I see her in a different view these days with less distortion than in days gone by.
The form of her face is increasingly unfamiliar with advancing age and the effects of illness.
When gazing into a full length silhouette I have less of a critical eye as the pounds have dropped over time. This was not always so.
Close in and the imperfect details are no longer masked as I became allergic to make-up or unable to attend to the details of the perfectly plucked brow. The latter used to be so relaxing to craft.
Instead I see the markings of days in the sun, storylines from broken nights of sleep, puffier cheeks for unknown reasons, shoulders elevated with enough muscle tension to throw out the shoulder pads in that dated blazer, and a jaw set in a pattern marked more by pain or grief than joy.
But wait. There is something more! Will you look at her eyes? When she will dare to look with more than a fleeting glance I can see deeply into her soul like never before. There’s a softening, a knowing, a sincerity, a connection, a spirit-filled peace, a sense that the stuff of this world is just not that important anymore, a different brand of confidence. She might be o.k. just the way she is, no? Her eyes say so perhaps . . .
So funny, isn’t it how the role of the bathroom or pocket mirror can change over the course of our lives? As a teenager we strive to keep every bit of bang, drape of the shirttail, sparkle of the lip gloss and more just right. After all that dashing blond-haired dreamboat may just look our way today so we must be ready! The preoccupation continues until we actually land with that special someone at the Lord’s altar of grace and happiness; we may keep up appearances for a time then our image may fade as family priorities, career shifts, and the care of aging parents come crashing in. There simply are not enough hours in the day to have a perfect manicure all the time anymore!
I find myself in a curious variation of all of these themes. Many times I have hated the change in my appearance with the onset of a serious illness. Most of the time I was at a complete loss to do anything about it and had to nearly crawl out of the house with wet hair and no make-up. I was grateful simply to be upright and moving! By the time I became better at managing the symptoms of illness, the routines of daily grooming had already eroded. It was just easier to go al naturale and spend the precious moments in which I was able to function on more important tasks. Comfortable shoes became the norm every day even when I had acquired some cute low-heeled boots or slides. The latter accentuate the calves don’t you know, in a lean, long leggy look anytime of year. Nope: that was generally off my radar until very recently.
Was it the discovery of a mineral-based make-up line that peaked my interest in stepping things up in my primping department? Was it the opportunity to go out a little more that prompted me to look good for my hubby-boo? I’m thinking that it is just plain fun to dress up again, allowing the inner peace to percolate out into the mainstream here and there a bit. And if I do or if I don’t, it doesn’t matter as much anymore. THAT IS VERY FREEING INDEED!
After all, the woman in my mirror has grown into more self-acceptance than ever before. Psalm 139 means a lot to me even in the face of serious illness when I know that this is how my Lord crafted me and is the place from which He will call me into His presence someday. One day all this will be perfect so why sweat the small stuff now? Taking care of myself and my appearance also reflects well on my husband according to the Proverbs 31 lady. She wears purple! The woman in the mirror is to be a solo consideration, not comparing the reflection to any magazine cover or member of the sisterhood. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, we are to humble ourselves before our brethren (Phil 2:3-4). That will keep our hearts pure and beautiful no doubt. Further we are to carry into the world our own treasure chest of talents and giftings (Galatians 6:4-5) then boast only in the One who made us this way (1 Cor 1:30-31) all for His glory not ours. Wow: delighting in His creation (me) which is a testimony to His own reflection and the work of the Holy Spirit living in each of us who know Him as Lord and Savior. Oh how I long to see the face of my Jesus someday!
When a sweet gal recently complimented what I thought was my very plain appearance, I realized that the most important accessories I need to wear are a smile on my face and joy in my heart. The rest of my self image must transcend the beauty aisles at Macy’s. So I say now that my inability to keep up with appearances as in the past has actually moved me away from the glassy mirrors! These days I’d rather see myself in the eyes of a friend sitting across the coffee table than from any other place. Perhaps the Psalmist King Lemuel said it best from the wisdom of his mother:
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)
Oh how I do pray that what you see here from me, Gentle Reader, is Him and not me. I would have never made it this far in my life without Him: that is for sure. The mirror would have shattered years ago with the crumbling of my own strength, my own inability to keep up with much of anything at all. May you always see Him in the people places and things around you. May you come to know the Lord, Jesus Christ of your life as you gaze into your own beautiful reflection too. It’s just how it’s meant to be my friend. JJ
I’ve taken on a few phrases from others and made them my own over the years, ones that put a bunch of thoughts into a phrase or short sentence. Not that these would bode well as my epitaph or anything like that mind you! They just seemed to stick with me. Here’s a biggie from an old supervisor named Jim. He was a social worker by training and the director of the inpatient geriatric psychiatric unit where I was contracted to work. When asked how things were going he would often reply:
“Same story, different day.”
Funny thing is that it was largely true. On the Generations Unit there generally was at least one person every day screaming non-stop, voiding in an inappropriate location, wandering into another patient’s room unannounced, refusing to eat, refusing to get out of bed, or making up a story to convince him and psychiatrist that he/she did not need to be there. Yes it was a crazy place. That’s what you get when the nursing homes send their residents whose behavior can no longer be managed in their facility. It is also where a depressed little old lady or your suicidal Uncle Pete would go for supportive therapies, meds., daily structured activities, and a round of ECT if needed (aka shock therapy!). The latter actually worked very well for older adults. The short term memory loss and massive headache was a major drag for awhile, however!
I worked there as an occupational therapist. My role was to evaluate the functional level of the patient and assist the team in forecasting discharge plans while providing therapeutic activities. The goal was always to achieve improved mental status, mood, and functioning for discharge to the least restrictive environment. That might translate to a person returning home instead of assisted living or remaining in a private room in a nursing home instead of a locked dementia unit. Sometimes the patient’s goals were reached and sometimes not. Educating the family on the patient’s needs post discharge was also my role: an important and sometimes delicate process. I loved all of it. I got to apply my skills in standardized assessments, grading activities for the best outcome in lower and higher level cognitive groups, patient and family education, and knowledge of community resources that may be of assistance post discharge. The two latter skills were collaborated with the unit social workers who also loved working with older adults. We had a great team back then . . .
I’ll never forget the two weeks that c-diff ran rampant through the unit. C-diff is short for Clostridium difficile: an infection of the colon causing horrific diarrhea and inflammation. It’s a bacterial infection I can now diagnose by smell. O.k. perhaps that’s too much information? When virtually all of the inpatients become sick it is only a matter of time before the staff contract the infection as well. There are just too many common areas in a locked unit that too many people end up touching with a contaminated hand after caring for a patient. The motto those days was, “please pass the yogurt” or something similar!
Ruth was the best during situations like that. She was older than me and had been a Certified Nursing Assistant for years. She could get the toughest old bird to take a shower when he was resisting for days then she would turn around and feed a tender soul in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease bringing out the patient’s long-forgotten smile producing a long-lost twinkle in her eye. Ruth often told us stories of her pet pot-bellied pig. Seriously! The beast weighed a couple hundred pounds but was part of their family, inside the house, potty-trained and behaved like a favorite feline or pup. I could not imagine it! Ruth lived in a suburban neighborhood like the rest of us! Actually more recently while living in a smaller town with Amish homesteads not far away I can now start to imagine it a little better. It’s still not for me, however!
The life I once lived was in the suburbs of Chicago amongst 8 million other people. I was married and lived in a townhouse as it was the only affordable option even for two Master-degreed professionals or DINKS: double income no kids. We attended a mega church then a smaller Bible church, organized a yearly block party in the court of our neighborhood, and took walks together in regional parks called Forest Preserves. I enjoyed neighborhood walks and riding my hybrid bicycle (between that designed for road touring and trail riding). Holidays were spent with family in various cities as everyone was out of State for our Illinois locale. Sure there were ups and downs with health issues or financial stressors but largely each day of our lives was the “same story, different day.” When this got to be too much for my former spouse he found a way out and took it. Hmmmm. Alternately I found that you don’t really need a way out, per se. Sometimes the “difference” we are seeking finds us as part of the Lord’s plan for our lives and it comes from within us instead of in the form of persons, places, or things . . .
Flash forward a myriad of moves of my residence, a change in the car I was driving, changing my job four times, transitions to new hair and clothing styles, some weight loss, and eventually moving to Indiana to marry Steve — over 10 years later I rarely say that old phrase anymore. Oh even if nothing much has changed lately in my health or the circumstances of battling a serious illness, there are always new discoveries meeting me each day. Things simply cannot be boring when you marry a man with as much energy as Steve! He keeps me going just keeping up with all of his activities even when he is not home! First there’s his four adult children and their families, then there’s his hobbies and sports, and his participation in the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ; the latter always brings news related to our church fellowship in addition to an intriguing message from the pages of the Bible. That’s a lot to keep track of and I love it. My garden, online jewelry business, and this blog fill in much of the rest of the time not taken with health-related activities. How could I ask for more when my heart is full?
Sure my life has changed in the last decade or so and I’ll bet it’s the same for you too, Gentle Reader. Is that o.k. with us? As for me I would never have asked for the difficulties that have come in recent years that have added more “excitement” and stress than I could ever have imagined. The crazy thing is that I would also have never known how to ask for the blessings that have come from this particular path either. I would not want to be without the blessings just to have had an easier life. I believe that I am exactly within the will of my Heavenly Father, that He has His hand on my life and my heart warmed in the shelter of His mighty wings. He goes with me, goes before me this moment and the next; there are signs of His wonders sprinkled everywhere in my days. I am so glad that I am not bored with my life. Well yes of course there are times I’d like a little less “excitement!” Yet that’s when I need to rest my cares at His throne of grace, allow Him to carry me like the famous Footprints in the Sand poem so graphically portrays, or wait on the Lord in the quietness of a moment of prayer . . .
I’m going to keep my head up and do like my brother, Mike, always used to say: “keep moving forward.” The life I once lived is gone but not forgotten. Those memories bring gratitude for all that the Lord has placed in my life today: a story that is never really the same. In time my Lord will make all things beautiful. In the meantime though I think it is finally time for me to go to bed! There is a calmness in my spirit at last. The sun is coming up and the birds are singing their morning hello just outside my window. For me it will serve as a happy goodnight lullaby as I snuggle up to my intended beloved who brings me more joy than I could ever imagine. Real love and more is here now.
As I described in my post on May 28th, becoming a kayaker mid-life can be a daring adventure. When your intended beloved becomes a United States Canoe Association racer (State and now Nationally-ranked) you have a couple of decisions to make. The first one was whether or not I would also learn to kayak. Would I become a “kayaking widow” a couple of nights per week as my River Bear practices then races throughout the State of Indiana? The second one is if I did paddle, what kind of kayaker would I become? Recreational? Racer? Eeeeek, no!
Steve dons his dry suit here in the Midwest by about April or as soon as there is open water in our local rivers after the long Winter. Initially he would borrow my Think Fit (sea kayak) to start his season as it was more stable and forgiving when wearing this neck-to-toe zoot suit. As the weather warmed up he transitioned to either his Thunderbolt (open cockpit racing kayak) or surf ski (sit-on-top ocean vessel) as I reclaimed the Think Fit to join him with our Tuesday night Fort Wayne Kayaking Group. As I described in my previous post, one of the fears a paddler must overcome is that of falling into the water and drowning. To help guard against this outcome you can wear a paddling life vest, choose a more stable boat, or upgrade to a surf ski. When you topple out of a surf ski you will have a much easier time re-entering the boat, especially in deeper water. The kayak won’t fill up with water since the hull is a closed system. This provides you an excellent flotation device to hang onto should you topple over, until you can either re-mount the boat or swim with it to safety. This surf ski design began to look appealing to me in my second season of paddling. So did having a kayak that was even lighter and narrower making it easier to paddle.
You could say that I was the first in the Midwest to bring home a Think Fit and then a Stellar SR. In time the introduction of the Stellar line would open up opportunities for my River Bear, Steve, to become a representative for both Stellar and Epic kayaks here in Indiana. Cool beans. Wifey-poo done good! I had so many offers to purchase the Think Fit that it wasn’t hard to sell it when a suitable Stellar SR became available. Our friend Allan took to it easily and made waves, literally, that I could have never accomplished as a recreational paddler. My baby found a good home and served her new racer well. He even won a medal at his first Nationals in his age class: his first year competing and finishing in a torrential thunderstorm! Ah, the things that become normal when racing enters your life. Yes of course we were cheering him on equally drenched at the finish!
At first I doubted my decision to upgrade to a beginner surf ski. Sure there would be a learning curve but when my maiden voyage in a friend’s private ski lake yielded a nearly effortless glide with my winged carbon-fiber paddle, I thought I “knew” that I had made the right decision. Or did I? I can recall nearly panicking as I paddled between lakes in a local chain-o-lakes: my legs outstretched and straddling either side of the boat for stability. What had I done? The cross-winds were fierce in open water! Forget the great secondary stability it’s the initial stability that I was sorely missing! Once in the channel I could calm down a bit. Whew. “This is going to take some practice,” I muttered to myself. But was that what I wanted as a recreational paddler? Not really. I like to stop and grab a drink of water or bite of a snack bar along the way in addition to taking advantage of navigating a more streamlined, lighter vessel. Learning the sport from my racer husband had landed me in unfamiliar territory for sure! Now that Allan had already bonded with the Think Fit there was no use looking back to my first love (the kayak, that is!). Back to the calmer lake we went for more practice before the next outing . . .
The Fort Wayne Kayaking Group was headed to the Cedarville Reservoir in Leo, Indiana early in October. The boat launch just over the bridge provides access to the St. Joe River to the north and to the reservoir to the south. Later Steve would remind me that my first paddle when we were dating was in that reservoir. Sweet. Now it was three years later in the Fall: October 11, 2011 to be exact. I did pretty well that beautiful night for my third outing in the Stellar SR, continuing to wear a life vest for added security. Unfortunately I made 4 costly mistakes that evening. First, I let the mouth of my water bottle make contact with the greenish water. Second, I ate a snack that I had saved in the zippered pouch of my life vest even though it had become a little mushy, perhaps melted. I was hungry and it hit the spot! Third, a winged paddle tends to throw a lot of water into the air, particularly for beginners just learning the more efficient racing stroke for which it is designed, which also sent blue green algae aerosols into the air. And fourth, I doubt that I washed my hands after we loaded up the boats and sampled one of the member’s luscious peanut butter cookies she often brought to top off the Tuesday night paddles. Within 24 hours I was deathly ill and it was not from the cookie!
Within 36 hours I thought I was going to die. Seriously. Have you ever been in so much pain that all you can do is moan, holler, and moan in agony some more? After the second trip to the doctor’s office that week, he sent me to the emergency room for IV fluids mixed with anti-nausea medication. We figured by then that it was from something in the water but what could it be? The weekend was hell on earth. In between vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and unbelievable abdominal pain eventually my brain started to put the pieces together in what was left of my mind. Early the next week some blind internet searching found a report documenting the testing of Indiana rivers and lakes. In a chart written in 2005 describing various cyanobacteria populating stagnant waters in the Spring and Fall I found it: cylinderospermopsis. I matched all of the symptoms listed for exposure. The treatment? “Supportive measures” as needed. I already had that. What else? I didn’t need the other recommendation thankfully: intubation or life support. My liver enzymes were elevated but that didn’t indicate any additional treatment at the time. These days I wish that I had been administered activated charcoal back then. Oh well. It’s amazing what 2 1/2 more years of research yields that could have been helpful at the beginning of this exceedingly difficult journey.
I never paddled the Stellar SR again. Here’s a picture of me in the one that has now gotten away. We never fully bonded. I never fully mastered her. ‘Tis bittersweet you might say for the wife of a kayak racer. I had learned so much and come so far since my maiden voyage in that plastic Sirocco in the summer of 2007 only to stop as they say, “dead in the water.”
The next 2 1/2 years was a wretched process trying to figure out why I wasn’t getting well. Was it Chronic Lyme disease? Biotoxin illness such as cyanobacteria and mold? Non-epileptic seizures? For more on finding hope during the medical part of this story just scroll through this blog a bit for the good/bad/ugly of overcoming a serious illness. As for kayaking and while the battle continues today, there have been enough recent improvements that I am able to get back into the water for limited outings. I am exceedingly grateful for the improvements. The Lord appears to be restoring the years the “locusts” (as in pesky little cyano-bugs) have eaten (Joel 2:25), slowly but surely. He has sustained me through this hellish journey and many nights home alone while I supported Steve in his continuing to progress as a USCA racer. He has done well and I am proud of him. That’s the benefit for me of having a Heavenly Husband at home with me in my heart while my earthly husband is away. It works that way for us gals whether we are married or single. It’s all good: whether or not you are with your paddling buddy or not you are never really alone when you have Jesus in your heart.
My watercraft of choice has now changed. When I did try to sit in the cockpit of the Stellar SR, I realized that my balance skills were now altered. How in the world would I ever enjoy paddling a tippier kayak with an altered center of gravity? It was just too much for me. But I also did not want to go backwards into a heavier, wider, shorter sea kayak either. I had tasted the sweetness of performance race boats and longed to be with Steve back out on the water. The lighter kayaks and paddles made this all possible in the first place, minimizing the stress of my underlying fibromyalgia. I would have never been able to paddle in the past due to chronic pain. My Stevers had helped me find a way. Now could we find a way to get me back on the water again?
By this time we were grateful to have acquired a tandem outrigger canoe. The first time out in the OC-2 after the onset of the recent illness were meaningful minutes and happened at the end of last summer. We went out again on our friend’s ski lake earlier this year and even took it to the smaller Oliver chain-o-lakes last month. Yes, my first outing in 3 summers happened a couple of weeks ago! Having a River Bear at the helm made it all possible as I could rest in the front seat when needed. THAT was an emotional day for sure: tears of joy to be out again and tears of sorrow for all of the lost time.
The question remained as to what would I paddle solo? Could I even paddle solo? The answer came with our one-man outrigger canoe. She is beautiful. In carbon fiber she weighs in at 22 pounds despite her 21 foot overall length. And she looks so very cool too. Oh how I love Steve! I get to do so many cool things because of him! Anyways, here’s a picture of the boat I will be paddling, Lord willing, as I get stronger. These days I still have seizure attacks every day, including in the evening after paddling for awhile. I’m not sure yet how to modulate this other than making sure my body temperature doesn’t fluctuate, stay hydrated and nourished, and avoid contact with nefarious waters underfoot! Oh well. The answer to the unknowns lie in the Lord’s hands. I’ll just go slow and remain grateful to be paddling a bit once again.
See there? Who says you can’t paddle an ocean-faring outrigger canoe in the Midwest? Just like the Think Fit then the Stellar SR, sometimes you get to start a crazy trend that works for you and others follow along too. Good ideas breed good company. Thank you Lord. Guess it was meant to be. God is so good. All the time. God is good!
1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. 2 In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me. 3 Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. 4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.
5 For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. 6 From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you. 7 I have become a sign to many; you are my strong refuge. 8 My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long.
9 Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone. 10 For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. 11 They say, “God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.” 12 Do not be far from me, my God; come quickly, God, to help me. 13 May my accusers perish in shame; may those who want to harm me be covered with scorn and disgrace.
14 As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. 16 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. 17 Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. 18 Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.
19 Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens, you who have done great things. Who is like you, God? 20 Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. 21 You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.
22 I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, Holy One of Israel. 23 My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I whom you have delivered. 24 My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion.
Tonight as my body thrashed about I cried out to the Lord, asking “don’t you see me?”
Tonight I cried out for the Lord to take me, as in take me home. He did not answer.
Tonight I cried out asking Him not to leave me here this way. He did not answer.
The after burn of the seizure attacks, flu-spikes, chest compression symptoms making breathing labored, increased pain, and massive neck headache was unbearable once again this evening. Things are getting worse. This was my third episode today with over two dozen individual incidences!
My precious husband got out of bed after 1:00 a.m. to get me something to eat in an effort to end the tic attacks that would not stop after the seizures.
It is now over an hour later and I am stable. I am beat up. I am still here!
I will remind myself to have hope, to cultivate hope that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Sometimes He speaks and sometimes He is silent. And for those who believe in Him, He is always present.
Psalm 71 puts it all together for me right now, so this is how I will pray as I go forth from this night. And that’s about how far I have gotten. My tummy hurts. Time to go back to bed. I think I can sleep now.