose the extreme stress of almost complete social isolation? This included separation from Steve’s wonderful adult children and family who hadn’t had enough time to get to know me from their homes out-of-state or out-of-country, let alone my own friends and family. Who would choose re-injury of chronic pain issues every day and every night when the involuntary, violent convulsive episodes would start about 10:00 pm every night and return upon wakening every morning? At one point I noted over 30 symptoms to my complicated, serious illness that baffled specialists in-state and out-of-state. Over the course of the next decade, over $100,000 of savings and income would be spent trying to find answers. Treatments would diminish the worst symptom but not remove it or the episodes would increase again after a few months of a reduction. It would take almost 9 years to find cranial nerve, especially trigeminal and vagus nerve roles related to a condition diagnosed as Autonomic Dysfunction. We found tools more recently to stop them after a period of time but not prevent them. The grief and frustration were crushing to both of us. Steve had support from his family and friends, work and church. My support circle caved in with each passing year. I made a few new friends online dealing with similar issues. I knew I wasn’t alone because of their friendship and prayers from them and believers who became distanced; the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit kept me alive and going most of all. He alone re-started my breathing hundreds of times . . . I now longer feared death but saw it as a type of relief should it come.

We simply cannot know what lies ahead of us in our little lives. The Bible tells us that man makes his plans but it is the Lord who orders his steps (Proverbs 16:9). The Bible tells us that He has plans for us, to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). The Bible tells us to trust in the Lord and not in our own understanding, that He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). The Bible tells us a story where He restored the years that the locusts had eaten (Joel 2:25). And so much more. When the months rolled into year after year after year of serious illness for me, when the convulsive episodes and tic attacks racked up into the thousands, when people close to me started to doubt their medical origin even when confirmed by tests and experts, when the money ran out for aggressive treatments, when the illness alluded three large research medical centers in the country and several specialists out-of-state . . . I hit terrible periods of despair. Then I planned my suicide in October of 2019. When I realized to follow-through on my plan would be to believe the lies of Satan himself as he smiled in my mind’s eye, I realized that I was being deceived. Death, like divorce, is not an answer but a new problem. Believe God’s word and promises instead. I chose to accept that I am simply too finite as a human being to fully grasp these Bible verses, God’s real plan for my life, what I cannot see, what my life is really about. I chose to follow Jesus.

All I have is here and now with you Gentle Reader. It’s not up to me to end the timeline. It’s not up to me to write the next chapter of the story of Just Julie Writes at Hope Beyond. My hope and future are in the hands of the Lord. I pray that my hands type as unto His grace, His redeeming power to overcome.

It is up to me to choose to enact a faith in an infinite God Who is beyond what I can see. He knows I have seen and endured a lot of horrible things in my life before I ever met Steve. What I could not even imagine before this past decade was what it would be like to go through it all with a man who loved me more deeply than I knew existed in life. He was often my Jesus with skin on. He is loyal and yet human, strong and tender, God-honoring and God-fearing, loving and still driven to pursue his own dreams too; Steve is my provider of all I would need in my earthly husband. I am truly blessed. We did reach a crisis point in our marriage twice during this nearly 10-year journey within our over 13 years together. We got through them and healed the pain of potentially losing each other. More intimacy grew between us as a result, along with trust. The spiritual battle that came along with each test melted away as unto the Lord. Only the Lord knows what those moments were really all about.

Only the Lord knows what all of the changes, the stress, the spiritual battles, the strife in our lives are really about. I’m sure that each of us would freak out if we really knew what the trials in our lives were really about. One day all will be revealed. For now tis better to lay down our swords and pick up His along with His shield of faith. Put on the entire armor of God while we’re at it. This life is not for wimps, I tell you. JJ

The Young Lad Down the Street

When I first met the 12 year old boy down the street, I found him to be quiet, pensive, and sweet. He was so tender towards his younger sister whom he often had the responsibility of supervising when both were hanging out in the cul-de-sac where Mr. Steve and I, Miss Julie, live. His 6 (now 7) year old sister was respectful of his authority. They got along quite well.

Then I saw another side to their relationship and perhaps his character. Nearly a year after that first meeting, my husband and I know more about each other’s families, living routines, schedules, activities, and personalities. We’ve had some fun activities together outside of the neighborhood as well as the opportunity to bless them with gifts, treats, etc. Kinda fun for us two older neighbors of grand parent age! (If our own grand kids only lived closer, eh? We rarely get to see them as they live several states away . . .)

One recent weekend afternoon, both H and E were staying on our side of town while visiting E’s Dad with their biological Mom. In other words, both boy H and girl E have the same Mom but two different Dads. H spent alternate weekends with his biological Father; E was virtually always down the street on Saturday and Sunday as her biological Mom and Dad often spent weekends together. So the two kids have the same Mom, 2 different Dads between them plus H has several half-brothers and sisters as well. The 2 kids seem to have adapted as well as can be expected with additional visits to some combination of biological grandparents sprinkled in over their weekends too. Somehow even with all of these adults in their lives, E then H came to develop a relationship with my husband, Mr. Steve. He taught H how to ride a big skateboard called a land paddle and raced E up and down the street on said land paddle as E provided the some pretty good competition on her pink 2-wheeler! “Want to race?” was all she said and off they went down the street and sidewalk, respectively.

Last weekend, the two children had spent the day with Mr. Steve in an EAA Young Eagles Introductory Flight experience while taking plane rides in a 4-seater Piper Archer. This was their second time riding in this airplane with Mr. Steve as the pilot. They each got to experience 3 flights on Saturday, a special lunch, and a mini ground school instruction. What a treat for each one of them! Well the extra banks and turns were a bit much for E’s tummy but overall they had a great time. I received them sitting on our patio at our home afterwards as they shared their stories of the day’s events. The kids had dozed off in the car on the 30-minute ride home from the airport; H was still tired and E was acting a bit “wired-tired.” But their “parents” weren’t home yet so hanging out with us would extend a little longer. That’s when I noticed some other dynamics of the relationship between this brother and sister that I had not seen before. Natural dynamics, of course. And yet perhaps a window into some of the stress they might feel when tired from more than this type of day’s events.

H was usually tender with his younger sister. This particular Saturday afternoon, H was relentless in his questioning of his younger sister on a trivial matter. I tried to change the subject and he returned to his chiding her shortly thereafter. Was there more to the stress of the moment than meets the eye? Surely he must get frustrated from time to time with the antics of a sister 5 years younger than him. I wondered, does he ever tire of his supervisory role and have enough time to just be a kid, be himself? Probably yes and possibly no. H is a very serious, thoughtful young lad who largely hides most emotions and speaks in somewhat measured speech at times. He is sure to correct himself to give the right response to a question. He’s the kind of kid a trusted adult male would do well to engage in playful wrestling or other physical stuff yet I get the idea it would be more horrifying than fun for him. Maybe he gets some of it with the land paddling with Mr. Steve? I hope so. I just wonder if there’s an outlet for what the heck he might be thinking or feeling inside. Does he feel loved? Does he have a place to let go or speak his mind freely like his little sister does (kind of all the time!)? He speaks of his babysitting responsibilities in the vernacular of that of a parent. It’s possible that the parental figures in his life expect this of him, to pseudo-parent her not just be a babysitter. That’s a lot of responsibility for a 12 year old boy from a broken home, at the beginning of so many other changes to come in his life as he matures into a teenager and young man. He takes this responsibility seriously. This particular day it was kinda wonky.

My Mom tried to put this type of responsibility on me for my 2 younger brothers but it didn’t work. They wouldn’t listen to me! They wouldn’t listen to our babysitters either when my Mom (a single parent of three children along with a serial dating and drinking problem) had to leave us alone to go to work or couldn’t find a babysitter. I do believe she did the best she could to manage our difficult situation with the tools and life skills she had. The when she left us alone, however, all hell broke loose at home. We were probably out of control. Such is the way children under stress behave when the consistent routines that they need erode, when there’s no one in which to confide, when there’s no outlet for the hurt burning inside a tender heart living inside a broken home. I wish I could have been more like how H is to his sister than I was to Mike and Rob. I yelled a lot. My Mom yelled a lot. There’s more. Surely us kids were struggling with the changes in our lives that were decided by the most-trusted adults in our lives: our parents. We hardly ever saw our Dad and then he moved out of state when we were teenagers; we never heard from him again for a couple of decades. Probably our best aspect of consistency/security was living in the same house all of those years. But inside those doors was a lot of hurt and anger that made it harder for me and my brothers to relate to one another as a family let alone find our way after entering adulthood. I wish I had known the love of my Heavenly Father back then. It would have made such a difference!

H occasionally talks about the Bible with Mr. Steve. I love that. My husband had the insight to give H a student Bible as part of his Christmas presents this past year; we gave E a children’s Bible too. Steve and I both try to weave spiritual topics into our conversations with H and E as we play in our yard, sip endless bottles of water, and chase our old pup Elle. But is it enough? Are we being intentional in our teaching as my beloved use to instruct young families at church to do with their children? All four of Steve’s adult children are walking with the Lord today. What an incredible testimony and tribute this is to the parenting, the love, the Biblical teaching, the mentoring that Steve and his ex-wife poured into their lives. All four are also successful in their respective occupations, one is married with two children of his own. As we get to know H and E, as they continue to come around and knock on our door on a Saturday afternoon, please join us in praying how to best love on them in a Christ-centered way. We desire to encourage and support their parents as well and be a special kind of older friend to all of them that the Lord has ordained for this season of their lives.

As I think about H in particular, some scripture references have come to mind that I hope I get to share with him sometime soon.

Colossians 3:21 (NIV)

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

If H is required to act as a pseudo parent/babysitter at times, these verses and passages speak to the authority and loving relationship of a Father to his children. They provide instruction which is tempered and guided in the manner described by the verses that surround each passage. (Hotlinks are provided to each chapter by clicking on the verse.) If unrealistic expectations have been placed on H to regularly care for his younger sibling then perhaps he still can learn to temper his tone with her as supernaturally guided by these verses and the Holy Spirit. Does H know Jesus as Lord and Savior, know the guidance that can come from the Holy Spirit? We are not sure. This is an area we need to explore further. With the possibility that the relationship of his Mom with E’s Dad is a tenuous one (as they have been apart for extended periods of time in the past), we cannot assume that we will always see H or E several times per month indefinitely. Each day is an opportunity to build our friendship with them and introduce them to Jesus Christ.

Romans 12:10 (ESV)

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

This verse speaks to the relationship of brothers and sisters in Christ, our eternal family. I love the idea of showing honor, deference to the other party. The older brother, just like the child’s Father or Mr. Steve as an older male Father-figure, have an opportunity to help build the worth of a young girl as Christ sees her, as her husband one day will see her someday in marriage. An important part of her identity comes from interaction with the older males in her life. Her older brother’s joking, teasing, and correcting behavior all have their place in good fun along with complimenting, encouraging, and supporting the younger, female as she grows up. We know from God’s design for the roles of men and women in marriage that the woman is to respect her husband; the woman must also receive respect in addition to being loved and cherished. To show honor is to show love.

Matthew 6:33 (Amplified)

But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.

Our Heavenly Father knows what we need even before we ask anything of Him. He is ready, willing, and able to give us the best help possible! This is important to keep in mind when we are trying to figure out what to do, what to say, what decisions to make, how to think, which way to go. Then what about an unruly little sister or brother? Oh vey! I offer this verse as a reminder to pray, to seek the Lord for His wisdom as we interact with all of the other people in our lives. (How I wish I knew this and could take back all of those mean words I screeched at my brothers so many years ago!) Figuring out relationships is soooooo hard on our own sometimes! Our Lord will comfort our angst, guide us, and bring forth the best outcome for both how we want to come across and how we hope our brother, our sister in Christ will respond. We must stop ourselves, pause or take a deep breath for a moment, and ask for our Lord’s help. He will do so. This type of prayer also honors the Lord as well!

Hebrews 10:24 (NLT)

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.

The Lord is faithful to see us through everything including the ups and downs of our relationships with others. He cares deeply about our relationships with the members of our immediate family (as well as the body of Christ). What a privilege it is to be in a position to mentor a loved one who seeks and respects our authority or influence in his or her life. H has managed this big responsibly well despite the challenges of his own young life. This process of mentoring happens naturally with younger siblings who look up to their oldest sibling, to older cousins with younger cousins and so on, when handled well. The love between brother and sister in particular is a special kind of fellowship unmatched by any other in our lives. Our brothers and sisters are the first friends we make in life, the longest friendships we may ever have in our lives. We can find mutual hobbies, games, sports, ministries, and other activities to share together despite differences in age. We can encourage our siblings in following their dreams, the unique ways that the Lord has crafted their giftedness, and even in his or her silliness if younger than we are! When it is safe to do so, let them be! We want the happiest, most fulfilling life for our friends, right? Such is the desire of our Heavenly Father for each of us on each day and each hour we shall live, until the day comes when He will return in the ultimate fellowship with all of us.

After all Jesus was once a brother too you know . . .

Stock Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Gardening from the Ground Up: Tips and Tricks

Recently I had the opportunity to teach a class on the basics of gardening. It was fun and worth all of the planning and gardening projects needed to get ready to host this and two additional classes at our home. What a whirlwind! So now it’s time to share the basic information to help others grow more food, ornamentals, trees, and bushes. We live in zone 5b/6a where the soil is more clay and alkaline so some tips may need adjustment to your growing zone, soil conditions. In the USA, I direct you to your local extension office for more information; find the best information when you search online by using “.ext” and “.edu” after your search words. In Allen County of Indiana, contact the Master Garden Hotline at Purdue Extension at 260-481-6826, extension 2. Happy growing! JJ

Gardening from the Ground Up: Tips and Tricks

Julie xxxxx, Extension Master Gardener

The Gardening from the Ground Up class is for the person newer to gardening or who ends up with more brown than green by the end of the season!

Tools

Lightweight shovel

Generally use the largest containers (with drain holes) or grow bags you can afford

Hand trowel and hand rake; optional:  hoe for weeding, pitch fork and rake for mulching large areas

Garden gloves

Hand pruners

Cart or 2-wheeled wheelbarrow to transport supplies for larger gardens

What are your favorites?

Call 811 to have your utility lines marked before you dig and as you are planning your garden areas.

Soil:  You’re only as good as your soil!

Soil demonstration:  Sand/silt/clay; ph; compost; fertilizer

Raised Bed Tour

Planters:  Rocks, empty plastic bottles with caps on, or pot shards in bottom for drainage.  Pre-moisten potting soil mix (with vermiculite or soil moisture crystals).  No garden soil or compost as it will make the soil too compacted, hard for roots to grow! 

Raised beds:  Black topsoil and peat mixture (can be mixed with vermiculite or coconut coir in place of peat).  Mix top layer with balanced fertilizer and top with compost if desired.  Need drainage so no regular garden soil.  Search “soil calculator” online for how much to use.  Delivery of cubic yards of your soil mix is generally more cost-effective than bagged products. 

Plots:  Consider testing your soil before beginning or buying anything.  We largely have very alkaline soil here that needs much help (compost, sulfur, aluminum sulfate, peat, and gypsum all help lower ph) before planting in the ground!  2 cups of soil tested at Ag Plus or Purdue Extension, $25/20.  Suggest 3-in-1 or similar soil mix that contains compost.  Kill or remove all grass & weeds before planting.  Use only composted never fresh manure; no dog or cat waste.  Raw kitchen scraps can leach nitrogen from soil when planted in garden beds before composted.

Consider starting a compost pile of your own:  2/3 brown material (leaves, sticks, shredded brown paper bags) and 1/3 chopped raw veggie, fruit, eggshell scraps without seeds.  Turn at least weekly, crumbly not wet, and protect from critters with fencing.  No fireplace ash or lime if soil is alkaline.  Ideal is 6-7 for most vegetables, flowers, fruit (except blue and blackberries), bushes, and trees.  Always check first!

Fertilizer

Balanced slow-release fertilizer for initial plantings.  Optional:  Biotone for new plantings.  Balanced/lower first number for edibles and flowers in N-P-K ratings (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium); higher middle number for tomatoes & asparagus. 

Slow-release types generally applied 2x per growing season; liquid fertilizer every 1-2 weeks.  Always check instructions on product labels.  Fertilize hanging baskets weekly and re-pot into larger container when they are drying out too fast or “root-bound.”

Fertilize bushes and trees at “drip line.” 

Note which plants are acid-loving and add sulfur to soil amendments; gypsum adds calcium often needed for tomatoes.  Compost is virtually always helpful in building your soil but you still need to add fertilizer periodically.  Side-dress veggie and fruit rows with fertilizer. 

Plants:  Right plant, right place

Sun exposure:  6+ hours of sun is considered “full sun” but watch changes over the daytime.

Seed-starting:  dedicate some time to research heat mats, grow lights, seed-starting soil mix, pre-soaking select seeds, hardening-off and transplanting for best success.  See guide in Files of WRCA Gardening Group on Facebook for when to sow seeds and planting timetable.

Direct-sow:  Some plants do better direct-sown into the ground/don’t like roots disturbed such as radishes, corn, lettuce, cucumbers.  Follow package directions especially for soil-temp and spacing guidelines.  Don’t be afraid to thin your plants such as carrots, radishes, and lettuce!  Planting tomatoes and peppers too early stunts their growth!

Plant starts:  Local nurseries tend to have plants without pesticides such as neonicotinoids that can kill bees.  Mix balanced fertilizer into soil (and optional Biotone in plant hole) at proper depth & spacing.  Pre-moisten soil of pots before planting.  Do finger test to know when to water each week. Consider inter-planting herbs and flowers in edible gardens for pollination and pest control.

All gardens can benefit from adding native plants.  They attract pollinators and may deter pests, help cultivate, filter, and hold the soil in place; and generally are hardier, requiring less water once established.  Rain gardens specifically help manage and filter water runoff as well.  See Riverview Nursery and Arbor Farms locally plus the references in Files of WRCA Gardening Group on Facebook for some ideas.

Except for some bushes, trees, and cool season veggies, put most plants into the ground after our 6a last frost date of May 1st.  Select plants hardy to Zone 5 or below and watch the weather before-and-after planting!  Planting trees, re-seeding and treating lawns, and dividing plants early in the fall is often better than the spring; mulch plants heavily.

General Landscape Design Tips 

Don’t go too big when just starting your first garden!  How much time can you devote a minimum of 3x per week to water, weed, make adjustments (e.g. staking plants, turning containers) FOR FIVE MONTHS?  What is your budget for everything you need for success?

Water:  Plant within the length of your hose or irrigation line attached to a water source.  Chemicals won’t solve fungal problems that stem from overhead watering; water at the root zone, soil level and in the morning as much as possible.  Consistency of watering is key to success.  Consider adding a simple irrigation system on a timer.

Start small and increase with experience, resources, and success.  You will likely need to move or replace plants, make tweaks each year.

Containers:  Thriller, spiller, filler design principles. 

Landscape perennials and annuals look nice in odd numbers, staggered plantings, swaths of color.

Fall tip:  plant spring bulbs in the Fall and before October.  O.k. to put more than one bulb in each hole; fertilize with bulb booster at fall planting time and after bloom in the spring.

Pest Deterrents

Water in the morning at ground level, avoiding plant leaves.  Consider an irrigation system later on for consistency and to help avoid wetting plant leaves. 

Right plant, right location (e.g. 6+ hours of sun for edibles).  Ensure proper water drainage plus spacing of plants for air circulation.  Consider native plants to increase pollinators for edibles; these take a couple of years to mature.  Don’t plant in the ground anywhere near walnut trees.

Organics:  Apply when needed:  Dipel dust on leaves or neem oil spray, both according to package directions.  Bad infestations might benefit from Spinosad or Captain Jack’s Bug Juice.

Rabbits:  Liquid Fence on leaves of all tender plants as soon as they emerge and afterwards per package directions.  Minimum 3 foot tall fencing around edibles and plants they keep munching!  Make a ring out of poultry wire to place around favorite plants, edibles.

Japanese Beetles:  Make a plan with your neighbors!  Apply GrubEx or similar product to lawn in May and apply Neem oil EARLY (as directed on label) when they emerge, to leaves of plants they attacked last year.  Pick off Japanese beetles in morning into bucket of soapy water and discard.  Organics include BeetleJus and Captain Jack’s Bug Juice.  Use Sevin dust according to package instructions only for bad infestation and continue knocking them off. No JB traps!  Reference:  JB fact sheet in WRCA Gardening Group Files or E-45-W at the Purdue Education Store.

Brood X Cicadas:  In the Midwest in 2021, plan to wrap the trunk and cover the canopy of (1/4” or smaller mesh) young bushes and trees if you are within 50 yards of 17+ year old trees,maybe further!  They might be everywhere or might not be bad at all.  We shall see!  Consider waiting to plant new stock until after they depart if it’s not too hot- or-wait until the fall.  Reference:  Cicada fact sheet in WRCA Gardening Group Files or E-47-W at the Purdue Education Store.

Pick off tomato hornworms and plant tomatoes in a different location next year. Remove lower leaves and stake plants (especially indeterminate varieties) so no branches touch the ground.

Remember with chemicals:  less is more!  Read package labels and wear protection when using.  Spray diluted, unscented mild dishwashing detergent to leaves to deter bugs. Treat in morning, shady days.  Call the Master Gardener Hotline to help diagnose and treat problems (see page 5).

Weed Deterrents

Keep soil covered with mulch such as leaves, wood chips (no dyed chips in beds with edibles), strips of cardboard, or straw.  Groundcover plants help ornamental beds.

Walk around your yard and do a little tidying/weeding every day.  If you keep pulling weeds, the roots of most weeds and even invasives like Canadian thistle will eventually lose energy from the starch stored in its roots and will stop sending up new leaves.  Kill sod and weeds by covering with cardboard or black plastic or digging it out.  This takes time.  Minimize tiling when possible.

Homemade Weed Control

Ricky’s Gardening Tips and Tricks

From:  Ricky’s Gardening Tips and Tricks and Home Horticulture, April 2020

Ricky D. Kemery, Allen County Extension Educator Retired  

Keep in mind that this method only burns-down plants; it doesn’t travel within the plant like systemic herbicides such as glyphosate (Round- Up). Since many folks don’t want to use Round-Up because of health concerns, this can be an alternative control for common weeds.

People still need to be careful, wearing gloves, eye protection, long sleeves and pants when spraying. This will also damage desirable plants, so use pieces of cardboard to prevent spray drift. 

Plants will grow back usually so several applications may be necessary. One can also use this without Epsom salts, as the salts might damage soil if used repeatedly.

1.  Mix a gallon of five-percent household white vinegar with a cup of Epsom salt and stir until the salt is completely dissolved.

2.  Next, add a tablespoonful of Dawn dish soap to act as a surfactant. Surfactants help solutions adhere better to their targets upon contact. Again, stir the mixture for nice blend.

3.  Transfer the solution into an empty plastic spray bottle. Then proceed to spray all weed plants (as needed).

Garden notebook, importance of keeping records

Keep learning and experimenting! Happy gardening!

Walk softly in the moment

Said goodbye to a group I started on Facebook that grew to well over 3,000 people, my Co-Admin and I helping them with mercury toxicity as best as we can. My leave-taking occurred over a period of weeks and ended yesterday. It was time to free up some energy for other projects. Still, you have meant so much to me.

Experiencing fewer serious convulsive episodes lately after embarking on aggressive treatment for systemic Candida albicans plus flares of herpes simplex, and herpes zoster. The ramp up was very difficult yet, coupled with another treatment for a chronic MARCONs infection in my sinuses, it appears the body burden of infection is going down. Along with it there are at least 2 days every week for the past 5 weeks without convulsive episodes or tics! Only one severe episode every 5 days! Having more moments of relative freedom means so much to me after 9 years trapped in a prison cell with fear-of-episodes: avoiding triggers seemingly present in every aspect of living. Thousands of convulsive episodes nearly destroyed my health, my life. Now the the beatings have lifted some.

Simple changes in the timing of compounded hormone creams coupled with specific pharmaceutical grade supplements to help regulate cortisol levels took about a month to affect my sleep-wake cycle. This all came together rather casually when my Family Doctor reviewed the treatments of my Integrative Medicine Doctor. Both of them contributed to a significant change and so did I. I ventured out to find yet another recommended supplement and braved taking it when literally hundreds of treatments in the past have resulted in disaster. The Lord guided me in tweaking the dosing. And now most nights I sleep at least 5 hours during the normal time of night. This means so much to Steve and me.

A quagmire of new dental issues furthered my belief that not much in the medical realm is simple for me anymore. A simple cavity took a total of 4 dental visits to resolve, 2 with conscious sedation and all with considerable suffering, serious side effects. The latter included another flare-up of shingles! But now the insurance coverage for ongoing treatment of HHV1 and HHV3 is better and I am tolerating the dosing most of the time. So what if I have to soak the dye off of the tablet so it doesn’t cause a headache. I digress. PTL, He helped me figure it out. After my mouth fully heals and I can return to regular wearing of my specialized dental appliance, I should be stable once again. No more pureed or chopped food. To be stable means a lot to me.

The diagnosis of Occipital Neuralgia dovetailed multiple cranial nerve issues (vagus, trigeminal, glossopharygeal) that result in convulsive episodes. This discovery has led to new treatment strategies that work for me. No, it’s not fun to sleep with an ice wrap around my head at night but if it largely prevents a seizure attack episode falling asleep then I WILL DO IT! Nerve block injections tomorrow have the possibility of confirming this dynamic. It means so much to me to have tools to help my symptoms, to lessen my suffering. Very sparing use of new medications has rescued me on my worst days. Over the past 5 months, it only took a failed visit to the Cleveland Clinic and four visits to the professionals at a local pain management clinic that actually listen to me to figure it all out. At long last, I’ve got tools that work to lessen pain! Less pain means fewer convulsive episodes. Who knew?

The difference between my self esteem getting bruised from chronic illness and graciously seeing the Lord’s hand in delivering me from the hardest parts of chronic illness often lies in the hands of nurses at various medical facilities. They run these places. When a nurse actually delivers care and not just a procedure or worse yet ABUSE, I can endure much. The nurse who shamed me, blamed me for things things at the infusion clinic yesterday that were not my responsibility was out of line. I wept once they pulled the curtain to start my IV fluids. I left there in a weakened state albeit made worse with the needle-stick pain of the Huber needle coming out of the infusa-port in my chest wall. I sat in an outer lobby and cried again before emotionally limping as I left the building to come home. I really hate this stuff. I don’t want to be there. Insurance changes then other problems required me to return to a hospital setting instead of continuing in home health. You have to do what they tell you to do much of the time no matter what it means to you.

We have come into a time of year that means the most to me. It’s springtime. The temperature outside is in the 50s and it’s the same to me as a warm sunny day if I can get dirt underneath my fingernails in a garden. Less severe illness symptoms parts of days a couple of days per week means that I can push myself to do more than my basic self care. And so I have. No one needs to counsel or push me to get up and get moving. If I feel better, activity follows. I don’t want to be sick anymore. I’ve learned a lot but never “got anything” out of being sick. I hate and hated being sick but it happened anyways. The Lord has seen me through it all and is leading me into some new projects. These activities stretch me greatly and increase my pain level temporarily. They also increase my interaction with other people, strengthen my broken body, stimulate my mental capacity, and add value to our home and hopefully the lives of others too. By the grace of God I have earned the title of Extension Master Gardner. By the grace of God he has called me to serve others with these abilities so I have chosen to step out in faith by hosting some community gardening classes and even repairs in our own landscape. Sometimes I have to take things an hour at a time. Steve helps, thankfully! I actually get to check things off of my To Do list! Praise the Lord!

We have no idea what tomorrow will bring nor how long it will stick around. When it’s bad news we all go through a process of questioning: why me? why now? What am I supposed to do to get rid of this or perhaps worse yet, deal with this? I submit to you that the only Person to ask these questions to is the Author of life, the Lord, Jesus Christ. He is the beginning and the end, all that the heart seeks to be fulfilled despite living in a fallen, satanic world. He has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives. Every detail matters and is ordained in His crafting of our days, the days of the entire world and its people. You matter. I matter. And that worth does not change based upon our circumstances, thoughts, or other people. No one wearing a badge can take away your ordained purpose on this earth, on this side of the grave. Even if you die, your life will have made an impact somewhere to someone. And if you believe in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, you will live on in paradise where everything is perfect, well, good, and beautiful. Thankfully we get glimpses of heaven here on earth, especially in the garden where His fingerprints color the fauna around us.

One of the most compelling truths I have learned enduring serious illness for nearly a decade is to walk softly when considering the hardest questions of life. Nothing is wasted in a life surrendered to the Lord, a life redeemed by the Lord. Everything will be alright in due time. We can bear way more than we think we can. We pray for the Lord to help us when we cannot see or trust, when the pain is too great. He will bless us. And further there is always something for which to be grateful. Even during a pandemic. Even during tyrannical events in society. Even when our relationships or health or finances suffer a seemingly fatal blow. We are not dead yet! We are also never alone. If we but walk softly as we consider the days of our lives then in due time, our precious Savior will reveal Himself to us. The seizure of our spirits will not last forever, Gentle Reader. One day we will know what it means to be truly free. JJ