He Ain’t Got Drowned, Thank the Lord!

Warning:  Read this until the end!

He left before I woke up and long after I was up in the middle of the night baking him cookies for the race.  Another strange night it was.  I had crashed early in the evening, many hours before my bed time . . . not that there is a usual bed time, that is.  I am still up very late about 2 nights per week yet that is a huuuuge improvement from my years as a night owl.  But my tummy hurt and I just couldn’t stay asleep.  All I could think about was those cookies that I wasn’t able to bake as promised and the risk of my beloved River Bear collapsing in the river the next day.  So I got up and started mixing up the ingredients sometime after 2:00 a.m.  The story was unveiling vividly in my mind as the scent of baking chocolate chips and Irish butter filled the air . . .

My beloved would be paddling a new-to-him Wenonah J203 carbon-fiber marathon canoe, probably putting him at the back of the more accomplished river rats on Saturday.  They all would be pushing their limits in the cold and rainy weather, trying to get back into shape for the upcoming race season.  RB would be no different.  The only difference is that he would be competing with a sinus infection on top of some chronic breathing issues.  The  realization of the risks was just enough to drive the mind wild of a kayaking-turned-canoeing “widow.”  Yeah, I don’t see him much during the Spring-Summer-Fall racing season so temporary paddling “widow” I become!

Today was especially of concern.  If he got a coughing spell when on a remote part of the river, spread out for miles over the course with the other dozen-or-so racers, there’s a good chance that only a real bear in the woods would have heard him struggling.  His  brown, furry cousin probably would not have minded my beloved’s residual garlic breath as he munched on his serendipitous, soggy lunch feast.  But that was not the worst of my worries.  More likely another racer in an equally tippy performance kayak would see my beloved slumping forward, splash into the water to save him, and be unable to do much of anything about it.  I foresaw in my mind’s eye that probably would be LB, of course.

She in her 4-foot 10-inch frame would jump out of her boat, neither one wearing a life jacket despite the cooler water conditions, and wrestle with RB’s muscular/lifeless body as it flopped into the current of the Tippicanoe River:  he almost 70 pounds her senior and her struggling to keep both of them afloat.  The river would win and down he would go.  She would be traumatized and exhausted from the fight against the swirling water, the soaked mass of a man, the expensive boats and paddles flowing downstream, the desperate feeling of not being able to save him no matter how hard she tried.  I could see it all in my mind’s eye, of course, in an instant.  I had been in a similar situation myself just 8 years ago during my first encounter with a performance sea kayak on the Allegheny River.  I feared for my life!

Back at the boat launch or maybe when she could signal for help, LB would desperately reach out.  The fellow racers would leap into action, scouring the shoreline for signs of the man who teased them hours earlier with a craft beer for any seasoned canoeist who could beat him on his maiden voyage that day.  They may or may not find him or his gear.  The rescue boat would eventually arrive, find and take his body to a local hospital for the fateful pronouncement.  The paddlers would stand in a circle at the take-out speechless, none volunteering to call the wife over 100 miles away who had sent along home-baked cookies for the annual meeting afterwards.  No one would be brave enough to call her or maybe the Fire Department would at least leave a message?

Do they ever really tell you all of the news anyways that you need to know when you get a dire phone call at a time like this?  I would then be in my own racing seat as I made the 2-hour drive to the Lafayette area, wondering if I had the right name of the facility where my RB was being held under refrigeration.  Perhaps I would drive from facility to facility searching for my loved one?  And what would they tell me when I found him?  Would anyone be there to tell me the story of what happened?  Would the racers have taken a luscious cookie but gone on home anyways, themselves suffering from the trauma of the friendly competition gone wrong?

And what would I do next?  What about the pup at home, the phone calls that needed to be made?  I would probably have to stay over a few nights to release my hubby’s body to return to our home town on Monday morning and begin preparations for the worst event of my life:  a funeral!  I have done this in the past a few times and it is exceedingly and painfully difficult.  Oh dear, what would become of my elderly family member out of state for whom I have become a measure of a caregiver?  Where would my beloved’s children stay, what would I say when they arrived grieved beyond belief from all over the country and 2 foreign countries?  Holy cow.  Maybe I would just sink and die myself right then and there rather than deal with it all.

Or maybe not.

*************

Twelve hours and 2 naps later, I heard the side door open.  My River Bear was home!!!  I was in shock.  Where did I just go in my mind and my heart for way too many hours?  In what or where have I placed my trust?  And why the heck am I so very needy, so weak, such a worry-wart when the Lord has been faithful to lead me through horrible tragedy dozens of times before.  Is this mental exercise really helpful at any level?  The answer:  NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

I have come to realize that there are a couple of coping mechanisms that come with enduring serious illness for many years that don’t work very well at all in a fit brain.  One of them is living each day with a sense of impending doom.  When virtually every night and every morning for the past 6 years was met with violent convulsive episodes, I lived every day with a sense that bad things were always going to happen.  It was just a matter of time before they did.  Well guess what?  The convulsive episodes don’t happen every night or every morning anymore!  I have got to let go of this “stinking thinking” as we used to say in my 12-step group days.  Husbands virtually  always come home.  And if they don’t right way, they usually have an amazing story to tell that makes you fall in love with them even more!

Another coping mechanism that got exercised in writing this story was that of always needing a contingency plan.  More recently, every time I would plan to do an activity at home or elsewhere I set up alternatives in my mind of what I would do in case I got sick.  I told RB my plans for the day, I had every “rescue remedy” I could think of in a lunch bag with me, and kept running errands until I was exhausted — just in case I was too sick the next few days to leave the house.  As you can see from the bit of paddling fiction above, I listed a few of the questions running through my mind but in my head, many more options and scenarios were playing out in my mental tool box.  What a colossal waste of physical and emotional energy!   While a “scarcity” mindset may work in times of famine or flood, I really don’t need it with me anymore.  Me and the Lord will figure out whatever may come my way.  Geez!

Of course an obvious failed coping mechanism is last on my list today:  a false sense of control.  I cannot predict anything that will happen, good or bad, and neither can you.  If I truly trusted the Lord with my life in times of tragedy and triumph then I would not need these fantasy games to cope with the fact that I have a REAL MAN who LOVES ADVENTURE no matter if he is sick or well.  That makes him who he is!  And his passion for life makes him the man in whom I fell in love over 10 years ago.  No wimpy dude over here!  He pushes the limits to the admiration of his peers and sweat of his competitors because that is just how he is wired.  I guess I am still understanding how different we are, how different the Lord wired each of us.  It is a beautiful thing really.  And, Lord willing, my beloved will always be home at night in pretty darn good shape too, I will add!  :J

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

So the next time my man goes out to do that which he is called to do, I will pray for him and for me both!  I will not respond with fear but anticipation of some great stories in which I may one day join in, Lord willing, as I get stronger each day.  The day is coming soon when I will want to venture myself out into newer, uncharted waters, so-to-speak knowing that my Lord and King is already there, cheering for both me and my River Bear.  This could really be a fun summer after all.  I often cheer, “Goooooo Steeeeeve” from the side of various rivers when my beloved’s paddle hits the water at the sound of the starting gun.  Maybe it’s time for a little, “Gooooooo Julie” too?

Stay tuned.  There’s always another story waiting to be told around here for you Gentle Reader.  The water awaits!  JJ

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Me in my Stellar SR surf ski in 2011

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My River Bear leading the pack at the bouy turn on the St Joe River, Fort Wayne, Indiana in July of 2015

What Dairy Farmers and Angels have in Common

outrigger canoe, OC-1, canoe racing, racing, USCA, USCA Nationals, Warren PA, 2015 Nationals, wife of a racer, wife of an athlete, alone on the weekends, downside of illness, missing life, river rat, Allegheny River

Usually I refer to myself as a “kayaking widow,” as soon as the weather warms up in the great State of Indiana.  My beloved Steve races kayaks and now an outrigger canoe (OC-1) on the United States Canoe Association circuit.  This requires practice and travel to river or lake events at least twice per week during the warmer months, in addition to work and church commitments.  Since I am largely homebound I send him happily on his merry way . . . with snacks and a kiss, of course!

But it wasn’t always this way.  Just 3 years ago I joined him on Tuesday nights for the paddles of our local kayaking group.  (See the About Julie blog for details on the day that I got pulled from the water!)  If the races were local I would join him on Saturday mornings to cheer him on from the start and possibly the railing of a bridge along the course.  “Goooooooo Steeeeeeve” was my mantra and I loved it.  I am so proud of Steve, having watched him progress over these past 7 years of our marriage from a recreational paddler to a National competitor in surf ski racing.  And this year he added the OC-1.  Oh yeah!

For the first time in THREE YEARS, I would be joining Steve at the USCA Nationals scheduled this year in Warren, Pennsylvania.  The last time I was in PA was when I had purchased my first sea kayak (Think Fit) as I was progressing from a tandem, pedal-driven, plastic Hobie Oasis to a real fiberglass boat suitable for racing.  I had a near-drowning experience as I was testing out that boat which only served to reinforce that I had what it took to face the worst of perils when paddling in open water.  Dozens of paddling experiences followed over the next few years including upgrading to an introductory surf ski myself:  the Stellar SR.  That is the kayak in the photo of the article referenced above.

Flash forward FOUR YEARS and we now are grateful to have a travel trailer aka as a “mold avoidance clean room” that affords me the opportunity to travel with Steve and stay overnight.  The plan for this trip was to stay at a local KOA Kampground while shuttling to and from the stages of the two racing events in which Steve was registered to compete.  Miraculously and despite convulsive episodes each day and night, I was able to join him at the side of the Allegheny River on Friday for a full day of events.  We were bushed by nightfall:  Steve having paddled 15+ miles at breakneck speed and me having participated in over 12 hours of outdoor activities for the first time in a very long time.  It was a win-win for both of us!

Then came Saturday morning.  The night was a rough one for me but not as bad as they could be for sure.  Steve overslept 45 minutes and scurried about to get himself, his special nourishments, breakfast, and doggie duties covered before leaving for a second day of racing.  Adrenaline was pushing him beyond the fatigue he too was battling.  As for me, the morning seizure attacks died down as I pulled myself out of bed just as he was leaving!  It was clear that I was NOT going anywhere and would be a kayaking widow in the woods of the campground that day.  Swell.  Sadly I heard my truck pull away along the dirt road with my beloved therein, headed past the Kinzua Dam and beyond to the water’s edge without me.  To see my River Bear in action WAS WHY I CAME!  I was crushed.

And then my brain cleared.  A few crumbs of achiness remained yet I was upright and thinking straight.  “I should stay home and rest,”  I reasoned, “maybe take the dog for a walk later and be, well bored out of my mind for the rest of the day thereafter for sure!  Who wants to read Suzanne Summer’s book, Tox-Sick, when there’s an exciting USCA race going on out there?!  Not me.  I AM GOING TO THE RACES!!!”

There was one BIG problem with this:  how the heck would I get there?  I had no vehicle and the race start was a 17-minute ride away by car.  I had no car.  I had no truck.  I had a dog and that was it!  Looking back I believe it was the Lord nudging me on to keep getting ready.

“Pack up your stuff, grab some food and get out to the office.  See when it opens and maybe someone will be going into town this morning and can drop you off.”

Alright.  “Shouldn’t I eat some breakfast?  I mean, I get sick sometimes when I don’t eat breakfast?”  And so I bemoaned some more as I continued in motion, getting dressed and figuring I would have to leave the pup behind in the locked travel trailer with the air conditioner running all day.  “Keep moving,” was the leading of my heart.  “You might have to leave on a moment’s notice if this works out so you need to be ready!”  Out the door I scurried, hoping that most of me was covered with clothing and foot-coverings suitable for a campground!

The office didn’t open until 9:00 a.m.  It was around 8:15 a.m.  I had seen what I deduced was the owners shaking out their rugs out the front door of the adjacent mobile home so I could maybe knock on their door . . . No that would not be nice.  But look!  There’s the car leaving their campsite that left yesterday morning around this time.  Maybe they are long-termers who are leaving for work or something and can take me?  So I stood near the middle of the dirt road in between the office and campsite Number 2, waiting for the car to drive by.  Surely the driver would see me and stop?  Nope.  She never even looked up from her steering wheel as she drove straight by me.  Sish!  Surely I could not have looked that threatening, no?

What to do now?  “Stay put,” was the leading in my heart.  Maybe I could go back to our CampLite and wait for the office to open?  Someone would drive me to the Visitor Center and I would get our truck and just catch up with Steve somewhere along the race course.  He would be shocked to hear, “Goooooo Steeeeeve” from the side of the river like the day before.  Our reunion at the finish line would be sweet.  Well, no.  Then I saw around the corner of the dirt road in front of some other campsites a car with its lights on!  In front of it was a large motor home that I soon discovered was travelling with the small SUV behind it that had its lights on.  They were leaving too!

The driver of the motorhome stopped when I motioned from practically the middle of the dirt road as he approached.  My heart was beating fast and my voice trembled as I poured out a quick version of my dilemma then waited for his response.  The man got out and talked with his wife who was driving the vehicle behind him as I stood shaking like a schoolgirl waiting for permission to go to the bathroom from the headmaster who had seen enough already.  The man got back into the motorhome.

“I’ll take you,” was all he said through the window he opened.  Oh wow!  He said yes!  She said yes!  I REALLY AM GOING TO THE RACES!!!  So I quickly gathered my things; said goodbye to the big brown puppy-dog eyes that were ready for another day of fabulous sniffs, hugs from cute little girls, and wide open spaces; locked the door and did not look back.  I hopped into the passenger side of a stranger’s large motor home and hitched a ride to my second day at the 2015 USCA Nationals.  I was going to be with my River Bear!

The gentleman was in town with his wife to visit their daughter at a local Mennonite college.  They owned a large dairy farm in southeastern Pennsylvania and had just opened a restaurant with a storefront too:  September Farm.  They were headed to Bradford for the day which is over 12 miles in the other direction from where I was headed.  His low-fuel light had just turned on and he did not know where to find a local gas station.  Later I realized that it is possible that he might not have made it all the way to Bradford if he had not backtracked to Warren (5 minutes of travel beyond where he had dropped me off) without running out of gas.  Dave talked about him and his wife, Roberta, meeting a sweet couple through Farm and Ranch magazine that were like angels to them.  I said to Dave that he was my angel that day.  Yes, I do believe in angels!

Steve was shocked to say the least, when I came up behind him with a gentle, “Goooooo Steeeeeve!” to let him know that I had made it and in time for the starting gun.  He was still getting ready after the 8:30 a.m. race meeting, leaning over his Stellar SEL when I kinda snuck up behind him.  I had made it in time to see him launch in what would become a great day of racing.  We embraced with tears.  Steve said he felt a magnificent boost carry him down the river, through the Plume Rapids, and passing paddlers with greater ease than he had ever noticed before.

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Steve takes 1st place in The Senior Class, K-1 Unlimited at the 2015 USCA Nationals

Later Steve was awarded a first-place medal in K-1 Unlimited for his age group and finished in the first group of a large field of athletes.  We laughed the rest of the weekend about me hitchhiking just to see him.  Steve said he had never felt so loved!  I laughed then shuddered to think of the dangers that I had not experienced in the fearlessness I experienced when following the leading of the Holy Spirit in my heart that day.

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I am grateful for so much these days!

I made it to the races despite the odds against me and learned some new things on Saturday:  Dairy farmers can be angels.  Love transcends the greatest of heartaches then brings us back to what or who matters most.  Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit!  And life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.

In the end I got a taste of what it means to live again.  And that is a good thing my Gentle Reader!  JJ

It’s more than a delicate balance

As anyone who likes to (or needs to) cook knows, it can be a tough balance to make a recipe taste just right.  The host of your fav cable cooking show says to add a pinch of salt and pepper as you watch her grab easily a fistful of seasonings.  Ah ha!  So that is why version mine comes out differently than yours!  Just ditch the online recipe on her website and fly by the seat of your pants!  Taste, taste, taste and make the dish all your own, eh?

I don’t tend to make meals using recipes anyways.  With a limited diet and having to make a wacky version for me and a “normal” one for my beloved, I would become too frustrated trying to follow the masterpiece designed by someone else’s reality!  I just start with what I CAN eat, add more salt with my eyes closed then put one of my go-to seasoning mixes on Steve’s version.  It works for us.  Well most of the time, that is!  And when it doesn’t, that is what salsa is for right?  (O.k.  I know I have offended someone out there now!)

My health situation of late is kinda like the same delicate balance.  Add too much zinc for too many days in a row or take a new supplement or med for more than 3 doses and whammo (!) I get burned at the “steak.”  There’s little more than dog food left of me afterwards.  Gratefully my Doc does exhaustive lab testing to try to coach me in the right direction.  But now even labs cannot predict the outcome anymore.  I seem to react to everything.  It’s worse when the pharmacist of an independent lab starts making suggestions too.  So I try this and that.  Oh how I want things to work out well!  So far, it has not.

I am my own worst enemy in these scenarios.  The results aren’t even back yet for the female hormones that are at a mystery level since going through menopause.  I went through menopause during the almost 4 years of this illness and these tests for me are way out of date.  The significance of the hormones is that a goodly number of women (who have true epilepsy) have worsened seizures during menopause and others have reported a new onset of what is called “catamenial epilepsy.”  While I do not think that I have epilepsy per se and all the fancy labs have supported this, I do find this course of study intriguing.  I joined a couple of Facebook groups on the subject and have hunkered down into some new online research.  Then of course I re-started a tiny bit of progesterone on my own to see what would happen.  Yeah, I know that I should wait until the lab results are back in a total of 6 weeks.  But heck, at the rate I have been going, 6 weeks means up to 210 more hours of convulsive episodes!  Why wait?  I am going to go through hell anyways . . . .

Dr. Erwin Leutzer of Moody Bible Institute teaches that, “when you are going through hell . . . DON’T STOP!!!”  Oh yeah.  That fits for me.  Not sure what to do with some of the symptoms that are emerging though.  Clearly this will need professional tweaking at some point!  Do ya blame me for trying?  What if I finally stumble upon the resolution to this nightmare?  There are so many labs that are off now and the convulsive episodes have escalated to 4 hours or more most days, I just figured that it’s worth a shot . . . worth disrupting the status quo.

The decisions of life can be a delicate balance over here sometimes.  Do we continue with travel plans when I am in the throes of chronic illness?  For us, the answer is yes.  We just adapt things a bit and get on down the road.  Life goes on.  In due time, if it is the Lord’s will, I am going to be well.  In the meantime we will use the portable heater in the Tin Can Ranch (aka travel trailer) instead of the noxious propane mini-furnace so I can be with my beloved overnight at his kayaking competitions out of town.  In the meantime I’ll freeze portions of meals to ease food prep when Steve needs to pitch in for me.  In the meantime I will fold laundry when my brain stabilizes in the wee hours of the morning and scratch the ears of our pup who gets more fractionated sleep than I do.  In the meantime Steve will head into work later to make up lost time and we will be grateful for his flexible employment.  And so it goes, a balancing act on steroids that we have come to master, one ingredient at a time!

Gentle Reader, I’ll bet you understand the need for balance with the stuff of life. Let’s look together with gratitude that we do have some choices even in the worst of situations.  For those who believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ, we know that all things, delicate and less so, will work together for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.  It’s His promise from His word in Romans 8:28.  That is because He knows us and loved us before we were even born.  He knows and cares for all of the details of our lives!  (Psalm 139)  And He knows what choices we will make.  As for me, I will aim to make choices that keep me moving forward, aiming to win.  Sometimes things will be out of balance for a time.  Yet with my eyes fixed on Christ, leaning on His Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit I will run my race of life with endurance:  endurance the produces hope (Romans 5:4) and endurance to finish well too!  (Hebrews 12:1)

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My River Bear leading in a United States Canoe Association event last year. Gooooo Steeeeve!

Never sacrifice sweet victory for a need to stay comfortably in balance though.  Attend to the tasks at hand with wisdom then get out there and LIVE!  Do not stop!  May we both finish well my fellow sojourner.  The crown of glory awaits!

That is all.  JJ