Perhaps I killed the Easter bunny of 2020? I just can’t get her out of my mind . . .
Gardening with a dog keeps you more aware of your surroundings than on the tasks at hand. I have to call out for Elle every 10-15 minutes because I just don’t know where her sniffing will take her: to the pond behind us for a swim? Chasing after a young family pushing a stroller in the court? Saying “hello” to the neighbor boys cutting through someone’s yard? Rolling in goose crap? Or today, intently sizing up the nest of bunnies hidden in the vegetable bed!
Fortunately I was nearby when she decided to jump the wire fence and investigate the litter of baby rabbits in our vegetable bed up close. Then all hell broke loose! The 3 bunnies I saw scattered in 3 different directions while she dashed to and fro trying to catch one or all of them. It all happened so fast! “Elle get out of here!” I shouted only to find her jump out then jump back in again as I tried to free one of the furry creatures now strangled by the 1/2″ green chicken wire. I pushed its head backwards wondering if it would bite me? Elle grabbed onto a brother (or was it a sister?) trying to escape through the black metal fencing that enclosed the entire area; I lifted up the chicken wire and the weight of the bunny’s body below my hand broke it loose. By then I caught a glimpse of the 3rd sibling getting caught the same way just out of reach then breaking free and squeezing around the black fence post to escape the area. What mayhem ensued as the one now in Elle’s jaws squealed loudly!
I ran over to rescue it but it was too late. Probably only about 13 seconds had transpired at this point and the first one to escape had already been chomped by our German shepherd huntress. Elle often just plays around with the furry critters she finds in our yard, engaging in a terrifying-for-them and delightful-for-her game of catch and release. This time her usually soft grasp of her jaws had sheared the skin off of the back of the tiny rabbit which exposed the upper half of its pink and white spinal column. I was mortified! How grotesque! I really didn’t know what to do. The animal was suffering greatly so I shooed her captor away only to witness the little one struggling to run off into the bushes. “It’s going to run off to die,” I thought to myself and who knows what will happen after that: a turkey vulture will circle around and take her to dinner or more likely, Elle will find her and torture her some more. I knew what I had to do.
The blade of the shovel became a protective shell over her and from the menacing canine while I called out from the backyard, “Steve! Steve! Are you there?” I called for my husband in the house. He wasn’t there. I called for him in the shed. He wasn’t there. I called for him in the garage. He wasn’t there. Geez! He was just here a couple of minutes ago! Steve takes off as quickly as the dog sometimes when on a mission that only men can understand. But does he realize that his damsel is in distress and needs him RIGHT NOW?!
It was all I could do to keep Elle from going insane. I should have put her in the house but another reality came over me that took precedence: my dog, our dog had maimed a baby rabbit and it was suffering while I ran around to get someone else to take care of the matter. You know I grew up in a crowded suburb north of Detroit, Michigan, not in the country, right? You know that I barely shot a b.b. gun at a paper target as a kid and visited apple orchards for my “country” experiences. But somehow I knew that the right thing to do was to put the bunny out of its misery as soon as possible. I HAD TO DO IT. I couldn’t wait for Steve. The longer I waited, the more problems I would have with Elle and my conscience for our pup torturing the softest, cutest, fuzziest of God’s creatures now huddled in fear and taking its last breaths under a cold, steel coffin in our backyard.
I killed the bunny. I killed the baby bunny. I put the baby bunny out of its misery. I did what any country gal would do in a heartbeat without thinking about it and ended the whole ordeal. Then I went to try again to locate Steve. Just as I came around to the front of our house, he rolled up into the cul-de-sac on his land paddleboard just as happy as he could be to be outside taking in our unseasonably warm early spring day. He’d already been out for his first race practice of the year at a local lake with the Kahele outrigger canoe earlier this afternoon and just couldn’t get enough of the 70-degree temp during the first week of April. The day was beautiful. Steve was in his element. Julie was waaaaaaaay out of hers!
Steve helped me with disposing of the lifeless body of what surely would have been the Easter bunny for all of the boys and girls in the neighborhood next year . . . or so it seemed to me. I killed the Easter bunny! Oh dear. We talked through the whole ordeal again and turned our attention to the projects that I was finishing up in our yard. Preparing dinner and cleaning up the kitchen followed while thoughts of the little carcass drifted in and out of my mind. Not a good day to be cleaning the remaining chicken off of the roast I had prepared last night! The pinkness of the inner bones reminded me of that little baby’s spine. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see the raw, bleeding, exposed back of the chomped and squealing precious critter with the soft paws and fluffy tail. Oh dear. Oh my.
So maybe some of you Gentle Readers grew up taking care of dead animals during your years living in the country or on a farm? The closest I got to this was probably throwing out a mouse trap with the mouse still entrapped but already dead, its jaws locked on a piece of pinconning cheese. Always felt bad for the little things. We had gerbils for pets you know, and they all look so harmless — until you find their damage behind the sofa, in the duct work, or in your shoes with just a little hole in them! I guess I grew up a little more today, a little more like a country gal who was simply taking care of a tiny matter in the circle of life.
And now it’s time to go to bed and close my eyes. Oh Lord, help me let go of the cute, squeaky rabbit that died today. Easter is coming soon and celebrating the sacrifice you made on the cross at Calvary for us to live eternally in peace, with you, is all that matters. And thank you for the courage to act when needed to end the suffering of one of your creations. You care about them and you care about me too. You have acted miraculously in my life in recent days in a way that is further reducing my own suffering and I am exceedingly grateful. More on that another time. For tonight, I get it Lord.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7
One of the movies that has really resonated deeply with me is, The Breakfast Club. Please see my previous post for the catchy theme song that underscored the film and one of the most poignant scenes that is also pertinent to Part 2 of this 3-part blog.
In Part 1, I described the isolation that I have felt when enduring a serious illness and how the Lord still gets me through the toughest of days. His Word is my greatest comfort; the leading of the Holy Spirit and His presence are my greatest companions. I ended with a question,
But how well does he really know me?
Sure, my Lord crafted me before I was born and set forth all that I would be, all that I would endure and accomplish. His Words in Psalm 139 declare that He knows my “innermost being.” Does this include the longing of my heart as well? If it does, why has He allowed me to become so dreadfully isolated?
Maybe someday I will get to see why so many family and friends have chosen to “walk on by” me as it says in the theme song of The Breakfast Club. Have I not been a good friend? Maybe I was not. I remember about two years into this ordeal someone contacted me and asked me about getting together for coffee. I replied “yes” and then I never heard from her again. My spirits had soared then crashed and burned. For believers in Jesus Christ, the answer to the “why” question is usually left for eternity. We simply may never know “why” this side of heaven.
Those of you not living in isolation may not have any idea how much Satan uses this experience to tear a person down. He can prey upon all of our negative emotions and be allowed to create havoc in our lives. (Yes, ultimately God is still in charge!) Yet I know that it’s really not about resisting Satan or about losing the people in my life. I resist the devil and his demons with the sword of the spirit: the Word of God as described in Ephesians 6:10-17. People come and go in our lives and that is the normal ebb and flow of life. It really is about my response to the taunting, the loss of these relationships.
My challenge has been particularly great due to the effect that this chronic illness has had on my brain. Responding to Satan’s lies and the loss of relationships has been affected by the change in brain chemistry that came with chronic illness. My ability claim victory in the name of Jesus Christ and fully embody the companionship of my Lord have been affected. Satan’s lies have been magnified. My social skills have eroded. My ability to think clearly has been altered. And I struggled to override these skill deficits but could not, even if I tried. Allow me to explain.
Only recently did we discover that excessive neurotransmitters called catecholamines (epinephrine, norephinephrine, and dopamine) are likely contributing to my mood changes, thinking and communication skills in addition to possibly causing the convulsive episodes. This is happening due to the expression or “turning on” of polymorphisms (SNPs) or breaks in several enzymes that help form my DNA code. The DNA code is the instruction manual or blueprint from which the body functions. Everyone has a unique combination of broken SNPs that get turned on by illness or significant stressors in the environment (such as exposure to mold). For me the factors included everything that I have written about in this blog: biotoxin illness/hepatitis, latent Lyme disease, Candida toxicity, mold illness, infected root-canaled teeth, and mercury toxicity. That’s a lot of stressors! These illness and environmental challenges became a trigger for disaster. I even have the data to prove it, all of it!
For some people this process manifests as a Mitochondrial Disease or a disruption in the methylation cycle inside the nucleus of the cells of our bodies. My thought life was affected. My mood was affected too. I had waking and nightly nightmares not based in any reality past or present. Those were internal things that my beloved husband, Steve, and the healthcare community could not see very often. Several healthcare practitioners labeled me as having a mental illness of sorts, often without even completing a mental status exam or workup! Gratefully, Steve believed me. They all saw the wretched convulsive episodes that have plagued me for hours every day for 3 1/2 years. And Satan was allowed to enter into the whole dynamic with lies and attacks that I will definitely write about at another time. Absolute mental and physical wretchedness.
But now the gig is up! Two days ago I woke up from a lovely nap after starting to treat this condition. I had my first 16 hours seizure-free! It’s as if someone turned on the lights in my brain! Not only do I have a formula for correcting the brain-part of the process but the prayers of deliverance against the spiritual warfare are taking hold. The cascade of negative mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual suffering is beginning to turn around. Lord willing, I am going to get well!
My Jesus knows all about every aspect of what I have described here. He also knows the desires of my heart. How do I know this? My prayers long before this illness began was to become whole. I had been broken by the consequences of a hard life: events out of my control. Many times during trauma the Holy Spirit would bring encouraging scripture to me that kept me moving forward. Yeah, finding hope and finding myself has come through horrible, ongoing isolation and trauma. I have worked hard to recover from so much suffering in my heart, my mind, my body. Each step of the way has been both painful and meaningful. Yet I tell you, Gentle Reader that nothing has been wasted! I have learned to trust the process in EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE under the protection of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And now the desires of my heart are being realized. Cool beans.
So how does one rebirth the desires of one’s heart?
I remember the day Steve first took me out kayaking. He was careful to put me in the more stable of his two kayaks: the white one with the yellow deck (Epic Endurance). Or was it the yellow plastic one (Sirocco)? Perhaps I was too nervous to recall the color! All I remember was trying to trust my new boyfriend while fearing toppling into the water. Becoming a drowned rat was not my intention during one of our early dates together! Besides, he was an aspiring kayak racer and I had already shared with him my many other types of canoeing/boating experiences thoughout my lifetime. Yes I can swim. Oh the mixture of thoughts that ran through my head as I got in that tippy little thing . . .
With an unwelcomed nudge (shove?) on the stern from my teacher I was able to paddle out some from the park launching site he had so carefully selected, turn around then return to the shore a few times. When it was time to go he carefully straddled the boat to stabilize it and instructed me on in the finer points of a gracious dismount. That action requires straddling your legs wide apart to either side of the wide cockpit of an elongated diamond-shaped seafarer. Ladies: that’s not the view I had hoped to offer my intended beloved at this stage of our relationship if you know what I mean? And my feet got wet and muddy to boot since this would be a couple of years before acquiring my own proper pair of water shoes from our local mega-grocery store. (That was another rite of passage that came later!) Steve expertly cleaned off the boats and attached them to the roof racks of his truck. Oh, so that’s how those beastly black metal frames filling the bed of his periwinkle-striped truck work! (I remember seeing them on our first date in the west suburbs of Chicago. A rare sight in suburbia for sure! Who is this guy?)
Steve rapidly progressed that summer as he shifted from a recreational to a competitive United States Canoe Association (USCA) racer. I watched closely as he increasingly dedicated himself to all things paddling: studying the equipment, kayak dimensions, paddling technique videos, and outings with both Indiana racers and the Fort Wayne kayaking group. Hmmm. I had an important decision to make. Either I would master this paddling thing or spend lots of afternoons home alone as he perfected his craft away from home without me. To insist that he stay home with me would get in the way of the paddling athlete he was becoming. After all, I did enjoy the fruits of all that cycling and marathon racing. 🙂
Our first USCA Nationals was an amazing experience. Cars, campers, trucks, wagons, and anything to which you could strap a boat (can you say Amish buggy?) were crammed along the shore of the St. Joe River in South Bend, Indiana. There were young and middle aged men in either spandex or neoprene everywhere! My training as an occupational therapist has often helped me appreciate the beauty of God’s human form just long enough to remember that I must bounce my eyes to other lovely things lest my heart go to dishonoring places! Sish. You would think that everyone was a competitor given the hundreds of colorful vessels sprinkling the shoreline that day. Excitement and anticipation were in the air. Steve competed in the sea kayaking class and finished respectfully for his first Nationals. A former Olympian named Matt smoked the pack by minutes: a dramatic sight to see. I’d never seen a racing canoe (C-1) or an Olympic-class ICF kayak before: narrower, tippier, and lighter than 2 bowling balls side-by-side and pushed effortlessly against the current of any river with carbon fiber, bent or winged paddles, respectively. I didn’t see any that looked appealing to me just yet! My learning curve would surely keep me beyond reach of these river rats in vessels as wide as a hewn log floating downstream to a lumber yard.
Steve could give you more details on how he progressed to lighter and faster sea kayaks, trading up or buying-and-selling with guys throughout the Midwest. For the two of us we had settled on a Hobie Oasis when the Lord provided the needed resources: a tandem bright blue pedal-driven barge-by-comparison, complete with cup-holders and 100 pounds of stability. We had fun taking the Hobie out on local lakes many Sundays that summer after Steve had raced all day somewhere in northern Indiana on most Saturdays. We could use it as a swim platform or explore native shorelines and never fear the wakes of ski boats zooming by. The only drawback was the slow peddling speed. With both of us peddling we still maxed out at around 4 MPH. Adding power from the wimpy plastic kayak paddles didn’t make much of a difference. It takes a long time to get anywhere at that speed! We were always struggling to keep up with the recreational paddlers of the FW Kayaking group and getting water lilies or seaweed caught in the drive system under the boat (think bicycle crank shaft above and swim fins below). Sure we could trade up for the shorter fins. Somehow I had a feeling that I was going to learn to paddle eventually. Could I become strong enough to power my own vessel? I started looking around at kayak designs when at races. I looked over Steve’s shoulder many times as he was watching frightful ocean-going surf ski racing You Tube videos. Good golly! So where is the middle ground?
In many sports you are only as good as your gear. You can’t blame your gear for poor performance most of the time (or at least your spouse will remind you of the financial cost of trying to get it right!) but you can spend less energy where it doesn’t need to go when your equipment is lighter and your technique is streamlined to match. This is where it is beneficial to be married to an athlete of the sport in which you are choosing to dabble! With my own better gear I was about to start looking a bit more accomplished than my ability! The next stage began in Warren, Pennsylvania.
I knew it when I saw it. We were pulling into the parking lot of the beautiful park that would be the home base for the Warren USCA Nationals. She was bright orange and gray, strapped to the roof of a racer from New Jersey, and wearing a big red-and-white “For Sale” sign. The boat, not the guy! My dad had just sent me an unexpected financial gift that happened to be idling in my checkbook. I had seen the fiberglass lay up of the Think Fit on display at our first trip to Nationals the previous summer. Something about it resonated with me: a sea kayak that wasn’t too narrow, was significantly lighter than the plastic beasts like the Hobie that the recreational paddlers tended to favor, and yet was respectable even by the racing crowd. Very few Think Fits were available in the Midwest. It looked intimidating and skill-building all the same. She was going home with me. I was sure of it long before I said anything to Steve.
The bonding experience would change my view of kayaking forever. Think about it: what’s the worst fear a person might have when getting into a tiny vessel on unknown waters? Drowning? Even if you know how to swim there are variables on open water that can kill you. A jet boat can run you over, a swirling eddy can entrap you under a log, the current can take you where you don’t want to go, and a spider can tether down from a tree branch from above and frightfully let you know that you are not paddling alone . . . It’s the stuff waking nightmares are made of. You know, that twilight time just before you fall asleep? I would have many recollections of my first time in the Think Fit after that maiden voyage. It’s the stuff you tell stories about when out to dinner after a day of racing or touring.
Steve stabilized the Think Fit in the midst of the current of the Alleghany River to help me get a feel for it. This is a bit misleading for many reasons including these top two: 1) a boat (like a bicycle) is more stable as you move forward instead of sitting stationary and 2) the rate of the current (or the overpowering wind on a bicycle) can challenge the skill level of all of us. The Core of Army Engineers had released a bit too much water from the dam earlier that day to correct the water levels for the race competitors. So instead of a gentle 2-3 MPH current, we’re talking 5-6 MPH! The last time I stood in current like that was as a kid when helping groom a trail at day camp. I had slid off the trail into the swirling waters of the Clinton River, feeling the rush pull me away from the shore as I struggled to get back onto dry land. Where were the other kids? Who knows. All I knew is that I was scared and I had to spend the rest of the day in soggy shoes and shorts! Bummer. Or there were the times as a kid that we created a current walking around the periphery of our 24-foot backyard pool. After about a dozen times pool-walking around the circle we had created an awesome current for crazy fun, sweeping us away unless we hung onto the sides! The feel of rushing water returned few decades later when I felt the undertow when swimming in the ocean along the Gulf of Mexico . . . Now there’s a real sense of danger right there.
Steve had me paddle towards him then drew me back along the shore for a repeat mini-paddle. I could feel the rush of the water making the paddling easier. No problem. His presence boosted my confidence too. Then I started venturing out a little more, requiring less help from him to turn around. I barely had a handle on the rudder steering mechanism as I tried to make a turn before a large tree hanging over the river. Before I knew it I was pushed into a horizontal branch and began rolling over in slow-motion. I grabbed a branch within reach above me, nearly panicked, and somehow remembered to hang onto the very expensive boat that wasn’t mine. Everything flashed before me in an instant: I’m glad I am wearing a life jacket. I can’t hold the boat and the paddle at the same time. The boat isn’t paid for so I can’t let go. I am horizontal and the current is stronger than I could ever imagine. How long can I hold on? If I let go will I be strewn down the river backwards for miles before anyone ever finds me? I will be stranded somewhere with snakes, barbs or worse as it gets dark. Why are the men watching right now and not doing anything? I could die! I don’t know what to do and I am panicking!
In a moment like that you must make a different decision: will you become overwhelmed with fear and land in a worse outcome because of it or will you take a deep breath and try to figure something out. Even Steve was standing knee-deep in water along the shore watching me, speechless! Would he even be able to hear me over the roar of the rushing water anyways? Yes, I have to try anyways. First step, I yelled, “I need to be rescued.” He quickly came out of shock, took off his glasses/watch/keys, and started towards me. Second step, “I am letting go of the boat.” That cued him to grab the boat, make an awesome deep water re-entry into it, grab the paddle and make his way towards me. Third step and just as he got to me, I let go of the tree branch and my only security on earth in that moment. I quickly drifted into the stern of the boat and grabbed hold. He said something to me and I have no idea what it was. I held on with whatever energy was left in my trembling body. Did I mention that the waters were quite cool?
Even Steve was having trouble righting the boat to return to shore as I realized that I could help him do so. I started kicking my legs as if I were hanging onto a kick board in a lap pool. Yeah, more like a lap pool with a swim machine on steroids that is! We readily got going in the right direction and Steve paddled us into shore. When I could feel the sandy bottom of the shoreline I dragged myself out of the water. Steve dismounted out of the boat, emptied it and laid it on the shore. The two idiots that were watching the whole time and did nothing to help, said nothing, checked their phones, and walked over the hill back into the parking lot beyond. In that park were hundreds of experienced canoe and kayak racers who had no idea of the crisis occurring for me at the take-out where all of them had ended their respective races within the previous hour. I collapsed into Steve’s arms in horror, fear, grief, terror, and relief that I had not drowned. It was my worst fear you know. The second was drifting aimlessly backwards down the river forever. Both landed me in a bucket full of tears that seemed like they would never end.
These days I understand that you can swim in waters with a stout current. These days I know some navigational and survival skills should I ever be faced with that scenario again. These days I know that I could have drifted downriver with the boat as a float and with the protection of my life vest to keep my head above water in most circumstances. These days I know that Steve would have signaled for help and did whatever it would take to find me should I have become stranded along the river down from the take out. And these days I know that I could have turned myself around almost instantly if I would have been swept away with the current. I have learned a lot since that day five years ago.
When I got my wits about me I looked at that orange and gray Think Fit kayak and knew I had another decision to make. We would be leaving town the next day and the boat that I thought would be right for me would also be leaving to make a cross-country trip in the opposite direction from where we live in Indiana. This was the boat I had landed upon after investigating the options and it was about to go away. The crisis that I experienced was a rite of passage in many ways. Sure, it’s unlikely to find such perilous conditions in the waterways of Indiana so why worry about it ever happening again. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I had faced my worst fear of what could go wrong in a human-powered craft. I had faced it and survived. I had faced it and gained some new skills. And in the process I had bonded with my new Think Fit kayak. I bought it and took her home with me. It was the only possible outcome that I could imagine. I became a kayaker that day!
There’s more. See Part 2 for a little more of my paddling story. Then get into your own boat somewhere on some friendly waters this summer and get going eh? Oh the adventures that await you! Did I tell you the one about the nest of great blue herons in the remote pond at the end of the Golden Lake chain o’ lakes? :J