We survived our Christmas holiday

He suggested a restaurant, I located a coffee shop, we could save money by making our own food, then 4 of 10 family members cancelled, so a local brunch place it would be for our family Christmas gathering!

I intended to meet up with them that Sunday the 23rd but the old beast I battle interfered then lo within hours they were in the driveway and headed to the backyard just moments after I’d made it out of bed! Thank the Lord I’d showered before my recovery nap; the gals had dressed in warmer garments so their greetings on the Wintry patio meant I could see my beloved’s wonderful adult children after all.

The gifting seemed awkward but we were generous all around anyways then whammo it hit and seizing returned body-wide in full view, right there in the open air: my winter coat and silent eyes all around me. Some had not witnessed this hell before . . . what the hell? I prayed as my body shook violently and slumped down into the lawn chair, with me still wondering why I have to be awake to try to figure out what I am supposed to do during these nightmares when I can do nothing at all?

A plan came to mind and when my body writhing stopped, I dangerously dashed for the sliding glass door whilst screeching from my loins how horrible this is, my deepest sorrow, and my love for them all. I still dunno if anyone heard my guttural tears that began as I closed the door and lasted for the next hour with episodes that returned as I dragged my body back to the bedroom to crash. Again. Then I wondered, where was Steve?

Sounds in the background told the story that they had all left, including my beloved, with them . . . No one had brought me any food (I guess I was sleeping earlier when they were eating lunch with the live Christmas band delighting their visit), said good-bye, or showed any concern for my welfare . . . until 2 of them texted me messages of concern hours later. Ah, the days of living by the (inadequate) communication of our smart phones! It was all I had so it was something I guess. Steve returned a couple of hours later to tell me they had gone on with their plans of go-kart racing. The pictures on Facebook told the story of the great time they had. Do I want to see them? Say what?

This type of unexplained episodes continued, preventing worship at a Christmas eve service the next night so I braced myself to spend it all alone. How could I possibly hold my husband hostage at home with me when a couple of his adult children remained in town? Extreme chemical sensitivity was about to take him down as well when he got to the church and it reeked of burning frankincense so badly he could not stay inside the building. So we watched the services together online at home . . . Silent night, holy night.

Christmas required extra rest before a simple celebration with my beloved: no decorations or fancy foods just some gifts and an appreciation of the meaning of this day that was more apparent for me this year than decades ago. Simplicity does that. Christmas is measured in moments, however small, when you focus on the love that comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ. The traditions are lovely when you have them too. I tried to be positive and loving to my amazing man who has been faithful through so much heartache and sickness from me. How can I possibly sweat any small stuff when he always gets the big stuff right?

Little did we know that we would both become very sick with the flu within 3 more days. We had an errand to run together, at the end of which my beloved was already fading with illness. I joined him within a day and gratefully after some cleaning and making a pot of soup for us both. We still had not gone grocery shopping which didn’t matter since neither of us could eat hardly anything. That didn’t change much as the worst of this flu lasted FOUR DAYS!

Steve has started to surface back into life as he did some online studying; today was my first day I could stand in the kitchen long enough this evening to roast some chicken apple brats in the oven. Yeah, finally I wanted to eat a little more again after incredible pain and nausea lead to the loss of 3 pounds. I started to talk in complete sentences today while bracing my neck, rib cage, and abdomen when out of bed, yeah, afraid of making worse the new hiatal hernia and gastritis diagnosed 2 weeks ago. Can you say “I feel like a basket case?”

By the grace of God we survived our Christmas holiday. My beloved spent half of his vacation time from work battling the flu and barely seeing his adult children visiting from out of state; I never really recovered from this whack-a-this-or-that. This Winter illness is going to take me a few more days from which to stabilize . . . but interestingly the seizure attack episodes that flared at the beginning of our holiday week are down again. Yes, they are down! I have just found a way to take some nutrients that have been critically and chronically low and which are likely a major contributing factor to the convulsive episodes. To become seizure-free would be my desired earthly gift this new year. Thank the Lord we made it to 2019!!!!!!!!

We have been here before, you and I, Gentle Reader, dozens of times with my stories of hope and heartache and hope and heartache again. Call me a Weeble that Wobbles but she don’t fall down, I guess. Are you hanging in there with me too? Jesus makes the overcoming all possible in the end you know. (Please excuse my wee bit of humor, my Lord. Unlike me, you never falter.)

Gentle Reader: I pray that you did a bit more than survive this Christmas too. Happy new year? Oh yes, happy new year it is going to be! JJ

God gave me you

Nor ordinary Christmas we had this day

Sleeping in then slowly moving into life out of necessity more than design.

Broccoli for my breakfast and handfuls of granola for my man

Brought us to our traditional reading of Isaiah before revealing our worldly gifts for I and you.

Who paddles a new long board down the hallway

But two middle-aged lovers holding onto our respective gusto of life?

A rest time had to follow for me again

Not as unusual as the waking episodes that have returned changing my hopes for the day.

Perhaps we would visit or do something fun

Yet return to my bed of sickness I did go for a most unfortunate interlude.

When your husband holds you from joy to sorrow

The same day seems surreal: later he feeds you medicine whilst you seize.

Siiiiiigh. Not that old tune returneth even today

For chronic illness ne’er takes a holiday when you want it to my dear.

This did not matter to you: your love never fades

And my greatest gift revealed its beauty the ten thousandth time: it’s you!

I could never conceive of this way that you have

To give beyond your self with a gentle spirit, still manly all the same.

You spoke only of my rest to your family on the phone

Preserving my dignity when I could barely feed myself with fingers weary from the beating moments before.

Yours is a love from the Father, the Son all in One

The kind that sustains you through trials when Jesus comes near with skin on.

He made you for me oh I am the blessed one

I pray he loves you back tenfold for the task of loving me well done today my love.

Remembering Christmas . . .

winter, texas, scene, snow, through the trees, wood shingles, Christmas, remembering, memoriesNope, this is not my childhood home.  It’s a bit better than the one I remember.  Regardless, there still were some Christmas traditions that were just as lovely.  That’s the great thing about memories.  You can pick and choose which ones to bring to life on a cold December night like tonight . . .

She loved Christmas.  Like all moms, all the ornaments we made during our childhood decorated the tree along with those glass ornaments that sometimes peeled from being stored in the heat of the attic over the summer.  There were four that never faded, however.  I don’t really know where they came from yet do recall that they were bright pink, a double-pointed teardrop shape, and sparkly in silver and sequined adornments.  She always placed them near the top of the tree like icing on a chocolate layer cake.  Then there were the ones we made by pinning seed beads and ribbon into satiny foam balls.  The ones my mom made had the beads lined up in straight lines (unlike mine!).  Colored lights lit the inside; silvery tinsel draped over the top of everything twinkled on the outside.  Fabulous indeed!

No matter my means over the years, I still use a white sheet like my family did as a tree skirt.  It looks to me like the snowy drifts that cover the Midwest in winter time and it’s a perfect backdrop for the little ceramic nativity set nestled within the folds.  I think most of us had a set made by my Aunt Shirley.  The little lambs (held by the shepherds), no more than 3/4 inch tall were my favorite part of the first Christmas scene.  We always placed a few angels above where Jesus lain . . . or maybe it was me who insisted they go there!  I can’t remember.

When I was really small and my Dad was still around, we would leave out cookies on Christmas Eve for Santa.  I still recall the delight of seeing the crumbs on that white Corelle salad plate in the morning, picturing the big guy munching on them with ash in his beard from the drop down the chimney.  The best part was when my Dad had used his work boots to make dusty footprints coming from the fireplace hearth leading out onto the gold, scalloped carpeting.  Must have irked my mom to have to clean it all up Christmas morning!  She was like that.  Always cleaning.

Her Christmas party for all of our family was usually on Christmas day.  She had tins and Tupperware containers filled with our favorite Christmas cookies to keep the “bottomless” chrome platters stocked throughout the evening.  It was my unofficial job to see to that.  I liked the powdered-sugar coated rum balls and cocoa refrigerator cookies the best.  It took me decades to appreciate the thumbprint confections rolled in walnuts and filled when warm with Smuckers jelly.  Now they are my favorite.  Or is it the chocolate crinkles from her mom’s recipe?  So many from which to choose!

Cookies, boxes of chocolates, and tons of food filled the kitchen counter all night long.  One year it would be rolled cold cuts with cheese and another year a honey-baked ham that was a gift from her employer where she was an office manager.  Every coffee table or side table had M&M’s or nuts on it until a toddler stuffed his or her face with one too many!  There was always a bar with the aunt and uncle’s favorites, every flavor of pop (don’t say soda!), an ice bucket, and those little clear plastic cups that only got used for parties.  Our bellies were all stuffed by night’s end.

My mom loved to give gifts.  We used to think it was my Dad who spent too much money on toys when we were little but my mom had her own way of giving generously too.  Every year she prepared about 20 gifts of the same kind to give away to our cousins and any other kids who showed up at the house Christmas night.  I think I was envious of what they got; I truly don’t remember a single one except for the fanny packs she gave out one year!  I watched out the window on and off all afternoon until it got dark outside, looking forward to the party Christmas night for a personal reason:  my Godmother always brought a special gift for me.  In the Catholic faith, the parents ask a male and female to be the child’s Godfather and Godmother, respectively, before the baby’s baptism.  I understand that their role from the time of the baptism ceremony is to mentor the little one in matters of faith as he or she grows up . . . and give birthday and Christmas gifts too!

My Aunt Shirley, my mom’s next youngest sister, got it right on both counts.  My Godmother did take a special interest in me as I grew up and continued when my life got complicated by the events occurring around me.  I still have my confirmation prayer book and the green ceramic pitcher she gave me.  It was at her church in Royal Oak, Michigan that I would first encounter the love of Jesus Christ during the baptism service of her youngest son, Tommy.  I became his Godmother that night as a teenager.  It would take me years to realize that being a Godmother was about more than gifting (which I often forgot to do for Tom when I was away at college or out doing life), that mentoring a child unto a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important role of all.  I was glad to learn later in life that Aunt Shirley knew Jesus too.  It just doesn’t matter what church you go to or what rituals you follow when you meet the God of the Bible.

Yes, my mom loved Christmas and so do I.  She liked silly things like a stuffed moose with a green-n-red plaid scarf wrapped around its neck or a musical snowman that she placed at the end of the kitchen counter all December long.  I smile remembering these traditions, these memories.  These are good ones.  I just wish I knew whether or not she personally knew the person of Jesus Christ represented by the little ceramic baby in her ceramic and wooden manger scene.

When I entered my mom’s home after she had passed away, I noticed a greeting card on her kitchen table that I had sent to her a month earlier.  On it was a cute picture of a little boy wearing a Detroit Tiger’s baseball cap.  I knew she would get a kick out of it!  Inside was a Gospel message from me and invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.  Of all the things that could have been on that kitchen table at that time in her life, one was that card with the cute kid on it and important message inside that remained.  Amazingly, I found that card in a store where I lived at the time in the land of Chicago Cubs and White Sox fans!  I wonder:  surely she understood the meaning of Christmas and entered in the presence of the Lord as His own before she died?  I just don’t know.

One day I will know.  And so will you, Gentle Reader.  I hope we will both remember Christmas as a time when we celebrate with more than cookies and gifts, ceramic nativity sets and church services.  The greatest sacrifice was made 2,000 years ago to give us life eternal if we but believe in what Jesus did for us on His cross.  Join me in celebrating with Jesus in your heart this December night and always.  There’s a great and eternal party that awaits in heaven one day for us if we do!

JJ

Isaiah 9: 6-7

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.

 

A Christmas Gift

A Christmas Gift

Isaiah 9:2  New International Version (NIV)

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

Some of you know that I was in the hospital earlier this week with the searing pain of shingles on my face. I was crushed to face such a serious disease on top of the daily seizure episodes that accompany chronic Lyme disease: a battle that consumes me with treatment and related activities for most of every day. How could I possibly bear one more grief?

The answer:  with Jesus Christ. Inside the treatment plan of this new illness came a drug for nerve pain that also happens to help seizures. And fibromyalgia pain. I was humbled to have a couple of seizure-free days thereafter! Managing everything took strained breaths as I tried to get beyond the few 1-2 hours of sleep in those first days and other complications. There were setbacks that crushed my spirit: aggressive, violent episodes of a kind I had never seen before. Then they all nearly stopped. And very few “little zippies” have followed as sleep has returned too. I am humbled, hopeful, grateful. What a Christmas gift!

We have no idea what lies before me in this long journey of illness and hope for complete recovery. I am grateful for those who have followed my story, prayed, and offered encouragement just when I needed it. Thank you! I believe this story goes beyond me, however, as neither of us knows what lies ahead. But don’t waste your time worrying about that. Put your faith in the one who came to save us from this hell, these trials, the sorrows that plague our lives here on earth big or small that began as a consequence of the Fall of Mankind. He grieves for our loss, our struggle, our suffering. And He gives us a choice what to do with it.

Choose to join me in the celebration of a new life that comes from the belief and surrender to the Lord: Jesus Christ. One day He will return to make all things right. No more sorrow, no more tears. Until then we can have a good bit o’ the joy, the strength, the love that supernaturally exceeds this life: our eternal destiny begins the day we place our faith in Him. Do you now Him this way? He is the only way to peace. He is the only way to joy. He is the only way to love. He invented them after all.

Merry Christmas Gentle Reader. Hope to connect with you more in 2017 and most importantly at the celebration that awaits believers in Jesus Christ in heaven.

I love Christmas.

With love, Just Julie

snoopy-christmas

Christmas Letter 2016

Steve and Julie’s Christmas Letter 2016

Our celebration this year may be described as one of humility, gratitude and perspective. So here ya go from the perspective of each of us here in Indiana:

From Elle, the Dog

I must say that they have treated me pretty well and the all-natural dog food is great! All I had to do (don’t tell them) was continuously lick my paws until they were nearly raw then BINGO (!) along comes fancier cuisine and a Greenie chew bone every couple of days.  We all know who is in charge over here as I near my 8th birthday . . . the gray hairs on my jowls now bring distinction as Chief Pup.  My favs remain:  chasing radio-controlled airplanes and cars in addition to rabbits & geese!

From Julie

Holy cow, I’d like to say that I have been cured after 5 years of serious illness but that would not be the case. Lots of things are better as I continue in awe and gratitude for so much including having married the most loving husband in the world!  I am now treating chronic Lyme disease with IV antibiotics and working with a brilliant Naturopathic Physician/Genetic Coach.  For more details please see: http://www.justjuliewrites.com  Lord willing, I am going to get well!

We have been able to travel with the “Tin Can Ranch” 5 times this past year to the: panhandle area of Florida and Fort Rucker, AL; Silver Dunes area in Michigan twice; Air Adventure at Oshkosh, WI; Steve’s United States Canoe Association Nationals in Northfield, MA.  Our trip to Texas for Thanksgiving was cancelled; we hope to figure out another way to see Steve’s family this winter.  When in AL, we got to celebrate Steve’s son Daniel’s wife’s graduation from the Army as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, followed by an enjoyable tour of the area in a civilian copter with Elizabeth as the pilot!  Lord willing we will see Patrick-n-Kate and our 2 grandsons when in NC in January.  With Christina in Thailand and Rebekah (and Pancho to join soon) in Spain, Skype connections are our norm around here.

Our gardens flourished in their 9th year with the clumping bamboo finally making a showing and the blackberries deciding to produce in their 5th year.  Just gotta’ be patient, right?  We enjoyed a cute kitchen herb garden (on the covered porch), peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, radishes, and lettuce too.  Tis a good thingy that Elle doesn’t miss her outdoor pen that has been turned into our “Secret Garden” now that she is an inside dog!

From Steve

It’s been an active year, with many good things and a few “firsts.”   Julie has been the most incredible wife, supporting me and helping me in all my endeavors, in spite of dealing with significant illness.  I couldn’t ask for a more loving wife or a better partner.  God is good! J  Julie has covered most of the travels with our camper and kid activities, but I want to accent a few of those.

I’ve long wanted to see the Oshkosh airshow – the world’s largest – and with a change in my company’s vacation policy this became the year it was possible (Julie gave the trip to me as a birthday gift – can you say “awesome wife”?!?). What an incredible show!!!  The airshows were phenomenal, the number and types of aircraft were mind-blowing, and if you have any aviation inclinations at all there was probably something there for you.  On the down side, it seems to have reignited the bug within me to finish those flight lessons I never completed so many years ago.  And the thought of building an airplane…  All of which may be behind the radio control model plane getting a bit of a workout lately.

Paddling has been a huge part of our life in many ways these past number of years: I race kayaks and outrigger canoes, Julie and I produce Canoe News Magazine for the US Canoe Association (USCA), and I have a side business (River Bear Racing) selling Stellar Kayaks & Surf Skis (and supporting gear). We were blessed this year in each endeavor.  In spite of some physical challenges that somehow seem to come from aging, I did well in all my local races and managed a 3rd place overall in outrigger canoe at the USCA Nationals this year (don’t ask about my kayak race – that fell apart!)  River Bear Racing roughly doubled in sales this year, turning a profit and allowing me to add in some additional products to the lineup.  You can see our website at www.riverbearracing.com.  And Julie and I were able to produce some well-received editions of the magazine (always a good feeling after all the work that goes into producing a magazine).  See the magazine at http://www.uscacanoe.org/canoe-news.   But the biggest blessing of all was getting Julie out a few times to paddle this year, both in one of our newest Stellar S16S surf skis and in our old favorite Huki tandem outrigger canoe.  With Julie stuck in the house so much due to illness, it was a real blessing to be able to get out on the water together at those times.  And one of those times was at a church marriage retreat on Lake Wauwasee – something she wouldn’t have been able to attend the last few years.

Otherwise, work is going well, and the new owners (Harris) seem to be doing good things for the company. I’ve been able to get in a lot of cycling this year, particularly appreciating the long, warm Fall we enjoyed in Indiana in 2016. Church is a very central part of my life, and it has been a huge blessing to be part of an excellent Bible teaching church (http://www.harvestfellowship.us/).  I planned on teaching some additional classes this year at church (I periodically teach classes on parenting, firearms safety, and paddling), but I had to lay a bit low this year.  We’ll see what 2017 brings.  Whatever comes in the new year, I am always thankful for the salvation of the Lord and the life that He has given me!

Kid News

Somehow we managed to drive the kids pretty much to the farthest corners of the earth; no worries about “boomerang kids” here! Christina continues to faithfully serve the Lord in the far flung land of Thailand (a long paddle past CA) and seems to be doing well overall.  Rebekah was my relatively close child, living with her husband Daniel in the foreign land of Chicago, but her youthful wander lusts got the better of her and off she went to Spain to teach English.  Husband Daniel will follow this December after he finishes his master’s degree.  The boys are both theoretically in the USA, but being on opposite sides of the Continental Divide and on opposite coasts, they might as well be on different continents.  Patrick and Kate continue to enjoy the east coast life in Newbern, NC, raising sons Jackson and Warren.  I did get a chance in the Spring to drop in and play grandpa for a day – something that’s quite a rarity for me.  Daniel and his wife Elizabeth, heeding the words “Go West, young man,” followed the advice quite literally and settled in Tacoma, Washington on the western coast.  They’ve found Washington State to be a strange place, but they’re gradually adapting, learning to chase the homeless heroin addicts out of their cars and such…

Wrap-up

No matter what our perspective may be, the most important view at Christmas is the one that brings us closer to the person of Jesus Christ. We stand in awe of His sacrifice for us that brings unspeakable joy, knowing Him as Lord and Savior over all.  He loves His own more than words can say:  the best Christmas gift of all.

Love to you and your family,

Steve, Julie, Elle